Gracefully disruptive

Disruption is essential in the workplace when it comes to challenging the status quo (for the right reasons of course). Practices and methods become engrained into the team, into the organisation, and over time these are met with reluctance to change.

‘This is how it’s always been done’, you’re told. ‘It’s worked fine without anyone sticking their nose in’.

‘Don’t fix what ain’t broke’…and all that carry on.

In order to progress – whether it’s professionally, entrepreneurially, or at work – there needs to be disruption. I deliberately use the word ‘progress’ too, as opposed to ‘get ahead’.

Many people can get ahead without disruption. Indeed they use the status quo to their advantage by seemingly playing the safe route to get ahead.

However, by choosing this option, they miss out on the opportunities to broaden their mind, develop existing skills, and be open to new learning experiences.

Where’s the problem-solving? Where’s the creative thinking? Where’s the approach that’s right for you?

This route is too narrow, having been formed probably years ago, and one that once worked either appropriately to the time or the individual (or both).

By being disruptive, you ensure that unexplored territory is identified, examined, assessed and tried out. And with such big risks may come big rewards.

So what do I mean by disruption?

Being disruptive is not about talking the loudest or stamping your feet the hardest. It’s about applying curiosity and inquisitiveness into questioning already-mapped-out procedures, career paths, processes, ways of working, even thought processes, and seeing if there’s a better way.

‘Rocking the boat’ sounds almost destructive, and we’re not rocking it to be awkward. Where a boat rocks comes ripples that could have a detrimental impact to the ecology and banks of the river for example. Without forward thinking, this could ruin any sort of credibility to going against the status quo again.

The term I much prefer is gracefully disruptive. It’s challenging status quo with grace, with forethought and thorough consideration.

So how do you become more gracefully disruptive?

Firstly, you need to understand why you want to be disruptive, and understand when you shouldn’t be disruptive.

The latter is probably the best starting by process of elimination. When you shouldn’t be disruptive is where emotion plays a heavy part in the decision making.

Using emotion to steer your disruption won’t be graceful. Of course emotion can be the foundation of the decision-making, the stimulus that urges you to react for a greater cause or better way to do things, but you mustn’t let it rule your actions.

Emotions, most times, are temporary. Your actions can be permanent. Tread carefully – or better yet let your head determine your actions.

Having decided to take a more emotionally intelligent approach, you can move on to why you should be disruptive.

Why bother?

The very act of being gracefully disruptive itself will provide you with strong leadership capabilities.

This isn’t necessarily leadership over people (although it can be); it can be leadership over processes, your career, your fate, your confidence – anything that is within your control that you have found, over time, slowly but surely, has been consumed by the status quo, or by other people’s assumptions that their way is best.

‘You need a degree for a good job’, they say, ‘that’s the way it’s always been done if you want a decent job.’

Not true at all; you can be successful without one (while also not drowning in tens of thousands worth of debt).

‘You need to do this particular process in this particular way because that’s how it’s done.’

Not necessarily; when was the last time this process was questioned? Is there a better way we can be doing this? Isn’t it time that this process is assessed for efficiency? If new ways haven’t been explored before, isn’t it narrow minded and dismissive to insist that this one way is the way?

‘You have to stick with one job with one interest in order to do well for yourself, nobody likes a job-hopper.’

Not the case; portfolio careers have proven successful for many professionals now and indeed may help them stand out from the crowd. New learning and new experiences have led these to the point where they have a unique set of skills that play off of each other and open up new, more effective ways of doing things.

Avid Doers v The Naysayers

This is where we avid doers can do so well in. We refuse to accept that one way of doing things is the way of doing things.

We have the stubbornness and can-do attitude to make things happen, and adopting a gracefully disruptive approach to our endeavours can only lead us to things quicker, more efficiently and more effectively.

Unfortunately there will be (and are) naysayers who like things mainstream and consistent with solid, trustworthy practices, and see avid doers as being awkward or sometimes even clueless. They don’t ‘avidly do’, they passively do, and therefore dismiss any sort of alternative ways of thinking.

Let’s question how things are done. Let’s disprove that the one way is the only way.

Let’s explore new ways of doing things that are right for us and our career and developmental needs.

