Surviving re-entry to professional life

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Bex Grace
Bex Grace
Leadership and Performance Coach
November 4, 2011

Surviving re-entry into professional life

I can only explain it as a tangle of anxious-stress-juggle-blur-progression as I re-surfaced into the working world having had my 3rd (supremely gorgeous) baby boy. I wanted to reconnect with my profession - and my professional identity. It was time to incorporate some professional attire into the rotation of maternity tops and Lululemon high-waisted-hide-that-baby-belly tights. Connecting with associates and clients felt SO exciting!

But I was feeling this strong undercurrent of pressure make an impact… grow your business… secure an income…be present… Annnd there was a good dose of guilt ….and tiredness. Those overnight feeds are precious but draining.

Lockdown version 5.0  (? who knows I’ve stopped counting) arrived and meant everything was even more blurry. I could not focus on what I wanted to nor needed to. Everything and everyone I felt, was suffering… until I did three things. When I did these, I felt some clarity, control and calmness. (OK full disclosure the control bit comes and goes….).

You too may be feeling overwhelmed in your work, or maybe it’s your home life that’s under the pump? It’s that quintessential chicken-egg scenario that’s hard to overcome.

Does this sound like you? ‘What should I focus on?’ ‘How am I going to do this?’ ‘How can I lead others through this?’

Well here is how. Here are the three things. Three tried-and-tested things that are founded on neuroscience.  

1)    Keep your expectations in check.

2)    Connect for clarity.

3)    Schedule downtime.

1.     Keep your expectations in check.

Expectation is the gatekeeper to your dopamine fix, that is you feeling a sense of reward, motivation, satisfaction and pleasure.

  • Plan and anticipate = surge in dopamine.
  • Miss the reward or fail to meet your expectation = steep dopamine drop.

Do you expect too much of yourself given everything that’s going on? My expectations certainly needed a serious splash of cold water in the face.  

Dopamine goes up when we anticipate and plan, in fact just writing the to-do list gets the juices flowing. BUT - if our brains register a “negative prediction error” that is, the reward is missing or expectations are not met, then the dopamine tap turns off and our brains start generate a ‘threat’ response. And it’s literally a ‘downward spiral’ of decreased performance, enjoyment and confidence from there.

So pay attention to your “success” list. Keep it real and achievable. I’m not saying scratch that big hairy audacious goal, but chunk it down into achievable steps and do the easy stuff on your list first to get that dopamine hit early.

The antidote to unmet expectations? It’s gratitude. Research shows just as unmet expectations block dopamine, exceeded expectations and positive surprises can open the dopamine flood gates. Pay attention to the ‘here and now’, notice the happy, special, beautiful small things because when those little things seem greater than expected we get a dopamine rise too.

2.     Connect for clarity.

We’re wired to be social. Research shows that effective social support through close friendships and relationships can buffer the effects of stress on our health. The pandemic has brought this home to all of us. FaceTime with friends, drive-by birthday parties, Zoom happy hours…Covid has taught us that social support can help us navigate through challenging times.

I was struggling to get clear… some days it was on which take away coffee I should get - let alone on how I was going to pick up my profession again.

As the saying goes ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. A conversation that provides clarity is key. I have a select few people I know I can call on - and I did. These confidantes have my back and they have my future – as in, they care for and support my success too. They can challenge and question me from a place of care.

Who can you be professionally vulnerable with? A problem shared with these people is always a problem halved. Find your people. Take off your armour and talk.

“You can’t get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability” . - Brené Brown

3.     Schedule downtime.

In his book ‘The Pause Principle’ Kevin Cashman shares the importance of stepping back to lean in. Neuroscience also supports the importance of ‘downtime’ as one of 6 essential activities making up “the healthy mind platter” (David Rock -Neuroleadership Institute and Daniel Siegel - Mindsight Institute).

To be clear I’m not talking about meditation or hobbies - although these are wonderful too. I’m talking about hanging out, totally un-goal-focused. David Rock describes this as “being in the moment with spontaneous emergence of what may or may not arise”

So step out for some time out. For me it’s our deck which is deep among the trees. Whenever I step out there regardless of the noise behind the sliding doors (there’s a lot with three boys under 7) and despite the “noise” in my head, I feel my brows lift, my shoulders relax and my lungs expand.

Where’s your space? Take time to hang out there and enjoy the insights that dwell and seem to reveal themselves when you’re there.  

“The most important conversations you’ll ever have are the ones you’ll have with yourself.” — David Goggins.

I hope these suggestions work for you. Try one of them. I’m doing some fabulous work with a brilliant little company and friend whom inspires me. Ahem Five. Cough cough.  I’m also quietly growing a leadership development and social insight experience solving for purposeFULL leaders and businesses. Successful in the UK since 2003 and just getting started here.

Good things take time.

Further reading

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

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