Are You Struggling at Work?

Emotional Distress in the Workplace

Have you ever found yourself stuck in your job feeling like you have come to the end of a dead-end street, or stuck on a long winding road? Have you wondered if there really is something greater around the bend that is worth striving for?  One of the most common reasons that we find ourselves feeling this way is due to emotional distress.

On an upcoming Wise Work Radio program Tom Noteboom and I will be exploring the question What Keeps People from Advancing in the Workplace?

Can you relate to any of the following symptoms of emotional distress?  If so, there is hope for you.

Symptoms of Emotional Distress

  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Depression, feelings of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Anger, bitterness, irritability or frustration
  • Guilt, or feelings of worthlessness or failure
  • Feeling overwhelmed or lost
  • Loss of interest or energy
  • Loneliness and isolation.

When we experience physical pain in the body we naturally tend to think that something is happening to us that is un-necessary and wrong.  We don’t always see value in the experience or see what may be coming next. It is easy to become distressed about our pain, but not so easy to learn from it or appreciate its value.


Emotional pain is much like physical pain. It points out that something is not as it should be.  Emotional pain is like a guardrail that says, if you keep going this direction you are going to experience even greater pain.

Andy Stanley says “Guardrails protect us from what lurks on the other side. The danger zone… Personal guardrails are boundaries you establish on the safe side of damaging decisions that protect you from the danger ahead. They’re meant to set off warning bells over seemingly little things…little things that can lead to big, messy consequences.”

Bumping up against a guardrail is painful, but not as destructive as pushing beyond them.  It should be a sign that your current path needs to change to avoid greater harm. We need to establish emotional guardrails to keep our distress from leading us into more difficult situations down the road.

Distress Affects Others

If you are struggling with emotional distress in your place of work, others around you likely notice your struggles.  It can be very difficult to meet the challenges required to grow and advance in your career when you have internal obstacles that are working against you, and sometimes unknowingly against others.  It’s even harder if you don’t want to believe your struggles are indeed internal (your own doing) and not due to your circumstances, or other people holding you back.

Emotional distress increases when responsibility is avoided.   It’s your responsibility to find the solution to your distress, not your right to embrace it, or for others to be responsible for it.  Face it, Embrace it, Replace it!

So, Where is the Hope?

Mat 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Come To Me…

If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, anger or guilt you know what it means to be weary and burdened.  You may feel like there is no rest for your soul, like something is missing, buy you cannot quite put your finger on it.

Jesus challenges us to a call to action by telling us to “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened…”.  He is not as interested in removing all your discomfort, as he is addressing the heart issue.  He wants to give you what is missing so you can find a lighter burden in your work.

Take My Yoke

The second challenge that Jesus calls us to in to “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…”.  Jesus isn’t saying that if you acknowledge him he will simply take away all your burdens.  He is saying if you join him on his journey, you will take on a different burden with him that will lead to restfulness.

Everyone Loves a Three-step Process…

So, what does it look like to come to Jesus and take his yoke?

Luke 9:23-24 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”

Jesus address’s the solution to our emotional distress.

  1. Deny yourself – Let go of any unrealistic, self-focused plans you have for yourself.
  2. Take up your cross daily – Stop fighting the wrong battle, and join Him in the good fight.
  3. Follow Jesus – Learn from the greatest person who ever walked this earth. The one who died for you!

Emotional distress is the natural consequence when someone walks through life with intention to “save their life”.  What are you willing to lose to find it?

Appreciation for Suffering

Brown and White Bear Plush ToyLately I have been studying the topic of “suffering”. It sure has become more clear to me that we as Americans spend quite a bit of time and effort trying to shield ourselves from difficulty. We go to great lengths sometimes to keep ourselves and our loved ones from hardship.

