That holiday feeling

Today I want to talk about holidays. They’re great, aren’t they? Aren’t they? Well, they used to be.

For me, when I started work, I was actually really good about work/life separation. When I went on holiday, I went on holiday and I had great fun. Then you’d come back and you’d have that holiday feeling and that would carry you through the rest of the year, wouldn’t it? 

As I got further up in the organisation and into more senior positions, had more responsibilities, was doing more stuff and running more programs, then my relationship began to change. It got complicated. 

You see, I began to realise that if I was going to go away for two weeks, that meant I had two weeks of full on work before I went away to try and get everything lined up and everybody ready and prepared to carry on with things whilst I was away. Then when I got back, I had another week of ploughing through all the emails and finding out what hadn’t happened, making those things happen and getting everything back on track again.

That sort of took the edge off it a bit. Plus, with all the extra pressure, it wasn’t quite as relaxing any more. For a start, I’d be absolutely knackered, so I’d spend the first couple of days just sleeping and recovering. Then for most of the first week I’d still be tense and stressed and it would take time to unwind. It would be the second week before I started to really enjoy the holiday. Then a couple of days or so before we’d come back, I’d start thinking about work again and that stress and tension would start to return even before I got back. I started to wonder, what’s the point of going away at all?

I remember one occasion, I came back after two weeks, and I was running a number of projects at the time, and I found out that when I got back absolutely nothing had happened on any of them. Not a thing. I was so disappointed, I can’t tell you how disappointing that was. That holiday spirit didn’t last very long at all. 

You get into this cycle of slaving your guts out so that you can go and enjoy the holidays and then you can’t enjoy them because you’re too tired and stressed but you carry on, don’t you, because you think, “Well, what else can I do? The family enjoyed them and I get some enjoyment out of them, I suppose, and there’s no other options.”

That’s what I thought back then, but actually that’s not the case today. There’s lots of options, there’s lots of things that you can do to create a different life and a different career. It can be fun all the time not just fun for a little bit of those holidays you’ve worked so hard for.

If that’s something that you think you’d like to explore, talk about, then get in touch and we can have a chat.

Otherwise, if you are going on holiday, well try and have a good time, won’t you? I’ll see you  on the next video when you get back.

Your job may be killing you

I’ve got a really simple message for you today: your job may be killing you. 

You think I’m joking, don’t you? But I’m really not. It’s the stress that we all suffer, particularly in those toxic workplaces, that actually causes the problems. 

You see, we know that stress leads to chronic illnesses. We also know that that sort of continuous low level stress you get from bullying, constant demands, always having to be on call, that sort of stuff, always feeling on edge, that’s really bad for you as well.

It’s not just the really heavy stress, you see, but that low level stuff keeps your cortisol levels up because it’s continually triggering your fight-or-flight response. Cortisol is fine when you need to run away or fight a lion, but it’s supposed to go out of your body fairly quickly. If it’s maintained at a continual low level, then that’s going to make you really, really unwell.

You sort of know this, don’t you? Don’t you feel a bit jaded and run down and in desperate need of a holiday every now and then?

It’s not just the stress, though, is it? Because the consequences of stress are that we don’t look after ourselves properly. We don’t exercise, we don’t eat well, perhaps drink too much or do other things that really aren’t good for us. I certainly know that when I was in my corporate career, towards the end when things weren’t very great, I was not in great shape at all. That, of course, only increases the chances of ill health.

As well as not looking after yourself properly and being assailed by the direct physical effects of stress, if you’re not in a job that you find rewarding and fulfilling and that’s helping you to grow, well, your soul’s dying a little every day too, isn’t it? We’re not put on this planet just to tick over and keep going. 

So you really want to think about what’s the cost of staying in that “cushy” corporate job?

We become a bit inured to it and we get tolerant of the level of stress but it’s still having that damage upon us. A guy called Jeffrey Pfeffer has just written a book called ‘Dying For A Paycheck’ and he’s gone into this in some detail, and concluded that, yeah, jobs are killing us.

He was asked in an interview what he learnt from writing that book, and his rather worrying conclusion was, “It’s a lot worse than I thought it was.”

So I want you to ask yourself today …
You’re probably sitting there thinking, “Yeah, well, okay, stress is part of what you have to have, it’s just how it is, it’s what you get used to.”
But how bad is it really? What is the real cost that you’re paying for putting yourself in that situation every day?

Maybe it’s time to think of a way of taking yourself out of that toxic environment and doing something for yourself.

