“You are very sick. Are you under a lot of stress?” The doctor leaned over my hospital bed, waiting for my reply. I responded, “I don’t think so.”
At 28 years old, I had in six months time lost my grandmother, with whom I was very close, and my father-in-law, who died in our home. The mother of two toddlers, I was caregiver for my mother-in-law through her aortic bypass. I was in graduate school while teaching full time. My husband’s health was failing and we were losing his business. That’s when I was hospitalized.
I needed a reality check. Self-awareness is an essential leadership competency. I was not self-aware in that season of life. I was overwhelmed. Stressed. Burning out. And I didn’t even know it.
Years later, I began growing in emotional intelligence. As I learned more about my own wiring, my needs, my strengths and weaknesses, I discovered the need for reality checks. Max DuPree says, “The first job of the leader is to define reality.” I was not prepared to lead – myself or anyone else.
Organizational change coach Susan Scott wrote about addressing burnout, stress, and reality in her book Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time. Scott provides exercises to help leaders and their teams practice reality checks. This is one: “Over the next twenty-four hours, practice describing reality accurately, without laying blame, at home and in your workplace.”
I’m so grateful to have learned this lesson. I now journal daily. I reflect on my reality. I document it. I’m getting a lot better at it with practice.
Try it. Describe reality. Write it down. No blame. No shame. Just write out your reality. Then ask yourself if that’s what you want it to be. It’s a good starting place. After you try it, leave a comment and let me know what you think of it.