Ten Career Coaching Rules That Worked for Me

This time last year I was feeling a bit stuck in my career.  Now, as a careers professional, that is not always a great admission.  Surely we should be able to apply our skills to ourselves and get ourselves out of any career ruts we might briefly fall into?  Doctor, heal thyself, as they say.

My difficulty was that I actually liked my job.  It was varied, creative, autonomous, collaborative, and gave me the work-life balance that I want.  I very rarely saw other jobs advertised which looked better.  But I had been doing this job for a while, and it had lost the freshness and excitement it once had.  I didn’t necessarily want to get another job, I just wanted to re-discover my spark.

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I decided to make 2017 a year of change.  So, in a bid to see which career coaching approaches might actually work for me, I picked out a few of the most buzzy, enticing career books, all promising to help me re-invent my working life, follow my dream or achieve career success.  I followed their rules to see what would happen, and low and behold, I did actually make some real changes as a result.  I am still in the same job, but I am also involved a dream professional project – writing a book – with a much admired colleague, I am about to pursue another lifelong dream of doing a yoga teacher training course at the weekends  – and I am doing more of the things that I really enjoy when I am in work.

Of course, it is not all perfect, and I am still at the mercy of those regular restructures which seem to be a feature of the public sector these days, but I now feel I have other options and am developing some lines of work that could create new possibilities (a portfolio career, perhaps).

So which career coaching rules really did make a difference for me?

  • Meditate a lot – it’s a not necessarily a rule that many career coaches would use, but things did become much clearer for me through meditation.  One day I just sat down and what I needed to do next was absolutely clear.
  • See what you can do in just ten minutes a day that will plant seeds for the the future.  This is a great tip for the time poor, because we can all find ten minutes a day.  For me, the ten minutes was writing this blog.
  • Nurture quality over quantity in your professional network.  Take the trouble to keep in touch with the people you really click with, because these are the people that you will do your best professional projects with.  My dream project came from someone I know pretty well, but hadn’t seen in quite a while – getting back in touch was the best thing I could have done.
  • Take the trouble to give sincere appreciation to all the people who have inspired and mentored you over the years; people like to be appreciated and these are the people who are most likely to give you more help and inspiration in the future.
  • Tell people, even when you have to grit your teeth to do it, if they have done something well that you admire.  It is easy to praise people when you have a good relationship, but not so easy when they are the one person you seem to be constantly in conflict with. This simple tip massively improved one of my most difficult and furstrating work relationships.
  • Identify the tasks that you want to do with your heart and soul (you would even do them for free or at the weekends), and then identify the tasks which you really only do because you have to (the ones that sap your energy more than they should).  Keep focused on the tasks you love and try to move towards them there were you can.
  • Analyse your working week and identify which tasks you really enjoy, which tasks have impact and where you waste time on low value activities.  Work out how you can do more of what you enjoy, the tasks that really makes a difference, and do less of the work that drains you.  For me, that was learning to delegate better so I could do more training and client-facing work.  I was lucky that I had enough autonomy to be able to do this, but many managers would be supportive if they could see how it was in the best interests of the business too.
  • Practice gratitude.  Instead of thinking about all the things that are wrong with your current job, make a point of being grateful for all the good things.  Quit moaning, because it just reinforces negativity!
  • Get over expecting to control the future.  You can’t – it is too complex and to unknowable.  There are always going to be surprises and you can’t always know what is around the corner. So, focus on what is front of you, do it with care and enthusiasm, take whatever reasonable precautions you can, take some risks and don’t worry so much.  This is a tough one, and I am still working on it!

These are the tips that worked for me.  They won’t necessarily work for you, because everyone’s situation is different.  I had to try quite a few different things and not all of them helped.  But the more changes you try on for size, the more likely you are to find the ones that really makes a difference.

 

 

 

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The Downside of Following Your Gut

We are often told to follow our gut these days.  It’s not bad advice either!

I think some of the best decisions I have made were based on a strong intuitive sense that something was right for me.  After a lot of mulling over options and chronic indecision, my husband and I made up our minds to move to Wales quite suddenly, after spending a lovely afternoon in a garden in Wales.  We just had a flash of inspiration, and made the move within a few months.  An opportunity came up for a secondment at work, and it absolutely felt like the right thing to do; I didn’t need to analyse it.  I started writing again after a break of several years, after an insight that came to me while meditating; I stood up and knew that I needed to be doing something creative, and I started writing the next day.  All three of these decisions were absolutely right for me.

