Just because you can…

For professionals like us, the idea of more is often overrated.

It doesn’t take a lot for ‘more’ to become ‘too much’.

When you go through a period of restriction, where so much of the range of possible human experience is denied, it’s understandable to want to jump back head-first into a world of plenty.

But to do so indiscriminately might disregard the wisdom we’ve developed about constraints; rather than being merely limiting, constraints can be quite useful.

Startup founders are often reminded that new ventures “don’t starve, they drown” i.e. it’s not the lack of opportunity that’s fatal, but the inability to choose wisely and decisively between possible areas of growth. It’s true for us all. Our resources, while special, are finite.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

What’s useful now?

In times of transition, we tread a delicate path between the enthusiasm of adventure and the anxiety of uncertainty.

When things are changing, often faster than we realise, we do have a tendency to overthink. Our balance between rumination and action can tip inwards.

We seem to be living through such a time where second-guessing and if-onlying are popular indulgences.

The problem with doing too much mental excavation is that it’s draining and rarely solves the challenge we seek to address. Building our awareness of our behaviours, and also our patterns of thought, is valuable work though and doesn’t require archaeological digging to unlock apparently elusive treasures of insight.

A helpful question to keep our awareness building on track is to ask, “What’s useful now?”  It challenges us to place our learning in context and to embrace our need to move forward.

As you reflect on your challenges for the week ahead, ask that question. And from there, take the next step.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

Vaccines and self-worth

A curious phenomenon has played out in recent months in relation to COVID vaccines.

Most of the public discourse has focused on problems. There isn’t enough supply. Roll-out should be faster. Side-effects are worrying.

I had a moment of clarity when I got a WhatsApp message from someone that lamented, “these vaccines are a dead loss”. In that over-reaction, a human tendency was laid bare.

In the prevailing emotion of the moment, we lose sight of the bigger picture.

Perhaps it’s easier to focus on a missed deadline rather than open ourselves to the awesome manifestation of human ingenuity behind the vaccine development.

The same phenomenon is in play with our professional self-worth.

We often fixate on an error, or some criticism. We obsess over a bad day, or a sub-par piece of work. And when we do, we lose sight of just how capable we are.

When we lose context, we can become derailed. And it’s so much harder for us to do our best work.

Vaccines are amazing. You are amazing. It’s worth remembering.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

My relationship with my work

Composite: Alamy/Guardian Design Team

Last summer, as we emerged from months of lockdown, I wrote about how the terms of our contract with the working world had changed. That piece generated a lot of conversation. And for some, it was the catalyst for some useful adjustment.

A year on, similar questions are just as relevant.

The nature of our relationship with work has been challenged. For some, this time has created opportunity and revealed a path to greater success and fulfilment. For many others though, it’s created angst, uncertainty and a questioning of previous assumptions.

This shows up individually but there are also trends emerging at the collective level. A piece in the Guardian this week highlighted many of them. It’s worth a read. (There may well be an agenda behind the framing of some of the issues, an agenda that might be different to yours, but airing these questions is worthwhile).

Some aspects of our world of work now appear to be unsustainable. You may well benefit from an open-minded evaluation of how aligned your work is with what you believe to be most valuable. If it turns out the alignment is still strong, it will be worth the check.

Perhaps as importantly, it may serve you to reflect on those you manage, on those you hire, collaborate with and depend upon. How has their relationship with their work changed and how can you be supportive as they navigate to a new equilibrium?

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

 

Breaking the cycle

It’s easy to get caught up in a behavioural loop. Before long, a loop can evolve into a rut. And ruts take a bit of work to escape.

Like many mammals, homo sapiens (that’s me and you) are ‘creatures of habit’. Without this capability to flip into autopilot, each day would be overwhelming in its complexity.

As we know though, not all of our habits serve us well. Every behaviour that is now habitual began as a useful action. But we’re continually changing, as is the world around us. Some of our habits don’t evolve gracefully to meet our present needs.

Every professional needs to develop mastery of their own habits.

It’s part of our role to build awareness of how we behave, how we notice and how we respond. Without that awareness, and the subsequent capability to adjust course, our output is like an untethered boat on a choppy sea.

Emerging, as we hopefully are, from a constrained pandemic era is revealing that some of our habitual professional practice has hardened into ruts. This shouldn’t become another reason to judge ourselves harshly but more usefully is an honest acknowledgement of a human response to an overload of uncomfortable change.

Climbing out of ruts means behavioural change. That means taking a different action. And that means breaking the cycle.

You already know how to do this. You may even want to start today.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

I know better

Our desire for improvement can be powerful. And sometimes it can be helpful. But not always.

