umbrellas, one pink

Own Your Uniqueness

You have something unique – and immensely valuable – to bring to your workplace.

Even as a graduate starting out with huge learning ahead of them, the energy and passion that you bring to your team will determine how much your current environment will add to your personal growth. Yes, you spent four (or more) years just grinding those books but the learning isn’t over once you get that precious parchment. Your head full of knowledge on campus will need to be matched with your heart full of passion in the concrete jungle.

EVERY work environment is an opportunity to learn about how the world works, how to work with others and how to apply understanding within a practical context. The biggest tip I can give millennials entering the workplace is to learn how to apply inter-generational communication. The internet abounds with information on how to integrate successfully with diverse teams (here’s an interesting Ted Talk to get you started).

It may feel like you know more than previous generations because you’re more tech-savvy and street smart but there are countless times that I’ve been humbled by insights gained from older colleagues. There are ways to build synergy between the impatient-lets-get-this-done-already individuals and the lets-think-this-through-and-do-this-right people. Yes, it can be infuriating some days (remember that you might be that cause of irritation to your colleagues!)

You go to work to solve problems. So expecting challenges and difficulties helps your brain to deal with the complexities coming at you on a daily basis. You have something to add to your current company. Your ability to see a simple solution to a complex challenge might be just what is needed. Maybe your positive energy and humour boosts team morale more than they might let on.

Yes you’re still a work in progress – but you’re never going to achieve ‘perfection’. Bring all your messy brilliance to your job and the results might surprise you!

Work week reflection question: Are there creative solutions to our current challenges that I can share and build with my team?

Your Manager Is Not God

I hate to be the one to break this terrible news to you: your manager is not God. I wish someone sat me down and told me this when I’d started working.

To begin with, I did not have healthy experiences with authority figures in my life. So I just assumed that everything they said and did was golden and that they would automatically know what I was thinking and feeling and would respond to me accordingly.

(This misconception doesn’t translate well to other important relationships, either).

Most of the time, when I put my mind to something, I get it done. And although I was never the ‘perfect employee’, I think that most of my managers enjoyed having me on their team because of my ability to show results. What I (subconsciously) expected from them though – and they weren’t really able to give – was to hold my hand on days that I was struggling and tell me that everything was going to be ok (fine, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit here but you get the idea).

I didn’t know what I needed from them until I noticed that I wasn’t getting it (like acknowledgement for something done well, some thoughtful coaching when I’d made a mistake and shown how to improve next time).

Until I was a bonafide manager – with title and everything – I had no idea how tough it was. There are multiple pressures coming at you all the time, you have to juggle a number of projects simultaneously and when things go wrong, you’re the one that has to be held accountable. It was easier to hate my previous managers before I become one.

Now I have more empathy for them.

We’ve all heard the saying that “anyone can be a manager but not everyone can be a leader.” Just like the saying “anyone can be a dad, not everyone chooses to be a father”. Ultimately it comes down to how much an individual chooses to rise to the level of responsibility in his/her life. Some will lean into it and grow – others will cave under the pressure and abdicate responsibility.

I have more impetus than ever before to grow into this level of leadership. Coaching has helped me tremendously in this regard.

Just because someone has a title, doesn’t mean that they suddenly have demi-god powers that makes them immune to the same things everyone goes through. Growth takes time. Your manager is human, as are you.

Yes they have more responsibility to learn how to lead and manage a team effectively – but that doesn’t remove the responsibility from you to be a proactive and engaged employee. When I notice the pressures that my manager(s) face, I think about ways that I can be most helpful to them. Most of the time, that means buckling down and accomplishing the tasks that have been assigned to me already.

Try to take your focus off what your manager should be doing to improve your work life and rather use that energy to invest in your own personal development.

You’ll be happier for it.

Work week reflection question: In what ways am I indulging in unrealistic expectations of my manager and how can I focus on how I can improve the work environment?

Bearded man holding up a sign 'seeking human kindness'

Do You Want Real Help?

I wasn’t sure how to start writing about this topic.

Challenging people’s blind spots often means that you’re exposing your own. So here is my disclaimer: I fall into each of the categories below at differing stages of my life, even though I consider myself as someone who is constantly looking for ways to grow (for my Myers-Briggs profile tells me so).

Committing to lifelong learning means that you need to be open to help. And feedback. And sometimes, you’re not going to like the truth that you have to face. But being willing to swallow the bitter pill of correction also means that you are allowing yourself to heal from an internal state of mind that is weakening you.

There are three basic states of helplessness that we operate in… any of them familiar?

1. We don’t ask for help: This is the saddest state to be in – when we really need help and support but we don’t ask for it. Maybe we’re too proud to admit that we’re in over our heads, or we’ve never been given permission to be wrong or make a mistake. Perhaps the environment that we’re in (work, social or relational) is toxic or destructive and we’re afraid to ask for help. (This is when we really should reach out for real help).

2. We ask for help (but we don’t really want to change): This is an interesting state to be in because we think that we’re being open by asking for help. However, if we find ourselves resisting helpful feedback (especially if it’s being echoed by a few people that we know has our best interests as heart), then perhaps we’re not really ready to change. Perhaps what we actually want is to have people listen to us moan about things, because playing the victim makes us feel powerful (when it’s actually a powerless state).

