I’ve become one of those infuriating people who refuses to see a problem. I’ve always had that tendency, but it’s getting worse in my old age. I’m not an optimist, I’m a pragmatist. By all means stamp your foot at a situation when it isn’t what you want it to be. But then face facts. We are where we are. What now?
Earlier this year I was in something of a non-ideal job situation that I’m about to tell you about. I decided to make it my opportunity to make conscious choices about my job for what felt like the first time in a very long time. Sound scary? It was. But I’m so glad I did it, instead of shoving my hands over my ears and hoping the nagging voice telling me that I was capable of something more would just go away.
If you’ve ever heard that voice, maybe my thought process will help you. Fasten your seat belt! There’s turbulence ahead.
It starts out happy
I had ALWAYS wanted to work at an airline, and a year ago I joined Delta. As 2020 has now been going on for 347 years, it feels strange to think that 12 months ago I had only just learned the term “non rev.”
That's the term for airline employees who get a seat for free. The words don’t do justice to the anxiety you feel sitting at the gate, constantly flicking your eyes to the monitor. Or the surreal experience of arriving at the airport not being totally sure where you’re going. Because the list for Grand Cayman was looking dodgy when you left the house but if it doesn’t work out, there’s always Saint Lucia.
Also the people are incredible. You know how first weeks on the job just suck? People are polite, but everyone’s busy because, unlike you, they know what they’re doing. In the cheesiest of cheesy cliches, Delta was so weirdly like coming home that I kept wondering if I was missing something.
Surely it’s not so easy that you get surrounded by people who are genuinely lovely? And who gets gifted a team that think you’re a little crazy when you implement a mandatory meeting baking schedule, but soon get it and invite you into their Patrick Swayze-themed group chat? Where’s the catch?
If this were a movie script we would now CUT TO: NEWS REPORT ABOUT COVID-19
Overnight, everything was upside down. Travel ground to a halt. Working hours got cut. I had joined to help build a long-term strategy. Now every conversation was about how we were going to make the cash last to the end of the quarter. Voluntary severance options appeared; a few months earlier had been the most successful profit-sharing day in history.
Things did not look great. So was it foot stamping time? Or was it reframing time? It was time to change the frame.
Q1 How am I going to make this situation a win?
As we have already cracked open the hamper of cheesy clichés, now it’s time for another. Life is about choosing your attitude. We actually deal with so few facts, and infinitely more beliefs. Facts can’t be changed. But everything else is fair game.
Option 1: bemoan the fact that the job I had always wanted had disappeared in a puff of virus-laden smoke. Sulk.
Option 2: See this as an opportunity to go off autopilot (it’s really hard to avoid unintentional puns when you work at an airline.) I’d always gone for job descriptions that felt like… yeah, I could do that. I’d chosen places to work where I liked the people. But maybe this was life telling me that now was the time to make a conscious decision, instead of drifting along the same stream?
I chose option 2. I decided that I wasn’t going to feel sorry for myself or the hand I’d been dealt. I was going to look at the cards and work out how I was going to win. I can see now that it wasn’t “life” telling me, it was me telling myself. But when you’re thinking about change, it’s a lot less scary to see signs that are meant to be. It somehow feels less like you’re making a drastic choice. As my sister, who has such a way with words, put it: you’ve spent your life doing jobs you can do. Now you’ve got the opportunity to find a job you love to do.
Yes THAT! OK... What is it?
Q2 What matters to me?
It’s one thing to decide that you’re going to do something different. It’s another to decide what it is.
I didn’t think about anything to do with job titles, I thought about what I wanted to spend my day doing; the things that really satisfied me; the way I wanted to feel when I woke up in the morning; the stuff that I didn’t want to be part of anymore; and the practical considerations that I couldn’t ignore. My juice bar in Thailand is going to have to wait a bit longer while I finish my car payments.
My list wouldn’t be anyone else’s, but nobody else’s list would be mine. I knew that I wanted to wake up in the morning and know that I was doing something that made life better for another person. I wanted to find some way to use the basket case of knowledge I had about business to other people’s advantage, because what good was it for it to be so hard-learned and then just stay in my head? And I wanted to do something that involved creating human connections, because empathy is my superpower, and who am I to keep it to myself?
I didn’t want to be part of tearing anything down, or to feel like I was doing a job that was self-serving, or that it made no difference if I showed up or not. And I didn’t want to work to someone else’s agenda, especially not one I didn’t believe in.
This led me to my answer, becoming a coach. It could have led me to plenty of others, but when I read the job description, my stomach flipped over. When I told friends I was thinking of it, I got a resounding WHY HAVEN’T YOU DONE THIS BEFORE?
