What Martin Luther King, Jr. taught me about faith

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.Today we will read words honoring a great man here in the United States, Martin Luther King, Jr. His life changed our perspective and society in ways few have since, and probably ever will.

Since his death more than 50 years ago, his story has become part of our American narrative, a grand picture of destiny and purpose. We extol him as a man of vision who dreams of a better world, in spite of the evil swirling around him.

His name signifies the promise of the heritage he would ultimately come to embrace.

King’s birth name was originally Michael King, Jr. But his father changed both his and young King’s name after returning from a trip to Germany in the 1930s, just after Hitler took power. The elder King was moved by what was unfolding in the homeland of the father of Protestantism, Martin Luther.

Martin Luther quite literally changed the face of Christianity in the 1500s using his powerful words and his sense of destiny.

No pressure, young King.

Both he and Martin Luther King, Jr. became pivot points in Christian history.

Game changers.

And both men were unashamed in living out their purpose and engaging the world they were born into.

To me, Martin Luther King, Jr. embodies all that we can imagine through simple and persistent hope and faith.

Since his death I think King’s life as a great man of faith has gotten a bit lost.

Before he was an activist and master orator for civic change, he was a man who believed that God’s hand was on his life in the most powerful way.

It all starts there.

Few of us will realize our life’s destiny the way King did. He realized his through the lens of his unmoving faith.

  • This kind of resolute faith is what compels you to take action, regardless of risk to life and freedom.
  • This kind of resolute faith doesn’t always make you feel happy about how things are going in your life.
  • This kind of resolute faith can be full of fear at what may lie ahead because you may just be shaking the foundation of institution.

His faith wasn’t something he decided to try out at a self-help seminar one weekend. This was a conviction and a way of life that went to his core.

His ability to speak the truth so powerfully and without apology was rooted in an unshakeable faith in who he was, who his God was and what he knew his God could do.

  • He must have had some desperate thoughts because he was human.
  • He must have struggled to see the full picture ahead because he couldn’t know exactly what the future held.
  • He must have wondered if he was living up to what he was designed for because it wasn’t as easy as he wanted it to be.

What makes him so special in my eyes is not just his inspiring words for change, but his steadfast obedience to his call.

He didn’t allow setbacks to remove him from his destiny. He didn’t allow the daily challenges of living his destiny to pull him away from his purpose.

Where would we be if he had?

King’s legacy is even more important to us today.

For many of us (certainly not all of us), life has become comfortable and entertaining.

We don’t challenge much.

  • We give away one of our greatest assets — our attention — to the day’s lowest common denominators.
  • We expect fairness in all things and demand that life brings us what we need and want or we won’t play.
  • We allow setbacks to steal our hope in one snap of a finger.
  • We invite the words of others who have nothing invested in us to injure us and pierce our peace.
  • We allow the thoughts inside the space of our very own heads to run unchallenged and roughshod over our purpose and steal our destiny from us.

We give in to a victim mentality that demands our circumstances change before we will engage.

This, even as most of us will never be asked to give our lives for our call.

And we wonder why we struggle to find purpose and meaning in our work and personal lives.

In just 39 short years, King showed what a persistent and obedient life of faith can do for millions of people that he would never meet.

Will we do the same in the much smaller sphere of our own lives?

Why being authentic at work matters

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authentic at work

Do you ever feel like you’re trying to be a different person at work? Career literature is abuzz with the call to “just be yourself” and be authentic at work.

It’s true that feeling like you can’t relax and be yourself at work creates a lot of stress.

Maybe because it takes a lot of work and energy to act like someone you’re not. I assume you have real tasks to accomplish today that require your good energy.

Why do you feel like you have to create a persona so that others take you more seriously?

Some of this is good old-fashioned conditioning from the school days

How did your teacher most likely treat the “class clown?” You remember this endearing classmate, the person who had no problem yelling out a hilarious punch line during a teacher’s lecture.

How was that rewarded? Most likely in a punitive way.

While the whole class may have laughed at the joke (maybe even the teacher), the message was clear.

We are doing serious work here. Keep your funny for:

  • recess,
  • lunch or
  • playing in the backyard with your friends (kids used to do that).

