Baby Steps

I had a wonderful send off from work last Friday and this week I took the first shaky steps of working for myself. It’s a little strange at first getting up in the morning, getting ready and then not leaving the flat, and I will be pleased when I manage to get a computer and desk set up so I have a permanent work space at least. As my boyfriend is also self employed and mostly at home, the bedroom is being converted into an office – to the extent that the bed has to go as we’re trying to fill the spare room with a lodger / language student! My parents think I’m crazy but having the space to work at the moment and extra money coming in is more important than the luxury of a bed set up all the time and a spare front room. I think if we could have shelves built for us to sleep on, we probably would have.

My to do list at the moment is so long it’s quite daunting and it’s taking a lot of effort to stay focused and not become deterred. Having just said that I think I will spend some time tomorrow creating a “mind map”. I first discovered these when studying chemistry at A-Level and having joined the course a few months late found them an excellent source of absorbing masses of information. I have also used them to some extent at work, especially when starting a new project plan when you need to put some structure to the many ideas that come flooding in.

I received a letter yesterday informing me that a short story I had submitted to a competition some weeks back has been shortlisted in the final 10 for adjudication. I know it’s purely coincidence that it arrived on my first day out of work but I took it as an encouraging sign!

This Friday I am going to attend a “LikeMind” event in Brighton. I discovered this group through the inspiring blog of Tim Ferriss (a contributor to me giving up my job) and this is the first meeting of their that I will be able to attend. As a newbie to the world of the self employed creative entrepreneur I am hoping to meet similar people and hear about their experiences searching for and securing work.

Be your own fan

One of the biggest influencing factors preventing us from acting the way we want to, is worrying about what other people think and how they will react to you. You’ve had a bad day at work, your boss was unreasonable and embarrassed you in front of your colleagues. After work in the pub you tell your friends all the things you should have said – but why didn’t you? Because you don’t want to upset your boss, and ruin your chance for that promotion, so you keep quiet, and continue to let him treat you in the same way.

The danger comes when we start to believe that other’s opinions are a reflection on who we are as a person. That might sound obvious, and you don’t have to be timid to be under the influence of other people’s opinions. If we feel guilty for not wanting to go to a party, but go anyway because we’re expected to, we’re compromising our own needs to keep other people happy. If making other people happy is more important to you, then there’s no need to change, but if you’re feeling as though you’re suppressing a part of you to fit in, then it might be time to become your own number one fan.

Have you ever been with a group of people and just felt as though you don’t quite fit in, but you continue to spend time with them because what’s the alternative? It might be the habit of drinking on a Friday night with work mates, when you’d be happier staying in, but you can’t do that because it’s Friday and, well, everyone’s going for a drink. Or perhaps your friends have been able to make you feel bad about something you did – leaving a party early, not calling often enough, drinking too much or not enough. If you have experienced this then you have given people the power to choose how you should feel and act when really, the only person with all the information to make the best choices for you is…well, you.

Other people are at their most powerful to influence us when we care about their opinion, but if you place stock in what others think and say about you, you inhibit your ability to grow freely as you develop with one eye on someone else’s reaction.

If everyone is your customer…then no one is your customer

It is impossible to please everyone, and why should we even try? Take for example a controversial figure like Amy Winehouse. Some people can’t stand her and think she is a talentless waste, good only for car crash tabloid exposure. On the other hand, some people love her and think she has a genius talent and gift for music. So who is right? I’ve no doubt even you might have an opinion, but for all these debates about her talent going back and forth, they don’t actually affect who she is…unless she lets them. If she never reads an article about herself again she will continue to exist, live breathe, get hungry, cry at what she finds upsetting, laugh at what amuses her, and possibly make music that she enjoys. It is the same for us. Have you ever noticed that different people react to you differently even when you stay the same? Some people like you more than others, and some people can’t stand you. I think the key is to not want to find out. The more honest you are with yourself about who you are and what you are interested in, the more you will attract people who reflect that. It is not about right or wrong, it is about differences. We would never expect an apple to taste like an orange, and yet we sometimes expect our friends to support us or act in a way we want them to because that’s what “friends do”, and likewise, they may expect that from us.

