I was speaking with a friend the other day who is reinventing her life in huge and profound ways. We talked about how the word “reinvention” sounds so big and daunting. “Isn’t it just a natural and growing evolution?” she asked. Well, yes and no. In her “reinvention”, she is breaking through lots of beliefs and assumptions about herself and where she fits in the world. Her external, day-to-day life clearly looks different than it did a couple of years ago. Her question also suggests that she is evolving – reinventing - internally.
Everywhere I turn, there are people who are facing major change, whether they want to or not. They have just been laid off from a favorite and lucrative job, or have chosen to end one phase of a career not knowing for sure what the next phase will look like, or have come to the natural end of a major phase of child rearing with empty nesting staring them square in the face. Or have just been laid off right in the midst of becoming an empty nester! Change happens. Reinvention is optional.
Reinvention is the internal game of unleashing yourself from old habits, thought patterns and beliefs. In other words, situations change, people may not. We all have our go-to strategies for how we make decisions, deal with difficult colleagues, view our ability to lead, take in unexpected information, create new things or any of the other myriad conversations we have in day-to-day life. Our strategies tend to fall on a continuum, from old habits to fresh, in-the-moment responses, and everything in between. Rarely do we see those old habits for what they are, built when we were young and vulnerable, trying to figure out how the world works. Our lazy brain says “It worked then, it will work now.” So we react like we always have, and therefore get what we have always gotten.
Our brains build such an effective shortcut, we don’t even see the choice between the situation and our choice in what to do about it. We hire the same kind of people and wonder what went wrong. We withdraw from (or fight) with difficult colleagues, and wonder where all the good people are. We fail to step up to the leadership moment and wonder why we didn’t get the promotion. We become so accustomed to the role we are playing, we lose our true identity in the position, forgetting the amazing human being we are under all the trappings of money and power. It’s time to wake up. It’s possible to rewire our brains. We are free to be.
We are so much more than our bodies and our brains. Are you bringing the same person you have always been to each new situation, or are you shedding old, non-useful habits as you learn and grow?
Let me hear from you. What are you reinventing inside yourself? Where do you feel stuck? What makes you feel alive? What beliefs, assumptions or patterns, if you were to change then, would make the most difference in the quality of your life?
Reinvention happens one baby step, one tiny choice, one breath at a time. So yes, I guess you could equate it with a natural evolution!
Copyright: rvika / 123RF Stock Photo
Many of the leaders I work with these days are in a bit of a paradoxical dilemma. They have a significant role for which they have been deemed highly competent, and yet it’s like riding a bucking bronco. The world is changing, the role becoming more complex, and leading in the role becomes more difficult by the day. It’s as if their jobs are moving right out from under them. If they don’t keep learning, and learning at the speed of light, they find themselves suddenly swallowed by a role they once could do with one hand tied behind their back.
In these circumstances, what is a good leader to do? One thing is clear. They can’t spend all their time in off-site training programs. In most cases, there aren’t programs for them to attend anyway. They also cannot afford to stay as they are. They must be in a constant state of change and transformation, while at the same time, operating from their core competency. Yes, it’s a dilemma.
What is the key to learning on the fly? I’ve found three ways out of the dilemma:
1) Put self-awareness ahead of self delusion, particularly about strengths and weaknesses. You don’t and cannot know everything. A clear-eyed view of your personal gaps is essential. While a leader needs to exude confidence, it can be deadly to be confident when you should have been curious.
2) Value curiosity over knowing, especially in the elusive information that tends to get “hidden in the weeds.” The higher in the hierarchy the leader, the harder it is to get a true picture of what is really happening. Learn to ask open-ended questions that yield answers you hate. Dig into what the odd balls and noisemakers in the organization are really saying. Find the truth in the “yuckiness” of complaint. Build solid feedback loops through processes, questions and curiosity. Be willing to be wrong.
3) Place hunger to be better over ego. None of these hints matter if you don’t want it. Becoming better means making mistakes, living in discomfort, admitting you don’t know everything. In other words, you gotta keep that ego in check.
I know this last one first hand. In one of my early leadership roles, I developed a feedback loop with my team about my tendency to do whatever my bosses wanted me to do. It was becoming clear that my “suck up” strategy was having consequences, to the point of people asking “If you are going to do everything the boss says, why do we need you?” Ouch. So I asked for steady, real-time feedback where the team called me out when I fell into this old pattern. It was painful…and it saved my career at that point in time. Had I stayed with the old way, no doubt I would have been in the next round of layoffs. Instead, I swallowed my pride and inched toward thinking for myself and putting my point of view out there. (What it took to figure out what I really thought is a story for another day!) Inch by inch, baby step by baby step, the outcome over time was transformational.
What keeps us from learning? What fears about needing to know our jobs, (even as we don’t have all the answers) keep us stuck in place? What would happen if we decided to truly evaluate our patterns, warts and all? Why not be joyously curious? How can we tap into our hunger to be better? What if our fear of failure is the very thing that will make us fail?
Here is a baby step practice to start with. Ask one question this week that you don’t want to hear the answer to. Dig into it, assuming the other person has something to teach you. Then let me know how it goes –either in the comments or through our contact page. Here’s to your hunger to learn!
Copyright: inspirestock / 123RF Stock Photo
Anybody who has ever had to perform under pressure knows the physical commotion and symphony of feelings that course through the body. Whether a long planned sales presentation, a speech in front of the top brass, or pitching in your softball league, you know the many ways your body can signal that this time counts more than others. In these situations, some are able to bring their best. For the rest of us, the brain and the body, the words and the thoughts become disconnected, and something that seemed so easy in practice suddenly becomes impossible.
