Taking Control of Mental Health: Acknowledge. Accept. Act.

Kishwaukee River in Sycamore, IL, Winter 2019. I took this photo as a memento during the hardest period of my life.

“Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.” – Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones

It’s been a few weeks since I sat down to type for the blog. A lot has been going on, personally and professionally! Forgive me as I take a stroll down memory lane… this is a long journey. I hope you’ll come with me. I need to get this out there.

My hope is someone who needs to read this will read it and be inspired to find help. Even if it’s one person. That’s more than enough for me to know this is the right thing to do – even though is scares the crap out of me.

My favorite Walt Disney movie is Aladdin, due in large part to Robin Williams. Williams’ Genie is one of the all-time great voice acting performances. The heart, the soul, the humor are all delivered with spot on accuracy and energy. To this day, I love watching the Genie do his thing while singing every word to Never Had a Friend Like Me and Prince Ali!

There are bands that explode on the scene and change music, or at least challenge the musical dynamic – even if briefly. One such band was Linkin Park. In 2000 the band dropped their debut album Hybrid Theory, and everyone my age (and many others younger and older) was obsessed! In particular, I loved the voice of Chester Bennington. It could change from raging scream to hauntingly beautiful harmonies on a dime. In the end, it doesn’t even matter if you like them or not. Chester Bennington’s voice was a voice of a generation. In fact, I’m jamming Hybrid Theory as I type and loving how fresh it sounds 20 years later.

I’m obsessed with cooking shows. Since I was in high school, I’ve loved seeing world class chefs show you how to prepare amazing cuisine. Anthony Bourdain, however, was a little different. He was a world class chef, who rose up from poverty and was deeply influenced by a punk ethos. He took those rebellious, non-conformist roots with him – a “fuck you” attitude he used to expose corruption and shed light on injustice and impropriety through food and culture. Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown is a beautiful show. I highly recommend binging if you can.

All three inspired me. I am, in some part, who I am today due to their influence. All three of them also share another trait. They all fought through mental health challenges and lost. All three couldn’t rise above the darkest depths of their torment and committed suicide.

I will never forget where I was when I heard the news of each one of them. I was shattered. In some ways, I am still shattered.

Shattered because… I share their torment. I’ve felt it, too. Thankfully, so far, I have been able to stave off the hand of uncertainty and not sink to a level from which I cannot return. It doesn’t make it any less painful. Painful because I fear one day I may sink too far and not come back.

Seeing heroes of mine fail so spectacularly gives me a deep seeded anxiety that I may one day fail. It’s a reminder that my battle may ebb and flow, but it is never over. It’s something I will carry with me forever. Everyone who battled mental health in some way or another knows this truth.

I have carried that battle with me silently, much like Williams, Bennington, and Bourdain. Until their deaths, was it common knowledge that they all had inner demons that tormented them? No. Williams, in particular. Here’s a man who spent his entire life making other people happy. He was a jokester, a (seemingly) happy, energetic person! How could he take his own life???

It makes no sense, except it makes perfect sense. It makes perfect sense to those who share the demon.

Suffering in silence… most wouldn’t know. It’s why I have decided to be more vocal, and it begins with naming the demon… depression.

I’ve been wanting to write this for years – prior to ever having started the HR Philosopher. Yet, I held back. I continued suffering silently, alone. Fear, anger, hate, suffering – all these things kept me from writing what I wanted to, as well as helped me down the path to the Darkside.

Thankfully, I got a push from a friend. Osasu Arigbe wrote a blog series in May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month. She asked me to be a part of her series, Let’s Talk About Mental Health. It was the first time I ever publicly discussed that I was challenged with mental health issues. In fact, it was the first time I was even open about it with anyone outside of my wife and maybe three or four others.

Interview with Osasu Arigbe, an amazing HR professional and mental health advocate!

For as long as I can remember, I avoided talking about it, acknowledging it, ESPECIALLY to myself. I hid from it, hoping it’d go away. But it never did – it never does. It just goes into hibernation, much like a bear. It sleeps from time to time, but always wakes up hungry and angry. The bear comes back and goes on a devastating bender.

Thankfully, I came to the realization that as painful as it is, as uncomfortable as it is, as awkward as it is, talking about one’s mental heath struggles is necessary to move forward and regain control of one’s life.

It began with acknowledging that depression was a part of me. It is as much a part of me as my blonde hair and brown eyes. Acknowledging it is only step one. The next step was accepting it. It’s one thing to know something, but it’s another to agree that this knowledge is true and unrefutable. Once you accept it, you have to act. By act I mean take the reigns and intentionally working in ways and doing things to live peacefully with depression.

I came to this understanding after a long battle of depression – the longest and most painful of my entire life. It started in the fall of 2018, and I didn’t come completely out of it until winter of 2020. It nearly debilitated me personally and professionally. Thankfully, I have a wonderful wife, without whom, I may not be writing this now!

I admitted my struggles and came clean with her. It was something we worked on together. And she never wavered while I was a tattered flag in a hurricane barely hanging on by what seemed like a few threads.

During my lowest points, I journaled. It was one way in which I could act. I am glad I did. I chronicled my journey. It gave me something to look back on to realize how far I came, how much I learned, and how much I grew.

Originally, I wrote it for myself. However, I feel sharing it here could potentially help someone else. So, I share the following from March 6, 2019 when I was home desperate for some semblance of “normalcy.”

What have you learned so far?

  • I have learned that you can hit a new rock bottom. You can fall further than previously thought.
  • You can, however, always choose to get back up, every time!
  • Your condition doesn’t define you.
  • You are NOT your job. Sometimes a job is a job. It doesn’t need any other meaning other than a means to provide our loved ones with what they need.
  • Being your own best friend is hard but necessary for sustained wellness.
  • Those who truly matter always reveal themselves, as do those who don’t matter.
  • Internal validation is a key to wellbeing. External validation is fleeting and poisonous.
  • You are always making decisions. It is best to be present for them.
  • Consistency comes with practice. Practice comes with discipline. Discipline comes when your mind is locked in.
  • Quiet is the ultimate equalizer. Sitting in quiet while smiling is even better.
  • It is OK to not be OK.
  • Happiness can be found here, now. You won’t find it anywhere else.
  • At the end of the day, you must be your own best friend. You won’t be a friend to others if you don’t.
  • Being vulnerable is a gateway to true understanding. Open yourself up to the world. Shutting it off, running or hiding, or worse, ignoring challenges, only makes suffering worse.

Being vulnerable? Ugh… I am uncomfortable when vulnerable; however, that uncomfortability saved me in many ways. Shutting myself off, closing myself in armor (not being vulnerable) was slowly causing me to rot. It didn’t help my depression go away. My depression will never go away, but being vulnerable gives me the power to understand my depression – to harness it to make my world better around me for myself, my family, and the community.

I wrote the above in the middle of the worst depression of my life. I wrote the following as I was coming out of it… near the end. On January 17, 2020, I wrote:

What has a year and a half of depression taught me?

