Looks like I’ve joined the rat race

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I started a new job last Monday. I’ve put off writing about it due to some initial uncertainties but I’ve come to the realisation that, whatever happens, taking it was definitely the right decision and a positive step forward.

I’d had an interview the week before – a very awkward affair involving going out for lunch with the three members of staff, before an interview back at the office during which I downplayed my skills on purpose in an effort not to get offered the job. Yeah, not sure what went wrong there either.. (And note to anyone in charge of conducting interviews: Having lunch with applicants, no matter how well-intentioned, is definitely not the best way to relax a potential employee before an interview.)

This is really what inspired my last, rather drastic, post about emotion/fear versus intuition. My intuition told me I didn’t feel very comfortable with the people, and I was coming up with all sorts of reasons why this job was another wrong choice and I should do something totally different, but after giving myself some time to think I realised that it was my emotions talking and I had nothing to lose. They wanted me to start straight away and said I can give it a try for a few months and see how it goes – the perfect offer for a commitment-phobe like me!

Before I started I was thinking that I’d do it for two months and that would be it – I’d carry on looking for the ‘right’ job and this was just another good bit of experience, but just over a week in and, dare I say it, it’s actually going quite well so far.

I dislike the 9 to 5, but I don’t yet dread it. There are some things that could be better about the job, but there are many things that could be a lot worse. It’s informal, there’s variety, and it relates to some of my interests (and there’s no uniform! Though sadly no working from home in my pajamas either).

One thing that really does scare me though is how fast a working week passes. And how much faster the weekend goes. I can see how easy it would be to get stuck in a full time job, feeling like there’s no time to look for alternatives and gain other experience, and letting the weeks, months, even years, speed by. But I’m determined not to let that happen. This job is just the start.

Emotions are scarily powerful

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They say we have nothing to fear but fear itself. This post is me admitting that up until now I’ve been making a huge mistake in the way I’ve been living my life: I’ve been letting negative emotions and fear dictate my choices.

I first started this blog in an effort to share my reading and learning on the process of decision-making, and a lot of what I’ve written about  is the question of whether to follow logic or intuition when making choices. I wanted the answer to be that it’s right to follow your intuition, to confirm that some of my past decisions were based on good solid intuition and not just fear and confusion – but it’s not, and they weren’t.

I’m not saying that these past choices were necessarily wrong, but I definitely let emotion get in the way of the decision-making process. I guess I dislike logic because sometimes it can go completely against feelings, and ultimately I want to feel happy. It’s scary how easy it is not to do something just because it feels uncomfortable in the moment – it’s surprisingly difficult to see past current emotions to a happier future.

There is something to be said for gut reactions (see my post ‘Logic versus intuition‘), but I’m starting to realise that my own gut feelings aren’t actually worth paying too much attention to! It’s all too easy to confuse discomfort and fear with a bad gut feeling.

I become irrational when I’m scared – I become defensive and make excuses, then later struggle to explain my actions. If you follow good old fashioned human logic then once negative emotions fade you’ve got something really solid to fall back on. Emotions aren’t permanent or fixed and, despite how strong they can be, they always fade.

A while ago I reviewed the book ‘The Chimp Paradox‘, and the more I think about it the more the model it teaches is perfect for learning how to get past fear and negative emotions. We need to remember that we can make a choice to act despite our emotions – fear truly is the only thing worth fearing because it stops us from making the most out of life.

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Rebecca Fraser of Career Avoidance 101 (a great blog – do check it out) recently wrote this post on fear, and I think there are more to come – I also love this quote on fear and courage.

5 ways to stop worrying about regrets

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After my last post on the theory of accepting regret and moving on, I thought I’d share some of my own techniques for dealing with regrets and worries:

1. The worry scroll

I can’t remember where I read about this idea but it’s a great one. When you’ve got something on your mind that you keep going over again and again, picture yourself removing the ribbon from an invisible scroll, opening it up and writing your worry down, then rolling it back up, retying the ribbon and throwing it into a corner.

This represents noting the problem down as something to worry about later. You’ll know it’s there and you haven’t forgotten about it, and you can plan a time to get the scroll out and do some serious concentrated worrying! Whenever you find yourself thinking about it just stop and remind yourself that you’re going to go back to it and worry about it later. (I don’t usually get to the going back to worry about it, having it written down ‘for later’ seems to be good enough for me!)

