Cultivating Happiness by Building Resilience in the Academic Workplace, Part Two

 Erin Burns   July 10, 2019  Career Advice

Part One of this article explored the importance of the foundational resiliency skills of being present and self-acceptance. This article, Part Two, will provide further guidance on how to cultivate happiness in your work by exploring the last three personal resiliency skills: 1) boundaries and expectations, 2) balance, and 3) celebration and appreciation.

Boundaries and Expectations

The connection between self-acceptance and boundaries and expectations is that once you know what’s important to you and what you value (including your unique worth gained through self-acceptance), you need to protect it, so it can grow. That is where boundaries and expectations come into play. Boundaries and expectations focus on limiting the negative influences in your life and protecting what you value.

There are both internal and external sources of negativity, which I’m defining as anything hostile toward your personal and professional growth and values. Internal sources of negativity include your mindset/attitude and self-talk. External sources of negativity include colleagues trying to influence your life, especially people who don’t always have your best interests at heart. Boundaries are used to filter out unhelpful expectations and protect what you care about.

People who don’t have boundaries and expectations in place tend to say “yes” to everything and then wonder why they’re so overwhelmed. People pleasers are known for getting trapped in these situations. An often overlooked side effect of always saying “yes” to everyone is that all the space, effort, and time you want to reserve for your important people isn’t available for them. Every time you say “yes” you are saying “no” to something/someone else. Are you saying “yes” to your most important people?

It is much more difficult to feel in control of your life if you don’t have boundaries and expectations set for yourself. Without clearly defined boundaries, you may feel too weak to push back on something that doesn’t align with your values or isn’t your responsibility. Have you encountered people who constantly change their minds? This might be due to their endless desire to meet expectations from multiple people. This tendency may manifest in the academic workplace as a feeling of chaos and unsteadiness, particularly if a manager tends to bounce back and forth between priorities and doesn’t keep a steady course.

Unclear boundaries and expectations can create confusion, as well as opportunities for others to knowingly or unknowingly take advantage of you. Without boundaries, you can’t set self-serving expectations for yourself, your coworkers, your supervisor, your employees, or anyone you interact with.

Here are some stories or beliefs that might deter you from setting boundaries and expectations that serve you:

-I need to live up to others’ expectations of me.

-Others’ happiness is more important than my own.

-It is selfish to pursue my happiness.

-If I don’t listen to and help everyone, I won’t be liked and will miss out on opportunities.

Here are some stories or beliefs that might promote setting boundaries and expectations that serve you:

-Starting with “no” is best.

-Expectations rarely serve me.

-It’s acceptable to protect what I value.

People who are good at setting boundaries and expectations will make their participation in groups clearer, will better explain their expectations to those they manage and work with, and will notice and effectively respond when someone tries crossing a boundary they have set. In addition, people with this resiliency skill will do a better job of prioritizing, of saying “no”, of considering the things that are important to them when making decisions, and of maintaining their health and wellbeing.

A manager who is good at setting boundaries and expectations will be open and clear about what are and aren’t the responsibilities of the team. Additionally, the manager will better listen to what your expectations are, what’s important to you, what your boundaries are, what you’re trying to build with your career, and the direction you want to go.

How can you start practicing setting boundaries and expectations that serve you?

(1) Set expectations separate from others.

(2) Only consider expectations from people who have your best interest (defined by you) at heart.

(3) Create and use a filter. Example: Will this serve my happiness or help me achieve my goals at work?

(4) Determine who should have unlimited access to the happiness of your most important person/people, since events that impact you can, in turn, impact your important person’s happiness.

Sometimes the most challenging part about making and keeping boundaries in place is questioning yourself. This is why you need to continue to reaffirm what’s important to you, fortify your unique worth through self-acceptance, and spend time being present. Setting boundaries will be very difficult for those who initially find their value in pleasing others. It may feel selfish to determine that something is important to you, but if you’re always pleasing others, you are allowing them to determine your happiness.

With boundaries and expectations, you have intentionally shielded what you care about. Now let’s dive into intentionally choosing to commit your energy toward what you care about.

Balance

There are many ways to define balance. Some think of it as work/life balance or possibly dedicating a certain amount of time to work and non-work activities. Others regard balance as considering their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. One way to see balance is the concept of intentionally contributing your energy to areas that best energize you or best serve you over time. Balance is being intentional about how you use your energy, especially as it relates to what is important to you. Defining your balance allows you to prioritize what your energy is used for.

Balance, just like happiness, is unique to each individual and is something you need to personally define. It’s making a choice to use your energy the way that best suits you. Think of balance as an alignment between the way you feel and what you think, your goals, your values, and how you spend your time. Balance entails realizing that you can choose to spend time with people who drain your energy or spend time with people who energize you and support your professional priorities. Over time, the conscious choices you make on where to commit your energy can determine whether you feel engaged and fulfilled at work…or not.

When you don’t know what balance is for you, you may try to match what someone else is doing or telling you. What energizes you and someone else may be completely different.

If you see someone who looks extremely tired or they’re on the brink of burnout, that person might be experiencing an extreme lack of balance. These people over time have consciously or unconsciously committed, time and time again, to priorities and people that don’t energize them. 

Here are some stories or beliefs that might deter someone from achieving balance:

-Success is all that matters in life.

-Others’ needs guides where I use my energy.

-Someday I’ll make time for something other than work.

-I can’t let anybody down. Everybody is counting on me.

Here are some stories or beliefs that might promote balance:

-My priorities and values will guide where I give my energy.

-I can choose the best balance for my life.

-Enjoying the journey is as important or more important than the destination.

