Sunday Night Syndrome

The symptoms appear gradually. A slight knot in the stomach. A mounting sense of dread, a feeling of irritation, even anxiety, about what’s about to happen. Sunday Night Syndrome affects an alarming number of people, and it’s beginning to feel like an epidemic. 

A telltale sign is when you say, “I wish I didn’t have to go to work on Monday.” 

I suffered from SNS for most of my life. Sometimes the symptoms appeared as early as Sunday morning, even Saturday night, further spoiling the already too-short weekend escape.

Since everyone around me suffered from the same symptoms, I did nothing about it. Week after week after week. 25 years old, 35, 45, 50. I sat there like the proverbial frog placed in a pot of water on the stove, slowly dying inside, never jumping out.

Do you suffer from any signs of Sunday Night Syndrome? Or know someone who does? The only cure I’ve found is tap into a sense of self-determination, a sense that you have some control, that you’re not a victim. 

It doesn’t have to be a big leap. You don’t have to quit or change your entire life with a bold move. I find such remedies too risky anyway, and not terribly effective. Instead, I recommend a small step, an experiment of a kind: block out one hour every Monday to invest in yourself. 

Maybe you use that hour (less than 3% of your week), to work on a new skill or research a topic you’re interested in. Maybe you use the time to shape your reputation, sharing what you’re learning or doing on your intranet or LinkedIn. Maybe you form a WOL Circle and meet on Mondays, taking advantage of the structure, shared accountability, and support to make progress towards a goal you care about.

Don’t be the frog, waiting to be rescued. If you don’t invest in yourself, who will?

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Who will you be when your company takes away your ID?

When someone asks what you do, what do you say?

My first full-time job was at Bell Laboratories, famous for inventing the transistor and discovering evidence of the Big Bang, among other things. I worked on more mundane projects that didn’t amount to much. So when people asked me what I did, I instead proudly responded with where I worked.

As my career progressed, titles became important. “Vice President,” “Director,” “Managing Director.” They all seem meaningless now. But at the time my sense of self-worth depended on them. With each step up the ladder, I would rush to order new business cards, eager to hand them out and show off the newly-upgraded me. 

Other people treated me differently too based on what it said on my badge. They didn’t know me or my work. It was the brand and my position in the hierarchy that determined whether I was relevant or interesting.

I learned the hard way that basing your identity on where you work is inherently risky and unstable. When my last company’s successes turned into scandals and fines, my pride turned to shame. When I was laid off, there was no longer a company or title to define who I was. It was just me.

It took me a long time to realize that I had a choice, that I could step out from behind a business card, make my work visible, and shape my own reputation. It took me a long time to accept that being “just me” was enough. I wish I had started sooner.

What about you? When they take away your ID, who will you be?

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Bernadette’s purposeful discovery

Sometimes you know the direction you’re heading in isn’t quite right for you. But, unsure of where else to turn, you keep going anyway, saddled with growing discontent and dissatisfaction.

Bernadette Schreyer tried a different approach. Her initial idea was just to find a new job. After a series of small steps, however, she gradually became more confident. She started considering alternatives that made the most of her talents and aspirations. Soon she let herself dream, and she decided to change course in dramatic fashion.

“This just feels so good,” she wrote, “It feels like ‘me’.”

I found her story remarkable and inspiring, and included it in full below. While our paths may differ from Bernadette’s, we can all take steps towards finding more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. 

"Headed to Italy soon where the boat is waiting for the first passage to Corsica. I attached a picture of our first photo shoot on board :-)" You can follow Bernadette and her journey on sailingfoxes.com & bernifoxmusic.com and even watch Bernadette on YouTube

 

About Dreaming Out Loud and a letter from my future self: sometimes you have to take a bigger step towards your goal. 

Have you ever thought about how it will feel to realize your big dream?

I work at a big firm and joined a WOL circle some months ago. WOL is very popular where I work and all our KickOff workshops are fully booked after two hours with more then 500 people on the waitlist. People start to get together from various departments and learn how to coach themselves and to do something good - for themselves and others. I am more than thankful about this movement to lead people to a better life and career - we definitely need this mindset!

