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Handle with Care: Empathy at Work

Jun 3, 2019

18:04 - Drew

But I don't remember ever thinking to myself that I wanted to kill myself, but something in my head was saying you can't continue to keep doing this. So something has to be different. So I think the manifestation of that was something that was pretty scary that evening.




In this episode, I talk with Drew Kincius about stress, money, anxiety, and the frightening night when it all became too much.  We will get into the details of what brought Drew to that point of overwhelm, but first, a little bit of background. 

One of my first meetings with Drew was at a co-working space here in Indianapolis where he is the emcee of an event called One Million Cups, which is a monthly meetup that exists to support entrepreneurs.  Drew led the event with a disarming vulnerability.  In a one-on-one interaction, he is an active and engaged listener, you can see it in the way he listens intently, brows furrowed

42:32 - Drew Kincius

I just, I like to get to know people, figure out what, what they're, what makes them tick and what really motivates them and then figure out a way that I can help to, help them grow and help them do what they love and grow their passions.


In addition to One Million Cups, Drew and his wife, Colleen, are passionate about contributing to their community through casues like Veg-Fest.  Drew works for a company called BeLithe

05:09 - Drew Kincius

Yeah. So, I am the creative director at BeLithe and we are an organization that is, I like to describe us as, we're transforming individuals and companies through agile methodology.


He is the parent of pets with special needs

04:32 - Drew Kincius

Yeah we have a dog named Ethel, who's recently gone blind but she's super great. And then we also have two cats:  Biz and Heidi, who is missing one of her back legs and then Biz has really really strong anxiety.


And he has a range of interests outside of work

06:44 - Drew Kincius

I'm an avid runner. I run four to five miles every morning. It's almost like meditation for me, it just allows my thoughts to go wherever and then get centered again before I'm done. I also drum. So for the sake of all those lovely animals and my lovely wife, I've bought all these kind of fun mash drum heads and quiet cymbals I can still play and not annoy everyone. But I always say I'm not a bad drummer: it could be worse.


Drew has a great capacity to care for people and causes, and he gives a lot of himself to his work, and this capacity and passion eventually became a problem for Drew.  While living in Bloomington, Drew began to take on more and more responsibilities at his workplace.  He oversaw the new construction of space at the winery, which was exciting.  Then, upon opening, Drew was the general manager AND he ran the kitchen. There was a lot of pressure and no work-life balance.

09:15 - Drew Kincius

Once again, a great experience but just a lot of pressure and there was no such thing as work life balance. I mean that's kind of what I was doing and that's it. So I think that really started a trend for me of I appreciate that I care about things. I appreciate that I put my heart into what I care about, but not being able to hit pause occasionally and see what else is going on in the world and just being so hyper focused on something that it just wears me out pretty, very quickly. So once again, that starting there was, it was, it was great. In terms of, I guess, I don't know when I say becoming an adult or whatever phrase you want to use there, but I got used to the idea that that's just what you did:  that you worked 10, 12, 14 hours a day, right, consistently.


Compounding this stress was the pressure of the hospitality industry in general


30:59 - Drew Kincius

You have to be on. You have to be consistently performing. If you're a server or your bartender and you have an off night that directly affects your pay. If you're not feeling particularly social that one evening, that is a tremendous amount of stress even if you're the most extroverted person on the planet, that's stressful because we can't all be. Go go go go go. All at the same time.


After ten years in Bloomington, he decided to come back to Indianapolis. Drew moved in with his parents and began to work in alcohol production, learning how to make wines and beers.  He took a second job as well. 


12:10 - Drew Kincius

I was working two jobs that did not pay very well, working 60 65 hours a week not really having a any sort of plan or path to be able to eventually leave my parents. So that was a frustrating way to start. I guess a frustrating way to be introduced to Indianapolis.


It was a frustrating way to begin, but Drew soon moved to manage coworking space, his first 8-5 Monday through Friday job.  Yet, similar to his experience in Bloomington, Drew began taking on more responsibilities, creating new roles and expectations for himself. 


13:27 - Drew Kincius

And then, just like how the winery. There was a certain role and then something I added onto it. The coworking space added an additional space to it. So, there were two now that I was running instead of one. And I took it upon myself, back to the altruistic side of myself, to say OK well, not only am I going to run this space as a general manager and just make sure that the rooms are booked and that the Wi-Fi is working, but I'm going to be the director of community outreach or, I gave myself some some fancy title that barely fit on a business card.


