Whether in my work as a career strategist or as an advisor to CEOs & Boards, I’m always interested in peoples’ stories. Whether I’m working with a rapidly growing organisation to help them make the final hiring decision for a new executive, or working with an executive client as they navigate the next stages of their career, I’ve discovered that I love hearing and telling stories. One thing that continues to amaze me is that each and every one of us has a unique story. There is no person on this planet that has lived the life you’ve lived, experienced what you’ve experienced, learned what you’ve learned and behaves & thinks the way you do. It’s kind of mind blowing when you think about it. You are unique in your greatness.
And so this got me thinking. How many of us are actually living to our full potential in our professional and personal lives? Are you struggling to be your true self at home or in work? Do you feel you’re playing a part in a play and that the part is completely wrong for you? Or perhaps you feel that you’re in the wrong story altogether and that the life you’re living is not your own? Have you taken decisions in your life that have led you to a point where you no longer recognise yourself? Perhaps it’s not as extreme as this, maybe you’re gut feeling is telling you that something’s just not right and you’re struggling to see clearly what’s wrong. Why are things misaligned? Why are you unhappy?
If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone. I see it all the time. So many people are desperately unhappy in their career and they’re struggling to figure out why. For some, they know the reason why but they’re afraid to step up and take responsibility to change it. They don’t know how. Others don’t think they deserve to be happy. They’re fine. The job is good and well paying. They’re well respected by colleagues and peers. It allows them to support a comfortable lifestyle, but deep down they’re not at ease. In fact, they’re desperately trying to keep that dis-ease at bay. They don’t want to have to deal with it. It’s too frightening to acknowledge something’s wrong, because then they have the choice (and responsibility) to do something about it. Or not do something about it as the case may be.
And I suppose this seems to have resonated for me all the more around this time of year, when many of us are invited to attend school nativity plays or our kids Christmas shows. Each child is playing their role in their unique way. Whether it’s a supporting role as an elf or a reindeer, a shepherd or a King, or a lead role as the Santa or Mary/Joseph, each child knows their lines, how to behave and how to ‘get into character’ to give the audience an authentic experience. And as I help my daughter prepare & rehearse for her show I can’t help but think about how so many of us are playing the wrong part. I love going to the Christmas panto with my family, and if I’m honest I have a particularly soft spot for the villain. I find them the most interesting character of all. Much more than the heroine or the hero who saves the day. Villains are more complex and for me, more human. And so I ask you this, what’s the part you’re playing in the story of your life? Are you being authentic?
Having spent more than twenty years in corporate executive recruitment I’ve noticed one main factor that impacts on peoples’ unhappiness more than anything else. It’s lack of clarity around their values and principles. In fact, most people I work with have never taken the time to really think about their values and what they stand for. If you don’t know them it’s like taking a boat out to sea without a map or a compass. Other sailors would call you crazy. Over the time of your life, your values will change (i.e. the map) but you always need to have your compass (i.e. principles) to keep you on the right course.
And so as we approach the end of another year and we all look forward to a rest, why not give yourself a special gift this Christmas? Ring fence some time for yourself to think about your values and your principles. Which ones are important to you at this point in your career, and your life? Before jumping into the boat and setting sail into 2018, prepare your map and get your compass ready.
Imagine what it could be like if you were at the helm of the boat steering your own course? Confident in the knowledge you have your map and compass in hand. In life we are guaranteed one thing and that’s change. Life is a wheel that keeps on turning. We know that the weather conditions will change. The waters will be smooth sometimes but choppy at others. After the fierce winds follows a gentle, calm breeze. You’ll know when you’ve caught the wind at just the right moment, you’re tacking at full speed, in full control, and completely in the moment. You’re in your zone and it feels perfectly right.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You’re playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.”
(Section of speech by Nelson Mandela – which he never gave – was originally written by Marianne Williamson)
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