I joined a circle with the goal to find a new job within the firm. I am an acoustics engineer, composer and musician and landed a job in sound development for exhaust pipes but I realized quite quickly that I am not on the right track. By joining a circle one year after joining the company I started working on my network and looking for new opportunities. My network is strong, but there was no new job, and a lot of wishes and dreams inside my heart. And then there was week 7. The best week ever. I wrote a letter to myself. It was incredibly easy. I was listening to my heart and the text was just growing by itself. Well, I already had that particular dream years ago but I never took the first step because I thought the time wasn't right. But in my situation, ideas started to form and grow: the plan to realize what's inside of me. To break out and do something absolutely DIFFERENT.

Some weeks ago I finished my circle and said goodbye to my colleagues at work. I finally took the big step I was first afraid of and I am looking forward to changing my life upside down. Together with my partner, I will set sails soon. As an adventurer and musician, I want to go on a big journey on our 41ft sailboat with a piano on board composing music. My message for the world out there is: "Listen to your heart and live your dreams, even if it's hard!

I want to share my story to show people that it's possible to live dreams and to help them achieve what they are longing for. I am currently working on my first videos to share on Facebook and YouTube and I wrote my first blog posts. I am not used to be active online and it felt a bit weird at first to write in public but the principles of WOL helped me to feel more confident and to share my story in the process. It's normal that it takes some time to get used to new things in life, but it is amazing to explore and learn about the world, and especially about yourself.

If you have a question or are worried about taking a big step, feel free to contact me on bernifox@sailingfoxes.com or visit https://sailingfoxes.com. I am happy to help! 

***

The first draft of the rest of your life

The subject of the email was “Need your help.” Since it was sent by a strong, confident friend who had never asked for help before, I was worried. It turned out it wasn’t a crisis, but she was stuck on something. “I’m in big trouble…do you have time?” So we scheduled a call.

The problem? She had committed to submitting a paper for publication, and she couldn’t get started. Though she has a lot to say on the subject, she had struggled for weeks to make any progress and now the deadline was looming. Her anxiety was evident.

I thought of the many bits of advice I had benefitted from and might share, and then I discarded all of it.

“Open up your laptop,” I said. “Let’s start right now.”

At first we just talked about the topic, and after a few minutes a theme emerged. We exchanged ideas for a phrase or sentence that might capture it until we came up with a headline that felt good to her. “Great,” I said. “Write that down.”

We moved on to headings. What were the main points she was trying to make? She talked about a wide range of ideas, including some resources she found helpful. It was scattered at first. She was still overwhelmed. I listened, and reflected back whatever major points I heard. When one made sense to her, she wrote it down. Then we came up with another. “That reminds me!” she said, erupting with ideas now. She began recalling related things she had written and read and thought about before.

Soon there was less talking and more typing. Her energy had shifted from nervous to excited, and she was still writing as we hung up. A few weeks after our call, she sent me a note that she had finished it. It wasn’t perfect, she told me, and she would do it differently next time, but she was glad for the chance to learn and get better.

Since our call, I’ve been thinking of how my friend’s experience is a metaphor for how many of us live our lives. We struggle to think through what we want our life to be like. We may have ideas but it can be hard to put them into a coherent picture. And we may feel time is running out.

Waiting doesn't help. The only way out is through. Maybe you start with writing a letter from your future self, or describe your perfect month, or do whatever exercise would help you capture the first draft of an intentional life. It may not be exactly right, but that step attunes your attention and opens you up to next steps and new possibilities.

As the poet Mary Oliver asked

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Voice your intention. Pick up your journal or laptop and begin writing. Clip pictures from magazines and craft a vision board. Call a friend if you need to. Let’s start right now.

***

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What happened to “Working” in the last 45 years

I vaguely remember when Working came out. It was 1972. I was 8 years old. Calculators were becoming popular, and people were just starting to talk about computers.

The subtitle of the book is “People talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do.” It’s based on over 100 interviews with people in a wide range of jobs across the US - from gravedigger to TV executive, and consists almost entirely of the words of those people. (You can also listen to the original audio recordings.)

Despite all of the changes since those interviews over four decades ago years ago, many of the themes remain the same. Perhaps primarily, there was the need to make a difference, a search for meaning.

