Sunday, 3 April 2016

"Own Your Journey"

Reading Brene Brown's Rising Strong:

The people who I have always admired most in life are the ones who are willing to appear flawed, the ones who embrace who they are - the good, the bad and the ugly. Think about it for a moment. Sure, there are the sports heroes and maybe the actors that we see up on that big screen. We are often awed by their talent. But the ones who show us a little bit of who they really are, aren't those the ones that you feel more of a connection with, the ones who we truly admire?

The leaders that I have learned the most from in the workplace, the ones who I would go the extra mile for are those people. They are the ones who admit that they don't have all the answers; they are the ones who recognize that by sharing their foibles or a personal challenge, they allow their employees to connect with them. It's a building block for trust.

Many workplaces are shifting away from the old way of thinking that you must leave your personal life at home when you arrive at your desk at 9:00 am each day. With flexible hours, less rigid dress codes and changing technology, so too must the idea of traditional workplace expectations. One of those 'old' expectations? Never, ever talk about your mental health. Depression or anxiety? Keep that secret locked down tight.

I was speaking with a colleague this past week about some family health challenges that she is experiencing. She had a great perspective. She said that although this is the hardest time of her life and it's awful in moments, there are also times of happiness and appreciation for the little moments in life. She also said how she feels that she will come through this experience stronger, more resilient and a better person. Isn't that what life really is all about - building new skills, learning and growing? 

My honesty in the workplace about depression and anxiety has been ridiculed, joked about behind my back, and used to hold me back in my career but mostly it has been a way for me to move forward. For every one person in the workplace who just didn't understand (and maybe didn't want to), I would say that there were five who embraced my honesty, sought to understand me and my illness, supported me and encouraged me. I think that my experiences and the skills that I have had to develop to manage a chronic illness have led me to a career path that fits like a glove. These are also skills that employers look for: resilience, perspective, strength and empathy.

So why don't we talk about mental illness enough in the workplace yet? Why, after five years of writing this blog, am I still writing posts about mental health in the workplace? Why is it still not really acceptable to say to your co-worker or your manager, "I just don't feel like myself today?" Simply, the stigma is still too imposing and scary for most people. 

Here's the good news. With campaigns such as Bell's Let's Talk and organizations such as Partners for Mental Health with their Not Myself Today campaign, we are slowly starting to create positive change and move towards real inclusion and awareness of mental health issues in the workplace. And I can promise you this: welcoming, inclusive workplaces and understanding, empathetic managers exist. I know because that is my current reality.

Please visit the Not Myself Today website and consider signing up your workplace as part of the campaign. Partners for Mental Health (PFMH) has fabulous resources available to employers. You could even have a PFMH volunteer such as myself come to your workplace to help you start a conversation that matters.

Never disown or hide your difficult times. We all have them; they are what connect us to each other and make us who we are. What if we all just embraced ourselves, scrapes, bruises and all, and chose to simply accept and respect each other? I think that's the world in which I want to live and work. What about you?


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