Emotional Intelligence, empathy, self-awareness… Just of the words that are being thrown around right-left-and-centre these days, especially in the context of leadership. However, do we really understand what being truly self-aware, compassionate and empathetic means and looks like? Before we can extend these qualities to someone else, we need to demonstrate them to ourselves first and foremost. How?
Walk with me.
It is summer outside. Sun is shining bright, the warm wind feels nice on your skin, the nature is bursting in colour and vitality. You scroll through a heap of pictures of your friends and strangers sipping Aperol Spritz or juicy Mojitos, spending time on the beach, absorbing vitamin D, enjoying the outdoors… Yet you find yourself in some unexplainable, offish, dusky internal state that couldn’t be more remote from what you see outside. This makes you frustrated. Are you the only one who cannot get your s*it together and enjoy this vibrant season? It only lasts a few weeks in this country, so you should be making the most of it!
But who are you trying to fool?! You just don’t have that kind of energy in you right now… or is it anymore? But you did everything right – you took the usual annual leave of two weeks in August, managed to land in a beautiful all-inclusive resort in Spain, you read a book you bought at the airport WHSmith, didn’t look at your work e-mail once. (Well maybe once…) So, what’s going on?
Where are all the A-players and high-achievers at? You know this is too familiar, don’t you?
So, what IS going on?
Art Markman, PhD, recently wrote an article in Harvard Business Review about many of us having a hard time getting back into the swing after a holiday. He presents three common reasons for this: feeling of overwhelm, work not feeling important, and boredom.
Though I agree with the sentiment of this article, I feel we often have problems with differentiating between symptoms and root causes. All the above are symptoms or manifestations of the actual root cause for such feelings.
I look at this as a more holistic phenomenon than just our relationship with work. Capitalism, consumerism, information overload and social media have all pushed us into thinking that the only way forward is through never-ending hustling, grinding, chasing, achieving etc. And how not, when these are the behaviours that we widely praise, celebrate and reward?
The vicious side of it is that it has completely shattered our internal equilibrium and our connection with nature. Same as we perceive nature as waves of energy in the form of seasons and phases, we can apply the same lens to ourselves. For example, our ancestors tirelessly and unapologetically “hustled” during the spring and summer months, gathered and reflected on their harvest in autumn and recovered in winter.
Us? ALL WE DO IS HUSTLE!
The world’s systems, routines, and expectations all around us assume (expect even) for us to always be in the ‘summer’ mode. However, it is completely unnatural! And so, breakdowns and burnouts are inevitable.
Here is another perspective. Let’s assume winter (when we are supposed to recover) is 25% or 3 months of the year. So, if you have been “hustling” for a company for the past 10 years, 25% or 2,5 years of this should be purely dedicated to recovery. Have you been doing that? No? Well, join the club!
We live in a world, where taking 2,5 years off for holidays is impossible (at least for most of us). But, to put it in perspective, according to Positive Psychology it takes between one and three years to recover from burnout (if you actively invest in your recovery), while some people still feel burnout after a decade. So, perhaps being more mindful about investing in ourselves on a more intentional and regular basis, is not that bad of an idea, after all?
The four seasons of us.
Going back to our inner feeling not matching the season outside. Our inner worlds are not static. Same as everything around us, we are shaped and changed by various events and the ways we experience them.
In the context of seasons, it means that we can be in our inner springs, summers, autumns or winters, while it is a completely different season outside. When we talk about our inner seasons, it is not a practice of matching them up with nature’s cycles, but instead becoming aware of our feelings and working with rather than against them.
That brings us to the million-dollar question: how do we find harmony?
We have somehow told ourselves that we must choose between abundance and scarcity, stability and spontaneity, right and left. But do we? I believe our real work is in finding the harmony or balance between these paradoxes and conflicts. If we constantly expect ourselves to be in full bloom and live in a constant internal summer, how do we create space for the autumns and winters?
For you to better understand what I am talking about, let’s look at each season, how it manifests and what are some of the questions you might want to ask yourself.
Our summers arrive with vibrancy, colour, joy, an abundance of energy. It is a very active period of our lives. This is the time we are fully focused on achieving our goals while also enjoying life. We create and celebrate. We network, we travel, we seek inspiration. We are open to experiences. We are more willing to take risks and step out of our comfort zone. But don’t be fooled, this time is not just for fun and games but intentional and often hard work.
Picture a garden in summer.
What is the key activity (for all the gardeners out there) during this time? It is de-weeding your garden, isn’t it? By extracting the precious nutrients from the soil, weeds not only interfere with the growth but can kill our plants. And so, our key job is to de-weed.
In this context, by ‘weeds’ I mean all the negative and limiting thoughts that are the unwanted squatters and gremlins of our minds, which can interfere and even kill our dreams, plans and aspirations. And so, our job is to de-weed our minds from these thoughts.
During summer, ask yourself:
- What are the “weeds” or limiting beliefs that occupy my mind?
- What do I need to water and nurture in my life?
- And am I doing it?
Autumn is less about real hard work and more about putting the harvest that we have worked for to good use. We make conclusions about our harvest: what’s good, what’s better than expected and what’s worse than expected. Similarly, this is the season to reflect on our work: celebrate projects that have successfully concluded and reflect on those that have not worked out as well. It is our failures and mistakes that foster growth, and this time for reflection is invaluable.
The “hustle” of the summer has kept us occupied and reserved, so autumn is the time to appreciate and give our undivided attention to our closest people. This is the time of vulnerability; and when we experience such emotions as love, gratitude, trust the most.
During this time, we might decide to turn our backs to what does not serve us – external opinions, filters, never-ending expectations – and instead pay attention to our inner voice, focus on our needs, and invest in self-care.
This also means finding peace with projects, events, friendships, relationships that are over. Instead of wasting our precious energy trying to bring something back to life again, we should practice gratitude and letting go. If we don’t appreciate when something is over, we might find ourselves in toxic and co-dependent relationships.
During autumn, ask yourself:
- What has finished in my life?
- What do I need to release and let go?
- What have I learnt from it?
Winter takes us inwards. During this season, we typically spend a lot of time indoors – literally and figuratively speaking – so for most of us, this is the most challenging season. We ask ourselves “Why am I constantly so tired and down?”, “Why am I not as productive as before?”, “Why do I not have as much energy as before?”
This season is here to teach us the value of rest and rejuvenation, so we can eventually pick the pace up again in the spring.
It might feel like nothing is happening in winter, but it is deceiving to think that. We are growing and moving forward, it’s just less physical and more emotional and spiritual process. Instead of growing bigger and higher, we grow deeper. Same as a tree in winter stretches its roots deeper in the ground.
To make it easier to get through the winter, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What intentions do I have for this time?
- How can I ensure I stick to them?
- What legacy do I want to leave behind?
And remember – after every winter, spring always follows.
Spring is the time when everything comes back to life again. It symbolises and feels like new beginnings, which could come in the form of a new job, new project or new relationships.
During spring, ask yourself:
- What seeds will I sow in my garden?
- How will they serve me?
- What new habits can I curate?
This is the season to practice patience and a beginner’s mindset. Take your time to be curious, learn and refuel yourself with new information.
Remember, our inner seasons won’t necessarily always align with nature’s cycles. Every season is here to serve you and to teach you something about yourself, so don’t wish it away. Accept and embrace it. Show yourself the empathy you need and deserve.