I’m not saying that’s going to be an easy path, but it’s unlikely to be the slow death that you’re finding yourself suffering from at the moment. So if that’s something you’d like to talk about, then jump on the website, get my details, and get in touch. Otherwise, I’ll see you on the next video.

A false sense of security

Today I’m going to talk about just how safe and secure is that corporate role? 

Last time I said that this is actually a great time to leave your corporate job and do something else. I know for a lot of people that’s quite challenging.

“Yes, but I’ve got security and the comfort of a regular paycheck. I’m much safer here.” you say. Well, I question that on two grounds. 

I question it on how secure it is and how safe it is. Let’s be honest, you could be made redundant tomorrow, and whether you’ve got one month, three months, or six months on your contract as notice, you’re going to be out on the streets and trying to start again.

The longer you’ve been in an organisation, the more specialised you’ve got, the older you get, and the more expensive you get. It can be really hard to start again. It’s difficult to find another corporate role, and then you might not have any choice but to do something else. 

Also, how good for you is it in this safe role? 

Sadly, too many workplaces are toxic these days. You’re under constant pressure to produce more with less. You’re constantly on call. You’re constantly being given demands and expected to absorb information and keep up with things. That gets to be really, really draining. 

If you add to that, pressure to conform and the bullying that is all too frequent, this is a really unhealthy environment for you, and it takes a toll on you physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I know from personal experience that when I left corporate I was in pretty bad shape. I was unfit. I was suffering from stress. And I’d really sort of just switched off lots of emotions as a sort of protection mechanism. That works, but when you switch off the bad stuff, you switch off the good stuff too. 

What’s more, my corporate role was so demanding that along with my family life I didn’t have any time for me, I didn’t have time for my hobbies. That’s not good for you, because you need to do stuff that fills you up and helps you grow.

So how good is this safe, comfortable corporate role after all? 

Maybe it is time to move in a different direction.

Now is the best time

Hi, Colin here, from After the Mothership. 

I help people who are stuck, frustrated in their careers to slip their corporate chain and create a life that they can feel excited about again. 

This is the first of a series of weekly videos where I’ll be covering some of the issues surrounding that sort of transition.

You know, many people think about starting up their own business and yet, we find all sorts of reasons to not actually go ahead with that. The economy’s not right, or I’ll just wait until after the elections, or all sorts of things to stop you from taking that action. 

However, there’s not really that much point in waiting for things to be ‘right’ because right now is the best time, ever, to start a business. Don’t believe me, that’s what Seth Godin says, and he knows a thing or two.

With the technology and internet we have available, you’ve got the world at your feet as a market. You’ve also got access to world class resources and tools and training as good as anybody in any multinational company. So, the external world is not the problem.

I also had cause to look at some research this week about start-ups and the ages of founders. 

Did you know the fastest growing segment of people starting businesses are people in their 50s? What’s more, the also have a higher success rate of people who have started businesses earlier in their careers. 

That’s because we have the life experience, we have the skills, the knowledge and we’ve also been there, seen it and done it. So, we’ve got a bit more resilience, and we can roll with the punches better.

Put the two things together and not only is this it the best time, ever, to start a business, it’s probably the best time for you, ever, to start a business. So, why aren’t you acting?

Well maybe it’s because you’re still not ready. I completely get that, but it’s not because the world’s not ready, believe me the world’s ready for you. In fact, they want and need you to put your business out there.

Being ready, internally, well that’s about what’s going on in your heart and in your head, and that makes it more difficult to solve. Those are some things I’ll be talking about in future weeks.

The Isolation Trap

We are naturally social beings, it is literally part of our DNA to come together in groups, it is the foundation of our society. Human connection is key to our wellbeing. A hug of fifteen seconds or more releases oxytocin in our brain, which makes us feel good. Being with each other is good for us.

And yet, when we are going through a transition or a trial of some sort, we often become isolated. This not only negatively affects our well-being, it impairs our cognitive abilities and makes us more prone to depression and anxiety. So why do we do this?

Working with people who are leaving the corporate environment, I know that this can simply be a case of circumstance. There is no office to go to, there aren’t any meetings you have to be at, there are no longer a group of people who are expecting you to show up. So you end up on your own, probably sitting in your spare-bedroom-come-home-office or at the dining table, trying to work things out by yourself.

Added to this are feelings of vulnerability and shame that are associated with going through this transition. When we are changing our role, changing our appearance or our position in the world, we often feel challenged. It’s a sort of existential crisis, we know we are not the person we were but we don’t yet know who we are to become. At times like this we can withdraw from social contact because it is too difficult to explain what is going on in our lives. Besides, most of the people we speak to won’t understand even if we could explain it because they’ve never been in our situation.