  1. Acknowledge and accept. Then act.
  2. Acknowledging you have a mental illness is hard and someone akin to coming out of the closet, in that, for a period of time I hid who I am – even from myself. I have come to greatly respect anyone in the LGTBQ community who is fully out and loving who they are. I admire it so much because it’s something I haven’t been able to do with myself for less stakes.
  3. Greater empathy for the African American experience. I felt discrimination due to my condition. I felt the sting of being treated differently due to being different. Obviously, it pales in comparison to the African American experience, but being discriminated against (even on a minute level) opens one’s eyes – experiencing injustice changes your perception. It makes me mad at how wronged Blacks have been.
  4. Great appreciation for FMLA. Had it not been for FMLA and my understanding of the law, I may not have been able to keep my job.
  5. There is no where near enough support for those with these challenges. One clinic and took 4 weeks to see a doctor.

Middle. End. What about the beginning? On 11/04/2018, I wrote:

“Stop looking for happiness everywhere else than where you are.”

That’s a sobering, grounding thought. Happiness can be found right where you are. You won’t find it anywhere else. You just won’t. It comes from within. That’s why depression sucks. If left completely unchecked, it robs you of logic, emotion, and your future (at its worst). I knew what to do, but I couldn’t do it.

So, past and present, but what about future? My hope with being so transparent is to allow myself the opportunity to move forward – stronger. Coming clean is so liberating. Accepting what you are is power. I hope by following Tyrion’s advice, I can be open and honest about my experiences so they can no longer control me.

I was always fearful of being open due to people using my story to hurt me. I wouldn’t get a job, I would lose friends, I would be ridiculed and made fun of. All of that may happen, but I learned that as long as I accept myself as I am, nothing anyone else does can hurt me – unless I let it. I can’t allow that anymore.

Brené Brown uses the analogy that being vulnerable is taking armor off. Tyrion uses the analogy that being vulnerable is putting armor on, in that, if you openly admit what you are – in his case a dwarf and in Jon Snow’s case a bastard – that’s like putting on armor because no one can use it against you. Your acceptance and openness are vulnerabilities that lead you and others to greater understanding and strength.

“You’re a dwarf bastard?!” “Yeah, I know.”

“You’re depressed and suicidal?!” <awkward look emoji> “Yes, I know.” <smile emoji>

I no longer feel the need to desperately hide my history of depression or my experiences. It feels good to let it go – even if scary.

Acknowledge. Accept. Act.

I hope to one day meet Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, and Anthony Bourdain. I want to tell them what they meant to me and how their deaths – particularly how they died – deeply affected me. They helped me gain clarity that they, perhaps, never had. I wish they were still here, but if there’s any good that came from their suffering – it is that they helped save me.

Chester was wrong on one thing, though. In the end, it DOES matter. Life matters. Just keep swimming. Be here tomorrow because I promise that this too shall pass.

If you or someone you know is in need of help, please know there are millions of others who have gone through or are going through similar challenges. They understand. They feel it, too. Getting help is not a sign of weakness. Getting help is a sign of power. Keep swimming for yourself and for others in your life. Just keep swimming. I got the following information from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website: suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1-800-273-8255.

Street Level Influencers: Local SHRM Chapters Are Fighting Racism in the Workplace

“When people show you who they are, believe them.” – Maya Angelou

When I started my “Street Level Influencer” series, it was meant to showcase the power of HR professionals at the ground level. People on the frontline doing the work, making a meaningful impact, and not asking for much in return, other than the satisfaction of knowing they made a difference.

I was trying to encapsulate the spirit of those who liked to do the work outside of the spotlight. At the end of the day, the lesson is, those who do the work at the street level, set the narrative. They write the story.

Those higher up on the food chain may think they are writing the book, and in many respects they may be writing a chapter or so, but their power pales compared to the power of the individuals at the street levels writing the bulk of the magnum opus.

Recently, I noticed being a Street Level influencer isn’t specified only to individual contributors. Organizations can also be Street Level Influencers.

Over the last several weeks, there has been a plethora of discontent being voiced by members of the HR community towards the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM).

And really the discontent has been building for years. The #FixItSHRM hashtag is proof. More recently, the dissatisfaction stems from SHRM’s silence and inaction on racial injustice in the workplace – let alone America at large – especially revolving around the Black Lives Matter and LGTBQ+ movements.

The criticism is mostly fair. Some of it is incendiary and over the top. However, the fair criticism far outweighs the unfair. A small sampling includes the powerful articles:

For whatever their reasons, as they refuse to clarify, SHRM has not openly and directly commented on the issues I stated above. They did, however, recently release a statement…. Over a month after the murder of George Floyd. And what’s worse, when I Googled the title of the statement “ Create better workplaces by eliminating racism,” I couldn’t find it on social media or the SHRM site. I hope I’m wrong, and just overlooked it…

Rightfully so, there was criticism of the weakness of the statement:

At first, I actually was happy to see the statement. FINALLY! SHRM is speaking up!

However, the more I thought about it and analyzed it, I became disappointing because the statement is rather toothless, not to mention over a month late, like I mentioned. It shouldn’t take a month to formulate a plan, let alone formulate your thoughts on a generation defining moment that affects our society – including the workplace – like systemic racism contributing to the murder of George Floyd, and thousands (yes, thousands) of other Black people throughout American history.

Making real change takes leadership and courage. It takes more than doing the bare minimum. I feel the statement SHRM put out is the bare minimum, if not less than.

However, back to the local theme of my article.

National SHRM continues to lag; however, local chapters are doing so much more. I am INSPIRED by what local SHRM chapters have been doing over the past months while National SHRM touts its tote bag.

Take my local SHRM Chapter for instance, Chicago SHRM. They have a five-part series (FIVE PARTS) on racism in our country and its affects in the workplace. I have been so inspired as I attended these sessions.

Part I, Session #1: Understanding How We Got Here and How to be a Strong Ally

Part I, Session #2: Understanding How We Got Here and How to be a Strong Ally

Part II, Session #3: How HR Can and Should Respond to Racism and Inequity

Part II, Session #4: How HR Can and Should Respond to Racism and Inequity

Part III, Session #5: Leading Through Racial Crisis – Open Office Hours

I have registered for and attended all of them so far, and I can tell you, these sessions have been POWERFUL. I have learned, thought deeply, discovered, and grown. This is leadership on fighting for racial justice in the workplace (and society).

The HRA of Oak Brook is a local chapter in DuPage County, IL. They lead several open forum sessions on discussing how HR can be advocates for dismantling systemic racism.

A SAFE SPACE

A SAFE SPACE: PART TWO

The Illinois Fox Valley SHRM Chapter in Elgin is hosting an event called “What is Your Organization Going to do Regarding Racial Equity and Justice?

All of these events have (or will) featured prominent Black professionals as the speakers and moderators. Many of them are in HR, or have a lot of influence in the realm. They have been candidate. They have not held back. All the attendees have been open minded, engaged, and thoughtful.

I could go on and on. The local SHRM Chapters (at least in the Chicagloand area) are KILLING it on this issue! I am so proud to know many of these folks and having the privilege of being able to attend these sessions to learn from Black leaders.

I applaud EVERY leader at Chicago SHRM, HRA of Oak Brook, and the ILFVSHRM for leading where National SHRM has not.

