Childhood Dramas At Work

A story about my meditation journey

Meditation can bring up a whole host of negative emotions – anger, sadness, frustration, hurt – and sometimes all that seems to happen is you sit there with them.  You try to make the difficult feelings welcome, accept them, and experience them fully.  You notice that your throat is tight, your stomach is churning, your chest is squeezing, there are tears in your eyes and you try not to back away from these uncomfortable sensations.  When this happens over and over again, you wonder what the point is – nothing seems to be getting better. But then sometimes you have an amazing moment of clarity that is felt on a very different level to the moments of clarity that you might experience through more logical analysis.

So, here is a part of my meditation journey and my moment of clarity.

A situation arose at work where, due to a re-organisation, my position within my work team shifted.  I had been occupying what was really my dream job, and a very central position in the team.  Because of my role, I was often the first to be consulted by my senior managers and I had a lot of influence with them.  We would have little meetings without the rest of the team.  I also got on very well with them and they felt like friends as well as managers. They made it clear that they valued my work and my inputs. But with the re-organisation, a more senior manager was parachuted into that central role, and my role was changed, so that, although on the same grade, I was now on the periphery of the team working at much more of a distance from my senior managers and with no special relationships.  Suddenly, they were having little meetings, and I wasn’t invited.  Emotionally, it felt like a real kick in the teeth and I took it really hard, much harder than I should have done.

Every time I sat down to meditate, I felt overwhelmed with negative feelings of hurt, anger and sadness.  It felt like a really personal rejection, although logically I knew that there was no rejection intended.  I had been usurped and my position had been taken by this new manager.  Logically, it was hard to blame anyone – no-one had particularly chosen this situation, least of all the new manager.  But emotionally, I was in bits.  I just couldn’t get past it.  I found myself turning into a person I didn’t really like very much, full of negativity and bitterness.

Every time I sat to meditate, all these feeling arose, and all I could do was notice them.  They didn’t go away.  I began to feel a bit disillusioned with meditation since it didn’t seem to be turning me into the wise and compassionate person I wanted to be.  Sometimes I did loving kindness meditation, and tried to extend loving kindness to my work colleagues, but I couldn’t really feel compassion at a deep level – it was all my head rather than my heart.

But one day, as I sat to meditate, an image came to me that was so powerful it did transform how I felt.  I was suddenly a little girl again, on the periphery of my family.  My Mum and Dad and my younger sister (by six years) were close together and I was on the outskirts.

I think that this was a powerful emotion of my childhood.  I remembered photos of myself as a toddler, my Mum and my Dad together, so close before my sister was born.  Even when she was a baby, she was just a super-doll for us all to play with.  But as she grew older, she seemed in some way to replace me.  She was easy-going, compliant, cheerful and seemed to navigate her social life with ease.  I was awkward, spiky, shy and moody.  The more that my Mum seemed to prefer my sister, the more I did things calculated to annoy my Mum.  I felt uncomfortable in my skin, and different to every one else.  I never quite fitted in.

The image that came to me so powerfully in meditation was the three of them, posed as in the photos of my early childhood, but I am now on the periphery and she is at the centre.  I wanted to take my younger self in my arms, give that little girl a big hug and say, you know what, actually you are great just as you are.  You don’t need to change to fit in, you don’t need to pretend to be anything other than yourself, and you are of value.  You are lovable.  I sat for longer focusing all my compassion on my childhood self.  Other feelings seemed to soften and dissolve.

Later I extended that compassion to my sister who never asked for that role in the family. This wasn’t hard as my sister and I have always got on well and I always cared for her.

I also tried to extend that compassion to my parents, which was a little harder.  Now I am a parent myself, I know how frustrating children’s moods and behaviour can be, and that a parent can love a child and be frustrated by them at the same time.  I try to empathize with my mother who was probably doing the best she could.

I was also able to extend this compassion to my work colleagues in a way that felt more genuine than it ever had done previously.

I realised that in every job I have had, I have made great efforts to occupy a central position in my manager’s heart, by working hard, being excellent at my job, being helpful and being emphatic to my manager’s stresses.  It’s a pattern that I have repeated over and over with new managers – get my good work noticed, be super-helpful, then make friends.  It’s generally worked – my managers have rewarded me with challenging projects, praise, recognition, support and friendship.  But when my relationships with managers don’t work out like this, I take it hard.  It’s like they have reneged on their side of the deal.  That is not the ending I am looking for.

I began to wonder what it would be like to be different at work – less dependent on others for validation.  Less willing to please.

Transactional Analysis has a lot to say about how parent and child relationships get repeated in adult relationships.  The classic book, which I would recommend to anyone who is interested, is “Games People Play” by Eric Berne.  I read it a long time ago and I studied it again on my counselling diploma.  So maybe I already knew these things about myself and my relationships in an intellectual, analytical way. I probably did some kind of exercise in class about it.  But in meditation, I really felt them deeply for the first time.

I wonder how many difficult work relationships between managers and the people they manage are really the result of people bringing their childhood stories into work and re-enacting them, possibly hoping to achieve a different outcome.

Thinking of the people I have managed, some do really like to please.  One spent the first few months of our relationship greeting me with “what have I done?” as if she expected to be told off by the teacher.  Some like to make friends, whilst others expect a more hierarchical relationship.  They are probably all, to some extend, either repeating a comfortable pattern or looking for a happier ending.


