You used to be your job

This is probably the hardest part about life ‘After the Mothership’. All through your career, you have defined yourself by what you do, by your job, your title, your status. By the company or organisation you belong to, by the division your are in, by the department, the team. By projects you are involved in, the working groups, the initiatives, the change programmes. By what you do.

And now you are outside of the Mothership, none of that applies anymore. You are stripped bare, exposed, you have nowhere to hide. What you do doesn’t matter anymore, it doesn’t have any meaning, it doesn’t convey any status. In fact, you probably haven’t yet worked out exactly what it is you ARE doing.

Even when you do figure it out, it will mean little to anyone else. You may well be doing a number of different things, you are possibly working on your own, or in a small group of associates and collaborators that no-one has heard of.

The loss of status is the one thing you can’t replace. There’s no getting away from it, when I could tell people I worked for BT, marketing some techy stuff they’d never heard of to big corporations, it sounded impressive. When I worked in smaller organisations, I had great sounding job titles, like ‘VP of Strategy and Portfolio Management’ and ‘Marketing Director for EMEA’.

Now, I work for myself and I ‘do a bit of coaching’.

There’s nowhere to hide. You just have to be yourself, show up and see what happens.

You used to be your job, now your job is to be you.

Fashion victim

Like a lot of people who have worked in a large organisation, I am grateful for the freedom I have now that I am out of it. There is a strong pressure to conform with the corporate culture, to dress and behave in a certain way, even to think in a certain way. Getting anything done often means wading through layers of bureaucracy and you feel people care more about getting the boxes ticked than making something happen for the customer. In short, it feels like a you are doing your job in a straitjacket (cunningly disguised as a smart suit) and it gets tighter and tighter the longer you wear it.

When we leave corporate life and seek to start our own business, we naturally look for advice and instructions on how to go about it. Here is where we can make a fatal mistake, discarding one straitjacket only to fashion a completely new one for ourselves, which we put on with enthusiasm.

You see, the problem with life on the Mothership is that we spent most of it pretending to be someone we are not. In a desire to fit in and be accepted, we aped the style required by the culture. The more senior the role, the greater to pressure to conform to the prevalent stereotype, which is typically a hard-nosed, goal-oriented, results-driven extrovert (I realise I am generalising enormously but I bet a lot of you are nodding in agreement).

If, like me, you are a bit of an introvert, someone who likes to consider their words before speaking, think before acting and look at the bigger picture, then you have to fake it. If you are someone who is driven by purpose, holds to your values and see things differently, you have to finesse your way through your career by pretending to be someone else.

That’s why we found it hard. It takes emotional energy to be someone you are not, to wear that mask all day every day, and the longer you do it, the more energy it takes. Eventually, you get to the point where you just can’t hack it anymore and you leave, or you stop pretending, which is the beginning of the end anyway.

But After the Mothership, you are free! You don’t have to pretend anymore, you can be yourself, follow your purpose, live your values! But first of all, we have to make this business thing work, so we follow all the advice on how to be an entrepreneur and run a small business.

And that’s where we make the mistake because all that stuff is written for another stereotype, one who is surprisingly like the one you had to conform to on the Mothership. Extrovert, confident, quick-talking, action-oriented, go-getting … the blood is probably draining from your face already.

So we do what we are told. We go to endless networking events, we hone our glib ‘elevator pitch’ and parrot it at everyone we meet, we ‘work our network’ through a million cups of coffee, we focus on the numbers and ‘drive’ our sales process. And there we go, we’ve made a new, even tighter straitjacket and slipped it on in no time. We even wear the same suit and shiny cufflinks!

This is not the way to be successful. Being someone else never really worked for us and now it works less than ever. It’s draining, it’s depressing and it’s completely counter-productive. It stops people from seeing the real you and that’s who they want to buy.

So, ignore all that entrepreneur nonsense. It’s not meant for people like us. We have a different way of working and a different way of being. We need to find ways to work that suit our personality and style and get us in our flow. Purpose-led. Values-based. Coming from our heart. And as comfortable as an old jumper and a pair of scruffy jeans.

Failure – it’s harder than it looks

We are in the middle of a failure epidemic right now. The business media is awash with articles about how great it is to fail and there are events and conferences devoted entirely to failure. “Fail often, fail fast” is the mantra of the startup wannabes.

