Pressure, Stress And Mental Health


By any chance, have you noticed people around you seem to be dealing with increased pressure? Perhaps too that not only are they experiencing more pressure, it’s coming from multiple sources and rather than being resolved quickly, these pressure linger?

Pressure and the stress that comes with it, seems to be more wide-spread these days. You know, there was a time when a person kept their troubles and stressors to themselves. After all, they didn’t want to appear incapable and put their work in jeopardy. When the worked piled on and piled up, the thinking was you’d roll up your sleeves, bear down and ramp up the speed. You’d come in a little early, work through a shortened lunch, stay a little later, then at some point, that mountain of work would become manageable again. Your stressors would dissipate and everything would fall back into balance.

What I see in 2019 however, is many people are putting in more effort and still falling behind. Not only are they working hard to get through the work they’ve been assigned, there’s more coming and it’s coming more frequently. So many people are playing a shell game; working on something until they have to switch tasks because something has a shorter deadline, then putting some time back into an earlier assigned job whenever they can squeeze it in. The result for many is finished work that isn’t their best; passable perhaps, but they know the result they’d love to have realized just isn’t what they’ve produced.

When a busy person takes on more, there’s two possibilities; they can handle the extra work load or they can’t. If the extra workload is successfully managed, they often get rewarded with a hearty thanks – and additional work, as they can obviously handle the increased work! The person who can’t handle the extra work; albeit they may have said they believed they could take it on – now has a known limit. In other words, the boss knows the maximum amount of work they can handle. In a just world, the boss would ensure the employee doesn’t get assigned or take on more than their capacity, but in reality, that boss is under pressure too. If the pressure they are under is get their team to deliver more, that extra work might just keep funneling down to the employee.

Pressure and stress impact our mental health and our mental health is something we don’t just put on when we get to work and remove at the end of our shift. We carry the state of our mental health in our travels back home, to the supermarket, when we spend time with our families and friends. When we aren’t observed to, ‘be ourselves’, guess what? We now feel additional pressure to be the person others have come to expect us to be not just at work, but at home too.

The result can be consistent and constant pressure to perform. Our homes; traditional places of sanctuary and places to retreat from the world and relax, become places where we are still experiencing pressure. Everyday tasks like washing the dishes, dusting and preparing meals seem taxing. Someone makes an innocent comment like, “we’ll have to buy some milk” or, “have you seen my car keys?”, and well that’s it; we snap back. Suddenly that pressure that’s been building bursts open. It’s not that the car keys or the milk alone are major issues, it’s that they are that one extra thing that you just can’t take on at the moment.

That stress you’re carrying with you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is invisible much of the time. There’s no cast as there is with a broken limb, there’s no label that identifies you as stretched, no hourglass in your hands that shows just how little you’ve got left to give. Some of your precious energy reserves have actually been put into covering up your stress. That forced smile, the longer trips to the bathroom where you’re actually just trying to escape and have some, ‘me’ time for 5 minutes alone. When nobody knows – even though you think they should – they are the most surprised people when you act out of character and tell them to get in the car and go get the milk themselves; find their own car keys and stop leaving them just anywhere in the first place.

Sometimes of course we can work past our limits. Typically we do so for short periods and then return to our normal state. It’s even good to push ourselves the odd time to see what we’re capable of. But then, this new level becomes what others interpret as what we’re capable of all the time. That’s not right; that’s not fair and it’s not accurate. When we put extra energy into something at home or work, that extra energy is derived from somewhere; it doesn’t just materialize. Energy is finite.

Replenishing is the key to productivity. What is it you do in other words, that restores your capacity to deliver on the expectation of both others and yourself to perform? Reading? Meditation? Getting out for a walk? Whatever it is you do to recover and restore your good mental health is as important as any work you do.

It may sound counter productive, but in a day when you’ve got a ton of things to do, you may get more done if you go for a walk around the neighbourhood. Thirty minutes outside or with your door shut at work and a good engaging book in your hands. Maybe close your eyes, breathe deep, some quiet music playing through some noise cancelling headphones? Whatever it is in other words, consider building it in to your busy day so you restore some of that balance you have when you’re at your best.

3 Problems To Resolve


In my role as an Employment Counsellor, I’ve looked over job postings for literally thousands of various careers and jobs over the years; thousands that is, with no exaggeration.

One thing that I’ve noticed when looking at the qualifications required to be successful in the majority of these postings is the need to bring problem solving skills. While some postings leave it at that, others give clues as to how they want them handled. With key words such as, ‘tactfully’, ‘quickly resolve’ and, ‘troubleshoot’ included in the job description, they provide us with key words to use when constructing the application resume and during interviews.

