It has been a whirlwind of a year.
Three weeks ago, as I boarded the plane for the 11th time in twelve weeks, I held on to a naïve hope that as the plane took off, my mind would clear and the heart would settle since it’s finally vacation time. So much has happened for the business and on the personal front in the past 12 months that the movie title ‘Fast and Furious’ was apt to describe the pace. Yet as the vacation progressed, my mental state did not seem to change.
I walked through quiet parks covered with autumn leaves, took in the crisp winter air, climbed steep steps to ascend centuries-old mountains, stood in hour-long queues for rides at Super Nintendo World™, enjoyed good food with great company, and ended each day with rounds of Rummikub with the kids. But each night as I went to bed, the shroud of unsettledness just did not seem to lift. I am not one who enjoys ambiguities, and this sense of unsettledness did not sit well with me. But dealing with uncertainties is what leaders need to be adept at, especially with the challenges of the year ahead.
What can we do as leaders, for ourselves and for the teams that we lead? I have learnt in life that I will not always have the black and white answers that I desire. But having a set of guiding principles will keep me anchored in choppy waters.
1) Be thankful
December is a time of reflection and celebration. December can also be a time where many may feel mentally, physically and emotionally depleted from the year’s toil and labor.
It dawned on me as I reflected and planned for the year ahead, that the very first thing I needed to do was to make a list of things that I can be thankful for. The science is clear on the benefits of gratitude.
Our constant focus on externalities, planning, forecasting, problem-solving, fire-fighting can be draining. Being thankful daily, for things big and small, helps us put things into perspective and can increase our happiness.
I made a list of 52 things to be thankful for. One item for each week of the year.
First on my list, I am thankful just to be alive. And this is not hyperbole.
I am also thankful that I get to do work that I love, work that is meaningful.
And, I am extremely thankful for my team of colleagues and friends at Great Place To Work® ASEAN & ANZ.
What are you thankful for in 2022?
2) Be deliberate in giving myself space to breathe
As leaders, there is a lot on our plate – we juggle between the strategic and the operational. And caring for our people is no less important.
We do need to give ourselves space to think, to deliver and to care. When we are stretched thin, and our fuel tank is low, even if we do want to support our people, show empathy and care, coach and mentor, our emotional bandwidth may not allow us to do that.
I share this reflection from personal experience – the number of times I wished I had more time or headspace to stop, listen and have non-work conversations with a team member. So I keep reminding myself, that I need to give myself a wider margin. Taking regular pauses, to breathe, recalibrate and refuel is important.
3) Be ok being uncomfortable
The world is changing rapidly. We need to contend with many externalities that we have no control over, and at times putting the best laid plans to rest.
The ways of work is evolving. The demands, aspirations and expressions of different groups of employees are diverse and changing. The way the workplace operates today is completely different from when we started out (no matter when that might be).
As leaders we will constantly be placed in new and ambiguous situations, receive unclear or even conflicting data points. For me, the past couple of weeks is a lesson in itself. I need to sit with the discomfort. Be ok with it. And be able to run with it, always learning and adapting.
4) Be comfortably afraid – decode fear
In Michelle Obama’s latest book release “The Light We Carry”, a sharing of her personal toolbox that has helped her stay balanced and confident during a time of high anxiety and stress, she speaks about the all too familiar emotion – fear.
It is hugely comforting to know the fear and doubts I battle, someone as powerful as the former First Lady or as insanely talented as Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame) had to battle them as well.
There is much we want to accomplish and achieve in the year ahead. If we believe that achieving those goals will be a walk in the park, then they are probably not ambitious enough. If they are a stretch, then fear and doubt will undoubtedly rear their ugly heads throughout the year. But we can learn to recognize them.
Quoting from the book,
“I’ve been practicing stepping back and addressing my fear with familiarity, offering no more than a half-friendly shrug and a few easy words,
Oh hello. It’s you again.
Thanks for showing up. For making me so alert.
But I see you.
You’re no monster to me.”
Fear need not be the monster that master our lives.
5) Be all in – start with the small
With the world anticipating recession, inflation, layoffs and one bad news after another appearing on the newsfeed does not exactly make 2023 a year we want to welcome with wide open arms.
Again, taking a tool out of Michelle Obama’s tool box, there is power in the small. The work plan can seem daunting. Building strong culture can be hard work. But we can take the first step. When problems seem too huge and insurmountable, when we feel inadequate in the midst of all that needs to be accomplished, we can “cut up the elephant”. We can work on something small instead. We can claim and celebrate a small win. We can count our blessings and be thankful.
We need not be rendered powerless, we can start with the small.
What brought a shift in my mental state?
It is this quote that I saw painted on the walls of a Disney store. It reads:
“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and loved more than you know.”- Christopher Robin
I hope that these 5 points from this year-end reflection may bring some clarity to some of us who may be feeling the December slump and dreading what the year ahead may bring. They are my guiding principles to welcome 2023. In the words of Walt Disney, may we all think, believe, dream and dare (greatly).
Let’s embrace all that 2023 will bring to us.
Yours for greatness,
Evelyn is the Managing Director for Great Place To Work®️ in ASEAN and ANZ. Heading the expansion of Great Place To Work®️ offices in ASEAN, Evelyn is convinced that just as the region is growing exponentially on the economic front, the work of building great workplaces For All™ must go in tandem with economic growth.
A proud mother of 3, Evelyn takes parenting very seriously – she is strict yet giving, result-focused yet generous. Together with husband Roland, they relish exploring new cultures and beautiful places of the world, usually on leisurely self-drive holidays, before the days of Covid.