When I grow up, I’m going to be…

I often joke that I haven’t decided what I am going to do when I grow up. It’s a way of using my self-deprecating humour to deflect awkward questions about what I am doing. Like everyone else, I am just making it up as I go along but I don’t want to admit that I am winging it.

Like all the best jokes, it has more than a little basis in truth. I really haven’t decided on the one thing I am going to do, the single career, the identifiable profession that can be contain in a neat little box so that everyone can see it and know what it is. The thing is, I don’t think I ever will. I am just not like that.

It’s not that I am scared of commitment, or that I don’t take life seriously, or that I am indecisive (although other may disagree!). It’s just that I like to have variety in my life. I am interested in many different things. My curiosity takes me in many different directions. Just doing one thing, being one thing – well, that sounds like hell to me.

I know you are probably thinking “Uh-oh, a jack of all trades and master of none”, because that’s the normal way we put people down who do multiple things. Such is the cult of specialisation in our society today that anyone who doesn’t go down a single path is seen as deviant, some sort of misanthrope to be pilloried and denigrated. But let’s look at the full quote,

Jack of all trades, master of none,

though oftentimes better than master of one.

You see, having multiple skills and interests is really strength, not a weakness. It’s a strength that’s increasingly sought after as employers look for people who are able to fulfil multiple roles and adapt to meet the rapidly changing requirements of business today.

In fact, specialisation can become a bad thing, a trap for us as we hit the middle of our careers. It’s been defined as ’Over-competence’, the situation where an individual has become so good at their specialisation that they can’t escape it. They are so valuable because of the large revenues they can generate for their employer or themselves that the opportunity cost of doing something else is too high. However, the work no longer challenges them or stretches them and they lack opportunity for personal or professional growth.

So being a ‘Jack of all trades’ is no bad thing. It is a positive virtue that allows for personal growth and development. It is the way to become the ‘best you’ you can be.

What’s more, I am not alone. There are loads of us out there, people who never quite fit into one role, never quite manage to stay in the box that we are given. There are lots of names for us too (no, not those sorts of names. Positive descriptors!).

‘Scanners’ is a term that has been around for some time, originally coined by Barbara Sher, the original advocate of creating your own job (and also promoted by John Williams, author of “Screw Work, Let’s Play”). People who are just too curious to stick to one thing, who have multiple passions and ideas and inspirations.

Or if you prefer, you can call yourself a multi-potentialite, a neo-generalist or someone with a renaissance soul.

Marianne Cantwell, author of Free Range Humans, and someone who I have worked with to develop my own ‘free range’ career, has given an excellent TEDx talk where she talks about ‘Liminality’, this state of not ever being one thing or another but being somewhere in-between. When you are in a group but still seem to have a foot outside. When there always seems to be a bit of you that doesn’t quite fit.

And here’s the thing. Whatever of these descriptions you feel best suits you, you feel a bit ashamed because you aren’t quite what society expects you to be. You are supposed to fit in a box (because that makes it easier for everyone else) but you just don’t, just can’t, just won’t. You are doing ‘grown up’ properly. You aren’t ‘adulting’ in the right way.

This is where it gets really serious and why this is important. That shame that you feel is completely mis-placed but, more importantly, extremely dangerous. It’s corrosive, debilitating and doing you harm every day. Furthermore, it is a barrier to you making the best of your talents, making the best of yourself and bringing your best stuff to the world.

Far from feeling shame, you should be proud of your breadth and spread, your scanning abilities, your boundless curiosity, your multiple passions and interests, your ability to find the spaces in between that everyone else misses. We are the innovators, the creators, the change-makers. We find the connections that others can’t see, we brew up the concoctions that no-one else can cook up, we see a future that no-one else can imagine.

The world needs us to stay young, stay curious, keep playing and keep exploring. We aren’t meant to settle down and stay in a box, we are meant to find new places to play and to live and to grow.

So never grow up. Don’t decide what you are going to do. Decide who you are going to be.

Join us at After the Mothership where we’re all figuring out what to do when we grow up.

Get involved in our private Facebook group HERE 

or come along to our monthly “After the Mothership LIVE!” meeting in London. Book your place for our September event HERE.

Is it change or transformation?

Have you ever made some lifestyle changes to improve your health? Exercising regularly, eating more healthily, giving up alcohol, going on a blitz before a ‘significant’ birthday?

