The secret to success

inaction-breeds-doubt

Just show up. And keep showing up.

To the interview, the family gathering, the party, the networking event, the reunion… even when you feel like you’ve messed up, that people are judging you, that they will laugh, that you’ll feel awkward. Because people will surprise you, and at the end of the day showing up and giving it your all is all that matters.

Steve Jobs said: Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

That’s it. Just be there. Show up.

Do your best. Everyone else is winging it too. That’s okay.

Coping with uncertainty

I wrote this blog a good few weeks ago now, but it’s sat in drafts until I’ve plucked up the courage to post it. Here goes.

So I said I was going to keep this impersonal until I was sorted. I’m not quite – actually I’m nowhere near – sorted but thought I’d share anyway, after all, it’s likely to be a long journey and this blog’s meant to be about me sharing my experiences, however uncomfortable they might be at times. And things are pretty uncomfortable right now.

I did resign from my job, 4ish weeks ago now. And I finished yesterday. I’m excited about the possibilities and opportunities, accepting of the fact I may well have to take an ‘it pays the bills’ job for a while, but also just a little bit terrified that I won’t be able to maintain my wavering levels of positivity. I still haven’t decided whether it was a ‘bad’ or ‘good’ choice, I have ups and downs, but that’s irrelevant now.

I left, two months earlier than planned, for a number of reasons:

  1. Waiting for another job first (the ‘sensible’ thing to do) would mean continuing to feel completely inauthentic, and even dishonest – I felt so much relief in simply telling my boss that I don’t want to be there and it’s not for me.
  2. I had a very honest conversation with my boss, which highlighted how misaligned the opportunities for growth at the company are with how I want to grow professionally and personally.
  3. While some people could say I made a rash and very much emotionally driven choice (I wouldn’t argue with you on the emotion front, but I do know it was from an authentic place), I want to be the person who takes risks, the person who is proactive and makes things happen.

I really struggled with this decision after I’d first made it. While some people lose their jobs, are made redundant, and face difficult circumstances that are completely out of their hands, I actively made this choice. This was all down to me – there’s nowhere to hide.

And in that moment I had a choice to make. To depair, to cry, to beg to keep my job after all, to grab the first menial job I could get my hands on, to explain my decision to others warily and with doubt. Or to embrace that choice. To share it with enthusiasm and happiness, to remain calm in the knowledge I have enough savings to give me time to work this out, to keep smiling, keep meeting people, to stay positive.

If I could go back to that day I spoke to my boss, would I change the conversation? Would I hold back? Would I let logic and expectation and ‘sensible’ hold me back? Or would I hold on to my authenticity, my self-respect and faith that I can make this work?

So what can I share from this experience? Well here’s how I’ve stayed positive despite overwhelming uncertainty:

  • Great quotes and inspirational TED talks. My personal favourite is Steve Jobs’ commencement speech, and I continue to read some of these quotes every single day. But a new quote I’m particularly fond of is: Above all, be true to yourself, and if you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it. – Hardy D Jackson.
  • Music. I never used to listen to music at work. An office culture of headphones and skype/email conversations with colleagues is my idea of hell, but knowing I was leaving I gave up trying to fight it. For my last weeks of repetitive routine tasks, I used music as a distraction and focus to get me through. And it did a pretty good job.
  • Meeting people. During this period of uncertainty there have been times when I’ve felt like I couldn’t face anyone for fear of disapproval. But instead of sitting at home in despair (as I might well have done in similar situations in the past), I’ve dragged myself out. I’ve spent time with friends, family, complete strangers, recent acquaintances. And I’ve been open and enthusiastic with as many of these as I feel I can. I’ve found that most of the time, if you speak with enthusiasm and conviction, that’s exactly what people around you will reflect back. How great is that?

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Personality patterns

I’ve just read a well-known book on a personality assessment closely associated with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and it’s made me realise just how important it is to accept people as they are without trying to change them to be like ourselves. It’s also made me realise how differently people think, and I hope will help me to understand and accept in future when I don’t get the responses or encouragement I’d like.

To me, understanding people seems so key to everything. And it’s just fascinating. Whether you agree with the Myers-Briggs typing and Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter (explained below) or not, recognising different attitudes and values is important in all areas of life, from career to relationships. I think everyone should read this book – though I do accept that my ‘type’ might make me more interested in this topic than others are!