There was a particular stress to working as a manager of a coworking space

22:11 - Drew Kincius

The job that people that run coworking facilities have is very stressful because people don't realize this, but you're working for your company, you know you're, you're helping your clients and your customers but you're actually working in the exact same space they work too. So imagine pouring drinks for someone and then, like, grabbing a beer with them at the same time. It would just be a really weird dynamic. It's hard to tell people, hey I have to work on something even though you're my customer. It's a strange dynamic there.



This stress was mounting, both the stress of a full schedule and also stress around money issues.  And that stress began to take its toll physically.

15:03 - Drew Kincius

So I, a couple of times actually in 2017, I had gotten, I had gone to the hospital because I had felt like something was going on with my heart and I'd had a couple of weird episodes in a couple. I don't know maybe one 5 years ago and one two/three years ago. I would just wake up and feel like somebody was sitting on my chest and some people, some people I've talked to have suggested maybe it was anxiety. Some people have said acid reflux and some people said all emotional or it was purely physical. But I think it was a little combination of both.


Musical transition

16:01 - Drew Kincius

I just remember, I had come home one day and I don't think my day was particularly stressful. I just remember the culmination of not feeling like I was able to make the kind of impact that I was making that I wanted to make.


 The role that I had I was just really really frustrated and, and I took that frustration out on my significant other in a verbal argument sort of way. And then, I just remember, and it's a little it's foggy that night, but I but I distinctly remember just not having control over myself anymore and not in this, like ,I want to break everything but almost this there's so much going on in my head that I can't, like my brain can't handle what's going on internally. And so it's almost like something shut off, just as a survival tactic.


 And so I just remember walking outside. We live right off a College Avenue, which is obviously a pretty busy street. And I just mean, we're walking outside going into the grass and just like laying down and then I remembered that I just got so frustrated at myself that I actually went and I started actually walk towards the street without the intention of stopping and just hanging out in traffic and seeing what was happening.


17:43 - Drew Kincius

And I just hesitate. Suicide is a very real and a very, it's, it's something to not be taken lightly and it's, it's a, it's finality that doesn't ever go away. But I don't remember ever thinking to myself that I wanted to kill myself, but something in my head was saying you can't continue to keep doing this. So something has to be different. So I think the manifestation of that was something that was pretty scary that evening.


18:22 - Drew Kincius

Luckily my wife I mean she, she saw what was going on. And she she's not very big. But when endorphins kick in, and it wasn't like I was really fighting her, but she just kind of pulled me aside and then we walked back towards the house and then I just sat there in the grass and I don't think I ever felt as empty as I did sitting in the grass. I was completely disconnected with what was going on around me. I mean, I still remember my shirt being stretched out on one side from her having to like tug me away from. I didn't run into the street and I wasn't yelling or making a fuss. I just, it was it was like I was a zombie going towards, going towards the street.


[00:19:17.690] - Drew Kincius

So that the next morning, I emailed my, I just knew I wasn't in the mental state to to go into work, so I e-mailed my employer and as I mentioned this earlier to you, but I was very clear with them and I said:  I I don't know if I'd call it a breakdown or whatever it was but I did not. I had a bad night, so I won't be coming in. And I was very open about that and they were very, their response was really great as well.


19:48 - Drew Kincius

 And they said don't worry about it. Like, come in when you come in.


Musical transition


23:20 - Drew Kincius

And I did talk to some of the coworking members that were my friends and share that I was struggling but it was hard to explain that exact evening with people because it wasn't, that moment was there and gone. That's not what I cared about anymore. It was all the stuff around it that it caused that moment which is still real.


Musical transition


24:11 - Liesel Mertes

When you had a moment like that, is there something that enters into your process where you wonder is this going to happen again? Like does that, did that kind of creep on the shadows of wondering like, oh is this going to be tonight or tomorrow that you were also having to deal with in real time?