There is also a slew of counter-articles pointing out the folly of this approach if it is taken without understanding the nuance. The point is not the failure but what is learnt from the failure. Wearing your failures as badges of honour is not ‘super-smart’ nor does it put you on an inexorable road to success. If you learn nothing then you are just failing. You don’t HAVE to fail to be successful, you could just come up with the right answer from the beginning.

And then, inevitably, someone throws in the Edison quote “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found a thousand ways that don’t work”.

Underneath this is the serious point that to make progress we must encounter failure and, like much in life, it is not the event but how we respond to it that matters. Avoiding failure will stop us progressing and we will be stuck. When we do hit failure, a failure to acknowledge and learn from it just makes it painful and now we are stuck and in pain.

This is all eminently sensible and logical. We need to fail and learn to progress. Of course we accept that.

Or do we? Our rational self accepts the argument but we are not rational beings. How do we really react to failure?

After the several years in the corporate world I suggest our approach to failure is not as logical as we would like to think. Corporate environments do not usually embrace success (which is the point of the ‘failure fest’ that’s going on right now, an attempt to shift those attitudes). We’ve all been on projects that start to stutter and the rush for the exits almost audible. We’ve all seen the “6 stages of a project”

1 Enthusiasm,
2 Disillusionment,
3 Panic and hysteria,
4 Hunt for the guilty,
5 Punishment of the innocent, and
6 Reward for the uninvolved.

Funny, huh? Because it contains more than a kernel of truth. Actually, it contains spades of the stuff. Failure is simply not an option that’s considered in a lot of corporate environments. There’s never any suggestion that the project might be ill-conceived, that the situation has changed and it’s no longer valid. It takes so much energy and resources to set projects up that they become impossible to stop, so everyone pretends that they are going to be successful and all the forecasts are going to be delivered whilst they desperately look for ways of deflecting or avoiding the blame that is inevitably going to come.

And you may laugh at this with your colleagues when you are down the pub but it is corrosive and you begin to associate failure with risk and with dire consequences. Failure becomes a threat to your job and something to be avoided at all costs. It’s an existential threat and your amygdala ranks it right up there with being attacked by a sabre tooth tiger (your amygdala is pretty dumb, everything’s either a sabre-tooth tiger or a rock and it responds accordingly).

So you might accept failure as a necessary step and embrace it intellectually but deep down, at an emotional level, you see it as threat and will unconsciously avoid it at all costs, or deny it when you do encounter it.

Which is actually rather unhelpful as you are trying to make changes in your life and go through this transition, where failure is not only inevitable but likely to be quite frequent at first because you are basically incompetent at most of the things you are trying to do. And if you start to deny it then it is positively dangerous.

So learning to embrace failure and learn from it is absolutely necessary but it is also extremely hard. We’ve had years, decades of conditioning to avoid it. We are also unused to it because we have mostly been working in areas where we are already competent and don’t make mistakes. We aren’t used to it and we are scared of it.

(When I started skiing, I fell over all the time. It was hilarious, I was young and foolish and with lots of others of the same age and ability. Over the years I have improved my skills and ability and rarely fall over, sometimes going for an entire holiday without any significant tumbles. So when I managed to fall over (on a blue run – the lesson is to always pay attention!) and I landed heavily on my shoulder, it wasn’t just the pain that I felt but also the shock of the fall. I had forgotten what it felt like and the intensity of that feeling surprised me.)

It’s important to recognise and acknowledge the size of this challenge. It’s going to take a lot of effort to overcome it, and plenty of support and encouragement from sympathetic souls. It is going to make you feel extremely uncomfortable and you are going to have several wobbles. You are going to slip back into defensive and risk-averse thinking, to delude yourself that you are embracing failure when you are in fact ignoring or avoiding it.

Part of the problem is our association of failure with shame. This is something that we need to break and it can only be done through experience. You have to break through that shame barrier and courageously embrace the failure. That’s why it’s vital to be with others who are going through the same experience, to show you the way, stiffen your resolve and encourage you to pick yourself up and dust yourself down and go again. And to help you learn from each failure and progress.

I have been running a monthly meetup in London for the past 4 months and it has not been the success I had hoped. I’ve only attracted a handful of people and, whilst those conversations have been enjoyable and informative and, I hope, helpful to those that have come, it has not fulfilled my objective. I wanted to gather a number of people together so that we could share our experiences and perhaps start to connect and support each other and combine our talents to make a difference. That hasn’t happened so I have failed and I am going to stop the meetups.

