A quick Christmas message

playingsmallnelsonmandelaI’ve just realised that it’s been 14 days since my last post and, as silly as it may seem, I’m not about to give up my at least one post a fortnight rule this close to a new year. So Happy Christmas everyone, and thanks for reading!

As the New Year approaches I know I need to keep reminding myself to keep motivated and stay focussed. I wish all the best to anyone else going through a period of transition – it’s tough working things out and I know I sometimes just feel like I’m going round in circles, but we’ll get there. After all, you can’t have a good story without a good struggle :)

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.

Failure (and when to quit)

Quitting isn’t always failing. There are times when it really is the right and best thing to do. Working out whether the choice to quit is a logically or authentically good or bad one is the difficult part.

Scott Dinsmore, founder of Live Your Legend, created the Should I Quit My Job quiz. It’s great to get you thinking about your work and what it is (or isn’t) doing for you. My result was 105/130, but of course I knew it would be high, I’ve already quit.

Last week I went to watch a day of TEDx talks on the topic of failure. I learnt how government drug policies fail young people, how war is a failure of humanity caused by leaders who aren’t prepared to fail themselves, how universities are failing to teach medical students the importance of openly talking about their failures, how we’re failing by valuing protection over connection in our relationships.

Success-consists-ofBut I also learnt how we should embrace failure, share failure, open ourselves to the world of rejection, practice failing, and that failure is a sign that we’ve surpassed ourselves, that it’s just a process we go through to get to where we want to be, that we should just learn to fail a bit better next time around.

We’re taught that making mistakes is bad, that we should never make poor decisions, that we must always strive to get things right. Except that’s not teaching us resilience. That’s not teaching us how to learn and move forward. You’ve got to build failure into your plans, because it’s going to happen. You show up and you make your own choices, but you can’t control anything else, failure is just experience.

So I want to leave you with a little technique for accepting failure and moving on, something to help us fail fast and learn quick: The Failure Bow: Matt Smith at TEDx

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?

positivity-text

The truth about choices

everythingisgoingtobejustfineI did a mini-series on decision making a while ago and came across varying opinions on what it takes to be a good decision maker. Except I’m not sure that I truly fully support the conclusions I came to at that time.

My main issue is the distinction between rational logic and ‘irrational’ emotions. Because all irrational means is without logic, yet it’s often construed as really negative. One definition of irrational is ‘Without normal mental clarity or sound judgement’, but where does authenticity fit in with this? Can you make an irrational choice that at the same time comes with emotional clarity and authentic judgement?

Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal did a TED talk titled How to make stress you friend, and right at the end she said:

Chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort. That’s the best way to make decisions. Go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.

So maybe logic, aka stress avoidance in this context, isn’t always the answer. Because doesn’t chasing meaning mean being authentic and true to yourself and your deeper values and emotions?

And I guess this also comes back to the question of whether you can have both happiness and meaning. If striving for meaning creates stress, then maybe the choice we need to make is whether we allow this stress to make us unhappy.

If we choose meaning and authenticity and embrace the stress, the discomfort, the uncertainty, then surely this is the only way to find true fulfillment and happiness?

2.5 to 3 years

3yearscakeThis is the amount of time a number of people I know have been in the same job for. One of them enjoys their job so this is pretty good for her, but a few of the others say they have good days when it all seems just about ok and bad days when they just want to quit. But it’s comfortable, it’s easy, it’s money. So they struggle through the bad times and stay put. You should just be lucky to have a job and appreciate what you’ve got right?

Wrong. Let’s look at some great advice from Paul Angone (hope he doesn’t mind me paraphrasing):

The most dangerous job you can have in your 20s is a comfortable one. Comfortable is quicksand – the job you never wanted becoming the job you can’t escape. There is a stark cost for time wasted on comfortable: you don’t learn; you don’t refine who you are or what you’re capable of; remove challenges, remove growth.

You feel drained by doing nothing (mushy mind syndrome – you can spread one hour’s work over eight). Like a carousel ride that nevers stops spinning. Jump and roll. “We want to promote you” is the phrase you fear most. Quit comfortable before it’s too late.

I’ve jumped off the carousel and I’m rolling right about now. I’ve written a post explaining my current situation, but I still haven’t worked out whether I’m up to publishing it yet.

  • I won’t let myself become the person who’s been in a mediocre, non-challenging job for over a year.
  • I won’t let myself be the person who’s afraid of taking a risk and making their 20s count.
  • I won’t be the person who just sits back and lets life happen.

I’m often told finding the right work for you is just as much about luck and accidents as planning. But we make our own luck by meeting new people, trying new things out and taking risks, not by staying in the same place with the same people while our minds go mushy.

Staying focussed

And now another little book review…

The quest for fulfilling work

fulfillingworkbook(How to find fulfilling work, by Roman Krznaric)

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labour and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both. – François-René de Chateaubriand, French writer

Love this quote. This is exactly what I’m aiming for in life.

I appreciate it’s a pretty hefty goal, but one that I think’s worth working towards.

This might not be a life changing book, but there are some good little lessons in it. The conclusion talks about growing a vocation, rather than finding one. Roman says that the three key factors for fulfilling work are:

  1. Meaning – to be fulfilling your work has to have meaning for you, you have to believe in what you’re doing every day
  2. Flow – that state where you’re so engrossed in your work that time just flies by. It’s never going to feel that easy all day every day, but a bit of flow during parts of your work is definitely important
  3. Freedom – no-one wants to feel boxed in by rules and routine, there’s got to be some flexibility

Roman goes on to say that the way to find a career that fulfills the above three factors is to carry out:

  • Branching projects – like writing a blog alongside your day job, freelancing on the side or starting a small scale business that you run evenings and weekends
  • Conversational research – a personal favourite technique (if you ever meet me you can guarantee I’ll be asking for your full career history and the pros and cons of every job you’ve ever had!)
  • Radical sabbatical – I particularly like this last one, but it is difficult to put into action for most people. Going part time while carrying out work experience/ shadowing/ informational interviews/ voluntary work could be the most plausible path

There are great fulfilling jobs out there, it just takes a bit of experimentation to find them.