So, as well as physical isolation we add social isolation. We think we can figure things out on our own and we avoid meeting people until we’ve ‘cracked it’.

Tied up with this is the image of the heroic leader, the intrepid explorer, the lone maverick. Entrepreneurs are glorified as individuals who are the authors of their own success, using their unique and individual talents to forge new opportunities. These popular mythologies are reflected back to us our culture and media, so trying to do it on our own ‘looks’ right.

The problem is that these are myths and the reality is that very few, if any, do it by themselves. They succeed because the join with others, they help and are helped by other actors. Even in the hero’s journey, the basis of many stories, the hero is assisted along their journey by other, often mythical and wise, characters.

What’s more, whilst you are one your own you are ‘stewing in your own juices’. Your imagined failures and problems feed upon each other and grow, each negative thoughts adding the earlier ones and pushing you into a downward spiral. Once you get amongst others you realise that they have very similar problems and you can talk about the issues. It’s amazing how much smaller a problem is when you have spoken it out loud and exposed it to the cold light of day.

You also get the chance to help others with their problems, which makes you feel good and boosts your self-esteem. It’s also surprising how often you find your own answers as you solve someone else’s problem.

So, basically, isolation is counter-productive. We need to have that connection with others and to reach out for help. However, it’s important to find the right groups and people to be with. Whilst it undoubtedly better to get out and meet people, any people, to staying in your bedroom office, if you are only spending  time with people who have no experience of your situation, no empathy for you and no understanding of your challenges, then you can still feel on your own in a crowded room. (although, just to be clear, that’s still better that being completely on your own!).

There a lots of groups that you can go and try and experience. It is a case of experimenting and looking for the places where you meet people that you click with, where you feel comfortable and that feed your curiosity. It’s good to have a mix, so go to some events that feed your mind, others that you enjoy and yet others that give you the business connections that help you.

They don’t have to all be dry business meetings, either. Doing activities that you enjoy with people really builds deep relationships and you may find opportunities flow out of those because of all the people that they know. Go to art clubs, writing groups, drama societies, macrame clubs – whatever floats your boats. If it makes you happy, then people will see you at your best and will imagine you being that good in other areas of your life, like your business.

Don’t fall into the isolation trap. Get out and meet people. Only good can come of it.

Feel your way forwards, stop forcing it

As well as learning new skills and developing a new mindset when we leave our corporate role, we have unlearn a whole set of beliefs and behaviours. Things that were helpful, or at least functional, in the corporate world simply don’t work outside. In fact, some of them can actually be harmful to us and what we’re trying to achieve.

One of the hardest things I have had to learn is to use my intuition and to trust that answers to problems will emerge if I just stay with the issue long enough. In coaching, we call this ‘sitting with the problem’. It a very uncomfortable experience, sitting in that uncertainty and ‘not knowing’.

Our response to this is to wriggle out of it, reduce the ambiguities to black and white and end the uncertainty by leaping to a solution. These behaviours have been re-inforced in our corporate life, which operate under an illusion of certainty and control. We were constantly challenged to ‘have the facts’, to ‘bring solutions, not problems’ and an admission that you didn’t know the answer was a seen as a sign of weakness.

The solutions we readily grasp for, the familiar ones, are never the right ones. The ambiguities that we try to flatten out hold the very answers that we seek. In a large organisation we see many of these sub-optimal decisions but the organisation continues, albeit in an inefficient and wasteful manner. However, when we are making decisions for ourselves, this approach can be extremely harmful. We don’t have the resources and momentum of a large organisation and poor decisions can blow us far off track.

This over-reliance on rationality is not how we are in the world naturally. Our intuition is deep wisdom, it is the product of our unconscious mind that is far more powerful and rapid than our intellect. We use our ‘feel’ continually in our personal lives, in our hobbies and pursuits, in our daily activities but we have been taught to ignore it in our business and professional life. Re-connecting with our intuition and re-introducing it into our whole lives takes time and emotional labour but its a very necessary step to learning to flourish after the mothership.

Allied to this is the habit of forcing things. In our corporate life we could ‘make things happen’ though our effort, personality and will. We could pressure people to do the things we needed to do, we could influence events and push things through. This was only possible, however, within the hierarchy and rules of the organisation. Once we are outside of that structure, our attempts to bring pressure on people will simply push them away because they are free agents. We have no hold over people or resources and the only authority we have is that which we generate through trust and respect. Forcing simply doesn’t work.