“I think most of us are looking for a calling, not a job. Most of us…have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people.”
“You know you’re not doing anything, not doing a hell of a lot for anyone. Your job doesn’t mean anything. Because you’re just a little machine. A monkey could do what I do . It’s really unfair to ask someone to do that.”
“A man’s life is his work. You see humanity in a chair. It was made by some man’s hand. There’s artistry in that, and that’s what makes mankind happier. You work out of necessity, but in your work, you gotta have a little artistry too.”

Many people expressed the feeling of not being treated or respected as a full human being, 

“That’s the thing you get in any business. They never talk about personal feelings. They let you know that people are of no consequence.”
“They call us professional people but they talk to us as very young, childishly. They check on us all the time.”
“These big corporations are gonna keep on growing and the people become less and less. The human being doesn’t count any more.”

Even back then, there was an awareness of the threat of technology, of dehumanization.

“You won’t know their names…You have a number - mine’s 407. You’re just an instrument.”
“It was almost like a production line. We adjusted to the machine. The last three or four years were horrible. The computer had arrived….I had no free will. I was just part of the stupid computer.”

As a result, many people felt stuck, like they had little control and few options.

“I don’t know what I’d like to do. That’s what hurts the most. That’s why I can’t quit the job. I really don’t know what talents I may have. And I don’t know where to go to find out.”

Do these themes sound familiar to you? Our needs for feeling effective and fulfilled - for meaning - aren't new. Helping people fulfill those needs is as important as ever.

Your perfect month

The inspiration to do this exercise came from Moyra Mackie, the first person I ever called “coach.” At the time, I was working at Deutsche Bank, struggling to write drafts of Working Out Loud, and feeling like I was paddling in a leaky canoe - lots of activity but not much progress or direction. 

On one of our phone calls, Moyra suggested that I write down what my “perfect month” might look like in a year or two. That timeframe was far enough away to give me the latitude to do different things, yet close enough that I needed to be practical. My perfect month wasn’t just about sitting on a beach in Okinawa, but about a way to earn a living while living a balanced life.

So I took a piece of paper, wrote down the days of the month, and started to imagine what I would do each day. 

The things I began listing I had considered before. Yet something about mapping those ideas to specific days in the month made them seem more real - and made me ask myself more questions. Yes, I would like to travel, write, do research, etc. But how much? One day a month? Five? Ten? I found myself visualizing my days and weeks. I imagined how it would feel - how I would feel.

I could see this was a good visioning exercise, and I enjoyed doing it. (It’s a nice companion to the “Letter from Your Future Self” in Week 7 of a WOL Circle.) Then I put the piece of paper away, and forgot about it. 

That was a few years ago. I happened to find that piece of paper recently and was struck by how much of it describes my last month, and the month before that. Though my “perfect month” wasn’t meant as an exact prescription or prediction, it captured a direction I wanted to take. It enabled me to see an example of what a more balanced, creative, fulfilling portfolio might look like.

That exercise helped me appreciate how articulating your intention can be extremely powerful. It can help you identify what experiments you might do to see if the direction is a good one for you, and who you might build relationships with to discover more. It can help you make that all-important shift from feeling stuck to taking a step.

When you reflect on your own career and life, where are you heading? What’s your perfect month?

A year on my own

A year ago, after having worked in big companies my entire life, I decided to start a company of my own. I figured I would mark my anniversary by answering the question people ask me most:

“How’s it going?”

The trade-offs quickly became obvious

It didn’t take long for me to experience the advantages. Immediately, I was in control of my time and my work, and that was both empowering and fulfilling. Like shedding a heavy overcoat that had grown increasingly uncomfortable, I left behind the mundane anxieties, the manufactured drama, and the sheer senselessness of some of what I did each day. I felt lighter. I felt liberated.

The disadvantage was equally clear: the paycheck that was deposited twice a month was no longer going to arrive.

Building my way forward

Though I had published Working Out Loud a year earlier, and had interacted with people and companies in different countries, I had no firm idea how I would make a living. I figured I could deliver presentations and workshops, and do some consulting. But I knew many people who were doing the same and were struggling. Why would I be different?