3. We ask for help because we are hungry for change: This is the prime state of ‘helplessness’ to be in because at this point, the pain of getting better finally outweighs the pain of staying the same. I love helping people who are in this state because the advice and support falls into good, fertile ground and you can see the fruit of an altered mindset manifest in new, positive behaviour in a few weeks and months.

So which state are you in today? In denial, resistant or open? Know that you will only be able to see real change in your life when you are open to receiving constructive help. Be proactive in implementing whatever systems or tools you can in order to correct faulty beliefs and shift your thinking patterns from negative to positive. Let the people who offer you help enjoy the reward of seeing you grow!

Work week reflection question: How am I standing in my own way of receiving real help that will help me grow?

Image of a man hold his hand in front of a wall of images, depicting different options

How To Stand Firm In Your Decisions

Image of a man hold his hand in front of a wall of images, depicting different options

When last did you make a decision that was difficult to stick to?

I’m not talking about skipping the gym workout this week. I mean the more gut-wrenching, heart stirring stuff. Like ending a toxic relationship, choosing to look for a new job or moving cities.

Although we know that change is constant, we still tend to want to hold onto the familiar (even if it’s hampering our growth). If we want different results, then we need to make different choices.

While choice is defined as “an act of choosing between two or more possibilities”, a decision refers to a conclusion or resolution reached after consideration.

Making a choice is a preliminary stage of decision making. “I am going to redefine my personal standards of health and fitness”, for example, is a conscious choice.

You are making the choice between one version of reality in this area of your life, over another version of reality that you will need to create for the future.

There are various posts available online about how to make a good decision.

How do you keep choosing your choice?

Once you’ve made a decision, you have to keep choosing your choice.

When you are choosing something, you are saying yes to stepping into something new and you are effectively stepping out of something old.

That looks like change – and as much as we want to pretend that change is an old friend and we know how nothing stays the same, we actually take a while to adjust to it.

One could argue that we are creatures of comfort and habit, so working to actively shift your mindset will involve an active process of engagement.

If you’ve decided to move to another area, or to look for another job or to seek out more positive relationships, you should expect resistance to your new choice.

Do you find it difficult to stick to your decisions?

Once you’ve made an important decision – and you find yourself wavering – how do you keep yourself steady?

What is your reason for vacillating on your decision? Any of these sound familiar? (Remember that most of these will be subconscious objections).

1. Other people are not going to like this course of action.

2. I don’t know what the next step is.

3. Better the devil you know…

4. How do I know if it’s going to work out?

5. Is it really going to get better? Am I going to be able to change this?

6. I’ve tried this before and it hasn’t worked.

7. I haven’t figured all this out yet.

8. No one else I know is making the decision I’m on the threshold of

9. What if I lose?

10. What if I win?

We often allow ourselves to stay in situations which is hampering our growth because we justify our comfort. We avoid flirting with risk because we’re used to our predictable day to day process. Many people are so afraid of something new that they keep themselves captive because of the remote possibility of a negative consequence.

In order to stay on track, you will need to balance out the emotive drive with your cognitive drive. Just getting your mind right won’t help if you don’t keep your heart in check.

If the thing that you’re reaching for is going to help you grow your character so that you can be more of the person you know yourself to be, the reward outweighs the cost. 

If you’re stuck in a relationship where you and your partner keeps each other from growing, then letting go and focusing on your own growth might be the best thing that happened to both of you.

If your current job is good enough to pay the bills and keep you semi-engaged, it is still a poor substitute for finding and doing the work that makes your heart sing.

If the thought of changing cities scares you because that was never in your plans (but you have a slight inkling that it might be a powerful transformative experience), you’re keeping yourself from having experience you don’t know what will thrill you yet.

Don’t let fear rule your heart.

The way that you can prevent yourself from following your emotions blindly is to keep a clear reminder of your purpose or vision where you can see it everyday.

Create a positive expectation that will fill your heart with hope and provide the fuel you need to keep choosing your decision everyday.

Isn’t the life you want worth it?

Let The Pull Of Purpose Push You Into Greatness

Have you been pulled by your sense of purpose into areas of personal greatness?

What has been pushing you this year to reach the targets you set for yourself at the beginning of the year?

Was it your parents, your boss’s perceived expectations of you, your spouse, your own ambition?

And do you feel closer to where you wanted to be when you crossed the threshold of the year – or further away from it?

I ask you all these questions because I despise the almost obligatory reflection on the 31st of December every year. I want to know if I am on track, headed in the right direction – sooner rather than later, so that I don’t waste even more time going deeper into a purposeless abyss.

I want to live my life on purpose. I want to be intentional about my days.

Partly because I feel like a decade of my life has been stolen from me – but mainly because I really want my life to count for something. I want the fact that I have taken up a tiny portion of space to have mattered to the people that I have crossed paths with.

So when an evolving concept of “push and pull” behaviours began cropping up in a few conversations over the past few weeks, it began to intrigue me.

This is actually quite a deep topic to really delve into, so I’ll try and position it in the way that I am beginning to see the framework. The basic premise is: You will always feel pushed into something if you’re not pulled into it by a deeper sense of purpose. 

A retrenchment, a divorce, a sudden death. There are things that shove you into realities that you weren’t quite ready for (and don’t know how to deal with).

Circumstances that we find ourselves in, that are beyond our control, creates a negative kind of push. Another factor that we can’t control (that we often forget) is that we can’t control people.

Pushing others is not fun. Feeling pushed is no fun either.

