Finding your voice
When I left a corporate job a few years ago to begin consulting, I imagined the difficulties I would face alone out there in the ‘real world’. I was excited and scared – they actually feel pretty similar. In looking back, I had much to learn both about what I loved when working by myself, and what I missed when I left that organization.
A few years later, I spoke to a top executive about this change and he asked me what part of it had been the most difficult. Now, a lot of things are difficult when moving from a world where you are a part of a powerful whole… to being the completely responsible whole. Some things are tactical – I have to book my own meetings, organize my own schedule, make my own sales calls. Some are more strategic – deciding what to work on, what my vision for my business (and therefore myself) is, and how I most want to serve my clients.
My answer to his question was this: the hardest part of being out on my own was finding my own voice.
I was exceptionally good at writing and speaking in the voice of the organization, about organizational goals and considerations and risk mitigation. Now I had to decide how I wanted to speak for myself. I thought it would be easy. After all, I had spent some time (usually on those days when things at work were not going my way) dreaming of all the ways I was going to be speaking my own truth when I was no longer bound by an organization.
I forgot to consider that there is a comfort in writing (and working) together with others. There is an ease in knowing you do not carry the entirety of the end product by yourself. And there is a comfort to knowing that no matter how complex a file, someone else will help (through potentially innumerable rounds of edits and re-writes) to find clarity and share the responsibility for what ends up being created. The freedom of creating my own work without that support structure suddenly felt daunting rather than freeing.
So I did what I have done with other things that are important but scary. I put off writing and speaking in favor or other business work. Now, that other work was also important but I had a voice in my head and heart that wanted out and I wasn’t having any of it… because I wasn’t sure of it or what it wanted to say.
I wish I could tell you that I had a sudden AHA moment when my purpose and vision and voice all aligned and clarity came easily. Unfortunately, that was not how it happened. What I discovered was both encouraging (because it was within my control) and discouraging (because it was going to take work). Finding your voice takes practice. What I needed to do to find my writing ‘voice’ was , simply put, to write. What I needed to do to find my speaking voice was similarly obvious - to speak. And I needed to do this before I was completely clear or ready or completely sure of myself.
Because my voice just would not reveal itself unless I used it.
I’m still working on both the practice of uncovering my voice and my truth and putting it out there for the world to see. It is a scary feeling pretty much every single time. It is an ongoing process. It takes courage to publish something that I take full responsibility for. It is difficult. And yet… it also feels like I am getting closer with every piece I put out there – closer to myself and hopefully… closer to connecting with you.
So as I go on, I look forward to continuing the work of finding my voice – and hoping to connect with you and your voice.
I believe in high performance – I do not believe in highest performance every day… even elite athletes aren’t required to do that!
Is it possible that you are expecting things of yourself that even the highest producers and performers don't? In my management and executive career, I've observed that we often expect ourselves, our colleagues, our friends, and our families to perform at an equally high level every day.
Interestingly, this contradicts everything I've learned in my research and background in high performance sport as well as in my own life. Typically, once skills are developed and practice is a habit, strategic peaking is the key to avoiding burnout and achieving success.
So, how realistic are our expectations? I've concluded that, at least for myself, they often just don't represent reality.
I can’t perform at my highest level every day without burning out. I’ve tried it… in fact, in the name of science (and really, just pure stubbornness and inability to let go), I’ve tried it a few times. The results have always been the same. Either I have come to the end of my rope and realized that I was making myself sick, had already made myself sick, or my performance started to decline.
I have started to think of my life differently now. I am recognizing (although I still occasionally forget and need to remind myself), that I can expect peak performance sometimes but not all the time…and so, most importantly, I need to be conscious of WHEN I want to peak and in WHAT PART of my life. Timing and priority selection are the keys to strategic peaking.
For example, I cannot lead a large project successfully and, at the same time, expect to succeed in a number of other major priorities. And after a big project or effort, I benefit from rest and recovery time. In sport, we call this mix and cycle of high performance and rest “periodization”. Athletes and their teams decide when they most need to perform and make sure that they work to access their highest possible level of performance at that time. In some sports, athletes might peak only a few times a year. In no sport do they expect to perform exceptionally well every day, without periods of rest and recovery.
Some things to ponder:
Where do you need to perform at a high level right now to move forward on things that are important to you? At work? At home? On your health? On your relationships? Do I even know? Have I decided?
Do you need to work on sharpening some key skills? Or are you just coming off a season of high performance, needing rest and recovery time before taking on another big thing?