So I tried experiment after experiment. Most didn’t amount to much, but each one helped me practice my craft or get feedback on a new idea. They refined my sense of the work I wanted to do as well as what other people valued. After six months or so, I had a few more customers and an emerging sense of what I could offer them.

And so it continues. I’m writing this on a train in Germany where I’ll work with five different companies in four cities. More experiments. More learning. My fledgling business isn’t a success, it's a work in progress. Step by step.

I can’t say I’d recommend what I’m doing to someone else. The odds are too high. Most days it feels like there’s no ground beneath your feet. As a result, I have more compassion for my former self, working at big corporations for so long. I also have more respect than ever for anyone who tries to build something on their own, whatever it is.

Finding my ikigai

A year ago, I named my new company “Ikigai” after the Japanese word for “a reason for living.” I feel like I’ve found my ikigai now. It’s to change how people relate to each other, to themselves, and to the work they do. When I get it right, the methods I’m developing help individuals be more effective and feel happier. They make work more human, compassionate, and connected. Maybe someday they’ll change the culture of a company, or even a country. Step by step.

I think the photo of me and my daughter on a rollercoaster captures how I feel after my first year on my own. I’m happy and excited and scared all at the same time. There’s so much to do and so much I don’t know. But the feeling of purpose makes it worth it. Just like that rollercoaster, I can’t wait to get back on for another ride.

When you’re looking for your purpose, “Build your way forward”

Even if you’re fortunate, it’s a common pattern. You begin with a sense that you’re meant to do something purposeful, that you’re special. With the passing of time and with each job, however, that sense of specialness fades. It’s replaced by a nagging disappointment or, worse, resignation. I guess that’s all there is. 

That certainly was my own experience. When I was young, I had high hopes but I also had no idea of what I wanted to do. So I simply reacted to whatever presented itself. As I got older, I relied on my experience in my first jobs to advance and make more money. Doing anything different seemed increasingly impossible. How could I start over?

Recently though, I’ve observed a different pattern. It’s one that gives me hope, and is something anyone can implement on their own. The pattern has three stages: Interest, Practice, and Purpose.

1. Interest

The best description I’ve found of how to explore your interests is in Designing Your Life, based on a course taught by two professors at Stanford. They refer to it as “wayfinding.”

“Wayfinding is the ancient art of figuring out where you are going when you don’t actually know your destination. For wayfinding, you need a compass and you need a direction. Not a map - a direction… Since there’s no one destination in life, you can’t put your goal into your GPS and get the turn-by-turn directions for how to get there. What you can do is pay attention to the clues in front of you and make your best way forward.”

Maybe you have an inkling of what you’re interested in. Maybe you took a test and it pointed you in a direction. Then what? What would you do next, and how might you explore other interests that might be even better for you?

“Try reframing the challenge as an exploration of possibilities (instead of trying to solve your problem in one miraculous leap)…The way forward is to reduce the risk (and the fear) of failure by designing a series of small prototypes to test the waters….one of the principles of design thinking is that you want to ‘fail fast and fail forward’ into your next step.”

The book is filled with many examples of such prototypes, and the simplest and easiest one is a conversation with someone doing something related to your interest or goal. If you’re interested in real estate, talk to people already working in different real estate businesses. If you have a hobby you love, seek out and connect with people who’ve developed that into something more. 

2. Practice

Now comes the part most people miss: deliberate practice. The goal of prototyping and experimenting isn’t to get to some finish line. It’s to get you to the next experiment, to help you explore possibilities while you learn and develop new skills. It’s the combination of doing, interacting, and getting feedback that enables you to advance in the direction you’re interested in. 

For example, I’ve always had an interest in writing, yet for decades I didn’t do anything about it. I started by simply reading more, which sparked my curiosity. My first experiment was to write a blog post on my company’s intranet. I was in my 40s. Then I talked with a journalist who encouraged me and gave me constructive criticism and advice. In the first year, I only wrote 6 posts. I struggled, got more feedback, and learned. I began writing once a month, and later wrote my first public post. Writing became a habit, leading to hundreds of blog posts and a book. The skills I developed along the way - and the relationships I developed as I did it - enabled me to discover a new career in my 50s.

