No matter whether you’re working remotely or marching mask-first into a traditional office, my bet is that you’ve got a few scary people at work with you.
I don’t mean the Slack stalker or the security guard who gives you the stink eye. Those people aren’t truly scary, and you’ve probably figured out how to handle them already.
But there are three types of folks that don’t seem frightening on the surface—but can cause nightmares inside your organization.
What’s even more petrifying is that one of them might be you.
The good news is that if you’re the scary one, there’s help.
(Note: I’ve referred to the names here as she or he, but that’s just intended to keep the ideas simple and fast for you to read, rather than implying that any of these behaviors into any particular gender identity. Thanks!)
Scary Person 1: Frank the Firefighter
On the surface, everybody thinks that Frank is great.
He’s the hero; the one that comes running when everything is falling apart.
(Plus, he’s often the person who is telling you that it’s going to fall apart in the first place)
Frank’s always there, ready to fight the fires. And, this being work, there are plenty to go around.
Here’s why he’s scary.
Having a hero at work is great, but when we’re too reliant on Frank, we don’t get the chance to develop heroic skills in other people —or in ourselves.
So when we rely only on Frank, we stop trying to learn how to respond under pressure and make ourselves uncomfortable to figure stuff out.
We stop growing, because Frank makes it easy for us to stay right where we are.
We also start accepting the illusion there SHOULD be fires, rather than building the skills to prevent fires in the first place.
What to do if YOU’RE Frank Firefighter
There’s nothing wrong with being the person people can rely on. That’s awesomesauce.
But over time, your firefighting must get tiring.
And if you’re the only one dousing the flames, how can you ever move on to new opportunities, either in your own company or elsewhere?
If you’re tired of being Frank, first recognize where you add the MOST value. What’s your best and highest use? Stay in that superpower space. (Not sure what that is? Dive into our free training here.)
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
Also, maybe it’s time to bring a colleague along to the next fire. Show her where the ladders are, show her where the extinguisher is.
Start teaching what you know. Teaching doesn’t diminish your value; it actually increases it.
It doesn’t hurt to step away from the fire once in a while and create some room to let someone else step in. Chances are, you’re really not fighting a fire that’s going to blow up. Somebody given the chance, will figure out other ways to fix it.
Finally, when you’re Frank Firefighter—don’t get burned.
When you’re the one on the frontlines, you’re the one who is at risk for making a mistake, for burning yourself out and really just becoming exhausted and starting to really hate your life at work.
Now that would be scary, because the world needs you.
Scary Person 2: Sandy Struggler
We all know a Sandy. Life’s just really hard for Sandy.
Everything feels like walking through mud and she can work and work and work . . . but she just struggles.
You watch her, and you feel bad.
But you can’t quite figure out how to help, and she doesn’t quite know how to ask you to help . . . or doesn’t quite know what she needs at all.
You just keep waiting for her to get it. And you’re waiting, and you’re waiting.
Here’s why she’s scary.
There’s nothing worse than somebody who’s struggling. You might feel empathy and work hard to try and help, but nothing seems to change.
That starts to make you feel bad about yourself—especially if you’re Sandy’s manager, leader or empathetic co-worker.
Sandy is scary because she drains all the positive energy and forward motion in the organization.
And no matter what’s happening at work, you know you need all the energy you can get.
What to do if YOU’RE Sandy Struggler
I’ve heard Sandy say “Maybe I’m struggling, but maybe this is just the challenge I’m supposed to have for my own good.”
Which makes a lot of sense.
Except for the fact that it’s wrong.
Working hard through a learning curve is one thing. We know when we’re learning and growing, even if it’s hard, because we feel like we’re making forward progress.
But if you continue to struggle without any positive, forward motion—you need to change direction, fast.
Constant struggling is a sign that something you’re thinking, saying or doing just isn’t working.
If you’re Sandy Struggler, it may be time for an honest look at where and how you’re struggling, and how you can take back control.
Maybe it’s being honest with your boss, or hiring a coach to get more clarity and create a plan of action.
Because if you don’t change your life at work soon, you’re going to be struggling through burnout or worse, struggling out the door.
Scary Person 3: Oliver Okay
Now, Oliver is the person who when you ask how he is, will always say “I’m fine.”
No matter what’s going on in his department, organization, or life.
He’s perfectly pleasant, he’s reliable and he doesn’t really demand much from you or from the company.
You assume if he says he’s fine, you may as well believe him. After all, he’s an adult.
Here’s why he’s scary.
Consistency and reliability are great things.
Until they smack you in the face.
It’s likely that one day, Oliver comes to tell you that he’s leaving the company, or has a crisis at home, or has been seeing a problem for months that’s now about to explode.
Inevitably, this announcement comes in the middle of your big project, right before a holiday, or at some other critical juncture.
And you had no idea that Oliver wasn’t fine.
What to do if YOU’RE Oliver Okay
There is nothing wrong with doing your own work to stay focused and content, no matter what’s happening in the world and at work. In fact, when you can manage your own mindset, you’re often doing the world a favor by doing what you can to take care of yourself.
But if you say you’re okay, then it needs to be THE TRUTH.
I’ve seen so many people lie to themselves and say they’re okay when they’re really not, whether the world feels chaotic or they’re experiencing a bit of chaos they’ve unintentionally created on their own.
In fact, I did this myself for years.
I pushed back the thoughts about changing my life at work because it seemed too hard, too overwhelming, too inappropriate, especially as the world at the time went into deep recession (“hey, you have a great job–be thankful for that!”)
We Olivers worry that changing our lives at work can sometimes mean changing too many things in our life. So we pretend it’s okay.
What I’ve learned since is that there are proven ways to change your life at work in small but significant ways that help you go from okay to excellent.
If it’s just a temporary funk, find some useful actions here to shake it off. Talk to a friend or mentor. Download some of our free tools designed to give you more clarity, confidence & control. Or watch my video training, “Three Questions You Need to Answer Now to Get Career Clear” (click here to sign up for free access).
Of course, if you’re really not okay, please don’t hesitate to get the professional support you need. Your company may have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides mental healthcare, or your healthcare provider may offer its own resources, many of which may be free or low-cost. Plus, in the US, there’s the Department of Health & Human Service’s helpline, plus the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). I’m a fan of Crisis Text Line, too. The resources are out there, so use them.
Just promise me you’ll do something, and stop struggling.
It’s a scary world out there, so that’s why we need you-—the real you-—now more than ever.
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