If you don’t like the world you see, change the prescription of your glasses – (Chu, 1995, p41)
The above quote, for me, is mainly about choice, what you actively choose to focus on and, consequently, where you decide to direct your energy and time. Getting this right may help you make the time to pursue the things that will lift and inspire you and actively seek new and fresh perspectives.
Some of this will involve your ‘self-talk’, the things you habitually say to yourself. For example, when I am feeling drained, I can find myself repeatedly saying, ‘I am so tired’, which is pretty accurate. But repeating this phrase doesn’t help me feel better about myself or my situation. All it seems to do is keep me ‘stuck’ in not such a great place. I might be better off saying, ‘I need to rest and recharge,’ and then actively planning how to get the rest I need.
So, take the time over the next few days to notice the messages you habitually send yourself and their effect on you. What are you choosing to dwell on?
Also, consider what others might be picking up from you. Are you inadvertently leaking or sending out ‘unhelpful’ or negative messages? Are you noticing a tendency to focus on your problems rather than on possible solutions and opportunities? There’s a balance between recognising a problem and then deciding to focus on getting through.
You might also find it helpful to consider whether you are naturally more predisposed to thinking things are generally within your control (Internal locus of control) or outside of your control (External locus of control).
People with an internal locus of control generally feel more in control of their destinies. They tend to attribute their success and achievements to their efforts and typically identify and take the control they can in any situation. They are more likely to be happier, less depressed and less stressed.
However, people with an external locus of control generally feel that they are at the mercy of fate and there is little they can do to change things. They can find it challenging to identify and take the control that is available to them. They may use negative ‘self-talk’ to maintain their position and stay in a state of ‘victimhood.’
If you tend to have an external locus of control, you may need to work a little harder to refocus and learn to identify ways to take control. Some strategies for this include:
1) Recognising you have a choice – you just may not like the available choices.
2) When feeling trapped, brainstorm ideas on your own or with a friend. Be playful and open. The one idea that initially sounds ‘crazy’ might be the thing that will move you forward.
3) Once you have your ideas, use different stances to explore each one. You could take the perspective of a Dreamer, Realist and Cynic to examine and evaluate the pros and cons of each one.
4) Notice your language – instead of saying,’ I have no choice, or I can’t,’ change it to ‘I choose not to, or I don’t like my choices, I will explore further.’
Find a hobby, an alternative focus that absorbs and engages you.
Find the things that give you joy and make the time to do them.
Look for the humour, the comedy in situations. Most situations will have one, even if you have to dig it out
Look for ways to be creative and playful
Find gratitude; ask yourself what am I grateful for today?
Use quotes and affirmations to shift your focus and broaden your perspective; Tomorrow is another day is a favourite of mine.
Seek out those things that uplift you:- this can be as simple as looking out of the window at some clear blue sky.
So, in terms of your focus:
What do you need to let go of? – What unhelpful language, phrases, and beliefs?
What do you need to take on? – What activities and people renew your perspective?
Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. – Carl Sandburg
I would also say be careful not to allow ‘things’ – social media, binge TV etc. to spend it for you.
So what do I mean by time management?
The phrase ‘less is more’ sums it up for me – where you find ways to work with your natural rhythms and avoid cramming your day with a long list of (uninspiring and uninteresting) tasks or desperately trying to manage everything at the same time.
If you were a gym member, you wouldn’t usually spend hours working on just one part of your body. Most of us would go along and use a variety of machines to exercise different muscles in different ways.
The same principle applies to how we use our brains. Give different parts of your brain – time to rest and recharge. Allow ‘greater space’ for your brain to do what comes naturally, ‘problem solve’. In other words, start learning to ‘get out of your own way’.
Allow time for different types of thinking: relaxed, creative, focused, and concentrated. Identify when you are most alert and creative and use this to your advantage.
David Rock, Your Brain at Work
Managing your time and energy is not just about getting stuff done but getting the right stuff done at the right time. It is about having the time and energy to do more of the things you want to do.