In my day, schools even gave awards at the end of the year for “Most Humorous.” It wasn’t as prestigious as “Most Likely to Succeed,” but hey, at least you got some recognition for the special way you brought your game to an otherwise dreary academic setting.

So fast forward to the work setting. You enjoy using humor at work, but how does that fit in a more serious work environment? “Most Humorous” doesn’t get promoted over the more well-politicked “Most Likely to Succeed.”

So you suppress your genuine gift of humor in favor of what you think is more “professional.”

Authenticity in the workplace has come to be known with being obnoxious in telling the truth

You have those people on your teams who are like this. They are always the one to spout off whatever’s on their mind, usually with no filter.

When their comments injure or stir up trouble, what’s their response?

  • “I can’t help it if I just tell it like it is. That’s just who I am.”
  • “I’m not afraid to speak the truth. If people can’t handle it, that’s on them.”
  • “Someone had to say it!”

In turn, what do we say about these people?

We bristle at their words, but we hail them as authentic. Their willingness to say uncomfortable things, in spite of the consequences, seems like they’re being real.

So if you use emotional intelligence and try to measure the words that come out of your mouth, you might feel like you’re not being real.

What does it mean to be authentic at work?

1. Authenticity means leveraging the best parts of your personality in the work you do.

Are you the coworker who lends an ear to others who need to offload some frustration?

That’s hugely authentic because it allows you to show others in a very real way that you care about them. And it might mean that you helped them purge some negative thoughts so they can refocus on their work.

This can be a huge boon to your own productivity simply because it feels good to help others. Because of you, two people at your job feel better today.

Nice job.

Are you the funny one in the office?

Think of how your favorite comedian exploits shared experiences just for a laugh. We consider people “funny” because they find a different perspective to something we’ve all experienced and can all relate to.

Humor is a highly creative act.

Your comedic outlook can help you create and produce work that really stands out. Why would you hide this?

Also, please know that funny people help diffuse the effects of a toxic work environment.

You are our Obi-Wan. Please bring your funny.

We need you.

Are you the one who gets emotional about your work?

If this is you, you know that feeling. You go to bat for a project that your team spent real time and energy on. You feel the shakiness in your voice as you say more than you wanted to about why this project matters and why it shouldn’t be shelved.

You feel your heart in your throat while you’re talking, and you’re embarrassed because you felt like you couldn’t keep your cool.

Congratulations, you’re not a robot yet!

Your passion sets you apart from those who are just trying to check the boxes.

While it may be uncomfortable for you, it’s inspiring others around you who want to be just as brave. You are willing to be uncomfortable because you believe in the work. Don’t apologize for this.

That’s an advanced move.

2. Authenticity means giving real thought to how you speak your own truth. 

Being authentic does mean speaking truth to power. But it doesn’t mean throwing your power in the face of others or calling others out.

Just because you’re louder than me doesn’t mean you’re being more authentic than me.

Somehow we have to lose the idea that activism is the only way to be authentic.

We’re leaving out a whole bunch of people who want to be thoughtful and measured in how they approach the more human side of their work.

So how do you go about being authentic in the emotionally intelligent way?

Always speak to difficult issues from your own experience.

Always.

Your experience is unique to you, and it’s the only thing you know to be 100% true. You will never guess others’ real motives or expectations because you are not in their heads.

Saying something because “Someone had to say it!” is a terrible diplomatic strategy. It doesn’t present a path forward that everyone can feel comfortable with.

Speaking from your own experience also has the advantage of keeping others off the defensive. They might actually try to understand your perspective because you’re not combative.

Even if they don’t, you’ve put an issue out there that honors what you know, who you are and how you like to work with people.

3. Authenticity can be a career strategy.

The very things that make you who you are can actually help you craft an interesting career that you love.

If you are among the 70% of Americans who are disengaged from their work, then listen up.

Your career is less about the technical work you do and way more about who you are.

I would say that again, but honestly, you can just go back and re-read it. That’s how reading works.

Probably anyone can make the same widgets that you make. But they won’t do it with the same vision or passion, if you allow yourself to fly that particular flag.

The technical part gets you in the door. You as the complex human has to do the rest.

Using the skills and traits that come so naturally to you is the best way to stand out because it’s not forced. And you’ll find it pours out of you like melted butter with no effort at all.