It conjures up a sense of resistance. It makes you feel like you don’t have a choice. And then everything in you wants to do the opposite.

Have you been dealing with situations in your life this year that has made you feel pushed by external factors – and either caused you to respond defensively or rendered you passive?

When we allow situations or people to determine our state of action, that’s when we give up our power.

It might not always feel like we’re in control but the way we respond to a situation always is. If we don’t have a strong sense of why we’re doing what we’re doing, then we will always get caught up in the “what is happening around us” that can be a major distraction to your actual purpose.

No one is going to help you figure out your purpose. This is a process of discovery that we all have to embark on as solitary sojourners. And it’s scary.

So we often take a easy option and allow other people to decide the direction of our lives for us. Therefore if things don’t feel great, we can rail against the machine and blame the state of our lives on other people. “If my boss was just more… (fill in your magical wish list here)” or “If only I was married/single again/in a relationship/out of this one… then life would be ok.”

Finding your Beckoning Space

In a session with a coach earlier this year, she asked an evocative question: What is your beckoning space?

What is the place where you see yourself thriving, being fueled with passion, where do you see yourself coming alive?

I didn’t have to think too much about that question. I know what that answer is. I’ve known for years. It’s just taken a while for me to grow in maturity and character to be able to reach for the things that I know I’m wired for.

The thing is, we often get so fixated on fighting against our current realities that we don’t have energy to think about the any alternate realities that might make us come alive.

So yes, it will be a fight. Swimming upstream is not easy. Going against the flow, when everyone else seems content to wile their lives away on non-purpose related pursuits, doing the thing beating in your heart is going to take guts.

It’s going to mean that you have to be ok with other people not being ok with you.

What is pushing you? What are the things that you do on a daily or weekly basis that you feel propelled to take on because of a sense of duty or obligation?

On the other hand: What is pulling you towards the place where you feel a special kind of magic? What are the things that, when you do then, you feel a sense of wonder and excitement?

(You might want to write these things down and ponder them for a bit. Don’t ignore them… they will just keep lingering until you eventually pay attention to them).

Of course we can’t avoid all duty and obligation.

You might not feel like going to work some days. But maturity helps you to get up, shower, get dressed, and get your butt in your car. Once you’re there, you actually get things done and end up having a pretty productive day.

It might be a similar process with going to the gym. If you’ve had a long day (or week), everything in your body and mind is shouting at you to avoid the thing that won’t feel good at the outset but at the end of the session, you’re feeling pretty incredible.

Your strength of your inner pull will determine whether you will allow the right kind of push.

When I switched my gym visits from a place of beating myself up for not measuring up to some impossible standard, to now swiping my card because I understand how taking care of my health has a vital and direct result on my longevity so that I can live out what I believe my passion to be, what was previously a push action has shifted to a ‘pull choice’.

I still don’t ever feel like doing the session but there is less inner turmoil than a few months ago because my renewed perspective on this one aspect of my life has had positive knock on effects on other areas of my life.

So how do you allow the pull your of purpose push you into greatness? Here’s how it’s working for me:

 

 

1. Don’t be limited by your job title (or your salary)

You will have many job titles in your life, clocking in to a number of organisations and working in various office team environments. When we first start out, it’s easy to expect others to lay out the projected trajectory of our career – until we discover that just like life, our professional endeavours will not be linear.

Each job contains opportunities for you to learn particular skills sets and if you are open to that, you will be able to glean a lot of valueable experience that you might only realise 10 or 20 years down the line was actually extremely beneficial.

Therefore, do not despise humble beginnings and also don’t be limited by your salary. Explore what you can do to develop multiple streams of income. Job security is fickle. Don’t set anchors in sinking sand.

In this current shifting landscape of work, it still fascinates me how some people pin all their hopes on a job title (and it’s incumbent benefits).

I understand that not all personality types are comfortable with risk taking and not everyone will have a desire to start their own business. I do believe, though, that everyone needs to develop an entrepreneurial mindset, just to keep themselves relevant and flexible in a vastly changing job market.

2. Let your life purpose be your compass (and then step out)

There is a golden thread in your life that provides clues to your life purpose. As you begin to see this more clearly, it will help you determine what you will say yes, no more, no, or maybe to.

Something that has helped me to keep a clear focus on my life vision, is a printed list entitled “What I want people to say when I die”. I read this list of ten items that I have determined will be the cumulative impact of my life (and I can see it from this finite point) every morning when I’m brushing my teeth.

It often feels daunting but it also reminds me to appreciate the ‘small’ ways I’m able to live our my life purpose every day and every week. Some days, that just looks like being purposeful about meeting someone for coffee and encouraging them. Other days, it means sitting at my desk and (finally) writing that blog post that has been simmering in my brain for way to long.

Most of the time, it’s reminding myself to be present in the conversations I have with others or learning how to say no when I need to. Your life purpose should direct your steps and it should chart your course. After numerous iterations, my life purpose can now be summarised in the phrase “inspire hope in the hopeless.”

3. Make time to dream (and then plan your action)

Whose life am I living?

It’s important to ask yourself this question on a regular basis because sometimes our life scripts morph into what others expect from us without us realising it. Don’t forget the reason you’re living. Write down the vision for your life and then keep reminders of where you’re headed with you in places that you can see it.

Don’t get sucked into the subtle ways that you can ruin your life.

