Getting over it

Somebody told me that it takes as long to get over working in a large organisation as you spent in it. Now, I am one of the first to point out how toxic our working environments have become, that bullying has become so prevalent that it is now a default management practice, how the pressure to conform bends people out of shape over time, but even I was shocked by this.

That means that every day you spend in that job you hate, working with those people you despise, wading through the corporate bullshit and compromising your life for the pay cheque, you are storing up another day of dealing with the fall-out.

I thought “This can’t be true”, so I started talking to people about it. The responses I got surprised me.

“Yeah, that sounds about right”
“At least”
“If you are lucky. If you’re not, it’s longer”

Or course, it depends on your experience. Some people have a great time working in large organisations and get to fulfil their potential and have a fabulous lifestyle. I obviously don’t know many people like that. I am not sure how many there are around but we know that only just over a third of people are actively engaged in work, so they are definitely a minority.

The rest of us, it seems, get a bit battered and bruised on our way through the corporate mincer and, yes, it takes us some time to get over it. It takes time for the bruises to fade, the cuts to heal and for us to return to something like our real shape.

There are two conclusions I draw from this.

Firstly, we have to help people heal themselves after their experience in corporate life and speed up the process of repair and renewal. That’s what I try to do through After the Mothership.

Secondly, we have to fix the problem at source and change our organisations from the toxic, finance-driven work environments that predominate today to people-centred, purposeful, life-affirming enterprises of tomorrow. This I address through my work with Coincidencity.

And I guess there’s a third, which is to educate people in strategies and techniques to protect themselves from the worst effects of those toxic environments and give them other options so that they can vote with their feet. That is, to show people how to be more resilient and take control of their lives, which is what I do through coaching when I work with people in the early part of their careers.

Work should be something that engages and fulfils us, not something that we have to get over.

Gizza Job!

It understandable, that desire for a job. It seems to bring about some certainty and stability, although that’s is mostly illusory as all it really brings is the regular salary check – until they decide you are surplus to requirements.

I think I longed for the status and identity that you get with a job, not in a “look at me, the big ‘I-am’ “ way but in the “I don’t have to explain myself, you know what I’m here for, let’s get on with making things happen” way. It means you don’t have to answer the dreaded “What do you do?” question or explain to friends that, no, you don’t have a ‘proper’ job. It just makes life simpler.

So I understand why people keep looking for a job. But you have to be realistic. If you are over 50, have worked at a senior level, and have loads of experience, who is going to hire you? Who is going to hire someone who is older and more experienced than they are, has opinions and thinks independently and is expensive? Ask yourself why they are going to choose you over someone who is younger, more energetic, easier to manage and cheaper? Someone who could be threat over someone who could be an acolyte?

And let’s be honest, the recruitment process is broken. You are never going to fit any of the detailed job descriptions that companies love to produce these days. You are favourite to get filtered out by some 20-year old in HR or at the recruiter because you don’t fit their idea of what the job specification requires. You are not likely to get in front of the decision maker and get the chance to explain your personal qualities. You probably won’t even get past the software algorithm.

You can spend hours, weeks, days, filling in 20-page application forms that want all the information that’s in your c.v. transcribed into some confusing and obtuse format, and still have to provide a bespoke c.v. and covering letter. All that time and energy and emotion that you could be putting to creating a new lifestyle that is designed around you.

Doesn’t it make more sense to work on yourself and develop your own resources and resilience so that you can choose between a much wider set of options? So that you can mix and match and change over time, moving between different types of roles from freelancing to consulting to running your own business to working collaboratively with others? And also to sometimes have a job, because from time to time that might be the best option for you. But then, when it finishes, you have the wherewithal to change to something else, to control your own destiny.

It’s a challenge to now orientate yourself around your needs and wants, after working for so long furthering the objectives of others and submitting the the needs of the organisation. This is a wonderful chance, however, to build a life that is focused on what is important to you, your needs and wants, your priorities and objectives. So let go of the false comfort of finding a job and spend that time and energy on the most important person in your life, you. Start living life on your own terms. The irony is that it will make even more people want to work with you. They might even offer you a job!