24:34 - Drew Kincius

Yeah, and I mean leading up to that, then there were moments when I would just sit in bed like lay in bed and just be really really sad. And that happened a lot after that too. And because I was in a very public facing role, I didn't feel comfortable with, I would shut down when I got home. Which is really unfair to my family. But I could be open and vulnerable with them. And so, at a certain point I decided that I need to be open and vulnerable with everyone else and not just fall apart when I get home. Because, once again, that's not fair to the people that I care about to say, oh I'm on during the day, and then forever, you know when I get home, then I just, I'm trash. I just shut down.


As Drew moved towards becoming healthy, he began to see a counselor. 

26:02 - Drew Kincius

I hadn't really been to a counselor in three or four years, so that was a moment where I said, oh yeah. Just like with your physical health, maybe your mental health should be something that you proactively consider instead of just being reactive if you're having a massive heart attack and you're being reactive. There's probably habits that have led to that and that's, that's what it felt like, not to create some silly phrase, but it was, it was, it was like I had some sort of attack right but it was more about my soul and it was more about my emotions and it was like physically something locking up. So from there on, I was just a lot more open. But with with friends. Especially with my wife, I had had this martyrdom complex of being the provider and being the person who needed to right the ship and make sure that everything was doing what I needed to do.


This openness and vulnerability is especially important to Drew

32:48 - Drew Kincius

it just made me realize that a lot of people that I see is very strong individuals who seem to have everything that they want and have things tidy it up, you don't know what's going on internally and you don't know what they're struggling with because they're struggling with something whether or not they admit it.


As he moved towards healing, Drew also took proactive steps within his life structuring

27:02 - Drew Kincius

But I just started to say no to things. I started to take stock of the things. I was in a band and I started to dread going to rehearsal. So why am I doing that? There are organizations that I was a part of that I enjoyed being a part of these organizations but I didn't really put the time into it that they needed to to create the impact I wanted. So, just respecting dead space and respecting just not having so much utility in my life was one of the big aspects


Drew also changed the way that he talked to people

29:06 - Drew Kincius

I know I've mentioned this to you before, but if you walk up to somebody and say, How are you? They're going to say, "Oh, I'm fine" or, "Oh I'm great." But, but they're not universally sad or happy or whatever the phrase is. And so, when you ask a question like that of a question you're going to get a vague answer. And so, that's really helped me to say things like, when a man is, somebody, what's the best thing that's happened today? Or, if I know someone is struggling with something, just ask a question like, how are things, not how are things, but, but hey I heard about a loss in your family or or just just saying, I'm here for you if you need me. But not setting that, not setting an expectation of saying I have to help you. And if you don't call on me I'm gonna be upset.


Musical transition

33:39 - Liesel Mertes

As you think about that version of you from a couple of years ago, sitting in that driveway, what would you speak to yourself or someone in a situation like that, either at that sort of an apex feeling moment or leading up to it?


34:05 - Drew Kincius

The idea that, although you are one of what, seven and a half billion people on the planet, your impact, if you quantify it, may seem small but it's still very very important.


4:21 - Drew Kincius

And I was looking at myself in that vantage point as one, not, you know, I'm thirty one, thirty, thirty one, would have my injuries and there's all this stuff I haven't done, I was thinking very glass half empty. I should have really been thinking about all the things I had, how appreciative I should have been. And just to ask for help, you know the person that I was closest with, my wife I did not feel comfortable with asking her for help or being very open with her about a lot of this.


34:57 - Drew Kincius

And so me just having this giant break down in front of her, she knew that I was struggling already, it wasn't a secret but that opened up the door for me to just say, I'm still, I'm, if I'm struggling with something and ask for help, there's absolutely no shame in having to do that. And the yeah, Drew from two years ago was pretty excited about himself. I like me as a person still, but I'm a lot more excited about who I'm empowering in and the actions I'm taking to help make the world a better place, which is a very pie in the sky thing to say, but I'm not interested in me and how I can boost my standing. I'm interested in helping other people figure out what their calling is and how they can make an impact and be at peace with who they are and thrive.


36:05 - Liesel Mertes

Thank you for that. And if you could offer any words to someone like Colleen in that setting to say, to someone who says, I I care about someone who I think is going through something similar, whether it's my co-worker or my significant other or my son, what words you offer to that person?


