This beautiful photo of a sunset in the coastal town where I live, was taken by a neighbor. Just looking at it makes me feel calm. Makes me stop and consider how lucky I am to live here. As we’re all doing our best to not spread the Covid-19 virus, as we wave to our neighbors but don’t hug them, as we wear gloves when we run into the supermarket for a few items (probably not toilet paper or Purell), as we watch the news and try not to panic, it’s easy to wonder what we should be doing.
My dog, Rudy, a working therapy dog, looks at me and I can’t explain to him why we can’t go to the hospital or the schools where we were volunteering. But he’s happy to go anywhere so we’re taking more hikes, exploring new trails, keeping active. Something as simple as this gives me hope, takes me out of the endless loop of crisis thinking, and makes me grateful for the healthcare workers who are on the front lines. They don’t get to stop. They don’t have extra time. They’re taking care of us.
One of the most surprising things I’ve learned from hundreds of visits to the hospital with Bella, my first therapy dog, and now Rudy, is that the staff often need us more than the patients. They rush out from behind the nurse’s station and throw their arms around the dog. They get down on the floor, hugging, patting, and acting as if they’re witnessing a miracle. Which in a way they are. Dogs are experts at comfort, at being present, at generosity.
Rudy is stretched out on the rug under my desk, snoring slightly. If he could offer advice I think he’d tell us to take a deep breath, get outside, take a nap, stay present. That’s what we should be doing.
Just this past Saturday, Rudy, my therapy dog and I were invited to speak at the Waterford Public Library in Waterford, CT. I had prepared a careful outline of the stories I wanted to share about both Bella, my first therapy dog, and Rudy, my current therapy dog who took over after Bella died in 2018. Having done this for a while, I knew there might be only a handful of people there, and that if I were lucky, I’d sell a few copies of my book about Bella: “Joy Unleashed: The Story of Bella, the Unlikely Therapy Dog.”
Three children and eight adults showed up. One little girl was terrified of Rudy and screamed if he even looked at her. The second child was Sean, shown in the photo below. And the third was a boy of about eight, who had Autism. I read a short passage from my book about Bella’s work with cancer patients, and could see the kids squirming. The room we were in was in the basement of the library right under the children’s room and Rudy, who is sensitive to noise, started to shake-I think he thought it was thunder– and tried to hide behind the chairs.
Things were not going well. That’s when it dawned on me I had to sit down on the floor with Rudy, comfort him and tell the group about his past, how I trained him and work he does. But best of all, Rudy loves to do tricks, so before my talk ended. the two boys got down on the floor on their hands and knees and Rudy jumped over them. The little girl who had been terrified, fed Rudy treats. And the tricks helped Rudy forget about the noises overhead. I sold one book and laughed all the way home. And every time I look at this photo, I realize that it’s really smart to let go of plans and be ready for wonderful surprises.
Photo from Dana Jensen, The New London Day, January 12, 2020.
Here we are at a local hospital, taking part in a new program in a geriatric-psychiatric ward. I’m with Rudy, my therapy dog (the big black one) and my wonderful friend, Deb is with her dog, Ethel, and we’re joined by Mabel, the head of volunteers. The two things that will (almost) always cheer you up are dogs, and volunteer work. Deb and I in our blue jackets are easily identified as volunteers. Both Deb and I have been doing this for seven years–first with our previous therapy dogs, and now with Rudy and Ethel. We know they’re remarkable, we know they somehow always seem to know what to do, but last week they made two patients cry. Both were older men and the dogs were such a welcome change from tests, and drugs, and treatments, that these were tears of both joy and relief. They patted our dogs, hugged them, told them that they loved them, and thanked us over and over for bringing them in.
When I wrote my book, “Joy Unleashed” about my first therapy dog, Bella, I realized that I would never be bored or lonely as long as I had a therapy dog. But last week, after this incredible visit, I knew I’d be smiling for a long time. Rudy took a long nap in the back of my car on the way home–it’s hard work being an ambassador of cheerfulness.
Let’s face it. You don’t want to be this guy. He’s having a hard day at work and is probably feeling stuck, resentful and burned out. What I’ve learned from teaching seminars on how to stop burnout–and how that enhances customer service–is that small steps often yield big rewards. Here are some pointers from the last few classes I’ve given for library staff:
- Set reasonable goals and celebrate when you reach them
- Pace yourself–set time limits for large projects and take regular breaks
- Look for creative ways to change your job that will decrease stress
- Make rewards and recognition part of your everyday work culture
- Teamwork often means you can get help for the things you don’t do as well as others
- Take breaks and try really hard to not eat lunch at your desk (You think you’re being super-productive, but in fact you’ll be super worn out)
- Cultivate your sense of humor. Nothing beats laughing as a huge stress buster.
