Meeting major life changes all at once
Over the last few years, Gentzy had experienced turbulence in both his personal and professional life. After he spent five years building out the People & Culture team at high-growth startup Uptake, the company downsized, leading to the dissolution of Gentzy’s team.
“During my time at Uptake, I got divorced and experienced a radical change in my nuclear family structure. That on top of being a part of this intense growth within a company and then watching it change trajectory; all of these changes sort of came to a head the day the pandemic set in.”
Gentzy was planning to build out a coaching and consulting practice, and the sudden change expedited his plan.
“My work centers around supporting leaders so that when things get hectic and stressful, they have tools to process what they’re feeling and focus on what needs to get done. The human tendency is for us to feel fear and then transfer that into control, which manifests as judgment. I want to help leaders catch themselves in that process, and continue to lead effectively.”
Gentzy spent the first week of social distancing grappling with the heaviness of both the broader pandemic and the recent transitions in his personal life.
“Leads that I had simply don’t have the budget right now. So here I am trying to put food on the table, rebuild my professional identity, and use my background to build a business in the midst of a crisis.”
Facing down self-doubt
One week in May, Gentzy decided to take a road trip to camp in southern Utah. One night, he awoke to an overwhelming sense of self-doubt.
“I woke up in the middle of the night to the thought: I’m a fraud. I’ve had imposter syndrome before, but this was different. In my experience, imposter syndrome felt like I don’t belong here. Being a fraud felt like I’m actively deceiving people in a way that is slimy.
A battle started in my mind between everything that proved I was a fraud and everything that proved I wasn’t. My body was actually twisting back and forth – it was like there were two attorneys arguing in a courtroom and both sides were compelling. My head filled with questions; like what are you doing asking people to pay you to help them manage their stress during such a stressful time? Are you taking advantage of them? But the other side would argue that this is exactly what the world needs right now.”
Gentzy found himself wrestling with these two arguments both mentally and physically, trying to gain a clearer sense of his intentions, purpose, and self-worth.
“In a time where there are so many unknowns… for any of us to assert ourselves as knowing something, or being an expert is questionable, but that’s not sufficient reason to sit back and ignore our power or expertise.”
“I finally decided to just say out loud that ‘I’m a fraud’ and see what happens. I just kept saying it and the more that I said it, the more I was able to accept that right now we’re in a time where there are so many unknowns. And for any of us to assert ourselves as knowing something, or being an expert is questionable, but that’s not sufficient reason to sit back and ignore our power or expertise.”
This experience was dark, but it led Gentzy to a kind of allowance of emotion. In times of uncertainty, it’s easy to get stuck in a feeling that you should feel a certain way, but when you can allow yourself to just feel what you’re feeling (without should-ing), that breaks the unhealthy thought pattern that prevents you from moving forward.
“Admitting that I am a fraud was basically my way of allowing and acknowledging that part of me that does not know, but I will still speak up and will still assert some level of understanding despite so many unknowns.”
Tuning in to your own emotions
Sometimes it can feel easier to empathize with someone else and be emotionally intelligent about how they’re feeling, but forced solitude can help you get in touch with your own feelings.
“All feelings have their place, and the beauty is that when we allow those feelings to come up and sit with them, the feelings teach us.”
Gentzy highlights the importance of distinguishing between feelings and thoughts. Feelings show up in the body, but we tend to take the feelings and analyze them to make them mean something. We start creating stories, which isn’t actually feeling at all, it’s just what we do to make sense of our surroundings.
“Pure feeling crashes over you in the moment. If I want to do something with that thought, I could go crazy. I could start turning it into shame and go down those ‘should’ rabbit holes. But if I can just sit and feel it, knowing I don’t have to do anything about it, it doesn’t have to be this big production.”
This process is obviously not easy or comfortable, but when you can let yourself be present with your feelings, they can teach us so much about ourselves. It’s hard to sit with a feeling that is deeply uncomfortable and yet, there’s almost always something to be learned from it.
“The key is to allow feelings to come in, sit with them, let them go, and then ask what lesson was here for me to learn.”
“The key is to allow feelings to come in, sit with them, let them go, and then ask what lesson was here for me to learn. The more that we can do that, the more emotionally intelligent we are, and the less harm that we cause for ourselves and for others.”
The future of EQ in the workplace
Work and life were already becoming increasingly blurred with the prevalence of technology, and now they’re completely enmeshed. It’s really up to people to draw the lines and decide how they will spend their time. Gentzy sees this shift as an opportunity for people to get vulnerable and recognize we’re always bringing our emotions from home to work and from work to home. It just looks different now than it did before.
“We now know what a 100% remote workforce looks like, and once it becomes normalized it’s going to be the preferred way for many people to operate. But if we don't know how to feel our feelings and move through them, so we can come back to our work, it’s going to be a cluster. In a way, it was already a cluster – people weren't feeling their feelings even though they were there, and now it’s just going to become a necessity.”
With this overlap between the personal and professional, workplaces will need to find ways to support their employees through these feelings. Employees are already looking for their organizations to support wellbeing beyond insurance premiums, a 401k plan, or gym perks.
“Overall wellbeing is deeply emotional. Companies will need to invest in leaders who take the time to have conversations with people and support them at a human level. This doesn’t have to come at a cost of effectiveness or productivity, and in fact, it can enhance those things.”
Gentzy notes that this move toward a more emotionally vulnerable workplace highlights a shift from a largely male-dominant approach.
“The current economy was structured and built in large part by individuals who identify as male. We’re seeing a movement of vulnerability, honesty, and authenticity that is being led by people who identify as women – Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle, Layla Saad (just to name a few). I believe that this is going to transform the workplace.”
There has been a massive shift in what is okay at work. Companies that embrace this and are willing to explore what it means to feel at work, carve a path for a more complete and gratifying work experience.
“Building more diverse work communities has the power to normalize a lot of our differences. But the only way that can happen is in a space where it’s safe to be vulnerable.”
“I think there is going to be increased openness to what is allowed in the workplace. And frankly, I’m excited. Building more diverse work communities has the power to normalize a lot of our differences. But the only way that can happen is in a space where it’s safe to be vulnerable. The workplace is a perfect place to do this work – spending 40+ hours a week with people from different backgrounds helps you realize that differences need to be recognized, celebrated, and supported.”
Facing future uncertainty with stillness
There is so much uncertainty in the world, and Gentzy challenges us to allow ourselves to sit and be still with whatever that brings up for us.
“Usually when we’re should-ing something we’re doing it because we have some experience that would suggest that it needs to be a certain way. But none of us can rely on that right now. This is a different ball game altogether, and it’s an opportunity to let go and say, I can't show much of anything right now because I've never seen this. We need to give ourselves enough time and space for emotional intelligence to teach us what it is that we need to learn.”
Gentzy sees his experience on his camping trip as a microcosm of the bigger experience happening now. We’re all trying to figure things out, amidst a great deal of uncertainty.
“But here’s the catch, though we think this is different from anything we’ve experienced, it’s actually closer to reality than what we pretended before. We built norms to help create a sense of security and predictability, but underneath all of that is deep uncertainty.”
The fact is that things can change quickly, and when they do, we have to decide whether we will be overcome by it, or maintain a sense of calm and centeredness to move through it.
“This is a great opportunity for us to face the possibility that this reality is a closer reality than the one that is socially constructed. There’s beauty to be found in every moment, and it’s fleeting. We’re all being asked if we can just be with it while it’s there, and allow it to teach and heal us.”Read less