Photo by Jeff Kingma
I speak to many people each week who suffer from a nagging doubt that they are not fulfilling their destiny. It may show up as a sense of frustration or disappointment in current circumstances, as sense of falling out of love with one’s career or it may be a lingering sense of missing out, that there is more to life if only one knew where to look for it.
As far as I am aware, there are two schools of thought on the subject: the Steve Jobs ‘do what you love” angle, where we are encouraged to believe that firstly, there is a single thing that each of us loves and, secondly, that it is possible to build a life (and income) around it. The other view is that you need to get good at something and the love for it will follow.
What's interesting is that these seemingly opposing pieces of advice are only helpful for people who have something that they know they want to do and don’t offer much in the way of crumbs for people who may have a range of things that they are mildly interested in. The British education system is not designed for what we could refer to as generalists, because it asks us to start homing in on our careers when we are in our mid-teens: first with GCSEs and then more ruthlessly with A-levels. People often make choices based on what they believe they will get good grades at or based on external guidance (parents, teachers, etc) rather than having a strong sense of self-direction.
At some point, many people who have been following this path, chaining from one near-term goal to the next - get good grades, get a degree, get a job, get a promotion, and on and on and on - wake up and wonder where they are and whether they are happy with their lives. This is summed up beautifully in the song Once in a Lifetime by the Talking Heads which encapsulates the thoughts of someone who has woken up to a life that they made unconsciously. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model helps to explain this: they may have been focusing on the lower parts of the pyramid, addressing their physiological and safety needs and hadn't paid much attention to considering their more sophisticated needs of esteem or self-actualisation.
Helping people make sense of who they are and what their purpose is, is is something I do a lot of. I work with people when they feel that change is needed at work, either because it’s being imposed on them, due to a restructure maybe or because they feel like they are trapped. One of the key activities we do is to explore their purpose. I have already shared my preferred tools for this, which are the IKIGAI and Simon Sinek’s “What, How, Why”.
Finding your purpose is like finding your true self, the person trapped under all the weight of cultural expectations, undamaged by life's challenges, the person you were born to be. Be careful because once you meet them, your life will never be the same. You will have a glimpse of your future and there is no going back from there. Are you ready to meet the real you?
Photo by Dimitri Houtteman
We’ve all used the expressions “follow your heart” and “gut instinct” but we tend to assume that all our thinking happens in the brain. But it turns out that is not correct. Neuroscience has exposed to us that we, in fact, have two other powerful brains that guide us:
We need our brains to be working in unison. In fact, when you find that you aren’t acting in what you think is your best interests, its worth checking that your head, heart and gut are fully aligned. Given that the gut is responsible for action, procrastination’s often a sign of the brains not all being in agreement.
One way to correct this is to examine a situation you feel misaligned on from each of these perspectives:
When I first started coaching, I wanted to do it part time and get another part time job. So far, so sensible. But my heart and gut had their own plans. Every time I spoke to a recruiter about finding work in my old career, I would hear myself saying “all I really want to do is coach” and of course, that would scupper all my chances of getting work. I eventually gave up fighting it and threw myself 100% in to coaching, which I have never regretted!
When was the last time your brains were not aligned? Was you heart not in it? Did your gut tell you no? How did it go?
Something that comes up a lot in client conversations is out of the blue experiences, where people think everything was ticking along nicely and it turns out that wasn’t the case. I had a boss once who, for over a year, reassured me when I frequently asked if there was anything I should be doing that I wasn’t doing that I was doing a great job - only to recount in granular detail every error I had made (including not being charismatic enough) during my exit interview when it was impossible for me to do anything about it in that organisation.
I am also haunted by the memory of giving unexpected end of year feedback to a colleague who wholeheartedly believed they were doing a great job, so I am not holding myself up as being a model for getting any of this right. However, I would like to assure you that I was very careful not to make that particular error again.
We are all really hesitant about giving bad feedback to others and often either avoid it altogether or soften the blow so much the message gets lost. What we are doing by not giving feedback is not allowing that person to learn and grow. Humans learn by trial and error and if you break the feedback loop, you are in fact denying them them the chance to become better.