We’ve all ‘been good’ for a while, perhaps done it several times, but we often lapse back to our old ways.

Changes are temporary, it seems.

Changes are also external.

You can be a ‘gym bunny’ for a while, to lose weight or run a marathon, but it doesn’t make you a thin person or an athlete. If you are still a fast food lover or a couch potato at heart, that’s the behaviour that you go back to once you have achieved your goal.

Change is the domain of the yo-yo dieter. The New Year resolver. The January Gym member.

‘Ah,” you say, “but you can have lasting change. It doesn’t have to be like that, people can stick with their new habits.”

And that’s true, they can, but only if they become a different person inside. Only if the way they live their life, the values that they honour, the way they see themselves, changes. That is transformation.

It’s permanent because It’s internal. You don’t revert to your previous behaviour because you are no longer that person.

We go through many changes in our lives but only the ones that are permanent are accompanied by a transformation.

As anyone who has children will tell you, the birth of your first child is a massive change. Your life will never be the same again but it is also transformational. YOU will never be the same again. This often comes as a surprise to new parents. We use change and transformation interchangeably and so we  do not appreciate the difference. The change you feel within yourself as a parent is so unexpectedly strong that it really underlines how different they are.

You find yourself overwhelmed with emotions, knocked sideways by a completely new perspective of the world and your place in it. You are caught unawares by desires to protect and nurture that are suddenly awakened within you. This is transformation. You are now a different person and your behaviour changes permanently.

Transformation, then, can be born from change. Change is the external stimulus but you have to internalise it and make permanent changes to your mindset and your life choices.

So, going on a health blitz and saying no to the chips and beer is a good thing to do. However, to make it permanent, you have to go through a transformation. You have to become the type of person who doesn’t eat chips, who moderates the amount of beer they drink. You know this has happened when you don’t have to make a conscious choice, you just automatically chose the salad over the chips because you prefer it.

The people I work with have been through change, either by choice or circumstance. Often, however, they have not been through transformation. They have left the corporate world but they still see themselves as corporate executives, they have the same default behaviours, the same values, the same perception of themselves and what constitutes normality for them. This is often why they are struggling.

And I completely understand that. It took me a long time to make my own transformation from corporate executive to the person I am today.

However, without transformation, change is often painful. The dissonance we feel between our inner selves the surroundings we now find ourselves in causes us distress and anxiety and can even cause actual physical pain and ill-health.

We can choose to live in that pain, to retreat back to what is familiar by going back into corporate life, even if it makes us unhappy. Or we can undergo a personal transformation that accepts the new reality we find ourselves in and embraces the opportunities it brings.

For many, going back is not an option. We are too old, or do not meet the requirements that companies now have, or are disqualified on some other grounds. Or the cost of living in that world  was too great, it was harmful to us and we needed to escape it.

The choice then is to live in the pain and discomfort of our new circumstances, or to transform ourselves so that we are adapted to this new world and able to thrive in it. This transformation may be difficult, challenging and, in itself, painful. It will lead, however, to a new state where we will be at peace with our world and comfortable in our own skin. It will no longer take effort to cope with world but the world will energise us with opportunity because the changes to our behaviours will be imbedded, they will be permanent.

That’s got to be a goal worth getting.

After the Mothership has been created to provide the environment for you to work out your own transformation, in the company of fellow travellers and with the advice, information and support you need to successful transition to your new life style and career.

You can join us in our private Facebook group HERE

Or come and meet us in person at our monthly ‘After the Mothership LIVE!’ meeting – grab your tickets for September’s event HERE.

Neither fish nor foul

It’s very disconcerting when you leave your corporate career. You have lost your role and your identity and all the anchors of that life have faded away. You know what you were but you don’t yet know who are going to be. You were employed, a career executive, a professional of some description and now you are … well, what?

There’s lots of things that you could become. A contractor, a consultant, a business owner, an ‘entrepreneur’ (whatever that is), or some other things altogether. Or perhaps a mix of things, a portfolio careerist.

But right now you aren’t any other those. You are in-between, neither fish nor fowl.

This is what Marianne Cantwell calls a ‘liminal’ stage. (She introduces the idea of liminality in her excellent TEDx Talk). You are in flux and it’s a time of uncertainty, of not knowing. The problem is that society doesn’t really like this, it likes certainty. If you are not one thing, then you need to be another. If you are no longer a corporate executive, then you have to be someone else.