You get one life. And it comes with an expiry date.

Dreams only come to live when your drape your wishes around the skeleton of a plan.

Don’t blame others for you not taking the action that is within your power – right in this moment – to take.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image of ad elipidated car

The Seven Slowest Ways To Ruin Your Life

Ruining one’s life is not something most people consciously set out to do. Most people want to achieve success in life. There is an inner drive to excel, to achieve your potential, to have your life count for something.

As you’re reading this, there are probably some thoughts and feelings stirring in your heart and mind. Maybe you’re remembering the things your parents want you to do with your life. Maybe it’s your own goals and ambitions that seem so far away. Perhaps you feel a tinge of regret over the things that failed and punctured your confidence to try again.

Regardless of what’s happened in the past, you most likely have a desire for life to work out well for you. You’re probably not getting up each morning thinking: “How can I ruin my life today?” And yet, ruin is a sneaky thing.

Because it’s invisible, it can be extremely insidious. It’s so much easier to pin our lack of achievement on circumstances we can actually see and people we can point our fingers to. We don’t actually think about the inner obstacles (of our own creation) that can impede progress along our road to success.

People who are angry and bitter, with multiple chips on their shoulders (we all know a few of them)probably don’t realise how, over the years, they’ve created their own version of quicksand and despite all their frenetic activity, are going nowhere slowly.

picture of a person trapped in quicksand

 

So how does one destroy one’s life, bit by bit, day by day, decision by decision? Decay usually sets in because of neglect. The proper care and attention is not applied appropriately and while it might not seem to be too damaging when you look at things over a short period of time, the tragic picture of ruination sets in over a decade or two.

  1. You lack vision: We weren’t born to just pay bills and die. You have been designed with a passion and on purpose and until you find and pursue the thing that makes you come alive, you will always be yearning for inner contentment. Success means different things to different people. You will feel like there is something missing from your life until you do whatever it is that fills you with joy when you’re doing it: whether it’s teaching children, running your own business or baking cakes. If you don’t write the script for your life, someone else will.
  2. You never take action: You keep talking about your dreams but you never translate them into goals and concrete plans. Successful people have turned wishful thinking into practical action. If you are not willing to pay the price, you will never lay your hands on the things you want. The things you like, you talk about. The things you love, you commit to.
  3. You never take responsibility: Someone else is always to blame for the things that haven’t happened yet in your life. There is no denying that some people have an easier start to life and have more privilege than others. And yet, there are countless examples of people who have experienced similar challenges and life circumstances as you. Once they took accountability for their lives, they managed to not just overcome it but to rise above their limitations and achieve phenomenal success. Find inspiring role models and ditch the scapegoats. If you haven’t learn how to receive – and grow from – constructive criticism, then you are bound to repeat the same experiences year in and year out.
  4. You stop growing: Your graduation day is not the finishing line of your learning. Great leaders are life long learners and successful people are constantly learning new things. Skill sets need to be tweaked and expanded in order to stay relevant in the market place. If you never really evaluate your personal progress and reflect on ways to improve and grow, you will experience regression instead of progression.
  5. You think you can make it on your own: A self-made man/woman is a fallacy. We need people to help us achieve more than we could ever accomplish on our own. People who have faith in the goodness of God and depend on His help experience a God-sized life as opposed to a life based on limited self-efforts.
  6. You live beyond your means: Talking yourself into unnecessary credit card purchases or ‘must-have items’ is a sure way to dig a deep hole of debt that will be a major impediment to living a whole, full life. Comparing yourself to others – and trying to keep up to someone else’s standards – is a sure way to drain the joy and contentment from your own life. Your finances don’t crumble in a day… but one bad choice after another eventually causes the ship to sink.
  7. You won’t diversify your friendship circle: If you’re constantly hanging out with people that look, act and think like you, you are robbing yourself from a rich tapestry of connection and understanding. Some relationships are like spiderwebs – keeping you trapped in a reality that doesn’t serve you and keeps you stuck. Most people never change because they are too afraid to allow their friendship circle to evolve.

What we don’t realise is that our fixed mindsets can act like a slow poison in our lives. Developing a growth mindset can help you galvanise yourself against the long-term, devastating affects of these soul-destroying decisions and behaviours.

Picture of a worn out car under a shed

This proverb has always stuck with me: “Wise people build their house with their own hands, but foolish people tear it down with their own hands.” There is no denying that you are entirely responsible for what your “house of life” currently looks like.

The truth is that even though there may be some areas that look severely debilitated right now, there is nothing so broken that God cannot restore. Once you are honest about the current state of affairs, you can then go about uprooting the roots of the things that are slowly but surely destroying your life.

If you don’t believe that you are a valuable person and deserving of living a whole, full, life – then you are not going to be motivated to stop the self-harm. I have swung on the pendulum of identity, living as a victim and as a rebel, until finally settling into the truth about my created value as a child of God.

When you see your worth and start living from a place of identity instead of for identity, the things you used to do to self-destruct become ludicrous patterns in your life. The great news is that if you are on any of these seven paths of death, you can decide to turn around and walk in the opposite direction into new paths of life.

I think that deep down, you really want to live a life that is full of joy, that is freeing and that frees you from the judgement, actions or opinions of others. Make the change today. If you wait another day, and another, and still another, ruin will come upon you and you will wish you could turn back the hands of time.