36:34 - Drew Kincius

Call for backup. And she did that. I mean, there was a point when I came home from work and my parents and my sister were randomly at my house because Colleen had talked to them and said sometimes, something, something's going on here, something's not right. And the biggest takeaway from that is is they, they came over and said, we are here to help but we're not going to tell you what you have to do. But you need to understand that, that you that this has to happen sooner than later. Because I have so I had so many distractions in my life. And I think that's why I stayed so busy, because in the dead space is when you really started to think about what's going on. And if there's things that bother you, they started to creep up to the surface. But if you're just only thinking about tasks and you're only trying to get things done, you can


37:29 - Liesel Mertes

Then you're just in execution.


[00:37:30.930] - Drew Kincius

That's right. Push that kind of stuff side. And so, so when I say ask for backup, I mean you never know if somebody doesn't feel comfortable with talking to you about what some their issues are. To have other people reach out. And it can be something as simple as just a quick phone call and just saying, hey what's up. And not starting it with, hey I've heard specifically that in this exact instance you are struggling right now. That's a lot to throw on someone. They get defensive. But if you just call and say, hey what's going on? And if you, if you mentioned something that you're struggling with, something it's not going super wrong in your life. The likeliness of somebody else opening up about that same thing is gonna be a lot stronger because they there's empathy there.


38:22 - Liesel Mertes

You know what I hear in that was there was an important, importance of people reaching out relationally,. not telling you a certain thing you had to do and meeting you with their own vulnerability. Does that seem to kind of capture the people that met you well? Some of the things that they were doing?


38:41 - Drew Kincius

Addiction works in that similar way where, if you tell someone they have to do something, they will never take ownership in the process of trying to remove that addiction from their lives. So by saying this needs to happen but, but allowing me to figure out what that next step is, it allows me to take ownership in that process.


39:06 - Drew Kincius

And so patience is very important too, because I'm sure if my family had a choice or if my wife had a choice, in that moment, they would have just physically taken me and put me in a car and just went to someone to talk out my feelings. But once again, they'd be them mandating that for me and I would always say, well you made me do this and you made me do that. Which is, I'm not saying that's the right thing for me to do, but most human beings, although it comes from a good place, they treat that as as as aggressive or some sort of attack or something like that.


39:40 - Liesel Mertes

You know, whether you're 4 or 45, you don't really want to be told what to do.


39:44 - Drew Kincius

Right. When I was a kid, my mom would say, you need to take a nap. And I'm like, I'm fine, I don't need to take a nap, I don’t know what you're talking about. And I'd be crying, clearly exhausted, and then I would take a nap and wake up and it was unicorns and butterflies and everything. 


Musical transition


41:25 - Drew Kincius

You know we're all struggling with something. We're all, we have very, very, busy lives. The world expects a lot out of us, but people are still people. And you'll be pleasantly surprised that if you actually talk to humans as humans not only what you'll get out of it but for those people who are in a high stress situation, like that dealing with people all the time, you might be making their day or you might be helping them get through their day because you care about the...more than once, again, just over an output of what you need


Musical Transition


A few reflections on Drew’s story, both for those that are struggling with feeling that it is all too much and for the coworkers, friends, and family that surround them. 

  • Reach out relationally. If you see someone struggling, give them a call, grab a meal. And here are some helpful pointers for the interaction.  Don’t just ask a vague, “How are your doing?” question; you will get a vague answer. And, as Drew said, maybe don’t start out the interaction with making it all about their problem.  Connect on a human level.  Perhaps ease into the conversation, maybe share a story of your own struggle or weakness, making a way for them to be vulnerable as well. 
  • If you are a support person, whether at work or in a personal context, be patient and be an advocate for the affected individual.It is tempting to prescribe a path for healing, to try to force someone to follow your suggestion.  For Drew, it was important to feel ownership and agency as he choose his journey towards healing.  Beware of pushing too hard. 
  • If you are feeling on the brink, like it is all just too much, I offer you Drew’s words of insight: if you are struggling with feeling hopeless and overwhelmed, there is no shame in asking for help.  Who are the safe people in your world that you can share with?  Beyond your social sphere, there are resources available. Many workplaces offer you access to heavily subsidized or free counseling through the Employee Assistance Program, or EAP.  You may have forgotten about your EAP, or the info is buried in your employee onboarding packet.  So, I encourage you to ask your HR representative about access.  These services are completely confidential and can be so very helpful.