PUM2I’ll just be me and you can be you

(Please understand me 2: temperament, character, intelligence – by David Keirsey)

So in parts the book is a little bit repetitive and a little bit stereotypical, but only because the author wants each chapter to be understandable when read in isolation and because stereotyping is the clearest way to make his points.

Rather than focussing specifically on each of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types, the book focuses on the 4 main groups of types, which Keirsey came up with based on Myers-Briggs and earlier research (hope I don’t lose anyone here, if you’ve never read up on the Myers-Briggs personality types here’s a great place to start: Personality Page). The 4 groups are Artisan, Guardian, Idealist and Rationalist (described here: The Keirsey Temperament Sorter).

I’m an Idealist and can completely relate to this general description. I’m also almost certain I’d class as an introvert and perceiving rather than judging, however I can relate to parts of the descriptions for the other types of Idealist too. What’s most important to me is accepting myself as in the general category of Idealist and understanding myself in relation to those around me.

Career is a big issue for me right now, and this book has really helped to shed light on why I feel so unhappy and inauthentic in my current job and why this bothers me so much. It’s also given me some really interesting career ideas and taught me that I do have something unique to offer that many others don’t. I feel like I’m getting a clearer picture of who I am and who I want to be.

Of course personality types can’t explain everything, but the Myers-Briggs system and Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter do seem to be pretty accurate and well-respected. Even when simply used as an insight into preferences and relationships, they’re a great place to start in exploring and accepting differences.

What is authenticity? Who am I?!

These are the questions I’ve been thinking about recently, but where to even start?

what-if-and-why-notDara over at Good at Life has dedicated this month as Authenticity August and it’s great to read her insights and advice and be inspired (I’d really recommend you take a look if you haven’t come across her blog before). One of her first posts of the month talks about letting go of what people think, and until recently I didn’t realise quite how much I struggle with this.

Often if I have an idea I’ll test it out with others, mention it in conversation, looking for confirmation that it ‘fits’ with who other people think I am, that it’s something they encourage and could see me doing. I shouldn’t be doing this. I think we should listen to others, because it’s important to know how we come across to other people and there are often truths in how others see us. But I don’t think we should ever let this dictate our actions or hold us back. We shouldn’t be looking for approval, only insights to help us to come to our own conclusions and enable us to make our own decisions.

Following a job interview where I was asked “what 3 words would family and friends use to describe you?” I decided to actually ask 3 family members to answer this question. After getting pretty positive answers I also asked them for 3 ‘negative’ words to describe me. Sometimes our ‘weaknesses’ can actually reveal our biggest strengths. The answers provided an interesting insight into how I come across to others, and most of them I’d agree with, at least to a certain extent, though some I think only apply in certain contexts.

Authenticity is accepting the good and the bad, strengths and weaknesses, but it’s not about immediately accepting the opinions of others as facts about ourselves and our characteristics. I guess the opinions of others are actually a pretty good insight into how authentic we’re being – how much the way we act reflects our values and who we truly feel we are.

wavesofdoubtauthenticself

I recently attended a meet-up group to discuss personality types. I’ve always found this sort of thing interesting but meeting and learning about the different types was just fascinating.

I’d always thought my type was INFP but, never having done an official Myers-Briggs test, I spoke to some knowledgeable members of the group about this, and was surprised at the suggestion that I could possibly be an ENFP as these types are very close. I’ve always thought of myself as an introvert, and after some more thought I’m almost certain I am, but it’s surprising how much influence your environment can have on who you think you are.

Maybe we’re not necessarily who we’ve grown up to believe we are. We might have to dig a little deeper to find our true authentic selves.

For a more full and detailed explanation of authenticity have a look at what Kevin Rafferty has to say: What is authenticity? and Connecting to your authentic self

The book I needed to read

So looking at my last two posts they’ve been pretty negative. Overly negative. My job situation could be a heck of a lot worse and my colleagues are nice enough really. I’m just frustrated at my current situation and feel so far away from where I want to be.

I first heard about Paul Angone’s book over at StuffGradsLike, then shortly after came across it again at Working Self. With these great reviews I thought it sounded like a pretty good read, but it exceeded my expectations.