 

Finding The Fun In Your Work

We’re all tempted to press the snooze button one too many times on days we feel like we can’t face the office.

Work is challenging, it can be rewarding – but it’s not going to be something that makes you feel like you’re floating on clouds all day playing the harp. (Unless you’re a harpist – and all the best to you).

I cannot stomach work that is tedious and boring. I’m sure you’re not rearing to go in the morning to face another day of mundane, monotonous, unchallenged tasks. Yes there are people who avoid work like the plague and seem to get a high out of avoiding work like bullets flying at Neo in The Matrix but they’re probably not interested in reading a blog about taking responsbility for feeling engaged in your work space.

As an entrepreneurial thinker, I am always energized by improving processes, finding solutions to serving the client and harnessing stories to capture the impact of partnerships. Millennials, more than other generations, need to have fun in their work environments: https://goo.gl/eZeJhY

While many environments are evolving to embrace the new world of work, most are stuck in traditional patterns that can feel stifling at the best of times. So how does one stay engaged and motivated in environments that can be stogy and overly conservative?

Here are the five fun factors that help me enjoy the work I put my hands to:

1. Bring your own brand of fun: If everything around you is grey and dull, then think about ways that you can add some colour to your environment. Whether it’s playing around with colours and patterns in your work wardrobe or bringing some personal items to place on your desk or in your space that make you smile when you look at it, there is something you can to to bring a bit of your vivaciousness to the work environment. You can brand yourself as a carefree and fun individual without being too risqué.

2. Have lunch with a colleague whose company you enjoy: Some coworkers can be taxing on the mind and when it feels like you’re liable to head into an unhealthy emotional space, arrange a lunch date or coffee with a colleague whose company you actually enjoy. Someone who ‘gets’ you, a kindred spirit who you can laugh with and just be yourself around helps to take some of the pressure off a stressful day.

3. Schedule your week and try and have one thing you’re looking forward to every day: As much as it is up to you, spend some time at the end of each week to plan out what your week ahead will look like. Carefully consider the meetings you think is actually valuable to attend and as far as possible, eliminate time wasters from your schedule. Plan at least one thing that makes you feel a sense of excitement each day: either finishing up an overdue project (I know that doesn’t sound like much fun but you will be surprised at the relief you feel when you hand it in), or talking a walk around the office park that you’ve been wanting to do for a few weeks, or even that coffee with your kindred spirit colleague. Life is too short to hate your work days.

4. Don’t be a poopy head just because there is a ‘culture of stuffiness’: People may be older than you who have been working there for years – but just because there is a culture of conservatism, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to run for the hills. More than likely, your bright and cheerful spirit is just what’s needed to brighten up the place. At one of my former jobs, I was convinced that my manager despised my very existence. She was generally a negative person and would aggressively shrug off any encouragement I tried to lend to the situation. Imagine my surprise when she said: “I will miss your positivity”, when I finally tended my resignation. I wanted to say: “Fancy that – I thought you barely noticed it!” But being a professional I said something positive and encouraging instead.

5. Put forward that idea for a project that gets you excited: While there are some people who take a job with a retirement plan in mind, most employees are more concerned about training opportunities. Don’t let the sands of time pass without having a clear vision of what skills you want to add to your resume when you take on a new job. You’re there to make things better, so don’t wait for permission to present new ideas. Managers (secure managers) love initiators and those who don’t just get the job done but also bring life and energy to the office and take things forward. The proactive, productive employees will be those who learn and grow – and take on new opportunities, while the retirees-in-waiting will keep dodging bullets and wondering how people can actually have fun while at work.

You put a third of your life into work – why not try and find the life in your work?

 

 

 

 

Broken watches

Don’t Let Regret Eat Your Joy

As long as you are living and breathing on this planet, you are guaranteed to face regret.

To regret something is to “feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity).” To be ‘repentant’ means to wish that you could go back in time to the moment when the regretful incident happened – and make an alternate choice.

I think of regret as death’s first cousin. Regret doesn’t respect age, race, nationality or a person’s favourite ice cream flavour. It comes as a consequence of things you don’t have full control over and lingers in the shadows of darkness in the corners of your soul.  (Ok that was dramatic. I think I’ve made my point).

Regret brings along a host of friends: disappointment, guilt, shame, embarrassment and fear. If we don’t learn how to wrestle with it in a healthy way – and win – regret will always be a handicap in our lives.

Identifying the causes of regret

At the basis of regret is that the outer world is not lining up with expectations of your inner world. Disappointment at the realities of our past can haunt us and limit our freedom to live in the world the way that we know we can.

Think about the things that you’ve been regretting over the past few months. What comes up as a constant theme?

1. Bad things that other people did to you: Is there something that happened to you when you were younger, that you couldn’t really control, that you still blame yourself for? Maybe you’re tormented with questions like: ‘Why didn’t I tell someone?’, ‘Why did I go there’, ‘I should’ve…’ Ruminating on all the ways that you could have changed the situation is hampering your confidence to make decisions in the present. If you have not sought professional help to deal with the psychological and emotional hurts that were inflicted on you by others, then you are keeping yourself in a private prison. Get the help you need. You deserve to live a whole, free, full life.

