How to handle pressure

My heart is racing. I can feel the steady hammering against my chest. Strong. Loud. My thoughts are spinning. Fast. Unstoppable.

‘What if I cannot meet the deadline?’

‘What if the result is too weak?’

‘What if I am not convincing enough in this important meeting?’

WHAT IF … I fail … I loose… I am not enough!?

The what-ifs kill my sleep. The pressure takes away my joy. The stress assassinates my peace. I am not me anymore … and I have no idea what to think … or do …

I hate these moments. This is not the life I want. This needs to STOP!

So I pause. I breathe. I think.

What if I walk away right now? Just leave the context. Remove myself from unhealthy expectations – even the ones I set up for myself.

I am wondering: Who told me that the meeting was that important? What is the measurement for a weak result? What is going to happen if the deadline is not being met?

I have given my circumstances too much power over my life. Somehow I attached myself to expectations that feel unhealthy. I need to walk away.

As I am sitting in silence and detaching myself from the expectation level, I am realizing how the pressure fades away. My heart beat slows down, I can breathe lightly. This is how I want to live my life.

I am realizing: I don’t need to leave physically. Moving mentally does the trick.

With a deep breath I get up. Ready to go back into the game. Smiling.

How to start a consulting career in time of crisis

As the the labor market continues to stay put, the next generation of young professionals is entering the workforce looking for their first opportunity to start their careers. Instead of choosing the best offer among many, hundreds of applications are sent without getting the aspired position. In addition, this time cannot be bridged with the next travel experience or gap year abroad as most borders are closed or at least harder to cross. What a fuck!

While this is extremely frustrating, there are still options that can be done in order to increase the attractiveness of one’s profile for the consulting market. Here are some thoughts from the other side of the fence which skill sets are being searched for.

Know your MS Office toolset by heart

While this sounds extremely obvious, most young professionals stated after their first project that they had thought to know the toolsets well … and were surprised of how much more there is to learn. (And while they had rated themselves an 8 of 10, they were probably a 2 of 10.) In general, it is quite dangerous to assume that you already know everything as it leads to a place where you don’t ask questions, you don’t get better and – at worst – your project leads won’t want to work with you anymore. Therefore, make use of your gap months to dive into free online tutorials and train your skillset.

Enhance your profile by relevant tools and certificates in your aspired working area

Agile project delivery is key in the market. Get acquainted with the corresponding learning journeys, certificates and tools. A lot of information is available for free and when you can drop a few highlights in your CV and know the key facts during your interview, you are much more relevant in the workplace.

Or if process optimization seems to be of interest: find out more about methodologies and frameworks that are available at the market and that are regularly used in those type of projects.

Same is true for project management in general. The market is full of relevant material – and as you have studied in university, it is worthwhile to buy a book on project management and learn the basics.

Good presentation and moderation skills will always help you

Independent from the topic, people rather like to listen to a good presentation – just think of your bright professor who couldn’t deliver the message well. Learn how to speak your mind and to present content intriguing. This skill is essential in consulting and you will need it right from the start in your job interview. Find yourself places where you can present and moderate – maybe in university, in your student job or at the family party. Train this skill and your whole career will have a positive impact by this strength.

Stay in contact with your colleagues of your intern positions

Connect with people on business social media, drop them a line every once in a while and stay connected. Maybe you don’t even want the job they have to offer now, but you don’t know when they are changing positions and their help might come in handy. These people are also the ones that might know when their company is hiring again – and then, a good timing is essential. While your CV gets turned down in one week, the next week they might invite you as the company politics has changed. You hit these moments either by chance or by network.

Take care of your mindset and self-talk

If you belong to the people who graduate now, the past 10 years you have heard and learned that the labor market is increasing, that you can choose from any job you want and that even a very expensive university will pay off quickly. Somehow those promises did not come true. And in a way that can feel very unfair. These are moments when it is crucial that you keep track of your mindset and self-talk.

The emotions in those times have the power to bring in such a negative narrative in your life that it influences you for years. It might even get harder to walk into job interviews with positive expectations. Therefore, use these times of uncertainty as a training for your character and decide on purpose how you want to feel about it. The skills you learn through this training will be needed when you want to do a career.

I am not too stupid, I am just grieving

Grief is limiting your power. As a high performer, it will be very frustrating to lose your ability to walk the extra mile. Get some ideas how to get through the grieving season – quickest.