“Deliberate practice” isn’t just for one particular skill, it’s for life.

3. Purpose

Angela Duckworth describes the three phases - interest, practice, and purpose - in her bestselling book, Grit. Her research brought her into contact with thousands of accomplished people and she found few “naturally talented” people. 

“The more common sequence is to start out with a relatively self-oriented interest, then learn self-disciplined practice, and, finally, integrate that work with an other-centered purpose.”

It’s that third stage that is perhaps most surprising to me, and I’m only now starting to understand it. It feels like an awakening of some sort. A psychologist interviewed for Grit described the third stage as when “the larger purpose and meaning of work finally becomes apparent.”

Your next step

The way to design your life is to “build your way forward," using a series of prototypes and interactions to enable you to make it through the three stages. For me, Working Out Loud is what helped me explore my interests, and my WOL Circles have helped me to keep practicing, to continue experimenting and connecting and learning until a purpose emerges.

If you’ve ever felt there is a gap between what you do and something that would be more meaningful, the way to bridge that gap is not with a daring leap but with hundreds or even thousands of small steps. Purpose isn’t something you discover or are born with as much as something that emerges from your passion and perseverance. 

A different kind of graduation present

It's graduation season now. Young people all over the world are leaving university and embarking on their next adventure. Many of them will be joining new companies and will take their place in a graduate training program.

What would be the best thing you could give them? Money? Nice things? What if you gave them a skill they could use now and forever? One that could make their work and life better?

When I left college, there were just a small number of well-worn career paths. Now it seems there’s an infinite number of trails in ever-changing terrain. The wonderful book Designing Your Life makes the point that we no longer have a map for our career (if we ever did) but just a general direction, and we have to “build our way forward.” The way to do that is by building relationships with people and learning from them, leveraging their experience to refine our own sense of what we like and what’s possible.

The first pilot of WOL Circles for a graduate training program is starting in a few weeks, enabling each of the participants to have a global network inside and outside the company in just 12 weeks. The company that sponsored it wanted to give their new employees something besides a job. They wanted to give them control over their career and access to more possibilities, more chances for meaning and fulfillment.

That’s a wonderful gift. 

A source of strength in times of uncertainty

It’s going to happen to you. Maybe your company will cancel your project, or your trusted boss will resign. Maybe an event in your personal life will make you unsure of the future. Maybe your country’s election will leave you numb with disbelief, fear, and anger.

What will you do when it happens?

My own instinct is to react, to disengage completely or to work myself up into a frenzy of anxiety, replaying the issue over and over. But during the last few years, a simple practice has helped me through many challenges. I ask myself these 3 questions.

What am I trying to accomplish? 

Who’s related to that goal?

How can I contribute to them to deepen our relationship?

Focusing on my goals, even small ones, re-centers me. It gives me a sense of purpose, providing some much-needed stability amidst the uncertainty.

Thinking of my goals in terms of other people, and of what might be useful to them, is an act of empathy. It takes me beyond my immediate worries. It makes me mindful that I am part of something bigger than myself.

Making contributions to others, even small actions like offering appreciation, gives me a sense of control. I am doing something. The resulting interactions give me a sense of connection, a sense of relatedness that is comforting.

I’m not suggesting that you ignore the things happening around you. But dividing external events into “good” and “bad” and reacting accordingly is a recipe for unhappiness. When you channel your energy into the 3 questions instead, you tap into your natural intrinsic motivators - your need for control, competence, and connection. That enables you to do something constructive for yourself and others.

Today is the middle of “Working Out Loud Week” or #WOLweek, and there are many excellent posts written by people around the world about the practice. But for me today, I wanted to emphasize that Working Out Loud is about more than activities and tips. It’s about changing how people relate to each other and to the work they do. The practice starts with you. As more people do it, entire organizations can become more open and collaborative, more human.

Your world needn’t be limited by today’s headlines. As you build meaningful connections with other people, you’re weaving your own safety net as well as links to other possibilities. Your network can be a web of resilience that leads you through difficult times. Your relationships can make you stronger, more effective, and hopeful.