There are many ways of giving feedback and we need to find our own style. Here are a few techniques you can try (and one to avoid!)
This is an approach from Marshall Goldsmith, who suggests that you couch the information is terms of “what might be great to try in the future” rather than what wen’t wrong in the past. It implies that you believe they can change and that you want the best for them. Its a great technique!
This is more of a generalised approach rather than a technique. Its good to start with checking in with the other person - what do they think is going well and whats not going so well? In my experience, most people have doubts and just need a safe environment to air them. That neatly segues into the opportunity to explore alternative ways of tackling a problem.
5 Word Review
This was a method created by one of the founders of of Kayak.com. You solicit feedback from a colleagues or your manager but their contribution is limited to 5 words and they need to cover what you are doing well and what could benefit from improvement. You meet to talk about it for an hour, ideally. Nothing is written down, so its not on anyone’s record. Repeat multiple times.
The DESC technique is a nice structure to support you when you give feedback:
Tell a story
Telling a story about yourself or another person who had a similar experience that led to a happy outcome is a technique that works for people of all ages to illustrate a better approach to a common set of circumstances. It also helps them to recognise that they are not alone in misjudging a situation, which helps to reduce the natural tendency to become defensive. I leave it up to you to decide how grounded the story has to be in reality, but do remember people have a sixth sense for deception!
And the one to avoid? Its the feedback sandwich - where you offer praise then tuck in the criticism and follow up with more praise. It is very popular (having been recommended for years now) but super confusing for the receiver. They either just hear the positives or they brace themselves for the second punch and let the good sentiments fly past unheard.
I hope this inspires you to give feedback more often. And to see it as a gift rather than as a negative experience for you and for the recipient. Instead, look upon it as something that helps them grow better and stronger, like fertiliser for the soul.
Photo by CDC
It appears that viruses are a lot smarter than we might give them credit for. And they are remarkably singleminded: their whole lifecycle and survival strategy is focussed on making as many people ill as possible. A fascinating tactic they employ is one where they are able to manipulate the behaviour of their hosts in order to further their own interests. There is now evidence that people become measurably more social when they are first infected and most contagious and this significantly helps the virus achieve its goal of infecting as many people as possible.
They are cleverly good at taking advantage of the fact that humans are ecosystems, with millions of microorganisms, many of which live in our gut. We are vastly outnumbered by them - possibly as many as three times more than what we might consider to be our human selves. This vast collection of microbiota is largely made up of bacteria, fungi and even viruses that symbiotically help our bodies to function efficiently.
Viruses have a lot in common with our internal saboteur thoughts: they too are parasites and are acting in their own best interests and not ours. They often are so good at persuading us that they are our own thoughts that we assume they are. They are 100% focussed on winning now and have no interest in the long term, so they egg us on to do and say things that feel satisfying in the moment: lose our tempers, over eat, make a clever but barbed comment but they have no care, like all parasites, about the long term prospects of their hosts.
Saboteur thoughts come from the part of our brain that is less evolved (brainstem) that deals with self preservation and reacts at lighting speed to handle any perceived threats. It takes a short term view and is totally focussed on keeping us alive. Our saboteur thoughts are the strategies that we developed as small children that kept us safe when we were tiny and the world seemed very threatening even if we grew up in kind loving households. These childish rules of thumb - the ones that encourage us to say yes when we ought to say no or letting a desire for doing everything perfectly (or not at all) stops you getting anything done - are not fit for purpose in the adult lives we end up leading and they end up undermining us.
To break free of them, we need to recognised them as being good ideas who have outlived their sell by date who now reside in our minds and masquerade as our own thoughts which should be coming from our higher brain (neo cortex). Fortunately, like getting a vaccine, there is something you can do:
Want to know more about silencing your saboteurs? Take the saboteur assessment and then let's talk about how we can work together using the Positive Intelligence method to silence your saboteurs for good.
25 years experience in helping teams build user centred products and services, now helping digital colleagues find their happy path at work