“He doesn’t do what I tell him”, the leader complains. “It’s not a hard task… and still the result is poor.” Frustration is all over the place and the deadline is moving closer. A conversation about the situation of the employee starts – and all of a sudden a new story unravels. The team member went through a major loss lately. Emotional chaos and inner turmoil are limiting the ability to perform at best. While the leader is talking about all of those information, a new perspective on the situation evolves. The work is not yet done, but as the frustration leaves, new solution scenarios come up.

If you have gone through a major loss in life, you probably know how it feels not to be at the peak of performance. Details get lost. Deadlines seem insignificant. Colourful job tasks fade in grey.

It is a time when the focus of life shifts. And while some work is very helpful to keep a routine in life, one should not strive for high performance in order to kill the pain inside. Grief is real. Grief is painful.

Did you know that your brain cannot distinguish between the pain of a broken leg and the pain of emotional loss? Pain is processed the same. And you would not work with a broken leg one day after the surgery. Equally, you need to give yourself a bit of grace and rest when walking through grief.

For business people and high performer, this topic is important twofold:

  1. If you are a leader and your team member walks through grief, you need to know how to react.
  2. If you are a high performer walking through grief at any stage of your career, you need to know how to handle that situation.

Here are some thoughts

Tell people that you are grieving

You don’t have to say more or give details. But let your boss, colleagues and team members know, if you are walking through a tough time. “If I may seem absent at moments, it is not because I am not interested, but I am having a hard time at the moment.”

As a leader, you don’t need to help or say anything. A simple ‘I hear you’ is enough.

Go to bed early

If days are awful, make them at least short. In addition, you will need more sleep anyways as grief is taking a lot of energy. Especially if you are continue working … this is not the time for long office hours. Take your rest and you will get through this time quicker.

As a leader, be aware that rest is contributing to recovery. Take your team member out of heavy-fire-situations. Even if that person is requesting to work extra hard – coverage of pain through work is prolonging the healing and might end in burn out.

Have mercy – with yourself

Especially as a high performer, you love being productive and get stuff done. And exactly that skill is limited by grief. So you are not only grieving, but in addition, you feel like being useless.

The immediate reaction is to try to perform again – so that there is only the grief and not the feeling of uselessness. Unluckily, this approach is not successful. Your soul needs some time to let go and say goodbye. And it needs your mind and body to do that. You are one whole human being – and you cannot grief partially and work full-speed partially.

The ‘quickest’ route through grief is facing-the-giant wholeheartedly. Focus on the grief. Write, speak, weep. Whatever needs to be done. You will make it through. And once that time is over, you have your power back for high performing. Promised.

Turning bad experiences into valuable lessons

We were discussing a certain consulting method, in short: creating solutions by starting out from bad client experiences. Identifying emotional hiccups is quite easy as negative emotions are stored quite well in the brain. A customer will recall those moments in more detail than a smooth process with no interferences. Once you have a negative incidence, solutions are created to change the process and reduce bad client experiences.

You can use this technique also for our life. Think for a moment: what can you remember from last week?

Most likely, all situations coming to your mind will be connected to emotions – quite often negative emotions. And this is a good entry point, to learn something new about yourself. Take some time and find out what created the bad emotion. What influenced your mood so intensively that you can recall it even today? What did you believe about yourself in that moment?

This technique is used in coaching, too. It is about creating awareness. Awareness about the underlying story that is happening while your emotions where triggered. And once you understand the underlying story, you can actively choose to stay in your mindset or change your thoughts and self-belief.

For instance, if you are triggered by words or behaviour of your colleague, your reaction says more about yourself than about your colleagues’ behaviour. It is very likely that your colleague didn’t even want to trigger you. He/she just did what they did. But it is your self-talk that is triggered, e.g. by commenting on how stupid that person is. It is very likely, that your are the one, having the need of proofing not to be stupid.

In essence, every moment you are experiencing an intense negative emotion at work, you can use the awareness that is created by that incident to learn more about yourself and grow inwardly.

Your ugly ego kills your career

That young drama student’s statement moved me: If you go on stage to celebrate yourself, your ugly ego shines through and kills your performance.

We were sitting next to each other at a concert and chatted during the breaks. She was still in university and not a professional, yet, but from what we had seen on stage, I could realize how true her observation was.

The singer’s voice was marvelous. The looks perfectly tuned. Yet, you could feel there was a show ongoing instead of being in love with the singing itself. Although everything was perfect, it did not move the heart – rather the opposite.

With the next song, my mind wandered. Isn’t it the same in business? How much do we dislike colleagues showing off their egos?

And then again … am I showing off at times, too? Isn’t it part of what we do in business? Performing on the stage of numbers, charts and business plans?

There seems to be a fine line between doing a good job and showing off the ego. How can you check yourself on which side of the line you are acting?