As my friend Carlos Escobar stated, I, too, “am committed to working with any SHRM leader, whether they be at the national, state, or local level. I still believe that SHRM and its chapters are a source for good in our profession and I still believe SHRM members and HR professionals at large want to be actively involved in the solutions to the crisis we are facing.”

I think what I find so disheartening is that SHRM has been excellent to me and my career. I care deeply about the organization. Yet, I disagree with the direction it has taken. It can be doing so much more than what it has to this point. I will not abandon it, however. I want to see it get better. Much like America, SHRM is flawed – because it is ran by flawed human beings. However, we can ALWAYS learn from our flaws, our mistakes. We can get better. SHRM can get better. I believe it can.

SHRM can begin by taking the example of their local affiliates. It can look to emulate their bravery, their vulnerability, their power. Local affiliates are giving voice to Black HR professionals in a way that National should be.

SHRM can look to emulate the Street Level SHRM groups and revive itself in a positive direction. It just needs to look to emulate the right models.

HR MUST do our part to continue the conversation and do the work to dismantle systemic racism in the workplace with or without SHRM. I hope it is with SHRM.

Consider signing the following petition:

Obstacles Are the Ally’s Path: White America Knows What to Do

“Desperation, despair, fear, powerlessness – these reactions are functions of our perceptions. You must realize: Nothing makes us feel this way; we choose to give into such feelings. Or, choose not to.” – Ryan Holiday

There are sayings that change us. Mantras we try to live by. Many of us use them to keep ourselves honest, fuel our fire, or remind us of the paths we wish to travel.

For me, no phrase has done more to redirect my anxiety – done more to change who I am – than “the obstacle is the way.” The beauty of this phrase is that it transcends culture, transcends history. It was uttered by the most powerful man in the Western world while simultaneous having been uttered by Buddhist monks in the East.

Marcus Aurelius, the last of the Five Good Emperors of the ancient Roman Empire, wrote to himself in his journal, which would become known as The Meditations, the following:

Our actions may be impeded…but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle Is the Way, very beautifully describes what Marcus was writing – he was reminding himself of one of the core tenets of stoicism, the philosophy to which he dedicated his life. “What it is prescribing,” Holiday writes, “is essentially this: in any and every situation—no matter how bad or seemingly undesirable it is—we have the opportunity to practice a virtue.”

The Zen Buddhist phrase, “the obstacle is the path,” also prescribes this notion. Obstacles aren’t to be avoided. When we apply the right antidotes, they are the path itself. Leo Babauta writes:

You are struggling with writing, and procrastinate. Procrastination is the symptom, but it also illuminates the path you should take: you are dreading something about the writing, you are shying away from discomfort, you are afraid of the writing or what will happen when you publish the writing. So work with that dread, the discomfort, and the fear. You’ll be stronger for having done that.

In my last blog post, I described how I was anxious to discuss race and the Black experience with anyone. That silence isn’t uncommon, unfortunately, and it has collectively, among whites in America, lead to a lot of pain and suffering for our Black brothers and sisters.

The obstacle is my anxiety. The obstacle is my fear. The obstacle is losing my comfort. It’s long past time I turn these into my paths. But which virtue am I supposed to tackle? Where am I supposed to grow? The main four Stoic virtues are:

  1. Courage: To stand up. To charge ahead. To not be afraid or timid in life.
  2. Moderation: To know balance. To be in control of oneself. To avoid excess or extremes.
  3. Justice: To do the right thing. To care for others. To do your duty.
  4. Wisdom: To learn. To study. To keep an open mind.

Looking inside, I think it’s time I focus on addressing all of them. Only by going down this path of anxiety, fear, and uncomfortableness can anyone expect to be a true ally to the Black Community. All four of these virtues are needed to turn the tide and destroy racism in America.

It’s been over two weeks since George Floyd was murdered in the streets of Minneapolis. Our nation just witnessed a massive uprising unlike any since at least the 1960s. People all over the world joined in, as millions demonstrated against racism and police brutality.

Hindsight is always 20/20. Initially, I wrote I didn’t know what to do. Turns out, I did know what to do. Every single person who thinks they don’t know – they know. Knowing what to do is easier than white people give it credit. Don’t use not knowing as the same old tired excuse. Look inside yourself and think. We know. The hard part is acting on the things we know.

Acting will take courage, moderation, justice, and wisdom – as well as A LOT of humility. Ego is the enemy.

Listen.

Talk to your black friends, colleagues, employees. When I went to the office last week, I intentionally reached out to my black coworkers. I asked them how they were holding up. I didn’t say much, but listened to their stories:

  • One coworker told me the story of how his family was standing in line to talk to a salesman. They were clearly next in line, and the salesman walked right past them to assist the white people behind them instead.
  • Another told me how a contractor was getting ready to do work in the family’s home. When the contractor found out the house was owned by a black family, he packed up his tools and left. He thought the house was too nice, and he didn’t know where they were getting their money. Drugs, most likely, was his belief.
  • Multiple, who live in mostly white neighborhoods, told me about how they get stared at as they try to take a leisurely stroll around the block.
  • One coworker told me that she cried while watching the rioting over the weekend of May 29-31st. She saw on the news a shot of her old neighborhood and a restaurant she used to go to, which was destroyed. She was devastated that she’d never get to bring her grandchildren there to build new memories in their lives.
  • Lastly, one coworker told me she has always been known as a “strong” woman. People would remark that nothing fazes her. She called her niece to see how she was doing as they watched the looting and rioting on live TV. Immediately, when her niece answered the phone, she broke down. They both broke down as they watched the rioting and looting together and lamented what was going on.

Write.

If you have a forum, use it. Blog, write letters to the editor, post to social media, engage in healthy, constructive dialogue. For a while I didn’t post “controversial” items to my social media site. I believed it was a waste of time because “no one’s mind is changed by reading social media posts.” I no longer believe that because MY mind has been changed many times by engaging in respectful dialogue online.

Read, read, read.

Do not wait for others to teach you, especially Black Americans. That’s not their job. It is the job of every… single… white American to educate themselves. Education is like armor. You’ll need that armor before you go into the battlefield. Where to start? Google…

By now, you’ve seen post after post touting White Fragility and How to Be an Antiracist. If you haven’t please look into them because there’s a reason almost everyone is recommending them. I ordered mine last week, and I can’t wait to dig in. You don’t have to wait, however. A simple Google search reveals wonders. These are some of the articles I’ve read:

Your Difficult Questions About Race in America, Answered

Here’s What White Privilege Actually Means, and How You Can Use Yours To Help Others

#BLACKBLOGSMATTER – WEEK 9 – WHAT’S IN AN ALLY?

5 ways to start being a better ally for your black coworkers

10 Steps to Non-Optical Allyship

5 Reads: How to be Anti-Racist, 11 Things to Do Besides Say “This Has to Stop”, How to Make this Moment a Turning Point and More

Opportunities for White People in the Fight for Racial Justice

How Are You Showing Up, (White) Leaders?

