I remember the first time someone called me Dana Troi at work before it became a nickname.
“Who?” I inquired.
“Dana Troi! You know, from Star Trek? Don’t tell me you work in technology and you’ve never seen Star Trek? You can’t coach technical teams and not know Star Trek!”
That was a fair statement I suppose, but truth be told, I never really felt I fit into the technology space. That sense of not belonging may have started at home when I was much younger. My amazing mother worked nights to care for our family. This meant, my step-father and I were left to butt heads on everything from the clothes I wore to the way I cleaned my room. As a prison correctional officer, I think he found it easier to stay in character at home, rather than switching his role into ‘loving parent’ as soon as he came through the door.
Much like a prison, phone calls were limited and on the other party’s dime. To talk to my grandmother, who I spent the first 8 years of my life with every day, I had to either wait for her to call me or wait until I was alone with my mother to ask.
That all changed, and so did I, one cold January day when I was around 9 years old. I had an overwhelming sense that I needed to call my grandmother who lived in Columbus, Georgia. We lived in Ohio at the time. I risked being put in ‘the hole’ (okay, okay… my room) by deciding to make an unapproved long-distance call.
My grandmother didn’t answer.
This was not like her. She didn’t drive and rarely even went outside the house by this point in her life. So, I risked it again to call the only other person who would know why she didn’t answer; my father.
He didn’t answer either.
For those of you who remember the very costly service of 411 which was used to gather phone number info (you know, before Google), you will understand the next risky move I made.
I dialed 411, followed the prompt to confirm the charge, and asked for the number to Saint Francis Hospital. I quickly dialed the number, gave the receptionist my grandmother’s name, and waited through multiple transfers. I finally ended up on the phone with a kind ICU nurse who heard my child-like pleas and promptly put my father on the phone.
He seemed confused to hear my voice, but also oddly focused, yet distracted, by whatever was happening at the hospital.
“She has pneumonia, but she’s going to be fine.” He told me.
She wasn’t going to be ‘fine’ and I would never have the opportunity to hear her voice again. I knew this deep in my little soul, and I grieved for her before was she actually passed. My father eventually called to say, “She’s gone.” I wasn’t permitted to attend her funeral; my father was grieving too badly to have me join.
Those feelings of grief cemented deeply into my consciousness and I felt the loss and grief all over again the following summer when I visited for the first time after her passing.
This intuitive pattern continued throughout my childhood, with my maternal grandfather, my aunt’s husband, and finally as a young adult with my mother before she went for a motorcycle ride on her new bike. I knew the feeling well. A sense that “something was wrong.” I associated it with an outcome of immense pain and I did everything in my power to forewarn those I loved of impending doom.
My intuition only became stronger as I entered into the professional world. I became more aware that I could feel the pain, frustration, excitement, etc. of others almost as acutely as they could. Other people noticed this too; hence the nickname Dana Troi.
I thought it was fantastic. Here I was, an empathic coach. How could that not be a great position to be in; to empathize with each person and coach through the resistance? I quickly learned that it can be a gift or it can be burden. I learned that this 'connection' to people was not me just feeling 'for them,' but feeling them and I have found this to be true for many people who are people-focused and 'just know things.'
Empathic coaches and leaders often don’t realize they aren’t merely ‘showing an ability to share feelings of another,’ they are actually feeling the emotions of others.
Sounds crazy, right?
If you consider yourself to be intuitive and empathic, then consider this:
Imagine that you are in a fantastic mood. You feel fabulous, but you come into a meeting with Suzy who is struggling. You’re also a helper by nature, so you listen, acknowledge, and then share that you understand Suzy’s situation and emotions, but in the meantime, you actually lose the awareness of how you are actually feeling. Remember? You are feeling fabulous. Nothing has actually changed for you, other than you're now supporting Suzy.
But rather than maintaining the vibration of your own emotion, showing compassion, and allowing Suzy to express herself, you come to match her, and then you provide a level of energy to uplift her to get a broader perspective.
Sounds fine, right? You’ve done a great job for Suzy! But over time, if you do find yourself doing this often enough, you will also eventually find yourself in a state of total burn-out. Resentful, empty, and harboring those feelings that weren't even yours to begin with.
Now, considering where we find ourselves in the year 2020; in the midst of chaos, confusion, and a whole host of different emotions each day, you may find that you are burning out even more quickly than before by trying to be there for everyone. And of course, you don't have to work in 'corporate' for this to be true for you. I just want to make sure that my friends who are navigating that world know that you are seen and understood.
So, to all the empaths out there in the corporate world, I feel you.
It is more important now than ever before to take care of you, first. You are a leader of the world that is evolving and expanding. You are needed now, more than ever. Maintain your awareness of what you are feeling and how that may be different from what others are feeling. Rest when you need to.
When your cup is empty, you have nothing to give. Ask yourself, what fills me up? A good book? A long shower? A walk outside? And please don't say "I don't have time to do what I love." I did this for years, and the truth is, we don't have time not to.
Finally, don’t be empathetic… be compassionate instead. I promise that you and everyone around you will be better for it.
I’m not asking you to trust me… I am asking you to try it and show yourself.