It’s not OK to say you are ‘in between’. “In between what?” will be the answer. “Are you resting. Like an actor?” they will say, putting you down as a failure.

So we are pressured to jump, to make a choice to be something else. This is not a good idea.

You see, being in between, being in this liminal stage, is a great place to be. It’s the place of creativity, of possibility and of growth. Certainly, we feel the tension and the anxiety but that is also when we can feel most alive. The secret is actually to stay in that place, to relax into the uncertainty and to trust your subconscious to figure it all out for you, in due course.

It’s a very necessary part of transition too. I use William Bridges’ 3-stage model of transition:

  1. The Letting Go
  2. The Neutral Zone
  3. The New Beginning.

This uncertain, anxious but creative phase is The Neutral Zone, the stage where we have left the past behind but still haven’t figured out what our future holds. It’s the part when people often go off into the wilderness on their own for a bit.

If we jump this stage then we take all of our unresolved problems forward with us, which will sabotage whatever we try to do next and prevent making the transition successfully.

We have to be able to resist the societal pressures to put ourselves in another box, to slap a new label on ourselves, and to sit with the discomfort and uncertainty for the time we need to move through this stage properly. This is hard to do by ourselves, by sheer force of will power.

It’s important, then, to surround ourselves with people who understand the struggle that we are going through, who can support us without judgement and who know the value of staying in this space. Others who are neither fish nor fowl either, who get exactly where we are.

This much may be obvious but where to find them is less so. That is why I created After the Mothership, a place where it’s absolutely OK to be an in-betweener, to not know what you do, to be uncertain about what you are doing next but also in the ideal place to figure it out.

If you’d like to join us in our liminal space and share our in-between-ness, join the conversation in our private Facebook group HERE.

Or come and meet us in person at the September ‘After the Mothership LIVE!’ event and grab your tickets HERE.

(Picture: fish-fowl-by-hikingartist illustration (Frits Ahlefeldt – Founder Hiking.org) by Frits Ahlefeldt – Founder Hiking.org (flickr))

When they’re not returning your calls

You were such good buddies when you worked together. You where on the same page when it came to work, never an argument and always a laugh. You thought it would be great to meet up for drinks but they haven’t got back to you…

You’ve sent them a few messages, left a few voicemails, given them a few options but they haven’t got back to you yet…

Sure, you know they’re busy. But you were friends, and friends keep in touch, right?

But they haven’t returned your calls…

She was always a bit of a champion of yours, she was your mentor for a while. You always helped to make her look good too, singing her praises right, left and centre. It would great if she could make a couple of intros for you, a real help. You’ve asked her to meet with you but she hasn’t returned your calls…

You’re sure she likes you and wants to you to be successful. You’ve always felt she was pulling for you, cheering you on. You just want to grab a coffee with her and ask her a few questions. But she’s not got around to calling you back…

She’s super-busy, you know that, but she’s always made time for you before. You thought you were special to her but she’s just not getting back to you…

It seems once you are out of the corporate bubble, you are out in ways you never expected. You are no longer on the Mothership and so you no longer matter in the lives of those who remain. You are simply not in their orbit any more, it’s a case of out of sight and out of mind.

It’s upsetting to find that these relationships are not what you thought they were, to find that the ties that you had were not due to your intrinsic worth but just due to the circumstances of working together. It’s like you were under a spell and that spell is now broken.

This feeling of disenchantment is common when you are in transition. You have literally been in an enchantment, under a spell, that made you see an illusion. What once appeared solid now seems insubstantial and is disappearing fast. What once seemed certain is now gone and there is nothing yet replacing it.

In time you will replace these erstwhile friends, you will find new certainties around which to anchor your life. It could be that you join another organisation, board another Mothership, and enter a new enchantment.

Or you could choose to forge your own path, to create your own circle of friends and relationships. People who are on the same journey as you and who are seeking authentic connections with like-minded and like-hearted individuals. Create genuine and lasting relationships that will support you for the rest of your life.

My aim is to help you find those connections to like-minds and like-hearts and to create those lasting relationships. That’s why I am running a series of events in London to create the opportunity for connection and for community. There’s also a Facebook group to keep the conversation going in between the events, and for those who are unable to get along in person.

Find out more about the September ‘After the Mothership LIVE!’ event and grab your tickets HERE.

Or join the conversation in our private Facebook group HERE.