The Research On White Privilege Blindness

75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice

Anti-racism resources for white people

Also, DO NOT STOP AT ADULTS! White Americans MUST talk about this with their children. Racism isn’t born in folks. People learn hatred, and they act upon what they pick up. This guide is a great start:

Raising Little Allies-To-Be: A Guide for Caregivers

While you’re at it, learn about the Unwritten Rules of being a Black man in America today. If you’re a white male, read this list, and tell me there is not such thing as privilege.

  • Don’t put your hands in your pockets.
  • Don’t put your hoodie on.
  • Don’t be outside with no shirt on.
  • Don’t touch anything you’re not buying.
  • Never leave the store without a receipt or a bag, even if it’s just a pack of gum.
  • Never make it look like there’s an altercation between you and someone else.
  • Never leave the house without your ID.
  • Don’t drive with a wifebeater on.
  • Don’t drive with a du-rag on.
  • Don’t go out in public in either.
  • Don’t ride with the music too loud.
  • Don’t stare at a Caucasian woman.

Lastly, read up on qualified immunity, Rise of the Warrior Cop, by Radley Balko, and Resist Not Evil by Clarence Darrow. These will explains a lot about how we got to the state we’re in.

Act on what is right.

Be kind. Use your emotions to develop your reason and discussion points. Don’t let your emotions control the situation. It’s already a volatile situation. No one was ever convinced by being yelled at, made to feel stupid, mocked, or attacked.

Voting? I’m not sure I’m the right person to address this, but just remember to do research. Local elections matter more than national ones.

https://twitter.com/shaunking/status/1268911183878410246

Prepare for tough times ahead.

Premeditatio Malorum.

After all is said and done, I am preparing myself to lose friends. I am preparing myself to strain relationships with my family. Doing the right thing is sometimes the most difficult thing to do. Ultimately, I hope those preparations are for naught. I’d consider myself a much more successful ally to the Black community if I convinced my white friends and family to become allies, too. In 5 years, 10 years, 50 years, I want to look back and say I did something – that I stood for something and helped bring about meaningful, lasting change for Black Americans. If you don’t stand for something, you fall for nothing.

I cannot allow that to happen. I’m going to be anxious. I’m going to be afraid. I’m going to be uncomfortable. Every white American doing the right thing will feel these things, and must feel those things.

People tend to default to the path of least resistance. There are no obstacles on a path with no resistance. There is also no progress, no growth, no justice, no wisdom, no courage, nothing worthy.

White Americans, our obstacles must become our path.

Silence Is Acceptance: HR Cannot Avoid Talking About the Black Experience

“There can be no movement without friction.” – Marc Perry

Nothing I say here is going to be new. It isn’t going to be earth shattering. It isn’t going to be profound. But it is all something that I need to say.

I had wrote an article about how silence is acceptance when it comes to discussing mental health in the workplace. Now, I expand upon those themes here under a different context.

Those familiar with the DISC personality assessment will understand. There are four personalities according to the theory. D – Dominance, I – Influencer, S – Steady, and C – Conscientious.

I am an “S.” Those with this persuasion generally avoid confrontation if possible. They generally disdain combative situations, and do their best to ensure that things stay smooth and comfortable.

Talking about the Black Experience in America is the complete opposite of what a typical S would want to do, which is something, regrettably, I have done far too often.

One of my biggest professional regrets was not calling out someone I used to trust and look up to when this person made a blatantly racist comment in an attempt to justify not hiring a young black man for a position. I was gob smacked. I didn’t know what to do. So, shamefully, I did nothing but walk away.

That experience haunts me to this day. I wish I did more. I was silent in the face of racism, so racism won. It was accepted.

This past week has crushed my soul. Every time I see that monster kneeling on George Floyd, I picture a lion crushing a gazelle’s windpipe in its mouth. A lion, however, isn’t killing out of hatred.

Despite my sorrow, it pales in comparison to the pain, anger, and suffering every single black person who lives in America today has experienced and is experiencing. This scene has been part of their daily lives for far too long.

Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. John Crawford. Laquan McDonald. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. So many other.

All of these black men (and children and women) should be alive today. None of them are. America is sick. It’s been sick for a long time, and its sickness has little to do with COVID-19.

I have thought about my failure a lot this week, and how I make amends for it. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to help.

Not knowing what to do cannot be an excuse. I must do something. I have to start somewhere.

And, thankfully, I know where to start – I will start by eschewing my comfort and begin speaking out. I cannot continue being silent. I cannot let my own desire for comfort overpower what is right. Right is might, and might is needed now more than ever before.

This is my promise to my black friends, my black colleagues, my black coworkers. I will speak out when I see racism. I will confront it head on. You have an ally in me.

But I will not stop there. I will continue learning. I will continue engaging in conversation. I will ACT.

I will act where I can, but I will begin in my place of work. That is where I can have an impact right away. Being an HR Director affords me an opportunity to advocate at the workplace for black employees. I will look to empower black Americans in the workplace.

I won’t stop there. I will raise my son to be better than me, braver than me, so that eventually one day, he won’t look back at a moment in time he failed to combat racism.

White Americans, I know we can do better. We must be better. We can’t afford not to be.

If you are struggling with where to start, please see the following resources. I have used them to learn and force myself to become uncomfortable. The only way to move forward is to create friction within myself and with others when necessary. There is no movement, without friction.

Please read this entire thread… Dr. Erin Thomas gave a brilliant synopsis of what we need to do.

https://tatianamac.com/posts/save-the-tears/

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BRlF2_zhNe86SGgHa6-VlBO-QgirITwCTugSfKie5Fs/mobilebasic

Black Americans, I see you. I hear you. I will fight with you. I promise to not walk away from the face of racism again. You deserve better. Your children deserve better. Please know I am trying. I will continue to do what I can to the best of my abilities — despite it making me uncomfortable — or maybe because of it. I know then that something is working.

Street Level Influencer: Meet James Woods

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

James Woods, a nonprofit HR pro extraordinaire!

When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people.

In the series, I argue that some of the most impactful people in our lives are right in front of us, and we just need to remember to tap into those around us for their wisdom and influence.

So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler
  7. Blake Quinlan

It’s been a while, but next in the series, I want to introduce you to James Woods, nonprofit HR master from the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

Working in the nonprofit sector is challenging. Working in the HR profession is also challenging! Put them together and wow! It can be intense! A lot of times, nonprofits don’t have the resources to conduct the best HR programs – if they have any HR programs at all! Most of the time, the mission critical operations take precedent – for better or worse. Income is contingent upon the generosity of donors and the fickle nature of government grants.

Also, added to this foray is COVID-19. HR has been stretched thin helping employers and employees navigate the crisis. In addition, many nonprofits are considered essential services for when crisis hits, the ones hit hardest are many nonprofits are serving – seniors, disabled, low income, and other disparate populations.

None of these challenges stop James from building amazing programs at the YWCA and helping his people through the COVID crisis – all while maximizing his potential as an HR pro. I first met James via LinkedIn. We connected with many of the same individuals, and we shared a similar background working as HR professionals in the nonprofit sector.

After we connected, I was immediately drawn to James’ positivity and energy. We’ve conversed many times about how HR has a powerful role in strengthening the employee experience. He’s done masterful work in this realm – having developed programs and policies that have helped boost employee engagement and satisfaction.

