Walking the Tightrope of Change: When Virtue Becomes Vice

By: Laura Berger

I was ‘Structured Laura’ before Glen and I moved to Costa Rica in 2006. I thrived in the corporate environment. So, when we embarked to Central America, I thought to myself, “If I can make it in fast-paced downtown Chicago, paradise will be a piece of cake!” Nonetheless, I prepared for the trip with what I do best--read every tourist guide I could get my hands on, researched extensively, and generated a meticulous daily to-do list to complete the “project” of getting settled as efficiently as possible.

To my dismay, there were heaps of surprises. To name just a couple, the critters were the size of tea saucers and more crawly than I thought, and the downpours were like nothing I had ever seen. But the most unnerving surprise was the slow-moving, carefree way of life for the locals called Ticos. It became quickly clear that jungles aren’t made for rigid and inflexible types like me. You’ve got to be ready for anything and just let misadventures roll off your shoulders. And the more I clamored for control, the more out of control my life became. Then one day, things got so bad that I decided letting go and having no control couldn’t be any worse.

My mantra became, “Let it go.” Realizing the very tendencies that helped me get ahead in the business world were now holding me back, I adopted a more supple, free-flowing mindset. I had to pivot to prevent my virtues from becoming vices.

Not only a mere change of setting or circumstance can force us to examine whether our virtues are working for or against us. Sometimes the stress of day-to-day living can create a dust storm that clouds our connection to our virtues and distorts how they show up in our daily lives. In other cases, one of our virtues might actually be closer to a vice.

• Humility, for example, is just a stone’s throw from insecurity or self-doubt, and, if we’re not careful, can morph into meekness of resignation. Think of an employee who always credits other colleagues for his own successes or who stays quiet rather than celebrating his wins on a big project. Those who remain too quiet or too resigned may miss opportunities for personal or professional growth. If you consider humility one of your personal virtues, know that owning and celebrating your victories is not the same as bragging about them, and be confident in your decision to go after what you want.

• On the flip side of the coin, passion, though beneficial in some settings, can hamper others and compromise relationships if not controlled. If you are an enthusiastic advocate for a humanitarian cause, political ideology, or even your own career, recognize how you come across when voicing your opinions. Now, this doesn’t mean you should never speak up about your viewpoints. In fact, speaking up about what’s morally right is always admirable. However, it’s one thing to objectively stand up to sexism or racism, for example, and another thing to talk politics on a conference call. That said, even in a situation where debate is accepted—say, for example, at a dinner with friends—don’t let your passion overshadow compassion and common human decency. Simply strike a balance between voicing your own perspective and allowing those around you to do the same.

• Lastly, forward thinking, though highly effective in challenging work environments, can otherwise turn into over-planning and rigidity, as it did for me in Costa Rica. While people usually plan and schedule their lives to gain control, the amount of control we truly have is quite limited. As a result, these virtues can foment, rather than assuage, anxiety. While meticulously scheduling, prioritizing and planning tasks might serve you in the workplace, attempting to maintain that structure at home, with your spouse or kids, or on vacation, can freeze spontaneity and the joy that arises from simply enjoying whatever the present moment brings.

While flexibility is what saved me in Costa Rica, embracing versatility can help you no matter what virtue or vice you are dealing with. But, it’s about more than just going with the flow. It’s about attuning your own thoughts and actions to match the situation. This requires an awareness of yourself, the people around you, and your circumstances.

Now that you are aware of the potential dark side of some key virtues, how can you act to channel them in the right way? Check in with yourself regularly, whether through meditation, journaling, or simply stepping away for a moment of reflection. Ask yourself if what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and why you’re doing it is still serving you. If the answer is no, know that in releasing a mode of being that no longer serves you, you create space for something new—something better. After all, versatility brings great value to your life. Your ability to adapt to different situations will benefit you no matter where you work, what you do, or who you want to become.

This article originally appeared on www.psychologytoday.com


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Featured on ABC News, CNBC, Yahoo Finance, Redbook, Self, and the Miami Herald, Laura Berger is a certified executive coach and co-founder of the Berdeo Group. Her clients include leaders at JP Morgan Chase, The Walt Disney World Company, Financial Solutions Advisory Group, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. She is the co-author of two books: Fall in Love Again Every Day and Radical Sabbatical.

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Laura Berger

Featured on ABC News, in CNBC, Yahoo Finance, and in Redbook, Self, and the Miami Herald, Laura Berger is a certified executive coach and co-founder of the Berdéo Group. She has counseled leaders for 15 years, maximizing their potential in the areas of Evidence based leadership, global operations management, and strategic change management. Her clients include leaders at JP Morgan Chase, Leo Burnett Worldwide, American Hospital Association, Starcom MediaVest Group, The Walt Disney World Company, Financial Solutions Advisory Group, World Business Chicago, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. She is an in-demand speaker and co-author of two books: Fall in Love Again Every Day and Radical Sabbatical: Could You Say Goodbye to Everything You Know to Get Everything You Want?.