Meditating for Motivation

Lack of motivation can be one of the biggest barriers to taking control of our careers.  It’s all too easy to find ourselves stuck, in jobs that are sapping our energy, stressing us out and not allowing us to achieve our potential.

No matter what career stage we are at, it is so easy to build a web of de-motivating thoughts that can become a mental cage, keeping us firmly stuck. If you are in this gang you might recognise these thoughts:

  • I don’t have time
  • I’m too busy/tired/stressed to think…
  • There aren’t any jobs out there that pay well enough/are local enough/give me the hours I need
  • I might fail…
  • There will be too much competition
  • Maybe things aren’t so bad here anyway
  • I don’t know where to start
  • My family need me
  • I’m not qualified enough
  • I’m not confident enough
  • I’m not that kind of person

These thoughts flit through our minds whenever we think about career change, and we don’t do anything about it.

Think about how much you have done to actively manage your career in the last few months. Have you learnt a new skill, made some professional contacts, looked at job ads, updated your CV, researched an organisation you are interested in, used social media to build your brand, taken on a challenging project to raise your profile? If the honest answer is that you have not done very much, chances are that motivation is your biggest barrier.

It is worth noting that you can have different levels of motivation for different activities. You might be very motivated to get fit, but less motivated to learn to play the ukulele. You might be super motivated to do a good job for your employer, but less motivated to look after your own career.

Motivational interviewing theorists, Miller and Rollnick, identify two components to motivation – knowing the change is important and believing that you can successfully make the change.  If your beliefs in either of these areas are negative, then motivation to change will be low.  So, if I am really fed up with job and think it is important to get a new one, but don’t feel confident that I can actually succeed, motivation will be low.  Motivation often hits a low point after people have applied for a few opportunities and been rejected, as confidence dwindles.  Alternatively, I might be quite content in my job and confident I can get a new one if I need, so motivation may also be low, because career management doesn’t seem important to me (and I may be lapsing into a state of complacency).

Motivational Interviewing is an approach which builds on an empathic relationship between the helper and the person being helped, and there are a range of excellent questioning techniques which the helper can use.

Meditation can also be a very powerful tool to help build motivation.  The beliefs that we have (no jobs out there, not qualified enough) can seem very real and concrete, and can weave together in our minds to form a solid barrier to progress.  These thoughts may even be operating below the level of our conscious awareness if we are not in the habit of noticing our thought patterns.

Meditating can help us to notice the thoughts that pop up in our minds.  In sitting quietly and listening to the chatter of our minds it can be quite disturbing to realise how many negative and self-limiting thoughts we have.  These thoughts might be based on things that other people have said to us, negative experiences, or things that we say to ourselves.  We often latch onto these negative thoughts and build a story around them, entrenching them in our belief system.  Before we know it, we have deep seated beliefs that prevent us from getting started on making changes or cause us to give up easily.

A good activity to try in meditation is to imagine our minds are like the sky, and thoughts are like the clouds that float across it.  They are temporary, and arise and disappear again.  If we find ourselves getting involved with a thought and developing a story around it, we can notice this is happening, and then let the thought go.  Because thoughts are temporary they do not have power over us.  Just because we think them, it doesn’t mean they are true.

Practicing this meditation often can help develop a sense of spaciousness in our thoughts which can make room for new ideas, thoughts and ways of being.  It can create the space for positive thoughts to creep in (“Maybe I could…” or “What if I tried…”).

Regular meditation over a period of time can help to dissolve that barrier of seemingly solid, permanent, negative thoughts which have woven together to prevent us moving forward.

I’m not aware of any research looking specifically on the impact of meditation on career motivation but there is plenty of research on the wider benefits of meditation. Combining meditation with career coaching/guidance could be a powerful combination for getting unstuck.







Yoga and Career Development – an odd mix?

I have been a career development practitioner for 21 years and a yogi for 27 years, yet it is only in the last few years that I have started to see the connections between the two, and how yoga and meditation can really support career development and help people to make decisions and find fulfilment in their careers and working lives.  Meditation and mindfulness practices can clear the mind of clutter, making it easier break through barriers and make decisions that just feel right.  Yoga asanas (poses) can generate the positive energy and focus required to see things through to completion.

I am not a yoga or mindfulness teacher, but do try to practice yoga and meditation every day. I am on my own journey, and my practice has helped me to be more compassionate, more positive, more resilient, and less stressed and anxious.  Yoga has helped me face many workplace dramas from a calmer and stronger place.  More recently, I have added mindfulness into the mix.  It has helped me to focus on what I really want from my career and my life.  Yoga has always been for my own personal development, but the more I practice, the more sure I feel that it can be used to help others with their career development.

My career has always been in the career development of others.  I have worked with young people and adults, all struggling to make decisions and take control of their careers.  More recently, I have also worked in training and development, and organisational development.

Over the years I have studied counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, coaching, motivational interviewing, solution focused approaches, and borrowed from all of these approaches to help my clients and colleagues to take control of their work and their careers. Often the biggest barriers to career development are finding the motivation to get started and see things through, and the courage to make a change.  Now it feels like time to borrow some techniques from yoga and mindfulness to see whether they can help others to move forward in taking control of their careers.

This blog is the sweet spot then, between three of my passions – career development, yoga and writing.  I will tell you more about how I identified my passions in another post.  For now, I hope you find something useful in this blog.  If it gives just one person a great idea or some inspiration, then I’m happy.