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?

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?

Give Yourself Time To Grow

I’ve recently started living on avocados.

It’s part of my healthy eating plan and despite the price, I do relish a ripe avo that satiates my appetite. I just hate waiting for them to ripen. I never know what to do with a half ripe avo once I’ve cut it open.

Do I put it back together and place it in the fridge and hope for the best? Do I throw it in the bin and cringe at the money wasted? It’s often difficult to gauge by the level of softness of the skin when it is fully ripe.

I know you’re waiting for this avo monologue to turn into a meaningful metaphor, so here it is: how do you know when you’ve achieved a level of growth that has ‘ripened’ you for the next season in your life?

One of the definitions of the word ripe, means to ‘have arrived at the fitting stage or time for a particular action or purpose’. As you read this, you may be facing the prospect of taking on a new project, or bracing yourself for the start of a new job. Maybe you’re contemplating the start of a new relationship or friendship and you’re not sure of you’re ready for that commitment.

When it comes to new challenges or opportunities, we often vacillate across the range of preparedness: ‘I’m-so-not-ready-yet’, ‘yes- let’s-do-this’, ‘why-hasn’t-this-happened-yet’?

So, how do you know when you are ready to take on something new?

In my experience – and from my collected observations – there are three stages of readiness in life:

  1. Things that you need to say yes to in order to grow:
    • Learning how to drive, or enrolling for your university degree, are brief yet crucial stages  to development.
  2. Things that only materialize when you’ve reached a certain level of growth:
    • That job that has specific entry level requirements, or a career opportunity that is offered to you that you weren’t looking for, because your good work has had ripple positive effects.
  3. Things that you don’t feel not quite ready for but the decision to say yes to it will help you grow into it:
    • Committing to a relationship with the person you know is good for you or realising that you’re going to be a parent and responsibility is going to take on a whole new level.

Rarely do we feel 100% ready and excited to take on something new.

The day that your hand clutches that hard earned degree is just the beginning of a series of growth stages in your life. It might mean that you are ready to enter the world of work – but it also means that you are beginning a new series of cycles and seasons.

Life is a journey, not a series of events that we can neatly summarise on our cv.

Growth takes time. Change is a continual cycle that leads to slow, incremental growth that eventually results in a fruitful life.

Work week reflection question: What aspect of growth are you currently impatient about and how can you give yourself the time and space you need for things to take root?

 

 

Don’t Let Doubt Steal Your Dreams

image of a person in an iron mask

If the dawn of a new year scares you because you feel stuck in a private cycle of futility, then you could be letting self-doubt get the best of you.

Doubt is tricky to pinpoint because it hides itself behind so many other internal barriers. It’s easier to blame our lack of progress on our boss, or family background – or even on our own poor estimation of our capabilities.

Dictionary.com defines doubt as to be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe. Every successful person on this planet talks about how the battle with doubt is a constant one. So there will never be a day when you get up in the morning and it will have suddenly disappeared. 

While you need to accept that the struggle with doubt is part of the human condition, you don’t need to accept its potentially debilitating factor in your life.

Doubt blinds you to your true abilities.

Have you ever witnessed someone excel in a certain area (like public speaking or problem solving or bringing a team together) and then hear them talk about how incompetent they said area?

It’s astonishing and mind boggling – and yet most of us paint over our full colour brilliance with the whitewash of doubt every day. It’s like we have an invisible apparition strapped to our backs of the hideous monster we think we are, compared to the generally ordinary person we present to the rest of the world.

If we really knew what doubt was costing us, we might be more willing to address it.

 

Five Ways Doubt is Stealing Your Dreams

  1. It causes you to hesitate and lets opportunities slip through your fingertips:
    • We lose so much of what could belong to us because we allow fear to snatch it from our hands. We don’t apply for that amazing job because we feel we’re not ready yet – or that we don’t deserve it. We say no too quickly and then live with that regret for too long. People who have developed confidence act quickly when a good opportunity presents itself because they have been preparing themselves for success behind the scenes.
  2. It gives you the perfect excuse to avoid the work to bring your best self to the world:
    • Are you allowing doubt to gnaw at your optimism and potential? At the root of doubt is fear. What if I’m not good enough? What if I fail? What if I really suck at something that everything things I’m good at? When we worry more about what people will think or say by any particular course of action we wish to take, we are choosing to keep ourselves enslaved. Blaming others is the perfect excuse to stop trying.
  3. It’s makes you wait for the day that never comes:
    • When we keep making others a hindrance and using them as an excuse for our lack of progress, then we are keeping ourselves in a holding pattern. “One day, I will go on my dream vacation,” we say… but never do the research of what it will actually cost and start saving. “One day, I will get the love I deserve…” but we keep making choices that prove the opposite.
  4. It robs you from relationships that help you grow:
    • The weaker your sense of self-esteem, the stronger your doubt will be. We might desire to have healthy relationships with strong individuals – but we’re often afraid of looking weak in comparison and so we never reach out. If relationships are only challenging you negatively, they will never be able to help you grow. We are all a work in progress – there are no perfect people out there. Once you can give up the delusion that you need to be perfect, you might find the courage to engage in relationship that stretch you in all the right ways.
  5. It breeds negativity that stops good things flowing to and through you:
    • When doubt has taken over your life, he invites his friends – Negativity, Defeat, Failure, Misery, Loneliness… all the people that makes for a great pity party. If you let doubt consume you, you will find yourself playing the victim card in every situation. Why does it seem like good things don’t happen to  people who are constantly negative? Well, the main reason is that they have a negative expectation. Bad traffic, lousy neighbours, too many bills – these are things they didn’t know they’ve been asking for.

