Kylie's list was disheartening, if unsurprising. She could only come up with eight "loves," and she had more than twice as many "loathes." But Marcus noticed right away that six of Kylie's "loves" were in the passive voice. In other words, six were things that other people did to her. Kylie had written, "I felt strong when people sought my advice...when I was included in the planning stages...when I was given the go-ahead...when my contributions were acknowledged...when given the opportunity...when allowed to assume..." Only two were things Kylie did: "I felt strong when interacting with my colleagues one-on-one rather than through e-mail," and "I felt strong when I developed a good working relationship with a colleague that turned into a friendship."
Kylie, the former singer, had always thought of herself as the opposite of a wallflower. But now she and Marcus saw that there was something not just wallflowerish but positively wilted about her professional self. She had given away all her power, Marcus told her; she needed to start taking it back. "Marcus turned a light on," she later told me. Together they worked out a list of things she would do to make the best of this job. Even if Kylie found that she wanted to do something radically different with her life, she had to sort out the problems in her current situation. She needed to find a way to act instead of being acted upon, or she'd find herself passive and likely unhappy in the next job.
Right away, Kylie vowed never to let that chair claim her for six hours again: She was going to get up every hour and a half, no matter what crisis had erupted around her, and take a walk. She craved movement and freedom, and there was no one better to bestow it than herself. Second, she was going to stop letting herself be at the mercy of her co-workers when it came to being gainfully occupied. One of Kylie's "loathes" about her job was the downtime—it was either crisis central or the doldrums, with little in between. Instead of waiting for the next cataclysm, Kylie would go find herself something to do. Third, she was going to start connecting face-to-face. The sheer size of the newspaper meant that many of the people she most needed to talk to communicated everything via e-mail—a medium she found draining. But her supervisor had recently asked for her feedback on something, and though Kylie had assumed she should give it in writing, she realized she could respond in person.
All these changes might have seemed minor, yet each one put a little more control back in Kylie's hands and even helped her perceive that in some ways she did like her job. Marcus asked Kylie to go back to her list of loves and loathes and cast them in more active terms. She'd felt strong when her advice was "sought"; now she saw how simple—and welcome—it might be if she offered her opinion at appropriate moments. Slowly, she and Marcus hammered out descriptions of her strengths that, when Marcus read them back to her, she responded to with a flood of recognition. Kylie felt strong, she and Marcus concluded, when she took an idea of her own and made it tangible—whether laying out a page or crafting a necklace. And she felt strong when she forged a trusting relationship with a co-worker.
We Hear You!