One parameter seems to be your intention. Why are you doing what you are doing, e.g. giving feedback, talk about a colleague or praise your own contribution.

When giving feedback, the ideal intention is to let the other person grow and become a better version of himself/herself. Inwardly, you can feel this urge to see the other person prosper. This is why you would even give ‘hard feedback’ – ‘hard’ in the sense that you don’t like giving the feedback, but you know the other person will profit from it. In contrary, when you want to make the other person feel bad – or maybe just feel superior towards the other person – it is a strong indicator that your ego is showing off and that you should refrain from giving feedback.

When you talk about a colleague, question yourself to whom this talk is beneficial. If you speak praise and raise the other person up, it’s a good one. When letting others know, how much better you are … you just might show the ugly side of your ego and you do not even profit from your behaviour.

Business requires that you sometimes tell others what your contribution was in a certain setting. Do it without exaggeration. Be precise. But don’t take all the glory for yourself. If you are that good, others will tell you soon enough without your self-promotion.

Just as the performer on the stage is disliked by the audience for his/her ugly ego, your career will be limited as colleagues and bosses won’t promote you, leave your teams and start avoiding you, if you continue to be a show off.

Bitter or better?

When being disappointed you always have the choice to get bitter or better. All of the shit in your (job) life can either make you a better version of yourself or turn you in a bitter moron who doesn’t understand why people hate being around him/her.

I invested in this project. Walked the extra mile. Took the night shifts. And in the end? I did not receive what I expected. It feels unfair. I am tired. And I am standing here with nothing in my hands. Why am I doing this?

Everyone knows those moments. High input, low output. Incredible frustration. And the upcoming question: why continue? how to walk on?

Once you have decided you want to continue the path you are walking, e.g. stay in your job, in the relationship or social service, it is worth to check on your emotions. Moments of disappointment contain a high risk of getting bitter. And once your heart becomes bitter, you will see more cynic thoughts and words, lose real joy in what you do and start distrusting people and your gut feeling. All of these effects have the power to manipulate you and turn your environment into a toxic culture.

In order not to end up there, start a habit on checking on your feelings – especially when walking through tough times. How do you feel about the situation that went bad? Angry? Weary? Betrayed? Give it a name, point it out and understand what triggered you in this moment. To write a few words with pen on paper can be a real relief. Once you see your emotions in front of you, decide what you want to do with them. Do you want to keep it? Can you forgive? Do you want to stay in the inner fight?

Facing your inner fears, thoughts and assumptions about life is tough. Maybe you will need to adjust your mindset. Maybe you will need to change your position in life. But it is worth keeping your heart in check, so that you can face the next challenge with a new view without having a clouded vision by anger, distrust or anxiety.

All of this is especially true if you are working with people. Working with people is tough. It gives you opportunities to get disappointed on a regular basis. Therefore, if you are responsible for people development or you are planning in doing a career in a leadership position, you will need to check on your heart on a regular basis if you want to stay open-hearted – and essentially get better in every tough moment.

Getting bitter is the easy way. Getting better requires real work. What do you choose?

Side note: Coaching can help you, to address those inner issues and remove stumbling blocks that are torpedating your career.

Why being UNHAPPY is actually great

First day of the week. Hitting the office right on time, starting your computer, getting the first cup of coffee, checking your email while trying to enjoy the first zip. The routine is killing you 15minutes into the new working week.

And yet, you keep getting back at this desk every day. Emotionless. Unhappy. But steady and on time.

I know why. The paycheck is convenient. It pays your rent. Your family. Puts money into your bank account to pile up for the future. The future… you are convinced that it will be brighter than today. Just a few more office days like these and then…

I had lots of talks like this with colleagues over coffee. Being unhappy, yet neither willing nor able to change.

Truth is, my mornings look quite the same. Yet, I am looking forward to each one of those working days, loving what I do – although I most certainly don`t like each moment of it. Where is the difference?

The greatest traveller is he who has been able once to take a tour around himself.

Confucius

Conficius is talking about taking new perspectives of oneself. Once you are able to change your thinking and getting a new mindset, you become aware of who you are and who you are not. You challenge all those “I cannot, because…” and start questioning “How could I …?” You get bold in questioning all your assumptions, e.g. “I will never be…”, “xy is impossible because…”. And while you are taking a tour around yourself, you might realize that you actually don`t need to travel away from your current location, but rather from your current mindset.