Think of yourself as a ‘dancer’ with one partner at a time rather than a ‘juggler’, constantly worrying about dropping the ball.
To achieve this, you will need to decide to focus on one thing at a time – give it your undivided attention so you increase your chances of getting it done in a shorter time.
Splitting your attention over several tasks while trying to multitask is ineffective.
It’s not just about your time, it’s about your focus and attention, and it seems that time spent without these can turn a task into something that drags on and on.
So why not have a look at your ‘to-do’ list and ask yourself:
Is this a task that needs to be done?
If yes, am I the only person able or the best person to complete it?
If yes, when will I get it done, and what will completing this task enable me to do?
Go through each of your tasks and see how your list looks now.
Stop it: – what would happen?
Delegate it, but don’t dump: – who else could do it and benefit?
Partner with someone: – it might be quicker and more fun to work with someone else
Partner it with another activity/task: – for me, singing and or listening to music and cooking go nicely together
Plan your time and stick to your plan; you may be surprised by how much you can get done in fifteen minutes of focused attention.
Identify and make time for those activities that you enjoy and that give you a boost.
So, in terms of your time:
What do you need to let go of? – Do you need to do it all?
What do you need to take on? – Who else can help and support?
Do not draw your sword to kill a fly – Korean proverb
Or I could ask, how wisely are you using the energy you have? Are you squandering it, fighting battles that are no longer relevant?
This month I want to focus on ensuring we all have the energy to live fully.
Generally, we use the word energy to describe the idea of vigour, movement and vitality, which has the power to exert and make a change.
It is about having that ‘spark’, that extra ‘zing’ in your step. Because without your spark, you might feel like you are ‘wading through treacle’ with barely enough energy to cope with what’s on your plate.
So, take a moment to consider what metaphor or image you would use to describe yourself when your energy is high, and you have your ‘spark. It might help to either write/ draw your metaphor or image.
Now also take a moment to consider the image or metaphor you would use to describe yourself when your energy is low, and your ‘mojo’ has gone missing. What do you notice? Are there some similarities between the two, or are they completely different? What might tip you from one to the other?
When I was younger, I had ‘bags’ of energy and ran around climbing all sorts of ‘mountains’ simply because they were there. In those days, I had the time and energy to get away with it. Now, I am more aware that my time and energy are finite and that I must choose where to direct my energy and focus to the best advantage. Sometimes this involves putting myself first and simply saying no to requests from family, friends, colleagues etc.
So how do you know when your energy is at the right level? What do you notice about yourself? Where do you feel it physically? My stomach is a good indicator for me, and this is where I will feel it when I’m not entirely operating at my peak – when my energy is low, there is often a corresponding dip in mood.
So, what could you try to give yourself a boost?
Enjoy a physical change of scene – maybe it is time to book that holiday.
Get moving – even if it is up and down the stairs
Make it a priority to get outside each day and appreciate the outdoors.
Take regular breaks – time to ‘be’.
Find a hobby, a pastime, an alternative focus that absorbs and engages you.
Make a list of five energy drainers – then do something about them. (A cluttered desk and a wardrobe full of unworn clothes are two of mine.)
As much as you can, make sure you are eating a well-balanced and nutritional diet.
Check in with your doctor – if you are still worried about your energy levels.
So, in terms of your energy:
What do you need to let go of? – are you using your sword to kill flies?
What do you need to take on? – what activities will help recharge you?
‘Instead of seeing the rug being pulled from under us, we can learn to dance on a shifting carpet’ – Thomas F. Crum.
When asked to write about this topic, I thought long and hard about how to approach it. And yes, we can talk about a world filled with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA) – but why use an acronym when you can paint a picture with a metaphor?
Besides, the quote by Crum always makes me smile as I imagine myself hopping and skipping about on my own carpet.
Today, we need people who are both able and enabled to manage change, complexity, and uncertainty.