However, so deeply ingrained is this behaviour that we continue to try. We make plans and forecasts for events we have no control over, we make demands of people that they have no obligation to fulfill. Instead of allowing events to take their course and focusing on the things that we can control, we impatiently try to ‘hurry things up’, to push things through. The consequence is that we often sabotage our efforts. Forcing is a rather unpleasant behaviour and it repels people, it reduces the resources that are available to us and it prevents the serendipity and mutuality that will bring us what we want.

The biggest signal that we are ignoring our intuition and trying to force things is when we are looking for short cuts. When we start signing up for courses that will show us the ten step process that guarantees our objective, when we look for some marketing trick to ‘massively grow’ our lists, or try to learn some sales tricks that will have us ‘closing, closing, closing’. When we are desperately grasping at someone else’s formula and trying jam our business and ourselves into it.

This never works. These always prove to be a waste our time and energy and push us further away from our desired objective.

In my experience, every dead-end is disguised as a short-cut. Avoid them and focus on doing the work instead.

The hard lessons that I have learnt are these: Learn to listen to and trust your intuition and use it feel your way forward rather than trying to think it. And stop trying to force things, just let them unfold.

‘Asker’ or ‘Guesser’?

I have some good news and some bad news.

I wrote in my last blog about the universal advice to get a ‘Dream Team’ around you and I talked about the challenges of actually finding the people to be in it. The good news is that the solution is to join a community and get to be known, liked and trusted.

The bad news is that you need to know if you are an asker or a guesser. And if you are the latter, then a difficult challenge just became a whole lot harder.

So what’s the difference between ‘Askers’ and ‘Guessers’, and why does it matter?

It depends on how you have been raised to ask for things.

If you have been brought up in an ‘Ask’ culture then you are taught it is fine to ask for what you want because the other person always has the option to say no. You are not offended if you request is turned down because that’s always one of the possible outcomes. If you were told as child “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”, then you’ve been raised as an Asker.

If you have been brought up in a ‘Guess’ culture, then you avoid asking for something at all costs unless you are pretty certain that the answer is going to be Yes. You are particularly skilled at putting out feelers and dropping hints. Sometimes you are able to get the other person to offer the thing you want, which is a brilliant result for you. If you were told as a child “It’s rude to ask”, well, you can figure out what you are.

The problem for Guessers is that they depend on tight net of shared expectations and that only works with other Guessers. They think that Askers are a bunch of insensitive idiots for not picking up on their subtle signalling and realising what is going on.

If you’re a Guesser, then enlisting people to your dreams and asking them to be on your team becomes hugely difficult. You put an enormous amount of time and energy into putting out delicate feelers that a large percentage of the people are oblivious too and get distressed and frustrated that you can’t seem to get your team together. Meanwhile, the Askers in your group have ploughed ahead and got their support team together in no time at all.

So Guessers have to take a deep breath, pull their pants right up tight, and become Askers. Much to their surprise, they will find most people don’t even bat an eyelid and they’ll soon find people doing exactly what they asked them to do. It turns out that it’s much more acceptable to be an Asker in a business environment than in a social one. (Who knew?).

It’s not all good news for Askers, however. They may think it’s OK to ask anyone for anything but the Guessers are horrified by their presumptuousness. They may feel obliged to say Yes but then will fail to provide the support or even become silent saboteurs due to their resentment.

It’s important, then, to understand where the other person is coming from, not to simply project your worldview on them but to see things from their perspective. There isn’t a right or wrong here, there’s just a difference and you need to understand and acknowledge that and behave accordingly to get the outcome that you want. Even if that means asking for it!

(This terminology comes from a 2007 web posting by Andrea Donderi)

Come and meet some potential collaborators and practice being an Asker at one of our London meetings, or get involved in our private Facebook group HERE 

Creating your ‘Dream Team’

There is a piece of advice that you will find all over the internet, from all the top business coaches and start-up gurus, every ‘how to’ blog about growing your business or even making personal change. (Hell, even I’ve put it in my ebook “Five ways to flourish when you escape the corporate grind”). So what is this ubiquitous instructions, this universally agree wisdom?

“Get a great team around you”

Well, you can’t argue with that, can you? We all know we can do more when we have people supporting us than we can on our own. We all know that we’d do much better if we could focus on what we’re good at and have other people to do all the stuff we’re crap at (and probably hate with a passion, too.)

Some people say this is pretty much ALL you need to do. Get a good enough bunch of people around you and you can do ANYTHING!

It’s seductive. So simple. And it’s reassuring, isn’t it? To think that we don’t have to take all strain by ourselves but can have other people to share the burden with.