And so it is that I introduce those in my job search classes to three problems, which I share with you here today. My goal in doing so, is to observe how the participants address each one as they work in small groups. I pay close attention to not just the resolution, but listen carefully as they discuss and share with each other their own thoughts. It’s these thoughts and possible courses of action that help me best understand what a person is thinking and how that thinking stands up with the others, is dismissed or accepted, built on or ignored.

So, while I can’t do the same with you my reader, I present them nonetheless. You might find the problems here mundane, easily resolved or tricky. Let me tell you that each one here is a real life situation for someone I partnered with. For each, what would you do?

Problem 1

You wake up and realize you slept through the alarm. You’re 45 minutes later than usual, the car doesn’t have enough gas to get you to work and you’ve got $3.75 in change. The top you’ve put on has a mustard stain, the dog needs to be fed and just threw up on the kitchen floor. Oh and yes, that is a cold sore next to your lip. Welcome to day 3 on your new job.

Problem 2

It’s like the person next to you in your new job hates you and wants you to fail. They ignore you at best, give you incorrect information and tell you flat out that you aren’t wanted there. For this problem, consider not only what you would do, but what might be going on with that coworker which is causing the hostility.

Problem 3

After accepting a position and working for 4 days, you get a new job offer from one of the positions you previously interviewed for. This new offer is slightly more money, has no benefits, is 20 minutes further to commute to one way, and could provide more advancement. Your first 4 days have gone really well by the way.  For this problem, what are the factors you weigh and if you decide to stay, what do you tell the employer with the new offer? If you decide to take the new offer, what do you say to the employer you’re working for now?

Okay, so how did you do?

Problem 1

If you rely on a device to wake you on time, always set a second one. In this situation, that will help going forward but not at the moment. You’re late. First thing is to know the policy and practice of your employer. In some, you have to speak in person with your boss or another supervisor. In others, an absent line will do. Immediately report in when you arrive, explain yourself, apologize and offer to make up the time. Change the top or add a light sweater/jacket. Get the dog out while doing the above and while some have cleaned up after the dog, others have said they’d let it sit there until they came home. No comment! As for getting to work, when you have no gas, bus fare one way might work if transit is available. Can you call on family, a friend, a neighbour? Can you take a cab, share a ride, carpool?

Problem 2

If things start off this badly, it’s more about them than anything you’ve said or done. “Can we talk?” might be a good approach and then gently tell the person how you feel and ask what’s going on as you want this to work. If you get a resolution, good. If not, and only now, escalate your concerns. In this case, what was really happening was the long-term employee had hoped a personal friend of hers would get the job and they didn’t. Talking it out was healthy, the person apologized for their behaviour and they actually became great co-workers.

Problem 3

There’s incomplete information in this problem. Are you getting benefits now? What are the two jobs and are either of them a dream job? How much money are we talking about? Still, you’ve got a decision. The key is to preserve the relationship with the employer you turn down. Don’t for example, just stop going into work and refuse to answer their phone calls. If you do leave, make it clear you stopped actively applying once accepting their offer, thank them for their confidence in hiring you and hope they understand. After only 4 days, you’re not indispensable. Going from the stress of no job to the stress of multiple offers happens when you apply with a strong resume/cover letter and improved interview skills.

While not major perhaps, resolving any problem prepares you for the big ones by honing your problem solving skills.

Maybe You’re The Roadblock


That isn’t what you want to hear, but it might be what you need to hear.

Unfortunately, some of those that need to hear they may be the problem are no longer reading after that first line and some others didn’t even open the article because quite frankly, they figure they don’t need anybody telling them anything. They know it all.

Ah but here’s you! You chose to read! Congratulations! I appreciate your willingness to read and let some of what you read sink in perhaps and consider. The good news for you is that you might be open to changing a few things after reading; getting on track to have a better future than both your past and present.

Roadblocks to our goals fall into two categories; they can come from within or come from our environment. The ones that come from within are entirely ours to impose on ourselves or change. That’s the good news. The bad news, (well at least for some) is that this means the responsibility is 100% ours and ours alone to do something about this internal roadblocks. If you remove them, you deserve all the praise for doing so! If you not only refuse to move these internal roadblocks, you go about your life building more roadblocks to success, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. What I have always found to be sad and unfortunate is that there are a lot of people who set up roadblocks for themselves – barriers to their own success – and yet they say it’s Life being unfair to them; there’s other people out to get them, and society in general is holding them back.

Look, when you’re not having success finding the right jobs, getting interviews, getting hired or keeping jobs once you get them, it is a fool who refuses to consider that they themselves might be the problem. When your trying and trying and your success rate is 3%, you HAVE to at least consider that doing things your way isn’t working. If your way is the only way you know, then doesn’t it sound reasonable to do more listening than talking, heed some advice from someone who knows more than you do and benefit from their knowledge?

Acknowledging that others know more than you do in something doesn’t mean you’re inferior as a person and that you know less than they do in everything. In fact, seeking out people who are wiser than you are, especially in something you really want to become better at is a sign of intelligence! Smart people are always open to learning from others. And smart people do more listening than talking.

