September 16

When you have personal problems affecting work

Introduction

Personal problems at work are never easy to deal with.

You are expected to be ‘professional’… but how does one be professional in the face of personal difficulties? When you’re sobbing at home, receiving difficult messages from your child’s school, and then … expected to be this calm, rational, decision-maker at work?

personal problems at work?
Do you feel like you’re juggling too much at work?

I may not fully understand where you’re at.

Nor do I know the scale of the difficulties you’re facing.

But I wanted to share about my personal story, and how we can overcome personal problems at work to still perform at work.

My story

I’m walking back to work after lunch with my colleagues. As I walk back talking to my boss about what his wife does, he shares about how his wife works in the sector as well.

Then it hits me.

It’s a deep pang. It’s a sickening heart drop, and I almost lurch from the suddenness of it all. I don’t know what triggers it. Maybe it’s how my boss has been sharing about how they moved from another country to this place.

And how I relate to that, because I’ve just moved back from England.

I’m grieving.

Grieving the loss of England.

Whenever the plane swept over the grassy squares of England after the summer holidays, I would sink back into my seat and sigh,

Ah, I’m back home.

But this is not home. I’m not British. I’m here for university.

It gets worse. To fill the physical emptiness of it all, I end up turning to food to fill the emptiness. I find myself stuffing myself with cookies, chocolates and cakes to distract myself from the pain within. I know it’s not the best way. But I don’t seem to have a choice.

It affects my work. Instead of concentrating on work, I find myself turning to the office pantry to find the tastiest calories I can get on hand.

Eventually, after gaining 8kg in a month, I realise this must stop, before I end up dropping dead.

How did I deal with this? How can you deal with it?

Adjust your own expectations of yourself

I walked into the psychiatrist clinic. Against my own judgement, I followed the advice of my therapist to see a psychiatrist. For months, I had thought to myself:

All I need is another self help book.

Another self-help technique.

Another therapist.

To me, approaching the psychiatrist for medication was a clear sign of weakness. I didn’t want to depend on medication to be happy. I didn’t want happy pills at all!

The first time I saw the psychiatrist, he prescribed me antidepressants. I said,

“NO thank you. I think I can try on my own first.”

My therapist convinced me that the best way of recovery was a combination of medication and therapy, rather than just depending on therapy alone.

When I eventually popped the medication of myself, it was a big step.

For the first time, I realised I couldn’t do this on my own. 6 months ago, I had been speaking at conferences in front of hundreds, writing a book, and discussing multimillion dollar budgets as a board director.

But now…. Seeking therapy and taking antidepressants? How embarrassing was that?!

  • Today, what are your expectations of yourself?
Are you being kind with the expectations you have of yourself?

You may be this high-powered person in the corporate sector. But if you’re facing certain problems, is it time to adjust the expectations of yourself?

Don’t see it as ‘lowering’ your expectations of yourself.

Rather, it’s about setting reasonable expectations of yourself. When you’re facing problems, see them as another work commitment. Rather than taking on more and more at work, to drown your personal problems, give space to resolve your personal problems.

Don’t run away from your personal problems.

It’s tempting. Trust me. Drown yourself in your work, and expect time to heal your personal problems.

It doesn’t work. Running from what you feel isn’t the best way to resolve them. Emotions have their place.

It’s not time that heals all wounds. It’s treatment that heals wounds. Yes, you can expect a cut to heal on its own if you leave it there. But if you’ve ever noticed what goes on beneath the surface, your white blood cells are treating the cut. They are fighting viruses and bacteria that come.

Your fibrin is slowly patching up the wound, clotting it so that it forms a temporal closure to prevent further infection.

Treatment heals all wounds.

Seek help.

Get help

If I look back at my recovery, and the resolution of my personal problems, the solution started when I sought the solution. Rather than trying to do it on my own, I sought help. Professional help.

Many times, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you can resolve this on your own.

Or to think that talking to your friends will resolve things. But they aren’t professional. Nor are you the most detached from your problem, allowing you to resolve it effectively. So give it to someone else to do it.

You don’t have to do it all on your own.

Get help
Get help, professional help. You don’t have to suffer this alone.

Be honest with supervisors

I opened up to my supervisor about what I was facing. I didn’t hide the fact that I was taking antidepressants.

Often, you may think that you should hide what you’re going through, because you’re afraid they would sack you for having problems. It’s more likely they would be compassionate to what you’re going through.

Finding a suitable way to manage the problems you’re facing, whether that be:

  1. Giving you the flexibility to work from home
  2. Giving you time off
  3. Allowing you the time to take personal calls
  4. Giving you a month off
  5. Giving you advance pay

No one can help you if you don’t tell them how they can help.

Be clear about what you need help with.

Conclusion

I remember the time my colleague put his hand around me and said,

Yes, I can only imagine how lonely that is.

Earlier on, I shared with him about how each day, I saw colleagues eating together.

Laughing together. Going for lunches together, and not asking me about how I would settle my lunch.

Or how they would have hotpots together, and I would walk past the window, wondering when I would ever be invited.

Or when I walked in, thick-skinned, I felt like I was simply an intruder.

Not an invitee.

I used to think that I had to put on a brave front whenever I went to work.

But then I realised I didn’t have to. As Brene Brown says in her book, Braving the Wilderness, it’s entirely possible to have a soft front and a hard back.

Personal problems happen whilst you’re working. It will happen. It’s unavoidable.

It’s how you deal with it.

The way?

Be soft on the inside. Allow people in.

you don't have to go through this alone
You don’t have to go through your problems alone.

Have a brave back. Know that whatever happens, you’re going to walk through this, with a straight back, beaten down, and never beaten out.


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  • Wow, thanks so much for this! I really took away some really helpful insights, such as how I didn’t need to depend on myself, how I could rely on others, and how I could be more open about my problems! Thank you for being so open in sharing your own story!

  • Hey John! Thanks for the article. 🙂 In terms of therapy / counselling in Singapore (that hopefully that doesn’t break the bank), would you have any recommendations?

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