On the Edge

My wife said something the other day that got me thinking.  In her massage therapy world, one of the things she is trying to do is take care of people before they go “over the edge”.  What did she mean by this?  She wants to treat them BEFORE an acute injury occurs.  Over time, people accumulate physical and emotional pain that remains unresolved.  The body has the habit of storing these incidents somewhere (in the shoulders and neck, or perhaps the stomach, or in the lower back).  We go along in life for a short or longer period accumulating these pieces.  Then, all of a sudden, a small incident occurs, throwing us over the edge into deep pain.

Another phrase for  this “edge” is the “tipping point” -the point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change.  Or think of the phrase, “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.Image result for straw that broke the camel's back

Steve Browne, one of THE most positive people in the world, recently wrote this in his blog:

“When you step back and understand that people mask the facets of life, both great and challenging, in order to even make it in for another day of work, you’ll realize it can become exhausting. However, no one is stepping into this gap and providing an outlet for people. HR has to be the profession that willingly and genuinely steps into the lives of others. When people know that they have someone they can connect to and that you will genuinely listen to them, you can honestly feel the pressures of life slowly release.”

Those two separate thoughts got me thinking.  Keeping people from the edge is the essence of what I am trying to do as a career coach.  Avoid getting to the edge – the edge of losing their job, the edge of hating their current job so much that it effects the rest of their life, the edge that is despair that nothing will go right, that edge that is taking another job simply because they need a paycheck even though they know they have not fully considered the job.

I want to help people stay away from that edge.  Thinking about “what’s next” in a career can be tiring, especially when you have a lot going on in life.  When things are going well, who wants to plan for the next contingency?  But just like Rose’s “edge” or the person canoeing down the nice river not knowing rapids are ahead, we often don’t know we are getting close to the edge.  That’s what a coach is there to do, build awareness of that edge.

For all of us, there is a second message.  Shouldn’t we be helping others avoid their edge?

Like Rose spoke about, sometimes we are not even aware we are getting closer to the edge until we do that one move, that one reach, and our back gives out.  As Steve wrote, some people are masking those things just to get through the day.  We don’t see behind the mask, or choose not to pay attention to the fact that a mask is present.  Might we have an opportunity to back someone – ourselves or someone else- away from the edge?  Might we be the individual someone else can connect to and help them slowly release the pressures of life?

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Growth, Thankfulness and Focus

Jay Williams writes in his book, Life is not an Accident, the following:

In the early stages of my rehabilitation, I was so focused on the things I couldn’t do that I often forgot to give myself credit for the milestones I reached.  If I wasn’t going to acknowledge my own personal growth, how could I possibly appreciate the sacrifices other people had made for me?

Williams was a young man who seemingly had everything – fame, fortune, popularity – until a horrific motorcycle accident.  His book is about his long journey back from anger to acceptance.

I was taken in by his words above.  We all are on our own personal journey, hopefully not with the huge highs and lows that Mr. Williams endured.  But his words resonate.  We get so caught up in life, that we forget to acknowledge our own personal growth.  We are making progress, it deserves to be applauded.  But it is hard for us to give ourselves credit.  We always “can do better”.  We might even think we should be back to some foggily-remembered “past” when we were “really great”.  We have a memory of how things “should be” or “once were”, without remembering the ugly warts – or even the fact that things were not as great then – as we picture them now.

Perhaps as importantly, as his words point out,  if we ignore ourselves, might we be overlooking the sacrifices of others on our behalf?  The medical person who is working with us.  The friend or acquaintance who sends us a job opportunity.  The stranger who holds the door, gives us a smile or lets us get in front of them at the grocery store.  The family member who tries to ease our burdens, even in some small way.  The former colleague reaching out on social media that we ignore, or give a minimal greeting.  If we are so self absorbed, might we miss a chance to get a gift from someone else – however small in the moment – that might be the tipping point we need?

Williams goes on to acknowledge that sometimes the problem is one of focus.

“When you move at warp speed, you don’t really take the time to think about all of the small things that have accumulated to make your life what it is.  There’s a tendency not to reflect on the past, because you’re so caught up in the frustration and the anger of the present.  My life has always had a purpose.  I had just been too obsessed with trying to recover what I’d lost instead of focusing on what I found.”

I love that phrase: “trying to recover what I’d lost instead of focusing on what I found.” If you remember one thing from this post, that is the phrase to remember.  In his case, Jay Williams was writing from a position of tragedy. Of loss.  Of “unfulfilled potential”.  But the “new” Jay, more than a dozen years removed from his seminal moment, is a new picture of success.  What he “found” is totally different than the path he originally could foresee.

Might we be so caught up in something that we cannot let go of?  Could we celebrate a small step, acknowledge a kind deed by another, reflect on what we found?  Yes we could.  What is keeping us from doing that?  Doesn’t progress sound good?

