In less than a week, my family is heading out for a much needed vacation. Next weekend we’ll be staying near Beckley, WV so I can attend my 20th (gulp) high school reunion. We’re also meeting up with some extended family. I enjoy planning for and anticipating a trip almost as much as going on it, so I have been busy googling activities that everyone will enjoy. One must see for my father-in-law, who is a history buff, is the exhibition coal mine.
The mine has been in Beckley for years. I have a vague memory of taking the the underground tour as a teenager, feeling relieved to emerge into sunshine and light after being chilled down below.
One of the lessons of the tour is respect for men and women who have made their living in the ground. The work is physically strenuous, often dangerous. Workers sacrifice their health while working in confined conditions. Often, they have a reduced life expectancy due to their exposure to occupational hazards. My mental image is of workers finishing their shifts: hunched over, blackened clothing, downturned faces.
Every job has its unique stresses. Some may be physically demanding, others mentally or emotionally draining, some both. My question for today is this: What do you look like at the end of your work day? Are you mentally or emotionally hunched over or standing tall?
Early in our lives and careers, my husband and I were attending grad school and working with youth, employees of the same organization. We loved the kids and enjoyed creating activities and outings for the group. Unfortunately, though, we answered to a dysfunctional board. We soon found ourselves discouraged and defeated, our idealism fading.
Not sure what to do, we met with John Gration, one of our professors and mentors from grad school. He listened empathetically and gave us us some unforgettable advice. He told us to leave the jobs if necessary. “You need to get out of the mine before you’re stooped over for life.” Fortunately, we found ways to work together with the board; we finished well, with good memories overshadowing the bad ones.
The lesson has endured, though. In life and leadership, there are times we need to make the hard decision to leave a job or position for our emotional health and safety. It is impossible to be influential as leader if you’re stooped over. If your face is downturned, you’re not looking at others to see how to support and encourage them.
Come out into the sunshine. You’ll be glad you did.
This post was originally published at Mountain State University Leadertalk and is republished here with permission.