I finished it in two sittings (would’ve got through it in one if it wasn’t so late and I wasn’t so tired when I started!). It was such a page turner and just felt so completely relevant to where I am in my life right now. Parts were genuinely funny, and others led to reflection and thinking about things in my own life. It just made me feel so much more positive, and much less alone.

secret#2101 secrets for your twenties

by Paul Angone of AllGroanUp

The great thing about this book is the balance between optimism and realism. Yes your twenties might be hard, and you’re not on your own in feeling like this, but that doesn’t mean you should settle for a mediocre life. You can follow your dreams, it just might not be within the time frame you’d like (secret #19 Our plans aren’t the problem. Our timeline is).

My personal favourite secret is #2 The possibility for greatness and embarrassment both exist in the same space. If you’re not willing to be embarrassed, you’re probably not willing to be great. I fear embarrassment, but I know it’s something that I have to overcome if I’m going to take risks and achieve anything great in my life.

There’s so much good advice packed into this book, yet it never feels like Paul is telling you what you should or shouldn’t be doing. If you’re in your twenties (or even if not!) and feeling a little lost and confused, do get hold of a copy. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

It’s official: I hate my job

dead endOkay, so I have just had a rubbish day at work. But not an awfully or unusually rubbish day, just another bad day of many.

For the first time in my life I’m in a position to say, you know what, I’m not enjoying this and I don’t feel it’s helping me professionally or personally, and I have a choice to leave. All through school and university you’re on a set path – if something’s not working you make small adjustments within that path, like swapping a module, or changing a project or group. But in the world of work there’s no longer that sense of commitment to a set time period. There’s no clear path to follow or ladder to climb.

I miss learning and feeling like I’m really getting somewhere. There’s always a sense of progress with exams and time-frames, whereas in the world of work you make your own targets. I realise I could take a course alongside my job, but I’ve been working so hard to build up experience alongside work that I don’t feel like I have enough time just to relax. It doesn’t feel like there are enough hours in the day to do everything. Busyness is never an excuse. If you want to do something you make time. And I really believe that, but I’m getting stressed out. 8 hours a day, 5 days a week feels like a massive chunk of my life right now.

And everyone’s been talking about Meg Jay and her book. Part of me feels I should read it, part of me wants to avoid it like the plague. I know your twenties are important and aren’t for messing around. I know that professionally and personally it’s the time to start to make sure you get to where you want to be. I know all that and it scares me and stresses me out. I don’t want to read about how behind I am and how much work I have to do in my twenties. I’m already terrified that time’s flying by and I’m getting nowhere.

I’m considering going back to university, but I don’t want to pick that because it’s all I know, I want to pick that if it’s genuinely the right thing for me to do. Because I miss knowledge and learning and academia. From my experiences so far I’m really not sure that the business world is for me. And then there’s teaching, and I like that idea, but am I just clinging onto another thing that’s familiar?

I’m not proud of my job. I want people to ask me what I do and for me to be able to tell them with pride, not embarrassment.

Which would you regret more?

what ifYou regret more the things you didn’t do than the things you did. No, really, you do.

It’s taken me a very long time to even begin to accept this.

Let me give you an example. When I was offered a paid internship that I was really unsure about taking, one of the first things I asked myself – and one of the first things many others asked me when discussing my dilemma – was which choice would I regret more?

Having worked, unpaid, for the company, I knew lots of the good things about them, but also lots of things I didn’t like so much. I’m very much drawn to variety and new things; I’m bad at commitment. And my expectations for a first job were too high.

I tried to picture myself in the role, and rightly or wrongly felt that I would regret taking on something which I felt so very little enthusiasm for. I knew the company was looking for someone to stay on after the internship and I didn’t want to take the position fully intending to leave after the three months and to be actively looking for other opportunities while in the role. I thought I would feel guilty. I thought that would be taking advantage. Except that’s what opportunities are there for – taking advantage of.

Yes, looking back my thinking didn’t make much sense. Even now I have to remind myself that companies don’t have feelings. You can start a job and quit in a month. It’s about you, not them. And you know what else, I might have changed my mind. I might even have grown to like it – first impressions can be wrong. But let’s keep this balanced, intuition can also be pretty accurate, it might not have worked out. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make here.

I turned it around in my head and asked myself – would I regret more taking something with so little conviction, or would I regret more not taking a risk to continue to look for something better. Of course this is rubbish – I could have worked and searched.

We regret more the things we don’t do than the things we do, because it’s the not knowing that drives us crazy, not making a mistake. We can deal with mistakes because we can learn lots from them. All we can learn from ‘what ifs’ is next time,  just give it a go.

