Pockets of Joy

Winter young woman portrait. Beauty Joyful Model Girl raising ha

It may seem a bit surprising to talk about joy in a leadership blog. After all, leadership is hard work (true), it is serious business (yes), and not something that should be taken lightly (agreed). Neither is joy . . . and here’s why. Joy fuels us. It gives us more energy. And heaven knows leadership takes a lot of energy!

It is ideal when we can find joy in our work. No matter how passionate we are about our organizations, however, there will be times where joy is not the first adjective that comes to mind when thinking about our to-do lists. Here is the great part . . . joy gives us energy for the task at hand whether it is derived from that task or from something totally unrelated.

Leaders (or anyone!) can intentionally incorporate any number of “pockets of joy” to energize their days. For example:

• Driving to work earlier this week, I played a song that makes me happy. Simple as that. It took no extra time but was a much better way to start my morning than spending my drive time thinking about all the challenges the day would present. I was able to walk in the door with a spring in my step ready to hit the ground running.

• I have an electronic photo frame that is full of pictures of family vacations and my boys when they were little. I don’t have it on all the time, but occasionally taking a few minutes to scroll through the pictures lifts my spirit and provides just the burst of energy I need.

• Smile. Even if you have to “fake it until you make it.” Seriously, try it. Just the physical act of smiling somehow lightens the load. If you can smile at someone, even better because smiling is contagious and offers a shot in the arm to the recipient as well.

• Anticipate joy. Thinking about the happiness that will come from completing an important project can energize you through the tedious aspects of the journey. I’m not talking about daydreaming here, but rather the quick vicarious shot in the arm you can get from visualizing successfully reaching the end goal.

Yes, it sounds simple, and if you take a few moments I’m sure you could come up with dozens of other examples of how you could build bursts of happy energy into your day. But will you? When you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, stressed out or annoyed, will you stop and take a few moments to recharge your perspective? No, you are not too busy. You owe it to those you lead to bring your best to your role, and sometimes the best way to do that is to take a few minutes and soak in a pocket of joy.


Little Gifts


As I was driving to work earlier this week, there was an absolutely incredible sunrise. The mottled clouds almost glowed with vivid shades of orange and pink. Within a few minutes, the majesty was gone. It was still a pretty sunrise, but nothing like the stop-you-in-your-tracks beauty from a few minutes before.

Our lives are filled with little gifts like that sunrise, if only we take the time to notice. The thing is, they don’t happen on command. If I had been distracted by the multiple lists scrolling in my head or the rehashing of some issue from the day before, I might have totally missed the beauty of that moment. And there is no way to go back and say, “Okay, I’ve finished what I was doing so now I’m ready to focus on the sunrise.” Sorry, you missed it. Can’t get it back.

Leadership is hard work. It takes energy and focus and sometimes there are no easy answers to the challenges before you. Given that, it is all the more important for leaders to soak in the little gifts . . . to fuel them for the tough stuff that might be around the next corner. And yet so often we leave those gifts unopened. We miss the compliment because we are busy thinking about what we are going to say next. We don’t take the time for the potluck or informal social gathering to connect with our friends and colleagues. We totally look past the spring flowers or the fall colors because we have our head down and nose to the grindstone.

Yes, I know, your schedule is already filled to the brim. Here’s the great thing about little gifts. It took me no additional time the other morning to take a deep breath and soak in the sunrise . . . or to take a different route to a meeting so I can enjoy a tree draped in brilliant fall colors. How long does it take to send a text to someone to let them know you are thinking about them, or to glance up at an electronic photo frame scrolling pictures of family and friends? Seriously, I don’t care how busy you think you are, you can spare the 30 seconds for a little gift. In the midst of a lousy day, savoring a dove chocolate and smiling at the message on the inside of the wrapper, “It’s ok to be fabulous and flawed!” . . . might be just the little gift you need to help you tackle the challenge before you.

No matter how hard the leadership journey may be on any given day, moments of respite are available to you . . . if only you take the time to notice and celebrate the little gifts.

Abandon Ship

Boat Wreck

“Abandon all hope of a better past.”

I have not been able to identify who first uttered those words, but he or she was obviously a wise soul. Think about it . . . how much time and energy have you spent re-playing a decision/scenario/encounter in your mind, perfecting what you (or someone else) should have said or done? How many times have the “what ifs” changed the reality of the situation?

One of the tough things about leadership is that sometimes you need to know when to abandon ship. Especially when that ship is so firmly anchored that you will never be able to move forward by clinging to it. Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve are all in the past and don’t change anything — except the energy you have to devote to improving the present and future.

Yes, things happen that we wish hadn’t. Sometimes tragic, terrible, life-changing things. And no matter how much you hope it, focus on it, or re-play it, the past doesn’t change. So as a leader, you have to choose whether you are going to cling to that sinking ship or, in the words of a dear friend, ask yourself, “what did we learn from this?” and move forward.

In some ways, it’s easier to hang out in the past. We know the players and the story line. We can spend hours editing the script until we are happy with the result. But the question remains, to what end . . . what does the energy expended gain us? A happy ending that will never be written?

Far better to take a deep breath, and boldly abandon all hope of a better past. Rather than leaving you defeated, such a decision can actually provide a boost of confidence and energy to propel you into a better future. As cliché as it may sound, in most cases you really do end up stronger for having walked through the fire. While perhaps not a journey you would choose, when you consciously decide to put one foot in front of the other, you demonstrate to all of those watching (and believe me, your people are watching) that it’s okay to walk away from what was and move toward what can be.

Creating a better past . . . that’s a futile effort. Creating a better future . . . that’s the calling of a true leader. Maybe it’s time to abandon ship.

Fill’er Up!

Vintage Gasoline Station

Wouldn’t it be great if leaders could fill their tanks as easily as putting gas in their cars? Maybe some have mastered this skill. I would not be among them.

Undoubtedly, at least for some of us, life would be easier if we had a “leadership gas gauge” to visibly highlight when we were running low on fuel. Maybe even include a pleasant sounding bell to ding at us when our tank gets below a certain level. Because when you are in the midst of a dwindling fuel supply, you can be so busy doing what you’re doing that the fact you’re running on fumes can sort of sneak up on you . . . right up until you can’t go any more.

Of course there is no one-size-fits-all way to fill up your tank, but if you’ve made it to a position of leadership, you ought to have at least some idea of what renews your energy. Family . . . friends . . . nature . . . laughter . . . exercise . . . quiet reflection and prayer . . . a good book . . . the options are as endless as the personalities of those who lead. I’m pretty sure more meetings isn’t the antidote, but other than that, the sky’s the limit.

Well if the sky’s the limit, what’s the barrier? Passion . . . commitment . . . a sense of responsibility . . . perfectionism . . . optimism (as in, “I’m sure I can fit one more thing into my schedule”) . . . drive . . . competitiveness . . . not necessarily bad things, unless of course they bring you to a sputtering stop. How much better is it to recognize the shadow (draining) side of these positive leadership traits early on, and fill up along the way? Scheduling in a few laughter-filled lunches seems like a much better use of your time than spending several days sick and flat on your back. I know, I know, you don’t have time right now — which is, of course, when you most need to take the time.

Now before my friends call me out, I absolutely recognize that this is the pot calling the kettle black (hence my wish for a gas gauge!) The fact that I haven’t totally mastered the art of pacing doesn’t mean I don’t know I need to. It’s that one more thing I optimistically thought would fit on my list.

But for today, the list will wait. What I really need is a nice big cup of tea . . . fill’er up!