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The intersection of business and life experiences

I recently finished reading Reboot by Jerry Colonna. I can’t recommend it enough. While a good portion of it is about his upbringing and young adult life, it is also about navigating the trauma and uncertainties that plagued him as a result. The wonderful part of this book for those who wish to play along are the journaling exercises at the conclusion of each chapter.

The thing made clear not only by Jerry’s battling his own life experiences but the way he frames many of them in a broader sense is the simple truth that each of us have things from our past that inform how move throughout our days at work and in life. Whether we acknowledge these things, suppress them or are unaware they are still with us, they are there, perhaps operating in the background but can be waiting to peak back into the open when triggered.

For example, from ages 11-13 I was bullied at times on bus rides to and from school. While it wasn’t constant, there was often a lingering fear of “would it happen today?” In seventh grade it moved from the bus to the school when a different group of kids, lead by one in particular, for some reason decided my new name would be “alien” and he along with a couple others called me it regularly with many others laughing while it happened.

At 14 several close friends and I had been causing growing amounts of mischief together but when cigarettes and marijuana entered the picture, I decided that was too much rule breaking for me. One weekend morning shortly after breaking off our friendship I awoke to find my parent’s house TP-ed with pink and blue toilet paper denoting my sissy nature.

When I was in my freshman year of high school I was verbally bullied by upperclassman football players during lunch and sometimes as a result I would kill time by sitting in one of the bathroom stalls during lunch.

These are some of my stories. We all have them whether it’s not having felt love at home, being forced to participate in a sport or participate in an activity we didn’t want, being berated for a bad grade or a host of other things. I carry that bullying and other things with me as part of who I am. While they do not define me, they are a part of who I am and at times influence how I might feel or behave at work or in life. A lingering fear of being ostracized or unworthy of people.

This tale is not meant to invoke pity but to call out the fact that when I show up to work or a social gathering, those experiences arrive with me. Reboot not only made this even clearer to me but as I find myself pulled into a growing number of business consulting and coaching opportunities, I remember that my clients carry similar, and perhaps harder to endure experiences as well. As a country who is only as of recent normalizing things like PTSD for our veterans, we must realize that we all carry levels of this in our body based on the times we have been hurt physically or emotionally. Meanwhile, we take assemble groups of people inside organizations or around movements to accomplish goals and must come to grips with the fact that we all bring that “baggage” with us.

Does the CEO feel the need to dominate and feel in charge because they always had to prove themselves growing up? Might the general counsel’s strong reaction to risk be related to having experienced poverty growing up and the shame and fear that comes with it?

While our workplaces do not need to become giant therapy sessions derailing all productivity, we must also not pretend like these things do not exist and move to work through them when they arise rather than simply tell people to power through or shun them for being emotional.

Is the tension between you and a co-founder about business goals or power dynamics? What makes one or both of you more sensitive to those dynamics? Might they be afraid of not being heard like they were not when they were growing up?

Call it touchy-feely or whatever you might. But one thing to me feels to hard to refute, we are in and moving deeper into a world that asks people to perform emotional labor at work in the form of creativity, innovation and client/colleague relations. We can’t simply turn off the less desirable parts but acknowledge they come as part of the package. This is why the workplace must work to integrate the whole person into the environment.

Go Forth Boldly

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