Focus on those skills and put them together to create something unique. You may have to do some real work to put the puzzle together but it’s a super hope-builder when you pull it off.

Let’s use me, for example. I was always the trusted sidekick in my corporate career. Honestly, that’s who I’ve always been.

I can’t help but listen to people, ask questions and help them find different perspectives.

While I have a whole litany of more measurable skills in other areas, this is the one thing that people always seemed to appreciate about me.

After a while, I was no longer content to be a marketing professional who happened to be a good listener. As it turns out, there’s a whole profession of people who actually get paid to listen, guide and teach.

I flipped a very big switch to become a mental health professional and start a new career based mostly on the way I interacted with my peers at work.

You don’t have to flip a big switch like I did. You can bring to work those parts of your personality that crack you up or make you feel good about yourself.

People notice this and appreciate you for it. And it may inspire them to do the same because you were brave enough to go first.

You can create a new path where you’re at right now based on who you are. Being your authentic self may create opportunities you don’t know about yet.

You can’t leverage those opportunities if you’re hiding who you are.

So what do you think?

What are three things you can think of right now that ooze out of you every day that you can start elevating to be more authentic at work?

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Master your Monday to reduce stress

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Master Monday to reduce stress at work

One of the best ways to change your outlook on stress at work is to change how you look at Monday.

For whatever reason in our Gregorian calendar setup, we define Monday as the official start of a new week.

If the new work week started on Saturdays, we’d all hate Saturdays. Can you imagine hating Saturdays and feeling that dread on Friday night?

#DGIF (Dear God, It’s Friday) 🤣

Of course not. That would be weird.

We’ve conditioned ourselves to dread Monday, pure and simple.

Where’s the love for #TGIM?

Monday is the starting gate, the tone setter for the week. How you frame your attitude for this one day is the best indicator of how well the rest of your week goes.

If you master your Monday, you stand a chance to master the rest of the week.

Don’t get me wrong, you can always push the reset button if you have a crappy Monday. You just have to work a lot harder to get that Monday mojo back.

Starting your Mondays well is the key to the whole week.

How do you change your perspective on Monday?

Ask different questions about Monday

As a recap for all things mental health: your thoughts affect your feelings, which then affect the behaviors and actions you take.

Whatever you tell yourself about Monday will show up directly in how you live out this day.

This doesn’t mean you should become the Pollyanna who shouts “I  love Mondays and I don’t care who knows it!” when you walk in the door. Be positive, sure, but don’t annoy people, if you can help it.

Think about your morning. What questions did you ask yourself about how this day might go?

  • What kind of mood will my boss be in?
  • How much longer until the end of the day?
  • How many impromptu meetings am I going to get roped into?
  • Why do we have staff meetings first thing on Monday? (my personal favorite)
  • How will I get through four more days of this?
  • When will Friday get here?

In order to change your perspective on Monday, you have to reframe your questions on Monday.

What can you ask yourself on this day that will focus your mind forward?

What will help you look for answers that will move you toward your goals instead of focusing on Mondays past? 🤔

  • How can I find my boss’ pain points this week and help take some pressure off?
  • What are the best things I can do today that will position me well for the rest of this week?
  • What opportunities do I have today to showcase my expertise to a captive audience?
  • Who on my team can I encourage today that may be struggling with their work?
  • When will Friday get here? (I’m not sure we can reframe this one. We just love Fridays! That’s okay!)

Try this flip flop exercise and see if it doesn’t empower you and give you a little hope for the rest of the week.

Look for things that will help you win today

🎩 Hat tip to a great group of ladies I was with last week who shared this strategy. While you’re enjoying your early morning coffee, list five things you can do today that will help you win.

For example:

  1. Making healthy eating choices
  2. Taking a walk at lunch
  3. Sharing an encouraging message with a coworker
  4. Checking in with your boss
  5. Getting that weekly report in before noon.

It’s so easy to let the urgent tasks drive your day before you barely get started. By lunchtime, you’re flailing your arms trying to figure out just how you got off track.

Knowing these five things ahead of time will help you pivot back to what’s important. Taking care of what’s important helps you feel some autonomy over your work and positions you to win.

If you can win today, you can win the rest of the week.

