Your Work Is A Gift

 

 

It’s weird how most of the information we receive about work these days is how much we need to escape it.

There are whole industries dedicated to enticing you on expensive holidays to some exotic destination – all to escape the evils of work. Work is not some evil dragon, waiting in the dark to consume you with the fire of fury. It’s simply, as the dictionary defines it: “activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.”

Does it take some effort to brush your teeth in the morning? Or to make that cup of coffee that helps you face the day? What about comparing the work load of an office worker with a construction worker? What measures of effort would you use to calculate what work was done in an eight hour time period?

If you choose to see work as a curse, you will live under the burden of strain, pain and pressure – just waiting for the moment when you can escape into that next beer, walk on the beach or shopping expedition.

 

If this was what you did all day – for years – you lose your mind.

 

Your work is not separate from you. Work presents an opportunity. It gives you the gift of growth. Everyday. Whether you unwrap it or not. The way that you lean into the invitation to allow your work to sculpt your character, will determine your level of success in life.

You bring who you are to everything that you do. The way you brush your teeth, or make your bed (or not) or answer emails or deal with your colleagues.

What is it going to take for you to bring your best to work?
 

Monday motivation: What will change this week if I allow the gift of work before me to help me grow?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image of young boy dressed in a suit looking at hot air balloons

My Top 20 Workplace Lessons

People are living longer than ever before. This means that we will be working for longer that we expect to. Current research reveals that the average expected lifespan of the Millennial Generation is 100 – 110 years (http://huff.to/1JkBT6w). That’s a few decades past the current average retirement age of 65. So like it or not, work is going to be a necessary aspect of our lives for longer than we may currently envision.

I started working at the age of 18 with much fear and uncertainty. Now I’m 36 and suddenly it’s my crown work anniversary. Things are a little less cloudy now and I’m facing up to my fears. Here’s a few things I’ve picked up over the past 18 years.

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(Image source: goo.gl/slQEJz)

Five Signs You’re An Intrapreneurial Employee

For most of my working life, I could never understand when my colleagues would expect the company (the nebulous spirit we all refer to when we use that term) to make their lives easier or give them meaning and happiness.

It took me a while to discover, after some entrepreneurial training, that what I was experiencing was cognitive dissonance between an employee and an entrepreneurial mindset.

An employee mindset says: “the company should…” An entrepreneur mindset says: “I will…” An employee mindset says: “that’s not my job…” An entrepreneur mindset says: “I haven’t done that before, but I’ll try…”

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How To Leave A Job (Without The Dramatic Background Exploding Scene)

The moment has come again.

It’s time to tender your resignation and take the next step in your career. Although this is something that you have been planning for (and most likely looking forward to), be prepared for a deluge of mixed emotions.

I used to be under the illusion that leaving a company meant leaving certain “issues” behind (read annoying colleagues or a difficult manager). After many years of stumbling through frustrating work days, it dawned on me that maybe I was the annoying colleague (shock, horror).

So now, my more seasoned self has learned how to take things with me  instead of leaving things behind. Along with my photos and pot plant, go my hard-to-weigh practical experience. Every job has the potential to give you more than just a monthly paycheck. It can, if you will let it, create opportunities for you to acknowledge your limitations and grow your capacity to take on and overcome difficult things.

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Be A Brilliant Worker Bee!

You’ve done it.

So have I.

We’ve told ourselves that when we get the next job, then things will be perfect. Because we are humans (and not bees), we have a tendency to pine for a perfect tomorrow instead of live in the messy opportunities of the moment.

But (unlike humans), bees don’t fuss too much about tomorrow. Every day they leave the hive could be a point of no return. They don’t live for their own happiness. They live for the happy functioning of the hive.

Before you roll your eyes and buzz off to the next post (sorry, couldn’t resist that!): allow me to outline what I am not saying. I’m not saying that one’s enjoyment of one’s work is not important. I’m also not saying that we should sacrifice our unique identities for the sake of a nebulous group.

What I am saying is that there is a lot to be learnt from the humble worker bee.

