Squelching the “Sunday Scaries”

This article was originally published by Fast Company here.

My wife and I have a tradition that dates back the entirety of our marriage. Nearly every Sunday night, we settle down to watch a movie together. We also occasionally watch shows on Friday or Saturday nights, but Sunday has a unique significance.

Our Sunday night movie tradition started while my wife was in school, and I was working a job I hated to support her. When I say I hated this job, I mean that I hated everything about it. The actual work was drudgery, and the culture was toxic. I was asked to do things that violated my conscience, and I was getting paid peanuts. But during that time, jobs were scarce for recent graduates with little experience, and I had no choice if we wanted to pay rent and afford groceries.

It was a very difficult time in life. I quickly moved from the excitement of a new marriage into the harsh reality of barely being able to make ends meet, while my new wife spent all her time studying.

I would leave work on Fridays, elated at getting 48 hours away from my job to spend the weekend finding fun distractions to occupy my mind until Sunday evening, when I was hit by the reality of what lie waiting on the other side of sleep.

During this time, there was a dollar movie theater not far from where we lived. It was tailor-made for a young couple on a budget, and they even looked the other way when patrons—like us—snuck in our own candy.

It was the perfect way to escape the dread of my job, and while it may not have been an especially healthy coping mechanism, it was what we had.

I just read a recent survey from a UK-based HR software company, Ciphr, about the top causes of stress for senior managers which revealed that people throughout the organization experience “anticipatory stress” on Sunday evenings, including leaders. In fact, more than half of leaders aged 25 to 44 say they experience work-related anxiety on Sunday multiple times per month. Forty-two percent of leaders over 45 say the same thing, with 10% of 45- to 54-year-old leaders saying they suffer from this anxiety weekly.

Ciphr and others are referring to this phenomenon as the “Sunday Scaries.” While catchy, it feels like a somewhat childish and derogatory description of a serious source of anxiety for many people.

I can attest to the pressures that leaders who are in mid-career feel. We are in prime value creation years—with plenty of experience and the energy to apply it. Our co-workers and teams depend on us. But so do our families. Our kids are growing and becoming more expensive. Our responsibilities are immense.

The people we lead are looking to us to create environments in which they can thrive. They have entrusted us with their time and energy with the understanding that we will use those things for the good of themselves and others. We are responsible for leading them in a way that helps them find congruence between their desires for their life and their work.

However, as a leader, you can’t give away something you don’t have. To lead others in a healthy way, you must be healthy yourself.

It is more important than ever that leaders set aside time to step back and evaluate what is important. What do I want the outcome of my life to be? What do I want the experience of my life to be? What are those principles that are so precious that I feel guilty when I act against them? How can I live and act in a way that helps me feel the wholeness of living consistently?

Sometimes, we find ourselves in toxic situations from which we need to escape. But often, the answer to living a purposeful life isn’t to find meaningful work, but to find the meaning in our work.

How can you find that meaning? First, remember: It’s a journey, not a destination. Then ask yourself these questions to get started:

Think about what you’re passionate about. 

    • What are the things that make you feel alive? 
    • What are the things you could talk about for hours on end?

Consider your strengths and talents. 

    • What are you good at? 
    • What do you enjoy doing?

Think about your values. 

    • What’s important to you? 
    • What kind of impact do you want to have on the world?

If you are a leader, you can impact people in a real way, right now. That others are depending on you isn’t merely a responsibility, but an opportunity. You can seize the chance to experience the tremendous reward of living your purpose regardless of the circumstances around you.

That’s certainly something to look forward to on Monday morning.

I am happy to say that Sunday night movies are no longer distractions that help me deal with the dread of what is coming on Monday, but in fact, quite the opposite. I love my job and the people I work with. I get to apply the things I am good at and am passionate about in pursuit of meaningful work that makes a true impact on the lives of others. Now, when that Sunday night movie starts, it represents a celebration of how blessed I am to be on the journey I’m on, and I pause to reflect on how grateful I am.

I hope you can redeem the Sunday Scaries, too.

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