"Just get me through today, please!"
Does that sound like a well-known plea, that you mutter often?
Here are some variations that may sound familiar to you also:
The Surviving to Thriving Continuum
Sadly, far too many leaders regularly recite similar lines like "Just get me through today! Regardless of the version each of these mantras is a red flag signalling that you might be in survival mode. We’ve all been there at some point or another. Survival mode becomes a problem when you live there rather than visit there.
There will always be busy times. Leaders are constantly involved in the ebb and flow of new projects, shifts in contractual expectations, and annual cycles of budgets, performance reviews and grant proposals or contract renewals. It’s the job. There is no way around it.
I am not talking so much about work, as the attitude towards the work and the impact on you. The effect on you falls on a continuum. So let's first look at opposite ends of the gamut.
Survival mode is characterized by fear. You are always afraid of falling apart, dropping the ball or losing it. You are barely hanging on, just getting by or trying to stay alive.
It feels like everything is a battle in survival mode, and you must suffer through it or endure the storm. As a result, you have little energy, are pretty negative or openly apathetic. Perhaps you've found yourself muttering "Whatever!" a little too commonly.
Those in survival mode tend to feel isolated and alone. It doesn’t feel like anyone cares about you or that you have anyone on your team. In fact, it often seems like “they” are out to get you. When I was survival mode, I honestly hated a few people and loathed a couple of others.
This end of the spectrum, survival, is marked by crisis management, putting out fires and only a day-to-day sustainability. Lord knows you can’t last like this forever. Burnout is knocking on your door.
The thriving mode, on the right end of the continuum, is characterized by passion. You are growing and developing and loving it, despite the challenges. To many, it is an adventure with a purpose. You are blooming and flourishing as you learn new things and take on engaging projects.
Those in thriving mode tend to feel confident, courageous and resilient. It isn’t that people at this end of the continuum don’t encounter challenges; they just know they can handle it. When I moved up into the thriving mode, I was eager to go to work, felt like I was doing meaningful work and could say I was being stretched, but not to the point of snapping.
This end of the spectrum, thriving, is marked by feelings of being engaged, supported and connected. Leaders in thriving mode feel like they belong to a larger community of support and feel that they are making a positive impact through their work.
It’s usually not black or white
Rarely are any of us completely at one end of the spectrum. We are likely at some point in between. We also ebb and flow daily. Depending on where you are, whom you are interacting with and the day's agenda, you can shoot from one end of the continuum to the other pretty quickly. As such, most of us sit somewhere along the surviving to thriving continuum, moving around various points in the middle.
The Middle – Coping Mode
II call coping mode in the center of the surviving to thriving continuum. You are doing more than barely getting by, but you're not feeling so alive that you want to yell from the mountaintops about how much you love your job. So instead, you go to work and have some good days, lots of so-so days and a few insane days.
The coping mode can also be thought of as maintaining. You're doing good enough, the best you can or at least less than bad. You exist.
Some leaders are bored in the middle. There is no challenge, pull, or drive to use your skills and talents fully. Often it's a sign you have been in the same position for longer than you should have been.
I find that in this coping mode, many leaders are tolerating, settling or complying with less than stellar workplace environments, teams, and bosses. Things aren’t good, but they are not so bad that you feel urged to rock the boat.
When I was in coping mode, I felt emotionally flatlined. I didn't feel a lot of excitement or joy. Instead, it felt more like I was running around the same hamster wheel day after day. I had a few friends to connect with that would let me vent (i.e., bitch and moan) but not a ton of support to move the needle forward.
Coping mode ranges from short-term stability, meaning you could go on like this for a few months, to a way of life. Sadly many leaders believe this is just the way it is and don't think they can change it. So instead of a period before things move one way or the other, leaders stay in a coping mode for most of their careers.
Moving from survival to thriving
The truth is you can move from surviving to coping to thriving at work and in life. You have a choice. You do not have to stay stuck in your current mode forever. To move forward along the continuum, there are three key things you need to do.
Current habits keep you stuck
You’ve likely been sitting at the edge of survival mode for quite a while. You know it well. It’s become a way of life. You have developed damaging habits to cope with lack of sleep, missed meals, and limited time for yourself and family. You know how to get the critical things done with a hectic schedule at the office and have a system in place for ensuring you meet everyone’s basic needs. These habits are keeping you in this mode.
Be gentle but insistent as you develop new habits
To move to the right, you will need to develop new habits to thrive. Take the time to look at your real self and your ideal self. Then, create a plan to move from where you are to where you want to be. Then, get your butt in gear, my dear!
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Women leaders often hit a point where they find themselves in over their heads and wondering if they have what it takes to lead.