Think of the learning and development opportunities that would go amiss if we didn’t question what is already in front of us and instead decide what is right for us by being gracefully disruptive.

Persevere with perseverance

We avid doers aren’t afraid of doing things to get things done. We know what we want and we know what to do to get it. We roll up our sleeves and through grit and determination (and sometimes a bit of stubbornness) we do what is necessary to achieve our goals.

Nothing breaks our spirit…well, assuming it happens in the time we anticipate.

In our quest for managing our careers and developing our professional skills, the excitement of achieving our goals can sometimes be hampered by not managing our expectations. If the results aren’t as expected (whether it’s outcome, or time, or focus etc.) we lose perseverance, we have a change of heart and question whether to carry on or not.

Or is it just me?

Personal reflection

I am notoriously impatient; always have been, always will be. It has its advantages but in terms of perseverance, my impatience somethings gets the better of me and makes me question my efforts in relation to my goals.

The other weekend I had a good sort out of my, what-I-call ‘Cupboard of Broken Dreams’, a shame-filled pit of ex-passions and dropped-hobbies.

My painting easel. My photography equipment. My massage table. My Reiki books. My keyboard piano.

All the things that I once loved but struggled to conjure up enough perseverance to keep them going.

Don’t get me wrong; from each of these I have developed a number of useful transferable skills to my career.

There are a few I’m particularly proud of – my painting took me to exhibit in London’s Mall Galleries (and coming runner up), write and publish a book, and be the subject matter of someone’s GCSE project.

There are a few I still take up every now and then – I still enjoy playing the odd tune on the piano, and my friends and I still reap the benefits of a Reiki blast every now and then.

I also enjoy taking photos, and for those who follow my personal account on Instagram will see I love taking photos of homemade dishes and the countryside here in the Peak District.

Have you noticed my photographs in the last couple of posts as their featured image (the image that is displayed when it is shared on Twitter or LinkedIn)?

This was following a re-evaluation of The Avid Doer blog. The visitor count to this is good (and global!) but after nine months of it being up and running, I really want the audience to be wider, to help as many fellow go-get’em professionals as possible.

After doing some research it turns out that people like to share posts on social media that have a nice accompanying image – my posts came with generic and boring imagery that quite frankly wouldn’t encourage anyone to share at all.

So having a rethink, I’ve now combined my enjoyment of taking photos with my passion for professional development by using my photos as the featured image for each Avid Doer post.

Perseverance

This got me thinking about the importance of perseverance. Once you have a career end goal (or goals) in mind, and the right amount of professional motivation, you also need that perseverance.

Persevering with something is the difference between instant relief (letting go of something you’re struggling with, like job hunting) and knowing that you will one day be thankful for not giving up (like finding the perfect job following struggle).

Time is a constant. You can’t control it. It will happen whether or not you’re paying attention.

When you lack perseverance for achieving a professional goal, time doesn’t pause to let you try a different way. You don’t want to persevere because you feel you aren’t getting the results you have anticipated and planned for. So you give up.

But when you give up, time still carries on. That same time that you felt wasn’t going to come by when you wanted that instant assurance.

To give you example, perhaps you want to learn a specific skill like project management. You want to be seen as competent project manager and have a skill that will be higher in demand the more organisations continue to adopt the project management approach in conducting business.

Only the topic is quite tedious. There are three levels you need to complete before you even have a chance to be a full member of one of the project management bodies, APM. You can even self-study, which is still a lot of work and a lot of time.

Possibly in about 12 to 18 months of hard work and knowledge retention, you might achieve it. You start but slow down half way through because it’s just not going at the pace you thought it would.

Or you decide not to take the course because of the length of time.

Time carries on.

Eighteen months into the future, you’ll still be around (touch wood). The difference will be:

  • You have full membership and a set of useful and practical, transferable skills after successfully completing the required exams
  • You’re still studying but slowly understanding the concepts in order to reach your goal eventually
  • You had given up and settled for an easier life (if you started at all!)

This is where perseverance makes a world of difference to your professional development. You will eventually meet the end of those 18 months, and sure they’ll be hard, but will you have regret, or a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and pride?

