THE BLOG
07/22/2014 04:35 pm ET Updated Sep 21, 2014

Emotional Agility: Jessica Shows How to Be a Boss When Life's a B*tch

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Jessica did not have the year she imagined she would.

She started the year off with some ambitious new plans and launched a new partnership with a colleague in real estate to develop a program specifically catering to first-time women home buyers. In recent years, single women have accounted for 16 to 22 percent of homebuyers and Jessica focuses on helping them make the most of special funding programs available to this demographic in the DC metro area.

But a few months in and things were not working out with her partner.

Jessica was still staging and selling homes successfully, but the joint venture was not panning out as expected and she made the tough leadership call to dissolve it for the best of both parties.

Just a few weeks later and Jessica's world was rocked by the sudden death of her brother. She was devastated.

Jessica's pain is all too familiar: When something at work isn't going your way, and then a personal disaster is levied on top of it all? How to you go on? How do you stay on your feet when the ground beneath you is quaking?

Traditionalists might argue that personal emotions have no place in the office. That your personal lives are to be kept separate -- and that professionalism requires a stoicism or cheerfulness that goes uninterrupted by "outside" events.

I don't buy that. I firmly believe that work, love, and wellness are connected -- whether and when we want them to be, or not. Learning how to show up and deliver at work even when your heart is breaking is a skill that many of us can't afford to lack.

The Harvard Business Review calls this skill "emotional agility" and asserts that:

"Effective leaders don't buy into or try to suppress their inner experiences. Instead they approach them in a mindful, values-driven, and productive way--developing what we call emotional agility. In our complex, fast-changing knowledge economy, this ability to manage one's thoughts and feelings is essential to business success."

This the tack Jessica has taken. After taking some time off to travel home to the bayou of Louisiana's coast to grieve with family, she's been deliberate and strategic about confronting her emotions while returning to her life of self-employment through real estate.

"I've been practicing awareness and learning how to compartmentalize my feelings in order to focus," says Jessica, "Through my vulnerability, I've been able to connect with people on a deeper level. I've realized you truly never know what people are going through - it's made me a more empathetic person."

Jessica appreciates the double-edged sword that comes with working for yourself during a time like this. Sure, it can be a privilege to not have to show up to a 9 to 5 job with a supervisor breathing down your back through a time of mourning, but "I have to be extremely self-disciplined and hold myself accountable," she says, "because no one else is." She also sincerely appreciates the patience her colleagues have shown her during this challenging time.

Being a boss isn't just about showing up fully at work and making progress towards your vision on an average day, it's about doing so through the hardest transitions in life. Developing emotional agility can help by recognizing your patterns, labeling your thoughts and emotions, accepting them, and then acting on your values.

This tacit acceptance reminds me of Buddhist detachment philosophy, which focuses on observing our emotions without allowing them to consume us. Disallowing our own personal happiness to hinge on things in our lives which aren't everlasting.

There's nothing Jessica can do to bring back her brother. But refusing to allow herself to be "hooked" by grief can help her survive -- and thrive -- as she faces tomorrow with courage. "This is what he would want me to do," she says. And it's what I hope I too can remember when personal crisis rears it's unwanted head in my life.

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