The only problem is that hardly anyone tells you HOW you pull together your dream team. I mean, it’s not like people are hanging around on street corners with cardboard signs saying “Genius, at a   loose end, ready to commit myself to your dreams.”, is it? You can’t just drive around and pick up the people you need on your particular bus. So where do you find them?

And even when you find them, why are they going to help you? What’s in it for them? Why would they join your support team rather than someone else’s? If these are good people, then they are not going to be short of options.

Of course, these two questions are interrelated. And the answer is community.

There are some, a lucky few, who have a network they can draw upon that contains the skills they need and people who are disposed to helping them. For the rest of us, we need to find a community where potential members of our team are likely to gather. By interacting, sharing and doing things together, we discover who the people are that we need and at least identify who we’d like onboard.

But then the question still arises, why would they help us? Well, people will work with us when they know, like and trust us. The community has provided one part of the puzzle because they know us but now we have to work on the other two elements – we need to get them to like us and to trust us.

Again, the community provides the context in which we are able to build these relationships. They will see us contributing and engaging in the community and helping others. They’ll see us as whole people, not just in a narrow business or professional context. They will also experience us, get feedback from others and be able to evaluate our social capital. They will be able to make their own mind up as to whether we are trustworthy or not.

We need to show up and take individual actions to prove ourselves but it is the community that gives us the platform to do it, the opportunity to take action. We have to show we area willing to be open and honest, to be vulnerable and to want to contribute and help others. That means we have to willing to be on other people’s teams and support their dreams and ambitions.

The way that we often seek community is by joining a networking group or attending a course (either in person or online). These can work but they are not always a great fit for people who are still trying to determine what they are going to do with their life and the next part of their career. If you do not yet have an established business then you are not ready for networking that is focused around business development and lead sharing. If you are taking a course, the focus will only be on a narrow area and that’s only a small part of what you need.

That’s why I started After the Mothership, to create a space for people who are transitioning from corporate and don’t know what they need or what direction they are going to go in. To create a community of people who are working through the same sorts of challenges, asking the same questions but who have different skills and experiences that they can share with each other.

In other words, a place where you can find your dream team and become part of someone else’s.

Experience some new ideas and new people by coming to one of our our monthly meetings in London. Book your place for our September event “After Corporate Life – What next?” HERE

Or get involved in our private Facebook group HERE 

Finding out what you don’t know

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary during the second Gulf War, once gave a famously oblique response to a question, in which he talked about “Known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns”.

It was a diversion tactic, a deliberate obfuscation to avoid answering the question about a lack of evidence. It’s actually an application of ‘Johari’s Window’,a cognitive psychology tool used to help people better understand their relationship with themselves and others. The statement brought much publicity to the concepts and introduced them into the popular lexicon.

When you leave corporate life, there are an awful lot of ‘known unknowns’. Setting up your business, doing your accounts, your website, social media, and a million other things. There may also be specific areas of skill or expertise that you need to acquire, such as public speaking, coaching, web development, cooking, carpentry – seriously! It depends on what you decide to do next.

You can address some of these by taking training courses but choosing the right ones can be a challenge. How do you decide where to focus your efforts, which ones to master and which to outsource to specialists? It’s not straightforward but it is possible, with some thought, to decide a course and navigate your way through these ‘known unknowns’.

However, there’s a hell of a lot more unknown unknowns. Things you have absolutely no awareness of, things you have not even heard of, much less understand their relevance to you.

So how do you discover your unknown unknowns? How do you find out these things that will be crucial to your success?

The answer is surprisingly simple.

Firstly, you need to expose yourself to new ideas and people. Get out and mix in some new groups, try some new pursuits, read books and publications that you haven’t before.

Secondly, find some people who have been on a similar path, who have made the transition from corporate or are doing something similar to what you want to do. Ask them for their advice, share your thought and ideas and ask for their feedback (people love to be asked for their opinions). Learning from them will greatly shorten your own learning curve and save from you repeating common mistakes.

I’m trying to make this easier with After the Mothership. Through this blog and the newsletter, through the events, through the Facebook group, I am trying to expose you to new ideas and people; and to connect you to people who are going through this transition, fellow travellers on the path you are following.

There are many other ways you can go about this, both online and in real life. Be open, follow your curiosity, and enjoy your exploration. You never know what you will find!

Which is why they are called ‘unknown unknowns’.

Experience some new ideas and new people by coming to one of our our monthly meetings in London. Book your place for our September event “After Corporate Life – What next?” HERE

Or get involved in our private Facebook group HERE