Circles of Safety

Ever been in a team where everyone trusted everyone else to give their all and you all looked after each others’ backs? It felt good, didn’t it? I’m betting that team was one of the most successful you’ve ever been part of.

Remember when you last met up with your mates for a few beers? People you had known from school days, had got into scrapes with, made mistakes with. Can you remember the times you fished each other out of trouble, covered up for each other’s nefarious activities, looked after each other when you’d gone too large too early? Doesn’t it feel great to be with people you can trust, with a bunch of people who care for each other?

That warm glow that you feel is because you are in a circle of safety. It triggers the release of two chemicals in our brain that make us feel good.

We release serotonin, which makes us feel responsible for those who help us succeed. And helping us gives them a hit of serotonin in return.

We also release oxytocin, which generates feeling of friendship, love and deep trust. It causes us to carry out acts of generosity, to feel empathy for others, and to develop bonds of trust and friendship. Not only that, it’s effect last and grow stronger over time, replacing that serotonin hit with a continuing good feeling.

This is how we feel inside a circle of safety, when we feel that we belong.

I always tried to create circles of safety for the teams I led and I believe the successes I achieved where due in large part to this. I didn’t know why it worked at the time but I could see that it did and it was just the way I preferred to work. I am prefer positive, progressive environments, I prefer to enlist people and persuade them to co-operate. They give much more than you expect when you do that. Now I know I was just addicted to the good chemicals!

However, when I reflect back on my corporate life, I have to say there weren’t too many occasions when I felt in a circle of safety. In fact, most of the time the environment seemed to have been created to  have the opposite effect. A culture of fear and control kept us continually on alert, or ‘on our toes’ as our managers euphemistically put it.

When we feel threatened in this way, our body responds by firing up our fight or flight response. Cortisol and adrenaline flood our body so that we can deal with immediate danger, the levels returning to normal once the threat has disappeared. However, under a culture of fear the feeling of danger is constant so the threat never disappears. Consequently, our body retains the high levels of cortisol for long periods of time, which causes very real damage to our bodies and our health.

When you leave the Mothership, when you are no longer part of the corporate life, that sense of permanent danger is removed and your body is no longer stressed in that way. However, you are also removed from the circles of safety that existed. Even in the worst environments, you always have a few colleagues who look out for you and watch your back. Even the worst corporate provides support and protection from some of the sources of danger.

Now you are alone, isolated and feeling very vulnerable. Like the old antelope left by the herd for the lions to attack, you now feel in mortal danger and your fight or flight response is on full alert.

This is why you may feel jumpy, edgy, and find it difficult to concentrate, feelings you may have expected to leave behind once you had escaped the fear-driven culture of the corporate.

In this situation, it’s very important to connect with the other communities that you are part of, to get that social connection and the reassurance that you belong to other circles of safety. It’s also important to start building new networks of people who are in a similar situation, where you can support each other and create a new circle of safety for each other. You may not really feel like doing either of these things but it really is crucial to your well-being and success in coping with this situation.

One of my aspirations is to create a community around this blog and to enable the formation of those circles of safety. To make it easier for us to connect with others of like-mind and experience, so that we once again feel that there are some people looking after our back, who care for us and who we care for in return, somewhere that we feel safe and feel that we belong.

Dance to your own tune

Gary Vee is speaking tonight. He’s an internet star, a serial entrepreneur, an authentic presence, a force of nature. And he swears a lot because, man, this is f*!<ing important! He’s that kinda guy.

Gary says you gotta hustle. Gary is big on hustling, he says you won’t get anywhere if you don’t hustle. If you want to build a great business and be a successful as him and you aren’t hustling, well, you are just dreaming. Get off your ass and hustle, man!

I used to read Gary’s blogs and Medium posts because they had some good insights. And they were short. That was probably a big reason. But I stopped reading Gary’s posts because, well, I don’t hustle.

I’m actually anti-hustle. I hate being hustled. If you try to hustle me, you are qualifying yourself out, I will never buy from you. I won’t meet you for coffee, I won’t read your blogs, I won’t be open to anything you do. I just want you to go away.

