We’ve all had an experience where we’re calm one moment then agitated or quarreling, even fighting the next. We quarrel about money, how to raise our kids, priorities, politics and more. Most topics deserve polite and respectful engagement, but something triggers us. There are degrees of reaction. We move from a thought to an emotion to action (hopefully only words) in a split second, usually without thinking.
It starts with values and beliefs. Your triggers, especially the dysfunctional ones, are worth exploring. You can sometimes trace these back to an early time in your life. Consider the following steps; an example is in italics:
- Identify the trigger. It may be a person, event, thing or word. My boss critiques (rejects) my proposal or idea.
- Understand the behavior. How do you react? I immediately feel defensive.
- Uncover the underlying value. What personal need is not being met? What beliefs do I have? Respect; I have to be heard.
- Explore memories. What is you earliest memory? What does it teach us? My father was overly critical of my homework and never praised me for it doing well.
Values are a powerful force in our lives and compel us to action. Respect, family, honesty are examples. Some triggers are OK, e.g. crying with a sad movie. It’s those dysfunctional triggers that need reflection.
Take a breath, count to 10 or find some way to engage your brain to respond rather than react. Then T.H.I.N.K. before you speak.
Our conversations with others, particularly in mentoring, may be characterized by “backbone and heart”. We share various sides of our own humanity…strengths, vulnerability and caring.
Backbone is being strong. It is strength of character and modeling that character even in (especially in) difficult situations. It is saying things that need to be said to push others to be their best (because you care about them). It is the setting of boundaries. It is courage under pressure. It is “being there” even if you don’t want to be. It is doing the “right” things.
Heart is doing things with care and love (is there really any other way?). It is kind words. It is a sharing of feeling and emotion rather than just doing something. It can be happy or sad but it is definitely supportive.
Backbone and heart belong together and are a balancing of attitudes. Tough love is an example. Vulnerability is that magic ingredient that pulls them together and is an important part of the relationship. Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” Vulnerability enlarges/deepens a relationship by creating a special connectedness. It takes courage.
Take a look at your conversations and relationships. Is “backbone and heart” part of them?
We make hundreds of decisions per day. Most are routine and simple such as what clothes do I wear or what to eat for dinner. A few are more critical such as what car do I buy or what school should my child attend. These critical decisions require deliberation and a process, particularly if other people are participating in the decision making.
Here is a decision-making process:
- Clarify the decision to be made by describing/writing the problem or issue.
- List the alternatives; option development is as important as option analysis.
- List the decision criteria or principles.
- Evaluate each decision against the criteria. Set up a simple matrix on paper.
- Implement and monitor the decision. Did the outcome achieve expectations?
I want to focus on the 3rd bullet point, i.e. listing the criteria or principles. Using a car purchase as an example, the criteria might be: initial purchase cost, maintenance costs, gas mileage and safety features. You would simply list your alternatives and then assess each alternative against these criteria. Of course, some criteria might carry more weight and be required vs. optional.
This type of decision-making is particularly helpful in large, diverse groups. Instead of advocating (arguing) for a particular decision, identify and then keep the focus on the key principles that apply. Let the criteria guide the evaluation to build a consensus. Choices have consequences so keep the long-term outcomes in mind when evaluating.
You can read more about decision making at this link.
“Knowing yourself deeply” is a key theme of this blog, mostly in the context of discovering purpose. What do you do with this knowledge in everyday life? The picture above shows a kitten that thinks it’s a lion. This poor self-assessment of reality may work some of the time but likely will cause problems in communications and relationships.
Self-awareness is about knowing your strengths AND weaknesses. It’s about how you present yourself in a simple conversation, e.g. choice and tone of words, amount of words and body language. It’s about being in touch with your emotions (and triggers) and understanding how this affects your decisions and interactions.