In the past, I may have avoided running the meetups because it might fail and I would be embarrassed and ashamed. People have told me that getting this sort of thing to work is hard. Others have said what a great idea it is. So I have learnt that ‘other people’ don’t really know anything and that you should do things for your own reasons. I wanted to try this because I wanted people to be connected and not struggle in isolation. That’s a good enough reason for me and I am proud that I gave it a go and tried.

What I have learnt is that a meetup is not the way to build an audience, not in London, at least. You need to build the audience first to make the meetup viable. I need to find other ways to grow my audience.

I have also learnt that, whilst I want people to be connected, perhaps I am not the best person to connect them. In fact, it is not really something that is aligned with my personality and strengths. I can and have organised and run events and even done a passable imitation of a host in the past. In a corporate environment that will get you by (as long as you don’t have to do it too often). However, it’s not enough out in the ‘real’ world. To make something work, you have to really be in your element, really be working in your flow, and this just isn’t in my flow. So perhaps I need to find a partner or an organisation to connect my audience to each other, or a different medium where I am in my flow.

It also led me to question the suitability of the format for the people I am talking to. Do they want to meet others in a pub to talk about their experiences? Or is that likely to make them run a mile? Do they want something with more structure, with some content that they will find useful, so they can persuade themselves that the main reason to go is to educate themselves rather than to expose themselves emotionally? Perhaps an online forum would be more accessible to them, would carry less risk for them and be a more discreet and safer place? That means I need to run some more experiments and, perhaps, have a few more failures. Find some more ways that don’t work.

I am ready to do that. But it is not a simple reframing of ‘failure’ as ‘learning’, or as “finding ways that don’t work”. It’s taken me a long time to shift my mindset away from the risk-averse, fear-of-failure one that I was conditioned to have in the corporate world (and through the social conditioning of my upbringing too).

The point here is not to convince you that this is impossible, much too hard for you to do. In fact, I want to stress to you that it IS possible. it’s also essential, arguably the most important thing for you to learn, the biggest shift in mindset and habit for you to adopt.

My point is that it is harder and trickier than it appears for the very reason of your circumstances, your experience, your conditioning. Your strengths are working against you and you need to address this with purpose, vigour and determination.

Ever Decreasing Circles

I’ve seen many people who leave the Mothership go on similar trajectories, where they go from contract to business idea to job to consulting then another business idea and so on. They circle through the same small set of options in a random order, without really making anything stick. I know this pattern because I’ve been through it myself.

When I was made redundant (properly) I got outplacement and I spent 6 months applying for roles, going to interviews and getting down to the last two without actually landing a job. Then I started to get some consultancy work through my contacts, so I did that for a year or so. One of my clients was looking for a senior marketing person, encouraged me to apply and I duly got the job. It was the wrong job for me, in the wrong industry, working for the wrong sort of people but, hey, it was a job! And a well-paid one, at that.

Of course, the job didn’t work out and after a couple of years we agreed to part (let’s call it ‘artistic differences’). So then I went back to consultancy but, as I was now more distant from my network, opportunities were harder to find. I did get a chance of a job, however, although I was treated so disrespectfully by the interviewer that I decided to ‘do my own thing’, which led to me buying a franchise.

It was not a good decision. I am the wrong sort of person for a franchise and the people who ran it, it transpired, were not my sort of people. After 3 years we agreed to go our separate ways (it was complicated…). So it was back to doing a bit of consultancy, and some coaching. Then I got involved in someone’s business for a few months but that fizzled out. The consultancy leads dried up. I played around with the coaching stuff. I got involved in someone else’s new business, which turned into a sales role. After a year I realised it wasn’t right for me and I went back to coaching and consultancy ….

And so it goes on. Ever decreasing circles, going through the same narrow set of options, with less and less energy, as your world seems to be getting smaller and smaller …

I may have made particularly heavy weather of it, some do manage to make something stick and make enough to get them by. For many of them, however, they are keeping still at best. There’s something missing. In fact, there’s quite a lot missing, like satisfaction, meaning, purpose, connection and fun.

This sort of spiral can be dangerous, especially if it continues downward. Spirals, however, can go upwards as well and the name of game is to change the direction. You see, there is nothing inherently wrong with moving between these different types of activity, that’s the nature of a career in the modern workplace. In fact, it’s quite possible that you will find yourself doing several of these at the same time, the ‘portfolio’ career as it’s sometimes called. The objective is to make them work with each other to propel you upwards, not downwards. To create a virtuous circle, one with increasingly richer opportunities and options. Ever expanding circles, you could say.