Pick one important thing to either move forward on and excel, … or pick rest and recovery…
If you pick a key project, recognize that you need cycles of rest too and PLAN for them or you may never get them.
When we allow ourselves to accept that we can perform at exceptionally high levels, but not every minute of every day, it allows us to plan for great successes, but in a way that is intentional and sustainable.
This ensures that we don’t become a "one-hit wonder", and can achieve many great things over time. The key is to take measured recovery time before taking on another cycle of high performance.
Strategic peaking, i.e. peaking for the right stuff at the right time, takes consciousness, discipline and courage.
Try it and let me know how you are doing!
Have you ever gotten lost in "what if" thinking?
Is your "what if" thinking usually positive?
Not mine! Mine often sounds/looks like this:
What if it totally fails?
What if it fails and my super successful friends find out?
What if it fails and my kids find out?
What if it fails and I’ve wasted all these days and months of my life working on it and now I have to start over and I don’t even know what to do next?
AHHHH but how might this sound if you were to (at least also) “what if” your way to more positive thoughts – if only to remain somewhat neutral overall lol.
What if it totally succeeds?
What if it succeeds and my super successful friends find out?
What it if succeeds and my kids find out?
What if it succeeds and I’ve invested all these days and months of my life working on it and now I have this wonderful success to build on… and I don’t even know how big to allow myself to dream now?
Thinking of the potential of success clears the way to thinking about how we might make things happen. So, just for today, when you have a negative thought (I can help ya come up with some if you need me to – I’m an expert… and have for sure spent more than 10,000 hours working on this expertise. I’m now working on the 10,000 hours of positive what-iffing lol).
What if you tried this for a week?
Or a lifetime?
I hear from a lot of people who are disconnected and unengaged with their work. If you're one of them, you have a whole lot of company! According to a 2016 survey of 2500 employers and employees reported in the Canadian HR Reporter, almost half of professionals are unhappy in their jobs.
The study points to "right fit" as a reason for this. Unfortunately, at least in the study, most employers and employees did not really seem able to define "right fit". To me, what is interesting is that the reason people are unhappy, or even leave an organization, seem to have to do with things beyond salary and benefits.
Interestingly, when I speak with people around me who are not engaged in, or downright unhappy about work, they typically have a good number of reasons about why it is so. These reasons are often reasonable and compelling. There are stories about nasty bosses and poorly outlined work expectations, about lack of flexibility in working hours and locations, there are stories about constantly changing deadlines and micromanaging supervisors, there are even stories about truly horrible, mean senior management and work objectives that don’t seem to be rooted in any kind of overall vision.
So yes, I get it. Work can suck and sometimes it seems like the easiest and best solution to keep collecting that pay and keep going into the office (or more likely the cubicle) while doing the bare minimum and certainly emotionally disengaging because otherwise it just would not be sustainable or survivable.
I get it.
I’ve been there.
And all of those reasons just do not matter.
They don’t matter unless you can change them and chances are you would have already changed them if you could have, right?
The problem is that by disengaging with your work, by no longer caring, you are actually throwing away large chunks of your life. Your life. Not your boss’s, your co-workers, your executive team’s. And to me, that’s a problem.
When I have been in there, I ended up realizing that I no longer wanted to give the situations and/or people who were making me unhappy the power to continue to do so. Was changing the situation easy? NO! Did I find a solution I could make work quickly? NO!
What I did do, and what a number of clients and friends have done is to recognize, at the very least, that I first needed to take back my power. This led to thinking about how I might do it. First though, came the decision to at least consider doing something. THAT was the major piece. The DECISION to do something about the situation that wasn’t going my way.
What did I do? A number of things. I decided to reconnect with the pieces of work that made sense to me and the overall reason that I had wanted to be in the job in the first place. I also furthered my learning and considered my potential exit strategies. Looking critically at my situation helped me immediately, even though in my case, I ended up deciding to leave.
There is nothing quite like updating a resume to begin feeling like you are taking back some power – even if you never send it out, and if you do, well before you get an offer. I also lined up support – family and friends I could trust with the challenges I was facing and the decisions I was making, acquaintances in other parts of the larger organization and beyond who might have a different view than mine and so provided a solid sounding board without any bias, a fantastic coach who worked with me as I worked through all the things I could do to re-engage with work, whether it be in the current job or future work.
Work won’t always be fun. It should be something you can engage in wholeheartedly at least most of the time. It should align with our most important values. It should allow us to feel that we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves, be it in the management of a team, the resolution of a problem, the completion of a project, the service to a client. If that isn’t currently the case, I would invite you consider that you can still engage with at least parts of your work, thereby being engaged in more of your life. Even if you end up leaving your current job for a new challenge.