If we feel that we know better, then it’s not a massive logical jump to conclude that others don’t know what they’re doing.

‘Knowing better’ is mostly a status we award ourselves. ‘Doing better’ is an assessment most usefully offered by others.

Rather than arriving into a given professional scenario with an assertion of knowing better, perhaps it might be more valuable to ask if our contribution might be useful, or even needed?

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

How we see ourselves

Reflections of the Past by Tom Hussey

Disruptive change challenges our identity. This pandemic is certainly such a disruption.

As life has become more restricted, this has narrowed our range of identities. This is worth noting and investigating. How we see ourselves, and how we talk about ourselves carries a lot of psychological weight.

If you identify with just one or two roles in life, then if things aren’t going so well in those domains there is a risk that you will internalise those struggles (this is shit, therefore I am shit). It’s great being ‘just’ a pop-star if you’re #1 all the time but when the attention evaporates, does the ‘feel good’ go with it?

If you’re finding this second year of pandemic life a bit heavy, it may be worthwhile to reflect on your relationship with your various identities. You may notice that some aspects of your pre-Covid life, especially those with social interaction and adventure, feel like they’re no longer part of who you are.

Even if this brings sadness, it’s a useful realisation as it reminds us that there’s more to us than Zoom calls and never-ending domestic chores.

Here’s a challenge that may well be helpful. Describe yourself with at least ten identities. Most people can get to five easily enough but slow down as the number rises. As an example, maybe you’re an accountant, a mother, a tennis player…..and so on. Give it a shot, you’re likely to be grateful you did.

You are greater than any transient set of circumstances. Never forget that.

Of course, you may well be a toad.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

The right call

The thing about making the right call is that it often takes a long time to be proven wrong.

As professionals, we frequently need to chart a path forward where uncertainty and ambiguity are unwelcome visitors.

What feels like the ‘right’ thing to do may not lead to the outcome we are hoping for, or may even look foolish with the benefit of new Information.

The easiest sport in the world is to sit in the armchair, or on the barstool, and criticise other people’s decisions. There are so many bad calls to choose from, and so many ways to assert our superiority. But while entertaining for some, it’s as professionally valuable as chewing bubblegum.

Knowing that the perfect decision is unlikely and that as humans we are prone to many biases, maybe a wiser course is to proceed with equal respect for what we know and what we don’t know.

Being right is overrated. Making wiser decisions, without the compulsion to be right, is a better long term bet.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

Stick or twist?

When things are going well, it’s easy to ‘rinse and repeat’. Don’t change the recipe. Stick to the system. It’s working.

Of course, nothing lasts forever. Circumstances and markets change. The rules of the game evolve.

“Should I change?” isn’t as useful a question as “How do I ensure I can adjust appropriately?”

Flexibility is more useful than inflexibility. Agility is more useful than rigidity.

But all too often we get stuck, or choose to stick. Habitual forces are strong, culture can be powerful and old narratives can be comforting.

The practice of staying flexible involves asking “How does this serve me?” and being open to the answer. Paradoxically, that’s a habit that can be built and strengthened too.

Chubby had the right idea.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.

Something in common

Our most enduring human connections are often forged during shared experiences.

School friends, work colleagues, team mates, especially those who’ve been with us through challenging times – those people tend to stay front of mind.

What sets those relationships apart is how easily we pick up where we left off, interacting as if we were ‘back in the day’.

With those connections, we don’t need small talk. We just get straight into it. The work of building trust is already done.

The paradoxical nature of the pandemic is that it has provided us with a shared experience but yet we haven’t had the physical proximity that normally cements connection.

While we are in different boats, we’ve all had the challenge of trying to do our best work during complicated circumstances. Some of us have struggled more than others, but none of us are unaware of the disruption.

Perhaps the greatest gift this time will give us is removing any justification for feeling shame about struggle. Working through a pandemic is hard. Most of us have struggled in ways we previously only read about. And we’re also noticing that we’re not alone in that.

In good times, it feels awkward or embarrassing to be talking about underperformance. Or asking for help to get better. I know this first-hand from my coaching work. The first step is often the hardest. But it no longer needs to be that way.

We have the opportunity now to strengthen our relationships by acknowledging this massive shared experience we are going through. And the direct path to that is to be present in an open way: “How are you?”, “How are you finding this?”, “Where could you do with a hand?”

One antidote to our ever-shrinking world is to remember we have something in common.

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This post was adapted from one of Aodan’s Sunday morning newsletters, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of readers. Give yourself the gift of that weekly wisdom by signing up here.