The first step to making this change in direction is to acknowledge where you are. Are you on a downward trajectory, cycling through the options, going around in ever decreasing circles? Have you stabilised on one but feel that it’s not really enough, that you are working hard just to keep still? Not going downwards, perhaps, but still going round in circles.

It can be very hard to see where you are and to be really honest with yourself, so you really need to speak to someone else who can take a detached view and will push you to answer the hard questions. That could be a trusted colleague who knows you well or perhaps two or three, to give you different perspectives and ideas.

If you feel you lack those contacts, you can use a coach who is trained to listen, question and hold you to account in order to get to the nub of the matter. A coach will also be able to help you decide what the options are and work out the things you can do to turn those circles into a virtuous upwards spiral to a better future.

Whichever you choose (which could be both), take some action to make sure you don’t keep going around in those ever decreasing circles.

Suicide notes speak too late

wspd The title of this blog is the slogan used by it at The Movember Foundation to publicise World Suicide Prevention Day, which is this Saturday, 10th September. (Read about it here.) I suggest you read Gavin’s story, whose depression was triggered by being made redundant at the age of 40 from the company that he had worked at for 20 years.

That’s right. His ‘After the Mothership’ story nearly ended with him killing himself. That’s how serious this stuff can be, that’s how hard it can be to cope.

I’ve never felt suicidal but I have certainly had bouts of depression and suffered from anxiety. These are normal reactions to the major life change that you are going through. And the solution is to talk about it. With your family, with your friends, with professionals who are trained to give you help and support.

The Movember campaign has a second slogan – Men, we need to talk. It’s not a sign of weakness to share your suffering and ask for help but because we have been conditioned not show weakness and be ‘strong’ at all times, we are reluctant to reach out. In fact, reaching out is the act of strength, it shows real courage.

Of course, women also need to ask for help and to talk about their feelings. Generally, they do this better than men but even then they may be reluctant to open up, particularly if they work in male-dominated environments.

I hope you never get to the stage the men in the case studies get to, I hope you never write a suicide note. The way to make sure you never get there is to talk about it. Call the Samaritans. Speak to a friend. Speak to your GP. Speak to someone.

This is too important to ignore. If I can help you in any way, please get in touch. It’s why I started After the Mothership, to help people through this transition and, in that way, stop anyone from getting to the point where they want to take their life. I believe if we talk more about what we are going through and if I can bring people together to help each other, we can not only help people have a better future, we can save some people’s lives.

Be strong. Reach out.


The Circle of Zorro

Helpless. That’s how you feel when you lose your job. Things have been taken out of your control and you are powerless to affect them. That’s certainly how I felt on the three occasions it happened to me.

When you leave the Mothership, you are likely to feel the same. Even if you chose to take the package, it’s likely that it was not at the time of your choosing. You may well have felt you still had much to offer and, given the choice, you would have carried on. You may have decided to walk through the exit door but you’d been edged over towards it first.

Your success in creating a new life and career, however, depends on you re-establishing an internal locus of control, taking command over your behaviour in the belief that this will positively effect your outcome. That’s easy to say but much harder to do in the turmoil of emotions and hurt and anger you are experiencing.

Your brain is in conflict, between your sophisticated, thinking mind and your neanderthal, emotional mind – what Shawn Achor calls the ‘Thinker’ and the ‘Jerk’, in his book “The Happiness Advantage”. The ‘Jerk’ responds to danger and triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. In other words, it hits the panic button. The ‘Thinker’ responds to danger by thinking first and then reacting. It has the reasoning and coping capabilities to work out the best response.

The problem is, the ‘Jerk’ has a hotline to the nervous system and when it hits the panic button, it overwhelms the ‘Thinker’’s ability to reason. This is known as an emotional hijack and this is what you are experiencing right now. You are a smart cookie but the ‘Jerk’ isn’t interested in that. It stops you from thinking straight and makes you react – with anger, distress and, eventually, helplessness.

So how do you get back in command of yourself? By managing what is under your control.