Gut feeling is the limbic brain’s signal to us, based on it’s subconscious analysis of the options open to us.  And true, listening to our own intuition can often help us to tune into what we really want, and develop a clearer sense of the right choice for us at this particular time.  Intuition has been shown to be just as effective a way to make a complex decision as rational analysis.

Psychology, Mind, Thoughts, Thought

However, psychologists have found a few cognitive biases that we are all prone to and we need to watch out for, especially when we are relying on intuitive decision making. The neural pathways in our brains develop in such a way that these biases are inevitable, as the more well used a pathway is, the easier it is for our brain to continue to use the same pathway. Simply being aware of these biases might help you to spot them in your own thinking patterns, and avoid falling into these common traps.

  1. The Familiar

We tend to favour the familiar over the unfamiliar.  We favour jobs that are quite similar to other jobs we have had.  We are more likely to take a job in place we know or take on a course with a college we have studied at previously.  If we are struggling with a problem at work, we will tend to favour the tried and tested solution rather than looking for a new way to solve it.  Sometimes, we just favour the status quo over making a change.  I know that I will certainly stay in a job unless I am pretty sure that the new job is considerably better than the old.  So, if you are struggling to make a decision, and one option is very familiar, while the other is less so, perhaps you should choose the unfamiliar option; your brain is has probably already overrated the familiar option and underrated the unfamiliar option when weighing them up.

2. The Default

We are also more likely to follow the “default” option.  If it is assumed that every employee will take out an occupational pension, unless they fill in a long form to say they do not want to, then the take-up will tend to be high.  If employees are assumed not to want a pension unless they fill in the form, then take-up will be lower.  If you find yourself clicking the button for the default option on your computer, or accepting the status quo rather than returning a form, just ask yourself – does the person or organisation who set up this default have your best interests at heart?  Do they know better than you do what the right option for you is?  (Sometimes, especially with computer programmes, the default genuinely is the best option for the average user; sometimes, however, the default option has been set up to suit someone who wants to sell us something or manipulate us).

3. The Crowd

If we do not have a strong opinion about something, we are very likely to simply follow the crowd.  This is not always a bad thing; after all, there are likely to be people in the crowd who know more about the options that you do, especially if you are pretty clueless.  But if you find yourself mindlessly following the crowd, do check in with yourself.  Is it likely that most of the crowd are able to make a better decision that you are in this situation, and that your needs are similar to most other people in the crowd?  If not, don’t follow them!

4.  The Plan

Simply asking people whether they intend to do something actually increases the likelihood that they will do it and getting them to think through how they will do it increase the chances of them doing it even more.  If you write down a plan for how you will find out about a course that you want to do, work out the route to the open day, think about what you will wear and what you will do when they get there, you are much more likely to follow through on your plan.  If you already have a plan to do something, make sure you are not over-committed.  Is this plan still the best option for you?

5. Confirmation

Once we think we know something, we look for information to confirm our beliefs and we discount other information.  If you already think you are no good at Maths, you will look for further evidence to corroborate this belief (maybe the test that went badly, or what a teacher said to you three years ago) rather than focusing on the evidence that might contradict your belief (the teacher that told you could pass with a little bit more work).  This is why people tend not to change their political or religious beliefs very often.  We often need to really work at being open to information that contradicts our beliefs.

6. Overconfidence

We usually tend towards optimism and overestimate our abilities and chances of success (unless we are prone to depression, in which case we tend to have a more accurate view).  Most of us find it hard to accurately assess our own potential and how likely we are to succeed.  Optimism can be very valuable in building resilience and the persistence to keep trying in the face of initial failure, but it doesn’t always lead to accurate predictions about the future.  When we are overconfident we may fail to take sensible preventative steps or develop contingency plans.  It’s great to be optimistic, persistent and resilient, but there is no harm in having a back up plan!

7. Loss

We hate loss.  And this tends to create inertia.  Psychologists have found that we are roughly twice as unhappy about losing something as we would be happy about gaining it.  Once we have something, we value it more than we would have done if we didn’t have it.  This is why free trials work so well; once we have that premium subscription to a service, we value it more and don’t want to cancel our subscription.  So, once you have been offered a job or a college place, you value it more than you did before the interview.  That is why it can be so hard to say no to a job offer.