Giving up

Is there any shame in giving up? Not at all, and this relies only on you. If you realise that the course of action you are taking isn’t going the way you planned, or is never going to lead you onto achieving your goal, then ‘giving up’ could be a smart move (this is, of course, after considering whether or not to change you goal or your efforts, as I’ve written about before).

But without coming across too cheesy, persevering in the right circumstances lead you onto bigger things – whether that is by meeting your goal exactly or introducing you to new and exciting opportunities even when the goal isn’t what you expected.

So what are the right circumstances?

Below is a list of ideas you should consider whether or not to persevere:

  • Regardless of the effort needed, will you eventually meet your goal?
  • Are you just looking for an easy way out?
  • Are you jeopardising your career for the sake of an easier route?
  • Have you tried every alternative way of doing something before deciding to quit?
  • Will you regret giving up this time next year?
  • Will you regret not giving up this time next year?
  • What is the impact of giving up (positive and negative)?
  • What is the impact of persevering (positive and negative)?
  • Have you asked for help?

The final point is such an important one (as are most of my bulleted lists – I need some sort of segway into the next paragraph!).

Deciding to persevere or quit comes after a lot of thinking and mulling, and most times to a point of analysis paralysis, where you have thought of every scenario and outcome that now your thinking is just stunned into paralysis or caught in a thought circle.

The best way to prise yourself out of this is asking for help. Talk to someone – your other half, a friend, a close colleague, your mentor, your manager. Sounding out your thoughts to a fresh pair of ears not only helps you articulate your concerns so that you can hear them outside of your noisy head, you get to hear an outsider’s perspective and their thoughts on the matter.

Whether it’s a pep talk, a sympathetic ear, or a stiff (verbal) slap across the face, they might be able to help you see your situation from a different perspective.

If you’re like me and have a million ideas swirling around your head, delegate your thoughts. Offload your snippets of ideas and concerns to someone else who will help you piece them together in a logical and coherent way.

After considering all of these points and understanding the impact of giving up and persevering you should then begin to understand the next steps you need to take. Being an avid doer isn’t enough. We’re happy to slog our guts and get dirty to achieve what we want to achieve, but perseverance helps us through the tough bits and helps keep our avid doing focussed.

I’m definitely persevering with my blog (not that I thought about giving it up!). It makes me happy, it helps and teaches the readers and visitors it does attract, it develops me as a professional, and I’m confident that I will stumble upon more exciting professional opportunities in the future as it already has so far.

Persevere with perseverance – if all the signs point to success one way or another (and yes, even if it’s hard), then it can only be a good thing.

 

Planning your career in 2018

So 2017 is behind us. Where did it go? Did you manage to accomplish everything you wanted to do, or did one thing or another get out of hand and time just simply slipped away? It’s OK, it can happen. Life gets in the way and sometimes certain commitments overtake others.

So, as 2018 kicks off, here are 3 really easy steps on how you can take more control of your career planning in the new year, whether you fell behind in 2017 or not.

Step one: look at what you did (and didn’t do) in 2017

Before making a start on what you want your career to look like in 2018, you will need to evaluate what was and wasn’t done this year. This isn’t an exercise to give you a hard time or dwell on mistakes; it’s about making a simple bullet point list of each the things you accomplished and things that got side-tracked. The list of accomplishments provides you the self-reflection every professional needs time to do, while also laying down the ground work for next year, for example, you might have completed a level 3 course, so 2018 might involve looking at level 4. But for now, focus on what was done.

Then you can focus on what you didn’t do, and determine what got in the way. For example, you might have wanted to be promoted this year but didn’t; why was this? Lack of skills? Lack of insight to what is required for a promotion? Your company doesn’t really offer promotion opportunities? Write, or keep note of your answer to this.

Step two: look at what you want to realistically accomplish in 2018

The key word here is ‘realistically’. You need to keep your eagerness to be a highflier by tomorrow in check and keep timescales realistic. This helps give you accurate deadlines that can actually be met, rather than thinking you have failed somehow by not meeting a deadline you set that was improbable in the first place. This will be put you in a place of defeat and potentially stop you in your tracks when you could have made steady progress to your goals in a controlled pace.