Rewire Your Brain For Success

By: Laura Berger

Do you feel like bad habits and negative thought patterns are holding you back at work? The good news is that you can eliminate them by activating your brain’s delete button. Using neuroplasticity, you can rewire your brain by changing your behavior, thinking and emotions. This means that no one is doomed to be a control freak, conflict avoider or bad listener. Alas, we all have the power to reprogram how we lead and work through problems with focus, commitment and self-compassion.

But, you must first recognize and identify the unwanted thoughts linked to your negative behaviors and as they show up, remind yourself that they are false messages sent by your brain. Like any skill needing development, they can be improved when you take actionable steps to adopt positive behaviors and patterns.

Here are a few of those actionable steps, along with some of my clients' insights in their own words and suggestions for reaching your full potential:

Be less controlling. If you demand perfect results and believe that your way of doing things is the only way, it's time you started letting go. Not only does this mindset increase your workload (Hello, stress!), but it also damages relationships with colleagues and can ultimately hinder your organization's success. Ironically, the more you relinquish the need to control, the more in control you will feel (Goodbye, stress!). As one client described it in a coaching session:

“The more I relinquish control, the more I’m in control because when I do that, I am more serene, and the serenity is where my greatest power and influence resides. When I’m in that zone, I know that what I say has meaning, is relevant and is the right thing for whatever I’m dealing with. If I’m not there, what I say and how I behave is probably driven more reactively or impulsively …”

Start by challenging yourself to relinquish your need for perfection, remembering that the 80/20 rule not only applies to what your organization does, but what you do as well. By relaxing your standards on certain things, you will become open to alternative ways of doing things and will likely learn something in the process: a win-win.


Improve your listening. Listening well is critical to effective communication, fostering high performance, strong relationships and greater employee engagement. Becoming a good listener requires proactive practice in conversations and meetings. So, the next time a situation demands your attention, maintain eye contact with the speaker. As you listen to their points, remain attentive and open-minded, as judgment detracts from your listening. Do not interrupt, but rather wait for a pause to ask any clarifying questions. Share any feedback while mirroring the speaker’s sentiments and demeanor. This ensures conversational counterparts know they were heard and their thoughts are valued.

Embrace conflict. Too many of us allow our egos to cloud our judgment in workplace conflict. And we all know that running away from workplace problems only spirals already undesirable situations further south. In his book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, Don Miguel Ruiz asserts the importance of taking nothing personally. Instead, respect others’ subjective opinions, realizing that their views don’t necessarily define us accurately. To effectively create separation between the conflict and yourself, adopt the belief, "It's not about me." As one client described it in a coaching session:

“It’s not about me. It’s not just me. I have a team … There is a bit of mindset shift that’s happening, and I want to make the best of it. The only way that’s going to happen is if I take charge and stop feeling like things are happening to me. It’s not going to be perfect and that’s okay … There are limits to how much I am going to stress myself out because of what other people may comment on or say. I am taking more control of my day-to-day and my interactions and not fearing the consequences from my boss. They are my choices, and it’s about making them in a way that honors my needs.”

With this mindset, you quickly realize just how rational, assertive and positive you can be during confrontation. So, the next time conflict knocks, leave your ego at the door, and allow growth and learning to take flight.

Be confident. Don’t waste your brain cycles on false messages that only lower your confidence. Instead, replace the negative self-perception with a positive one and focus on the skills you do have. If you’re constantly telling yourself, “I’m not deserving of a promotion,” change this belief by making a list of the work you put in every day that qualifies you for a promotion or raise. This will culminate in what I call a promotion résumé that will be ready to hand to your superiors at annual review time. If you feel you are still undeserving, think outside the box and ask your boss if you can take on new projects.

A saying credited to Thomas Edison says, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is to try just one more time.” To create lasting change within yourself and never look back, stay optimistic. Get excited about how empowered you will feel when you successfully act in more positive and constructive ways.

This article originally appeared on www.forbes.com


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Featured on ABC News, CNBC, Yahoo Finance, Redbook, Self, and the Miami Herald, Laura Berger is a certified executive coach and co-founder of the Berdeo Group. Her clients include leaders at JP Morgan Chase, The Walt Disney World Company, Financial Solutions Advisory Group, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. She is the co-author of two books: Fall in Love Again Every Day and Radical Sabbatical.

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Laura Berger

Featured on ABC News, in CNBC, Yahoo Finance, and in Redbook, Self, and the Miami Herald, Laura Berger is a certified executive coach and co-founder of the Berdéo Group. She has counseled leaders for 15 years, maximizing their potential in the areas of Evidence based leadership, global operations management, and strategic change management. Her clients include leaders at JP Morgan Chase, Leo Burnett Worldwide, American Hospital Association, Starcom MediaVest Group, The Walt Disney World Company, Financial Solutions Advisory Group, World Business Chicago, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. She is an in-demand speaker and co-author of two books: Fall in Love Again Every Day and Radical Sabbatical: Could You Say Goodbye to Everything You Know to Get Everything You Want?.