It’s something we’re both passionate about. Take care of your folks, and they will take care of you!

Without further ado, let me introduce you to James! You’ll definitely want to connect with him and get to know him better.

  1. Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I currently work for YWCA Metropolitan Chicago as Senior HR Manager. I’m proud of my diverse experiences, which include talent acquisition, organizational development, health and wellness initiatives, and, of course, employee engagement!

2. What was your biggest professional success? Why was it important to you?

My biggest professional success was guiding and managing the transition of my organization’s HRIS during a rapid growth model. The project was so important to me because it introduced efficient technology that streamlined multiple processes around Onboarding, Benefits Administration, and other HR items while we were preparing to double the organization’s size simultaneously. The implementation was perfect timing. I’m grateful to receive compliments about it to this day.

3. What was your biggest professional failure? What did it teach you?

My biggest professional regret came when I was helping an employee with claims paperwork. While filling it out, I missed the smallest detail (checking a box), and this mistake negatively impacted the employee. They received an overpayment and was required to repay a portion of the money issued for the claim. When I realized this was executed by me, I was devastated. It taught me a valuable lesson. As much as we think we are masters of multiple tasks, it never hurts to slow down and double check yourself.

4. The COVID-19 crisis has turned our society upside down and put HR in the spotlight. What have you and your organization done to combat the crisis and keep your employees safe and motivated?

The COVID-19 pandemic has truly exposed the best of leadership and the flexibility of the organizations we serve. Fortunately, at the YWCA, we have found ways for all of our staff to function through telecommuting. The operating systems that we have in place allow for all of our teams to function and remain productive. [It’s a blessing to remain operational when so many others have not had the same outcome!] We have an ERG that has been working daily to share information to cope with the shelter-in-place orders, wellness techniques, and resources to maintain basic needs (food, shelter, information). Also, we’ve had a weekly “virtual happy hour” to have a little fun and remain connected.

5. How has COVID-19 changed the HR profession? Do you see this as a lasting change?

The impact COVID-19 has had on the HR profession highlights what HR professionals have known all along…….HR pros are superstars that often times do not receive the acknowledgment they deserve. Through this crisis, we have to be agile, navigate legislation (and implementation of such), workforce reductions, and emotions while our personal and professional lives have been altered dramatically. I see this as a lasting change because it truly highlights the importance of the HR team members as a unit and as true leaders during difficult times.  

6. Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

Erich Kurschat , Founder of Harmony Insights and the HRHotSeat. I have a genuine love for Erich and his passion for the HR profession.

7. How do you connect and interact with others in the HR profession? 

I am a member of SHRM and Chicago SHRM. I also participate in HRHotSeat. I also work on the Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Council of Chicago SHRM. 

8. How can people connect with you?

I can be found on LinkedIn by following the link https://www.linkedin.com/in/jameswoods-shrm-cp/.

9. What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

The world should know that I am lover of music! I have performed jazz and orchestral music as a trumpet and French horn player. I listen to all kinds of music. I even have tattoo of a treble clef, microphone, and music staff wrapping around bicep and shoulder.

Random Thoughts While Being at Home

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandolf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

The following isn’t necessarily a story about human resources. It’s simply me wanting to write – randomly scroll my thoughts down as I find some time to come to terms with the new world we share.

It’s been a while since I sat down to write for the HR Philosopher. It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to do much of what I used to do routinely. It’s been a while for obvious reasons. Although, that statement has the benefit of recency bias. Those reading this today, likely obviously, understand where I’m coming from. Those reading this years from now may not understand the context.

We are living in a world dominated by COVID-19. This microscopic virus, this “organism at the edge of life,” has forced many of us to live on the edge of lives we once knew. Our world, our earth, at least for the time being, does not belong to humanity. It belongs to COVID-19.

However, it won’t always be that way. Eventually, we will overcome and reclaim the earth, our lives, ourselves. I have hope that we will come through this and enter a post-COVID world. This world will be drastically different from the one we used to know. Am I ready for it? Are you?

I sat down to write not knowing where I was going with this. I just know I wanted to write. It had been a while, and I wanted to write something that wasn’t a COVID-19 email to employees, or a policy related to COVID-19. Hell, I don’t even want to write about COVID-19. I hate that damn virus. Although, hating it is pointless. It changes nothing. Wasted energy to hate. My energy is better spent focusing on this blog post.  

It shows the power of COVID, the power of a microscopic barely life-form that the entire earth is focused on one thing like never before, or not for a long time. So, I decided to write about something. That much I can control.

I have been thinking a lot about how the world has changed. It reminded me of stories my grandparents told me. They survived the Great Depression and World War II. Those events instilled characteristics in my grandparent’s generation and made them different.

For example, my grandpa, who grew up on the southside of Chicago, told me how the city would have “black outs” during the War in case of air raids. He told me how their food and supplies were rationed for the war effort. Certain items, like rubber, just weren’t available.

My grandparents reused everything. I joke that my grandma didn’t have Tupperware containers for storing leftovers because she had plenty of used washed margarine tubs that had ALL THE FOOD!

My grandparents never wasted food. They would suck the marrow out of chicken bones. I remember my grandpa hated certain food items, but he ate them every single time my grandma made the meal. Being a picky eater wasn’t a luxury one could afford.

My grandparents worked differently than I do. I feel I am a hard worker due in part to them instilling a work ethic in me. However, their work ethic was just “different.” I complain about work every once and a while. I never ONCE heard them bitch or complain or moan about having to do work. Work was a sacred duty that had to be accomplished. You don’t bitch about a sacred duty.

I haven’t lived through anything like my grandparents. 9/11 was the defining event of my generation, but ultimately, Islamic Terrorism isn’t on the same level as Hitler’s Nazism, or even the very real scare that mutually assured destruction posed following the Third Reich. The Great Recession sucked. It set my generation back, but most millennials came through it and are doing better now. Even during the Great Recession life was nothing compared to the Great Depression. The hardships of the Great Recession were real, but I don’t feel the two compare to the overall human misery that came in the 1930s. Those evens changed everything; however, I haven’t lived through anything like my grandparents – until now.

COVID-19 feels like an economic calamity / war effort. Domestic business is disrupted (and not in the good way). Unemployment claims are skyrocketing. The economy is on shaky ground at best. Industries have shifted production to assist with our frontline soldiers – doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals fighting every day to make sure this virus doesn’t spread. And, as of today, they’re doing it (seemingly) unsuccessfully. People aren’t working and unsure of how to provide for their families. The world feels chaotic, uncertain, scary.

I am mentally and physically drained. The world has changed, and it continues to change by the day, by the hour, sometimes by the minute. I cannot keep up with what I need to do as an HR professional. Trying to communicate with staff, keep them informed, keep them calm and on point has been… trying. It’s been necessary and important.

Yet, I feel calm. I feel hopeful. Doing what I am doing feels like the single most important thing I will ever do as a human resources professional. People need me. I know they do, so I continue on despite having no energy. I find strength in helping others. And I know they appreciate it.

It will take a while to better understand the lasting lessons from this part of our shared history, but here are some random thoughts that have been running through my mind during the last few weeks.