Even Olympians can struggle with their new life

Gail Emms MBE has been a success. A world-class badminton player and an Olympian who won a silver medal in Athens in 2004, along with World Championship mixed doubles gold in 2006 and two Commonwealth golds.

She’s not in that world anymore and in a searingly honest article she has talked about how she has struggled to establish herself since. It’s an account that has echoes for anyone who has been made redundant or had to change what they do in mid-career.

All athletes know that they will retire one day and they will face a transition but it can be hard to cope with when it arrives. For those of us who thought our retirement would be distant and well-funded only to find we are having to start again in middle-age, it’s more of a shock but no less of a struggle. There are many parallels in what Gail has to say in her article and her subsequent interview with the BBC and the experience of those of us who have come out of a corporate career.

“When you first retire, you go through the whole transition and the whole grieving process, and it’s horrible. You don’t know where you are and you don’t have an identity.”

This is at the heart of the challenge. When you leave corporate life or a career path you are starting a transition process. Part of that process is grieving for the life you had expected that is now not possible. We all have dreams and projections of how life will pan out that based on our current circumstances and so when those circumstances change, those dreams die. That person that we were, that identity (in Gail’s case, Olympic badminton player) also dies.

“I feel ashamed and it’s a massive dent in my pride to admit that an Olympic medallist is struggling.”

Shame is a very big part of the challenge we face. We haven’t been Olympic medallists but we see ourselves as people who are professional and capable, who have achievements and make things happen, who are able to cope. To find ourselves struggling jars with this  self-image and the cognitive dissonance arising from this causes us pain. We are ashamed to tell people about our situation and, hidden away, our shame grows and corrodes our spirit.

Gail has taken a vital first step in writing this article and talking about the shame she feels. Shame hates to be spoken and once it is dragged out into the daylight, it loses it power over us. Facing up to our shame and speaking about it is a hard thing to do but it has to be a first step for us too (and I started After the Mothership to create a safe space to do that in).

“I am feeling lost and with no direction, no purpose, no career, no identity and who the hell do I go to? I want to provide for my family, to be a strong role model and feel like I belong somewhere and be part of a team again.”

Doesn’t this sum up exactly how we feel when we have been chucked on the scrap heap through redundancy or our career has come to sudden halt?

We long for direction and purpose in our lives and we often surrender the responsibility for this to others, to the corporation, for the sake of our careers and the pay check. When we leave the Mothership, our purpose, however flimsy it may have been, is taken away and we have to find a discover a new one and fashion a new direction for our lives but we’ve never been taught to do this.

Gail talks of her identity again and it is not an exaggeration to say that we can suffer an existential crisis as we question who we really are and where we fit in the world. This is an essential part of the transition process but no less disconcerting and disorientating for that. It plunges us into uncertainty and doubt and causes great anxiety and even depression.

She also mentions two other key needs that are affected, our need for belonging and for social connection. As social animals we feel compelled to gather together, which is what caused us to form into tribes back in neanderthal times that became the foundations of our society.

“Everyone assumes you are made for life.”

This is another reason why you feel you have no-one to turn to. People assume you are doing OK, you’re a success. Why would they want to hear your problems? Won’t they just think you are an over-privileged whinger? If you talk to them then they’ll say you should think yourself lucky, just suck it up and get on with it because there are people who have it much harder than you. Why would they be empathetic to you?

When you’ve had a decent career and had a comfortable life so far, people assume that you are going to be fine, that you’re well-set financially and you’ll get another job or find something to do. Besides, you have that big fat redundancy cheque to last you.

It doesn’t occur to them that the reality could be very different, that your commitments are substantial and that redundancy money won’t last long, that your pension pot is not nearly enough to fall back on, either now or when it’s actually time to retire. They don’t recognise the emotional and mental challenge of your situation either. Our default position is to assume that everyone else is doing OK, probably better than us, until we find out otherwise.

So now we feel there is nowhere to go and this adds to our shame. How can we presume to share our problems with others? We should not be moaning to them, we should not be struggling. We tell ourselves that we should man up, suck it up and get on with it.

“It’s not just the financial situation, it’s the mental battle I am facing at the moment. I am usually an optimistic person, but …”

This is something that we really don’t talk about enough and so I am grateful for Gail’s honesty here (she has spoken about her struggles with depression before). This transition is a major psychological challenge for all the reasons I have discussed above.