The question I will leave you with is … what can you start doing today to re-engage in a major part of your life, namely your work, and feel more fulfilled and alive?
What you practice expands into other parts of your life - from creative efforts, to health and diet to success at work.
Last July, on my birthday, I decided to commit to an art practice. I decided to paint every day for 108 days. I’m still not sure what drove me to make this promise to myself, but I did. I kept it loose – even holding a paintbrush, picking up some paint and depositing it on ‘something’ (because I paint just about anything I can get my hands on this ‘something’ could be a canvas, some paper, a piece of furniture, some garden tools). I wanted to keep it light, with the focus on the practice instead of results.
What happened? Did I paint absolutely every day? No. I painted almost every day thought. And I approached painting differently. And as I painted more, my painting changed and morphed and became something I had not anticipated, both in terms of content (what I paint has shifted, much to my surprise), but also in terms of feelings associated with painting. Gone (mostly lol) is the heaviness that I felt when I approached painting thinking I needed to produce something of value. Now I can paint for 5 minutes and count it as a win. Often, I paint for longer, but the win happens in very little time… the rest is just a bonus.
Something else also happened though, something pretty cool and momentous. The discipline of painting daily bled into other areas of my life. I found myself making other life changes. I changed the way I eat and it was easier than ever. I started writing more. I added steps to my day… lots of them. Why did this happen? Now I’m not totally sure but I think when I started feeling successful every day, I started feeling more equipped to take on other challenges. After all, I was already proving I could do something that I considered challenging. The key, for me, is to make success super duper easy. I have a tendency to want to jump into something pretty extreme with impossibly tight deadlines and then revel in the adrenaline rush… while it lasts (which typically is not all that long). This is looser, easier, although not always fun it is more often fun! It runs completely counter to my usual approach but it is working. More than three months in, what have I learned?
Everything changes when you practice. The work changes and YOU change… in ways that you would not be able to predict when you started. Maybe you want to join me in picking something you want to move forward on and pick the tiniest daily step you can possibly imagine… and then commit to a practice… and recognize your wins. Can’t wait to hear what you choose! And if you want some support and companionship along the way, perhaps we can walk this bit together!
The best of times, the worst of times - which will this year's holidays be for you? Taking the road less travelled may be your best way to start the New Year!
I know that I approach the holidays with equal parts excitement - I really, really love it … the music, the people around me and excuses to get together, the gifting and focus on others… and the food… That’s the other part. The holidays fill me partly with trepidation because they can so easily, at least for me, become a time where I take less than stellar care of myself. I let myself go a bit on the eating, I take fewer steps and get outside less, I get to sleep later, I spend more, I meditate… oh, maybe even not at all!
So this year, I am approaching the holidays with a plan. If you know me, you know that my plans have become looser and gentler over the years… thank goodness, because the last thing I really need is to chart it all when I eat some chocolate instead of loading up on salad (yes, I know that in theory I could do both but let’s face it, that’s NOT the way it typically happens for me). This year, I’m working on taking better care of myself and the first part of that is being gentle with me… What does this look like? I am going into the season with the intention of really being kind to myself! Of checking in to see what I need, especially when it get a bit (or a lot) crazy. To do this, I personally do best with a daily practice. So, with my morning coffee (and along with my other morning routine items like daily gratitude), I am adding a moment to reflect on what it is that would make the day healthy and nurturing for me. My usual deal with any practice is that it can’t take more than 5 minutes or I won’t do it. So, as well as this item taking less than 5 minutes, I’m going to make a deal with myself that whatever I choose to do for myself on this day ALSO will take less than 5 minutes (it can take more, of course, but I want to know that I can make things better without letting my brain invent a ton of excuses, which it absolutely will if I give it a chance!).
To make it even easier, I’m setting aside a few minutes today (and invite you to do the same) to brainstorm some easy, simple, cheap things that make me feel good and pampered and cared-for. Here goes:
- Lighting a candle (in the morning with my coffee and/ or in the evening or when I’m working… I LOVE a candle)
- Drinking my coffee in a favorite mug – I admit that I love drinking out of a handmade mug (either one of mine or from another artist)
- Forcing a hug on one of my teens lol
- Taking three deep breaths
- Sitting in the sunshine (on the relatively few sunny days we have lol) or going outside to stand or walk in the sunshine
- Taking a bath
- Patting the dog
- Taking a nap
- Making art
Over to you… I invite you to come up with your own list of quick and healthy ways to treat yourself well… every single day.