Social distancing. It’s been so engrained into our shared experience. Will we ever return to a social interaction where being closer together isn’t looked upon with a raised eyebrow?

Handshakes. Will we ever be able to shake hands with others again? Will the fist-bump be our new way of showing respect to one another?

Working from home. I’ve been on so many conference calls this past week, and I’ve been so energized how many of my coworkers have embraced technology. If there’s a positive from our shared situation, it’s that we’ve now been thrust into a world not many thought was possible. Our post-COVID world will feature a heavier reliance on technology, and just as importantly, work from home is more “doable” than many skeptics thought. Employees will have the ability to shape their own professional destinies and mental health like never before!

Resilience. People will find a way to make it through this. We are a strong species. We wouldn’t have made this this far if we weren’t. After all is said and done, our lessons from COVID-19 will make us a better society, a better people, and most importantly, a kinder one.

People are good. For every story of some assholes going to the beach and saying “if I get Coronavirus, so be it” there are 20x more stories of people rising up to protect and serve one another. What I find most impressive is that more people are doing this on their own! There’s no overarching government mandate telling people to do well to one another. It’s been natural. Distilleries stopped making booze so they could make hand sanitizer for medical professionals. Restaurateurs are donating food to senior citizen housing facilities. Neighbors are stepping up and bringing meals to their sick neighbors, going to the store for them, and bringing their garbage to the street. I find this so beautiful. You cannot mandate being good. You have to allow people the space (pun unintended) to think about what it takes to help one another and act upon those thoughts.

The only constant is change. This won’t last. COVID-19 will eventually die out. We will develop a vaccine that Jenny McCarthy will refuse to take. We will eventually have it good again. And that good won’t last either. Everything is ephemeral. Wars, countries, pandemics, roaring economies, you, me, the Sun, the Moon, the earth, Pax Americana, Tom Brady’s good looks, the White Castle shits: Nothing lasts forever. Good, bad, indifference – it’s always in flux. Just enjoy what you have now, and prepare for it to end. Move on to the next scene in history knowing it will be but a blip on the radar that no one will truly remember 100 years from now.

Memento Mori. At the end of the day, we don’t know if we will have another day. Remember, that one day, you will die. Every minute that passes is a minute that is gone forever. It should not take our current situation to remind us to appreciate the time that is given to us. I have not been “stuck at home” for almost two weeks with my wife and son. I have been “safe and sound” in my home with my wife and son. I love them, and I will cherish the time we’ve spent in the house during this ordeal. Sometimes, they drive me nuts, yes. But most of the time, they put a smile on my face, and teach me that one day, I won’t have them around, or they won’t have me. Either way, I am appreciating what I have while I have it.

And what I have, is good, and I am appreciating that more and more each day. I hope you can say the same thing. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Grow your love. Develop your patience. Cultivate your understanding. Challenge your perspective. We are in this together, and we will make it through this together. One love. One truth. One destiny.

Stand in Your Worthiness

“For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them. – Thich Nhat Hanh

A hallmark of a great friend is non-judgement. You can tell them anything without fear they will critique you or your opinions and experiences. Sure, they may offer you words of advice you don’t want to hear – but may need to! – yet, those words come from a place of encouragement and guidance. Many of us have those people in our lives that we can be completely open with. We don’t fear being authentic with them.

Are you one of those people for yourself?

Have you ever heard someone say this: “I’m my own worst critic.” You likely have. It’s even probable that you’ve said this about yourself! I’ve certainly said this on many occasions. When someone says they are their own worst critic, it’s likely a cover for “I don’t think I am good enough.” It’s a defense mechanism used to blunt the inner self doubt with misplaced logic. If I am my own worst critic, no one else can hurt me.

This line of thinking is fundamentally flawed. We try to protect ourselves from outside forces, but in doing so, we conversely attack our own inner citadel. We are invaded and defeated by a Trojan Horse we built and filled with soldiers only to allow it admittance through our own walls. 

I conducted an interview with Karlyn Borysenko in which she described non-judgement in the following way:

“Being non-judgmental is about resisting the inclination to immediately judge things going on around you as good or bad, right or wrong, better or wrong. By reserving judgment, you can explore different possibilities and perspectives and choose the ones that best serve your goals.”

“Immediately judge things going on around you as good or bad…” As I reread that line she shared with me, it all started to make sense!

I recently had the luck of working with an executive coach. We’ve been focusing a lot on the concept of strengths and weaknesses. He noted that while we conversed, I had a tendency to focus on my weaknesses and downplay my strengths. He told me, I’d use a lot of “qualifiers” when talking about my strengths and positive things that were happening.

“I did well, but…”

“This was a good thing, though…”

“The discuss was a really awesome one, however….”

Qualifiers like “but,” “though,” and “however” are used to negate everything that comes before them. So, in an essence, I was judging the entire experience as bad, even though I claimed the experiences went well! Unlike a non-judgmental friend offering words from a place of encouragement and guidance, I was an enemy to myself – offering masked criticism from a misguided sense of trying to keep myself humble and honest, which had the opposite effect. It wore me down and zapped my self-confidence. Over time, I could only see myself in terms of negative self-judgment.

Not long after that conversation, Erich Kurschat posted an article on his Twitter and LinkedIn feeds that I was compelled to share:

It ignited a conversation with friends and colleagues that really seemed to hit a chord!

It helped me realize, I am not alone. My battle is not unique. Your battle is not unique. Many strong, capable, talented professionals struggle to stand in their worthiness – a WONDERFUL phrase coined by Laura.

Moving forward, with this new point of view and understanding, I plan on working to resist the urges to immediately judge my performance, myself. In addition, I plan on not placing qualifiers on myself. I will not go the extreme and look at everything through rose colored glasses. This is no more a sustainable outlook than always placing “however” on oneself. However, enjoying my wins and allowing myself to feel good about those wins can only be beneficial. 

The key is balance and true rationalism. By being mindful about how you talk to yourself and about yourself, you can realistically assess how you’re progressing in the world. Give yourself space to be your own advocate. Work hard to get better and be better, but don’t do it by building a giant wooden horse and filling it with self-deprecation, self-doubt, and self-criticism.

Do it by allowing for the possibility that you are actually good at things and capable of success. Don’t use “but” when describing a success! Focus on the value of your strengths, of which there are many! You have a lot of them!!! Don’t fall back on where you have a deficit. How can your strengths overcome your deficits?

Accept the success and move on to more! Be your own best friend and champion, or as Laura advises, stand in your worthiness. Stand unwaveringly tall.

Doing the Right Thing Is Always in Our Control

“The time is always right to do what is right.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

The beginning of the year has so many of us thinking, reflecting. We write about our thoughts. We give pause, give ourselves space to explore our feelings, emotions, dreams. How does this all impact our future?

Two of my good friends recently wrote two amazing blog posts from the heart. Both posts are great self-reflection pieces:

I truly enjoyed both of their posts! Their musing inspired me to do some of my own self-reflection, especially on doing right and what that means to me. The tagline in my LinkedIn profile states:

I enjoy HR & doing the right thing. #HRPhilosopher Blogger

People who connect with me sometimes say they are attracted to the “doing the right thing” mantra. So, I got to thinking about what it means to do the right thing. It’s not always clear, yet if we are silent, it is always clear.

