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Engaged, or Merely Checked-In?

[reprint of previous post, and once again I am in the same situation]

Today is the last day of a lovely vacation. I am well tanned, well fed, and emotionally, well, chaotic. This is how I get during transitions: swirling. Half distraught about leaving the beach so soon, half delighted about the coming challenges. Today I am the putty pulled between these two poles.

I know this territory. I’ve visited it often over the decades. And I’ve learned that how I feel over the next week or two has everything to do with how I manage my energy on Monday morning.

When I assess a new client’s – or my own – well-being, relational energy is a major KPI. We have only four ways of relating to our challenges. We can be:

  • Checked-out
  • Checked-in
  • Engaged
  • Obsessed

I met my first checked-out individuals in my first office job. I was thirty at the time. Up til then, I had mainly been around musicians, entrepreneurs, and teachers, all of whom tend to be passionate about their work. But at this job, two of the eight sales cubes were inhabited by older gentlemen who no longer understood the technologies they sold, and who seemed primarily interested in getting to their evening vodka.

We’ve all known those folks. Going through the motions. Apparently present, but not. The living dead. Checked-out. They may be hostile and radiate negativity, they may be charming and fun to be with, but they are not really here when they are here. Companies who fail either to revitalize or purge these wraiths will soon join them in a hot tub of lethargy.

On the other extreme, who hasn’t worked with an obsessive personality? I spent much of my career life obsessed with the project-du-jour. Hyper-focused, hyper-driven, workaholic. Relationships with people, whether at work or home, sat in the back of the bus. Succeed or die. Divorce city.

The thing about obsession is that it a drug. You get hooked. You crave it. A day spent not obsessed feels like death. But like all drugs, the high is not sustainable. You might keep running on high octane for years, but you will inevitably crash. It won’t be pretty.

Checked-in is where too many of our coworkers are. They do their jobs. They deliver good enough results. They earn their pay and bonuses, the occasional pat on the back and the occasional slap on the wrist. Sometimes they accept recognition or applaud their colleagues, sometimes they fume about perceived injustices, but in the end, they just don’t care all that much. Hopefully, they have a passion somewhere in life, but their job ain’t it. And ain’t that a shame? 40-60 hours a week of just getting by? At some point, they’ll check out.

Which brings us to the sweet spot: Engaged. Caring about the results, the processes for getting results, the conversations and connections that drive the processes. Caring about the long term and the short term and all points in between. Not just checked in. Plugged in.

When you’re engaged, work is part of the fabric of your life. Unlike with obsession, you can at will put down one engaging part of your life and pick up another. When things go well, you can celebrate, and when they don’t, you keep on keeping on. You pursue your goals unashamedly, yet are open to what comes your way, because you have no doubt that life is filled with riches beyond comprehension.

Here’s the lovely secret: we get to choose. We can cultivate engagement. If you don’t know how, talk with your spiritual advisor or hire a coach or shoot me an email. You can get there, and really, there’s no other place worth being.

Today, in my end-of-vacation stew, I know that torn-between-two-worlds is part of my transition process. But I also know that Monday, when I hit my desk, if I don’t manage this relational energy consciously, it will manage me. It will give me a week or two of choppy waters, and that always makes everyone I care about a little seasick.

So this I will do: I will plug in. I will be fully engaged. I will be energized by the challenges of my workday, I will be focused at the gym, and by dinner, I will switch to being fully engaged with my family.

Life is too short for any of the other options.

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