I was an angry employee. I knew what was wrong with the system. I knew what mistakes the leaders were making. I was the one everyone came to when they needed to complain. I was on their side. I would fight their fight.
I took the burden home with me, never happy and often not healthy.
I did trigger some changes in my company, but I now see there was a smoother road I could have taken. I had no idea how many ruts in my road I created on my own.
When should you fight the good fight?
- When you know what you believe will create a better future, you have practical ideas about how to create this future, and you have a vision for what the future could look like if enough people gave your plan a shot.
- You can prove that what you believe in will get the results that even “the clueless” want to achieve, whether it is income- or heart-based, or hopefully, both.
- Your vision is not based on the way things used to be since the past cannot be recreated.
- Your passion is to collectively create a better future, not just to protect the victims you feel have been wronged.
- You have champions on your side so you aren’t fighting alone and you have a support network to refuel your energy when needed. I call this having a “positive conspiracy for change.” Don’t be a martyr.
When is it time to change direction?
- You keep explaining your points over and over. People nod their heads but nobody supports you with time or resources.
- You only find fault in other people’s ideas. You know what is wrong and what is possible but you can’t provide a practical way out of the mess.
- You know you can’t win but you fight anyway, even when you show signs of burning out.
- You quickly get angry, impatient, and frustrated when you feel people aren’t listening to you.
- You enjoy the company of others who will complain with you.
- You spend too much energy complaining about what is out of your control to change, choosing not to focus on what you can do instead because it feels like you are giving in.
- You feel just as disempowered and ignored as those you are fighting for.
Margaret Wheatley says in her book, So Far From Home, you should focus not so much on making a difference but on being the difference. Can you engage wholeheartedly on the contribution you want to make without tying your identity and life to the outcome? If not, you will always be overwhelmed, exhausted, and sometimes in despair.
Keep doing your work to lift people’s spirits, build community, and help people have meaningful lives. Do your best work, then know you gave your best.
You cannot save the world. You will never have enough energy and ideas for that. You will always be angry at others and disappointed in yourself if your primary goal is to right the wrongs and save the sufferers.
However, you can, inspire others to be the difference with you. There is an old saying, “What you focus on grows.” If you spend your time talking about what hurts and what is not working, you only perpetuate the broken, old way of thinking.
“Shift your attention from what you are trying to avoid to what you want to bring into reality,” advises Otto Scharmer in his book, Theory U. Every chance you get, refrain from debate and instead, request people try to collectively create a new way forward. He says to ask, “How can we become part of the story of the future rather than holding on to the story of the past?”
How can you inspire a co-creation instead of forcing compliance for a time? Here are tips for starting your co-creation:
- Come from hope and possibility in spite of people’s resistance. You cannot transform a system when you come from anger and disdain.
- Suspend your judgment and listen with compassion. What are people afraid to let go of? Where do they need reassurance before they will talk to you about what is possible in the future? What is their doubt and judgment based on? What happened in the past that has made them cynical?
- Make goals to improve your relationships so you are able to spark optimistic conversations about the future.
- Create a vision and plan for moving toward a better future, one that people can feel optimistic about achieving.
Be honest with yourself about the satisfaction you feel by being the warrior, martyr, or savior. Fighting against the old way of doing things might give you a sense of satisfaction, but letting go of the past so you can focus on what can be created will lift your spirits more in the long run. You might not see the changes happen during your tenure, but at least you can clear the path for others to take up the journey when you move on.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Model the behavior and the emotions so people want to be like you and with you as you do what is right for all.
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