Nature abhors a vacuum – and so do I

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts, but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties.  Francis Bacon

A strange thing has happened; after working hard over the past six months to exit all my work commitments and create a blank canvas for new opportunities to emerge, I’ve now been overcome by panic and am working flat out to refill my diary.

So today I am forcing myself to combine action with reflection and ponder the source of discomfort that is driving this behaviour.

And discomfort it surely is.  The question of what I DO has become even more nebulous; so what does that say about who I am?  It’s all very well wearing different hats for different people but now I don’t seem to have any head wear at all.  When people ask me, I feel somehow ashamed about circumstances that I should be celebrating.  As my neighbour who now goes fishing rather than working in his business said to me this morning –  I’ve deliberately made myself self-unemployed.

Yes there’s a dark corner – or maybe a gaping hole –  inside me and maybe most of us, that needs to be filled by some sort of work achievement if we are to feel valued.

If you do want to create change in your working life,  and you have created space or had space forced onto you by redundancy or illness, what’s wrong with floating a little in that space?  Floating is nice, floating is good  – but endless floating become suspiciously like bobbing helplessly, drifting this way and that with every passing tide or gust of wind?

So if you’re looking for a solution that allows you to enjoy your unexpected work vacuum without rushing to fill it, I have an answer.   It will let you combine floating with a need for action and boy, is it worthwhile.

Because actually you have got work to do. You want to make sure that when you do take action you strike out for the right shore or even step aboard the right yacht rather than grabbing onto the first bit of flotsam that crosses your path.  And it can be very tempting to grab out just to fill that horrible emptiness of being unemployed.  So  – message to self – don’t do it!

Your work whilst you’re floating it is to identify what Work it is you do want, work at building relationships and networks and work on play projects that let you try out new ideas.  Doing these things create real value for you and can be a source of genuine satisfaction and joy.

Above all believe in the value of what you do each day, hold up your head when asked the inevitable and what do you do question and be delighted that you’re lucky enough to be self-unemployed.

 

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Finding the right career: is it the key to happiness?

It is not how much we have but how much we enjoy that makes happiness. Charles Spurgeon

All of us want to be happy even if we don’t admit it openly.  But what do you think would make you happier?

Rita Mae Brown famously said that happiness is “Someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to” and there is no doubt that your work is a large part of that “something to do”.

But recent scientific research into happiness reveals that your external circumstances only contribute 10% to your level of happiness.  People quickly get used to any positive changes in their lives and soon return to their original or baseline levels of happiness.  In fact, studies of identical twins have discovered that 50% of our happiness is determined by our own genetic “set-point”.

You may find this surprising, I certainly did.  Surely our happiness is driven by finding the perfect partner, getting the dream job, earning more money or losing that extra bit of weight around the midriff.  Isn’t it? Isn’t that what we all strive for- and believe? I seem to have spent my whole adult life in a state of  believing that “my life will be perfect once I’ve ……..” Complete the sentence with anything you like.

How often have I stopped to look around me and say “hey, this is pretty good right now” ?  How often have you?  Yet, according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California this is one of the most powerful things we can do to increase our happiness levels.

In her book The How of Happiness, she describes the scientific work that has been done to measure what it is that really impacts our happiness levels.  And the good news is that, with 50% pre-determined and only 10% affected by external circumstances there is a massive 40% up for grabs.  40% of your happiness that you can influence by taking intentional happiness-increasing action.

Actions such as nurturing relationships, expressing gratitude, avoiding over-thinking (always one for me, I’m a chronic overthinking perfectionist), savouring life’s joys, engaging in “flow” activities and cultivating optimism.

In the abstract these all sound rather difficult to imagine actually doing.  But small experiments can pay big dividends as I’ve found when trying things out with friends and colleagues.

Here’s an example: find a willing partner and agree to text each other each day with one thing you’ve appreciated that day.  It could be a great cup of coffee, a compliment received, a small achievement, a slice of time you spent on yourself – it’s amazing what we take for granted in an “average” day. At the end of the week compare notes as to how your happiness levels have changed.

In my experience this simple exercise has made a significant impact on the happiness of anyone who’s been prepared to give it a go.  If you can’t find a partner then keep your own record.  Just make sure that you take the time to actually write things down, thinking it won’t be nearly as effective.

So, what has this to do with career changes? If external factors really do only influence 10% of our happiness, does it make sense to place such high expectations on finding the perfect job?  Although a positive career move will bring a temporary increase in happiness, the evidence shows that we will quickly return to our set point.

So perhaps we should give ourselves a break.  Take time to appreciate what we really enjoy in our current role, nurture relationships with our colleagues, find enjoyable activities that we can truly engage with – and stop over worrying about finding a perfect career.

 

Putting Value on What You Do

Does what we are choosing reflect what we most deeply value? Jack Kornfield

Yesterday I spent  a few hours with a good friend who also happens to be a very inspiring woman.

At the age of 46 she had a crisis of belief in her work, despite being in her “dream” job heading up a public sector department. She left burnt out and disillusioned.  Whilst pondering her next move she took up track cycling, discovered she had a natural talent for it and, within nine months, was winning events at the World Master Track Championship.  Over the next four years she won eight World Masters track cycling titles including a world record in Women’s sprint in 2002.

Now, nine year’s later she is training again with a new goal of setting a new world record in the 60+ age group.  In the meatime she has set up her own business as a life coach and personal trainer and started a women’s cycling network with over 100 members. So I was shocked to hear this woman, who has achieved so much, questioning the value of what she does and whether she should be concentrating on a earning more money instead.

It made me wonder, why is it that our work achievements need to have £s attached to them before we believe they are worthwhile?

Yet, I also totally understood where she was coming from.  Used to having a high paying job for most of my adult life I continualy struggle to find another yardstick by which to measure my success. When I first set up my own coaching business I had very few clients and my earnings were, well, peanuts.  My heart used to sink whenever a well meaning friend, family member or business acquaintance asked me whether my business was going well.  I instinctively felt it wasn’t, despite the fact that I’d started a new business from scratch, won my first clients and been elected to the board of a key coaching professional body.

And, more importantly, I was loving my work, collaborating with wonderful people and finding each day exciting and challenging.  Still, I felt a failure because I wasnt earning nearly as much as I used to.  Or as much as I felt I OUGHT to.

So what is this “ought”and why is it so hard to eradicate from our sense of self-value?  The simple answer is that it’s there because we allow it to be. We can tell ourselves over and over again that our goal isn’t to earn a lot of money but somehow we just don’t “feel” it as a truth.  Why?  Because we don’t spend time building other sources of self-value to replace it.  We may think we do, but too often we don’t take time to build a crystal clear image of success that resonates with our deepest held values – and we don’t measure our progress against that.  So, its not surprising that our default position always reverts back to money as a measure of success.

So now I’ve developed my own definition of the value created by my work.  I remind myself whenever I can that I am a success if my work:

  • allows me to use my favourite skills and talents;
  • involves the right mixture of independent tasks and collaboration with people who I admire and whose company I enjoy;
  • requires continual learning and pushing of boundaries consistent with the creation of the life I want to live;
  • contributes to a purpose that reflects what I most deeply value;

and

  • I am able to pay the bills that I need to pay to keep me and my family safe and happy.

Now when people ask me how my business is going, I simply smile and tell them how incredibly rewarding it is.

So how do you measure the value of what you do?