Let go: You can't please everyone anyway

Six things mentally strong people don’t do

Tom Allen
clock • 6 min read
Let go: You can't please everyone anyway

IT leaders are under an increasing amount of pressure, and looking after your mental health is essential to protect yourself, your employees and your job.

We all have that social media friend whose life seems absolutely perfect: wonderful home, beautiful holidays, and pictures that look like they have a professional photographer on their private payroll. 

Most of us, at least sometimes, really dislike that person.

Even if it's just a few minutes a day, envying someone on social media has a direct impact on our mental health. It robs us of mental strength and motivation, and is directly linked to depression.

Amy Morin, keynote speaker at this week's MES Spring event in Orlando, has made a career out of studying the habits of mentally strong people, and drawing up a list of things they don't do.

An odd choice of speaker for an IT conference? Not at all. IT leaders are under increasing pressure, and looking after your mental health is essential to protect yourself, your employees and your job.

#1: Embrace failure

IT, perhaps more than any other career, knows the power of fast failure and learning from mistakes; but even so, sometimes we're afraid of failing.

As a species, humans love to hear about great things successful people have accomplished; but the more we focus on success, the more difficult it is to handle failure in our own lives.

Amy quoted an experiment with science students at a US high school. They were learning about famous scientists who had accomplished incredible things, but the longer this went on, the more their grades suffered. The teachers changed tack and began talking about famous people's failures – Edison's failed inventions, Einstein's unsuccessful experiments – with an immediate positive effect on grades. The students learned not to be afraid of taking a risk.

So, instead, embrace failure. Assess risk, but don't be afraid of it. And if you do fail, don't beat yourself up – talk to yourself like you would a close friend who'd been through the same thing.

"If a friend called you up about a missed promotion, you wouldn't beat them up about it – you'd share kind words," said Amy. "Don't be a harsh coach for yourself; self-compassion is the key to recovering from failure."

#2: What can you control?

We often focus too much on things we can't control; that makes us anxious, and with more anxiety we try to control more things.

"It becomes a vicious cycle," said Amy, "so try changing the channel in your brain."

What does that mean? It means trying not to think about something almost guarantees it will keep popping up. Instead, physically do something different: call someone, clear your desk, or just get up and move to a different room. Do something you need to focus on, to get your brain onto a different topic.

"That's not to say the other thing isn't going to come back… But the point is, when you change the channel in your brain for a few minutes, you boost your mood. Then, when your brain goes back to thinking about it, you can have a different perspective, or decide to address it tomorrow."

When people worry too much, they get so focused on things that could happen that they struggle to concentrate, to stay in the moment and get things done.

#3: You can't please everyone (really)

Many of us are guilty of putting too much effort into making sure everyone is happy (people outside IT might disagree with this statement). Being a people-pleaser can make it more difficult to reach your goals, because it drains the motivation you have for your own work.

Orlando, the site of this year's MES Spring conference, is only a few hours from Amy's home in the Florida Keys. There, she said, was a great seafood restaurant with lots of variety, but a few years ago its business started to suffer. After some time, a consultant brought in to help realised the owner was "obsessed" with reading online reviews of his business and trying to address them – so the restaurant added a kids' menu, some Mexican food, etc.

 "He had got so far away from what made the restaurant special that he wasn't pleasing anybody." 

#4: Celebrate success

Mentally strong people don't resent other people's success, said Amy. This is very bad for us, and we mostly know it, but that doesn't mean we don't do it!

Remember that, in most cases, we're not in competition. Just because someone else has achieved what you were trying to do doesn't take away from your own efforts.

Instead, learn from other people. Has someone else come up with a solution to that database problem you've been wrestling with? Ask them what it was. Has a peer's firm launched a new AI tool and you want a piece? Reach out and see if they're willing to talk.

"Look at other people as opinion holders, not competitors."

#5: Change is good

You can't work in IT and be afraid of change – the two are practically mutually exclusive. Still, you might occasionally find yourself holding onto a bad situation or tool simply because it's predictable.

On the other hand, change isn't always good, just as negative emotions aren't always bad (anger can give us the courage to speak up, for example). Being able to tell the difference is a key quality in a leader.

#6: Take calculated risks

‘Calculated' is the key word here. We're really bad at calculating risk – we think the level of fear is equal to the level of risk.

"If I were to tell you I've just called an Uber to take you 20 miles and then you're going to give a talk to 200 people, most of you will be much more fearful of the speech.

"I absolutely used to be one of those people, but then I came to the conclusion that the Uber ride is actually riskier. There's a social risk to getting up on stage, but probably not a physical one – I don't think any of you are going to rush the stage and beat me to death with your shoe. Just because something is scary, doesn't mean it's risky."

If you're afraid, ‘act as if'. This isn't the same as ‘fake it till you make it', which is often counterproductive and can make us feel like frauds. Acting confidently, though, absolutely can convince your brain that you are confident.

We are still very bad at caring for, or even being aware of, mental health in the UK. Some people will have clicked away from this story before the end of the third paragraph, convinced that it's a waste of time. But sooner or later, we all reach a point where we need all the mental strength we can muster.

MES Spring is a flagship event for our North American sister brands, the MES IT Leadership Network and MES Computing.

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