This morning Punxsutawney Phil, the famous Pennsylvania groundhog, was rousted from his burrow in an enclosure near the town library and transported to Gobbler’s Knob to predict, in front a crowd of thousands, six more weeks of winter. Phil’s prediction is based on whether or not he sees his shadow, and the American media reported widely that Phil’s accuracy is around 39-percent.
The first definition of shadow is “a dark area or a shape produced by a body coming between rays of light and a surface,” according to dictionary.com. But shadow can also mean gloom, oppressiveness, sadness or feelings of ominous. And of course shadow can refer to the part of ourselves that may be hidden from our awareness but may be causing our actions and reactions. We may feel shadows in our work lives when things don’t seem to be going our ways, such as when a deal falls through, when we don’t get an expected promotion or that job for which we interviewed at the exciting new company, when our yearly raise or bonus is not all that we expected or even when our co-workers or supervisors seem to be taking their bad moods out on us and everyone else around them.
Sometimes when we are in the shadows, something that would have normally been a blip on our business radar or career trajectory feels like a major setback. This could cause us to feel like winter will extend way beyond the next six weeks…maybe even indefinitely. And like Punxsutawaney Phil, maybe we would rather burrow back into our holes (or beds) and not have to deal with any of it. But remember, Phil’s accuracy on his predictions is only 39-percent; maybe our interpretations of the shadows clouding our lives are equally (in)accurate. So how can we help ourselves when things don’t seem to be going our way and our brains seem stuck on a dismal, repetitive tape?
Ways to Escape Beyond the Shadow’s Reach
Change the story. We all have stories we tell ourselves about our lives. We may tell ourselves we are not as smart or capable as those around us (which may be a form of imposter syndrome) and we may cite examples to support those beliefs. Other people reacting negatively around us may reinforce those internal feelings. But the fact is, the stories we tell ourselves, while they may be “true” for us, may not be factual. For example, if a sales deal falls through, it may not be because you, the salesperson, did something wrong; it could be that the sale had been promised to someone else long before you entered the picture or that a competitor slashed its prices or is golfing buddies with the potential customer’s CEO. So many variables go into every decision that gets made that often it is impossible to know exactly what happened and why…and yet we often think up explanations that make us feel bad about and question ourselves.
Best-selling author and coach Martha Beck suggests if you are stuck on a story that is true or with which you are struggling, that you could try to write it from the opposite perspective to see if it could be equally true. For example, if you think you are not good enough at something, what would happen if you would consider all of the ways you are enough or great? You may write:I graduated at the top of my MBA class or law program. I made partner or beat this sales record by age x. I have a team of x people working for me and x number of people have asked me to mentor them. My boss asks for my input on_________ and I always know the answers. I solve complex problems every day.
Exploring an opposing viewpoint helps create new neural pathways and jars us from the ruts we find ourselves in with our thinking patterns. It isn’t always easy to think or see the opposite though so we may need to…
Enlist the support of a friend or loved one. Friends and/or significant others can be great sources of empathy but also great sources for helping us see things for a different perspective. But it is important for us to be honest and tell the friend or loved one what we need. Too often we complain or dump a bunch of information on our friend or loved one, and they feel like they need to either console us or solve things for us. Instead, tell the friend upfront, “I need to talk to you about this shadow or dark place I’m in. I want you to listen and then brainstorm with me ways to look at the situation differently so that I have a new perspective.”
Seek help from a professional. Sometimes we are unable to escape the shadow through our own volition or with the help of those we are closest to and we need professional help in either the form of a career coach, a therapist or a mood-enhancing prescription. Needing professional help does not mean we are weak or something is wrong with us; on the contrary, it means we understand our needs and are taking responsibility for our health and wellness by ensuring we get the help we need.
Punxatawney Phil is only forced to confront his shadow on February 2. We, however, may feel like our workplace or life is the movie Groundhog Day, where we are stuck on cycles of repeat of the same themes. The three suggestions above–while not an exhaustive list–are ways to disrupt the cycles and to see and experience life differently, to make changes to our stories and our lives.
Photo by felicitydawn