Financial issues in particular cause us problems because we process them in the amygdala, the primitive part of our brain that deals with emotions. When we face financial pressures we actually react to them as physical threats. That triggers our flight-or-fight response, flooding out body with cortisol and adrenaline. At this point our reasoning mind has been totally bypassed and we are responding emotionally rather than rationally. It is basically making us stupid.

Our normal state is irrelevant in this situation. Gail’s optimism is being overwhelmed by her amygdala and the feelings of high anxiety and high alert it is creating. In a state of permanent high alert, we are looking out for danger and things that could kill us. Again, our response is at odds with our self-image, which causes further distress.

“Another rejection, another ‘not making the interview’, and all my demons come back to haunt me.”

We are in a fragile emotional and mental state so we are hyper-sensitive to any rejection or failure.  This kicks of the scripts of self-flagellation that we all know so well, that we have been conditioned to have running in our minds.

“I am not good enough.”

“I am not worthy.”

“I am washed up, over the hill.”

“No-one wants me.”

“I am irrelevant.”

“I have nothing to offer.”

This is when we need the support of people who believe in us, of people who are empathic and who understand what we are going through. Without these then it is to easy for our demons to return and to drag us down and make us less than the person we really are.

Gail Emms’ situation is one that many, many people will recognise and understand. The struggles that she described, the emotions that she expresses, will be familiar to anyone who is transitioning from one career and lifestyle to another, or going through any other major life transition. Her article and comments certainly resonated with me and my struggles to transition from corporate life.

I applaud Gail for speaking up and helping to start a conversation about these challenges. She has also taken the very first step to solving her problems by reaching out and asking for help. This is an incredibly difficult thing for many of us to do and it takes real courage. She has spoken of her shame and so loosened it’s grip on her. She has opened a door for other to pass through.

“I don’t know where to turn.”

I found this the saddest thing that Gail has to say. How desperate, how dispiriting, how isolating to feel that there is nowhere and no-one that you can turn to, nowhere to take your troubles and get some help in finding the answers.

It’s also one that I can completely identify with. It’s the reason that I started After the Mothership, so that people in this situation would have somewhere to turn to. So that no-one would have to feel that alone and that helpless but instead be able to find empathy, advice and the companionship of people in the same situation.

Get Involved with After the Mothership

There are three specific things that I am doing with After the Mothership to help people through their transition.

The first is to write about the challenges and ways of addressing them, in my blog, newsletter and in articles. You can sign up for my newsletter.

The second is to gather people together and create a safe space where you can work through these issues, connect with some like-minded people and fellow travellers, and get and give support. I am running regular monthly events in London, you can get tickets for the September event here.
(There will be further initiatives to connect people, so sign up for the newsletter to keep in touch with the latest developments.)

Finally, I coach people through this transition process so that they can create a new lifestyle as quickly as possible.

P.S. Since the article, a number of people have contacted Gail with offers to help (well, according to her twitter feed!). There have been some snarky comments too but, on the whole, she had a really positive response. 

Breaking the Spell

I was feeling pleased with myself. had finally figured it out. We needed to reposition and extend our product portfolio and my team and I had put together a plan for the next 18 months. We had a bit of a lead in this new technology and our major customers were demanding some products they could use now. Although not big in revenue terms, it was strategically important to stop these customers talking to other suppliers.

It had been approved, I had started to line up some of the resources to make it happen. First products would hit the market in 9 months, with a steady stream of new products and enhancements over the rest of that financial year. But now it was August and I was looking forward to  going on holiday to rest and refresh myself, knowing that would set me up for a full-on spell when I got back.

Then I got a call. There was something that had to be done before I went.

“We need your forecasts for next year” the man from Finance told me.

“What now, in August?” I asked.

“Yes, we’re starting the process early this year”, he told me.

“But I can’t forecast what will happen next year”

“Why not”

“Well, we haven’t built the products yet. They won’t start to come on stream until the second quarter, and that’s if things go well. It’s a totally new market, we don’t know the demand, the pricing, the sales cycle – we don’t even know what the products will be like, in detail.”

“Well, that’s your problem, I need your numbers. By the 12th of the month.”

“So, hang on. You want me to give you numbers for sales that won’t happen for another six months, at least; for products I haven’t built yet in a market we’ve never operated in before – in fact, one no-one has operated in before.”

“Yes. And make them realistic”

“What do mean, realistic?”