8.  Short-Term

We are also very prone to valuing short-term gains over longer-term benefits (even more so if we are teenagers).  The short-term gain of earning some money to spend now often outweighs the longer term gain of studying for qualifications which may help us earn more money in the distant future.  Most of us could do with a little help to remind us to prioritise our longer-term goals – pensions, fitness, career development, savings, qualifications and so on.

For a bit more reading on this fascinating topic, try:

  • Thaler & Sunstein – Nudge
  • Malcolm Gladwell – Blink
  • Daniel Kahneman – Thinking Fast and Slow

 

A Chakra Based Approach to Career Development

Chakras are some kind of mystical sources of energy beloved by tree-hugging hippies, right? Until quite recently this was pretty much what I thought. I had chakras filed away along with various other bits of yoga philosophy that seem a bit supernatural or hard to believe, as “interesting but probably not real”. After all, doctors have never actually located these chakras in the body.

I know from experience that different yoga sequences produce different energetic responses in the body, ranging from calm and grounding to light and euphoric, but I hadn’t really made the link with the theory of chakras.

However, I have recently been doing some research, (particularly Anodea Judith’s book,  Eastern Body Western Mind)  and it turns out there is more to the chakras than you might think. The chakras are thought to be the energy centres of the body, each with a specific function and associated with a particular part of the body. Each chakra is also associated with life stages, needs and developmental  tasks, which is where the link to career development comes in. Each chakra is associated with both a stage in childhood, and an adult developmental task.

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The structure of the chakras and the developmental tasks they are associated with is very similar to some Western psychological models, including   Maslow’s Hierarchy of  Needs,Erikson’s Stages of Pyschosocial Development and Super’s Developmental Stages.

The first chakra, located at the base of the spine is associated with grounding and survival.  It is associated with the baby’s task of feeding and surviving, and also with the early adult task of learning to survive independently and make a living. People with insufficient development of this chakra may struggle to make enough money to cover their needs, even when they have the skills and qualifications to do so, perhaps because they sabotage their own attempts to make a living, refuse to conform to social expectations or lack self-discipline. They may feel unstable and fearful, and at some level be unsure if they have the right to exist. This chakra is similar to the first two levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, in that until basic physiological and survival issues are addressed, issues related to the higher level chakras will go unaddressed.

The second chakra is associated with lower abdomen and also with sexuality and pleasure seeking.  It is linked to the childhood tasks of getting needs met and the early adult tasks of forming sexual relationships. Over-development is associated with hedonistic choices, which might lead to ill-advised workplace affairs or putting pleasure ahead of work!

The third chakra is linked to the solar plexus, and is associated with action in the world, purpose and self-esteem. This chakra is most obviously associated with work, since it relates to our most purposeful activities. It is similar to the fourth level of Maslow’s Hierarchy, self-esteem, since we often find self-esteem through purposeful activity. When it is over-developed, people can end up becoming workaholics, being power hungry, competitive, manipulative or arrogant. When it is not well developed, people can be too passive and struggle to take action at work. They may suffer from low-self esteem and feel they are a victim of circumstances. Where this chakra is balanced, people feel they can take on challenges confidently and have balanced ego strength. This chakra is also associated with the childhood task of developing autonomy and the adult task of establishing a purposeful career.

The fourth chakra is associated with the heart centre, and our relationships to others. When it is balanced people expereince self-compassion and compassion for others. It is associated with the childhood task of forming friendships outside the family, and the adult tasks of forming lasting relationships and family. Career related issues may arise as people try to balance family and work roles. Where this chakra is insufficiently developed, people may struggle to form relationships, and experience relationship difficulties at work, since they may lack empathy and compassion. This chakra is the bridge between the upper and lower chakras; some people never cross this bridge, but remain preoccupied with issues at the lower chakras.

The fifth chakra relates to creativity and communication, and is associated with the throat. If it is deficient, people may find it difficult to speak up and get heard. They may not feel they have the right to speak, or they may struggle to produce creative ideas. They may find it hard to network or promote their ideas. Job interviews and public speaking may be a struggle. This chakra also relates the childhood task of learning to create things, and the adult task of self-expression and creation, and to Maslow’s need for self-actualisation. It is balanced when adults are able to contribute to society though building a business, building a house, creating arts and crafts, starting a community group, gardening or writing, for example.