Who wants to work in a place where everyone is wading through treacle? Because things have always been done in a certain way, or it is too risky to attempt something new because there is little positive engagement with senior management. Or perhaps it is quicker and easier to direct than coach someone through a situation.
So, what are you doing as a leader?
Is it time to ask yourself – whether you are building bridges or walls? Whether you are growing more leaders or just more followers.
Not an easy thing to do if we consider that leaders need to achieve a balance between meeting short-term objectives and supporting/developing their people for the long term. It can often seem easier and quicker to tell than to coach.
But if you intend to grow more leaders and support and develop your employees, you may need to become a leader who coaches.
The real power behind coaching lies in the questions asked. And answers each person sets out to find. Questions are at the heart of coaching, and the right ones can uncover how someone thinks and what they know. They can lead to greater engagement and allow people to hear themselves think.
Thoughtful, challenging, and contextual questions can lead to better answers as people:
Shift their perspectives
Stretch and grow in their thinking
Open and expand possibilities
Challenge long-held ideas and beliefs
Reflect so they can either slow things down or speed things up
Gain deeper insight into a situation
Serendipitously, I discovered Amy Brann’s article. ‘The power of Questions,’ while scrolling through my LinkedIn feed, and I was intrigued by the three questions she posed:
What were the last questions you asked someone?
What do you usually give more thought or time to, the answers you give or your question? Why?
When did you last sit down and mind wander through a series of questions, not worrying about the answers but instead getting lost in where the questions could take you?
These questions are an excellent start if you are considering how you can bring more coaching into your leadership style. As a bit of a daydreamer, I am drawn to the third question.
There are, of course, a whole range of coaching programmes and interventions, but whatever you choose, the key will be to practice and apply. And because I can’t help myself, I am a coach after all – here are a few questions to consider if you are thinking about becoming a leader who coaches:
Self-awareness and feedback
How aware are you of your influence and impact on others?
What style of leadership do you customarily adopt?
When was the last time you sought feedback, 360 degrees or otherwise?
Where are your strengths as a leader, and how often do they show up?
It is worth thinking about vulnerability and trust; how much of yourself are you keeping hidden?
Your leadership style –
How well are you listening to the people around you?
Which voices are you listening to? The loudest, the ones most like you? Those telling you what you want to hear?
How diverse is the lens through which you are looking?
How much rapport and trust is there within your team?
How well do you know their strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations?
How much do they know about you?
How active are you in harnessing the talent within your team?
What might you be missing?
These questions all lead to accessibility and trust, and from my own experience, two leaders come to mind when I think about this:
The first walked in as I was being interviewed for my first full-time job – on hearing that I spoke German, he immediately switched languages and asked me a question (just as well, I told the truth on my CV). He seemed reasonably satisfied with my answer, which was the first of many encounters during my time at that organisation. He was regularly on the shop floor, wandering around the offices, and it was not unusual for him to stop and chat with whoever he came across, including yours truly.
The second, who, even after five years, I barely spoke to – was hidden mainly away either in his office or behind the same small group of people. When I queried this with my boss, I was told, ‘he’s a bit shy.’ I was not impressed then, and it would not impress me now.
Your leadership values –
What does leadership mean to you?
What brings out the leader in you? What is your why as a leader?
Which of your values plays the most significant part in your leadership?
How does a coaching approach fit with your values?
What sort of environment are you creating?
Are people surviving or thriving within your organisation?
What would it take for people to thrive and flourish?
Our values are the things we believe are important in how we live and work. They run through us like writing through a ‘stick of rock’, and we probably take them for granted until they are under threat and boy, do we then sit up and take notice. They may be so central to the way we live that, almost like ‘breathing’, we probably don’t fully notice them until they are under threat.
So, if you want to revisit your values and how they relate to your leadership, consider MindTools ‘What are your Values?
Seeing Amy Brann’s article, The Power of Questions, made me think how helpful it might be to review and consider the questions we are already asking. Audit or review the questions we are asking ourselves and the answers and responses we are getting.
What questions are you asking?
How many questions are you asking – hourly, daily?