Self-awareness points the way to a valuing of differences and is therefore particularly important in mentoring. It is a prerequisite to suspending personal biases and judgement and allows empathy to prevail. For example, I am disciplined, a morning person, goal-oriented, sometimes assertive and in a loving relationship. I know that discipline is not a common trait. I try not to assume that others have it and wonder what strengths they might have instead.
Personal growth requires asking for feedback which validates your assumptions. It lets you check if your strengths offset your weaknesses. This model by Marquita Herald shares some elements of self-awareness:
- Self-concept: how you perceive yourself.
- Self-regulation: taking responsibility for your choices.
- Self-development: developing character and abilities.
- Self-identity: recognition of one’s potential.
- Personal values: reflect needs and wants.
There are levels and types of self-awareness which if interested, you can read about at this link. Try this self-awareness quiz too.
This idea of “retire with purpose” has two important parts: defining retirement and discovering your purpose?
Retirement as defined in the dictionary is “the period of one’s life after leaving one’s job and ceasing to work”. That doesn’t quite do it for me. Retirement is a period of life where new time choices are possible, you may choose to work but are not burdened with the requirement to work. For me, it also implies that we have left our life-long job or career.
What are your time choices? We each have 168 hours per week and they will be filled. Why not do that purposefully, deliberately and with intention. The model above suggests that our time will be split across work, hobbies, volunteering or leisure. We can choose tasks or relationships to fill our time or both.
Purpose is (re)discovering who you are and Mission is what you choose to do. You answer questions such as “who am I”, “what do I want my legacy to be” or “how am I going to make the world a better place”. Purpose will feel meaningful and joyful. You feel called to something because that’s who you are. It’s something you can’t stop yourself from doing.
Research shows that people with purpose live longer. It is an important element of well-being. Retirement is a significant shift in time choices. You heart, mind, body and soul must be nurtured but only you know the right balance.
Passion is a funny thing; it’s important but my informal survey indicates that it is elusive. I’ll ask some questions to get at this:
- What gives you a thrill in life?
- What activities make you say, “I can’t stop myself from doing it”?
- What makes you cry or angry or laugh?
- What makes today a great day?
Are the answers obvious to you? I believe we owe it to ourselves to know or find our passions. Passion might be related to a special cause or it may simply be using our gifts of talent. At the level of “cause” it might be kids, education, politics, the environment, poverty, addictions or hundreds of other things.
I don’t think the entire day has to be perfect to make it great nor does it have to be stress-free. Here are some examples of using your talents:
- You close a deal on an important transaction that you worked hard at.
- You solved a big problem (for yourself or another).
- You share an important insight with a friend.
- You offer comfort to another.
- You finally get comfortable with making a big life decision.
- You make a difference in someone’s life.
Being “in the zone” or “in the flow” occur. We lose track of time and we are entirely focused. We feel the energy. We deserve these feelings. They are characteristics of Purpose. Pay attention. Once you find this “magic” in your life, you owe it to yourself to live it deeply.
We need to manage our career plans strategically and tactically…guided by our purpose. If you don’t your purpose yet, then start with “know yourself deeply”. Salary and potential earnings are important, but these must be balanced with capability, passion, meaning and enjoyment. All are possible with the courage to make personal change. Only you know the right balance.
The strategic part is planning for (or allowing) new roles, assignments, projects or tasks. It is choosing the big things such as career objective, career field, company and work location. It is the long-term accumulation of capabilities that add personal value, energy and joy, sometimes with unexpected results.
The strategic part is something you think about deliberately once or twice per year. You ask questions such as: Am I working for the right company? Do my company’s values match my own? Do I use my talents to add value and meaning to people’s lives? Am I working to my potential? Know the “why” behind each of your answers.
The tactical part is job shaping. This simply means that we make routine choices to optimize our tasks and responsibilities within our assigned job. You change tasks or relationships or simply make a context change. For example, a cashier at the grocery store could reframe his or her work from “checking out” to “putting a smile on everyone’s face”.
A written career plan is an essential part of a life plan. It is a skill best done with a career mentor.