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What are you resigned about?

Have you become apathetic about something you care about? This may seem like a strange question. After all, it assumes that you are resigned about something that is important to you.

However, I believe most of us are resigned about something that is important to us a good chunk of the time. If we have strong self-awareness, commitment and discipline we may be able to pull ourselves out of apathy every time we fall into it. But, I think resignation is unavoidable for human beings. I am not suggesting that all of us are apathetic all the time. But, it is the nature of people to dream and aspire, but when things don’t go as planned, we often become resigned and apathetic.

This happens all too often. We see a possibility for ourselves in an area that is important to us, perhaps it’s about being more successful, making more money, being healthier, having a relationship or simply being happier. We believe it can really come true for us. We open our heart to it, and this makes us very excited and hopeful. We feel that “everything is possible,” and “we can have it all.” Call it falling in love, with our life.

We then step out into the world and things don’t quite pan out the way we anticipated; it’s harder to stay with the program or drive progress or results than we expected, others aren’t as receptive, collaborative or supportive as we hoped, and results don’t happen as fast and big as we planned.

At first, we get a little discouraged but when reality continues to be challenging, a nagging doubt begins to emerge. After a while, we start second guessing our dreams or our abilities. Finally, deeper discouragement descends that often leads to resignation, apathy and giving up.

Our internal conversations change throughout this progression too. As stated above, at first we feel like “everything is possible” and “life is grand.” Then, we slide into personal invalidation: “What was I thinking?” and “I wasn’t cut out for this level of success or happiness.” Then, we avalanche into undermining overgeneralizations like: “life isn’t a fairytale,” and “I need to lower my expectations.”

Resignation manifests in different forms and at different levels. Sometimes we are clear that we are resigned. We feel generally apathetic and upset, discouraged or depressed about what we feel we can’t do, achieve or obtain. Sometimes, the fact that it’s hard to get out of bed is a clear indication that we are resigned.

But, often apathy doesn’t feels to us like apathy. We go about our normal life lacking motivation, energy and inspiration, but it seems like what we are experiencing is normal, just the way life is.

We often don’t realize that the negative feelings and thinking are rooted in apathy and resignation about something that is important to us.

Have you noticed that when people are resigned about the possibility of achieving or getting what they want, they tend rationalize things, justify themselves and generally have more of a cynical or even sarcastic attitude about their struggles?

For example, people who are overweight often tend to downplay the importance of healthy eating and exercising. People who are not in a relationship tend to have negative perspectives on the importance of relationships or marriage. And people who can’t get promoted tend to blame others or the corporate environment.

The logic of this reaction is clear – it is too painful to take 100% ownership of our current situation. Most of us can’t stay in bed and give up altogether, so we resort to adopting a victim mentality, becoming cynical or numb and apathetic about our unfulfilled aspirations. We find ways to avoid feeling the pain every day.

The good news is that resignation and apathy are actually very normal and natural for people. You are not alone and resignation is not insurmountable. The key is how to catch it quickly and transform it.

To transform your apathy, you need to first own your reality. You have to be honest about the fact that you are in fact resigned about an area of your life. When you are honest and own your predicament, you become more authentic and stop pretending like you have your act together and everything is going well. By being more authentic, you can start exploring new ways to achieve what you really want.

After all, we all know that there is always more than one way to get things done. In fact, many times the new ways we derive after we get unstuck turn out to be even more effective and inspiring than our original plans.

Owning your resignation and apathy also allows you to return to your original sense of possibility and commitment. Once you are back on the saddle, you probably don’t need any help!

Don’t accept cynicism and resignation

Early June 2014 I published an article in the online Careers in Government publication called It takes courage to say NO to cynicism and resignation. I also posted a blog about the same topic on April 10th, 2014.

As you can tell, I feel passionate about this topic. I believe we were all born with the innate ability and right to express ourselves, live a life of meaning, and be fulfilled and happy. Unfortunately, so many people don’t live and behave this way, especially in organizations.

I was facilitating a session with 150 managers of a highly unionized division of a well-known technology company.  During the introductions a veteran supervisor stood up and introduced himself in the following way: “My name is Bill. I don’t remember how long I have been here, but I have 64 months to go” and he sat down. The room went silence but you could hear the cynical giggles spreading throughout the crowd.

With more than 30 years under his belt, Bill was clearly uninspired, cynical and resigned. I could imagine him coming to work every day opening his locker and marking off another day on his hanging calendar. I would describe his mindset as equivalent to a “prisoner doing time.”

I wish I could tell you that Bill is the exception. So many people seem to feel powerless and unable to make a difference in their job on a daily basis. I often ask people at all levels of organizations this question: “Do you feel you can make a significant difference in shaping the things that are most important to you; things like the priorities of the organization, the collaboration of teams around you and the overall morale and excitement of their teams?”

People have great insights and ideas about how to improve things and how to make their work environment more productive and enjoyable. But they often don’t feel they can apply these ideas and make the difference they truly want to make.

When people stop believing that things can change they tend to get discouraged and disengaged. They stop pursuing certain opportunities and challenges. A very small minority of people physically resigns and leaves. But, most don’t. A few people make feeble attempts to change things only to find themselves thwarted, hence falling back into line.

But, most people simply continue about their jobs with minimal enthusiasm, ownership and drive. They are physically there but often mentally checked out. They come to meetings but don’t speak up, volunteer their ideas or take risks. They comply and survive but don’t lead, express themselves or thrive.

I am not trying to portray an overly harsh and gloomy picture of reality. This is the norm in most organizations, even the most successful ones. I see it everywhere.

The good news is that we NEVER have to settle for this predicament. We can ALWAYS make the choice to take a bold stand and not accept or adopt the cynicism, resignation and negativism that surround us. We can fully express ourselves and communicate authentically and effectively at all times.

It does take courage to say NO to negativism, cynicism and resignation – at work and in life – to ALWAYS stand for optimism, possibilities and your ability to make a difference. But, that space is fully available for us.

Here are a few tips on how to stay positive and empowered:

  • Be courageous. If you want to be a leader and say NO to cynicism you need to be courageous and take a stand. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather embracing your fears and acting in a way that is true to your values and commitments, even if people around you are in a different space.
  • Don’t engage in negative conversations. Don’t entertain, engage in or initiate negative or cynical conversations around you. These are toxic and cancerous to the organization but more important – to you personally. If you want to make a difference address issues and complaints directly with the appropriate people. If you don’t intend to address certain issues don’t contribute to the background noise about them.
  • Associate only with positive, like-minded people. When you associate with cynical people it will pull you down. If you associate with like-minded positive people it will pull you up and keep you in good shape to contribute and make a difference.
  • Live up to your stand. Look for little things to do every day that express your commitment and forward your stand to make a difference. There is a great quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that I love: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Follow her advice and you’ll become better and better at it.