How are they advancing your understanding of your team and their capabilities?
What reactions/responses do you get to the questions you ask?
Are your questions open and expansive, or are they shutting people down?
How are you framing the questions you are asking?
What type of questions makes you most uncomfortable?
And finally, here are six quotes that speak to me about leadership and how to be a leader who coaches:
Whenever you write or say anything at work, be thoughtful, be clear and be human – Charlie Corbett
Seek first to understand, then to be understood – Stephen Covey, habit five.
Tell me, and I forget, teach me, and I may remember, involve me, and I learn – Benjamin Franklin.
You can have courage, or you can have comfort, but you can’t have both – Brene Brown
The best listeners – listen between the lines – Nina Malkin
Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say – Andy Stanley
Where do you find your joy? What does a joyful you look and sound like once you have found it?
My message for this post is simply this, find those activities that bring you joy, and then do them – no excuses, no procrastination, no waiting for that perfect moment. Because I think now more than ever, finding joy and contentment is a radical and defiant act.
So, what brings you joy?
I find joy in having the freedom to engage in activities that leave me energized, fulfilled, connected and in the moment.
Activities that get me out of my head work for me – like playing the piano. I cannot play while thinking about something else. Practising different pieces requires my full attention. Playing a piece of music without hesitation or error for the first time – knowing that I have taught myself is also joyful.
Or as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the father of ‘flow’ describes it:
…being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.
As I grow older, I have become more and more confident about finding my joy and determined to make it a daily part of my life. Because if I don’t, who else will?
So, in no particular order, here are a few of the things that bring me joy:
Free-flow writing where my thoughts can tumble onto a page.
Creating stories that appear humdrum but have a bit of magic thrown in – accounts that are a little quirky, where I can lose myself. Writing stories provides a focus for a busy mind – genies in kettles, interviews with slugs, you get the picture.
Juggling different ideas and perspectives for work and play.
Journaling and setting my experiences down on paper – currently, I am writing a collection of stories loosely based on my time as an undergraduate engineer. Once I have finished part one, I have plans for part two.
Diving into a book that absorbs and engages me – I am currently rereading the Thomas Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantel. It is another source of escapism for me, and if you want to read the fan fiction I have written, click here Cards on the table and A Strange Comfort.
Allowing my thoughts to wander – I am a big daydreamer.
Watching my daughter ready herself for university after a tough couple of years – sometimes, your pathway is a squiggle rather than a straight line.
Posting my blogs, Pittabread, Careeresilience and Shortstoriesblogger, is deeply satisfying. Each time I press the publish button, I experience a sense of achievement, and I am proud to have kept this up for over ten years.
Clear blue skies on a meeting-free day, where I don’t need to be anywhere, I can ‘potter’ around in my own time, space, and schedule.
Early starts in the garden before it gets too warm – to listen to the birdsong as I prune and tidy.
Being part of a diverse group of coaches – something I did not realize I needed until I became a member. You can find out more here.
So, how can finding joy help with your work and career?
Or another question I could ask is:
How do you experience being at your best, and what do you notice about yourself?
When operating at my best, I experience a level of ‘calmness’ and ‘focused energy that seems to come from within. I become aware that I am moving through the situation or task with grace and ease and completely absorbed and engaged. Very similar to my description of joy.
And I think it is worth repeating; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s description of ‘flow’:
…being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.
As you read this description, can you identify with it regarding your daily work? Can you recall such ‘flow ‘moments in past or current roles? The last line is particularly intriguing:
‘Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.’
I wonder how many of us are experiencing ‘flow’ at work, and if not, what would it take to change this? How many of us can say we regularly use our skills to the utmost?
Interestingly, Csikszentmihalyi also suggests three conditions for achieving ‘flow:
The activity has clear goals and milestones to give it direction and structure.
Feedback is clear and immediate, so the individual can adjust their performance and maintain the flow.
There is the right balance between perceived challenge and perceived skill to meet the challenge.