We are all expected to no more with less. Demands come at us from inside our organizations and from customers and patrons. Pay attention to what works for you. Ask your colleagues what helps them. As I say in my class, “enjoying your job is an inside job.” What can you do today to make that come true?
(Photo courtesy of Adobe Images)
TURN YOUR BACK
I’m the type of person who believes in action. In getting things done. So it’s odd for me to advocate turning away, leaving something undone, letting things happen. Here’s how I came to this insight. I’ve been wanting to write a biography of my great, great, great grandfather John Ireland Howe for almost 23 years, and this past winter I decided that I either had to do it, or forget it. And that I had to put in real effort before making that decision. I knew that something or somethings were holding me back, so I created a schedule. I logged in and logged out. And gradually the book had a life of its own, and I knew that I would stick with it.
But it gets even better. While this was going on, I put my speaking business to the side. But then emails and phone calls came in, asking me if I could speak at a conference or for a staff development session. It amazed me that work came in without a huge effort. I checked my calendar, said yes, and went back to working on the book. Now I have a first draft completed and am lining up readers to help me make sure that I’ve written it for its intended market: middle school students.
I’ve known for a long time that it’s important to make an effort and then not make an effort, but this seemed almost magical to me. By freeing myself from procrastination and that nagging feeling that I was neglecting something I wanted to do, I was not only energized, but also had the great fun of seeing work come to me. It feels like grace. So sometimes, I think it’s a really good idea to turn your back.
A few months ago, I decided to give up plastic for Lent. I failed, because there are some things–like the package that zucchini comes in–that are plastic, which of course I recycled. Or the bag that bread comes in. Same deal. But two interesting things happened. First, my awareness of the amount of plastic in our lives increased, and I found myself almost allergic to plastic bags. Second, I got into a lot of interesting conversations as I politely refused a plastic bag, and either put my items in a reusable cloth bag, or carried them to my car without a bag. I found that people are really excited about saving our planet, and especially the oceans. They’re thinking about it. They’re excited that the stores where they work will soon be banning single-use plastic bags.
Slowly, my habits changed so now, I pack my sandwich in a reusable container and no longer have those cute little zip lock sandwich bags. I got these neat waxed clothes from Trader Joe’s that I use for wrapping up leftovers. My garbage bags are compostable, as are the poop bags for my dog. Instead of being a chore or a deprivation, I’ve found that I’m really enjoying this. Take a small step and see what happens. Our earth depends on it.
(Image from Adobe Free Images)
Check out this wonderful article, full of simple suggestions, from Dave O’Brien: http://workchoicesolutions.com/images/The_Kindness_Connection.pdf. It includes small things you can do each day. You might be surprised by how good it feels to grow in kindness.
Image courtesy to Adobe Images
My wonderful friend and fellow career coach, Ed Hunter, wrote a neat article about happiness. (See below) As many of you work in positions where you’re working with the public, I thought this would be helpful. (For more on Ed, see: http://www.lifeinprogresscoaching.com). Spring is finally showing up here in New England–another happiness factor!
During the workweek, we may spend more time with our colleagues than we do our families. That’s a lot of time! Why not enjoy it? We know that our work life is a direct contributor to our overall happiness. What we might not realize is just how important our relationships are at work. Not just professional relationships but real, meaningful relationships built on support and trust.
Whether you have a best friend at work or just strong bonds with your colleagues, it matters. The World Happiness Report 2017 found that the level of support that a worker receives from his or her co-workers is a very strong predictor of all four measures of subjective well being utilized in the study: life satisfaction, job satisfaction, happiness, and positive effect. Those who indicated that they had a best friend at work were seven times more engaged in their jobs compared to those who don’t.
“We discovered that the single best predictor is not what people are doing — but who they are with. It doesn’t even matter if two friends at work are engaged in tasks that are directly related to workplace productivity. According to a study conducted by a team of MIT researchers in which workers wore high-tech identity badges throughout the day that monitored their movements and conversations, idle chit-chat might actually be valuable to productivity. The researchers found that even small increases in social cohesiveness lead to large gains in production.” – Tom Rath and Jim Harter, authors of Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements
Just read a great article about this, and thought I’d share it as it explores the kind of relationship we need to have with our selves in order to be our best. https://getpocket.com/explore/item/before-you-can-be-with-others-first-learn-to-be-alone
Having recently taught a number of customer service workshops, I thought it would be fun to run a month-long contest to see who can come up with the best ideas for stopping burnout and improving customer service. We all know what we’re supposed to do, but the real challenge is, can you can come with an idea that you yourself would try? One that might motivate others? The reward is a free copy of one of my books (covers shown below).
To give you a heads start, let’s break this down into four categories:
- Mind health
I don’t want to win my own contest, so be brave, send your ideas in, and if you’re prefer to do so in private (as I’ll publish the blog comments), you can email your ideas to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The winner will have his or her suggestion published and will receive a free book. Get thinking! The deadline is the end of February.