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Jamey, director of engineering at a small startup, was talking with Debra, his coach.

“Everything feels toxic,” Jamey told Debra. “My work no longer excites me. I used to be energized by its never-endingness. Now, I feel depressed by its looming over me. I hate all the meetings I have to attend. Even my colleagues seem to be attacking me all the time. I don’t understand what’s changed.”

“That sounds horrible,” Debra empathized. “When did you first notice this happening?”

“I really noticed it last Friday. I felt so drained by noon, and by the end of the day, I felt like I’d been dragging myself by my toenails. I guess I’ve been feeling like this for a few weeks now.”

“Let’s see if we can figure this out.”

1) Pinpoint external changes

“You said you’re uncertain what has changed,” Debra continued. “And this has been happening for at least the last several weeks. Let’s go back to the beginning. What happened that day?”

Jamey shrugged. “It was a normal day. I got up. The bus was late as usual. The sun warmed me as I walked from the bus stop. I got some coffee on the way to the office. I had a day full of meetings. —Oh. That was the day Big Customer dropped a new load of ‘requests’ on us, with their usual short deadline. They always do this, so it wasn’t anything unusual.”

“Even so, how did you feel about it?”

“Overloaded. We were already rushing out three other features for them. I didn’t know how to make room for their latest demands. If we put any more resources on their requests, we would be shipping an entire release just for them.”

“Okay. Added stress, even if it was somewhat par for the course.”

Jamey nodded. Then, he and Debra walked through everything else that had happened since then.

“Wow. I didn’t realize how turbulent things have been,” Jamey said. “All small upsets. But so many of them!”

“We notice big changes, and we expect them to affect us. The small changes, however, can fade into the background. We may not realize how many have piled up until we specifically highlight each one.”

2) Locate internal changes

“These are all the external events you’ve been dealing with,” Debra said. “What has been changing for you internally?”

“Internally? Like, has my stomach started being upset?”

“More how your emotions have been changing. Your outlook.”

“Oh, okay. Well, hmmm.” Jamey thought for a minute. “I’m definitely feeling less excited about my work. I’ve started wondering whether to look for a new job. I’m speaking more gruffly to my staff. Being less understanding when they fail to meet my expectations. I no longer look forward to long walks with my dog. I exercise because I know I feel better when I do, whereas before, I exercised because I enjoyed the workouts.”

“Mm-hmmm. Do any of these internal changes align with any of the external changes we just identified?”

“No? No. The internal changes have been slowly growing. No sudden internal events.”

“Okay. Which of these internal shifts feel like they directly result from the external events, which feel like they’re indirectly related, and which feel like they have nothing to do with those external happenings?”

Jamey pondered. “None of them feel directly connected. Being rough with my team and exercising becoming more chore than fun feel indirectly related. The job search feels unrelated.”

3) Trace connections between the internal and external changes

“Great. Do you have a sense of why you’re treating your staff with less understanding?”

“I’m too wiped out by all the change to deal with their headaches.”

“If you could magically keep your energy levels topped off, your relations with your team would return to normal?”

“Yes, I believe so.”

“And what about your relationship with exercise?”

“That doesn’t feel related to my energy levels. I’m resenting spending time on keeping myself and my dog healthy. I’d rather put that time into everything that’s piling up at work.”

“What seems to be behind your desire to find a new job?”

“All this stress has me asking whether my job aligns with my goals. I know I’m adding value. But, I’m no longer certain I’m adding the value I want to add. I think it’s time to find a new role.”

“Would you still feel that way if none of these external stressors had arrived?”

“I think so. I don’t know that I would have recognized that desire any sooner. I am confident that I would be considering the question.”

4) Act on the connections you identify

“So: we’ve identified the external factors impinging on your life, the internal changes that are also in play, and how connected each internal change is to the external factors. How are you feeling now?”

Jamey considered. “A lot calmer. Now that I recognize how impactful all these external changes have been, I can apply all my calm-in-the-face-of-trial tools to handling their impacts. That will help me keep my energy levels up, which will help me maintain my equanimity with my staff. That will also help me remember to make time for myself and my dog and the rest of my life. And that will help me make space to consider what I want to do with my career.”

“Sounds like you have everything you need.”

“I don’t know about that. But, I do feel in control again. Thank you for that.”

“You are most welcome.”

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