Here is an example: I know that I am most happy, when I can be a blessing to other people. I feel fulfilled when others are having a good time talking to me. [Will I get this right every moment of my life? No. But I am trying. I decided to bring the best version of me into conversations.] Therefore, I asked myself “How can I be happy at work?” Answer: By being a blessing for my colleagues. And while I bring the best version of myself to work, I experience a lot of positive moments, making others – and ultimately me – happy. I realized, I don`t have to change my job. I rather have to change my mindset and attitude. And all of a sudden everything falls into place and I am happy.

If you are currently in this unhappy place, be bold enough to check on your assumpations and narratives. Coaching can be a tool that is helping you getting your thoughts around the important stuff that matters. Be asured: there is absolutely no reason why you should be hating your life. Unhappiness is just a great indicator that it is time to think about yourself and start travelling around yourself.

I am in the wrong job

Once you realize you are not happy in your current position, get real and find out what you really want.

The emotion can hit you hard: I. am. in. the. wrong. job.

Independently of how long you are working in you profession, the overwhelming desire of getting a change can sweep you off your feet. Especially after a longer break over christmas and the first few days back in the job, you feel problematic areas even stronger. Back in the holidays you were at peace, but in your work environment you are being confronted with all this negative emotion.

Feeling this inner turmoil, it’s very easy to attribute all the worst reasons to your environment, colleagues, clients and tasks. Finding external factors for your misery is the easiest way. Truth is that these intense emotions are a good moment to get to know yourself a lot better.

  • Why exactly are you feeling the way you feel?
  • What are your expectations towards yourself, your job and the people around you?

While you benefit from getting to know yourself a lot better [thanks, dear turmoil times in life!], you still need to find some sort of solution for your issue with the working environment. Let’s explore the options.

Change it!

The first question arising is: What can be changed? Where is your influence? What is in your hands?

You can change yourself and you can change the situation but you absolutely cannot change other people. Only they can do that.

Joanna Trollope

The writer Joanna Trollope puts it quite well. You need to accept that you cannot change the people around you. You might change yourself – meaning your attitude, expectations, perspective. And you can also change the situation, e.g. not attending a certain meeting, change your seating or regroup your team members. But other people’s behaviour and attitude – including your boss, colleagues, clients – is out of your hand.

Take a moment of analyzing your status quo. What can be changed about the situation? What can be changed in your attitude?

If you are sensing that a lot of your ‘problems’ lay in the behaviour of other people, you might need to check the next paragraphs for a solution.

Love it!

Sometimes a broader view and a different angle of the perspective works miracles. Maybe you don’t really like all aspects of your daily tasks – but you only have a 10 minute drive to work. Or you feel overwhelmed by a lot of responsibility, yet the potential freedom in structuring your time during the day is unique to your position.

When feeling unhappy about a certain aspect in your work life, there is the risk of focussing too much on this particular thing – increasing the problem even further. At the end you only see the negative.

Take some time to write down all the positive aspects of your job. Actively refocus and check areas you haven’t considered yet: location, travel time needed, freedom of selecting tasks or allocating time, payment, tasks, additional benefits of your employer like canteen, sports or health support. Make sure that your brain doesn’t play a trick on you by only focussing on one negative thing that becomes the center of your universe.

Aside from taking a broader view also think of the people around you. Generally spoken, everyone tries to do the ‘best’ in life. So while your colleague or boss might annoy you, keep in mind that they are also just acting based on their perception of what is ‘the best thing to do’. Even if you consider their behavior as ‘stupid’, other people might classify of your actions ‘unreasonable’.

While thinking about all aspects of your status quo, you might already get a different attitude. Are you able to love certain flaws and downsides of your current job – including colleagues – when considering the whole package?

If not, maybe the last option is for you.

Leave it!

Sometimes the feeling of not belonging to a certain place is a good wake up call to leave a job or position. But leaving includes a risk: Why are you sure not running into the same problems in your next job?

If you leave only to avoid certain problems, chances are high that you will end up in exactly the same problems – only with different people. This is why the first two paragraphs are so important to you – or even more important when you consider leaving over staying.

Ideally, you know yourself and the environment you need to thrive. Then you can start searching for that spot in the working market. Rather be ‘drawn to’ a new opportunity, than ‘running away’ from your status quo. With all respect, be aware: if you choose based on wrong motives, you might even end up worse than your current state.

I. am. in. the. wrong. job.

If that’s your feeling right now, use the momentum to explore your status quo. Where is this emotion rooted? What actually needs to change? What do you want in your work life?

Stop complaining and get real.

My life is f***ed

When bad luck is piling up, it is easy to get lost in despair. Losing sight of the blessings in your life, will leave you empty and defeated. Get inspired how to handle those moments.