I believe that moments of ‘flow’ in life and work are essential, even if they are seemingly fleeting. It gives us something to strive and hope for. They can help us see that we can achieve a sense of mastery, contentment, and joy over what we are doing. Perhaps a sense of purpose as we recognize that our role is bigger than us.
I am updating and sharing this again this month as SWOT Analysis consistently pops up in my client discussions.
The purpose of the SWOT technique is to help you focus on a decision or goal that allows you to systematically list all the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with a specific course of action or situation.
It can help you take a step back and evaluate a course of action/specific situation regarding the opportunities and threats in relation to your strengths and weaknesses.
You may find it helpful to describe the situation in some detail, perhaps as though you are talking to someone else.
Try to be as open-minded as possible as you work through each section.
Be as analytical and specific as you can
Record all thoughts and ideas
Take a wide-ranging view of external influences and trends
Don’t try to disguise weaknesses
Don’t just merely list errors and mistakes
Don’t ignore the outcomes at later stages of your planning
Strengths – positive internal aspects that are under your control, things you can exercise and things that are particularly useful within the situation you find yourself. Something that you can capitalize on and use to exploit the opportunities that you have identified.
What strengths do you have that will be specifically helpful in this situation that will move you forward? What can you bring to the table that will help with this situation?
Weaknesses – negative internal aspects under your control that you can plan to improve or minimize. Something that you can mitigate in pursuit of the opportunities.
What weaknesses are most likely to cause problems?
What opportunities does this situation present, and what might you be missing?
What specific threats does this situation hold for you?
Situation/Course of action
To grow existing coaching business within a Lockdown environment. No face-to-face, for the foreseeable future, no workshops.
Strengths Adaptable and flexible Prepared to take a risk Will persevere in the face of adversity Good list of contacts Strong social media/online presence Existing blogs can be repurposed and made relevant
Weaknesses/Challenges A tendency to jump in too quickly Not enough experience in direct marketing Reluctance at times to put head above the parapet Not a clear enough proposition
Opportunities Freelance writing, online courses, webinars – grit and resilience Contacts, networks from past courses Past client’s LinkedIn collaborations? Hone online presentation skills Speaking/presenting online
Threats Current economic climate Low energy Lack of strategic purpose/focus Lack of planning All eggs in one basket
Questions you can consider with your SWOT.
What can I do now with what I currently have?
What resources do I have? What resources do I need?
Who can help?
Who could I collaborate with?
Which of my strengths will play the most prominent role in developing and exploiting an opportunity?
Have I missed anything? Is there an opportunity hidden, buried in this situation?
Are there any correlations between my weaknesses and Strengths?
Correlations between opportunities and threats?
What patterns am I noticing?
Which weaknesses are likely to have the most significant impact?
Are all my weaknesses equal?
What would happen if I did nothing?
How can I mitigate my weaknesses?
Where do I need to prioritize?
Can I quantify and scale the opportunities?
Which is the most attractive to me?
Which am I drawn to?
How can I prioritize them?
The value of SWOT Analysis is in how you interrogate the situation you find yourself in and the action it inspires in you. I am delighted to share that the opportunities came along and I am still making the most of them.
This month is all about helping you become more strategic and proactive in managing your career and developing the habits that put you in the best possible place to thrive in your career.
As a career coach who has worked with individuals and groups from varying industries, I’d like to see more people manage their careers and lives with greater confidence, energy, and focus.
So, here are the habits as I see them:
Habit One: – Take ownership
Take ownership of your career; the person who has the biggest stake in your career is you. Be realistic and honest with yourself about where the responsibility lies. You may need to be the one who initiates feedback sessions from your boss, manager, or colleague, the one who asks for involvement in an exciting project, some additional responsibility. But do so with a plan – some ideas, some solutions up your sleeve.
Decide what career success looks like and what it means for you. Make sure your ladder is propped up against the right wall. Define what success means to you. It needs to be your vision, no one else’s. It also needs to align with your values and purpose. But do not confuse success with accomplishments; see Terina Allen’s article on Career Success to find out more.