Listening is good but it isn’t enough however. To remove a roadblock, here’s what’s needed:

  1. Show a receptive attitude to learning which invites people to share with you
  2. Listen and give them 100% of your attention
  3. Think about or reflect on what you’ve heard (mouth closed)
  4. Be willing to consider and implement some or all suggested ideas
  5. Demonstrate your ability to actually implement the new ideas in the manner they were shared with you
  6. Check back and ask for feedback

Many who are their own biggest problem refuse to even do the first step. They fail to appreciate opportunities when they arise; they discourage those who have knowledge from sharing it with them.

Here’s a quick example. Yesterday I met a woman job searching on a popular job search website. She showed me how she’d cleverly set the distance field to only display jobs close to where she lived – and that’s good. I asked her what job she was after and she said, “anything but it has to pay well.” I asked her what skills she wanted to use in her next job and she said, “baking, customer service and stamina”. So I suggested a company I know where they are in need of Bakers but she shut that down by telling me they weren’t really Bakers there. She told me to tell her of any jobs that would get her money though, and in our conversation, her face never left the monitor as she scrolled quickly down a list of jobs which included Landscapers, Office Administrator’s, Medical Transcriptionists, Telemarketers etc. – all over the map.

Our conversation went on for about 10 minutes. Of the 6 steps above, she did zero. She didn’t show a receptive attitude despite the words she used, didn’t listen, never paused for thought on anything I said, shut down the ideas given to her, failed to implement anything and therefore couldn’t ask for feedback after having tried some. The impression she gave off was that although she said she was open to getting help finding a job, her actions, attitude and behaviour screamed, “I know what I’m doing, it’s not me. Had you been there, you’d have thought as I did, “Actually it’s you.”

There’s a saying that goes, “When the student is ready the Teacher will appear.” What this means is that sooner or later when someone finally is ready to listen and learn, they’ll find help is right in front of them. Yesterday wasn’t her day. Although the Teacher stood before her, she failed to recognize the opportunity for learning. You can’t learn and master any skill you believe you already have.

So my advice on this? Print and cut out those 6 steps above. Stick them in your wallet. Live by them.

 

Getting Over Hurdles In Life


It may sound like an odd way to begin, but visualize a roller coaster at a theme park. It starts off level with the ground, then goes through some ups and downs, there’s twists and turns and possibly one or two huge climbs followed by plummeting falls and eventually it all levels out and you get off. Some are excited to repeat the ride, others look a little worse for wear. Most have hearts pounding after the exhilaration of the ride, some have to fix their hair, and a few are ill; vowing never to go through that again!

I asked you to visualize a roller coaster, not Life, but the parallels are just about as real as the tracks on that coaster.

Most of us perhaps would be happy to sit beside our children or grandchildren on the coaster in kiddie land that goes around in an oval with smooth rises and smooth rolling downs. There’s happiness on the faces of the children, they love the ride and it’s so calm we can carry on a conversation with them and enjoy the experience.

That adult coaster though? It’s death-defying drops, blood-curdling screams as gravity is stripped away and white-knuckled terror; not for the faint of heart.

Where the roller coaster image fails to imitate Life however is that we all stand and size up the coaster. We get to watch it from the ground, then make a decision to ride it or not, we know what’s coming and we voluntarily participate having made a choice to undergo it. While exciting, terrible or utterly fantastic, it only lasts minutes and then we’re back to where we started. It’s over. It’s done. We move on.

Life on the other hand, that’s different. We do our best to map out where we’re going based on all the information we can gather. Whether it’s a road trip, choosing a career, getting into a relationship, or making a major purchase, we do our best to plan our moves and take positive steps forward. We build up momentum when we have some small successes and we have obstacles to overcome which, for the most part, we do so using our past experiences; taking advice from our peers and drawing on our skills.

But as is the case for many; perhaps everyone at some point, along comes some major hill to climb; a crisis. Unlike the coaster, we didn’t anticipate this; we can’t stand back and see how it’s going to end up, we can’t see all the twists and turns ahead of us and no, we don’t know it’s going to all end up with us safe. Most of all, we don’t know how long we’re going to be on this, ‘ride’ we didn’t sign up for.

There are many folks who, lacking the necessary life skills and failing to learn from their experiences, go from one crisis to the next. At any one time, they’ve got 2 or 3 major challenges happening and 4 or 6 smaller problems which if they fail to address will grow and become major hurdles. That roller coaster track on the other hand is solid steel; fixed and rigid. The tracks on the roller coaster of Life seem to have life of their own, undulating, hovering, fluidly moving uncontrollably up and down, responding to our ability or lack of ability to control.