“Well, they are going to be incorporated into your Profit and Loss, which you’ll be accountable for. Your appraisal and bonus will depend on how well you hit your numbers, so make sure you’re realistic about it. And don’t low-ball them, we’ll be scrutinising all the submissions and they might be revised upwards.”

“Look, there’s no way I can come up with ‘realistic’ numbers. There’s nothing to judge them against. They’ll be guesses, at best.”

“Do what everyone else does, work from previous sales and extrapolate.”

“No, you don’t understand. There aren’t any previous sales. This is new technology, we’ve never done stuff like this before.”

“Well, if you can’t forecast the revenues, perhaps we shouldn’t be doing this.”

“Listen, the board’s committed to customers that we’ll do them and I’ve been tasked to deliver them. So they are happening. Period.”

“Well, you’d better forecast some revenues then”

“But I can’t, I can only make some guesses.”

“We want proper, justifiable numbers, not guesses.”

“OK, OK, this is stupid. Look, what if I don’t tell you that they’re guesses that I’ve just made up?”

“Will you get them to me by the 12th?”

“You can have them this afternoon.”

“Fine. Bye”.

And that’s when the curtain was drawn back and I saw the wizard as he really is.

The futility of this exchange, the pointlessness of the exercise, the complete lack of utility in the work being done is symptomatic of a fantasy world. One where the normal influence of rationality and logic does not apply. The corporate world is not one of efficiency and effectiveness, as we are led to believe. Rather, it is a make-believe world of magical thinking and mind-bending perceptions. It is an enchantment.

In the corporate world, we believe we can predict what will happen in the future. In my case, it was the future for 6-18 months but the corporate planning and budgeting process pretends it can predict the next 5 years. This, really, is a type of madness.

This is only one example of the alternative reality that we are gripped in. It also affect us and our behaviours. It’s why we think it is OK to spend time at the office or away on business rather than with the ones we love. It’s why we push ourselves to extremes for the corporation, incurring stress and ill-health. It why we think neglecting our well-being, being unfit and overweight, just comes with the territory. It’s why we drag ourselves to our work when our bodies are failing and in need of time to rest and repair. It’s why we drive ourselves to burn-out without questioning the destruction we leading ourselves into.

When I was on the Mothership, I thought I was rational and logical and my choices were entirely sensible. I thought I was coping relatively well with the situation, I was doing OK. Now I have left the enchantment and it’s spell has been broken, I wonder what the hell I was thinking. How could I not see the madness? How could I fail to recognise the damage I was doing to myself? What made me think I was coping and ‘doing OK’?

I couldn’t imagine going back to that world now. I hear stories from others about how they behaved and what they put themselves through in their corporate careers with a mixture of bafflement and horror.

But I remember that when I was there, when I was under the enchantment, then I did similar and thought no more off it.

Leaving the corporate bubble means you break the spell, you lift the enchantment. It is very disorientating at first because all the certainties you once held on to have now dissolved, the truths you held have been exposed as falsehoods. It is part of your transition to go through this period of uncertainty and anxiety. The reward is that you will create a new reality, one that is much more connected with the real world and that will endure for the rest of your life.

Ten things about corporate life you didn’t realise you’d miss

When we are in the corporate bubble, we are like a goldfish in a bowl. The goldfish is surrounded by water but it can’t see it. It is unaware of the water’s importance – until it jumps out and suddenly it’s flapping around struggling to survive.

Here are ten things that you got from the corporate ecosystem that you just didn’t realise were important to you at the time.

  1. Connection

We are wired for connection, we need regularly social interaction to stay healthy. In corporate land you are surrounded by people, social interaction is unavoidable (even if you wished a few of the people were).

2. Belonging

Since the earliest days of man, when we began to gather into tribes, we have had a strong need to belong. That sense of being part of something bigger is essential to our well-being. As John Donne put it “No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.” In Corporateland we are part of the organisation and, whether our feelings are positive or negative about the organisation, our need to feel we belong is fulfilled.

3. Identity

Who we are is often wrapped up with what we do, with our jobs. Being in a corporate role gives us an identity, a label that we can use in the world that is easily accepted and understood.

4. Status

When you have a position in an organisation, it automatically gives you a status. People look up to you as their manager, others look to you as a subject expert or the ‘go to’ person on a particular topic. You might exercise authority on behalf of the organisation as a budget holder, or a spokesperson, or a negotiator. You are ‘someone’, in that ecosystem.