The sixth Chakra is located at the “third eye”, and is associated with vision, intuition and perception. When it is balanced people can use visualisation as a tool, and get in touch with their intuition to make sound decisions. They are good at recognising patterns. They may be able to remember their dreams well and think symbolically. They may also be able to relate to archetypes, such as the hero, the mother, the teacher, the artist or the father. These archetypes can be inspirational, but can also be limiting if people associate themselves too closely with one archetype.  This chakra is associated with the adolescent task of establishing a personal identity, and growing self-awareness, and the adult task of searching for meaning, which can intensify as children leave home and careers plateau (Super’s maintenance stage).

Finally, the seventh chakra is located at the crown of the head, and is associated with wisdom and spiritual understanding. It can be associated with sharing knowledge with others, particularly late on in a career, as a mentor or advisor, and disengaging from the competitive rat race, through retirement. This is rather like Super’s disengagement stage, but it is more positive in that it emphasises spiritual growth.

So, what would be the advantage of using the chakras rather than a Western model of developmental stages?

  • Some people might relate better to the chakras, particularly if they already have an interest in Eastern philosophy
  • The chakras can provide a way of organising the career story, identifying themes and making connections,  that might make more sense for some people
  • The later chakras have more association with positive growth where the Western models emphasise decline in later life
  • Working with chakras can suggest a range of potential solutions, including working with the body, energy levels, posture, breath, creative expression,  intuition, meditation, dreams, affirmations, symbols, stories, myths and legends, as well as more traditional approaches to career development
  • Some of these solutions have the potential to bring about deep change, particularly if practiced over time, which will support the ability to manage multiple career transitions and issues rather than just provide  quick fix for the problem at hand.

Tree Pose

DSC_0328This felt surprisingly high up and a bit scary! I can do tree pose (vrikshasana) easily on the floor, but add some height and uneven ground, and it was a whole different ball game! I like balances, because you have to focus and concentrate, and if your mind is as scattered as mine seems to be at the moment, that is a good thing.  I had to focus on a tree at my eye line and NOT LOOK DOWN because I am not all that good with heights and I do get a bit of vertigo.

It’s good to do things that a little bit scary from time to time, things that push you out of your comfort zone, where you need to trust yourself and your ability to meet the challenge. It’s what keeps your comfort zone growing, as things that were once scary become less so.

For tree pose, you need to be really firmly rooted down into ground, but not too rigid. You need to be able to wobble and come back to balance. A tree is firmly rooted into the ground, but can sway and bend with the breeze without breaking. The yogi needs the same qualities.

It was lovely to feel a bit of mud under my bare feet and squidge down into it, and then feel the leaves rustling around me, and be held by the strength of the tree.

Yoga isn’t just what you do on your yoga mat. Every pose can teach you something about life.  For me, tree pose is about learning to be grounded in your own values, having integrity and doing the right thing, but also being flexible enough to meet the changes and challenges that life constantly throws at you.

Happy spring, and let’s all enjoy this sunshine!

Yoga and Career Development – an odd mix?

I have been a career development practitioner for 21 years and a yogi for 27 years, yet it is only in the last few years that I have started to see the connections between the two, and how yoga and meditation can really support career development and help people to make decisions and find fulfilment in their careers and working lives.  Meditation and mindfulness practices can clear the mind of clutter, making it easier break through barriers and make decisions that just feel right.  Yoga asanas (poses) can generate the positive energy and focus required to see things through to completion.

I am not a yoga or mindfulness teacher, but do try to practice yoga and meditation every day. I am on my own journey, and my practice has helped me to be more compassionate, more positive, more resilient, and less stressed and anxious.  Yoga has helped me face many workplace dramas from a calmer and stronger place.  More recently, I have added mindfulness into the mix.  It has helped me to focus on what I really want from my career and my life.  Yoga has always been for my own personal development, but the more I practice, the more sure I feel that it can be used to help others with their career development.

My career has always been in the career development of others.  I have worked with young people and adults, all struggling to make decisions and take control of their careers.  More recently, I have also worked in training and development, and organisational development.

Over the years I have studied counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, coaching, motivational interviewing, solution focused approaches, and borrowed from all of these approaches to help my clients and colleagues to take control of their work and their careers. Often the biggest barriers to career development are finding the motivation to get started and see things through, and the courage to make a change.  Now it feels like time to borrow some techniques from yoga and mindfulness to see whether they can help others to move forward in taking control of their careers.

This blog is the sweet spot then, between three of my passions – career development, yoga and writing.  I will tell you more about how I identified my passions in another post.  For now, I hope you find something useful in this blog.  If it gives just one person a great idea or some inspiration, then I’m happy.