I talk to my clients all the time about how they make decisions: the head, the heart or the gut. I am a gut person, so that stomach flip was a good sign. My heart took no convincing because I knew the emotion of helping another human being; I can think of no better description that it’s a joy that floods my whole body. So, that just left the head. But she had plenty to say. Which brings me to...
Q3 What’s the worst that can happen?
So many people get hung up at this point. They can see what they’re capable of and what success could look like. But they stay teetering on the brink. Why? Because change is scary. The truly scary thing is the unknown. It’s taking the leap without being 100% sure that your parachute was packed properly.
As someone who has made a lifelong habit of making drastic life changes (hello, two years living in Shanghai without speaking Chinese!) I can tell you with confidence that you'll never get the answer to this question exactly right. But you can put your best imaginative artist’s hat on and paint a picture of that scenario and then decide a) whether you can live with it and b) what you can do to prevent it. And that tells your head what it needs to know to make a decision.
Meanwhile your heart and your gut might be off in lala-land thinking about what font feels best for your website to be in, but if you’re anything like me you won’t let them off the leash until your head is on board.
What was my worst-case scenario? That I failed and nobody wanted to hire me. What would that mean? That I would have to find another job. What would be the worst financial outcome? That I had to live off my savings for a while, the ones I’d diligently put aside for when I needed them. Could I live with those things? Yes. Yes I could.
Now the head was satisfied. Did that mean I was going to jump in straight away and do it? Not quite. Because I needed to believe I could do it as well as know I could.
Q4 What's stopping me?
In coaching, we talk about inner and outer blocks. Outer blocks are the things that most of us prefer to focus on, because they’re easier. Not easy to live with or remove, necessarily, but they’re not part of us. Not having enough money, or not having a qualification, for example. Things that you can create a neat and tidy action plan to achieve, or concede that you will never have and you need a plan B.
Inner blocks lurk in dark corners; they grab your hand and pull you back when you’re about to do something risky, because deep down they’re scared and want to keep you safe.
An inner block can be obvious. Like the idea that you can’t do something. It’s truly amazing how we are all so confident of what we can’t do, when 90% of the time we haven’t even tried.
They can also be subtle. For example, the idea of what you “should” and “shouldn’t” do; the number of times I’ve drilled down on these statements and the people whose opinions go with the “should”s don’t even exist…
Or it can be a pervasive insecurity. Like for example, the nagging question of why is anybody going to hire me? No matter that everyone I know was telling me to do it. Or that I’ve been coaching in some capacity for 20 years. Or that I know that it encapsulates so many of the things that I’m good at and that I love to do. The juice bar in Thailand misses out again here, my juicing technique is mediocre at best.
Inner blocks are HARD. They cut to our core and what we believe ourselves to be. Here’s where, ironically enough, it helps so much to have a coach. To have someone objective to examine your arguments, to separate the facts from the beliefs. If only I’d had... someone like me, or much better, any of the inspiring coaches I’ve come across in the last few months, I would have found this much less of a swirling inner dialog.
What stops most of us is self-confidence; the fear of failing, the suspicion we don’t have what it takes. Maybe it’s being 43 and a lot less scared than I used to be, but when I looked inside, I didn’t have that fear. In fact my fear was that if I didn’t do it, I would look back and regret letting the chance pass me by.
So decision made. I was going to set up my own business. Soon. Definitely soon.
Q5 What am I waiting for?
Here’s what I’ve learned. There’s never a right time to do anything. There’s always more you can do to prepare. Another class you can take. A tweak you can make to your website.
I’m not advocating rushing out into the world with a half-baked plan that will send you running back with your tail between your legs when it goes wrong. It’s just at some point you have to take the leap. And a lot of people find the idea of going out with “good enough” on a spectrum somewhere between terrifying and entirely unacceptable. That’s when you need to answer the question – is there something that really matters that I need to get right before I tell the world this is my plan? Or am I looking to reach 100% preparedness, which is just not possible? When will I actually feel ready? Ever?
In a choice between thinking and doing, doing wins in my book. You can scenario plan. Or you can be in the only scenario that matters, the one that actually happens. You can think of the what-ifs, or you can deal with the what-dids. And while a thousand people around you are waiting for the perfect moment, the best opportunity, all the certainty they could ask for, you will be out there succeeding. And more importantly, failing. Because let’s open the cliché hamper again, that’s how you learn to do better.
So that’s what I did. I made a start.
I can’t tell you how glad I am that I did. What I chose isn’t for everyone, but it doesn’t need to be for everyone, it just needs to be for you.
My final words of advice if you’re in the position of making this kind of decision? Get someone to help you through it. That’s where someone like me comes in!