Chip away at the status quo – stand up for your values.

I had lunch today with one of my young clients, Haley. She and her dad had had a conversation about why it’s not accepted practice to reveal the reasons for the gaps in our work experience on our actual résumés. She couldn’t understand why we can’t just put it right in there along with our other work experience. Why we can’t tell the truth.

Interestingly enough, I’d recently had the same conversation with another client.

My client, Cricket, and I were working on her résumé. She’s a senior level person who’s been out of work for a couple of years. In late 2018 she lost her job on the same day she started chemotherapy for breast cancer. She had successful treatment in 2019 only to run headlong into a world-wide pandemic in 2020 with all that entailed.

Can you imagine what that must have felt like?

Tough Conversations

Cricket is incredibly powerful because she welcomes tough conversations. She’s not afraid to hear the truth and she’s committed to telling the truth. She’s all about being candid and figuring a way through craziness.

As we were working on the experience section of her résumé, I told her that I wished we could put Life Intervened as her last job and list what had happened from late 2018 to today to address the gap up front.

She replied, “Let’s do it! It’s what happened and they’re going to ask anyway.” So, we put the truth front and center in her résumé.

How many times have we avoided telling the truth in a situation like this because it’s not done in case it implies vulnerability? How many times have we said to ourselves “It’s too risky, I’m going to hope they don’t ask?” How many times have we not spoken up to say we can’t make that meeting because we need to be at our child’s performance, or a doctor’s appointment, or another family obligation?

I’m thinking the answer is too many times.

Don’t cede your power!

Here’s what happens when we don’t speak up. We unwittingly give our managers total power over our life priorities. We cede to them the judgement of what’s important in our lives. We unintentionally reinforce the idea that work obligations supersede everything else. Then we find ourselves in emotional turmoil and exhausted as we try to handle our health, our families, and our work.

What if, instead, we spoke up? What if, when we find ourselves in a meeting that’s running long, we speak up and say, “I need to leave in 15 minutes to get to my child’s band concert.” Are they going to threaten your job, insist that you stay, or punish you? Perhaps.

But, what if by speaking up, it changes everything? Other people in that meeting hear you standing up for your own priorities, and, suddenly, they can picture speaking up themselves.

Speak up to instigate change.

I’ve witnessed the positive effects of doing this. My late husband, Bo, used to stay in the meetings until they were done by default. In the days before mobile phones, he’d miss the concert/game/appointment and we’d know the meeting went long. After mobile phones, he’d text that he was going to miss it.

As you can imagine, there was a discussion (argument) every time this happened. I wanted to know why he couldn’t say “I’m leaving in 15 minutes to go to my kid’s band concert.”

Of course, Bo had several arguments against doing that. His main argument? That’s not the way it’s done. Finally, finally, one day when I once again asked (insisted) him to speak up, he did. And it was fine. Actually, it was better than fine.

It was better than fine because when Bo spoke up, so did several other parents (both men and women). By insisting that he had other obligations and priorities, Bo allowed the other people in the room to own their priorities, too. And, in doing so, he changed the status quo.

Was it risky? Obviously, Bo thought it was, but he did it anyway (perhaps because he was tired of my haranguing him about it).

It’s easy (and less scary) to surrender – don’t do it.

There are so many work situations where it’s easier to not speak up for our priorities and ourselves. We experience it when we’re excluded from decision making or talked over in a meeting. We can feel it in the way people respond to our comments about our families and non-work priorities. We’ve all seen the mental eye rolling and dismissive posture when we have to run out to pick up a child from daycare.

This is the very definition of having your personal values (aka your boundaries) discounted and dismissed. And, when people discount or ignore our values, we feel emotionally fraught. We may even feel assaulted. Since our values represent the ideas that provide us with emotional stability, when they’re dismissed as insignificant and unimportant, it impacts our emotional well-being.

If you can’t be honest, maybe you’re in the wrong place.

Here’s what I tell my clients about this: if you can’t be honest about your priorities and experience them being respected in your workplace, you’re in the wrong place.

That may sound harsh or even unrealistic, but most of my clients come to me for career coaching for this very reason. They cannot abide the idea of continuing to work at their current company because their values are assaulted daily. Even though they don’t talk about their dissatisfaction like this until we’ve completed the Values Exercise in our coaching engagement, I can hear it in our initial contact.

As we explore, uncover, and name their values, clients develop a new language to describe what they need and what they want in a work environment. This gives them tools to figure out how to have their needs met differently in their current jobs. That new language allows them to own their dissatisfaction because they now understand it in concrete ways.

We also use their newfound understanding of their values and priorities to include and dismiss companies from their career search.

Take one tiny action to disrupt the status quo.

Back to Cricket and Haley. As you can tell from my description of our conversations, both Haley and Cricket value honesty and integrity and dismiss the idea that we have to hide the truth of our experience from those in authority. They insist on being in environments where honesty is valued, and other people’s values are respected.

I’ll leave you with this. What is something, some little tiny action you can take, to reinforce your values (your boundaries) and your priorities? It could be leaving work on time, regardless of the expectation that you stay late. It could be calling someone out when they speak over you in a meeting. It could be recruiting an ally to reinforce your voice in meetings.  It could be any action that leaves you feeling more aligned with yourself – and, ultimately, safer.

Go out and do it and then let me know how it worked out. You can do it. I believe in you.

Never Settle,