5. Structure

You may hate being at the beck and call of others who decide where and when you have to show up but having a structure given to you means you can just focus on what you do within it. Not only do you have a place in the hierachy but there’s also a structure to your day, week, month and year. Reports, meetings, events, processes – these give you a framework to operate in. You don’t have to think about them (other than how to get out of the boring ones!).

6. Activity

There’s a lot going on in any large organisation. You don’t have to go looking for activity, it’s comes to you. You just have to decide what you want to get involved in and what you want to avoid and then try your best to navigate your way through it all (without getting lumbered with organising the Christmas party).

7. Information

It’s swirling around you all the time and sometimes you feel like you are drowning in the bloody stuff. There’s a cacophony of voices, opinions, instructions, thoughts and ideas. It’s coming at you incessantly, through formal and informal channels (the gossip is way more interesting, right?) and all you have to do is filter out the crap so you only get what you want and need.

8. Feedback

We all need good feedback to improve our work and to develop as individuals. In the corporate world we get plenty, even when it’s not asked for and not welcome! As well as the formal processes of evaluation and appraisal, we can easily find people to act as sounding boards for our ideas or to be mentors and guides for us.

9. Purpose

Being part of an organisation gives us a purpose, a direction. It could be the corporate strategy or the company mission that inspires us. It may be that we have goals and objectives for our team or our project that we want to realise. Maybe we are just ‘earning a living’ in order to fulfil our purpose as a parent or spouse. It’s probably not our ‘life purpose’ but it’s something we don’t particularly have to think about too hard. We can always craft some sort of purpose out of the situation.

10. Opportunity

As part of a large organisation, we have a wealth of opportunity at our fingertips, even if we don’t recognise that all the time. We have the opportunity to move to different roles, different parts of the business, sometimes different countries. We have opportunities for training and development, to meet new people and build new relationships. We have new business opportunities and new challenges. When we are having a bad time these may not always be visible to us but they are always there if we look hard enough.

You are probably glad to leave some of this stuff behind when you leave corporate life but the point is not whether you want it or not, it is that it is automatically available to us. After the Mothership we have to take conscious action to replace these things and create new and better alternatives that suit the life that we are creating. Instead of taking what we are given we get to choose and craft the best options for us.

In our corporate life we just accessed these things without really thinking, we acted unconsciously. Now we have to put in the extra effort to consciously design our own ecosystem to meet these needs. We have to move from being passive to taking action and taking control of our situation.

But becoming conscious, about who we are and what we do, is what life After the Mothership is all about. It’s how we create a better and more fulfilling life.

Are you putting the right fuel in?

It took me a long time to realise that one of the big differences between working in a corporate role and working for myself, or ‘doing my own thing’ as I prefer to describe it, is your motivation. The reason why you do what you do is way more important when you work for yourself that the things that you actually do.

I had a complete blind spot on this because, well, you do work to make money, don’t you? As long as you find it mildly interesting and you’re good enough at it to get paid, that’s enough, isn’t it? Bring in enough dough to have a nice lifestyle and everyone’s happy, aren’t they?

Well, no. As Seth Godin explains in this blog, we need a narrative to fuel our forward motion and there are many choices of fuel available to us. They all work and his argument is that we should be careful which ones we pick. As he puts it, “Some of them leave you wrecked, some create an environment of possibility and connection and joy. Up to you.” He helpfully provides a list for us to choose from.

As I went through the list I marked all the ones that I felt had been my ‘go to’ ones when I worked in corporate, the ones that seemed normal in that environment, the ones that seems to be encouraged.

I then went through it again, marking the ones that I look to use now, the ones that I have learnt are most effective in the world outside ‘After the Mothership’, when you are ‘doing your own thing’.

What amazed me was that there was almost no overlap between these two groups.

You see, when I was in corporate, my narratives for doing things were competition, compliance, pay, peer pressure, professionalism, selection – not a bad set of reasons but they are mostly external motivations. They don’t really make any sense (well, as far as I’m concerned) outside of that environment. Like refined sugar, they will give you a short-term energy boost to get you through the next thing but they are not a long-term, sustainable diet.

I know now that the ones that are important for people who ‘do their own thing’ are big dreams, connection, creative itch, engineer, generosity, possibility and revenge. These are the narratives that will continue to drive them forward over the long term, that will get them through the challenges they face. They are mostly intrinsic motivations, the stories you tell yourself about yourself, the things you think about when you wake up in the morning.

