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Are you a stuck old bird?

Today’s story is about birds…

Old birds. Stuck old birds. Birds hunkered down in prickly, tired nests that no longer serve them ­– nests so tenuous they cause the old bird to contort and adjust in ways that appear painful and exhausting.

Someone who happens upon the bird for the first time is likely to exclaim, “Oh my gosh, Bird! Why do you remain here in self-imposed misery? Why don’t you move on?”

And the stuck old bird will look at them and say, “Because I deserve better, so I’m going to just sit here until someone gives me what I deserve!”

Then the well-meaning observer will shake their head in disbelief and walk away, making a note to avoid the old bird because they know its dark victim energy is contagious.

Where can you find these stuck old birds?

These stuck old birds roost among us; I meet them nearly every day. They are:

  • The coworker who stays in the job they hate.

  • The staff person who continues to work under a supervisor they don’t respect.

  • The family member or friend you want to avoid because they just can’t stop ranting and raving about how unrecognized they are at work.

  • The leader who proudly displays a calendar counting down their days to retirement on their office wall.

You can even identify this species at a distance by this cocktail of distinguishing characteristics:

  • Many years of service.

  • Protected by the union.

  • Applied for the leader’s job and was passed over.

  • Has developed loyalists and allies within the department.

  • Openly shares all the evidence they can conjure up that reinforces their victim story.

  • Resists and sabotages change.

  • Skillfully avoids accountability.

These birds refuse to spread their wings, lift off, and find a new nest. Nor will they engage in hard (yet exciting) work to build an entirely new nest. And they definitely won’t consider changing their attitude and focusing on what they, themselves, could do to improve their lot.

These stuck old birds create an energetic barrier around them that wards off anyone who dares to approach them with feedback or suggestions. Their bosses spend time and energy creating workarounds for these birds and trying to minimize the negative impact they have on outcomes or other staff.

Eventually, the old bird begins to feel ostracized, wondering why they are continually passed over or left out. They interpret those as further evidence they are the victim, and they continue – or begin – to spew blame on others, hunkering down deeper while they wait for an apology.

Sound dramatic? Maybe. But I bet you’ve already identified a list of stuck old birds you know, right?

So, are you the stuck old bird?

Here’s the truth: We can all go there, and we’ve all been there – stuck, with a stick up our birdy butt, blaming everyone, and waiting for justice.

But hopefully it is a temporary state, and when we recognize our condition, we take action to move ourselves out of it. Unfortunately, because of the work I do, I see many people who are unable to move, and these old birds are the ones who cause drama, tension, loss of time, and resistance toward organizational success.

So today, instead of focusing on others, we are going to find the stuck old bird within you – and if you know me at all, you are not surprised by this!

Where in your life are you living the legacy of the stuck old bird?

Have you:

  • Spent more than 3 months complaining about your situation without making changes?

  • Focused more on problems than on solutions?

  • Raised your nose, crossed your arms, and hoped that an ambitious new coworker falls on their face?

  • Played The Devil’s Advocate in strategy sessions?

  • Excitedly, yet condescendingly, interjected: “No. We tried that in 1998 and it didn’t work.”

  • Pontificated in meetings more than you’ve been curious?

  • Felt resentment about others’ success or good fortune?

  • Exclaimed: “I’ve put in my time, dammit! I deserve special treatment!”

  • Rolled your eyes when a new initiative is announced because you’ve “seen it all and nothing changes”?

  • Answered, “If ________was fired, I could be happy,” when asked What could change to make you more satisfied and productive?

If you see yourself in any one of these, you are at risk of becoming a stuck old bird.

The good news is that being stuck is a choice, not a destiny. And it’s totally preventable and reversible.

Flipping the bird (aka: How to get unstuck)

My belief is that no one wakes up in the morning thinking: I love that people avoid me, that I’m not trusted to be on teams, and that I’m passed over for new opportunities. I’m especially glad meetings are held secretly to discuss how to move me out. And that my boss vents about me over dinner so much and so often that her companion finally slams a fist on the table saying, “Enough! My God, this person is making you crazy, and I can’t listen anymore!”

A few months ago, I was coaching a highly-valued employee whose daily stress was impacting his health, wellness, and happiness, yet he resisted making conscious behavioral changes that would reduce his stress and increase his well-being. He was choosing to become a stuck old bird.

He was experiencing some of the many things that contribute to staying stuck, like:

  • Fear of the unknown

  • Lack of self-awareness

  • Blame and resentment

  • A habit of numbing our feelings instead of facing them

  • Dishonesty about ourselves and what we want

  • Fear of what others will think

  • Shoulds

When I am asked to work with a stuck old bird – by the bird themselves or by the bird’s boss – my first question is: “What is the goal?”

If you’re the bird and your goal is to transition out of the organization, that is fine. But my belief is that if you leave one place as a stuck old bird, you will likely arrive at the next place in the same way. Many people come to me, not for coaching, but to get validation of their story and permission to leave. Wouldn’t that be great? But then they could simply blame me when they show up at the next place with all the same baggage.

That’s not my job.

My job is to help you uncover and move through the thinking errors and behavior patterns that keep you disempowered. At some point, if you want happiness, you have to deal with the stories, perceptions, assumptions, and fears that keep you firmly entrenched with a stick up your old birdy butt.

Letting go of old bird status is tricky and takes courage and vulnerability, but in the end, it is freeing. Old birds can fly and succeed! But not without grace and support. The first few flights may be awkward as new behavior patterns are developed and tested, and if the environment is unforgiving, there is no chance for an old bird. Make sure leaders become aware of your new energy and commitment.

It is easy to see the stuck old bird in others. As fun as that can be, I challenge you to see the stuck old bird in yourself. Where might you take flight? If you’d like guidance as you spread your wings and catch the wind, call me at (916) 480-1234 or reply to this email – I can help.

Originally posted on

Have you had to work with that person who is too valuable to fire, but whose communication and leadership style continually makes others cringe and puts the company at risk? Beth Wonson’s unique combination of experience as a business expert, non-profit leader, 20 years consulting on team development, organizational change, and coaching leadership make her the go-to person for transforming personnel liabilities into personnel assets. “In my experience, no one truly wants to be the company bully, they just aren’t self-aware enough climb out of it. Their increasing isolation causes more and more drama within the organization. Human Resource staff feel powerless and over time, team members and colleagues choose to leave the organization. The remedy is simply to get this person the right coach. The coach who knows how to give them the hard feedback and will stand in the fire with them through the change process”. Wonson’s unique methodology combines brain-based research, experiential education and coaching to engage and empower individuals and teams to overcome perceived barriers and gain success.

Beth and her team work with businesses, non-profits and individuals across the United States.


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