2. Bad decisions that hurt you: Sometimes, we unknowingly cooperate with others in perpetuating a negative reality. We don’t always have all the foresight and life experience that will enable us to make better decisions and then we get stuck (sometimes for years) in relationships or places that keep us from living authentically. When we finally escape that limiting reality and have taken time to heal, looking back on the wasted time can cause feelings of regret at what could’ve been. You also can’t help feeling like an idiot for what now (thanks to hindsight) is extremely obvious to you.

3. Actions you took that hurt others: This is a tough one. It’s easier to live life upset at the evil people who mess up the lives of others. But what happens what that person is you? It is extremely difficult to reconcile yourself with the notion of yourself as a “good person”, knowing that there were actions that you took that directly affected others negatively. You may not have intended that as a consequence but there is no way of disputing that you have caused pain to someone else. The redeeming aspect of this kind of regret is that you realise that people are fallible (yes even you!) and it helps you to have a deeper level of understanding. It might make it easier for you to forgive someone else for what they did to you because maybe they too didn’t intend for the bad consequence and we just doing their best. Remember that we judge others by their actions but we judge ourselves by our intentions.

4. Wishing you’d made a different choice: We all have cringe-worthy actions that we prefer no one ever knew about. Just this week, one of my major regrets came back to me, taunting me for the silly fool that I was. Instead of just giving into the usual self-pity and self-inflicted internal flogging, I pictured taking that regret by the neck (like lionesses grab their cubs) and looking it in the eye.

Yes I should never have done what I did, yes I hated the person I was at the time when I made that decision and yes, if I could go back in time to the moment when things went the wrong way and drag myself out of that moment, I would. But I can’t undo what was done. I can’t magically reverse my mistake. What I can do – and what I have to do each time this memory comes up, is to remind myself that the person I am now would never made the same decision today. So as ugly and painful as that regrettable time in my life was, it has taught me a lot about life, vulnerability and strength. You can only make better choices when you are strong enough and healthy enough to choose the things that will build you up, not break you down. We can choose to stay stuck in a private prison of regret or we can live uncaged. We hold the keys to our freedom.

 

 

Understand the spectrum of regret

Not all regret is necessary negative. There is a spectrum of regret that we need to learn to navigate. A spectrum is defined as “any range or scale, as of capabilities, emotions, or moods.”  

Regretting something you did in high school is not as painful to remember as when you messed up a project at work last week.  From saying something stupid to the person you have a crush on to a bad decision or the consequences of a character flaw, regret can become a tool for transformation. If we learn how to use it.

With the first two sources of regret, it will not help us to marinate in the stew of “why did this happen to me?” Staying fixated on things you can’t change is not helpful and will only keep you stuck.

Regret can help you learn from the actions and behaviours that are in your control (the second two sources). Sometimes a careless action, done in a moment of haste, can be easily rectified by a heartfelt apology.

Other things, like a prolonged pattern of behaviour in crucial areas like career development and relationships, take a little longer to rectify. In order to fix my flawed default emotional and psychological patterns of engagement, has taken a long time (and it is still a work in progress).

I use all the tools of personal development at my disposal (spiritual practices, mental techniques, journalling and reflection etc) to strengthen a growth mindset. But I need to be intentional about it.

When I feel the twinge of regret pinch at the corners of my conscience, I am learning how to place it upon the regret spectrum.

  • Invest in your now: When something new comes up into my self awareness about the way I responded to someone, or a silent thought that I have that is not entirely positive, this internal checklist usually helps:
    • Is this something I can change?
      • If no, I focus on the things that are within my power to control.
    • If yes, I consider the steps that I need to take to practise a new course of action the next time a similar situation arises.
  • Celebrate the growth: If a long-standing regret from a painful period of my life rears its ugly head, I take a moment to feed in a new narrative. You have to build new tapes to drown out the old ones. I interject the taunting “see how hopeless you were with “Thank goodness I’m not that person anymore” or “Thank God I never have to see those people ever again.”
  • Let go of the minutia: Sometimes, it’s just a simple ‘I wish I said that this instead of not saying anything to that person in that situation.’ Alas, the moment is gone and it doesn’t help to ruminate. I usually just tell myself to let it go and move on with my life.
  • Pay the price to get the life you want: If there are specific limiting behavioural patterns that I keep picking up (like talking myself out of going to gym more times than my feet actually make it on the treadmill, then more drastic measures have to be taken to get myself out of a rut (like finally signing up with a personal trainer). Less insanity (going the same things and expecting different results) and more proactive challenges.

The better you get with dealing with regret today, the less regret you will have to deal with as you get older.

We’ve all read about studies done on people in their death beds. The things we will regret at the end of our lives will be not enjoying or fully appreciating the things that money can’t buy. Things like friendship, family, genuine love, joy, peace of mind, meaningful conversations (etc, etc).

We’re gifted with life. Only we can decide whether we will cherish the present. The antidote to regret is gratitude.

Are there any regrets that you just can’t seem to let go of? Share your comments below.

A Letter To The Fatherless

Father’s Day is not a joyous celebration for everyone. For many, it is a bittersweet, mostly painful reminder of what’s missing in their lives.

As people scroll through all the dad love on social media, there are many silent observers reflecting on what they wish they had. If Father’s Day causes you to feel numb, caused by years of disappointment and regret, then I wrote this letter for you. The effects of fatherlessness is scary (http://bit.ly/1D6Fi45 ) but it doesn’t have to wreck your life completely. (And it’s not just a local phenomenon: http://bit.ly/2rNadTc )

You don’t have to remain stuck in a place where you feel “less than” because you’ve never had a positive fatherly influence in your life. The parts of your heart that have become hardened needs to become soft again. It’s not serving you to pretend the void is not there, or that you’re “fine” because it’s been years and “you’re so over it”.