Back to the kiddie land coaster. The child who is nervous about going on the ride is comforted and encouraged by the older sibling or trusted parent alongside. They stand and watch it together, mom points out all the happy kids; dad shows the child the exit door where the kids are bouncing out, excited and safe. The sibling takes the younger sister or brother by the hand and says, “C’mon, it’ll be fun and I’ll be there with you.”

But now as an adult facing your real-life challenges, where’s your support coming from? Does it feel like your standing alone, with no one to hold your hand, go through it with you, assure you it will all end up okay? Yep, it sure can feel that way and yes, you’re entitled to feel what you feel; it’s normal and it’s perfectly right to feel anxiety, anxiousness, rising fear, stress and perhaps panic.

That ride in kiddie land is fun on its own for a child, but it’s also getting that youngster ready for the bigger rides later in life. Get on the ride, have some fun, laugh and then get off. Do it again. Do it once more. Eventually, the child says they want to go on another ride, and they point at something a little bigger, then much bigger, and looking back at the kiddie land alligator ride, they say, “Ah, that’s for small kids.” Forgotten was the day they clung to the leg of a parent, heels dug in the grass and fear written all over their face.

Life is like that. We face new challenges and crises using the skills we’ve developed over time. Sometimes we fail and things don’t turn out great. We don’t always land safely. The learning that goes with the failure however? Hopefully that prepares us for a future hurdle to overcome. We can use that experience, as bad as it was, to avoid repeating it.

It’s called Life for a reason you know; we live it.

So c’mon, take my hand and let’s go!

Carrying Too Much? Headed For A Crisis?


Let’s suppose three conditions exist:

  1.  You’ve got problems.
  2.  Your employer tells you to leave your personal problems at home.
  3.  Your other half tells you to leave your work problems at work.

So you’re not to unburden yourself at home or the workplace. But the message society is broadcasting in 2019 is that talking about your problems, stresses and general mental health challenges is highly encouraged. So who will listen to you if the people in your daily life with whom you have the most contact apparently won’t?

This is the situation many people find themselves in, and with no one they know prepared to listen to them – really listen to them – most people end up carrying an increasingly large load each and every day. Every so often, that load becomes unbearable and then something happens where you shut down completely and take an extended medical leave of absence after experiencing a mental health crisis.

If you saw someone carrying a heavy load, you’d offer to help. The same person carrying too many problems on the other hand is harder for us to see.

If and when you do break down the Management team where you work might say they saw it coming. Well, if they saw this coming, what did they do to reach out and try to head it off before it developed into a full-blown crisis? Was there any offer of counselling? Did they sit down and try to get at your work-related or personal concerns as they impacted on your work production?

Now some employers do have Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). These provide employees with access to confidential counselling services. For those that access this help, it’s a good opportunity to talk openly about the pressure you’re under in both your personal and professional life. You’re given a number of sessions to participate in; and you set the frequency of those talks. It’s just the two of you; you and your Counsellor.

WHAT you talk about is pretty open. Don’t expect however that this Counsellor will hear you out and then tell you what to do to fix your life. That might be nice to envision for some, but in reality, they listen, offer support and yes do make some suggestions on various strategies you might find helpful. They will share community resources if and when appropriate for you to take advantage of, but what they won’t do is lay out a plan for you to follow that solves all your issues. That after all, would be their plan for you, not your plan for you.

Okay so this sounds good if you work for an employer with this counselling service to access. But, for the many who don’t have such services paid for to access as part of their benefit plan, what’s a person to do?

Well, you can opt to pay for counselling services out of your wages. While you might feel this is money you can’t afford, consider that your own mental health is at stake and perhaps you can’t afford NOT to get the help you’re after. If you have a complete break down and have to quit or get fired, you still have all your issues to deal with – plus loss of income and loss of employment.

I think it’s fair to say there are a lot of people these days who are carrying worry, grief, anxiety, depression, bitterness, fear, hopelessness, low self-worth, phobias and pressure with them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some have learned to hide it so well, you and I would be completely shocked if they ever shared what they carry. We’d likely say, “What?! You? No way. I don’t believe it. I’d never have guessed. But you don’t show any signs of that!”

Now we all experience stress and worry; it’s not confined to a few. For the majority of us, these worries and pressures are things we can work through using the skills we’ve acquired and practiced while resolving other challenges and similar situations in our past. As we work through problems and worries, we gain confidence in our ability to work things out, we might have learned to see the bigger picture; to know with great confidence that these problems will eventually pass and life will go on. This perspective and these growing skills help us manage the problems as they arise.

However, equally true is the fact that many people don’t have the knowledge of resources to draw on, they don’t have good role models in their lives helping them learn the skills to resolve problems. They may therefore fail to resolve their problems on a regular basis and all these failures just compound their problems because they repeat the same behaviours which result in the same problems arising. Tragic, sad and a vicious circle.

