In 2021, 47.8 million people quit their jobs in the US, a phenomenon known as the “Great Resignation.” 53% went on to change their field of work. It’s been a challenging time, and many of us have wondered if the grass is greener on the other side. We’ve been grasping for purchase, trying to regain control while the world chews us up and spits us back out like the clown in Happy Gilmore. I’m here to argue that grass is grass. And if there’s anything we should learn from the past few years, it’s that we cannot control what happens in this universe.
Energy is everything, and it’s important to consider whether you are a riser or a sinker. Let’s take a closer look at the consequences of being a constant sinker––someone with a negative attitude, a complainer hunting for commiseration, an agent of sabotage (either outspoken or stealthy), a thorn in the rose bush, the troll under the bridge, misunderstood and mistreated, a torpedo aimed to sink the ship. Sinkers live in the realm of “disturbed energy.”
This is the realm of negativity, where everyone and everything is working against you. You are sane, and you have some allies who share your beliefs. If only everyone else would see things like you do, then life would be better. You will protect yourself from being swept up in unwanted and misguided change. You will stand your ground and fight to maintain your way of life in this out-of-control and unfair world.
The realm of disturbed energy is an exhausting place to live. Nonetheless, many people––often those in leadership positions––do it every day. They are obliged to spotlight what is wrong in the name of being the best. It’s another reach for control, an attempt to rise above. They may find material success, discovering profitable ways to exploit the world’s problems. However, their success is a catch-22. As they achieve wealth and prestige, they always want more in their search for satisfaction, and they are overwhelmed by never-ending problems to solve and a need to stay on top. The truth is we’re just along for Earth’s ride in the midst of the infinite universe.
If you can’t tell, I’ve been thinking a lot about disturbed energy lately, a concept that Michael Alan Singer discusses in his book The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself. For anyone deciding what kind of person––and what kind of leader––they want to be, for anyone who is seriously questioning grass quality, I’d encourage you to consider first whether or not you are lost in disturbed energy––and how that might affect your actions:
It’s one thing if the disturbance is going on inside of you. But the moment you allow it to express itself, the moment you let that energy move your body, you have descended to another level. Now it’s almost impossible to let go. If you start yelling at somebody, if you actually tell someone how you feel about them from this state of nonclarity, you have involved that person’s heart and mind in your stuff. Now both of your egos are involved. Once you externalize these energies, you will want to defend your actions and make them look appropriate. But the other person will never think they were appropriate…. You put more of that kind of energy into your environment and it comes back to you. You are now surrounded by people who will interact with you accordingly. It’s just another form of “environmental pollution,” and it will affect your life.
Scary stuff. Yet familiar. We all know or have been that person. With the pandemic stirring the pot, so many people quit their jobs because they were cooking in disturbed energy. I love teaching, but I thought about quitting in 2021. Perhaps the main reason was that I was absorbing the energy of others. I failed to keep my heart open and let go of events unfolding around me. Though I may not have been outspoken about it, I certainly felt it. The energy I put out was coming right back to me.
Closing your heart as a professional duty is irrational. Holding onto grievances as ego fuel is petty. These are not ways to live or lead. These are paths to misery, no matter how extensive a legacy you build. How did we become more concerned with our legacy than our present lives, anyway? When did humans decide that the gift of life was not enough? When did we forget that you can’t buy a good life on Cyber Monday? And when did we get the idea that our names might somehow be relevant in another 13 billion years?
The next calendar year is fast approaching. Imagine if everyone cared a little more about environmental pollution. Not just the existential threat kind, but the inner energy kind too. Imagine if the bosses were always smiling, rather than scowling. Imagine if your colleagues greeted you like a best friend you haven’t seen for months and not like an unwanted email. If it’s impossible to envision any of that, start by imagining what it would feel like to let go of whatever is causing you stress and to go about your day with an open heart.
That’s the ticket. If you can let go and be open, then you can live. I’m no spiritual guru. More times than I can count, someone has asked me if I’m angry with them or if I’m OK because I look upset. I have to be extra mindful because of my monotone voice and stony facial expression. If I notice my anxiety or frustration bubbling when I feel the world has wronged me, I have to tell myself to let it go. When my chest starts to tighten as I walk into a meeting, I have to breathe and remember to be open, not closed.
Principled leadership is not unloading disturbed energy on the people around you. It’s not about your ability to control everything and everyone in your orbit––or to create an orbit for that matter. It’s not necessarily religious, though it is spiritual. Principled leaders satisfy the human spirit. They help us elevate to a realm of higher purpose where the doubts of the body and mind cannot fly. My challenge for the upcoming year is to feed the spirit. Levitation sounds like fun.