For many in the U.S., the period around Labor Day Weekend is the last big hurrah of the summer break. It’s a goodbye to the beach, the lounging in the backyard, or the late nights sitting on the stoop for nothing but chat with the neighbors whose kids want to stay out in the late dark. And it’s hello to autumn with its shorter days and its longer, cooler nights.
It’s also when work returns to full swing. All the colleagues are back at their desks. Goals that we wanted to achieve in this fiscal year take on new urgency. The pace of decision making accelerates to breath-taking speeds.
Goodness, just writing about it makes me want to retreat into a quiet corner for a hot mug of tea and a bit of denial.
Ebbs and flows. Welcome to the flip side of Motivational Monday.
Last week, the Huffington Post reported, perhaps smugly, that a new study has shown that happiness and success are achieved not by the sunshine-wielding optimists but by the so called “realistic optimists,” those who tend to think more positively about future outcomes without completely dismissing negative outcomes.
The Internet breathed a collective “duh” and returned, with a slight smile, to pressing work.
We know this intuitively. We understand that the ones to make it to the summit are those who climb with brazenness, the loudly proclaimed “I can do this!” and with a backpack packed with emergency supplies and a support team. We’re skeptical of the idealist optimists for good reason. We know not to take the good times for granted and we prepare — grudgingly but with what we know counts as smart judgment — for the worst.
Or just “worse.” Because it’s usually not “the worst,” capital t, capital w. It’s trouble but not a 100 percent breakdown. It’s a slow-down, a stumbling block, a frightening pace that makes us catch our breath, and the occasional nail-biter.
It means, too, that we may have to dig into our motivational backpack to keep moving ahead.
In his now-classic book “Intrinsic Motivation At Work,” researcher Kenneth W. Thomas, Ph.D notes that much has changed in our understanding of what that is that keeps us moving ahead in the workplace. Gone are the old management expectations that it’s merely about money, compliance, or other “extrinsic” rewards. Our happiness and success in the workplace has other roots, we know now: namely, in what we sense of our meaningfulness, choices, competence, and progress. The book recognizes that we are more than productive tools and mere “human resources” but living beings for whom, you guessed it, both positive and realistic opportunities can create a true sense of reward.
So how do we embrace a “realistic optimism” strategy to move us from the summer bliss and on through the harvest-time stresses? Perhaps some relief from unrelenting positivity! Allow the “yes, but” thoughts. Empower your inner naysayer. Have a drink with Mr. Negative.
But just a tea. We’re on the job here and, hey, he can’t be allowed to stick around.