The antidote to doubt is faith.

How do you start believing in yourself when you find out that you haven’t been?

Firstly, start taking stock. Look around – and be grateful for – all that you do have in your possession. Not just material things but also the latent gifts and talents that you can put to work to help you become prosperous.

Then, take the time to reflect on what your life looked like a year ago this time – five years ago, ten years ago. Even if there are still some areas of your life that could use a massive overhaul, you have made some form of progress over the years. I sometimes consider my current life and all the things that God has added to it and it astounds me.

I had lived in a place of desperation and fear for so long that I didn’t know what freedom would look or feel like. And now that I am growing in my understanding of the freedom available to me, it humbles and motivates me to keep going along this path, to see what else is in store for me if I stay committed to my growth. 

If you’ve tied yourself to the opinions and approval of others, you can untie yourself from it. You also have to be willing to face your fears and start seeing yourself in a new reality.

Don’t study the thing that is tripping you up – study all the ways that you can learn how to run into freedom. The thing that is tripping you up will take care of itself. What we focus on, grows. 

So if you focus on belief, instead of doubt, a whole new world of possibility opens up to you. Don’t you want to be free?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

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.

Boy screaming into microphone

Finding Your Voice In The Workplace

(This post is dedicated to my sister, who like me, is learning to amplify her voice in the corporate arena).

We all have an intrinsic need to be heard. We want to know that our opinion matters. In the corporate space, we want our voices to be heard, we want to know that our work matters. In order for business to be increasingly globally competitive, harnessing the collective diversity of their human capital is vital to progress.

In countries like South Africa, where our rich diversity is undercut by a traumatic past, it’s no wonder that the children of the “previously oppressed” find it difficult to use their voices in the places and spaces that was previously restricted.

A consequence of first generation students accessing higher education is emerging pools of first generation professionals who need to learn to find their voices. Their parents are largely blue collar workers and although proud of the opportunities available to their offspring that was denied to them, they remain unable to provide a framework of support to help first generation professionals navigate the strange new white collar environments.

There is a multiple muting of potentially powerful voices that are harbouring solutions, creativity and new direction. Much of this internal barbed wire has been strung together through years of cultural norming where children were not allowed to express their voices in healthy ways.

Women in societies based in patriarchy were told in various covert and overt messages that they were not valuable in the workplace, let alone as leaders in the corporate world. Many young people that travel into cities and towns in the hubs of commerce have faced starkly different realities growing up and feel like pariahs in their own worlds.

 

 

Depending on your life experiences, there will be multiple aspects of finding and expressing your voice in the workplace.

  1. Find your voice: The first step to finding your voice is learning to determine what you like and don’t like in your own life. You may have become so accustomed to succumbing to the status quo that you have not given yourself permission to formulate your own opinions.

Growing up, there were many things about my Indian culture that I didn’t like. I didn’t listen to Bollywood music. I read lots of books while others we playing card games. I didn’t enjoy the petty gossip and comparisons that I was  exposed to. People teased me for using too many ‘big words’.

I tried to fit in for a long time but after my peer groups kept dismissing me as a “coconut”, I realised that it was pointless trying to fit in. It still took me a long time to own my voice but the first step was giving myself permission to be different from the people around me.

2. Own your voice: This is not an easy step. The process to owning your voice will not be linear. The way to own your voice will be to find out what the greatest impediments are to your ability to speak up.

Biological: Did you grow up in a home where you were the youngest (or middle child) and you felt like no one paid attention when you tried to share your opinion? Feeling like your voice doesn’t count can become so frustrating that you eventually give up on trying to be heard.

Cultural: Is your family culture rooted in beliefs that certain members of the group held all the power – and you fell into the “naturally voiceless” segment? When you’re part of an active workplace, you will be expected to bring all your personal power to bear within your role – but if you’ve learned how to remain silent (even though you have something valuable to say), you will need to learn how to speak up.