And I don’t know how to hustle, I am not equipped to hustle and I have no inclination to learn how.  Even if my life depended on it, I’m not sure I would be able to hustle. I could no more hustle than balance the Tower of London on my nose (although that would be way cooler).

So I had to say goodbye to Gary Vee because Gary Vee says you HAVE to hustle. There’s no point in listening to someone who tells you to do something you are not going to do, it’s just depressing. And it feels a bit like bullying.

Of course, I want my business to be successful and I want people to know about what I do and I want to create relationships with people who I can work with and all that stuff.

But Gary Vee says I have to hustle to do that and, well, that’s just not my style. And I don’t agree with him. That’s the way that HE makes that stuff happen, that’s his dance. It’s not mine. There are other ways that are more aligned with who I am.

You can copy someone else’s dance but you will never copy their passion and connection with the music, you’ll never get their flow. You will always be a pale imitation, slightly behind the beat, self-conscious and awkward. And difficult to watch.

You have to dance to your own tune, work with the music in your soul and and create your own moves. You can be inspired by others but you have to connect with your own rhythm, you have to follow the song in your heart. That’s when the magic starts to happen.

And no hustling. Unless you’ve got the flares for it.


It’s only a flesh wound

I’ve been ‘let go’ three times in my career.  Only once was it an actual redundancy but in each case my role was terminated and I wasn’t needed any more. I thought I was probably a bit unlucky but not particularly exceptional. I mean, it’s just a fact of business life, isn’t it?

I didn’t make a fuss. I just picked myself up, dusted myself down and carried on as best I could. That’s what we do, isn’t it. Of course it hurt, I felt rejected but, stiff upper lip and all that, no time to wallow in self pity and blame. After all, nobody likes a cry-baby.

Besides, we’ve all heard those stories where someone tells you that, although it was horrible at the time, on reflection it turned out to be the best thing ever happened to them. Everyone assumes you’ve banked the redundancy money and gone straight into a better job. Or that, now you’re out of the corporate rat race, you are following your dreams. Of course, it’s not really like that but, hey, no-one wants to hear how miserable and upset you are.

So you put on a brave face, nod and smile when they say how much they envy you lying in bed and missing the daily commute and laugh along at their jokes about working in your pyjamas all day and forgetting how to tie your shoes up.

Then you carry on as best you can.

The thing is, being ‘let go’ is a major psychological event. Redundancy is like going through a divorce. Leaving corporate life is like moving to a foreign country. This is a big deal.

This is not something we should be trivialising, ignoring, trying to brush off. That’s not down-playing it, that’s denying it. As a Brit, I love our sense of understatement and talent for self-deprecation but it is not appropriate in this case. This is deadly serious stuff that needs an equally serious response.

Only I didn’t do that. I ignored it, made jokes about it, pretended it wasn’t a big deal. Like most people do.

“It’s just a flesh wound” says the Black Knight in Monty Python’s film “The Holy Grail” after King Arthur has chopped both his arms off, and then proceeds to call Arthur a chicken because he’s stopped fighting. The absurdity of someone suffering such wounds just to support their ego and ridiculous sense of machismo makes us laugh (well, it makes me laugh every time I watch it). Of course, we don’t behave like that when we’re ‘let go’, do we?

“I’ve ‘ad worse” is his response when his first arm is chopped off earlier in the sketch. Imagine if, after being made redundant, we tried shrug it off by saying something like “It could have been worse”? How ridiculous would that be?

When you have a shock, you feel it physically, emotionally, mentally and even spiritually. If that shock was obviously physical, like breaking a leg, would you try and laugh it off? No, you’d get treatment, you’d take time for rest and recuperation, you would learn exercises to rehabilitate yourself. But because this shock is firstly psychological, we consider it less serious and fail to treat it. How does that work?

So let’s stop being like the Black Knight about this. It’s not ‘only a flesh wound’, it’s a serious trauma, so let’s give it the attention it deserves and get the help and support we need.

Laughter is great medicine, so start you treatment here by watching the sketch: