Standing Up For Your Values
Catherine’s smile froze at the end of the sentence. Her strained voice and frowned eyebrows betrayed her words.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “You look stressed. What’s going on?”
Catherine let out a sigh. It dissolved the barrier between us. Her emotion began flowing out.
“Actually, it has been overwhelming. I got too much work to do in such a short time.”
Catherine works at a museum run by a municipal government. The city decided to re-open the museum in a few weeks after closing its doors for three months due to the COVID19 pandemic. Catherine had to end the current exhibit and install a new one by the re-opening date.
“I know I can do this all right if I’m just doing exhibit stuff. But I’m constantly pulled to attend meetings and training sessions for the facility re-opening. Art installation is detail-oriented work and requires so much focus. Attending meetings is distracting. It takes away my energy and focus that I need for installation.”
“Have you told that to your supervisor?”
“I mentioned it to her, but she didn’t seem to understand it. I don’t want to repeat myself. It will make me look like whining or complaining. It’s a busy time. Other staff is also multitasking and overworking. Maybe I should just try to be more capable.”
I heard similar comments from people who worked for organizations again and again. Deadlines, responsibilities, job performance, accountability, expectations. Emailing late at night, skipping a lunch break, texting business messages while waiting for the green traffic light.
Our society has built a work culture where “I can’t” means failure regardless the circumstance. This culture doesn’t encourage a worker to step back, evaluate the work situation, and assess her stress level. It doesn’t promote the practice of setting a workload limit and not taking up the work that goes over it.
However, it doesn’t mean that we must follow the cultural norm. It takes courage to stand up for our values and tell others what we cannot accept. None of us wants to look like a whiner or loser. But the reality is that people in the workplace would pay respect to us if we sincerely communicate our needs in a mindful way. Instead of shouting out complaints, we need to articulate what is not working and why, not forgetting to express gratitude for our colleagues and supervisors.
Catherine and I talked about what aspects of her job she truly enjoyed and where she struggled. We also discussed the support she had been receiving from her coworkers. She assessed her current stress level and contemplated the changes she had to make to maintain her emotional and physical health.
I encouraged her to see the current work situation as a golden opportunity to widen her emotional capacity. What stresses us most is not prolonged work hours but our inner voices, such as, “I don’t have time to do all these things,” and “I can’t get this done by the deadline.” I advised Catherine to watch her mind when she started hearing such voices.
Notice, take a deep breath, and tell herself that time is not a fixed system but like rubber; it stretches, shrinks, and expands according to the rhythm of nature, including her own. People in Bali call this time concept Jam Karet (rubber time). It envelops the stress and softens it.
As the busy mind slows down and the tightness in the heart relaxes, we feel more ease and expansion. This is the way we increase our capacity for challenges not only in the workplace but also in life. I know people who take up many roles and tasks but don’t seem stressed. They can function well because they have a larger capacity for challenges. They have command over time and stress instead of being controlled by them.
A couple of days later, Catherine told her supervisor she needed to excuse herself from meetings and training sessions to focus on her exhibit installation work. She explained to him how her approach could benefit not only herself, but also the whole organization. She then sent out an email to all staff that expressed her gratitude for their support and appreciation for her work. She felt empowered and loving.
Perhaps, I don’t need to tell you what happened to Catherine after that.
“Stand up for who you are. Respect your Self and ignite the divine sparks in you. Access your powers. Choose your rights and work together with others to bring blessings into the lives.” ― Amit Ray