Recently, one of my major influences, Ryan Holiday, tweeted the following:

I absolutely LOVED this tweet. I’ve written in the past how philosophy, particularly Stoicism, has influenced my approach to HR. I believe work (both personal and professional) is an act of philosophy. Philosophy, to me, is about being better than you were yesterday, so you can better approach the world by doing the right thing. In HR that has so many amazing possibilities!!!

Back to the right thing. What’s the right thing? In this context, it’s acting kindly, justly, fairly, and empathetically. It’s judging a situation and acting in a measured approach without impulse, without allowing emotion to cloud your actions. This can only be done with discipline, study, and self-reflection.

Recently, Holiday wrote an incredible piece I encourage you to read. In Why You Should Study Philosophy, Holiday proposes that philosophy helps us understand what’s in our control and what isn’t, helps us learn how to live appropriately, how to act in difficult (and not so difficult) moments, develop practicality, help us feel balanced (a particularly important concept to me personally), help us gain perspective, and challenge us to be better in all aspects of our life.

An overwhelming majority of us are doing the best we can. We need to remember that when dealing with others, and when dealing with ourselves. Never forget the role the self plays!

So if philosophy is an act of self-betterment towards helping others, how can thinking about these 8 questions Holiday posed help us in our HR journey?

Is this in my control?

Ahhh, control. EVERYONE struggles with this. Even those who are not self-described control freaks. One of the hardest things to do is admit we are not in control. However, once one let’s go of that burden, so many possibilities open up! Admitting we are not in control of a particular situation allows us to move in a different direction where we can apply ourselves more effectively.

What am I missing by choosing to worry or be afraid?

I often wonder why people complain so much about their job, yet they never leave. I believe it has to do with not being able to let go of what is familiar to them. The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t – apparently. But why does it have to be the devil? How self-defeating is that!  Maybe the devil you know is worse than the angel you refuse to meet. By not moving on from a bad job, a bad boss, a toxic situation, we allow those things to consume us! By letting go of the worry and fear, we open new doors and opportunities! Also, you gain a little bit of that “control” thing we all crave! 😊

Am I doing my job?

How do I know if I’m doing my job? If my actions are based on the parameters outlined above, doing the right thing, then I am. If not, I need to take a serious look in the mirror and ask why.

Who is this for?

In HR we have the unenviable position of trying to craft a balance between the organization and the employees. Sometimes, they are one and the same, as in engagement initiatives; and sometimes, they are not, as in layoffs. It’s a fine line, and often HR gets the brunt of the tension blowback. However, every project, every initiative, every policy suggestion should never be about oneself. It should be about doing the best work so others can prosper. If done right, there should be no worries about oneself, because you’ll prosper based on the good work you’re doing for others.

Is this who I want to be?

Before every action, I try to think “is this in accordance with whom I wish to be for myself and to others?” Sometimes, I fail and act differently than I should. However, by continually asking myself the question, I work hard at continuously being the man I need to be – for myself, for my family and friends, for my job, for the HR profession, and for my community. I don’t believe I can act any differently.

Does this actually matter?

Act with purpose, not with impulse. Do a deep dive into why certain things are occurring. Dissect what you’re doing to ensure it makes sense for the organization, for the employees, and for yourself. If it doesn’t matter, then try to find an approach where it can.

What does my ideal day look like?

Ideal? Providing someone who’s down a pick me up. Being a person who can help change the trajectory of that person’s day – even if it’s a simple smile. If that’s not idealistic, then I need to figure out the true definition.

Who do I spend time with?

How does the old saying go? Show me your company, and I’ll show you your future. Who we surround ourselves with has such an impact on who we become! It’s like the old joke, people married for a long time eventually exhibit characteristics of their partner. If we surround ourselves with toxic, mad, cynical people, we become toxic, mad, cynical. If we surround ourselves with kind, encouraging, supportive people, we become kind, encouraging, supportive. This is one of the main reasons over the last several years why I have become more intentional with whom I give my time. It’s why the #StateLineCrew is so important to me. It’s why #HRCommunity is so important. Life is short, and we all end up 6 feet under. Keeping that in mind, I choose to be around people who lift me up, not drag me down! I don’t need any help getting into a shallow hole!

#StateLineCrew at Moody Tongue Brewery in Chicago, IL.
#StateLineCrew in Milwaukee, WI touring the Miller Factory.
#StateLineCrew visiting Hofbrau Haus in Rosemont, IL. Prost!

Doing the right thing is hard. We may not always know what the right thing is immediately. However, most of the time, if we listen closely to our inner voice, we know intrinsically what it is. We just have to give ourselves space to think, so that we can act appropriately to whom we want to be. And if we fail, no worries because we will be better prepared for the next time.

Street Level Influencer: Getting to Know Blake Quinlan

“Time spent on hiring, is time well spent.” – Robert Half

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When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it!I’m excited that it struck a chord with people.

In the series, I argue that some of the most impactful people in our lives are right in front of us, and we just need to remember to tap into those around us for their wisdom and influence.

So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler

Next in theseries, I want to introduce you to Blake Quinlan, recruiter extraordinaire from Express Employment Professionals, based in Champaign, Illinois.

These past few years, most hiring managers understand the challenges that we’ve faced when hiring in this employees’ market! One of the best markets in recent history for job seekers has made hiring a major pain! Savvy employers had implemented distinctive techniques in attempts to bridge the gap between open positions and talent acquisition.

It was roughly a year and a half ago that yours truly began experimenting with new ways to ensure programmatic needs were being met – well, new ways to me! (That’s how we gain experience!!!)

The agency I worked for at the time was having a very difficult time filling positions in some area programs. So, I had reached out to a Express in an attempt to mitigate a most difficult situation. It my first time working with a temp agency, so I had no idea what to expect. Luckily, the experience was worth more than I’d have known at the time – both for my employer and for me!

Now, before I continue, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention an inside joke. There is a classic Key and Peele skit about a substitute teacher that mispronounces all his students’ names due to a cultural misunderstanding! One such name is “Blake,” which is mispronounced as “Buh-lah-kay.”

Thus, enter Blake (pronounced “Blake”), whom I got to know as the recruiter for the temp agency who was an intricate part of helping me navigate the wonderful world of temp workers! From the moment I met him, I could tell Blake was different. He exuded a passion for helping people find the right talent for their needs. He had a confidence about him and an excellent sense of humor! He understood the Key and Peele reference!

Blake was awesome to work with. He understood our needs, and worked well at helping my agency overcome some employee challenges. I was excited that he wanted to be a part of this series, so I could share his stories.

  1. Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I am currently a Senior Recruiter with the Specialized Recruiting Group out of Champaign, IL. The recruiting job in a nutshell is placing qualified candidates with companies that are looking to hire. I love what the position represents – networking and connecting people, but I am tired of some of the ways we go about connecting – emails and just sending resumes, specifically.

