Pause to Recover
January 28, 2023
This is the Too Many Trees newsletter, where I share what I’ve been writing and reading in the realm of leadership and personal development. My executive coaching practice is centered around the idea that we are more effective in moving towards our goals when we become more conscious and intentional in focusing our time and attention, and learn how our unconscious patterns are holding us back. If you know somebody that could benefit from my perspective, please forward this to them or let them know they can set up a free intro chat with me.
The Google layoffs hit home for me, both because they were handled so poorly and impersonally, with people discovering they were laid off when their access was cut off, and because they laid off a lot of long-tenured Googlers who I knew and respected. I wrote a LinkedIn post about it, but I wanted to highlight something I said in my second post, where I recommended pausing before deciding what’s next.
In the aftermath of such an event, it’s easy to feel insecure and panicked, and to jump at the next available opportunity as a way of finding immediate security or certainty. However, that may not serve them well in the long run, as they are probably not in the best state to make good decisions and/or negotiate well on their own behalf when feeling disoriented.
Those feelings are understandable, of course! Losing a job is like losing an identity; many people who got laid off identified as Googlers, and some of them had been at Google since their college years - their entire professional self was tied to Google, and it was their home of sorts. Having such a significant part of one’s identity disappear is uncomfortable, and worthy of grief. Much like we give people time for bereavement when there’s a death in the family, people who unwillingly lose a job need time for grief for the lost identity.
I often give this advice for people in other stressful situations. When somebody has been in a toxic work situation, it has long-lasting effects on their brain and nervous system. It’s the equivalent of an emotional car-crash in the time it can take to recover, and yet because there are no physical signs of damage, people often expect to be able to bounce back immediately and get right back to work. Then they start beating themselves up for not being as productive as they “should” be, and that anxiety makes the recovery take even longer.
Instead, you can interrupt the vicious cycle by pausing and granting yourself the time to recover (if you have the financial and immigration security to do so, of course). When rested and refreshed, you will be able to evaluate your options more clearly and make better decisions about next steps for your career and life.
Pausing to recover can apply even in more mundane situations. I set the intention to be gentle with myself a couple weeks ago when I was coming down with a cold that I got from my kids, and none of us were sleeping well. Normally I would get frustrated with my diminished productivity (I got no writing done that week), but because I had set that conscious reminder to be gentle, I let myself be “lazy” that week and even watch some TV. And I recovered faster from the cold than I normally do, because I actually gave my body the time and energy it needed to fight the sickness.
When you notice yourself feeling anxiety and the urge to do more, take a moment for a deep breath and ask yourself whether pausing to recover might be helpful. I think we all could benefit by pausing more.
And now for the normal personal development content…
Blog: I wrote a post on Practicing Celebration, which I unfortunately published right around the time of the Google layoffs, so it may come off as insensitive. But it’s still an important topic since habit researchers have found that celebration is how we rewire the brain to let go of old habits and build new ones. I am learning to practice celebration as a skill to more effectively change my own behavior, as well as influence the behavior of others (e.g. celebrating pausing in this newsletter).
LinkedIn: These are ideas that have helped my clients (or myself), and that I share via LinkedIn to help a wider audience.
I shared my shock about the Google layoffs. When I first heard the news, I assumed it was mostly low performers and people hired in the last couple years during the pandemic. Instead, I learned they laid off many long-time Googlers that I had worked with and were stellar performers, and did so impersonally without even giving them the opportunity to say goodbye to their teams.
For those affected by the layoffs, take your time before deciding what’s next. You will likely not make the best of decisions when stressed and exhausted, so give yourself time to explore your options and make an informed choice if you have the security to do that.
Speak from your experience. This was inspired by listening to a Coaches Rising podcast where one of the guests suggested that they were “not talking about something, but speaking from something”. In other words, it’s one thing to read about knowledge, it’s another to speak from an embodied experience of that wisdom. Learning from others is great, but you will be most powerful and persuasive when you speak from your own authentic experience.
Men can do more for their families. This was a rant about how my wife and I attended a school information night for our kid, and out of 62 attendees on the Zoom, 60 were signed in with female-sounding names. There’s nothing inherently gendered about caring about one’s kid’s education, or about cooking, or cleaning, or thinking about the logistics of the household, and yet the actual division of household work is highly unequal, in part because our culture dismisses such work and encourages men to focus on “real” (aka societally rewarded) work.
Moving from “you and me” to “us”. When you notice yourself falling into a "you and me" mindset where you are looking to avoid blame for a problem by assigning it elsewhere, pause and take a deep breath, then consider how you could work together as an "us" with others to address that problem.
Articles and resources I’ve found interesting:
Looking Back To Move Forward, with Lisa Sharon Harper. This Jerry Colonna podcast interview with Harper was challenging and enlightening: “your story lives inside of a larger story of leadership in America, and that story of leadership is one that exists inside of a capitalist story, a narrative of capitalism in America, that, at its foundation, assumes the exploitation of some in order for others, for the few to thrive. You have a choice. Will you participate in that story, will you participate in that practice in order to get yours or will you choose another way of being together in the world?”
At the opposite end of the spectrum is this Bill Gurley interview with Tim Ferriss, two rich and privileged white dudes talking about how to succeed within the existing capitalist system. And yet I appreciated some of Gurley’s insights, particularly the question of “What could go right?” as a reminder of the asymmetric results available in investing; at worst, you can lose 1x your money, but you could make 1000x your money if it goes right, so look for the positive outlier outcomes. I find this attitude also applies in looking for the best in people.
Other People’s Problems, by Camille Fournier, a guide to answering the question: “how do you know when to involve yourself in something, and how do you know when to stay out of it?” She recommends being intentional in choosing which problems you take personal ownership of, and recognizing that you only have capacity for a couple of those at a time.
Thanks for reading! See you in a couple weeks!