From the blogs I’ve read, many people are unhappy at work. We complain about bosses, and organisations, that drive us crazy. They don’t make sense, they ignore the reality of getting the job done, they say one thing but do another, they are impatient but refuse to give us the resources we need … the list goes on. So why do we put up with it? Why do we settle for the irritation, the angst, the unhappiness?
Last year I left my husband of thirty years, it was the most painful decision I have ever made. For three years I was desperately unhappy, complained about him, blamed him, tried to resolve the conflicts… and, once I chose to leave, I felt like a failure. But then a friend – someone I respect and admire – said ‘That must have taken a lot of courage‘. I was shocked, I didn’t see myself as a courageous person, leaving was not a courageous act in my book.
This one comment changed my perspective, it sent me on a search for meaning, what does it mean to live courageously?
My search for courage led me to this: ‘Dare to be my true self, in spite of my fears‘. Hmm, so what does that mean for me? It means going beyond the fears that lead me to play small in relationships, at work and at home. To let myself go beyond the fear of what others will think, beyond the fear of how they might react, beyond the fear of the unknown.
I can’t wish the fears away, so I must act right for me in their presence. In other words, to be happy I must have the courage to be vulnerable to the fear, to say “I love you” and risk rejection, to be joyful and risk looking a fool… to seek peace and be seen as a failure in my marriage.
Everything worth having in my life entails a risk. When I permit my fears to rule me, my life lacks the richness and colour I long for. In the end it comes down to having the courage of my own convictions and at the same time exposing myself, being vulnerable, to the possibility it may not work out…. I may fail.
What are we afraid of?
Back to the horrible bosses, the sick organisations. Ask yourself, what is the risk I avoid when I decide not to tell the boss he (or she) is driving me crazy? Why do we only express what we really think about our organisations within the safe waters of ‘private’ conversations? We tolerate our unhappiness for good reason. After all, it makes sense to avoid the angry or dismissive reaction we expect; to keep our peace in case we jeopardise our promotion, even our job. We hold on to our belief that taking the risk is pointless, we predict nothing will change.
How do we know our predictions are correct? The outcomes we expect cannot be proved to be true or false, at least not until we test it in real life. And that takes courage. It can be harder to take the first step, to open the conversation, than to live with the frustrations and pain. In giving voice to our true thoughts and feelings, we make ourselves vulnerable to failure, to the possibility of our worst imaginings being proved right. It’s true, the worst may happen…
But, it’s also possible that in taking the risk we find a little less pain, a little more happiness. What we predicted for ourselves may not come true; we may be surprised at what unfolds. My boss may get angry when I confront him or her. I may lose my promotion. But they may also make changes for the better, see me as a ‘go getter’ and give me the promotion. Or I might realise how important the issue is for me and make another choice… but I can’t know until I take the first – risky – step.
A hidden gift…
Whatever the outcome of my own efforts in the last year, as I stretch myself into greater vulnerability, I stand taller in my own estimation. And so I will do it again, and again, and again. The secret gift of my search for courage? Opening up to wholehearted Technicolor living, moment by moment.
My little nephew Leo was given the chance to touch a snake recently … he told me, ‘I was afraid it would bite me, but it didn’t, it felt warm and smooth.’ His smile told me he was proud, he had felt the fear and done it anyway.
About the author
Cathy is Axialent’s Managing Partner. She leads the UK & Nordic market as well as our Culture Practice, with an eye on continuously developing and improving our approach to culture transformation journeys. She has a passion for pulling the right levers for change, identifying what a company can do to shift to a higher-performing culture. Read more >