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The Hard Days

by Paul T Ayres

As the grey winter approaches in the northern states, North American days get shorter, and the pressures of the holiday season mount, many are feeling down in the doldrums. Are you? Have you noticed this in any of your work associates? As a professional responsible for your productivity and the productivity of others, it is in fact productive to turn up the knob on your empathy this time of year.

A while ago, maybe 20 years, I attended a multi-day seminar regarding ‘finding yourself’ for lack of a better phrase. I stuck it out and finished. It turned out to be a bit creepy, kind of a mock pyramid structure mixed with Alcoholics Anonymous; then sprinkled on some pressure selling that seemed cult-like. Oh well. Sometimes we learn the hard way. I would not recommend it. However, I still managed to learn something; and I think it’s relevant to consider this time of year in your professional setting. My seminar experience takeaway was something I didn’t really think was ‘a thing’ or think much about.

The takeaway was, ‘Everyone is pulling a wagon of shit.’


It means, without exception, every human being is fighting something mentally, emotionally, or physically; and sometimes a combination of all three. There is an internal battle of some sort. Count on it. Really, the only question is just how the person is handling said ‘wagon of shit’ at the moment. These ‘wagons of shit’ can hold problems, anxiety, and fears.

Some people’s wagons contain issues that are intense and even catastrophic; some others are small and under control. But rest assured everyone has issues they are at war with.

Professionally it can take time to understand this and that employee problems have nothing to do with you. Problems might include:

  • Marital issues.

  • Some of your employees might be losing a parent or have a sick child.

  • Some have terrible social anxiety, and this time of the year acts as a catalyst for even deeper despair.

“Occasionally, a seemingly simple non-work issue might spur mental stress resulting in pulling attention away from work.”

For instance, some people might just want to have a date or long for a friend to hang out with. Yes, loneliness is at an all-time high.”

A June 9, 2023 article states that 52% of Americans report feeling lonely and a full 47% are lonely while in relationships (The Roots of Loneliness Project: Loneliness Statistics: By County, Demographics & More. Written and Fact Checked by Dr. Christie Hartman, Ph.D., Psychology). I hold this as true; everyone carries burdens. And not just one, and not something simple.

To others, motivation is found in the struggle. Regardless, humans live. And when we live, we make mistakes, miss something, or don’t cover all the bases.

“As the cliché says, problems left unaddressed turn into crisis; or at least this is possible.”

See? Your team members may be having a hard day and not letting on. That lack of focus or unworkable mood may be totally non-work related. They might have a mental illness issue. So many do.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health 2021 Survey about 57.8 million Americans suffer from mental illness in varying degrees of severity. Depression is becoming more common in the USA.

A Gallup May 2023 article by Dan Witters cites significant increases from 2015: Up a full 10 percentage points of the population to 29% in 2023.

With trends like these, polishing your emotional intelligence through actively being empathetic will create a better environment for productivity. It isn’t the point of this message to cover all the causes. But rather to accept, it is likely your work peer, boss, or subordinate is struggling outside of work in some way. We must take a moment to pause, think, and restructure our inquiries. And we must use all our might to make the most caring and authentic inquiry into their well-being.

Really care when you ask,Are you okay?” It's more than the words. Care first about the person and your entire communication effort will make a positive difference; it will matter to the person you direct it to. It will matter that you took the time to notice the person.

I read once, ‘Give away what you want.’

A recent visit to a health assessment at the Mayo Clinic – an executive health assessment which was all preventative in nature. The visit included a very interesting meeting with a counselor; likely one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. She advised,

  • Take the time to notice people, then sincerely think well wishes,

  • Then verbalize them, yes, wish them a great day.

  • Don’t just say “hello”. Get away from “have a good day” and work on it.

  • With eye contact say, “I wish you success today”.

So, reach out. Inquire from your heart as authentically as you’re able. Offer help or guidance if you can on the tasks of the day. And know that your effort lightens the ‘wagon of shit’ that co-workers are pulling; even if they don’t share the details of their struggles. Your caring makes a positive difference.

I wish you success in precisely finding that to which you are on a quest today. Pass it forward.

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