If you could put a label on your forehead to describe how you feel right now, what would it be?
This is a photo of me wearing a face shield. It tells you that right up front in big, bold letters.
I took this selfie in July 2020, on my way home from Kansas City. I had just dropped my daughter off at college, in the middle of COVID.
At that moment, I could have switched the label to read: ANNOYED.
Or so I thought.
I was annoyed because I had to get up and move twice to get away from a group of mouth maskers, those people who believe you can only spread or catch COVID through your mouth, and so pulling a mask over their nose seemed unnecessary to them.
But, while their actions annoyed me, my annoyance was a mask for other emotions.
I was sad that my daughter was no longer going to be with me. I was worried about living alone. I was relieved that she had good roommates, and I was excited to have my space back.
It was a mix of emotions.
Do you ever have a mix of emotions?
A mix of emotions is typical when an employee, co-worker, or close friend is diagnosed with cancer.
Jealousy, anger, resentment, sadness, hopelessness, anxious, guilty, and more sadness (for good measure) are normal feelings that occur. Thinking about how their cancer will affect you is also expected. But our norms around what we are supposed to feel when someone we care about has cancer don't recognize those feelings. We think they are not part of being a "good person." We feel these emotions are not within the acceptable spectrum of reactions to a cancer diagnosis.
Feeling "unacceptable emotions" often leads us to feel guilt and shame because a "good person" doesn't think that way.
Well, that's poppycock!
You're not bad for having those emotions. You're human.
The real problem is that we judge our feelings as good or bad by using some crazy standard that has not been validated.
And that is where the problem is, in our judgment of our thoughts.
And why does this matter?
Because if you’re leading a team with someone affected by cancer, not processing your feelings and thoughts about their cancer will lead to ineffective communication, unclear strategies, and lack of thoughtfulness. And that will affect everyone.
Recognizing and getting honest about the thoughts you have around your employees in crisis is not an easy feat. But it is essential for the employee who is facing a health crisis, your team, and your desire (I hope) to engage, motivate, and retain them.
It is always better to get those feelings out, either by writing or talking to an appropriate, supportive person. Once they are out of your head, your brain will be better able to support and guide your team in crisis.
As Shrek says, "Better out than in!"