Unfortunately there are so many people suffering in the world. Some suffer for reasons brought on by their own decisions, some by evil and others simply because we are born into imperfect parishable flesh or at the hands of evil. This makes it challenging to see any redeeming value in our suffering, especially unnecessary suffering. This article is not meant to make light of those people out there going through truly difficult trials. I suspect many of those would appreciate this message.

But what about necessary suffering? Is there such a thing?

I believe that through our lifetime there are different stages of development that suffering is not only beneficial, but necessary for growth that gets you to the next stage.  Anyone bent on avoiding suffering will undoubtedly avoid growth and will cease to move through the stages of development.  The two go together and are unseparable.

A few benefits to suffering.

  • Suffering makes us tougher. Professional athletes didn’t get tough from childhood pillow fights. They beat their bodys and make them stronger and more resiliant. They make suffering part of their daily regimin.
  • Suffering helps us appreciate those who suffered before us.  It is easy to take for granted that which has been handed to us by previous generations.  We owe it to the next generation to leave this place as well as we received it.
  • Suffering points out that something is not right and needs to change. When we feel physical pain, anxiety or guilt we experience a certain level of suffering. If we didn’t have this we would continue pushing on toward the source of whatever is causing the problem.
  • Suffering produces perserverance and developes a sense of commitment and a vision for victory. When we fail to fully commit to something we will always fall short. If we give ourselves a way out to avoid difficulty we end up paying the full price with a penalty.
  • Suffering makes us smarter and wiser. The most successful leaders in history learned from their painful experiences. They got back up, tweeked a couple things and tried again. Each time they learn something not to do.
  • Suffering purges the lazy out of you. Sometimes we need a jumpstart to realize how our avoidance of suffering keeps us from getting things done. I don’t like to shovel snow, but when I get out there and start working, it feels pretty good, then I am inspired to something else constructive.
  • Suffering is necessary to overcome sin. At least the sin associated with a particular growth stage. Sin often comes from avoiding personal suffering, sometimes at the expense of others. We are more okay with others suffering.
  • Suffering helps us relate to the suffering that Christ experienced. We can relate to our savior and know Him in his suffering. We take for granted the price that was paid on our behalf. When we suffer we gain understanding of how necessary it is for a price to be paid in full.

Everything that makes us stronger, smarter, wiser, more powerful and more commited will never happen without a measure of suffering. Suffering needs to be something to seek daily and not to avoid.

A little bit of suffering now prevents a whole lotta suffering later!

Any thoughts?

Grapes & Stuff – Raising Responsible Children

sgrapeA while back a friend of mine forwarded me an email about an opportunity to pick grapes for a local winery for a couple hours on Saturday morning. It looked like a great opportunity for me to hang with Jordyn, my 11-year-old daughter and make a few extra bucks for her.

Over the past year Jordyn has gotten a little taste of what it is like to take on responsibilities to make money outside our home.  She has been dog-sitting and house-sitting several times with her Mom and now has big plans for her money.  She knows how much money she needs and exactly how she wants to save and spend it, or at least for the next 9 months until her 12th Birthday of which she has big plans and is very motivated. She wants to save around $350 to rent two hotel rooms at a resort and take five of her friends and give them all $30 of tokens to use on games. It’s going to be Epic!

She is pretty responsible with her spending.  We allow her to spend her money as she pleases but try to help show her what it looks like to save and give. She does pretty well at both. We want her to understand it is her money and she alone is responsible for it.  When it is gone, it is gone.  She can be a very hard worker and self-motivated when she puts her mind to it and clearly sees a picture of what her hard work will get her, and for that I am proud.

I was very pleased to be working alongside Jordyn picking grapes, getting all messy chatting about the best ways to pick and trying to find the vines with the biggest bunches. She is very strategic like me.  She had her goals and would keep reminding me how many more containers we needed to fill to reach what she needed for that week to stay on target.  One of the weeks it was pretty rainy and a little cold.  I thought maybe by the look on her face she wanted to go home, so I asked her.  No! we can’t leave until we get 6 more tickets!  That made my day, she had a finish line and was sticking to it.