My first experience of really being myself was after university. I had some good friends at university but often felt like a square peg in a round hole and would continually try to reinvent the way I acted, forcing myself much to my own misery to fit in with people I felt I should be spending time with. After university I went to Canada on my own with a group of other travellers through BUNAC. On the first night in the hostel I had that same sinking feeling that I wasn’t going to fit in. Everyone was excited and bustling around and the two self appointed leaders of the group were telling everyone to drink up our drinks and all head out for a meal together. I felt like I was back at university and the popular clique had already managed to carve itself out. And then I spotted a boy and a girl looking with bemusement at the rest of the group as they were told to “drink up”. They had a pitcher or beer between the two of them and looked like they had no intention to hurry and didn’t care what anyone else thought. I smiled. Something told me these were my people. Over many more beers we ended up living together that year and for the first time in a long time I was completely myself and they liked me for it. This gave me confidence to trust that in an abundance of people out there, the more I am myself, the more I will meet people like myself, and spend less time with people I don’t enjoy. For the most part this has worked.

It doesn’t mean I don’t have friends who aren’t completely different from me, but I don’t expect them to change as they don’t expect me to act in a way I don’t want to. It also doesn’t mean I never accept another point of view, or someone else’s advice on something. Sometimes others can be a positive influence on us, make us try things we enjoy but ultimately, the choice is yours. IT’s the same for criticism, it only counts if you believe it and if you believe it, use it to improve.

Next time someone disagrees with something you’ve done remind yourself that for every argument there is a counter argument- be your own number one fan. If you’re happy with your actions, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. If you’re not happy with your actions, don’t regret, them seem them as an opportunity to learn. You don’t need to tell that person, but you can tell yourself and as long as you agree with yourself nothing else much matters

On a side note – I’m wondering how long this optimism is going to last.

Ploughing to Prevent Regret – Monday 3rd Nov 08

Getting away from it all

Getting away from it all

I am writing this from a cottage in a remote location as a result of doing something I have always wanted to do. For years I have had a romanticised notion of packing up and getting away from everything to take a holiday on my own, and for years I have denied myself. Convinced that people would think I was strange, my friends would be offended, my parents would worry about me being alone, I would get bored, I wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere (I don’t drive), it would be expensive and dangerous. I finally plucked up the courage to use some holiday days (unnecessary as I resigned since then) and go. A bit of research found somewhere that ticked the boxes and even some of my friends thought the idea sounded fantastic (though some thought I was a little odd!). Today is day three and as I look at the beautifully cloudy and green country landscape, with the cosy lamps on and the Aga murmuring behind me, my only regret was that I hadn’t done this sooner. How often do we finally take the plunge with a dream only to discover it wasn’t as difficult as we first thought, and wish we had done it sooner?

Regret can be painful, but it is a useful indicator of dreams we wish to pursue. Failing to learn from your current regrets may see you continue to notch up missed opportunities and become consumed with the idea of what might have been if only…

We learn from regret by recognising the situations where we wished we had acted differently, and preparing ourselves (ploughing – I’ll come to this a little later) to act differently in the future. We can spend hours regretting something we have or haven’t done, and though we are recognising the situation, often we’re not actually learning from it, we’re not focused on moving forward, we’re stuck, immobilised by regret.

The Bonus Feature “Alternative Ending” – currently not available in the DVD of life.

My dad has an interesting perspective on regret, which almost always leads to getting knocked over by a truck. He can turn any regret into an “alternative ending” which, although undoes your regretful action…well… watch for yourself:

ME: “If only I hadn’t thrown away that receipt I could have swapped these shoes for a better pair…”(great sadness and bad feeling in the stomach)

MY DAD: “Ahh yes, but let’s say that you still had the receipt, you went back to the shop and swapped your shoes, but in your excitement at the new shoes, you run out from the shop, into the road and get hit by a truck…and then die.”

I have heard my dad say this many time and though the logic is simple, it is a great exercise in perspective and helps you stop thinking too much about some of the “what ifs” in the world. Looking at what could have happened is useless if we’re hoping it will happen through time travel, but if we’re assessing it based on how we can act differently in the future (saving the receipt till I’m sure I like the shoes – always helpful if you’re flat footed but get seduced by heels every time you’re in a shop…) then it is an essential part of growing.

Growing, ploughing? Has the countryside gone to your head?

Perhaps, but stay with me on this one…

Regret often indicates a desire for something we were unable to achieve: asking someone for a date, speaking your mind in an argument, not completing that essay in time or treating someone badly for example. The 20:20 vision of hindsight oversimplifies the situation and it is easy to either beat yourself up about where you went wrong, or dismiss that there was anything you could have done to change the outcome: “They would probably have said no…I’m just not confident enough…I had too much on at the time…he shouldn’t have provoked me.”