Psychological/Emotional: My attempts to speak up in the home was met with violent consequences and so I learnt that speaking up gets me (and the people I care about) in trouble. That led to deep seated emotional and psychological rifts in my inner belief and caused me to doubt my voice in every area of my life.

I let other people decide what was best for my life – because I lacked the confidence and the courage to say No.

Gender/Race: Men still generally find it easier to own their voice and speak up with confidence due to the global gender bias that is unfortunately a reality in most workplaces (Five Common Signs of Gender Bias in the Workplace: http://bit.ly/2srCZw7)

Political instability only serves to heighten tension in terms of race relations and often the workplace is where people have to confront their subconscious frustrations and find easy scapegoats.

So yes, speaking up is not going to be easy – given that you have to address your personal muzzle configuration, as well as the invisible gags within your specific work context. But it is not impossible and if you are part of a workforce, your voice matters.

3. Practice using your voice in various contexts: If it feels impossible to amplify your voice on the job, start by speaking up in other areas that are just as important. Is there a difficult friendship where you need to establish some healthy boundaries but you’ve been putting it off for too long? Do you always turn a blind eye at a restaurant when the waiter doesn’t bring what you asked for?

Speaking up in one area successfully builds the confidence you need to speak up in other areas of your life.

 4. Be open to constructive criticism: Learning how to speak up will necessitate learning how to deal with constructive criticism. Not all the ideas that you develop will be a right fit, so be prepared to learn how to integrate your suggestions into what is needed for the current work context. (Here’s a good guideline for making your voice heard in meetings: http://bit.ly/2r7SXI0)

5. Keep reflecting and growing in this area: Start keeping a journal of the things that make you feel “I wish I’d said that” or “If only they would do it this way”. Then start writing down the ways that you will speak up the next time the opportunity arises.

Ask someone you trust for help in learning how to own your voice. Reflect with them and allow them to serve as a sounding board. Give yourself time. A year from now, you will look back and find the things you are struggling with today will have become easier because you rose to the challenge.

6. Listen to others and encourage them to share their voices: When you start valuing your own voice and your right to be heard, you will begin to appreciate how difficult it might be for others to express their voices too. You will find yourself becoming a better listener and being more proactive in how you process information.

You can become one of those people who actively own their voice and use their words to shape the worlds around them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Leadership Traits We Can All Learn

Leaders are not born.

They are made by the choices they constantly make.

Every person has the ability to learn to become a leader. We have to lead our own lives, otherwise we will be led by others. Servant leadership is a style of leadership that places the benefits of others over benefits to self. Here are seven servant leadership traits we can all learn.

1. Willingness to embrace discomfort: taking the lead on projects and in organisations is not comfortable. You will have to deal with different types of people, you will come up against various obstacles and you will face the precipice of perceived limitations.

People who choose to embrace the discomfort that change brings are the ones that are able to bring about change.

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Why Maturity Is The New Super Power

I caught myself typing “how to remove oil stains from satin” into the Youtube search bar when it hit me: “Oh my goodness! I’m fully adulting right now!”

Gone are the days when I would take stain-ridden items of clothing home to mother dearest, only to have it returned to me a few weeks later when I visited again with the stain miraculously banished forever.

I thought for sure I’d reached fully-fledged functioning adult status years before that moment of truth. I’d been paying a bond (mortgage) from the age of 24, had a few jobs under my belt and was already on my third car.

And yet, at the age of 35, I didn’t know the most effective method to remove oil stains from a silk dress that I got on sale.

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Bridal couple figurine standing next to stacked coins

How Getting Married Can Change Your Financial Landscape

“I used to be a shopaholic”, I tell people. My emphasis on the past tense is a way to reassure myself that my financial life is changing. That I am changing.

And in many ways, I am.

What has changed is the fact that I now use cash instead of credit when I buy anything. That’s because I no longer own a credit card. Or a store card. In fact, my car was paid off a year and a half before the full financial term (saving almost R15 000 in the process).

I also have a budget and track what I spend each month. I know, I sound like Smart Money Wonder Woman, don’t I? If only that were true.

In many ways, I haven’t changed at all.

I started out my working life from a deficit. A soul deficient. I felt like I needed to buy the right clothes so that I could fit in. That would make me happy. The right clothes were the only things standing between me and acceptance. Clothes were my drug of choice.

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The Secret Power of Stewardship

Stewardship.

Not the sexiest word in the world. But its like a secret dynamite if you have it.

You might recognise its fruit: a good work ethic;  accountability;  integrity.

The modern day picture of a good steward is that guy who just seems to be unshakeable, not matter what happens to him. Or that lady who exhibits such a high level of personal integrity that even her haters give her their reluctant respect and admiration.

What you’re appreciating is a good steward. Someone who accepts responsibility for their duties, property,  or money that isn’t their own. But they take care of it like it is.

Essentially, a good character = a good steward.

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