Emptiness. Thoughts are running and yet there is no precise idea. Every inch of my body is hurting. I have fought. Argumented. Given my best. And yet: didn’t win. And then again, it doesn’t really feel like ‘not winning’ but rather losing. Losing 100%. While my mind is still spinning, this feeling of failure is creeping in. The emotional journey is hitting fast forward button and all of a sudden I am convinced that I am a failure. The failure in person.

From a lot of talks I know that this vicious cycle is quite common to many people. It is invisible. It starts slowly. It intensifies when energy level is low. And then it drags all emotions down and sucks up all energy, hope and vision of a person.

It can hit you in your educational journey, family life or business endeavour. It can hit you for a few minutes or follow you over weeks. It can affect your smile only for a day or your whole life for a season.

So, what can be done when sensing that emptiness or when you are in these moments of despair?

Very often the emptiness starts due to one or two moments that didn’t go well – e.g. an argument with someone or a hope didn’t materialize. Because a strong emotion is connected to these moments, our brain tends to focus on these occasions much longer than on others. This in turn leads to increase of the bad emotion and the start of the vicious cycle.

In order to escape this cycle – at any stage – you need some strategies. Here are some proven ones.

When certain parts of your life are in turmoil it is helpful to actively focus on other areas of your life. Your life doesn’t consist of that one educational path or that one relationship or the one deal you didn’t win – although your brain is telling you that this is THE ONLY PROBLEM.

Write

Take action and write down everything you can be thankful for. Especially in the area you feel defeated. Yes, the one relationship didn’t have an awesome moment – but what about all other relationships!? Yes, the one teacher gave you unfair feedback – but what about all other teachers!?

Start reminding yourself that you are more than your feeling of emptiness. You are more than failing in a moment.

While writing you will feel stress leaving and calmness settling in. Your brain is forced to think proper sentences and put your thoughts in order. That’s why journaling is such a great tool when your emotions are spinning.

Move & Create

Once you are calm, it’s time to check what you need in order to recharge. Most likely, movement should be involved, independent of how you are feeling. Maybe you meet some friends and just relax with them (but don’t start the vicious cycle again by complaining about your problem). Or you get some creativity started by writing, cooking, baking, drawing … creating something. Creating requires concentration and new thoughts – shifting your focus actively.

Think & Decide

Once you are recharged you can go back to the moment of despair and check if you need to change something in your life. Maybe you really need to change your path. Or maybe you just need to learn how to deal with the situations you are in because these moments won’t change even if you change your studies / relationship / job.

You are not good enough

When doing a career, stop sabotaging yourself!

Just recently I watched one of my favourite stand-up comedians. He was putting himself in the perspective of someone living and thinking only in stereotypes and thereby the whole scene clearly got preposterous. Although the audience knew that he was acting out, the truth of the displayed mindset was too real to applaud immediately. Rather – the audience went quiet every once in a while, knowing that this mindset was part of their reality, too. The comedian got to his goal. Making his audience aware of the little box in their heads that sets boundaries to their mindset.

Sometimes your mindset is bound to stereotypes or limited by lies, too. As long as they are not challenged, you probably won’t even notice which fixed assumptions are navigating your thoughts.

But here is an important aspect: Your thoughts are directing your decisions. Your mindset is influencing your behaviour unconsciously.

As long as you are happy with your life, choices and results, you probably won’t see a need to check on your mindset. (Sidenote: it still might be valuable to reflect on your self-believes.) But when you are not as successful as you want to be or if you are successful but extremely exhausted, it might be helpful to check on your assumptions.

For the next few lines the scenario is plainly focused on success in business – although you can extend the thought-provoking ideas also to your private life. One classical mindset will be taken as an example and examined from the out- and in-side. Maybe you find yourself in this. Maybe you have a different mindset that needs challenge. In any case, be bold to rethink your assumptions.

Let’s assume you are convinced: “I am not good enough.”

This conviction can be deep inside you although you are very successful in your career. Still, whenever there is a new challenge, you will need to prove to you or others that you are good enough for it. In consequence, you are almost always overachieving. You are best in class or top in your peer. Nevertheless, deep within you, you know exactly what you could have done better… in essence: you are not good enough.

This inner mindset of not being good enough costs you a lot of energy. It is this fear that keeps you up all night studying and turning the numbers on a sunny sunday. And even when you score best, deep within you are not satisfied. This voice isn’t silenced.

For your own time of reflection let me ask you this:

  1. How well does your mindset serve you?
  2. What other assumptions do you believe and where are they leading you to?