"Every impressive individual has their Achilles heel. And every Achilles heel has an impressive individual. If your Achilles heel is always on display; what can you do to instead shift the attention to your impressive abilities?"
This article is all about encouraging you to change the language that you apply to yourself and your wellness challenge in the workplace. It's about you finding the strengths that come with your challenge and playing to those strengths.
Much of the language about wellness challenges in the workplace is negative - anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, burnout, stress, mood changes, frustration, grumpiness, delicate disposition, prickly and so on. Line managers are great at the drive-by shooting that is "feedback" by pinning one of these labels on you and saying that it is one of your development points. They are less good at "ask and listen" and so fail to realise that your disposition might be impacted by a wellness challenge. And beyond that, line managers are prone to completely missing that your condition - even if they are aware of it - might carry with it unique or enhanced skills, talents & abilities.
Some progressive organisations are, for example, hiring autistic employees. This is not out of workplace ethics. It is because people on the autism spectrum are increasingly recognised for their attention to detail and their ability to logically work through processes.
Every impressive individual has their Achilles heel. And every Achilles heel has an impressive individual. If your Achilles heel is always on display; what can you do to instead shift the attention to your impressive abilities?
What are the strengths that you can find in your condition? Not possible strengths, or strengths you would like to have. Nothing as remote as that. This isn't about starting your sentence with: I would like to be good at; or I think I could be good at...; or wouldn't it be nice if I were good at...?
What are the workplace strengths that are within you now? Even if they are buried deep under the pile of negativity that has been heaped on top of you by the biases that come with a mental wellness challenge.
What compliments have you been paid; past or present? When did you feel a sense of achievement? What did you do well in? When did you score a goal? When did someone give you a cheer? When did you give yourself a cheer? What made you feel good?
Describe that situation to yourself. What did you do? How did you do it? How did you feel? What could you do again to repeat that feeling?
In my experience, people with wellness challenges in the workplace do have unique or enhanced skills, talents and abilities.
They have, after all, got to where they are now whilst having a wellness challenge. And if nothing else, that means that they have resilience and strength beyond that which another individual might have in their position who hasn't experienced wellness challenges.
So when it comes to potential strengths there may be resilience. Beyond that you may have strengths, talents and abilities with creativity, process development, logical decision-making, increased emotional intelligence as a line manager or leader, greater focus, ability to identify and mitigate risks and so on.
Once you have identified your strengths find a strategy to play to those strengths. Would it help to talk these through with colleagues at work - tell them what you're good at and what you would like to focus on in the workplace so that you can increasingly help to play to those strengths. If you are the leader, would it help to tell your people - let them know what you are great at, and let them know what you are not so good at.
If you are managed, would it help to discuss this with your line manager?
Disclosure isn't just about revealing the condition and the challenges. It's also about finding the strengths and playing to them. This moves you from managing your illness, to working towards mental wellness, to ultimately achieving high performance in the workplace.
Performing in the workplace provides a sense of achievement, stability and security. It is possible despite having a wellness challenge; and despite the workplace stigma that flows from those who fail to understand or accommodate the different personalities of those who carry the burden of a wellness challenge.
Those people who push the stigma need to change. But we can too. We can overcome our wellness challenges and perform strongly, manage our challenges and play to our strengths.
I wish you well — Jonathan Phelan
About Jonathan Phelan
Jonathan is the author of “The Art of the Mentally Healthy Conversation” which tells the story of how Jonathan learned how to manage the challenge of a mental health condition following a child bereavement. The book helps the reader discover how to have mentally healthy conversations, which are more likely to result in support, rather than stigma. It also promotes the benefits of workplaces, universities and schools nurturing a culture in which it is normal for people to talk about their mental health and to offer mutual support for wellbeing and resilience.
Jonathan has held a senior leadership position in a large financial services organisation since 2004, with a long-term career in law, law enforcement and consumer protection. When he went through the trauma of a child bereavement he gained an insight into the obstacles people face when they have mental wellbeing challenges. More importantly he learned how to overcome those obstacles by improving the way we talk about our wellbeing and resilience.
Through his talks, workshops and book Jonathan shares his personal story. Using the drama of how mental health has been portrayed in film, and his own particular take on how our brains process information, Jonathan guides the listener to discover more effective ways to talk about mental wellbeing.
Jonathan also promotes the concept of mutual support for wellbeing; based on the belief that we should all aim to make it normal for people to talk about their mental wellbeing, just as we are already willing to talk about physical wellbeing.