You may opt to talk things out with a trusted friend. Good for you if you have a friend you can in fact trust, and if that friend listens without jumping to the temptation to tell you what to do. Saying, “here’s what I’d do if I were you…” isn’t really helpful but it sure sounds like what you want to hear.

So how do you access counselling? Ask your employer if there’s help. Ask anyone who works in a community agency for a phone number of such services or use the internet to look up counselling services in your area.

To your good mental health.

Those Across The Table Struggle Too


Have you ever thought much about the people you deal with every day who sit or stand across the table or counter from you and provide a service? Far from robotic, these too are average folks who get up, go to work, do the best they can and go home. They have personal struggles, mental health issues, real-life disasters, hopes and dreams, wants and needs just like me; just like you.

Not many of us care to know quite frankly. When we go in to renew our licence plate stickers and get in that 12 person deep line, shunting our way up to the counter, we just want to pay our dues, get the sticker and leave. We may even share with those we meet for the rest of the day our complaint about the long line, the inconvenience of the process and high fees, and to finish off our rant, complain about the attitude and tone of voice of the man or woman who served us.

And this lack of thought isn’t confined to someone at the licencing centre. No, we likely don’t give much of a thought to the well-being of the Bank Teller who handles our transactions, the person who serves us in the drive-through, the shopkeeper who sells us an item in their store. If you’ve got something – some things – on your mind that worry, stress, preoccupy and keep you from focusing on what you’re doing with a 100% positive attitude, why is it hard to understand that the other people we interact with daily have similar challenges?

Now, to be clear, when we are dealing with such people, it’s inappropriate for both you and I to stop and ask with sincerity how they are doing and whether or not they’d like to open up and share their problems with us. We don’t all have the necessary training to start with and there’s that growing line behind you that you’re now holding up and in doing so, you’re compounding their stress to serve others. And surely, you don’t really expect them to honestly share much of anything with you in that public setting, nor expect them to fully trust you whom they don’t know much at all?

What you and I can do however is our very best to be everything we’d expect in return: courteous, respectful, kind, pleasant to deal with and yes, smile which makes us nicer to deal with.

You might think this is a given; it’s known, basic, interpersonal skills 101. However, I see many people approach those behind the counters and treat them poorly. Raised voices, a lack of manners, scowls at the outset, seemingly looking to provoke an altercation, foul language, animated faces and drama more suited to a theatre stage than a bank reception area. I’ve even found myself apologizing for someone else’s rude behaviour when it’s my turn. Just acknowledging the difficulty they had providing service to the previous person goes a long way.

The thing is we expect the people who serve us to be 100% focused on us. Some would say, “That’s what their paid to do so yes, just do their job.” And honestly if that’s your reaction, you’re likely one of the people who doesn’t care to think about other people as, well…. people. Why would you assume they shouldn’t be working if they’ve got problems on their minds? My goodness, many people would sit home for long periods were this the case.

The truth of the matter is that a great number of people with problems, worries, stressors and mental health challenges find the inner resolve and strength to go about their work day each and every day. They do bring their problems with them to work, then to the grocery stores where they stand in line served by others, then to the gas stations or bus stops where they are surrounded by more people and served by the Cashier or the Bus Driver. On the outside they may look like they’ve got it all together; not a care in the world. On the inside, hidden away from the public, they too may be dealing with all kinds of things we’ve no idea of.

So it’s important therefore to be kind, respectful and yes, even empathetic when we don’t get the absolute best from whomever we are dealing with. If the Waitress neglects to bring us the ketchup we asked for, it’s surely not something to make a big deal over is it? Ask a second time and be kind about it. Maybe she’s worried about getting a call from the school about her child’s behaviour, perhaps she received an eviction notice just before coming to work and she’s conflicted with being here at work serving you so she holds on to her job, but really would rather be packing up or planning to fight it.

To close, I often suggest to you readers that you take advantage of counselling services to unburden your load, share your troubles and in so doing, move forward. That person listening to you, for all their expertise is a human too. As you pour all your feelings out, you’re one of 3 or 4 to do so that day and every day. That’s a huge responsibility they take on gladly, and while they are paid well, they also pay a price you can’t measure.

Be kind, show gratitude, be understanding. Every day with everyone.

Problem Solving


In order to claim you’re good at solving problems, you must have not only had problems arise in the past, you must have successfully resolved them. If you claim you’re an expert at resolving major problems, it logically follows that you’ve not only had major problems in your life, but again, you’ve eliminated them.

What however, defines ‘major problems’? When an interviewer asks you to share examples of having resolved some major problems in your past, you have to hope that your definition of a major problem and theirs is a shared understanding. If you share something they perceive as a relatively easy problem to have faced, and you view it as a major challenge, you might not be up to the demands of the job being discussed.

