DEAR KRISTIN: My employer has notified me that working from home is no longer an option. Like many people, I am now working in the office again, full-time. After two years of working from home, I’d established a peaceful, productive work-life rhythm.
Now, suddenly, I’m back to sharing (and spreading) germs in a shared office environment. Back to inane water cooler conversations. Back to being stuck in a four-door metal box on the freeway for three hours every day.
My concentration and productivity levels have dropped and my inner peace has been severely compromised ... at least until the moment I walk through my door at the end of each day. As if all this weren’t enough, I’m now grappling with feelings of resentment, too, because I feel like my “mojo” has been messed with. Any words of wisdom? -- BACK TO WORK
DEAR BACK TO WORK: Yes, sister, I’d love to share some words of experiential wisdom -- with emphasis on the word “experiential,” because the advice I share with my readers comes from the depths of my own human experience. This is kitchen table talk.
Let’s start with the blessings that are hiding within the dark folds of your dilemma, because there are always blessings to be found. You write that your “mojo has been messed with.” It has indeed ... but it’s only been messed with. You haven’t lost it altogether. It’s still there, inside of you.
Consider it a blessing that you have become so intimately familiar with the texture of your own tranquility; you know its nooks and crannies. You know what it feels like to have it, which means you also know what it feels like not to have it ... which should tell you that there are steps you can take to get it back.
Here are a few super-simple ideas I can suggest that might help you adjust to being back at work. They’ve certainly worked for me at different points in my own working life:
Close the Curtains: When you arrive at your office in the morning, close the door -- then close your eyes! My own mama used to call this simple act of shutting your eyes “closing the curtains.”
Pull down the shades of your brain for a minute or two and allow yourself the luxury of both a respite and a reset. We often forget that the simple act of seeing, absorbing, and processing everything around us -- optically, anyway -- requires an extraordinary amount of neural and psychic energy. By closing these curtains for a moment -- by creating these purposeful pockets of peace -- we apply a healing balm to our brains; a spiritual salve. Remember that your eyes are your curtains! And these curtains belong to you and you alone! When to open and close them is totally up to you!
Speak Up: I must have missed the memo that said martyrdom is mandatory in the workplace. I’m glad I missed it, too, ‘cause it’s hogwash.
If you’re experiencing emotional discomfort or imbalance in your place of work, speak the heck up. And I don’t mean grousing about it under your breath or whispering about it conspiratorially with your co-workers around the water cooler -- you yourself brought up the “inane water cooler conversations.” That’s not what I’m talking about when I say “speak up.”
When I say “speak up,” I’m talking about creating an intentional opportunity to communicate with your supervisor and/or an HR rep who can hear you personally and professionally, then offer assistance. Employee Assistance Plans are there for a reason: to assist employees. If you work in a smaller office, sit down with your supervisor, one-on-one -- not just with the intention to let off steam (although that’s definitely important), but to engage in an impactful, solution-driven discussion that will bring about positive results.
Business owners, C-suite execs, and front-line managers in even the smallest companies are beginning to understand that happy, well-adjusted employees -- employees who feel like they’re being seen, heard, understood, and valued -- are the same employees who will be engaged and productive in the workplace. It’s important for everyone to work collaboratively.
Above all, don’t suffer in silence. Remember that mental health and martyrdom cannot -- and should not -- co-exist. Speak up.
Your “mojo” lives within you. You write that you don’t feel any sense of tranquility until you return home from work at the end of the day. Be careful with this.
While it’s certainly a fine and wonderful thing that your home showers you with such solace and serenity, keep in mind that inner peace does not necessarily emanate from the four walls of any one space. Tranquility lives within you. Within me. Within all of us. We don’t have to walk through a door to find ourselves in its presence; we don’t need to go anywhere to get to it, necessarily, because it travels with us; it rests within our core. That’s why it’s called “inner peace.”
Don’t misunderstand: It is a blessing indeed to have a special space in your life that brings you peace and serenity. I myself am fortunate to have many such spaces in my own life -- and the reason I have them is because I have chosen to create them.
But when I enter these special spaces, I do so with the awareness that what makes these spaces special isn’t the four walls that hold me, but the tranquility that moves within me while I’m there. The place is important, certainly, but the source of my tranquility is most important of all. In my own life, the source of my tranquility comes from my higher power -- and I am able to receive energy from my higher power wherever I go, no matter which room I’m in!
Again, I congratulate you for having a special space. All of us should have one -- and if we don’t, we should create one! These spaces can be elaborately constructed or, as I like to call them, “spontaneous sanctuaries of peace” -- meaning you create them on the fly. When you’re at work, sometimes spontaneity and imagination are required.
Let me share an example from my own workplace life some time ago: For many years, my “spontaneous sanctuary of peace” happened to be a very, very small powder room in the West Wing of the White House. As a White House staffer, I did what I had to do to make sure my tranquility toolbox was always full (which required a bit of imagination), and this West Wing powder room was as good a place as any other.
Before I’d walk into the Oval Office to brief the President of the United States, I’d always make a prayer pit stop in that powder room, even if it just meant closing my eyes momentarily or even kneeling for a second to ask for the calm and the confidence I needed.
I’ll admit that kneeling in that small space was quite a challenge -- particularly when I was in the latter stages of my second pregnancy, which I was at that time -- but I managed to make it work. And my prayers were always different: Sometimes I’d ask for strength, clarity and grace. Other times I’d simply ask that my water not break all over the beautiful Oval Office carpet. Often, I wouldn’t ask for anything: I’d simply listen to the sound of stillness and grace swirling around me. The simple act of creating these purposeful pockets of peace always filled me with a sense of energy and renewal.
Looking back on it now, the fact that I could transform my workplace into a place of tranquility made my years in the White House some of the happiest, most fulfilling years in my life. I created the tranquility and wore it around my shoulders like a comfortable cloak.
You can create a cloak of comfort too, sister.
Wear your cloak to work every day, with comfort and grace.