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The Power of Journaling

I remember cleaning my garage after my son was born. I was 40 years old, standing in the middle of the garage with years of journals from my teens through my 30’s. I realized that I had achieved a good deal of my dreams and that journaling had given me the space to work through what I wanted in life, helped me process breakups, job changes, decisions on if to travel the world, sell my house, settle down and have a child. Journaling was a tool for me to know and understand what I wanted for my life and also it was an outlet to process the confusion and sometimes the pain that life brings.

Which brings me to work and journalling. We spend more time at work than anywhere else and work can be filled with great opportunity while also bringing stress and anxiety into our lives. Let’s face it, nobody teaches us that both work and life have peaks and valleys to navigate. And for sure nobody ever sat me down and taught me how to process my stress. When my mom was stressed she yelled and smoked. That’s how she dealt with her stress and that’s how I learned to deal with my stress. I thought that was how it went.

The idea processing my stress happened when my boss walked over to me. He had always given me a hard time for smoking and he leaned in, sniffed the awful sent of stale smoke and asked, “When are you going to stop smoking?” Embarrassed, I looked at him honestly and said, “When I figure out how to deal with the stress.” I knew that there had to be a way.

I have a tough job, I take care of a lot of people. My boss was exacting and operated at a level of excellence that most people would not hold up to. He drove all of his executives hard and we were really at the top of our game. I noticed we all suffered from stress and each person held it a different way. Some execs ate, some yelled, some drank. Most had an unhealthy form of stress release. One yelled and boxed, which probably kept him going longer than any of the other execs I knew at the time.

I could see stress building in co-workers until small frustrations turn to resentment. Then resentment begins to lead to anger and after years it becomes bitterness. It can also lead oneself to turn it inward, doubting their ability and capacity to do the job – no matter how good they are. This was the most heartbreaking.

When you doubt your capabilities it is inevitable that you begin making mistakes. When you start making mistakes it’s hard to come back from that because you start to want to leave the job you are in. There’s a dissatisfaction that sets in and most people give their notice. Then the executive leaves our company only to go to another company and burn out there. They hadn’t realized that the reason wasn’t the job, it was who we are in the job.

The best way to explain it is to liken a job to a diet. You start off strong, only to see progress stall out and then you’re off looking for another diet to try. You move from counting points to not eating bread to juicing. Then, at some point, you begin to think that you are the failure and it will never happen for you. I am here to tell you that you are wrong, you are not the failure.

This is where journaling is most effective. Instead of turning the thoughts over and over in your mind, you can take time to journal and lay your thoughts bare on the page. You can become the witness to your thoughts instead of being held captive by them. That’s where the magic is, when you start to unravel the patterns.

When you are able to see who you are, understand what feelings you are holding and see your stories then you begin to heal. During my journal session I sometimes felt like I was 16 again. I saw that I was having the same problems with management that I had gone through with my high school teachers and I started seeing a lot of my problems had to do with me and my issues. As my patterns started to reveal themselves through journaling I was able to pick out the stories that my mind was creating. As a kid I had always felt like like I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t smart or popular…and these were the same stories my mind was playing out at work.

Journaling gave me the time for me to sort out what was real and what was imagined. I continued to go to work everyday knowing something was off. I love to work but at some point I started sleeping in, calling in sick or not putting in a full day at work. I went workhorse to worst employee ever and if you asked me at the time, I would have told you it was everything but me.

And that is the secret nobody tells you. Your mind comes up with thoughts that are there to protect you and those thoughts are not always true. That just because you think a thought doesn’t mean you are right. Your mind with twist the situation into your win and when it lies to you is when you hurt the most. If you can’t see the truth you can’t operate fully in your life, let alone at work. You need to go in deep and look at it. Figure out where it came from, poke at it and most of all, you need to give yourself some compassion and space to open the door to what is really happening. That is where you find solutions. That is how you start to come back from burnout.

Before I started to journal, when I started to feel that dissatisfaction I would quit my job, travel for a time and then come back. That all changed when I had a baby and a husband – because I couldn’t just pick up and go shake off the burnout. At a certain point, I couldn’t deal with the stress and my anger built up I stopped trying. I had no idea what was wrong. So I began to journal and ask myself questions I had never asked before. I started to take responsibility for my thoughts, feelings and actions. It was where I learned how to set an intention, it was the first stop on the road to wellness that brought me to meditation and movement.

Journaling helped me understand what value I bring to my career when I bring my full self to the table. I have an ever growing appreciation for my boss, my-coworkers and the people we serve and I love being part of my company. I also know that it was the work I did and that I can now show up to the job the way I choose to show up in life – kind, thoughtful and warm. It is sustainable and built to last.

So start writing and start asking questions!

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