After getting hooked on water skiing in my mid-40s, I started skiing in tournaments. The stakes were low, but the pressure was enormous. Skiing is a single elimination sport. As soon as you quit scoring, your turn is over. Standing on the dock at one of my first tournaments, my arms and legs were rubber. My heart was pounding. My head was foggy. I used every meditative technique I had (and I have a bunch) to calm my nerves. And I skied like crap.
I left that tournament wondering where I went wrong. Then on my way to ski during one of my winter trips in Florida, I lucked into something that seemed to explain it. It seems that trying to calm myself just provoked more nerves. Telling myself I should be able to perform because I should be able to calm myself knocked my mind out of alignment with my body.
What the researcher found was this: When we go against what our body already knows –that it is time to rise to the occasion – we actually set up an unresolvable conflict. Allowing the feelings to exist – and calling them excitement – frames the bodily hullabaloo as a productive source of energy.
And guess what? It works. On the same trip where I learned about this trick, I stood on the dock feeling great pressure. The nonsense in my body started knocking me around as I buckled my boot. I unconsciously said out loud, “I’m so nervous.” Then I caught myself, and happily shouted at my driver, “I’m so excited!” For the first time in memory, I ran that first pass off the dock and had a great set.
I’ve reframed those crazy bodily sensations ever since. Perhaps the biggest pressure of my life was speaking at TEDxTryon, where I was aware that whatever my performance, there would be no do-overs, and that whatever I said would reside on the web forevermore. While standing backstage among the other wildly nervous speakers, I decided to have fun and be excited. It was a blast!
The science of performance has been around for a long time. Top-level performers in all fields have found a way to use their nerves to their advantage. That’s why they win.
It is not the nerves; it’s what you say about the nerves that decides performance.
Photo credit: 123RF.com
We spent the weekend cleaning out the “big closet” in our house, the one where we shoved everything with impunity. We were stunned at how much – well –rubbish had piled up through the years. We said this all weekend: “Why in the world did we keep all this stuff?!?”
The truth is we were finally making decisions long deferred, some that we had delayed for our entire adult lives. While we recognized that it had been a low priority in our very busy lives, when things started falling out of the closet, deciding moved up on the list. To the shredder went the stack of pay receipts (remember those?) from an early job. A box that had not been unpacked in four moves was finally reviewed, and too-many-to-count decisions made on what to do with the stuff. The decisions came down to should it stay or should it go? And if it stayed, where and how? (We replaced every cardboard box with clear plastic and moved many things to a more logical home) And if it should go, do we trash, give away or move to another place? All weekend, it was Stay, Change or Go? It was painful and freeing at the same time. I danced in the closet (yes, really) when we were done.
In today’s world, we are all making decisions, hundreds of them every day. We are also deferring decisions, about who and what should Stay, Change or Go. Every time we choose not to do something, it is a decision for non-action. And while they might not be as tangible, the decisions to take no action is a decision. And decisions for non-action eventually create a pile of rubbish. Then we wonder why we have breakdowns, why it takes so long to get things done, why we are still doing things the “old way”, why someone is not performing to our standards. Have we even bothered to have a conversation about our standards?
What conversations are you deciding not to have? What decisions are you not making? What low priority items are actually creating unseen roadblocks to your success? Where would making a decision make you feel freer?
When taking flying lessons, my instructor always said “A bad decision is better than no decision. When you are in an emergency, start taking actions and correct as you go.” Indeed, that sense of urgency brings the mind to focus, attention and clarity.
Now excuse me, I have to go make some decisions!
While teaching a self awareness program, one of the participants mentioned our “ambassadors” in context of how we relate to each other. What? Who are these ambassadors that he is talking about?
With a little more explanation, it struck me as one of the best analogies for what often happens in relationships. Have you ever made a bad hire? Or decided to work for a boss who later turned out to be totally different than you expected? Or discovered a few months into a new relationship or friendship that the person you thought you knew is not in the building? It has happened to me way too many times to count. And more than once, I have questioned my judgment and wondered what I missed, and how I could have been so wrong.
What really happened is that I bought into the other person’s ambassador. We all have one…and maybe more than one. The ambassador is the persona (or hologram) we create to move another person to hire us, like us and approve of us, especially early in relationship. It’s natural and human nature to want to make a good impression. No one shows up at a job interview saying “I’m scared to death to be here, and very worried that I won’t find a job soon, and I know my skills are ok, but maybe not great, and I will work whatever hours you need, and I tend to struggle with authority. Did I tell you I really need this job?” Instead, we send our ambassador, the very well-groomed alter-ego who is put together, totally polite, confident and capable and has lots of options.
We all do it. It’s normal, and yet it also carries those pesky risks, like hiring the wrong person, becoming disillusioned with the boss or choosing poorly in our personal relationships. In fact, the very hologram that we create to impress is often the source of our breakdowns.
What would allow us to show just a tiny window into who we really are? What if we could be confident enough to say “I don’t know”? What if the real person that we are hiding behind our ambassador is more interesting and lovable than the persona we create? How much more satisfying would life and work be if we could align ourselves inside and out?
These questions – and many more – are the questions of self awareness. While seeing yourself, warts and all, can be mighty uncomfortable at times, it is also the path to becoming aligned and whole. It takes energy to fuel the ambassador. As a result, we live our lives interacting with the not-real hologram-like ambassadors of this world and then we wonder why things don’t work like they “should.” It might be worth getting to know the person creating the persona.
Inspiring new ways to look at learning, growth, and reinvention, whether in leadership, athletics, art or life.
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