You have to also be mindful of what you perceive as an acceptable compromise in resolving challenges and problems compared to the person you’re speaking with. When they don’t tip their hand or react in any way to how you describe the steps you took to resolve the problem you’re relating, it can be difficult to know if you’re on the right track with your answer. There may be no way to amend your answer, provide additional commentary or even move to a better example altogether.

One of the poorest things you can do is claim to have none whatsoever in your past that come to mind. This response either comes across as a flat-out lie or if you somehow come across as believable, it only serves to prove you’re inexperienced when it comes to resolving problems. Neither of the two responses to your claim will help you if they want a problem-solver.

Having had problems is a given in your personal or professional life. I’ve yet to meet the person who has sailed along without having had any problem come up. Owning up to having problems in your past is not a weakness. What is of significant interest is your reaction to the problem(s) you’ve elected to share. So faced with a problem, did you a) ignore it, b) face it, c) tell someone else to fix it, d) make it worse, e) make sure the circumstances that led up to the problem were changed so it didn’t recur or f) give up or give in and let it overwhelm you.

One key to dealing with big problems is learning how to tackle small ones; and I mean small ones. Finding yourself ready to go to work but being unable to find where you left the car keys for example. Hardly a life or death problem, but nonetheless at that moment, a problem that must be resolved. Retracing your steps, asking for help from other family members, checking the usual places, the pockets of whatever you wore the night before, all good. Finding them still in the outside door where you mistakenly left them overnight, maybe the lesson learned is hanging up the keys in the same spot from then on as your usual practice so the problem does not arise again.

Building on the idea of adjusting your behaviour and hanging up keys each time in the same place, you can apply this lesson to other situations. You learned to act in a way that anticipates a potential problem and head it off before it occurs. If nothing changes in your behaviour, you’ll repeat misplacing your keys. While that might be frustrating, the leap in reasoning is that you’ll repeat behaviours that bring on self-inflicted problems in other areas too, and that could be costly for an organization when your problems become theirs.

All problems have two things in common; a goal and one or more barriers. There’s something to be achieved and there’s one or more things which need to be addressed and resolved to remove the problem and reach the desired goal.

Successful people are often viewed as people who face their problems head-on, tackling problems before them and reaching their goals. When they do so, they not only reach the goals they desired, they reinforce their belief that they can solve problems. Their confidence rises, other people come to regard them as capable and recognize their problem-solving skills.

People who struggle often hope problems will go away if they ignore them, or they fail to resolve the problem even when they try because they lack the resources or skills to do so. Their past experiences with problems did not prepare them sufficiently to handle the current problem, so they make what others see as poor decisions which either allow the problem to continue or even become bigger.

If your confidence is low when it comes to solving problems, asking for help is a smart thing to do. There’s no shame in knowing your limitations and seeking help but do make an effort to learn from the person helping you. When someone does something for you, that may resolve the problem this time, but it may not prepare you for when the same problem or one of a similar nature comes up again. Having someone guide and support you while you solve the problem will improve your confidence in not only resolving the immediate problem, but similar ones as they arise.

You’ll likely experience failures and setbacks when facing problems; this is normal and okay. Problems will always come along in life. They really present opportunities to grow.

Problems In Addition To Unemployment?


If you’re out of work its a pretty safe bet that the lack of a job isn’t the only problem you’re facing. Quite the opposite is likely the case; you’ve got a growing list of issues that would seem to be multiplying.

As these multiple issues arise, you’ve also likely come to doubt your ability to handle things effectively, and this is yet another thing that’s giving you reason for concern, because handling things effectively so they didn’t get out of hand used to be a strength of yours. Now though, well, you’re doubting yourself. And this self-doubt is happening more and more isn’t it?

Here’s the thing about problems; we all get them from time-to-time. For many people, the problems can be anticipated and quickly averted; say in the case of knowing you’ve got a bill to pay by the end of the month. The smart thing to do would be to pay the bill, avoiding any more charges for a late fee and then crossing this potential problem off your list. Seems easy enough.

The thing about mounting problems however is that when one problem comes along, it often brings several more. So not only is a particular bill due, there could be several due, and just as you’re thinking it’s going to be difficult to pay all the bills, this is precisely when the furnace acts up, the curling shingles on the house you didn’t repair or replace blow off completely, the dog has an untimely medical visit to the vet clinic and suddenly the washing machine is knocking so loud you can longer ignore it. Then your child innocently reminds you it’s hotdog day at school and they’ll need the permission form signed and $3.00 to cover a dog and a drink. That’s the last straw!

All that pressure and strain erupts like Mount Vesuvius, and you’re snapping at people one moment and apologizing the next. Great! Yet another thing you’ve got to worry about! You’re losing it! Sound familiar?

Thing is, the above scenario is more common than you’d like to think. It’s not just you experiencing these issues, it’s many of the people around you – even though on the outside, they – like you, are doing a really good job of appearing totally in control. Why, you’d never guess from looking at them that they’ve got a similar set of problems all their own.