Risk and Careers

Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, had this to say about risk: “Risk tends to get a bad rap. We associate it with things like losing money in the stock market, or riding a motorcycle without a helmet. But risk isn’t the enemy–it’s a permanent part of life. In fact, being proactively intelligent about risk is a prerequisite for seizing breakout opportunities. ”

I also liked this that he had to say: “Many people think you get career stability by minimizing all risk. But ironically, in a changing world, that’s one of the riskiest things you can do. Others think acknowledging downside possibilities is a sign of weakness: “Failure is not an option!” may make for a good movie line, but it’s not good when formulating strategy. Rather than avoiding risk, if you take intelligent risks, it will give you a competitive edge.”

I want to take his thoughts a little further.  I’d like you to think of the risk of inaction, especially with respect to your job.  What happens when we don’t do something?  What unknown risks are we allowing to come into play through inaction?  What risk do we take on?

Here is an example of risk in INaction.  We are good at enumerating the risks of thinking about making a job or career change. For example:

  • What if I don’t find a new job quickly?  We’ll be in financial difficulty soon.
  • What if I can’t make as much money?
  • I’ll lose some of my benefits like vacation days.  I’ll be starting all over again.
  • It’s disloyal to my employer to be considering other career options.  If they find out, they will probably get rid of me.
  • Things will get better soon, I’ll just wait it out
  • I’m too busy right now to think about changing jobs or planning my career

All of these thoughts lead to inaction.

Conversely,  we are NOT very good at enumerating the risks of an unhappy job or career. But aren’t these thoughts plausible?:

  • What is my job situation doing to my health?
  • What is it doing to my relationships, especially family?
  • What opportunities for better jobs, for more pay, for more fulfilling work, did I miss out due to inaction?
  • There might be an impending disaster coming at my company that I am not ready for (anyone work for the US auto industry or NCR Corporation in Dayton?).

So staying in the same job -without thinking – has a lot of risk associated with it.  In fact, these unconsidered risks might be greater than the ones you can enumerate.

A career choice doesn’t have to mean a totally new job in a totally new company in a totally new industry.  Maybe that is more risk than you want to take.  What about opportunities within your company?  So many managers are too busy to help mentor you towards new opportunities.  Perhaps you need to spend time doing it yourself.  Need a little something different?  Odds are some of your peers have moved on to other companies.  Maybe reconnecting with them to understand what went right and what went wrong might be helpful.  Or perhaps you want to stay in the same type of job, but now is the time to consider moving to another company or making a slight change in job title. How easy is it to talk over lunch or a drink with someone else who has done that type of move?

After all, what’s the risk?

If you want to read more, here is Hoffman’s original post: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20130304212600-1213-how-to-think-about-risk-when-investing-in-your-career

Progress Through Little Bets

Here is a really interesting way to think about making change or progress in life.

“Invention and discovery emanate from being able to try seemingly wild possibilities and work in the unknown; to be comfortable being wrong before being right; to live in the world as a keen observer, with an openness to experiences and ideas; to play with ideas without censoring oneself or others; to persist through dark alleys with a growth mindset; to improvise ideas in collaboration and conversation with others; and, to have a willingness to be misunderstood, sometimes for long periods of time, despite conventional wisdom”

 – from Little Bets by Peter Sims

There are so many elements to that paragraph.  It is a lot to absorb.  It is asking you to consider doing a lot of things. We can each find words in there we feel uncomfortable with (“wild possibilities”, “misunderstood”, “persist through dark alleys”).  So what is the point?

I think there is something for each and every one of us in that paragraph.  After all, life is all about discovery.  Any change is hard.  Growth can sometimes be very painful.  It requires movement to get from where you are now to where you will be. Unfortunately, that movement is not always a smooth ride easily downhill. You are probably not going to get a gentle ride with someone else doing all of the hard work for you.

These are a couple phrases from the paragraph that I really like.

“To be comfortable being wrong before being right”

This is an especially tough excerpt from the quote above.  Who wants to be “wrong”?  And who wants to be comfortable with being wrong?  But if you think about it, whenever you learned to do something, you were “wrong” when you started out.  You just didn’t use that word.  I remember learning to drive a car and braking incorrectly so that anyone in the car got jerked back and forth.  Was that “driving wrong”?  Nope. I looked at it as I did not know how to do brake correctly yet, not that I did it wrong.  If you’ve played a musical instrument or played a sport, trying to master the basics took time.  The steps to get there were not the “wrong” moves, they were the steps on the way to becoming proficient.

So why not take the same attitude with a new concept or a new direction or a new idea in life?  “Heck, I am just trying to figure this out, so I might mess up”.  That’s okay, it is how we learn and move towards the right way.

“To live in the world as a keen observer”

I love that word “keen” in this context.  Here are three definitions of keen:

  • having or showing an ability to think clearly and to understand what is not obvious or simple about something
  • very strong and sensitive; highly developed
  • very excited about and interested in something

Why not try to be very excited and interested in something?  How about taking it to the next level and try to understand what is not obvious?  That really fits well with observing,  Think about it, we are all observers.  We love to people watch.  Many of us enjoy the beauty created by nature.  The buildings, paintings, poetry, music of others can be relaxing and awe-inspiring.  Why not try to be a little more aware, to be a more highly-developed observer?

