Over a decade and 7 learnings later
When I was a kid, I used to write myself letters every time we moved, with strict instructions to open only once we got to our new home. I would reflect on the experiences I had in that place and carefully identify where I needed to improve to "become better". I even went so far as to create little plans of how I wanted to achieve this character transformation.
We moved across continents and oceans roughly every two years. I wrote a lot of letters. I also managed to change into most of the things I had identified for myself. (Children have such an intense power of becoming.)
I guess it came to no surprise that I would later find my professional home in strategy and change of all kinds.
I'm sharing this with you because somewhere along the way, we stop viewing our lives with infinite potential.
When we grow up, that child-like "why not" approach is socialized out of us. We begin to believe that we are rooted in our environment and circumstances.
We no longer view our world as a fascinating forest with new experiences around every corner, but as a constant cross-roads, linear and forward-moving.
Nothing could be farther from the truth, though.
Sure, changing a habit or character trait becomes much harder, but that just means we have to put in more work not that it's impossible per se.
As I embark on my next chapter, which somehow feels like a turning point, I've been reflecting on the past 13 years of my professional journey. So, in an attempt to work through my experiences, I find myself once again writing a letter because I feel compelled to share a few insights I've gained (and learned the hard way).
Going in circles is never fun but it is sometimes necessary to fully grasp all the facets of how you react and handle situations.
The fact that you see the pattern repeating itself means you're at the mid-point of a cycle. When you change your approach and begin recognizing things that are not in your control, that's when you're nearing a cycle's end. It's tricky though: I thought I was at that point at least two times in the past years. Hoping the third is a charm ;)
Your influence of things is finite.
We are constantly told that the right mindset, approach etc. is the key to influence how things play out. I've found this to be horrible advice. We have influence over how we act and react, but we cannot influence external factors like other people's actions, global developments etc. And that's ok. The goal is not complete control on the outcome but the ability to work with what you have right now and shape things as they come along.
When people show you who they are, believe them.
This is definitely a hard one to learn and it shouldn't be viewed black or white. Life is complicated because we often over-engineer things. We don't need to give everyone third and fourth chances. Sometimes it's not a fit, and we have to learn to be ok with that sooner than later. But let's not try to give people who've showed us they don't deserve it a free-pass every time. One habit to stop immediately.
Very few things are as serious as they seem. So, lighten up. Live bravely.
The client is making your life hell. Breathe, switch gear, he'll get over it soon enough. Even though it may not be personal, remove yourself from the situation. Life is too short to take anyone else’s b*s. If it persists, move yourself to another client or ditch the client altogether.
The deadline just got pulled up a week and the work is far from finished? Freaking out or panicking won't help. Night shifts might. Just remember to set new boundaries, rules or give feedback when everything is over.
Always wanted to do [xyz] instead of you current job but don't know where the income will come from? Work through it, brainstorm ideas, make a plan and summon the courage to tackle it. If it works, great! If it doesn't, you always have at least one other option. Always. At least you know more about what you want and what you can do to get it now.
Reflect, recalibrate and reset on a regular basis.
Rapid change is all around us, all the time. The only sure way to keep up with the times is to practice ongoing reflection. Over the years I've found that reflection is an underestimated act both in a personal and professional sense. Circumstances are constantly shifting and changing, and we need to learn to keep an eye open for them. This doesn't mean reacting to every change the minute it happens. Or to be on constant alert. It's more about developing constant perception and evaluation, and learning to recognize when action is beneficial.
Everyone has their own mountains to climb and dragons to fight.
Learn to differentiate your gut feeling from your brain rationalizing or impersonating your gut feeling.
Then, trust your gut feeling. I've made a few decisions that have "felt off" in the moment but that just made sense from a rational perspective. They always ended up being way off with time. But that's just me. Everyone should connect to their own inner compass.
Some of these may seem obvious. Some may provide a valuable reminder.
I've come to realize how crucial it is to understand how we tick, how we deal with everything around us and, ultimately, how we contribute. And reflection plays a key role in this.
I began this letter with a personal anecdote from my childhood, one that depicted how radical openness to change has been a constant in my life. Up until now, I've never fully tapped into that experience. I was too busy fitting into boxes.
As I explore my own contribution and positioning in the professional arena, I am looking at developing systems and frameworks for evolution and transformation, putting over a decade of hard-won experience into something that resonates with my personal ideas and beliefs of how empathy, reflection and collaboration can contribute to business.
I leave you, dear reader, with a question: What did your last reflection uncover?