Shannon Wong Lerner, Ph.D.
As Diverse Professionals, Replacing Crash and Burn Narratives with Mindfulness *Useful Meditation*
Updated: Sep 23, 2020
I have lived most of my life on the go! Last semester I worked four different jobs: teaching between two colleges, I taught 4 and then 5 classes; I saw clients at my office for WLC communication coaching and consulting; I was co-editing and contributing to an academic book; and I started teaching and mentoring Asian and Pacific Islander (API) college students for a public speaking class and event. I worked 12- to 14-hour days and came home and worked some more, sometimes only getting 4 hours of sleep a night. At first, I felt an adrenaline rush living this way. But in the end, this constant state of rushing, worrying, and poor diet/sleep could not sustain me. Now, I'm attending more to life-work balance and helping my clients to do the same.
When I first started graduate school, I was told that I would "work so hard" that I would "burn out" and then "crash." Why is it that with such a creative and intellectually stimulating opportunity, I had to think within the destructive metaphor of "crash" and "burn?" I didn't want to be a plane that was going down! I was there to learn and grow as a scholar and a future professor!
How many times have we been told that in order to be successful, we have to work ourselves down to the bone? And we must sacrifice our health, our relationships, and our loved ones in order to be or just to seem as if we were successful?
It's vital, especially with the added stress of COVID-19, to practice self-care. The most basic way to do this involves just sitting still and paying attention to our breath. When we do so, we gain self-awareness. When we focus on our breath while noticing what is going on around us, then we gain awareness of our environment. Practicing breathing is such a simple task. But because it doesn't seem to involve "substance" for many people – especially super-serious A-type professionals – including me at different points in my life – we overlook the most obvious healing and restorative agents that we carry with us wherever we go. Stillness. Breath. That's it!
MEDITATION ACTIVITY: Take notice of the photograph. I want for us to try a meditation / breathing / visualization activity. Look at the featured rose in the photo and imagine it as the biggest problem you face at your work or personal life. Then focus back on your breath. We may fixate on the rose. We notice its flaws. We notice its garish color. Its enormous size. We might notice our breath is shallow or quickening. We might be holding our breath. As we see and get fixated on the problem of this rose! We fail to see all of the other roses that surround it. Alternatives. Similar in color and size. But bursting with potential. When we start to look around and notice the reality of our situation, our breath becomes slower. Steadier. Relaxed. These roses are not standing alone, here to intimidate us. They are teamed up in clusters. There's solidarity with these other roses. We have options! Choices on different points of focus. We go back to our breath to see if its more balanced, calmer. We realize then, that the problem of the rose wasn't the rose at all. The problem was our limited perspective. It was because we weren't attending to our breath. Instead, we were provoked by the object that stood before us, demanding something from us. Making us feel as if we had to do something without checking in with ourselves first. This might feel like a familiar routine for some of us each day at work.
The object that stands before us could be the micromanaging boss. The clingy or annoying co-worker. Or someone in our personal lives such as the meddling family member. With mindful meditation, we are able to become aware of our breath and our bodies' accumulated response to the outside world. The stress and trauma we hold in our bodies. In our muscles. And retain in our muscle memory. We can then release some of this stress and trauma through breath. Using breath for self-care then helps us maintain our own safe space. We can then stay protected while speaking with the micromanaging boss. Or some other undesirable in our lives.
At Wong Lerner Coaching, we hold true to a holistic, whole-person coaching/consulting approach. We teach you real communication skills to help you and show you how to grow as speakers and writers. We keep in mind not just who you are when you're at work in your role. But we also think about who you are as diverse people in and outside of work. With our meditation and mindfulness/relaxation coaching, we teach you how to rewire your brain to be healthier at your workplace.
I think we can stop "muscling through" to be productive. We should ditch this rhetoric along with workplace hierarchies and hazing. Many of us were told to "muscle through" and "bite the bullet" when it came to harassment at our work. Sexual harassment. Racism. Micro-aggressions. Homophobia. Ableism. Ageism. I am not suggesting that you stay silent and tacit in the midst of abuse. Instead, I suggest that you breathe for your self-care. You can prepare internally for difficult or even prejudicial situations with deep breathing, mindfulness, and visualization. You can then feel more comfortable to speak up when situations arise. You can also learn how to conserve your energy and well-being by avoiding the stress that typically comes with performing high-level tasks or presenting at important meetings.
Through meditation and mindfulness/relaxation coaching, you can better discover and find the best role or job to support your success and life-work balance. Real success is not just prosperous–it is also kind, socially active, and addresses the real issues of diverse or marginalized people. A healthy workplace culture allows room for its diverse staff members to breathe deeply and speak their minds.