I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot lately.
I guess it’s because I have seen success sabotaging behaviour in myself as a pattern that’s repeated throughout my career.
I also see a repeating pattern in the way many of my clients behave when it comes to making a change they know will be good for them.
When I know I have to make change, and that this change will potentially be great for me, here’s what I do.
I complain about the status quo and how unfair and unsatisfying that is to numerous (extraordinarily patient) friends.
Then I do a whole bunch of other things that are seemingly urgent, but not actually productive and going to help me in my plans.
When I have the air space to implement my idea, I find myself procrastinating and calling friends just for a chat, rather than sitting on my seat and getting on with what I need to do.
I talk about my new idea a lot to people, and I mean a lot.
And then after exhausting myself, I revert back to doing what I know I do well, until I have the next bright idea about changing something.
And on and on I go with the status quo.
To be honest this behaviour of mine drives me slightly nuts.
I am self-aware enough to know something is stopping me. But not completely in tune with what’s going on, to work out how to make my change more rapidly.
If I had to make an educated stab at what is going on for me, I think it’s because as unsatisfying as the status quo can be, mostly it’s never been so bad that I have had to stop immediately. Or I have gained some sort of reward that comes with playing the victim.
The repercussions of my behaviour have been too far away for me to care and I think I have enough time to do what I say I am going to do.
Mostly I have been very fearful that I will need to invest a whole heap of hard work into something I’m not convinced will work. I know that’s a paradoxical thought, because the only way I would truly know if something did not work, was if I tried it.
That’s my version of a fear of failure, and how that fear has stopped me moving on.
However when I think about it, when I have made the most profound changes in my life, it’s been when I have thought there’s been no option for me to make a move.
So I’ve not cared or even thought about failing, I have just made that change.
When I have royally screwed something, I have actually learned the biggest lessons of my life.
An example of a screw up is when it took me so long to leave my last corporate role.
I never felt I fitted in. I thought it was all my fault that I didn’t fit in. I was so fearful of showing how upset I was about being stuck in this situation I could never talk about it. I was worried that if I did talk about it, that it would be too overwhelming and I’d embarrass myself. So I stayed stuck like this for over two years.
The lesson I learned from this failure is that I didn’t fit in – and that’s actually OK. But using this experience to look at my strengths and look at my patterns of behaviour, was a great way to discover what I could be doing.
My first career choice (I use this word choice loosely) was to study for a degree in surveying. This was another career failure, as I hated it. I graduated in the top 10% of my degree but it took an enormous amount of effort (including complaining).
I often look at my decision to study surveying that and realised there is not often one amazing light bulb moment that guides me to a good decision. My pointers to positive choices are far more subtle.
I think I’m like a lot of people when I say this, but I tend to hear the fear or the negative. This is often the loudest voice in my head. So the signs that guide me to a good decision are less vocal.
A guide for a more satisfying career choice, would have been the fact that the subjects that came the easiest to me in high school were those that involved arguing an idea and writing – not looking at large chunks of numbers.
Another lesson I have learned from failure is that I am the harshest critic of myself and my own mistakes. Nobody else views my screw ups quite like I do.
The people who are the most meaningful and important in my life don’t beat me up for my mess ups.
They may have a laugh. They may sigh. But then they tell me what they’ve done as well. So it’s opened my eyes to the fact that we’re all imperfect.
I know there’s a lot of talk about failure building resilience, and I do think that’s true.
You do realise after a time that life does go on. So perhaps incorporating the idea of failure, and embracing the opportunity to fail is a gift that we could give ourselves.
Failure has worked best for me when I have taken time to reflect on what happened, and worked which bit I was responsible for, and which bit I wasn’t.
I realise that in talking to people incessantly about my ideas, I am seeking validation I don’t need. It’s like I don’t trust my own judgment.
Life never follows a straight path.
Success and failure, however you measure these things, are inevitable.
No matter what the context, I actually think I’ve caused more pain to myself and others when I’ve tried to stop failure. I’ve worked so hard on things I have ended up emotionally drained and exhausted and forgotten the reason I was doing something.
So is there one great way to make change?
Even though I use them, I’ve never been the greatest fan of motivational quotes.
For me they operate on hope, and only work after I have experienced something. Then it’s too late. I’ve taken the action the quote was supposed to inspire.
The greatest motivator for me has been experiencing pain.
So perhaps the best motivational quote could be a reflective quote, and the one that would help me (and possibly you) make the most fulfilling change is:
The change I wanted to make today was to write something more real and meaningful.
I realise from this experience that I’m really not that great at writing quotes. I don’t think my pearl of wisdom is going to be beamed all over Twitter 😉
So, here’s another one I photographed earlier this year.
Perhaps it’s best I leave you now and return quietly to my day job.