As a parent, my wishes are that by the time she is out of the house living on her own, she has a great foundation for making responsible decisions not only with her resources but with her time and goals and especially her problem solving skills.  We all want our children to appreciate the value of hard work.  Good stewardship practices don’t happen by mistake, but bad ones happen naturally.

There is a universal financial principle that I call the Appreciation Principle.  I am sure there is an actual name for it in the financial or academic world.  This principle says that when we work hard and are rewarded a fair and modest wage we tend to have an appreciation for the compensation we have received.  We will be very careful about how we spend it because we know how much effort it took to earn it.  We don’t want our efforts to go for little gain.  Anyone who had grandparents who grew up during the Great Depression probably heard stories of the power of a penny.

The flip side to this principle is the Fast Money Principle. It is  when we come across free money or with little effort (fast money), we tend to value it proportionately to the work we put toward getting it.  The term “Easy come, easy go” comes to mind.  I believe many gamblers have gotten caught up in the Fast Money conundrum that cause them to lose focus on the real value of a dollar.

Proverbs 12:11 “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense”

I have felt this way before too.  I remember when I was a kid around 11 or so, my parents went out of town for a weekend and gave my brother and I each $5 to spend.  My older cousin was staying with us and took us to the 7-11 up the street. I remember making sure I spend every cent of that money and left none to go to waste. I got gum, candy bars, pop and whatever else I could stuff in my face.  $5 went along way back in the late 70’s.  A few weeks later I got $5 for my allowance for doing my chores.  I remember going up to the 7-11 with my friend Tom to play Donkey Kong but I couldn’t get myself to spend any of it because it was the only money I had and I had worked hard for it so I decided to hold onto it.  Tom was ticked and called me a cheap skate. What a difference in perspective. It’s easy to spend other people’s money.

Proverbs 13:11 “Wealth gained hastily, will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.”

Proverbs 20:21 says “An inheritance claimed too soon will not be blessed at the end.”

I had an employee several years ago that was in her mid-twenties, a single parent living with her mother with a few small kids.  When tax season came around she received a $9,000 tax refund.  She was so excited to have this money fall into her hands, and was not expecting nearly this much, and now didn’t know what to do with it. To her it was like free money.  There was a single guy that she had a crush on in the store and she decided that she was going to get him to go on vacation with her.  She made her plans known to others that she was going to get her man by bribing him to go on a trip, just the two of them.  I am not sure how interested in her he was but of course he was not going to turn down a free trip to Hawaii.  She blew all the money on a guy that pretended to like her for a couple weeks then dumped her when they got back.  I remember her response was something like, “Oh well, at least I got to go to Hawaii”.

This same person continued to have a couple more children while living with her Mother, the primary caregiver.  I remember her telling me after she had one of them that now she could afford to get a new car.

I am not trying to be judgmental toward her.  She was a decent worker and did her part and she has the freedom to spend her money how she wants.  However, I wonder if she would have learned the value of hard work and stewardship early in life, if things may have turned out different for her and her family.  She really didn’t have any problems or need to grow up because she has always had her Mom to support her and solve her problems. In some ways, not growing up solved her problems.  She’s not alone, there are more out there.

If you are like me and wish to be done with your primary parental responsibilities when the kid leaves the house, I have a suggestion.

You need a finish line.  I use this term quite often in my work place and in training managers.  The idea is that if you have a task to do you need to know what the end game looks like.  You need a finish line.  Knowing the finish line enables you to determine what steps are needed to reach it.   If you enter a bike race and take off down the road but failed to find out where the finish line is, you likely will never cross it.  You may be on an endless ride wandering around aimlessly never really getting closer to the end. But if you know your starting point, and you know your ending point, you can establish a path that will get you to your destination.