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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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The Forgotten Art Of Faithfulness


I saw this snarly thought on a bumper sticker this morning: “I had a life – but my job ate it.”

I was on my way to the office – on a Sunday. Not because I had to – but because I wanted to spend some time to get ahead of things.

There is something melodically beautiful about the quiet calm of Sunday afternoons… the way that the gentle breeze rolls the hair from your face, is almost like the hand of God caressing your cheek…

I was enjoying the day and just appreciating the place where God has brought me to. There were certain things that I wanted when I was younger and now – in my mid-thirties – I realise that your plans only take you in a specific direction. Its God who works out the details.

We have somehow turned work into some form of punishment. This is why we worship Fridays and dread Mondays. We have forgotten that work is an integral aspect of the human experience.

God Himself expended energy in creating this earth. Creation requires work.

In our grumbling and complaining about the work we do, we miss the wonderful opportunity to create possibilities through our labour. We have the power to impact lives, to influence decisions, to take things forward.

If you go to work – disdaining it – you will be eating resentment and frustration along with your lunch every day.

What if you adopted a fresh approach? What if you decided to give you best – allowing the work you do to shape your character? Promotion comes to those who give more than they expect, who have a bigger plan for their lives other than the current job they are engaged in.

Faithfulness in your work always has a sure reward.

 

Organisations Don’t Owe You Anything

The sooner we understand that organisations don’t owe us anything, the sooner we start making a real contribution in the working world.

I have been working for 16 years. I started at the delicate age of 17, fresh out of high school, looking for work because I didn’t have the money to pursue a full-time tertiary qualification. (It broke my heart because the dream of full-time university study was one I had to forfeit.)

I knew that I could write well, so I went to our local newspaper’s office to see if I could submit any articles on a freelance basis. Turned out the editor was looking for a journalist, so I began my first job before I turned 18.

Needless to say, navigating my naivety within a working environment without any real life experience beneath my belt was tricky. The editor’s husband told me about the option of doing my degree part-time and suggested that I study Communications. That seemed like a good idea and three and a half years later, I graduated from Unisa.

I was 22.

If you had to ask me at that time what I wanted to do with my life, I would have given you a blank look. No one really knows what they want to do at that age. Although my career developed without any clear intention on my side, I now love what I do. My career evolved in direct proportion to my personal growth.

Since my first job in 1998, I have worked in 10 positions at nine different organisations – and the most important lesson I have learnt during my working career?

Organisations don’t owe you anything.

I have made many mistakes along the way (especially during the time that I was trying to establish my own business). Yet I have gained invaluable experience at each company I worked for, broadening my skills set and helping me grow in maturity.

I could not have known when I was 20 years old – writing donor newsletters for the South African National Blood Service – that I would be preparing for my ‘second career’ as an academic fundraiser in my early thirties.

I now see that all the work that I have put my hands to in the past has prepared me tremendously for the work that I am doing now – and loving every minute of!

I see all the anxious young adults stressing about their future. I know how that feels but my message to them is this:

  • Understand that organisations don’t owe you anything: Stop looking at the people around you and focus on the tasks you have been given. Once you start excelling in the little things, new doors of opportunity will begin to open up for you.
  • Life is not linear: It might look that way on your cv but there are many twists and turns along your specific path. Trust the process. Things will look much clearer in hindsight.
  • Seek out your purpose: The more you understand your purpose – what you feel you were born to do or what you feel passionate about – the greater your clarity will be with regards to the type of work you do. When I started out, all I knew is that I had the ability to write well. I slowly began to discover that I was motivated by inspiring people towards personal growth. That basic understanding has been my ‘golden thread’: purpose is found where passion and motivation meet.
  • Trust your inner voice: Don’t do what people say will bring you money. If you hate the work you do, you will either end up becoming a bitter, negative employee or looking for a way of going back to what you love.
  • Career excellence takes time: Don’t chase money; chase opportunities that will grow your skills set and stretch your capabilities. Building integrity and character should be an ongoing focus.

Ultimately  its not about gaining status or growing salary packages. The true test of our lives will be:  “What have we done with what we have been given?”