Give yourself a mental health moment

Most of the time we literally race from place to place. That’s how we live now.

If you’re a driving commuter, you most likely drove in the parking lot on two wheels, barely dodged fellow coworkers walking in, lurched into a parking space, piled all your bags on your shoulders (you really need a cart) and raced into the building.

Whoa, slow down turbo. 😫

You most likely just defied death at 80 mph on a busy highway and maybe even took some calls already.

Give yourself a few minutes in the car to reset your focus before you go in.

  • Take some deep breaths
  • Enjoy putting your favorite lipstick on
  • Watch a funny YouTube video
  • Listen to that one song that fires you up (my current one is “Never Give Up,” by Sia from the terrific movie, “Lion”), or
  • Review your “Five Things to Win Today” from this morning.

You get to have a few minutes to shift gears and focus on your best performance.

Athletes and performers do this all the time.

You will never see Tom Brady rush out of his expensive SUV right before the game starts and hit the field with Cinnabon bits still in his teeth.

No doubt he has a specific mental process that helps him stay focused, and I would imagine he has a ton of little refocus moments on game day.

Maybe he puts on his lipstick in the car, too. 💄

If you feel rushed and frazzled, people notice this the minute you walk in the door.

It’s all around you.

A well-placed mental health moment is an easy way to be that person who always brings the calm into Monday morning. Master this one skill and you can absolutely confound your coworkers.

Besides, feeling rushed and frazzled doesn’t help you feel resilient for the challenges that may come your way on this fine Monday morning.

You’ll spend at least 480 minutes at work today. Take a measly five of those minutes to set yourself up for success.

It’s all about you

Want a quick way to reduce your stress at work? Stop viewing Monday as the enemy. Look for ways to make Monday your ally in the workweek.

Monday can be your Winston Churchill, the wise, direct and purposeful elder statesman that helps you soldier through this week with wit and purpose. 💪 (Why are there no Churchill emojis??)

You’ll notice all of these tips have nothing to do with anyone else but you. Yes, you can have a good Monday in spite of your circumstances at work.

This particular ball is in your court.

How powerful is that?

Happy Monday!

Vacation is over, you’re back to work and stressed out

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Keep your stress free vacation feeling

Feeling stressed out at work is particularly noticeable right after the holidays.

You just came back from vacation and got used to getting good sleep. You finally feel a bit human again.

For a little while, anyway.

I heard someone say the other day that they felt so relaxed and back on top of things during their holiday vacation time.

Just one day back at work erased it all.

Yikes.

Has this already happened to you?

It doesn’t take long after coming back from vacation to feel the pressure again. It’s almost immediate.

How does that happen? There are several reasons, but here’s a big one.

We put too much pressure on ourselves to get it all done when we get back from vacation.

We way overestimate how much we can really do when we get back. We come back from vacation with plenty of vim and vigor and resolve that we’re going to get on top and stay there.

This is especially true after the New Year when we’re armed with resolutions.

In the back of our heads, we know quite well that we’ll have to play catch up on the very first day. But we feel amazing so we rise to the belief that we can get it all done. We ask ourselves why we were stressing all that before we left.

It’s great to be hopeful, I certainly don’t want to crush that. Setting that expectation to get it all done, however, is asking for failure.

And at the end of day one, we already feel defeated.

Most of our vacation mojo gets away from us like a red balloon in Paris. Here are a few things to consider.

Drop the idea of complete and getting it all done.

Except for projects that have a finite completion date, accept that you will never get to zero.

Never.

Sorry, but that’s just how work is now. The Industrial Revolution is over, and there’s no longer an end of the line.

Part of conquering stress in our modern workplace is losing the idea of finishing the last widget before you go home.

 

Your inbox will never get to zero.

You may have several HUNDRED emails when you get back from vacation.

Why would you waste your valuable time and newfound energy trying to handle every single email just so you can delete 80% of them? You’re going to get several hundred more by the end of the week!

Stop playing the professional version of “Stop Hitting Yourself.” Here’s a template for you to start your first day back from vacation.