2. Someone is always regretting something worse than you

You only have to listen to the news to realise that your mistake is probably insignificant compared the worries of others. And I’m not just talking poverty, famine and war, there are people in this world living with the regret of awful and/or tragic actions. People locked up in prison for taking the life of someone else, whether intentionally or unintentionally, must be suffering immeasurably, and arguably a lot more than you or I are for choosing one job over another, ending a relationship, messing something up at work or the like. Never forget this.

3. For how long will this matter?

One of my personal favourites. Whenever I’m feeling like an idiot I ask myself: Will this matter tomorrow? (The answer is probably yes, it will still matter to me tomorrow.) Will this matter next week? (Depending on the issue, possibly still yes.) Will this matter in a month? (Quite possibly not.) Will this matter in a year? (With the majority of worries, probably not.) I also try to think back to previous worries and remember how quickly they stopped mattering to me. Mistakes fade as time passes and new events replace the memory of them.

4. What have you learnt?

No matter how stupid you feel or how big an error you think you’ve made, you can always find something to learn from it. Focus on this positive, however small, whether it’s the fact you’ll now better understand others who make similar mistakes or that you’ll never make this same error again yourself. You don’t want this feeling again any time soon, so don’t forget what you can learn to prevent yourself from repeating the same mistake again.

5. You worry and regret because you care

I mentioned this in my previous post on regret, and I’m repeating it again here because it stood out to me. We regret things because we care about our lives and our goals and our dreams. We want to get things right because we care about ourselves, our values, our integrity. If you ever stopped caring about these things, then you’d really have something to worry about!

Life isn’t about living without regrets, it’s about learning to live with them

I recently read a post that referred to American motivational author Louise Hay and her 12 commandments on loving yourself. Now I’m not one for over the top self help, but one ‘commandment’ really stood out to me, it’s something I’ve been told in the past that I really needed to hear and always need to remember:

Forgive Yourself.

Let the past go. You did the best you could at the time with the understanding, awareness, and knowledge that you had. Now you are growing and changing, and you will live life differently.

I just think this is so important and completely paramount to being content with life. People talk about ‘living without regrets’ and ’embracing every opportunity’, but in reality we’re going to make mistakes, miss opportunities and, at least temporarily, regret things. I think the key message here shouldn’t be about living with no regrets, but learning to live with our regrets, accept them and move on.

Regret: A feeling of sadness, repentance or disappointment over something that has happened or been done. You can’t just remove feelings of sadness or disappointment from your life – you can’t truly live with no regrets – but you can choose to move on.

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Now I do love a good TED talk, and it hasn’t taken much searching to come across this one, which shares some of my thoughts. I’ve definitely had multiple emotional meltdowns over regrets in the past, and as Kathryn Schulz says, regret is painful.

Kathryn talks about the components of regret, and the one that hits home for me is bewilderment, the ‘what was I thinking?!’, the alienation from the part of us that made that particular decision, and the lack of empathy for that part of ourselves.

She reminds us that, just like her tattoo, some of our own regrets are also not as ugly as we think they are, and she says that if we have goals and dreams, and if we want to do our best, we should feel pain when things go wrong. The point isn’t to live without any regrets, the point is not to hate ourselves for having them.

Why career-hunting is just like house-hunting

oldnewhouseI feel like this blog has become a little too idealistic, so I want to bring it back to reality. Sometimes you need to work for money so that you can have your independence, do the things you want to do in your spare time and plan for your future, and, temporarily, that’s ok. If I can just find a reasonable full time stop gap job sometime soon, hopefully, I’ll be happy, and it doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on finding work I think is really great, it just means I’m doing what I can to get by while I’m searching for that great job (or those great jobs – still quite like the idea of a portfolio career…).

As Kirsty Allsopp says on Location, Location, Location (yes I have far too much time on my hands), when house hunting your aim is to find your, what she calls, ‘forever family home’ in as few steps as possible, because moving house is a pain: it’s expensive and time consuming. I like to think career hunting is just the same in that you want to find that great job that suits you so well in as few job changes as possible, because moving from job to job is a pain, and you don’t want to be unhappy for too long in a job that doesn’t fit with who you are and how you want to spend your time.