-I will not put off what is important to me.

-My energy is precious.

Employees who understand the balance they require to stay energized and be at the top of their game will perform better when working on an activity and will be fully committed, knowing that their dedication to the activity is their choice and serves them. Employees who better define their balance will also choose activities and roles that energize them and realize that not everyone is energized in the same way, at the same time, by the same things.

How can you start practicing balance?

(1) Challenge and encourage yourself to have the balance that you want/define what that is.

(2) Step back from situations and ask yourself if you are served by putting energy into them.

(3) Say “no”.

(4) Do small things now instead of waiting for things you want to have in the future. For example, if you are looking forward to traveling when you retire, take a day or weekend trip now.

(5) Determine what you want your legacy to be and prioritize your energy toward those elements. Not sure what you want your legacy to be? Try writing your obituary, and notice what things you want to be known for.

Schedule time in your calendar for self-care, connecting with your important people, and to try new things.

You may draw your energy from rest, completing tasks, spending time with others, or being alone. There isn’t a single formula for balance. Inevitably, too, you will choose to do something that doesn’t energize you. It is important to be aware of this choice and try not to overdo it. One way to achieve the goal of balance over time is to prioritize and choose more and more frequently to do what energizes you.

The last resiliency element of personal celebration and appreciation further develops the importance of being intentional with your energy and emphasizes refilling your energy tank.

Celebration and Appreciation

The resiliency skill of celebration and appreciation is focused on personal celebration and appreciation, not on the celebration and appreciation of others or of others celebrating you. Personal celebration and appreciation help us recognize our own efforts, progress, and journey and re-energize ourselves.

Many people see celebration as a waste of time. They justify that they can complete additional tasks instead of “wasting time” or consider it slacking off to recognize what they’ve completed. In the workplace, managers tell their employees not to send emails of gratitude. Although this may seem more efficient, a lack of thanks can make the work environment seem much more transactional instead of relational. It also discourages many employees from being engaged or caring.

When was the last time you met someone who over-celebrated in a good way? Maybe never. Why? Perhaps it is because somewhere between being a kid and becoming an adult, we learn that celebrating is not something a mature or humble person should do. Some see celebration and appreciation as selfish or arrogant. Let’s challenge that idea. Have you ever looked at a joyful five-year-old and said, “dang, he just needs to stop celebrating; that’s so arrogant”?

Adults need to reexamine the consequences of not celebrating or appreciating anything except the “right things” at the “right times”. There doesn’t have to be a big reason to celebrate, like a birthday or getting a promotion. Celebrating and appreciating the little things is extremely valuable for being more present; creating optimism; overcoming challenges; and bolstering motivation, self-acceptance, and confidence. Managers who are skilled at personal celebration and appreciation create space for it and encourage others to do the same for themselves. This skill also supports and enhances engagement, contentment, and enthusiasm in the workplace.

Here are some stories or beliefs that might deter someone from embracing celebration and appreciation:

-I don’t have time to appreciate anything! There is too much to do!

-Achieving the goal is all that matters.

-Celebrating is for kids.

-I’ll enjoy what I earn when I retire.

Here are some stories or beliefs that might promote celebration and appreciation:

-It is important to recognize my progress.

-Celebrating and appreciation can energize me and help me to see more possibilities or do more.

-If I can’t enjoy the journey and the victory of the goal, it’s not worth my energy.

Want some examples of celebration and appreciation of the little things? It may be that after a project you take a 10-minute walk to appreciate the outside, get some sun, relax, clear your mind, and reflect on the progress you made. It may be that you treat yourself to a nice dinner for keeping a positive attitude all day long. It can even be as simple as saying “great job” to yourself. One of the best things about personal celebration and appreciation is that you know, better than anyone else, how you like to celebrate and appreciate.

How can you start practicing personal celebration and appreciation?

(1) Appreciate challenges and differences; it is what makes life exciting and interesting.

(2) Make a list of the different ways you can celebrate and determine which are your favorite (stickers, time, food, dance, smile, permission, etc.).

(3) Assign a celebration task when you write down a task.

(4) Write yourself an appreciation card that you open in one month.

(5) Hang out with kids and have a child-like attitude about celebration.

(6) Spend time in nature.

(7) Journal the best experience of your day, every day.

(8) Recognize effort instead of results.

(9) Consider that being your best self every day is an achievement and is worth celebrating.

Celebration and appreciation are all about how you recognize and value your journey. They are more focused on effort than outcomes, results, or accomplishments. This concept should align well with established ideas of growth and learning within academia.

The three resiliency skills highlighted here, along with the foundational skills of being present and self-acceptance, are key to realizing career success and happiness, both now and in the long-term. Mastering resiliency skills is an iterative, lifetime process that is never complete. However, the sooner you start practicing resilience, the sooner you will reap great rewards for your career and happiness. The key is to start and do it the way that best serves you.

About the author: Christina Unrein is a Leadership and Happiness Coach, Resiliency Trainer, and the owner of Possibility Lab LLC. Christina energizes and prepares achievement-driven leaders, engineers, and teams moving from good to great to be more effective, courageous, intentional, and collaborative. She designs and delivers comprehensive, integrated, immersive leadership and diversity and inclusion experiences featuring training, coaching, and mentoring elements. She’s passionate about energizing frustrated and exhausted individuals and organizations struggling with motivation, expectations, balance, resiliency, engagement, and satisfaction. Christina is the author of The Happiness Workbook: Rise Up, Happiness Soldiers. She sees life as a game that is won by being authentic and curious and loves playing with her nieces and nephews!

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