  1. Filter your email inbox by name. Address the stuff from the people important to you. I would recommend starting with your boss’ name.
  2. Then, scan the subject lines of everything else for anything that looks intriguing or that describes a specific action they need from you.
  3. Leave your email app and start your actual work.
  4. If someone calls you because you didn’t answer their email, you can use step 1 to quickly find it.
  5. Wait for your email app to flag you (probably months from now) that your box is getting full and it’s time to delete some emails, according to your IT and compliance department’s schedules.
  6. If you miss something important from someone (like the person in step 4), you can coach them on how to use more directive subject lines to get your attention right away. Just sayin’…

No one ever died because they didn’t answer all their emails.

Please don’t die on this hill on your first day back.

Trying to answer or touch every single email is the quickest way to feeling super stressed because you are letting others drive your work day with their priorities.

Your to-do list will never be 100% complete.

I would assume you didn’t go to college just so you can spend your days completing a list of tasks. I think you want to do amazing work that will make you feel purposeful and create new opportunities for you, right?

You won’t do all that today, though.

You will not find that place where you can cross your arms over your chest and raise your glass to another satisfying episode of “My Completed Day at Work.”

That’s now how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

 

David Allen’s terrific book and methodology is called “Getting Things Done,” not “Getting All Things Done Today.”

Of course, you need a to-do list, but only to track and measure the work, not as a device to deliver stress and misery to yourself and others.

No matter what productivity system you use, your to-do list should include only the items that will move you and your team forward. (Side note: paying attention to your boss’ goals will move you and your team forward; that’s why you should check her emails first. 😉)

All else is a nice-to-have.

Be brutal about how much you can really accomplish today.

Include margin for things like:

  • interruptions,
  • daydream time,
  • lunch (yes, lunch) and
  • running to the bathroom from your New Year’s resolution to drink more water.

Set some boundaries for yourself.

Just because you are awesome at a hundred things doesn’t mean you should actually try to do a hundred awesome things. And certainly not today.

Pick just a few, squint your eyes and focus, and completely crush on your small list of priorities.

Staying an extra two hours on your first day back to get caught up on stuff that doesn’t matter is the easiest way back to how crappy you felt before your vacation.

Near the end of the day, check off the things you crushed, high five yourself, and move the rest to some other time.

Then grab your coat and hat and go the heck home.

Shock and awe your family with the return of the same happy, contented person they were with on your vacation.

You simply must develop a vacation sleep discipline.

How many times did you wake up on your vacation with that amazing rested feeling? You know what I’m talking about.

It’s that feeling where your chest doesn’t feel like a baby grand piano is sitting right on top of it and your gut feels calm and relaxed. (This is my experience, anyway. I may have said too much. 😂).

You’re less irritable, maybe even happy 😲, and it seems like you can focus on a dime. You may even feel like a completely different person.

That’s a problem.

You shouldn’t feel so stressed that vacation feels more like the real you.

That’s not going to help you feel purposeful and create new opportunities for yourself.

I know I harp on exercise as the closest thing to a magic pill for mental health and stress.

But sleep may have it trumped.

  • Sleep drives all your other actions, even how motivated you are to exercise.
  • Sleep powers your cognitive and critical thinking skills.
  • Sleep allows your brain to pressure wash all the toxins away.
  • Sleep affects your physical health.

You’re an educated professional. None of this is new to you.

We all know how important sleep is, and we all say we know we need to get more of it.

Hear ye, hear ye: Sleep is the best thing you can do to stop feeling stressed out and miserable at work.

It won’t change how many emails you get or how many fires your boss drops on you to put out at the last minute.

  • It may keep you from going off on a coworker who asks you an innocent question.
  • Or feeling completely overwhelmed and defeated by 10 a.m.

To keep that sleep mojo going from your vacation, you have to develop a specific discipline for sleep.

A discipline implies that you are in training. If you’re in training you have a plan so that you can accomplish a specific feat.

It’s not unreasonable to plan your whole day around training for sleep.

LeBron James reportedly gets 10-12 hours of sleep during the regular season.

You’re no different than LeBron James. He’s just more disciplined than you in a few key areas. That’s all.

Develop a plan for how you will get good rest every day and work that plan every day.

Now what?

These are pretty tactical steps you can take today to keep some of your vacation mojo going.

You spent the past year earning valuable PTO to give yourself a much-deserved break.

It’s up to you to change some things now to help you stay rested and feel a bit more in control.

 

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