  1. In our recent conversation, you mentioned that there is a stigma in HR circles surrounding recruiting. I was intrigued by that point of view. Would you be willing to expand upon that?

There are a lot of ways I could go with this one. Like you mentioned in our conversation, recruiting is interesting because it is a function of HR. The way I see it a really good recruiter can make someone in HR look really good and vice versa. Unfortunately, too many times have there been bad experiences for both candidates and HR professionals that I think creates the stigma.  LinkedIn has put out some really good content about this.  Here’s a synopsis of the Future of Recruiting, with the full report linked in the article:  https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/future-of-recruiting/2019/7-predictions-on-how-recruiting-will-be-different-in-2025. One thing that stands out to me is how recruiters will be more strategist, which is where I hope I am able to show value to clients, in developing a customized recruiting plan and then executing it. 

  1. How do you work to address that stigma in your everyday professional endeavors?

I really try to address it straight on. I hope that my passion for my job is conveyed through everyone I speak with. I am also trying to take a creative approach toward connecting with both candidates and client companies through my use of video. You can see on my LinkedIn page how I have used it to advertise positions, but I am also using it to target specific clients that I am looking to work with and using it in my presentation of candidates to clients e.g. In lieu of a resume, you get a video of me and ~Candidate~ discussing the role! 

  1. What was your biggest professional success? Why was it important to you?

My biggest professional success came right around the time that we met, when I was in charge of developing a new office from scratch, in Ottawa, IL. I was responsible for everything from Business Development to managing Recruiting, to internal human resources, to everything in between. I cherish the experience because it showed me that I can take nothing and turn it into something with minimal direction, but also that the hard work and grind of being an entrepreneur is something that I enjoy.

  1. What was your biggest professional failure? What did it teach you?

My biggest professional failure came this year. As backstory for the readers, I quit my position with the Specialized Recruiting Group and took a role as a Port & Shopping Guide on the Harmony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean. The position seemed like it was going to be right up my alley, talking with people, networking, doing public speaking, etc. Unfortunately, when I got there, most of my 12-14 hour days were spent folding and stapling paperwork. It taught me the importance of a good job description LOL 😊 It taught me a lot specifically empathizing with how the majority of the world lives where a position on a cruise ship making as low as $600-800 per month is considered a “Top Job.” It also made me a lot more appreciative of everything I have in the middle of Illinois, specifically the relationships I’ve developed.

  1. Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

Lynn Yoerk is the owner of the Specialized Recruiting Group office I work in. Lynn has been a business owner for over 20 years, is consistently the most positive and outgoing person I deal with, and is incredibly talented at developing people into being the best version of themselves. I feel really lucky to be able to work with Lynn and her husband Richard and learn and grow from them daily!

  1. Do you have an professional experience where HR helped you in a unique or specialized way that you’d care to share?

HR helps me every day in my job!  I always enjoy when I have a great relationship with someone in HR and how much easier that can make every ones job.

  1. How can people connect with you?

People can connect with me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/blake-quinlan-872a0027/.

  1. What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

The world should definitely know that I am a fanatic of the funk! The last 3 shows I have been to have been funk bands and I can’t get enough.  I’m a fan of everything from the more retro Sly and The Family Stone to the modern gangsta funk of Tuxedo.

Conduct a Daily Performance Review with Yourself 

“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.” – W. Edwards Deming 

person hands woman pen
Write down your expectations, and they won’t elude you!

I have been at my new job for almost a month and a half! It has been an amazing experience so far. Never having switched professional organizations before – I was at my last organization right out of college and stayed for 10 years – I never had the perspective of how radically different organizations functioned. 

I had the idea in theory, of course, but finally having experienced it changes one’s perception and understanding.  

Currently, one of the projects I am helping direct on is rolling out the annual performance appraisal process. Traditionally held at the end of the year, we’re asking staff to reflect back on their year and offer input in how to move forward together – better. It’s standard issue stuff! 

Reflection is something many people do this time of year.  

It’s almost the New Year. Another year has passed, and a new one is rising in front of us as we scramble to buy last minute presents, make plans for parties, and finalize year end work tasks. 

We think back to the year that’s gone and wonder — what were my accomplishments, what were my failures, where could I have been better, what do I want moving forward, what made me happy, what made me sad, where do I go from here?  

I believe this is a wise thing to do. However, I believe it’s wiser to reflect on a daily basis. At the beginning of the day or end of the day, we should be thinking these about these questions. 

Think about it in terms of a performance management process. While doing a review is better than not doing one, many HR professionals understand that a better approach to the yearly review is a continuous evaluation process – continuous performance management rather than yearly performance reviews.

What makes for better performance management? Taking the time once a year to look back on your staffs’ work, struggling to remember all the ins and outs of their job performance, or implementing a year-round performance appraisal process – one where you do regular touch bases and hold regular conversations about how they are doing and how they can continue to succeed? 

For me, it’s no question that the latter model builds organizations towards greater success. Similarly, this approach is also how we can more successfully better ourselves! 

Conducting daily touch points with ourselves keeps us on task. It keeps us accountable to our goals, to our aims, to our inner needs. Yes, it’s good to look back at March and remember that I didn’t handle a situation too well. However, isn’t that better to do in March when the event is fresh in my memory, the details crisp and ready to address quickly and powerfully? Man, I really slayed that meeting back in August! I did so awesome! Well, maybe reflecting about it in August gives you immediate perspective as to WHY you slayed it and the wherewithal to build upon it right away.

Reflecting sooner to situations allows an individual time and space to work on immediate, daily self-improvement. 

As the old Zen saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Reflecting daily is that single step. Eventually, the days become months, become years, and we wake up a better person than the day before barely even realizing it because of the gradual nature of the process. 

That’s the point. We focus too much on results that we forget about the process. The process is a guide that leads to our results. Focus on the process, and you will see results. Focus on the steps, and you will experience a great journey!  

So, we should be holding daily performance reviews with ourselves. What does this look like? The old HR joke is if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen! I am a strong proponent for journaling. Writing it down provides a platform to record, analyze, and revisit personal progress. It’s easy to spend 5-10 minutes at the end of the day (or the first thing when you wake up) to think about what is going on in your world.

Journal on what your day was like, or what you want it to be. Journal about events, projects, or relationships that have gone wrong, or are going in the wrong direction, but don’t sulk. Write about what you plan to do to move forward on a path to correct those events, projects, or relationships. Journal about what went right, or what is going right, but don’t pat yourself on the back for too long. Use that success to build a foundation for more success. Staying put doesn’t move one forward.

This is what Marcus Aurelius did. One of the most powerful people in the world took time out of his day to reflect. He wrote those reflections down as a way to hold himself accountable – to get better. His daily performance reviews became his Meditations, one of the most influential pieces of literature in history.  

Think about that. A Roman emperor’s private thoughts written 2,000 years ago, which he never intended to share with anyone, held so much practical wisdom that the compilation sells thousands of books a year and influences people to become better versions of themselves. 

What practical wisdom can you be sharing with yourself as you conduct your daily performance reviews? Write it down and find out! 

Again, it’s about focusing on the process. Do that and the journey takes care of itself. 

Message from Paul: Thank you for reading! Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.