We all know Zorro, the swashbuckling master swordsman of Dumas’ stories, as a resolute, disciplined and fearless hero but Achor explains that this was not always the case. In the early stories Zorro is young and impetuous and fails in his quest to right  the injustices of the world. The more he fails, the more he feels out of control and powerless (is this sounding familiar?). When the ageing sword master Don Diago finds him, he is broken and wallowing in drink and despair. Seeing his potential, the old man takes Zorro under his wing and promises that mastery will come with “dedication and time”.

Back in the cave that is his lair, Don Diago draws a small circle around Zorro and he is forced to fight only within the circle for hour after hour, day after day. “This circle will be your world. Your whole life. Until I tell you otherwise, there is nothing outside of it”, he tells his protege.

Once Zorro masters control of this small circle, he is allowed to attempt greater and greater feats, which he achieves. None of these subsequent feats would have been possible if he had not achieved mastery of that first small circle and, in so doing, gain control of his emotions and a feeling of accomplishment. It is only by establishing that sense of control over his own fate that he can start to become Zorro, the legend.

You need to draw your own circle of Zorro and learn to master whatever is within it. Remember, it is not about becoming a hero, it is not about the end point. It is about establishing a small area that you can gain mastery over before you take on more challenging tasks, so that you can regain control of your emotions, practice your skills, restore your faith in your abilities and once again believe you have control over your own fate.

There are many things you could include but remember to keep it small. Setting out and keeping to a schedule for your day, taking regular exercise, eating well and drinking moderately, taking care of your mental wellbeing through meditation or walks in nature, being productive in some way like journaling or blogging or other creative projects, meeting regularly with friends and colleagues. Whatever you decide to include, practice taking action intentionally and taking control of your situation.

Once you have exercised control and have mastery over this constrained area then you will be ready to push back the boundaries and expand your circle. Then you can start to be like Zorro and be the hero of your own story.

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.

Was your career like ‘Whack-a-Mole’?

My kids used to love the arcade game ‘Whack-a-Mole’. You know, the one that was a grid of holes with moles that would randomly pop-up out of them and you had to hit them as quickly as possible with a large padded mallet. It was great fun and oddly satisfying. Who doesn’t enjoy whacking something on the head and being rewarded with a pleasing noise?

It also seemed to me to be a metaphor for management, and life, in a large corporate. Not that I managed my team like that. I wasn’t the man with the mallet. I was one of moles. Sometimes it felt like I was all of the moles at the same time.

Every time I voiced an opinion, spoke out for something I believed in, or questioned the wisdom of what I was told to do, I got a whack on the head for my troubles. That was the reward for saying something that wasn’t ‘politically correct’.

Of course, it wasn’t a whack with a large, padded hammer. That may have been preferable. No, I was told I was “going offside”, I was warned that it was a “career limiting act”. I was excluded from meetings. I was even banned from speaking to people outside of our division. Yes, even people who worked for the same company.

And the whack hurts. It’s bewildering, upsetting, confusing. So each time I would put on some armour to protect from getting hit again. Only there seemed to be lots of different ways of getting whacked, for all sorts of different things. So I had to put on lots of different bits of armour, to deaden the force of the blows.

“Oh well,” I’d say to myself,”that’s just part of working for a large corporate. It’s can be brutal at times.”

When you leave and start to work outside the corporate bubble, you find that it’s not like ‘Whack-a-Mole’ at all. People have no reason to hit you over the head. They are not trying to control you, they are not trying to force you to behave in a certain way. They are trying to get stuff done. They want you to help them, and bring all of your talents and abilities to bear on their challenges.

That’s when the armour becomes a problem. It’s not just protecting you from getting hurt, it’s concealing you, it’s disconnecting you from the people and the world around you. People can’t see who you really are, they can’t connect with you, so they choose others to work with.

You see, in corporate life it makes sense to hide in your hole and only show yourself occasionally, so you don’t get whacked too often. But outside, after the Mothership, you have to show yourself all the time, so that people can see who you really are and connect and build a relationship with you. All that armour just gets in the way. It’s got to go.

Of course, it’s really hard to shed. It’s your protection, it makes you feel safe, it’s your comfort zone. You believe that if you if you take it off, you will get whacked again. You fear exposing the real you, being vulnerable, because then people can hurt you. But the truth is that they are more likely to want to help you than to attack you. They are more likely to respond to you with love than with hurt.

You see, you’ll find that after the Mothership, life changes. The game’s not ‘Whack-a-Mole’ anymore. Now you’re playing ‘Help your Neighbour’ and you have lots of new friends to play it with.