This is the final segment from the book written by Ruth Ross: Coming Alive: The Journey To Reengage Your Life And Career
Help, I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up
Have you ever thought about what disengagement actually feels like? To many people it feels like being stuck in a pit of quicksand, unable to breathe or establish firm footing and escape. Even though you are a CEO (remember, that’s every one of us), it doesn’t mean the choking nature of disengagement can’t swallow you up. The ground doesn’t care who you are when it gives way under your feet. Regardless of what role you play in your daily life (at work or home) disengagement can ensnare you in its trap.
People mired in quicksand usually panic and thrash around wildly, trying to find a way out. They move their arms and legs to get unstuck and reach safety, but that only makes the predicament worse as the sand shifts and envelops their panicking body. The reality is this: to find your way out of the quicksand, you have to stop moving, remain calm, and cry out for help. Unfortunately, many times there is no one around to hear your cries and help to pull you out. That’s because most times those around you don’t know that you are sinking into this bottomless pit in the first place. Just like the quicksand, disengagement can be a solitary process— you endure it alone. Disengaged employees don’t call out, but rather they silently suffer until they are swallowed up in the worst way.
If you fall into this trap and find yourself sinking into the muck and mire of daily life, it can feel like a safe landing is nowhere to be found. There’s no branch to hang onto or a rope to use to climb out of the hole. In a real pit of quicksand there’s no time to create an escape plan because it comes upon you suddenly and without warning. And that is where the problem with disengagement differs. Disengagement is not an immediate quandary. There are warning signs if you are willing to open your eyes.
The Face in the Mirror
There comes a time when everyone should stop and really look in the mirror, not just to comb your hair or put on makeup, but to take stock of what’s going on inside your soul and consider if you are about to step into an unmanageable scenario. Think of the self-assessment Invisibility Index Tool we talked about in chapter four as the mirror. Honestly answering those twenty questions by looking inward will help to paint a picture of engagement.
The first step to reengagement is finally admitting you’re disengaged. As with any issue you face in life, it is far easier to come up with the solution if you can recognize the problem. Fear of the unknown is a paralyzing conundrum that can sink you further into the quicksand. But facing your truth may be the key to finding the escape hatch.
If you can’t get a clear picture of engagement by looking in the mirror, find someone you trust to be that mirror for you. Give them permission to tell you what they see in your words and actions that paints a realistic portrait of your feelings about work and life.
The Value of a Safe Landing
There are examples all around us of ways that we are assured of a safe landing. As you near your destination when flying on a plane, you subconsciously listen for the grinding noise that signifies the lowering of the wheels in anticipation of landing. While there might be a slight jolt upon touching down, it’s a welcome feeling. When a boat is attempting to dock safely, there are usually bumpers lining the pier to guide the captain into a tight space without scraping the sides and causing damage and potential injury.
Similarly, employees need to find their own way to ensure a soft landing spot in the workplace.
Engagement is like the wheels helping you to touch down in a safe place. It could even be the parachute guiding you to safety once you jump out of the plane. If you don’t have a working ripcord to pull in time, your chute won’t open. Everyone in the workforce today needs to have a thought-out plan for his or her own career. No one else can wear their metaphorical parachute for them.
I recently met with a very savvy female executive who told me about her own bout with disengagement. She struggles with the fact that the more she moves up in her company, the further away she gets from what she loves, which is the real tactical work and validation that come from doing a good job with the task at hand. She misses the creative process of hands-on work and doesn’t get the same satisfaction from managing others who are doing what she wants to be involved in.
During the course of our discussion she explained to me that employees always have three choices at work. They are:
- Be comfortable with the status quo by accepting that this job may not be fulfilling and engaging, but you are making an active choice to be okay with that.
- Find your voice by speaking up and being proactive about your concerns. Don’t be afraid to talk to your manager or others at work about your vision for what could possibly reengage you.
- Make a decision to exit the organization if you realize that it will never get better, and search for a more engaging situation.
She offers some powerful lessons in recognizing and understanding where her engagement pivot-points reside and sticking to her guns to ensure that she doesn’t suddenly find herself in a quicksand scenario.
It’s important for all of us to remember that careers are a very long and arduous journey. There will be detours and bends in the road along the way. It’s not always going to be a straight climb to the summit. You may need to take a few different routes and even stop to look out at the landscape while on the trip. It’s all about creating a palette of various skills and experiences that may have you moving laterally rather than vertically. One needs to be engaged in the journey, not blinded by the destination.
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