Staying Sane in a Crazy World

Watching our presidential election unfold someone from another planet might say… “It’s crazy down there and maybe getting crazier.”
I’m frequently asked by my executive clients,”How can I stay healthy and reasonably happy and optimistic with so much chaos and uncertainty.”  It is a fact, that one of the key personality characteristics of effective leaders is their ability to maintain an optimistic outlook in the face of adversity.  However, senior executives and business owners, in particular, are in a difficult spot relative to maintaining optimism for a number of reasons:

  • They are acutely aware of the precarious nature of their businesses.
  • They are responsible for holding the vision of the company in the face of uncertainty.
  • Employees mostly bring problems to their bosses, so bosses are exposed to more negativity than the general public and therefore are more vulnerable to the depressive effects of that negativity.
  • Contrary to popular belief, it’s been my experience that most executives do care about people – few are like those non-feeling cutthroat caricatures portrayed in the media. Executives spend a great deal of their time carefully juggling the egos of their direct reports and other stakeholders. However, most people expect that the executive can handle it (whatever “it” may be) so few employees and far fewer investors worry about handling with care the boss’s ego.
  • If the executive is a CEO, he or she has to deftly handle the often oversized but easily injured egos of board members and other investors.
  • It’s lonely at the top. The point of most vulnerability for CEOs and business owners - they rarely feel safe in confiding with anyone within their company about how they really feel... and it's not really appropriate for them to do so regardless.

I’ve had plenty of practice in the art of maintaining a healthy attitude after spending more than a quarter of a century working knee deep in other people’s and my own stuff (a polite term). I have some suggestions for keeping sane and healthy.

The famous late psychologist Carl Jung once said that if you want to change the world start with yourself. With that in mind, it makes sense to practice good self-care because the actions of executives are under intense scrutiny from all quarters. Your actions do say more than your words.  When you sneeze, your employees imagine the worse.  So, if you want your employees to have a healthy resilient attitude … start with yourself.

Key points:

Keep things in perspective.  When times get tough we tend to forget that human kind has been around for thousands of years and worse times have come and gone.  The economy may be in the pits…but it will rebound.  And, for anyone unhappy with our current President … U.S. Presidents change every eight years at the worst.

Get a life - be sure to have a well-rounded life.  Don’t put all your eggs in the basket called work. Develop other interests, e.g., sports, the arts, hobbies, volunteer activities, family and friends, etc.

Don’t define yourself solely by your work.  You are not just an executive at XYZ Company. Work may occupy a lot of your time…but don’t let your work define your sense of who you are.

Spend time alone daily, in quiet, in reflection.  It’s impossible to develop a big picture view of life if you don’t allow yourself some time for reflective thought. Most creative thought comes about AFTER we’ve spent time reflecting.  As Einstein, who had a few big thoughts, was so often quoted as saying, “Why is it my best ideas come to me in the morning while taking a shower?”  Creative ideas need an incubation period before they hatch.

Expand your worldview. Read books other than those related to business.  Read biographies so that you’ll learn about how other people made it through life and surmounted adversity.  Most successful people climb to the top.  They overcome setbacks and climb over multiple hurdles along the way.  he Hollywood version is that by cunning, great talent or good fortune people make it to the top…wrong. It’s mostly by lots of hard work over time.

If you have family…enjoy them.  Spend more time with your kids. They are a gift. If you allow yourself to play with your kids you’ll naturally loosen up.  A more flexible (versus uptight) mind thinks more creatively.  Children will help you see the world with new eyes…if you let them.

Develop and nurture friendships with people outside of work. Try to develop friendship with people with whom you can let down your hair, who you don’t have to worry about impressing.

Develop a few close relationships with trusted advisors.  People who have a depth and breadth of world experience and knowledge that will help you view life from different perspectives and who will challenge your thinking.  Some of these people should be people in your own field and have more experience and knowledge than you do.  Others should have different interests, background and experiences than you…so that you can see the world and your life differently through them.

Explore your spiritual relationship.  Explore the question about how you fit into the bigger scheme of things.  Again, borrowing from Carl Jung, ”many of our psychological troubles have a spiritual origin – how am I related to the infinite?”  Please note that I did not say try to find “the answer”… just to explore.

Have fun…don’t just work.  And, have fun at work too. No one wants to work for a bore or a grouch.   If work is no fun…then you’re doing something wrong.

Take a vacation.  We all need a break from our work.  If you’ve been working for more than a year straight, you’re doing no one any good by it.  If you think you can’t, then you’re either not hiring the right folks, or you’re too uptight to delegate or have a misguided opinion of your own value.

Lastly, my good friend, the photographer, Ruth Bernhard who lived to 100, said that one of the secrets to full and enjoyable life is to learn how to say “yes.”  She didn’t become famous until her sixties so she knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity.  She had a sign at the top of the stairs leading to her apartment, which you couldn't miss - “Seize the day!”