I was sitting in my office when I received an email telling me some deeply personal news that rocked me to my core. My body froze, my anxiety kicked in, and my brain couldn’t process a single thought.
It can be impossible to know what to do in those moments when you have voices in your head saying, “Don’t cry at work!” or “Don’t let your emotions get the better of you!” or “You better keep it together…people are watching.”
Here is what I have learned from life’s challenging moments regarding maintaining professionalism and preventing your personal brand from being negatively impacted long-term:
1) Be human and own it. Don’t try to pretend that there is nothing wrong and attempt to move on with your day. Choking it down will only help you in the moment and cause emotion to seep out in other ways, such as overreacting to a colleague in a meeting or not having clarity or cohesion of thoughts as you respond to emails. Excuse yourself and send a short and concise note to your immediate and inner work circle to buy yourself some time.
2) Understand your limits and maximize your work within them. Take a nap or time out when you cannot uphold standards, but then give your 110% engagement and participation when on calls or responding to the unread inbox. (I call this leveling up and down.) When you’re in the golden hours of your day (often in the morning), take time to organize yourself, refresh your to-do list for work, get clear on your personal agenda, and understand the priorities for the day or week ahead of you. Outside of the golden hours, learn to recognize when you are incredibly emotional or experiencing other symptoms (aka. not able to bring your A-game) and use that knowledge to guide your actions. Also, sometimes merely dressing the part when you are really not feeling professional will allow you to recall your career persona and tap into the energy you would typically have for work.
3) Map out a recovery timeline against your work obligations. Get clear on what you need and what you have to do, and craft a workable plan for yourself. Do you need a day or week off? A month of intermittent afternoons away from the office? A temporary change in work location? Commit to a plan, request any approval for a temporary deviation if needed, and share your new availability parameters with your colleagues. When conveying any changes to your schedule, be equally proactive about communicating when others can expect things from you so they may be clear on the impact on their own work. Frequent communication and touch-points greatly reduce the risk of a long-term perception of poor performance during any difficult period.
Ultimately, showing up fully and being present in your professional life, as well as your personal life, is critical to navigating your way through a challenging time and requires some deliberate thought. So, the next time you receive a take-your-breath-away punch-in-the-gut piece of personal news while working, take a deep breath, excuse yourself, and know that others will respect you as much for a graceful exit as your confident re-entrance.
All my best and more,
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