When your child becomes a young adult and leaves the house, you need to be done.  Hang with me, here.  I am not saying that you should not be there for them when they need help.  I am saying that as young adults when they come to you for help,  you need to advise them of how they can solve their own problems. Your days of solving their problems need to be done before they walk out the door.  You need to plan for that when they are young so that it happens before they move out. It’s like being on time to something, there’s a journey in between so if you don’t leave on time you won’t get there on time.

It’s not your place to solve your adult children’s problems.  In fact, by doing so you are likely enabling them and encouraging their dependence on other people to get by. If you delay the lessons of adolescence they won’t just simply be a little behind.  They get stuck!

“It’s not your place to solve your adult children’s problems.”

In the same way that it is hard for a young person to appreciate money that has been given to them that they did not earn, it is just as difficult to appreciate the solution to a problem that someone else provides for you.

There are so many people in our culture these days that are in their 20’s, 30’s or 40’s and yet they are stuck in adolescent stage of behavior because they never had to go through it when they were supposed to. We all know that guy, the 30 something man-child that lives in his parents basement. plays video games and hangs with teens down at the skateboard park.  Many people get stuck because their parents failed to set a finish line so they just go through life expecting others to solve their problems for them. Unfortunately, usually stuck parents produce stuck children.

In our company we have had a number of young adult employees whose mother (and some times fathers… no, usually just mothers) would call us on behalf of her child to let us know that her child was going to be late or not able to work that night. I got a call once from a mom that said her daughter would not be coming in to work for the next week because they are going on vacation, then hung up.  I have heard of parents coming to sit in on the interview with their kid and even answer questions for them. The first time this happened I was confused and thought that the kid was a special needs child, then I found out he got an academic scholarship to college a few months later. He understood advanced physics but couldn’t interview for a pizza maker position on his own.  I had a kid’s parents call me to let me know how her daughter isn’t being treated fairly at work and I should fire my manager. My manager sent her home for dropping the F-omb in front of customers.

In each case we do our best to help the parent and employee understand that we did not hire their mother and that they need to confront their issues themselves to work toward solutions.  This is an opportunity for their child to step up and take responsibility, yet sometimes parents seem to fear that more than anything.  We should not deprive our children of these moments. I say we push them into it.  I hope you are not one of these parents. If you are, I am really sorry… see the top 10 list below.

Infants need their parents to be 100% responsible for their wellbeing as they are not yet capable of taking on responsibility.  As they get older they need to be given more leash that comes in the form of freedom, responsibility and opportunities for failure. This needs to be proportional to their maturity and increase over time.  When a child is given too much freedom and too little responsibility, it  can lead to boundary issues and a lack of self-discipline when they are older.  When a child is protected and not allowed to explore, take on new responsibilities, make decisions or mistakes or experience personal loss they can grow up with control issues, lack initiative, or allow fear to take control of their life.  Freedom and responsibility need to go hand in hand if we want our children to be self-dependent when they get to adulthood, no, correction, before they get to adulthood.

Teach your children hard work, let them cry sometimes, make them go without, to appreciate what they have.  Help them learn to fail well, and help them struggle their way out of problems on their way to maturity. That’s being a loving parent.

Top 10 ways to raise a “Man-child”

  1. Continue to breast feed until he’s at least 5 years old. You don’t want them getting a detachment disorder.
  2. Give him candy when he cry’s so he won’t feel bad.
  3. Every time he falls down make a huge deal about the boo boo and smother him with affection. Always assume they are hurt and over react for effect, this helps you demonstrate your love on a deeper level.
  4. Make sure you give them whatever they want for Christmas, Birthdays, other kids’ birthdays, Memorial day, Ground hog’s day, any day in August. You don’t want them to suffer from an inferiority complex.
  5. Believe everything he says, because he is your baby and he would never lie to you.
  6. Put in place a hard and fast rule that he absolutely cannot sleep in your bed after he turns 15, unless he is sick and needs to cuddle.
  7. Tell him constantly how handsome, smart and perfect he is so he has to grow up feeling like he has to live up to your perfect image of him. Maybe that will motivate him toward greatness!
  8. Remember, if you discipline him, he will think you don’t love him.
  9.  Put fingernail polish on him when he is 3 and dress him like a saylor or a duck, then act surprised when he is confused later in life.
  10. Keep him away from all heavy machinery, deep wells, rivers, gravel, roller blades, bicycles, playgrounds, hard pillows, the sun, dairy, gluten, and anything that sheds or bites. Use plenty of sunblock, even indoors and assume all injuries are permanent and degenerative.
  11. Come up with a term of endearment like “Cupcake” or “Peanut” and call him that the rest of his life, especially in front of his Prom date.  Wait, never mind, he won’t have one.