You will want to begin by understanding the direction you generally want to go in. This can be in 1, 5, 10 years etc., from now, but where is the focus? The master plan? For example, if you are an insurance professional and one day you want to be a manager. It might not be in 2018, but that’s where you want to head for now. It also might not be the actual end goal and for now it seems that far away, it’s not a clear picture as of yet. That’s fine, for now you can focus on what will get you closer to being an insurance manager that will be accomplish-able in 2018?

Begin your list with the areas you might want to explore on the things you had accomplished in 2017. As avid doers, we don’t rest on our laurels when we’ve completed something, we want to see where the next step is, where can this take us, how can we get even better? It might not necessarily be closely related to it, but can feed an idea as a starting point to your list. For example, you might have been promoted in 2017. Well done! Now what? You might want to explore how you can understand the new position fully by doing a particular thing, or upping your game by patching over some skill gaps you’ve only just discovered now that you’ve started the new role.

You can then move onto the things you didn’t do while being mindful of the reasons why you didn’t do them. To eliminate any out of date stuff, determine if there are any objectives you didn’t meet because they no longer relevant to your role, or what you want to do. If they’re not important, don’t include them in your 2018 plan. Then, anything left over, you can decide to bring forward into 2018 as they will still be relevant and play a part in your development and progress. Feel free to tweak them in certain ways so that they make sense.

Then the final consideration for step two is to include any new areas you want to cover in 2018, any new objectives, that aren’t covered by the lists above. Anything new that would help you in your master plan.

Step three: bridging the ‘now’ to the ‘then’

Now you need to bridge between where you are now, and where you want to be by the end of 2018. To do this, you need to understand what is needed to get you there and detail this into a particular objective. For example ‘getting good at maths’ is a good start if you have recently been put in charge of handling budgets, but it’s not really quantifiable. It’s not giving you any recipe to make sure that is completed. You know you need to ‘get good at maths’ but how are you going to do this? Make it easy for yourself by laying out the steps you need to do to get good, for example ask sign up to a course, buy a book (a popular genre is along the lines of ‘finance for non-financial managers’), understand financial terminology (a glossary from a search engine should do the trick), or simply make a conscious effort to ask more questions from those who have more experience than you when you don’t understand a particular concept.

If you know where you want to be by the end of 2018 but you’re not entirely sure how to get there then make it your mission to understand that. Make that as one of your objectives. You can then break it down into a step-by-step recipe, as above, for example research on the internet, online resources about particular careers, look up courses, find information in books, or simply ask people face-to-face.

You could start with your line manager, as you should already be having conversations about your career anyway – if not, make sure you do. Take control by setting a meeting up yourself with your manager so you can talk about where you want to be and what they can do to help you understand what needs to be done.

Of course, you might not be in the position to ask around too conspicuously if, for example one of your objects is to find another job, or start your own business. If this is the case, speak to those already in the career or company you want to swap to, talk to those who are already running their businesses. This will really help you get tried-and-tested steps to implement into your objectives for 2018.

What if you don’t know what to do?

I hear that. Like so many others, I have been there myself. You know you want to put your energy into a career, you feel as though you’re a wind-up toy that’s ready to be put down and speed off to success if you just knew in which direction to be dropped.

This is a whole topic in itself, and one I will cover over a number of posts in the future as I believe it’s a common problem, not to mention one that is so incredibly frustrating for those who have the avid doer attitude without an outlet to apply it (Update: I’ve now written a post on a secret to finding your perfect career here). For now though, you can still follow these steps to help you on the track of discovering what it is you want to do. That can be your end goal, or at least your master plan (ie you might not know by the end of 2018, but you can have objectives in place to help you discover). What did you do in 2017 to help you find out what you want to do? If you did nothing, why is that (note: ‘waiting for a eureka moment’ is not an acceptable answer I’m afraid)? What will you now do in 2018 to get a step closer to discovering what you want to do? One of the objectives is to certainly stay tuned to The Avid Doer as it will be covered in the not-too-distant future.

Whichever your situation, make sure 2018 has a feasible roadmap that consists of sequential steps and progressive events. And then stick to them. Your 2018 plan can of course change and be updated – it’s a living thing, and not something that’s written in concrete. But it is important it is written in one form or another, to remind you what you promised you will do in 2018.

By the time 2019 is here, you would have accomplished your list which will set you up nicely for accomplishing more amazing things in the new year, and so on.