Recognise that your definition and your vision of career success may change as you progress and gain more experience.
And then, you might also want to take ownership of your reputation and brand.
Learn to think of yourself as a brand. If you had to design a marketing campaign for yourself, what key messages would you want to get across? Become comfortable with knowing and, just as importantly, being able to talk fluently and with conviction about your strengths and achievements.
What story are you telling about yourself?
Habit Two: – Build a network
Build and maintain a sustainable and robust network. Form relationships based on genuine interests and liking, and be prepared to offer help and receive it. Building successful relationships is always a two-way process; you never know when someone might be in a position to provide that crucial bit of help, and just as importantly, there may be a time when that person is you.
Include within your network a mentor, accountability buddy or group where you can regularly share ideas —people who know and respect you enough to ask some tough and challenging questions.
Many of my closest friends are ex-colleagues who have helped me both professionally and personally over the years. When I became self-employed in 2000, my first bit of paid work was through a colleague I first met in the early 90s. And in the last three years, opportunities to become involved in some exciting projects are due to someone I first worked with over ten years ago.
The maxim is not what you know but who you know – is as valid today as it ever was. And I love Cheryl Amyx’s advice, ‘imagine your heart is smiling,’ when feeling at a loss for words at a networking event. You can access the article here, how to Network on Purpose.
And if you are going to build a sustainable network based on genuine relationships, you need to pay attention and listen. I can’t tell you how offputting it is when people talk at me rather than with me, either online or in person.
So I was delighted to find an article on wholehearted listening and the difference it can make, all based on the Chinese character for listening. You can read the article on Wholehearted Listening here.
Habit Three: Take stock
Take regular stock of where you are with your work and career, both emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually. Are you still excited by your work? Is it challenging, or are you becoming bored and jaded with it? Maybe you feel trapped inside a ‘velvet rut’ – comfortable but not progressing or being stretched?
If you are not springing out of bed in the mornings? Is work a drag? Pinpoint causes of dissatisfaction and satisfaction and see what you can do to minimise one and enhance the other. Identify those aspects of your role that make your heart sing – is there a way to do more? Recognise those aspects that make your heart sink – it might not be possible to remove them altogether, but can they be reduced? Can you wrap them up with those things that you do enjoy?
One alternative is to look for things outside work that challenge and stretch you, though this may only be a short to medium-term solution. In the longer term, you may need to decide to move on.
It might also be helpful to check in with your values. Are they aligned with those of your organisation? With the role you are performing. If you want to look at this in more detail, read my article on energy, engagement, and enjoyment.
Habit Four: Audit your skills
Carry out regular audits of your skills and knowledge. Ask yourself; what can I do now that I couldn’t four or six months ago? What achievements can I add to my CV? It might even be worth setting up a learning file or a journal so that you can keep track and reference when needed. Far too often, people are drifting without knowing where they are going.
Regular check-ins will enable you to track progress, identify potential gaps and keep up-to-date. Otherwise, the danger is you trundle on in the same vein while the rest of the world moves on.
So ask yourself– what new skills have I acquired? What new knowledge? How am I applying the skills I already have? How am I innovating with them? If there are gaps, how can I acquire what I need? How relevant am I staying?
Now, of course, participating in training and development is excellent – but there is danger in stockpiling learning and new knowledge and not practising at the earliest opportunity. And I am a little guilty of this – so consider, ‘just in time learning.’ As you learn, think about how you will apply it and when. Practice and application will both embed the learning and increase your skill level.
Habit Five: Seek feedback
Finally, seek as much feedback as you can from people you trust and respect – people who will help you identify your strengths and potential gaps in your knowledge and skills. The Incompetence/competence model shows that we don’t always know what we don’t know. Actively seeking feedback will help you identify areas where you can improve, understand possible new areas of strengths, and identify areas for improvement.