I know, that was 11, consider it a bonus.  I am an over-communicator.

…Then Ask Someone Who Knows

In May I posted a blog titled …Then Don’t Do That – A Glance at the Art of Sowing and Reaping. It explores why we do things we know we ought not do, even when we understand the consequences. We talked about how knowing the right thing, or best thing to do isn’t always enough. We need to strip ourselves of all the obstacles that cause us to make excuses and wrong decisions and get to a place of self-transparency (oh, I like that term, I should have used that in the other blog).

But what about those times when the best option isn’t clear? Maybe it’s not enough to know that you need to lose a few lbs, or confront someone about something, or get to some things you’ve been putting off. Maybe you have some understanding of the situation, but you have come to the end of your expertise and just don’t know what the next steps should look like. What do you do? Do you do nothing, or run away? Do you guess and hope? Do you fake it so no one else can see you are clueless?

If you are stuck in a complicated situation and don’t know what to do or how to proceed …Then Ask Someone Who Knows. There is a good chance that someone in your life or even someone not yet in your life has experienced something similar to what you going through and could shed some light on the situation for you.

“If you are stuck in a complicated situation and don’t know what to do or how to proceed …Then Ask Someone Who Knows”

So why, when we find ourselves in difficult situation, do we try to solve many of our own problems ourselves? Why are we so hesitant to seek out advice? These are the questions we will try to tackle in this blog.

Other peoples Blind-spots

Ever notice how clearly we can see other people problems? We spend some time with friends or relatives and after we think “They should really hire a financial adviser” or “see someone” about this or that. You listen to people give you reasons and excuses for doing the things they do and in your head you can’t understand how they could be so dense or what they could possibly be thinking. To you and many others around them the solution is so clear. You wonder why they can’t see what everyone else can see. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many people tell them something, they just can’t see it because it is a blind-spot, like the back of your head or the place you can’t see from the drivers seat because the mirror is limited and the windows are not 360 degrees.

Your Blind-spot

Well, that person with the big blind-spot is you! It’s also me, and everyone else. We all take our turn being that person, some of us more than others. You see we are all born with a huge blind-spot. Our eyes were created pointing away from us and not toward us. We need something outside of ourselves like a mirror to see what we cannot naturally see in ourselves. We can never completely get rid of our blind-spot, but over time, through many failures and accomplishments and careful instruction we can gain a much clearer perspective on just how much we need other peoples input in our lives.

It is true that generally other people can see your situation from clearer more objective position when provided the facts. Their eyes are pointed toward you. Unlike you they are more able to take personal feelings, prejudices, historical bias’s out of your equation, just because they are not you.

We need others input but we do need to be careful to who we trust with advice. Some people seek out advice, but the problem is that they may be asking the wrong person. When you hang out with fools, the advice you get is going to be foolish.

The Fool

A fool is a person who makes decisions without thinking through the consequences. They typically live their life from one moment to another gratifying their desires with instant solutions doing whatever feels natural to them in the moment. They usually have a wake of broken relationships and lost opportunities following them that they have failed to learn from. It’s one thing to have a history of failed experiences and relational strife, but to continue the same foolish patterns over and over is indeed what defines us as a fool.