And this second set of motivations, whilst not entirely absent in corporate life, are often not seen as important. Whereas outside of corporate life, they are essential.

It’s entirely possible that you’ve never even thought about your intrinsic motivations, that you’ve been entirely governed by extrinsic motivators. It’s also likely that you’ve buried or ignored those intrinsic motivations because they have not been valued or particularly useful in corporate life. Finding and connecting with them, whether for the first time or going back to them, can be a difficult thing to do but they will provide you with the everlasting fuel for the journey you are embarking on After the Mothership.

If you’ve ever used the wrong pump at the garage (yes, I know it’s really hard to fit the nozzle for the leaded petrol into an unleaded car but it IS possible), you’ll know it can make things run very badly. Sometimes it can cause a lot of damage that costs an awful lot to repair. So it’s worth taking care when you are choosing

Are you putting the right fuel in your engine?

What’s your quest?

When I left the Mothership, I thought my quest was to find a new career, one that would sustain me for 15 years or so. Given all the experience and skills I had from my corporate career, I felt confident that I would be able to find something that I could turn my hand to.

In my corporate career I had done a wide variety of things and done most of them pretty well. I got used to having things thrown at me and having to learn about them quickly, to figure out how to handle them. I had managed business units and covered just about everything from coming up with the product ideas and the strategy to sorting out the contracts and training the customer support teams. I had become very adaptable and something of a generalist.

I had also learnt to be a chameleon, changing my behaviour and appearance to suit the people I was addressing or the situation I was in. Sometimes, it was a useful way to gain influence and get people on your side by seeming to be like them. Other times, it was essential to keep a low profile and keep out of harms way, whilst also getting on with my own agenda. Fitting in is very much an expected part of corporate life and I had got quite good at it.

In a way I felt I could do pretty much anything and be like anyone I need to, so my opportunities could be said to be  limitless. It was just a question of finding the thing that I could do, quite liked and would give me a decent income for the next stage of my life.

This was my quest. Or so I thought.

You see, that logic led me to buy a franchise, something that was quite wrong for me. A franchise is  for people who like to follow instructions, who like someone else to figure out the framework and the plan. I am quite the opposite, I am the one who does the figuring out and creates the plan for others.

How could I make such a basic error? It was because I lacked a deep understanding about myself. As a generalist and a chameleon, I had become so used to adapting that I had lost connection with who I really was, what my strengths, motivations and passions really were.

You see, the choice of buying a franchise was the right answer for the question I had posed. I had done my due diligence and it ticked all the boxes that I had identified. It was the right fit for the quest I thought I was on.

Only it was the wrong quest. My quest was not to find a new career but to find myself, to peel back the layers of conditioning and armour and get back to the real me. Only then would I be able to make the right choices and create the lifestyle and career that I really wanted.

As Stephen Covey puts it ““If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”

Is your ladder leaning on the right wall? Are you really sure you are on the right quest for you?

Don’t get a Harley

It’s the classic symbol of the mid-life crisis, isn’t it? The bored, overweight, balding executive who is trying to recapture his youth and get a little bit of excitement in his life, so he goes out and buys a Harley-Davidson. Pure escapism.

Of course, he can only escape at weekends and holidays. And perhaps the odd summer’s evening if he bunks off work early.

If you’re tempted, that’s understandable. After years of being ground down in the corporate machine and having all the life drained out of you, you feel like you deserve it. Like you need it, just to keep you going, keep you dragging yourself in every day.

Did you know that Harley-Davidson don’t consider themselves to be a motorcycle company? They say they’re in the lifestyle business.

So you aren’t buying yourself a motorbike, you’re actually buying a lifestyle. And if you’re going to buy one of those, why not get one you can enjoy every single day, even when you are working?

It’s time to consider leaving the corporate grind and creating your own lifestyle, built around you and your needs, wants and desires. A life where work and play are seamlessly intertwined, where you feel so fulfilled and rewarded you don’t need to buy boy’s toys to keep you ‘happy’. A life where you don’t have to spend all your money escaping from the work you have to do to have the money (that you spend getting away from the work, et cetera, et cetera …)

It’s possible. It’s simple. But it’s not necessarily easy, which is what I am here to help with.

So don’t get a Harley, get a life.

P.S. It doesn’t mean you can’t buy boy’s toys if that’s what you really want. The difference is that you just buy them as toys and not as distractions from reality.