People can’t afford to buy that perfect house straight away, and they’re not ready to anyway, they might meet a new partner, have (more) children, get a job in a different area, find another part of town they’d prefer to live in. It’s only by experience that they can work out where they want to commit to. And it’s the same with work, very few people will stumble upon their ideal career path early on in their lives, they need to build up experience and find out what’s out there before they’ll find the best fit.

So I haven’t given up on that great job, but I have decided that right now settling is more important than searching, so fingers crossed an ok job comes up soon.

(And to make clear that I haven’t given up on the dream, Create a meaningful life through meaningful work highlights the three things a great job should be – important and meaningful a) in the long term, b) in the opinion of those whose opinion matters, and c) to you.)

The secret to a super career

strengths…Your personality?

As obvious as matching career with personality sounds, I’m not sure it’s so straightforward. Previously I’d thought that by considering my skills and interests and challenges I could take on, that I was essentially taking into account my personality when it came to finding a job I could really succeed at and enjoy, but now I’m not so sure this is the case.

In Free Range Humans (a book on self-employment that I reviewed a few weeks ago in a post titled ‘Dream BIG’), the author, Marianne Cantwell, questions whether skills – things we’ve become good at, are actually strengths – things we enjoy that we also happen to be good at. Marianne talks a lot about playing to your own strengths (which will be closely related to your personality) and not feeling that you have to do it all and be good at everything (i.e. not feeling you have to constantly build new skills and challenge yourself).

In the drive for perfection and success it’s easy to forget the things we’re naturally and effortlessly good at and comfortable with.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet (which I reviewed in my last post) talks a lot about finding a career that suits your personality. There may be things that we really enjoy doing, but only in small doses, and there may be things that we’ve taught ourselves to be very good at, but which are actually a struggle and oppose some of our inbuilt personality traits. Of course we can put on a bit of an act when we have to, but it’s really important that we do still have the time and space just to be ourselves.

Considering where we get our energy, whether from people and action or from alone time and quiet, is really important in keeping up our energy levels. 

I guess the key thing I’ve realised is that I need to make sure I’m focussing on my strengths (as defined by Cantwell), and not just my skills, and to consider where I really get my energy from and make that an active consideration in my job search.

After all, no-one really wants just a job, or even a career in the long term, do they? Aren’t we all ultimately looking for something a little more meaningful? And I would argue that finding this ultimate career/life path is going to mean much more focus on personality, passions, values and strengths, rather than skills, vague interests and considering things you could learn to get better at (i.e. challenges for yourself).

See this great post Job, Career or… Something Else, and it’s reference to an ‘All I want to be…’ statement. And check out 20 signs that you’ve finally found your life’s work not just another career change for more inspiration.

It’s an extrovert’s world

I’ve just finished reading a well-known and well-reviewed book on introversion. It’s funny how I can’t imagine saying directly to anyone that I’m an ‘introvert’ – the word just sounds negative and abnormal due to our culture – but I would imagine that someone could quite easily describe themselves as an ‘extrovert’ with a much more positive reception.

I’ve heard people argue that you can’t separate everyone into one of two categories, yet I think doing so helps us to understand and accept that there are people on both sides of the spectrum and both should be treated equally, without pressure for the quieter ones to conform with the louder majority. Something needs to change in western culture, and I hope that this book is the start of that.

quietWhy we don’t all need to be ‘all-rounders’

(Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, by Susan Cain)

Such a well-researched and well-organised book, and a very interesting read. Some great ideas on different kinds of leadership and work environments – the suggestion that extroverted leaders are better when staff are passive but introverted leaders are better when staff are proactive is a really interesting one, and I personally hate open plan offices as I need my own space.

Cain also covers the nature-nurture debate, explaining how some people are simply born more sensitive to what’s going on around them, and although they can learn to think and act differently as they grow older, those in-built sensitive reactions are still present.

The book also covers cultural differences in personality, specifically comparing America and Asia. While obviously you can’t stereotype whole nations, Americans do seem to prize charisma and speaking out while Asians tend to value quietness and thoughtfulness much more highly as an indication of wisdom.

We definitely need extroverts, introverts and all those in-between; we just need to make sure that all of them are heard and accepted for who they are without pressure to conform.