COVID-19, chronic health issues, the struggling global economy, disruption of personal finances, corporate politics – the list can go on. I was going to write a post about how anxious I have been feeling lately but no one really has time to read a five minute rant of a random stranger sitting in a tiny room, in the middle of South Africa. I could tell the story of how irritable and frustrated I have been during this pandemic or how I have been struggling to keep my head in the game with all the emotional, professional and social disruptions that make up this new norm, but that is also not the point. No, those stories will be saved for my therapist or maybe even my husband (if I give him enough whiskey to let me moan about life for a few minutes). What we will be discussing a is hopefully a lot deeper – the art of not caring. I know this sounds a bit extreme, as though I am encouraging you to just throw in the towel and expect the worst from everyone, but just give me a second to explain.
Be okay with losing control
What I have learnt in my twenty eight years alive, six of which were spent in the corporate environment and two as a mother, is that life will always present you with challenges you cannot control. One of the hardest and most important things we can do for our own mental health is to identify these hurdles and accept them for what they are. Admittedly, this is something I truly struggle with but have been working extremely hard to overcome, so I will steal a line from our friends in AA as seem to have hit the nail on the head with the famous prayer:
Recently, while debating a problem at work with a colleague, I found myself choosing to act in a way that wasn’t the norm. I typically would have taken the safest approach to ensure a positive outcome, but something inside me whispered, “the biggest risk is not taking any risks at all”. Ok it wasn’t something, it was my conscience… or maybe my inner voice. I honestly thought I’d come up with an amazing quote, only to find out through a quick Google search (you know, for plagiarism purposes) that it is something Mark Zuckerberg once said in some forum. Although I do respect him for his ability to have turned his college hobby into such a successful business, I really don’t like that anything Facebook related has made such an impact in my life. So for the sake of this post let’s pretend that I’m the first person to ever have uttered such deep words, but I digress! The real point is that sometimes you have to take off the training wheels and try something new in order to get a different, and potentially better, outcome. After six years in Japan, the one concept that truly stuck with me is Kaizen (continuous improvement) and although I may not always put it into practice, it is something I continuously aspire to do. Thinking back to the event in the office, the new approach taught me something valuable which I would never have learnt otherwise, and has given me a different perspective. Just because something works, doesn’t mean it can’t be better.
Time is Money
Being the nerd that I am, I googled the idiom “time is money” and stumbled across the Cambridge dictionary’s interpretation which states that it is “said to emphasise that you should not waste time, because you could be using it to earn money”. Although currency trading isn’t quite as hardcore as it seems in the Wolf of Wallstreet, what I have learnt from my line of work is that time is money, so every minute wasted sulking or in remorse, could instead have been used to make a difference. To qualify that statement, I have to mention that there have been several occasions that I focused a lot of my time, and the bank’s resources, on a particular project for a client, only to have them choose to seal the deal with another bank in the final stages. Did it suck? Yes. Was I frustrated? Yes. What I gained from this was worth it though, because when another opportunity came around, I was well equipped to run with the project from start to finish. It took nearly two years in my industry to realise that feeling the way I did or dwelling on such emotions would not change the outcome, nor would it positively impact my ability to deliver. Yes, time is money, but I have realised that some situations may look like a waste of time at first, but actually have a lot of value.
Regret is a form of punishment in itself
We have all sent an email we shouldn’t have, or reacted emotionally to something that under normal circumstances would not have been the expected behaviour. Did the world come crashing as a result? Did you maybe lose your job because of it? Whatever the outcome, it is important to note that such a reaction is an indication of a deeper problem which potentially would not have been identified otherwise. I’m no specialist in psychology, but research has taught me that our actions are a response to our basic human needs. Looking at my history of ‘over-reactions’ in the corporate world, a particularly embarrassing memory comes to mind. Just to create a clear image, one male colleague commented (in private) about how unprofessional it was for me to be wearing a sleeveless dress in the office. I was livid and lashed out at him, making sure to mention that as a woman in the 21st century, I had the right to dress as I saw fit. A few weeks later, I was banned from entering a bank because of the very same dress and only then did I realise that the comment was not because of my gender but was actually intended to educate me about the formal dress code that applied to both women and men. For years I felt embarrassed and ashamed, but it was only after unpacking my behaviour that I was able to identify the ‘sponsoring thought‘ and even have a shot at fixing it. For anyone who is wondering, I am now good friends with the gentleman who said that and it is something that we laugh about today. The art of not caring involves not dwelling on pst mistakes and regrets, we all make them. Instead I’ll focus on what I can do differently going forward. As Colin Powell said ‘There is no secret to success. It is the combination or hard work, preparation and learning from failure‘.
Is the glass half full, or half empty? Doesn’t matter… it has water
I happened upon a post by John Tucker, a business professional which highlighted the importance being a critical thinker over positivity, specifically in the work environment. While I agree that business does require one to be tactful, I do believe that the same applies to our personal lives. “Positivity is key”, “Positive thinking helps with stress management“, “Think positive, be positive”… There are so many quotes and studies that highlight the importance of our mindset and how it impacts our daily lives, so I will leave that to the experts. I will admit though, that I am not the most cheerful person in the face of problems and trying to find the silver lining in every situation has not worked the best for me (some might even call that pessimism). There is definitely a beauty in appreciating the good and it does work wonders on one’s outlook, but what I have found works best is to remove myself from the situation and look at things objectively (thank you husband). Thinking back there have been situations that didn’t go according to plan, and I looked at that negatively, but they actually ended up better than I could’ve planned, or even hoped for. It doesn’t matter if the glass is half full or half empty; the glass has water.
If you forget anything else I’ve said, remember this; that single event that is giving you anxiety is probably not worth all of that worrying. As emotional beings, we need to identify the underlying factors causing certain reactions and redirect our energy towards things we can control. When we focus too much on the immediate present and emotions (the tip of the iceberg) it is very easy to lose sight of what runs deeper. We’ve all watched the titanic, let’s not reenact it with our lives.