There’s a certain irony you know in that when problems first arise, many people don’t mind sharing them with others, but as the problems mount and multiply, sharing with anybody all the problems we’ve got becomes less and less an option. You see, it’s in sharing our problems with others that we often find workable solutions. Perhaps what you’re dealing with now is a problem someone else has recently dealt with and put behind them. Even if you don’t get a ready-made solution from sharing your problem, just talking it out to a receptive ear is healthy; better for you than you might know.

Another good reason for talking through the things you’re dealing with – or rather finding hard to deal with – is that you’re usual good judgement isn’t what it was. This isn’t a long-term issue to worry over in addition to everything else – let me stress this. However, at this particular moment, right now, your decision-making skills are under pressure. The result? You think you’re making the best decisions possible but to outside, objective people looking in, those decisions are questionable at best and poor at worst.

So, what to do? First, do you have someone you can confide in with confidence? You know, someone who you can trust? If you do, ask for their ear and tell them how much you’d appreciate sharing some of your immediate challenges and worries. You may get some ideas and possible solutions, but even if they only listen, that’s a start. If you have someone, great. Remember, this person you’d like to confide in won’t judge you or tell you to keep your problems to yourself. If such a person isn’t easily found, seeing a Mental Health Counsellor through a local Mental Health organization might be an option. Often at no charge, you’ll get a confidential appointment, judgement-free and yes, maybe some strategies to deal with some of your current problems.

You’re smart enough to know that a problem ignored doesn’t usually resolve itself or just go away. A problem ignored usually escalates and becomes a bigger problem over time. Facing the problem head-on might not seem like something you can take on at the moment, but it may be exactly the thing to do. If it helps, start tackling a relatively minor problem and clear it from your mind. You’ll feel better! Don’t immediately worry about the big problems you’ve yet to deal with until you acknowledge your small start and give yourself credit for this success.

Could be that the income from a job will resolve many of your worries – especially the financial ones. However, would tackling some problems outside of getting a job be a better place to start? Perhaps. You see without tackling these other issues, you might not do as well as you need to be in a new job, and problems ignored could mean time off to deal with them – resulting in losing the job. Only you can decide what’s the best strategy for you given what you’re experiencing.

You Say You’re A Problem Solver?


People that say they can solve problems are worth talking to because employers often want problem-solvers in their organizations. People who can actually prove they’ve solved problems both in the past and the present however will always get selected first. Yep, there’s a big difference between saying you can do something and actually demonstrating your ability.

Not long ago I had the occasion to talk with an employer and he was sharing with me an experience he had with an applicant during a job interview. One of the key qualities he was looking for in the next person he hired was a person’s ability to take on problems and find solutions. What he was listening for a person to share was specific examples of when they’ve faced problems, what their options were, the thought process they undertook at the time and after weighing pros and cons, what they actually settled on as a solution and then the action they took. Sometimes he went on, the result itself didn’t even have to always work out favourably as long as the thought process and the effort was there. Results he said would come most of the time.

In this one interview, he heard this applicant describe a situation at work where they were faced with a problem while working alone. They related in their example what they did when consultation wasn’t possible and things actually worked out very favourably for all involved. It was as he said, an impressive example of their ability to problem solve. So much so in fact, that he was impressed enough to offer the candidate a place. It was at this point however, that the applicant made an error that cost her the job.

She mentioned to the interviewer that she wouldn’t be able to work on the weekends (a written requirement in the job posting) as she didn’t have anyone lined up to look after her child on those two days. This as he related it, was a current and ongoing problem that she hadn’t been able to solve. How, he reasoned, was she going to be able to solve his problems associated with the business if she was unable to solve this critical problem of her own? Presumably being more important to her to solve her own problems, he could only imagine she’d put less effort into solving the organizations as they arose were she to be hired. She didn’t get the job.

Now lest you think she was immediately asked to leave, he told me that he had first asked how long the problem had existed. After all he reasoned, if she had only just learned that her childcare provider was suddenly unavailable, she could have made a case that it was a short-term problem and she’d have a solution quickly. Her answer however surprised him; she’d had this childcare problem for over a year.

This was to him more an example of her inability to solve a critical problem than any example she could present to him from her past work experience. Here was a very real problem that in over a year she had not successfully resolved. What she was hoping for was that he’d hire her to work just Monday to Friday and that some of his existing staff with greater seniority would be scheduled to work the weekend shifts. How likely would you think an employer and the fellow employees would see that as a reasonable accommodation? That’s thinking from a very egocentric place; the world resolves around me and others should meet my needs.

Problems exist; they come and they go only to be replaced by new ones. There’s a lot of good in being faced with problems actually. Be careful if you wish you had no problems to deal with in your life. Problems present opportunities to use your existing skills, coupled with your life and work experiences to devise solutions. Being challenged with situations that require you to think, research, brainstorm, consult and eventually make educated and sound decisions based on what you’ve accumulated is a desirable skill.

