During my consultant days, one thing I heard leadership often say was “Take care of your mental health.” After about the 5th time hearing that, those words made me cringe. They were words that lacked ensuing action, and eventually employees like me accepted them as something that leadership would say to check the HR box. Swept under the rug was fact employees were leaving by the dozens because they weren’t feeling seen in their roles, working in remote silos. I know this because I was holding secret after hours meetings listening to dozens of analysts say this in their own way. Little did they know, they were not so different from the middle managers that I'd spoken with during monthly new hire orientations, but that's some 300 level existentialism we'll come back to at a later time.
When it was time for me to leave corporate America, I knew I'd address mental health. What I didn't expect, was for my definitions to resonate with such a large audience. In the last few months, I've spoken to people ranging from high school students in church youth groups, to adults in sober living recovery programs. During Q&A, people skipped the anonymous platform and went straight into questions/public confessions about suicidality, guilt, and shame. Encouraged by attending therapists, mental health clinicians, life coaches and business owners, I'm sharing my topics and definitions to more audiences. I'm slowly getting to try out different topics as I get to speak with different audiences, but the request for bookings are moving a bit too slowly for a guy with an Asian name that's hard to pronounce sigh - so, let's hit the blog.
And let's jump right into square one. Mental Health. What is it? In it's simplest form, it's your ability to be present. It's how well you know where you are in relation to your surroundings - goals, fears, communities, causes, etc. Your mental health shows up in life when you move between states of doing and being. When your mental health is strong, what you do informs who you are, and who you are inspires what you do. For example, if you are hungry (be) you eat (do); if you've exercised (do) you're drowsy (be); if you are tired (be) you sleep (do). Of course, life is more complicated than that. As we experience more nuance, it muddies how information is processed into identity or expressed into action. Am I feeling offended, or am I triggered? Wait, why am I honking? Do I want to eat something now, or after I have to see 20 people in the next hours?
Wait, let's slow down. 'How to process feelings into identity' and 'when to take action' are important topics. This time, I want you to be able to identify your mental predisposition -- Are you primarily a do-er or a be-er?
Do-ers draw identity from their actions. Act first, figure out why through doing. Consequences rarely get projected out far enough to be a reason to not try something. The do-er is threatened by stillness. The lack of incoming information to stimulate them is threatening enough to make them walk out of a straitjacket. A do-er’s mental health is at risk by going too long doing without processing why they do what they do. When faced with an existential question (i.e. career change, marriage, taking care of a family member) they have a really hard time justifying why they would do something different. They can have a hard time making changes in life because they have a boatload of unprocessed feelings they're afraid would "go to waste" in a new pursuit.
Be-ers build identity before doing. They must have a clear reason for why they do anything before they do it. Boundaries are plenty. The be-er is threatened by any suggestion to step outside of their comfort zone. They have a hard time experiencing joy outside of their comfort zone because they get so caught up rationalizing why they’re participating. A be-er’s mental health is at risk when by going too long without doing. Without interacting with, or testing, their circumstances, they can feel suffocated by their surroundings. They can convince themselves that convenience is valuable because it facilitates being, when it isn't manifesting their personal values.
We're still pretty far from having productive conversations around mental health with managers. To be fair, it's a lot to ask of them to get educated on the nuances of the line between work and personal life. They certainly didn’t have people guiding them in their coming of age days - illustrated by an esteemed college basketball coach helplessly ask me "what about my mental health?"
The characteristics I went over is obviously not an exhaustive list. I hope they are enough to be able to examine what you default to, and what related tendencies aren't serving you. And, I hope it brought some people to mind with in a way that you can relate, so that you can tactfully ask where they're at; and take some pressure off of how life can be narrowed down into active pursuits. It's this way of asking how we're being that we can help each other feel seen.