If nothing else, you need to acknowledge that your relationship (or lack of one) with your father has played a role in how you view authority figures, even in the workplace.

If you never received the nurture, care and acceptance you needed as a child, you will crave it as an adult. That’s just the way we’re wired. We’re wired for love. We’re wired for connection. Sometimes, when the internal wires gets crossed, or short circuited, we can’t function at our optimal level.

We will always be frustrated if we never fix the wiring.

 

 

Absent fathers

There is a pandemic of absent fathers in South Africa (http://bit.ly/2tEYqHM). If you’ve grown up in poverty and your father was never around to be a support, research shows that the odds are against you winning in life. This does not have to mean a death sentence. You can be one of the many exceptions and triumph over the adversity you have faced.

It does mean however that children who grew up with absent fathers have experienced the pain of abandonment. The silent (and imprisoning) message that you may have received is: “I am not valuable”, “I am not worthy of being protected or taken care of” or “I’m all alone”. Even if your dad was absent because of premature death, not choice, the reality of living without a father in the home has the potential to manifest the same psycho social effects of fatherlessness.

These subliminal messages led to inner beliefs and you may never make the connection that these long term feelings are linked to why you’re trying so hard to make your manager like you, or why you get so upset when you feel ignored by your boss. It is not their role to correct the historical context of your life’s circumstances. If you’ve identified that you might be dealing with the pain of abandonment, seeking help from a counsellor or mentor will help you heal and become whole in this area.

(If you’re a person of faith, you can lean on the truth of God being an ever-present help. He is a good Father who will never reject you or abandon you).

Let us not forget that fathers who have never been fathered don’t know how to father. Unforgiveness leads to bitterness that keeps you trapped in a cave of defeat. The only way you can move forward is to make peace with what was so that you can fully embrace the potential available to you in your present.

There are many good people in the world, who are willing to help and support others in need. Just because one person, who has pivotal to your growth and development, failed you, it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. You past may have shaped you but don’t allow it to define you.

Abusive fathers

Depending on the situation, having a father who is present in your life – but extremely abusive, could be worse than dealing with the consequences of an absent father. The long term effects of post traumatic disorder on someone who has grown up in a home rife with domestic violence has deep seated wounds that will only heal once that person is a safe environment and embarks on a journey of healing.

Trying to participate in “normal life” can feel impossible for those who have experienced the terror of watching their father (the man that is supposed to care and protect), threaten the lives of the people they love the most. Children from abusive homes live in a private hell – and are often unable to ask for the help they need because the fear of speaking up has becoming ingrained.

If you have experienced long term domestic violence in your childhood, unfortunately it will take longer for you to adjust to the workplace in healthy ways. You might find yourself prone to workaholism, as the office becomes a place where you can prove your worth. Yet we know that a life off balance can never produce healthy fruit and sooner or later, you will have to deal with the core issues.

You will also need to learn how to establish healthy boundaries, so that the abusive and manipulative parent no longer has a hold over you as an adult. Seek the help you need to learn how to speak up, how to work from a place of identity and not for identity. Also, remember to give yourself time. Sometimes it will feel like you are dealing with the same things over and over again – but as you mature and grow, you will need to overcome old demons in new areas. It doesn’t mean that you’re stuck again – it just means that you are moving up levels emotional and developing deeper maturity levels.

Children who’ve had abusive fathers live with a sense of obligation and duty, but not much affection and closeness. In many ways, you live with the shadow of the father you wish you had. If we are serious about not repeating the mistakes of our parents, then we have to learn to make different choices in life.

There is hope for you.

Even if you’re never been told that you’re worthless, that you’re nothing… that is NOT the truth about you. Seek a second or third (or 20th even) opinion about what your strengths are. The are others that see the positive aspects of your character that you’ve been trained to ignore because you’re not used to focusing on the negative. You can live a healthy, whole and free life – no matter what you’ve experienced in the past.

Present (but imperfect) fathers

No dad in this world is perfect. No human on this planet is perfect. So if you’ve been privileged to grow up with a dad who was not only present but trying to play a positive role in your life, chances are you’re much more well-balanced and stable in the workplace than your ‘fatherless’ colleagues. You are reaping benefits in your life that will take them a while to grow. If you have a great dad, then appreciate and cherish him. If you can, share him with someone you know could benefit from a fatherly figure in their own lives.

Using your father (absent, abusive or imperfect) as a scapegoat for the current state of your life is also not the answer. In order to fully own your life, you need to acknowledge the factors that have led to your current reality – and then own the ways in which you will move forward. I know that this is not an easy process (or a quick one). There are things that you may have blocked out for years and prefer not to deal with, hoping they will just stay locked away deep down in the hidden chambers of your heart.

The pesky thing about unresolved pain is that they tend to build into volcanic masses if suppressed for too long. So you are going to have to deal with them at some point – whether you like it or not. And how much better to deal with it on your own terms, instead of having to cope with the results of an unpredictable volcanic eruption that makes you want to quit your job or fall into deep despair at the myriad of ways you’ve succeeded in sabotaging your own life.

