June 15, 2020

Working Strategies: Gifts of Recovery in the workplace – what those in recovery can model for others


If you’re in recovery from an addiction, you’ve learned hard-won lessons — sometimes over and over. Like the veteran or survivor of any difficult life challenge, you have a special viewpoint and gifts to offer those around you.

Right now, the workplace could use some of your wisdom, as reviving shuttered businesses and learning to operate in a changed world is going to demand a lot from everyone. And if conducting business alongside COVID-19 weren’t going to be daunting enough, adding renewed commitments to integrity and racial equity will certainly push the needle on the workplace change-o-meter. These are important challenges for organizations to meet head-on, but stress is stress: However critical the goal, the path there is going to be uphill for some time.

Thank goodness for workers like you, who have learned something about difficult processes. You don’t have to make a special point of offering counsel, or telling your story. Just know that your value to others can be measured in more than productivity and net profit. Don’t believe me? Here are some of the things you might find yourself modeling for bosses, employees, colleagues and clients in the challenging days ahead.

A realistic assessment of things you can’t control. Accepting things that can’t be controlled does not come easily, especially in the workplace. We’re used to the idea that anything can be managed, if we just put our minds to it. That may be the case down the road, but for the moment, no one is going to outsmart COVID-19. If your recovery journey has given you a head start on making these kinds of assessments, your ability to live in the moment might give balance to others.

An understanding that successful living is comprised of small, daily decisions. The recovery adage, “One day at a time,” might rank as one of the best-ever gifts to humanity. The ability to focus on daily progress is especially helpful in times like these, when we share a collective inability to see more than a few months down the road. If this is a philosophy you’ve been practicing, your perspective will be valuable right now.

Ownership of past mistakes and their consequences. Ouch. This particular recovery lesson might make you wince, but that’s a healthy sign that you’ve been facing up to things in your past. Organizations need to do this, too. For business units or department managers that didn’t make the right calls while shutting down, or whose poor decisions have created an inequitable work environment, the months ahead will be difficult. If your role allows this conversation, your ability to honestly name the mistakes may expedite the return to a better path.

Patience with imperfections — yours and others’. Ownership of mistakes is a coin with two sides. To name the mistakes without adding human compassion for the individuals involved (including yourself) creates a blame game that hinders progress. While patience isn’t always a hallmark of the addictive personality, many in recovery have learned remarkable forbearance when it comes to human imperfections. Modeling this trait in the workplace could be a balm at a time when nerves are frayed.

An ability to laugh at dark humor. Every recovering addict knows there’s humor to be found in just about everything. Irony and a sharp wit seem to come with the territory when people in recovery dig out from self-inflicted problems. Just beware: This is a gift you can only share with your filter firmly in place. Humor is subjective and sometimes hurtful, so you’ll need to tread lightly while you help others to find an occasional laugh.

Recognition of inter-connectedness and the need for support. Do others in your workplace ask for help when things get difficult? Do you? If you have direct reports, this is a habit you can encourage by making yourself accessible for more than the regularly established Zoom meetings. Leaning on others is not built in to our work processes but you may be able to model a sense of support that catches on.

The inherent belief that things can get better. Entering and maintaining recovery is essentially an act of hope and faith. If you didn’t imagine that things could improve, you wouldn’t even try. We’re an optimistic species by nature, always pushing ahead despite the barriers. But we also get stalled easily, overwhelmed when things seem impossible. You’re living proof that things do get better — what a tremendous message to share as you help build the workplace of the future.

Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at [email protected].

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