October has been…a tough month, sisters. I think it’s awesome that the world is stuffed with tiny gourds, pumpkin spice lattes (pumpkin spice everything, really), and window stickies of witches on broomsticks, because this is such a great escape for me from how tough October really has been.
For us that work on an academic calendar (students, teachers, youth ministers, moms with school-age children), September was magical. The world was new. I was filled with hope for the new year. Everything was possible, all doors were open.
By October, the grind got me down. Reality made an extremely unwelcome appearance. The challenges are stacking up. Our resolve, although it’s made a good show, is more and more falling short.
Recently I’ve been talking with dear girlfriends of mine, truly holy women of God, who are falling to the October blues.
One’s a third grade teacher, whose students are struggling to learn discipline. She’s being tough but fair, and…parents are enraged. They’ve basically started a vendetta against her. That’s…that’s rough.
Another is a family member who works for the church. Her program is on FIRE. It’s awesome. But she’s surrounded by coworkers who do less than nothing.
A third girlfriend of mine is a mom whose son is exuberant and energetic. His pre-K classroom is inhibiting, lacking time for play and exploration. His teachers want to get him tested for ADHD because he can’t sit still.
Finally, I have a dear friend who’s lost all motivation in her classes. She’s just…thrown the towel in. The professors are sending her to the moon and back over things that have little to nothing to do with her path of study.
One thing that is so interesting about these women is that the October Blues don’t have them sad, miserable, or dejected.
Instead, these things have made them ANGRY.
I talk with these holy women, and I’m hit by the force and power of their ANGER.
At first, this was odd for me. Anger doesn’t feel like a holy response. Anger feels like we’ve taken our calling to bring Christ into the workplace and shoved it into the trash bin. It feels like the devil has already won, pulling us into these dark places.
Not so! At least, if we do it right.
Daughters of Hope
I found awesome insight from St. Augustine of Hippo. He has such a crazy great quote for these workplace dramas. Take a minute to read it a couple times, let it sink in:
“Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage. Anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”
We come into work in September, full of this HOPE. This excitement, this joy. Then we’re surprised in October when all we feel is anger. St. Augustine, man, what a smart guy. This anger is not IN CONTRAST to the hope we felt before. This anger is A DIRECT RESULT of our hope. We come in with hope of being a good teacher, of having a strong church staff, of a great school year for our kids, of invigorating classes. And then we see how flawed things really are—and we are filled with a holy, righteous ANGER.
Although this anger is good and right, we do risk falling into the devil’s trap when we get stuck in anger. Hope moves to anger, but if we don’t move out of anger we fall into a cycle of bitterness and resentment.
St. Augustine calls us to a next step—a really terrifying step, actually. He calls us to move from anger to COURAGE. We must have the courage to change things. Instead of just staying angry forever, we have to change what we can.
And whoa man, this is BOLD. There is so often at work that I try to stay under the radar, not causing waves. Being the “yes woman” or the “nice girl” on staff. Sometimes this is out of genuine kindness, but TBH, a lot of the time this is because I’m not brave enough to go against how things are.
So, how do we foster this courage, and how do we live out true hope in the workplace? Here are some ideas. I have very little work experience, but I am blessed to be surrounded by holy and experienced working women. They have given me these amazing tokens of wisdom that help me navigate the toughest work situations.
1. Pray for discernment. Get digging! Before you do anything to change things at work, you need to get to the root of the problem. Your coworker annoys you—why? But really, why? Don’t just say it’s because they steal the stapler, because that’s not good enough. A huge part of this is you need to open yourself up to the possibility that you might be the problem. At the same time, don’t beat yourself up for things that aren’t your fault (I feel like us women fall into this ALL THE TIME).
2. Tackle personal failings in confession. So, some things were your fault. Take them to confession. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. This Saturday. Go. Make a commitment to change, and pray for God’s grace to do so.
3. Take responsibility. Although some things might not be your fault, you can still take responsibility for improving the situation. Your child might have a horrible teacher, which is not your fault. But you can take responsibility—you can make the commitment to supplement your child’s education, you can meet with the teacher, you can request a new teacher.
4. List five tasks/goals. Delineate your five central goals or tasks at work (or at school/with your kids). These are the five things that constitute you doing a good job, the five things that will mark your success. Have your boss, your spouse, or a college mentor sign off of them. Your hope will THRIVE off of having tangible ways of measuring success.
5. ID Breaking Points. At the end of the day, there will only be so much in your power to change. But you need to decide what is going to far. Maybe your boss loads you with more tasks in a week than there are hours in year. Maybe your professor is genuinely impossible. Maybe a teacher is killing the resolve and the joy of learning in your child. These are breaking points, and you know when these pop up, you need to act.
6. Increase the amount you say “no.” This ties in directly with points #4 and #5. Once you have your tasks/goals and breaking points, you need to say no to that which goes beyond them. Practice saying no, even in silly situations. You’ll find a balance. I feel like we women feel like saying no is unkind—that we’re denying others our help when we say no. However, if we’re aware of our limits, then there is a humility in accepting our limits and say “no.”
7. Make a plan for honest communication. Spend a day and listen to how many times you hear yourself say that “everything’s fine” at work when it’s really not. I do it ALL THE TIME. This is another thing that I need to practice, like #6. When someone asks me if things are fine, and they’re not, I have to work on saying the words to express that. When someone offers to help, I have to practice accepting that help. I was amazed by how much my workplace changed for me when I started honestly expressing my needs.
8. Kill with kindness. This one is a bit of an aside, but it has worked for me so well that I have to share it. That angry parent? That nasty coworker? That inept teacher? Send them a thank-you note. I’m serious! Find something honest for which you can thank them (don’t thank them for their smile if all they can do is scowl). You’d be amazed at how much relationship building you can achieve through a surprise (almost sneak-attack-style) dose of gratitude.