{Please leave a comment below – I would love to hear how you’ve overcome the challenges of your past… or how you’re dealing with them now.}

 

 

 

Special shoutout to the real dads loving in the real world

To all the men who have stepped into the role of fatherhood (biological or not): thank you.  Good men often have to fight the stigma that those who reject fatherhood have caused. Our families need you. They need your strength, your support, your love, your presence. Whenever I see an amazing dad who has his arms wrapped around his kid and is taking obvious joy from that encounter, it fills my heart with hope. An active and engaged father today builds secure and confident adults of the future. You’ve embraced fatherhood every day of the year, not just on the one day when the world decides to notice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret to Personal Progress

I don’t know whether you’ve realised this yet – or whether you’re still learning this life truth: you can’t figure life out on your own.

I think I’ve always known this to some degree but I didn’t always know how to seek the help I needed in healthy ways.  I unfortunately developed a bad habit of listening to the wrong voices when I was younger (with disastrous consequences) so it’s taken me a while to understand how to identify the right kind of people to ask for help.

As an avid reader and knowledge seeker, if I have questions around a particular topic, I go into immediate research mode. Google searches help to some degree, but then I always find myself looking for videos on the topic instead. There is something about hearing a voice speak about a topic that I’m interested in, that serves as a warming illumination that melts away clouds of confusion.

We want to hear someone who has been through what we’re going through, who had the same questions we have and somehow found answers that took them forward. We want connection. I’ve discovered that the secret to personal progress is: finding the right voices, at the right time, will help you go in the right direction.

You can of course talk to the wrong people at the right time (right time meaning that you are at a crossroads of decision) and end up going down the wrong path. Getting lost because of bad advice often leads to frustration and resentment. It might make you feel like giving up because you feel like things are so far gone that they can’t be salvaged.

But that is not true. There is always a new opportunity to start again. So if that is where you are today (hopeless and despondent) – let my voice be the one that encourages you to get up from here and find your way back to your path of purpose.

A book of wisdom says: “Without advice plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed.”

Finding the right voices

 

 

You don’t have to learn from your own mistakes. You can learn from the experiences and mistakes of others. The experiences of others are able to serve as building blocks in your own understanding. Identifying the right voices doesn’t have to be an impossible quest. Here’s the guidelines I use when asking for advice:

1. They have a level of success in a particular area that you wish to attain.

The best advisers are people that are  currently doing the thing that you want to do. Or have experience in the field you want information about. It doesn’t have to be specifically related to your field, but if they are applying the skills that you need to apply, and doing so successfully, then that is something you can learn from. Recently, I was consulting with someone who has a retail company, as their social media presence on Instagram was better than mine. Even though the product differed, the marketing principles remained the same.

Talking to him helped me to connect the dots and suddenly I could see what my focus area has been for many years. There were many other factors that contributed to this moment of clarity but our conversations helped me refine my offering quicker than I could have done on my own.

2. They have your best interests at heart.

Do the people you’re talking to have your best interests at heart? If you know that there is someone in your personal network or friendship circles that might be harbouring a   “what’s in this for me” expectation, chances are they the advice they offer is going to be tainted with self-interest. Unfortunately, not everyone has pure intentions and the golden rule here is to trust your instinct. If you feel uncomfortable around the person, or unsure of their motives in helping you, then rather look for an alternate source of wisdom.

3. They are happy to see you succeed.

Good counsellors (another word for wise people) are those who are not jealous of you, neither do they see you as a threat. They genuinely believe in you and want to see you succeed. A friend of mine has developed a possible business solution in the form of big data. He is super intelligent and has a good character – he just doesn’t have all the practical business experience yet because he is still completing his masters degree. I set up a meeting with a business owner who operates in the IT field and after a brief discussion, my friend realised where he needed to focus his development efforts.

He could have wasted a lot of time, energy, effort and money developing something that went bust. Because He was open to learning, it didn’t matter that he didn’t even know the person that helped to steer him in the right direction until I introduced them. So the lesson here is that if you know that there is a group of people who believe you, don’t be afraid to ask for help because they could connect you to the right person that will direct you along the right path. I found this great post on LinkedIn that will help you understand the power of “indirect networking: http://bit.ly/2sJAg1e

4. They are willing to assist where they can.

When you’re asking someone for help, you will need to fit into their schedule. When is the most convenient time for them to squeeze in a coffee with you?

Be grateful for the time someone gives you. If you can afford it, pay for their coffee or lunch. They will feel honoured that you value their time and their input (John Maxwell has made this a staple of his personal development).

You don’t want to come across as naggy or needy. Ask once, remind them again but if they are too busy and haven’t been able to make time to see you, then it might be better to move on to someone else who has more time. There might be an opportunity at a later stage to hone in on their wisdom.

5. They are making progress in their own endeavours.

Remember that while people aren’t perfect, there is a lot than you can learn from them. Asking for advise from someone doesn’t mean that they have it all together – but you are gleaning from their expertise and progress in a particular aspect of their lives. Someone might be a fitness freak – but they aren’t great at building successful relationships. Just because you’ve received positive input from them in one area of personal growth, doesn’t mean that you should follow everything that they do.

The golden rule with personal development is that you are ultimately responsible for your own life choices. Asking for advise is valuable. The way that you apply the knowledge that you’ve received is what leads to wisdom manifested in your own life. So keep moving forward, keep the hunger alive and seek out the right advice to help you go in the right direction.