Does this sound familiar? Neither of the above is enabling us to learn from our past and grow…and that brings us back to ploughing.

To grow crops you have to prepare the land. You can’t just throw seed down on a nice looking field of grass and hope you turn it into Barley. Have you ever seen a ploughed field? It looks muddy, messy and clumsy – the best foundation for change into something new. And that is what’s needed to change our actions over our current regrets. I’ve got many things I wished I had done that I hope to pursue and giving up my job is probably the muddiest and clumsiest thing I could do! But change doesn’t always have to be so drastic I don’t think. Sometimes bitesize changes can be just as, if not more helpful in undoing our habits which generate the same results.

Bitesize change – the fear vaccination

To go after something we regret not doing, most people have to get over the fear that has prevented them from getting it in the past. Fear of seeming selfish, fear of rejection, fear of embarrassment or fear of failure. These fears can seem terrifying enough and to start the change we have to open ourselves up to small doses of the uncomfortable feelings of being embarrassed, rejected and failing. Pretty much like a vaccination. A small change repeated again and again can soon form a better habit, until we’re no longer worried about being embarrassed because it’s happened so often you realise you can survive it. Such “bite size” exercises can help vaccinate you against your fears so that current regrets are opportunities to learn and not just excuses to drink vodka and listen to country music…

Some Bitesize change exercises could be inviting someone out for a drink (and not minding if they say no), asking a question in a meeting about something you don’t understand, giving someone a compliment and meaning it. Anything which inches you outside of what you’re comfortable doing means the next step shouldn’t be so big…and so on and so on.

My biggest fear is failure, but rather than the Bitesize approach I’m taking a leap into the unknown. I suppose we just need to watch this space and see what happens to me!

Don’t Look Back – Monday 27th Oct 08

Mary Engelbreit’s greeting card appeals to me at this moment in time. By now the people I am close to at work know that I am leaving and on the whole seem very happy for me. Some people think I’m being foolish leaving and not having a plan but to me it just seems more foolish to stay when my heart’s not in it. I feel liberated and in touch with myself again, even though I don’t have a clue about what it is that I want to do, but that blank canvas doesn’t frighten me too much. My last day is November the 28th and it will be the end of an era for me. It’s been one of the best learning curves of my life. After I finished university when I was 21 I went to work in Canada for a year with just a rucksack, return flight and no plan. It turned out to be one of the best things I ever did. 4 years later and I feel ready to take that plunge again.

Greeting card by Mary Engelbreit

Greeting card by Mary Engelbreit

Mentors

Today I was offered a new project to work on with my previous boss; same salary, more control, familiar team and prospects of working in the States for some of it. I felt the pull, and I could taste the regularity of my skinny cappuccino sipping back into my life. I could work on it for a few months and then think about going it alone, perhaps this project would arm me with better skills to go it alone. Something held me back and my hesitancy was detected. I was keen that it not be thought of as being ungrateful and after much probing from my former employer I managed to utter the words that I was thinking about going it alone. Even as I said the words I felt foolish and doubtful that I could even do what I was talking about. The reaction I received was one of support and understanding from someone who had decided to go it alone when he was just a year younger than me. His support was a real blessing as I appreciate the investment he has made in me with time and patience over the last two and a half years.

Knowing that the cat was out of the bag, it made me think there was no point in holding back and I decided I would hand in my notice tomorrow, meaning I will be out of work much sooner than I anticipated which is exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. I began thinking about my boss’s words of encouragement and it made me think about the mentors I’ve had in my life, and the other times when I’ve felt I was missing the guidance I needed. For a while I thought the answer was in one long term mentor who was perfect, and believed that if only the right person took me under their wing I could achieve amazing feats.

In Dr. Dyer’s Erroneous Zones, he actually declares the opposite, that no one should be put on a pedestal above you, and that by doing so, you limit your own ability by saying “I’m not as good as them”. I found this difficult to believe at first. Surely there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to be like someone you admire? And how, at the age of twenty five, when in my eyes I haven’t achieved anything in the field of my dreams, be my own mentor? I realise that he means our strength should come internally rather than relying on anyone else to pick us up and make us feel better. This is easier said than done when you feel like the world has trampled on you all day and you haven’t a clue to what to do with your life. I do hope that one day I may have the resolve to be my own counsel, but until then, when the chips are down I’ll probably still ask myself “what would Bruce or Dolly do?”