Follow your heart to choose your business

When I bought my franchise, I told myself that I had carried out a rational evaluation and my due diligence, and it was the right choice for me. In reality, that was the post-purchase rationalisation of an emotional decision (as if often the case).

I had applied logic, though. Once I had decided I was going to ‘do my own thing’ (itself an emotional response to a particularly bad job interview experience), I looked at buying a business. Well, I told myself, I know lots about business, I am sure I can run something. I studied a manual I bought from the US (this was some years ago, before the widespread availability of advice there is today) and searched for a business. Realising the market in the UK is very, very small, I started looking at franchises, and then focused on the ‘white collar’ franchises.

I narrowed the options down to two, and I went through their application process. The one I chose was a business support franchise, which seemed more suited to my skills and temperament. It also looked more like the sort of job that I used to have. It felt safe and comfortable, and just a bit scary at the same time.

Now, it turned out to be a failure for reasons that could have been identified at the beginning. I am too much of an individualist to run a franchise. I was subconsciously buying a job rather than starting a business. I had, in fact, bought myself a sales job, which was the last thing I wanted to be doing. It was doomed from the start. However, it was based around something I was interested in. The behavioural profiling and the coaching are the basis of my work today and have led me to explore psychology and behaviour much more deeply, giving me knowledge and skills I use every day with my clients.

The mistake I made initially was to assume I could run any type of business. That business was business and as long as it could give me the returns I was after, I was up for it. In reality, it’s a small number of people who can do that, people who love the business of business. For them, what the business does is of secondary consideration, it’s how it does it and it’s potential for development that interests them. Sometimes these people are called entrepreneurs, although it’s not a term I particularly like or find that helpful because they don’t identify themselves that way. It’s the label that the media would probably apply to them.

I should have realised that I am in the majority group, for whom what the business does is of critical importance. It has to be something that we find intrinsically interesting, something that engages us and gives us meaning. In the course of my research, I considered a wide range of businesses that were never going to be right for me because I just wasn’t interested in them. This wasted a large part of the attention that I could give to my choice. This meant that when I narrowed it down to those that were right for me, I was choosing from a very small selection.

If I had firstly thought about what was important to me about a business I would want to run, what sectors, what types of operation, my initial search would have been much narrower but deeper. That way I would have looked at the largest number of businesses that were a good fit for me, I would have been choosing from a much bigger pool of potential targets. Instead of picking from 2 or 3, I could have been picking from 10 or 12. I would have had to look more deeply into what I was choosing and why and done a richer investigation of my motives.

Another way of describing this is when you go shopping for clothes. You don’t start talking around clothes shops, randomly looking at everything and seeing what catches your fancy. For a start, you generally ignore shops that cater for the opposite sex. You focus on those shops that have the type of clothes you are looking for, be that formal, casual, sportswear or whatever. You go to those that are in your price range, and then you probably do another sort on those shops that generally have clothes that you like. That means that in the couple of hours you have, you get to see the maximum number of choices of clothes that are going to be what you are looking for. You go narrow first, and then widen and deepen your search to maximise your choices.

I didn’t do this because in my initial assessment, I thought any business would do for me. It might sound like arrogance that I assumed that I could run any business, based on my corporate experience. I prefer to think of it as naivety and inexperience. On the Mothership, I often dealt with what I was given and hadn’t exercised that choice before. There was a natural filter in place that I didn’t notice, that the business had narrowed down the options for me.

Creating and running your own business is an intensely personal thing and you have to start with yourself, your interests and passions, your motivations and your purpose. Taking an approach that is detached, rational and analytical, as you did on the Mothership, may seem like the right approach but is, in fact, exactly wrong. Counter-intuitively, you should start with what stirs your emotions and follow that path. Your head has a role to play but not until much later on. It is your heart you must listen to first.