Now some people can solve problems that benefit themselves only; or benefit an organization but at the price of the customers they serve. Other organizations are bending over backwards so much to keep their customers happy that they actually destroy themselves in the process, so that’s not a long-term problem-solving strategy for success.

The best solutions to problems typically start with one’s ability to correctly comprehend and diagnose the problem. This is followed by coming up with the possible options available that will resolve the matter to the satisfaction of all. Ideally all parties want to feel that they have a resolution that maintains the relationship moving forward, meets their own needs and everyone can move forward.

If you are heading into an interview fully advised in a job posting that problem-solving is one of the requirements of the position, you should expect to be asked to prove through examples from your past that you’re a problem-solver. Don’t wait until that moment, look dumbfounded and sputter out some poor example or worse yet, tell them you’ve never had a problem you couldn’t solve. That could just show you’ve never been properly challenged and your skills in this area are underdeveloped.

You might typically be asked to relate past problems with customers, co-workers, management etc. Be ready. Be a problem-solver.

 

 

 

Going Through Tough Times?


In my professional job as an Employment Counsellor, most of the people I interact with and serve are looking for a job. It might be their dream job, a secondary job or a job to replace the job they have at present. This much they have in common along with one other basic truth; they all have tough times, problems, barriers (call them what you will) that they are experiencing in addition to looking for work. What differentiates them is how they react to these.

Now I would think it safe to say that most people would like the tough times to be shorter. The person who lost their licence to a drunk driving charge wishes the pardon process was faster. The guy without a car wishes there was some way he could get to those organizations hiring people who happen to be located far from public transit routes.

Problems; who doesn’t have some? Some are bigger than others and some tend to come and go while others seem to hang around seemingly forever. And honestly, while some folks deal with one big problem, others live with numerous smaller problems that seem to multiple whenever one gets taken care of.

The thing about tough times is that they test us; they test our ability to see them for what they are and they test us for how we react to them; deal with them or not by choice. And make no mistake, I’ve come to believe we have a choice in how we respond to the problems before us. Not everybody likes to hear they’ve got a choice; especially those who feel they don’t have one for that makes it easier for them to continue not to work on their problems.

Why is it that some of us deal with the same challenges better than others? Does it perhaps come down to some of us are just better skilled at handling these issues than others? Maybe that’s so because I often see multiple people with the same issues taking very different approaches to their problems and having extremely different outcomes. You might say to yourself, “Nobody has the problems I do”, but I suspect there are many who do have the same problems you do. That’s not really the point though is it? You have your problems and I acknowledge at the moment they are yours personally.

First off I suppose you have to decide whether you want to live with your problems or choose to work through the problems and eventually leave them behind. If you opt to live with your problems you likely will; they will become part of who you are forever. If you opt to leave them behind, you work daily to resolve them and develop the skills needed to overcome them.

So why is going through tough times so excellent? There are two reasons actually. One is the two key words, ‘going through’ in that previous sentence, and the second is you’re going to have some incredible skills to acknowledge with a story to tell when you emerge free of the tough times. In short, you’re going to feel better in the future and feel stronger, prouder, more confident about yourself soon, and this tough time is going to prepare you for tougher times ahead.

Seeing a problem for what it is instead of what you imagine it to be is a critical first step in problem solving. Honestly it’s critical because often what we imagine the problem to be makes the problem bigger and this can make it daunting to even contemplate overcoming. Name it and if need be, check out what you perceive it to be with someone you trust to share your problems with. They don’t have to offer you solutions or give you advice, you’re only asking them to hear you out and see if you’ve correctly identified the problem for what it is.

Next, determine what skills you have and if you are qualified to tackle this problem with what’s at hand. If you find you’ve got all the tools you need to fix a problem then your only decision is whether or not you want to fix it. If you find yourself lacking in the skills needed to fix an issue, you’ll need to acquire the skills required yourself or bring in someone with those necessary skills and weigh the cost of doing so.

When you do work through tough times, you emerge into a period where the worst is behind you. Things feel brighter, the load is lighter to bear and whatever you did to work through those tough times stays with you; you’re now better equipped to use the same skills in the future if and when similar challenges spring up. Next time, you’ll be better equipped to identify the problem faster and work on the solution with more enthusiasm because you’ve done so before. In short, you’re evolving, learning and putting your past experiences to good use as you strive to work through whatever has occurred.

Whether your professional or personal life, the memories of how you’ve overcome are important to recall, and remembering how you overcame them means remembering how formidable the problems seemed at the time. Hence the advice to not forget your past problems but focus on celebrating how you overcame them.

Dark or tough times aren’t fun to be sure, but they sure add vivid contrast to the good times to come.