“When you hang out with fools the advice you get is going to be foolish.”

When you put a bunch of foolish people in the same environment or community, like crabs in a bucket they pull each other down and keep each other from succeeding feeding the foolish behavior. Most of us grew up with fools all around us. We bought into so many of these foolish ideas without even knowing. Until something from outside comes in to shed some light we will continue to move through life at the bottom of the bucket being held down by people just like us. It doesn’t have to be that way.

The Wise

To be wise means to give careful thought to your ways, to base your thought on knowledge and good judgement. Wisdom doesn’t come by simply thinking right. It comes from experience. There has never been a wise person who did not fail many times over. Wisdom comes from understanding adversity and adversity can only be understood from experiencing failure and learning from it rather than repeating it.
Wisdom is all around us if we just look. Sometimes we get so caught up in dwelling on the problems in life we fail to see the answers staring right at us.

“The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Building Blocks

For every skyscraper or bridge, how many had to fall down before they got it right? The complexity of a modern airplane or automobile is incredible. The engineers didn’t start from scratch, they stood on the shoulders of the great engineers that came before them. They learned what they knew, then took it one step farther. Modern medicine is learning more and more every day about how the body works. They do it by sharing information in Medical Journals and shared research. They learn from the ones that came before them.

I think sometimes we try to reinvent the wheel in our own lives. We get into difficult situations and don’t know what to do so like a pioneer we start trying to figure it out on our own. Sometimes when we can’t figure it out we lose motivation, quit and nothing gets any better. We move forward clinging to a fixed mindset that keeps us in the bottom of the barrel. We need to tap into other resources to maximize our success.

Stuck in your own head

I remember particularly when I was young when I was faced with a stressful situation or a dilemma I didn’t know how to handle I would begin to internalize the problem. I would be at school or work and a stressful problem would monopolize my thoughts and I would find myself zoning out when I was suppose to be focusing. I would sometimes be oblivious to what was going on outside of my head and be fixed on the problem. If someone had offended me my mind began racing trying to put it all together in my brain in such a way that I somehow would escape blame or responsibility. I would have entire conversations in my head about how I was getting the short end of the stick or what I was going to say to my offender or accuser. Sometimes I would just think about how bad the situation is or imaging how bad it will get and how helpless I felt. I think I would get a little obsessed with the moment and allow it to consume me. I was stuck in my own head.

Escape your head!

Here is what I realized about those times. My thoughts were all focused on the problem and not the solution. They were limited to the worries and negative thoughts inside my skull and failed to address the solution which was outside my skull. Over time I learned that in order to be solution minded I needed to get out of my head and into other peoples head. By other peoples head I mean find out what they know, what they have experienced and how they overcame obstacles.  Sometimes just getting a fresh perspective was energizing and helpful.

“Over time I learned that in order to be solution minded I needed to get out of my head and into other peoples head”

When I was the center of my own world I could not escape this self-serving perspective that was going on inside my head. It was all I knew or could know. When I was removed from the center my universe and was rightly replaced by God as the center of my universe a whole new world of knowledge and perspective opened up to me.  I found truth was outside of my own head and much bigger than I ever imagined. I no longer had to figure out or decide or determine how the world worked on my own. My skull no longer provided the boundaries to my problem solving arena.  An age of discovery opened up to me.

The beginning of wisdom is realizing what you do not know. It is coming to the end of your own head and learning how to see the world through the eyes of others and God. Wisdom grows when you see the world and your life through the lenses of scripture and other people and how they see you. When this happens, your knowledge base and experiences to draw from are greatly multiplied and begin to build on each other on a much greater level than the old self-reliant model of thinking.

Be a receiver

If you want to expand your capacity for knowledge and wisdom, tap into other peoples brains and gather from their experiences. Ask someone who knows. Get connected to wise people. This, I believe is the secret to personal growth.

“For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”   1 Cor 4:7 NIV