Life lessons from the job hunt

hearty-cloud-roadIt’s only now that I have a job that I appreciate not just how frustrating it was not to have one, but also how wildly idealistic I was while searching for one. At the time I clung on to hope, blindly believing that something just right would turn up out of the blue if I waited long enough, but it’s only now that I realise just how overly optimistic I was being (well, overly optimistic in between the odd “no-one is ever going to hire me, I’m going to be unhappily unemployed forever!” breakdown).

Since finally being offered a job that I chose to accept, I’ve continued to check the same job sites (not quite as obsessively and excessively frequently!) but it’s as if my eyes have finally been opened to the fact that it really is just the same old roles coming up again and again. Perfect positions don’t just miraculously appear – and even if one did, I can almost guarantee I wouldn’t recognise it!

Maybe the lack of variety in openings is partly due to the economic climate, but it doesn’t change the fact that I never really knew what I was searching for, yet I still expected to find it.

The number of options out there is ridiculous, and I struggle to see how graduates could be fully prepared for the working world when faced with what feels like endless possibilities. Maybe there isn’t much more that can be done. Maybe it’s just one of those periods of life that you have to go through to work out the realities of adult life for yourself.

I’m ever hopeful, but sometimes I think that maybe I’m a little too hopeful. I said in a recent post that you’ve got to believe things will work out. And I believe that you do. But you’ve also got to accept that they’re going to work out imperfectly, and that it’s going to take time, some risks and a lot of learning and adapting.

Not so great expectations

I was looking through some old school reports the other day. Back at school the teachers knew and supported everyone, and had high hopes for many of those they taught, but from university onwards each student becomes more and more anonymous.

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Well it would certainly be a conversation starter…

My tutor at university was great, I remember him telling me that I could do anything I wanted when I left. Nothing at all to do with my intelligence – one of his suggestions was joining the circus and another was becoming a weather girl! I think he was really just trying to say ‘the world is your oyster’.

Then you start applying for jobs and you realise just how big a pond you’re in, and just how small a fish you really are. And even once you’ve got that first job, there’s always that niggling feeling – is this really it? Can’t I do something better than this? Aren’t I destined to do something more meaningful?

And it begins to feel like you’re not living up to your potential. All of that talk of becoming an artist, a doctor, a teacher – whatever good solid, or even dream, job you thought you might end up with when you’d finished your education – has gone out the window, and worst of all, no-one really seems to care what you do or become anymore. You’re told you’re lucky to have any job in this economic climate, that it’ll ‘work out eventually’, that no-one really knows what they want to do.

Those dreams of doing amazing things, of travelling, of excitement, of adventure… “Oh yeah, you want to do that? Sure, you do that one day,” they say. Well I want to remind everyone, and myself, that we’re not here to live up to other people’s expectations of us; we’re here to live up to our own expectations for ourselves, so we better make them high.

pacific-blue-eye-really-is-a-small-fish-in-a-big-pond

Being a small fish in a big pond doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Should to could to want to would

nevertoolate

A post by Beautiful Nothingness got me thinking, this quote in particular stood out:

“The more time you spend thinking about where you should be, what you should be doing and who you should be doing it with, the more disappointed you will be with your life. When you finally start concentrating on what you WANT out of life, and the things that need to change for you to get what you want, the closer you get to true happiness and overcoming your quarterlife crisis.”

I’d like to add a couple more verbs to the equation.

The way I see it, should implies external expectations. Should is negative and disempowering. Should is about what other people expect of you and not what you want for yourself.

The first step forward is to change should to could. Could suggests possibilities, options and freedom. You could follow expectations but you could pick your own alternatives.

Would means starting to think realistically and solidly. But would comes up with excuses (would if…) and would can be vague and lack conviction (would like).

Then comes want – it can be selfish and demanding but it’s authentic and purposeful. Want signifies control. Want is as decisive as could is indecisive.

So when you next find yourself thinking I should make this particular choice, I should already have done this, I should be like this, first say I could make this choice, I could have done this, I could become like this (or I could choose otherwise). Let go of expectations and give yourself options. Then explore your reasoning and sound out your excuses, I would choose this if…, I would already have done this if…, I would become like this if…. But focus on solutions instead of problems. Then, most importantly, ask what do I want? And then you choose. I want to make this choice, I want to do this next time, I want to be like this in future.

Life’s not about shoulds or woulds; it’s about wants and coulds.