“To play with ideas without censoring oneself or others”

Censoring oneself – We all have that chatter going on in our mind about why something is not possible.  We are great at censoring ourselves (‘that will never work”; “they will think I am a dork if I say that”; “no one will ever listen to me”).  We also find comfort in deflecting others (“they don’t understand my situation”; “what do they know”; “That’s not what I am interested in”).  Does any of that sound familiar?

The word “play” makes us uncomfortable in any “serious” endeavor such as at work or mastering a skill or creating a lasting relationship.  That is especially true when we use this definition of play: “engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose“.  If it’s not serious or practical, why do it?  Here is an answer. Perhaps if we thought of another definition of play, such as “free or unimpeded motion” or “an act, way, or manner of proceeding” we might not cringe at that word.  Play is just one of many ways to proceed.  It fits some of the time (and probably more times than we think it might).

The paragraph that started this post provides a formula for growth.  The essence of the book it is part of is that you only need to take “small steps” along the road to progress.  You don’t have to make giant leaps.  In fact, most successful people make these small bets, incorporating one or more of the ideas in that paragraph.  Small bets, small changes certainly make the task of growth or discovery seem more attainable.

I am really working hard on the first of the three I highlighted (To be comfortable being wrong before being right).  Building a business is not easy.  I come up with all kinds of ideas.  But sometimes putting those ideas out there to others is tough because I know they are not complete.  I fear they will get shot down.  Maybe someone else is already doing it.  If others don’t like my idea, then I might be on the wrong track.  Maybe I need to wait until the thought is “fully developed” because then others will like it or get it (unfortunately, “fully” developed) never comes.  So I am trying to be more open and authentic.  I am willing to be wrong to get to a better place.

Which of the phrases in the paragraph at the start of this post might you embrace as your “small bet”?

Communication Gone Wrong

My son got a work e-mail the other day.  It was from a hiring manager telling him that he was not accepted for the position he applied for because the manager was looking for someone with more experience, blah,blah. The e-mail finished thanking him again for applying and being hopeful to keep the communication window open for the future. Disappointing news that he did not get the job, but that’s okay.

Problem was, my son never applied for the job.  To make things even worse, a peer of his that did apply and interview for the job GOT THE SAME EXACTLY-WORDED E-MAIL!

Mistake

So why did he get the note? Hard to figure out the answer to that question.  He had an informational discussion with the same manager weeks before to find out about opportunities.   But other than that, they had not talked.

So what kind of excuses can we make for the manager?  They were really busy and accidentally sent it to the wrong person.  They wanted to close the loop from the original informal conversation.  They asked someone else to do it for them and gave the wrong set of names.

Hmmm.  None of those really work for me.  Communication is so important.  If you cannot communicate the right message to the right person, how good an employee are you?  Isn’t an interview worthy of something more than a generic e-mail?  What message does it send to someone when you say they are missing a number of skills, but you have not even talked to them about their experience?

I read a blog post by Ed Baldwin (here is the full post: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/busy-new-stupid-ed-baldwin-sphr-gphr)  that really hit home.  Here are some of his words – and they are harsh – but right on:

“Busy isn’t cool.  In fact, BUSY IS THE NEW STUPID.  

Being busy makes us hurried, creates short-sightedness, expands blind spots, increases careless mistakes and results in missed opportunities that we can’t get back. Busyness creates more woulda, coulda and shoulda than anything else in our life – which ultimately leads to regret.  And regret sucks.

So the next time you find yourself apologetically telling someone that you would liked to have met them, responded to them, or just acknowledged their existence but couldn’t because you’ve been so busy, consider the REAL message(s) you’re sending them:

  1. My time is more important than yours.
  2. I’m not very good at prioritizing my time.
  3. I want you to judge me based on how busy I am, not how productive I am. 
  4. You aren’t a priority, or at least what you want to speak with me about isn’t a priority.”

Wow.  That really nails it on the head.  I am not trying to be harsh to this manager.  I am just using them as an example.  I guarantee we ALL have made communication mistakes similar to this.  Texting to the wrong person. Wrong e-mail to wrong person. Worse yet, not responding at all. Maybe actually really the worst, sending a generic e-mail to more than one person.

I make mistakes all of the time.  Do I always acknowledge them?  Do I try to learn from them?  Ehhhhhh.

That is why this instance with my son is such a great opportunity.  Sometimes the mistakes of others can be beacons of a spotlight for us to learn from.  That is how I look at this story of the manager and the job.  Am I “so busy” that other people are a low priority?  Might I use this story as a jolt for reassessing how I prioritize our time?  What is the true root of my busyness?  What message (stated or not, generic or not) am I delivering to a peer?  Give it some thought.