What are they, and how do you know when you have had one? Do you realise in hindsight or in the moment? Are they internal, private shifts, or visible to others? Whichever it is, a career-defining moment often sparks a change sets off a chain of events, even if you are not fully aware of why.
It could be that moment when time stops, and in the stillness, you recognise a profound truth – ‘I need to get the f**k out of here.’ Or the less sweary version, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ Maybe in light of the Pandemic and The Great Resignation, this is what is happening to more and more people. Something is shifting for the many.
During my career, one of the times I realised it was time to move on was when a long-standing colleague announced he was leaving (we shared an office for four years). That was when I felt it was time for me to start making plans as I couldn’t see how it was possible to stay, to remain with that employer for the long term. And at the time, I was aware of the shift – a sense of panic that something needed to change, which is how I ended up working for myself.
But then some moments occur in hindsight – they pass almost unnoticed, as an imperceptible internal shift that compels you to start taking action. Almost like a piece of grit inside the shell of an oyster that over time becomes a pearl. When you look back you can then trace your progress from that moment onwards.
Career-Defining moments compel you to do something, though not necessarily straight away. Sometimes a seed is planted; that is enough to trigger a series of small actions. You find your feet moving in a specific direction, down a particular path. Almost as if they have a life of their own. It is a compulsion that you cannot ignore. With an earlier employer, I found myself looking to retrain when another colleague left; it made me realise that I had become too comfortable.
And, of course, career-defining moments can occur in the open for all to see. The critical thing is the significance for you, and it may be that its significance/importance only becomes apparent over time.
Public career-defining moments might include the following:
The meeting when you offered a ground-breaking idea.
The presentation where you nailed it, and people started to see you differently.
The time where you stepped forward, took charge, led an initiative that showed others what you were capable of doing.
Funnily enough, I first came across the idea of defining moments while on a screenwriting course almost two years ago. Our tutor described them as – the moment that drives change in the protagonist. Because in most good films, there is always that moment where the protagonist recognises that something has to change.
Examples from two of my favourite films
Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium – Molly Malone decides to believe in the magical abilities of the Concrieve Cube (otherwise known as a block of wood). And in doing so she finally believes in her own powers and can do what is needed to bring the shop back to life.
Shawshank redemption – Andy Dufrense, played by Tim Robbins, decides to escape after one beating too many at the harsh and corrupt prison where he is serving life for the murder of his wife.
Incidentally, this film also contains one of the most moving scenes I have ever seen, when ‘Andy’ discovers a box of records and picks out one to play through the prison loudspeaker system. So that for just a few minutes every prisoner can hear the music of Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’, and it seems that for a moment every prisoner is set ‘free’, absolutely stunning!
So looking back over your working life career, can you identify your career-defining moments – an event/feeling that drove you to make a change, caused a shift, set you on a path?
I could not quite believe how a US boss chose to fire 900 people over Zoom. Is this the way things are moving now? You can read the full story here. Though I hasten to add, this couldn’t happen in quite the same way in the UK because of current employment legislation.
But the incident of Vishal Garg’s approach to his staff reminded me of a post I first wrote in 2015, relating to the British election and what happens when people suddenly and publicly lose their role.
The lessons are very similar. How do you bounce back after something entirely outside of your control? How do you ‘pull yourself together and successfully manage your way through such a ‘sudden’ and ‘disruptive’ change?
So, as a career coach who has coached people through redundancy, here are some of my thoughts:
Note your feelings– in the immediate aftermath, don’t rely on or trust your emotions to make any significant decisions or rush you into action. They are likely to take you on a bit of a roller coaster. Allow yourself the time you need to respond, not just react.
Know your friends – be realistic and appreciative of your real friends and supporters. Now is the time when you will learn who your real friends are. Prepare to be surprised, sometimes pleasantly, sometimes not quite so
Support – seek out the people you know will be there for you, no matter what, regardless of your status, role or position. Most likely, these are the same people who were there when you weren’t riding so high and are probably ready and waiting to offer you support.
Acceptance – find a way of looking the situation in the eye and facing the current reality. Remaining in a prolonged state of denial is unlikely to help you in the long term, even if it feels easier to stick your head in the sand’ until it all goes away.
Take your time – when you are in a place where you can reflect, take the opportunity to review your time, the highs and lows, the achievements, and the lessons learnt. Consider what you can or perhaps need to ‘let go of’ as well as those things you might choose to hold onto or take on.
Accept what you were responsible for, the good, the bad and the ugly, learn the lessons and then decide to move on.
You are greater than the ‘sum of your parts’– Remember who you are. We are all greater than the jobs and roles we have. Now might be time to review how much your self-identity is tied to, invested in your position?
Be grateful – use breathing exercises to help you become more mindful of what you already have, what you can be thankful for even in the smallest moments. Do this every day.
Look after yourself– if you haven’t already been doing this, now is the time to start looking after yourself in all the different ways you possibly can, physically, emotionally, spiritually and psychologically.
Find a mentor – look at how others have managed a successful transition. Seek out and talk with the people that have been where you are and completed a successful transition.
Get through it – make the conscious decision that you will get through with grace, style and humility. At this stage, don’t worry about the how. Decide on the outcome you want because if you allow yourself to get ‘bogged’ down in the how at too early a stage, you are likely to tie yourself up with worry and anxiety when the way forward is not clear.
Establish a basis of faith in yourself first. If it helps find a phrase, quote, piece of scripture, picture anything that will help to anchor you when you start to feel overwhelmed.
Find something that will help anchor you for the coming days, weeks and months.
Be gentle with yourself. You are doing the best you can – Paulo Coelho.
Paul Coelho’s quote feels highly relevant right now, particularly as the world of work seems to have turned on its head during the past eighteen months.
It is an excellent reminder that we all need to practice some self-care and some self-compassion. So, I was delighted this month to take part in a panel discussion with executive coaches Jenny Garrett, Carol Stewart, Leyla Okhai and Obehi Alofoje on Avoiding Burnout in a 24/7 work culture.
Avoid Overwhelm – if you can, build elasticity into your diary. Leave some gaps. Easier to slot things into existing gaps if required.
Let some things go – does everything need to be 100%. Some things will need to be good enough. Familiarise yourself with the concept of good enough – and decide what falls within this category.
For those of you that are Strictly fans, it might be more helpful to think about your tasks as dancing partners rather than juggling balls, plates etc. Focus on one partner at a time.
Use daily journaling – to release the worries, concerns, stop or prevent them from taking up permanent residence in your head. Stop, prevent them from scurrying about inside your head.
Create pockets – 20 to 30 minutes away from the screen – get as much fresh air as you can. I have enjoyed spending time in my garden, use whatever outdoor space is available/accessible to you. It also helps to move about and take a stretch.
Schedule in and stick with some ‘me time’ – this is not a luxury – it’s your oxygen mask.
Check your energy levels – you may need to see your GP. Read more here:
How is your sleep – disrupted sleep patterns might be an indicator that something is amiss.
Protect your sleep – establish a regular, consistent going to bed routine – hot shower at night, a little reading in bed, no screens after 9 pm.
Control – consider and establish what control you can take back. Who is in control of your diary?
Establish clear boundaries – around your time, space, tasks.
Experiment with your day – in the past 18 months, I have shifted the start of my day by 60 minutes. I started with 15 minute chunks and noticed that this small change multiplied as I became more alert in the mornings.
Get yourself checked out – though this might be more easily said than done.
Watch your ‘to do lists’ – what are you doing with these? They might not be helping if they are overlong and appear never-ending.
Think about how you say no- I found this article on LinkedIn and think it provides a valuable framework for saying no:
The more I work in front of a camera – the more I can appreciate and sympathise with those delegates/participants who choose to keep their cameras off or decide to have them on intermittently. It is hard work looking at yourself all the time. Read more about Zoom Fatigue here.
It can be helpful to give yourself a break – relax, breathe, and allow your face to assume its most natural shape, expression. Read more here.