Self awareness

I don’t think it would be all that controversial to say that self awareness is a key component of career journeys and career change.  I have most certainly found that to be true for me, and in the career journeys of others, I have observed elements of it many times.

As someone coming from a career construction and narrative theory angle on careers and counselling,  I believe the most important element of self awareness is incorporating insights into your career story, and understanding how those insights can help to transform the career story in the desired direction.  In simpler terms, people first need to know things about themselves, then work out how those things fit in with other things they already know, then work out how to change.  Self awareness is the first step (although this is obviously a looping cycle, rather than a simple linear process).

Over the last few days, I have been observing and taking part in a very interesting discussion on this matter in the LinkedIn Careers Debate Group (which I would highly recommend to anyone working in careers…).  The discussion has changed and grown, covering many different elements of the topic of self awareness, and tackling meaty issues like “what is truth?”  But my favourite piece of the conversation was this comment from David L:

I’ve found that clients really appreciate when I frame qualities like strengths and weaknesses as stemming from the same value-neutral trait. Let’s take a common one as an example: persistence and stubbornness. These stem from the same quality, which is neither good nor bad. The label of persistence or stubbornnness is applied only when the quality is displayed in a particular context, and perceived by a subjective observer (which could be the person with that quality, or an outside observer). Only then does that person make a value judgment that results in the label ‘persistence’ or ‘stubbornness.’

This is a relatively simple strategy, but I believe it could be so powerful.  People are so quick to assign value to everything in life (decisions, traits, choices, thoughts, emotions).  And this judgement of value can lead to many personal issues (negative self talk, perfectionism, procrastination, avoidance).  This strategy could be a useful way to approach these issues.

When I came across this, I could instantly see how well this would fit with my model of counselling, and my work with mindfulness.  So I got to thinking about how I could use it for myself, and came up with the following:

  • I am input focussed.  
    I like to find a lot of information from a lot of different sources.  In some contexts, this presents as good research skills and quality decision making.  In other contexts, this displays as a slight internet addiction and procrastination.
  • I make connections. 
    I like to join ideas together, and see how things link.  This helps me to be a pretty good strategic thinker, and gives me a good memory.  But it also means that sometimes I cannot focus in on small details and can become too focussed on the big picture to make progress.
  • I care about people.
    I want people to be happy, and I like working with people.  This means I have a strong drive to help people, and am unselfish in wanting them to succeed.  But it also means I have a tendency to avoid conflict and I sometimes ignore practicalities.

The thinking was interesting.  But what’s really important is what I can do with that thinking.  So I thought of the following things to help me understand how these traits can be both positive and negative, and how I can use this awareness as I build my career.

  1. Assess the value of the different forms of input that I am getting, and remove any that aren’t valuable.  Unsubscribe from the email newsletters that I never read, hide people from my Facebook news feed, consider carefully who I follow on Twitter.  
  2. Write a list of my big picture goals, and link my to do list to these goals.  Find a way to do this easily, so that the details are always connected to the big picture.  If something’s not connected, delete it from the to do list.
  3. Create a list of times where confronting a conflict or difficult situation would have actually been better for everyone involved.  Consider if there are any conflicts I am currently avoiding, and create a plan of action to overcome.

The list looks good to me, and I think completing it will be awesome.  But most importantly, it feels really positive.  Although it tackles some of my challenges and struggles, I feel like it does so in a more positive manner, recognising and accepting who I am, and working with that to make positive change.  I definitely think this is a strategy I will use with myself and others in future.

Who’s with me?  Do we need to invent value neutral words for some of these traits? How do you think you could use this in your life?

The Engineer has landed

I write this from a borrowed and very slow laptop at my mother’s house (in the lovely Napier, New Zealand), while my engineer emails me from his hotel in Kuala Belait, Brunei, the day before his first day at a new job and a new life.

This is a situation we knew we’d be in, and that we planned for, but is still far from ideal.  He is missing having someone to explore with.  I am missing having someone to hang out with.  We are missing each other, and missing our life together.  And we’re only four days in…

We have done the long distance thing before.  Twice in fact.  Once while I worked in the Netherlands (in 2009) and he waited for my work portion to be over before travelling to meet me.  (Pretty similar to now, I suppose).  The other in 2007 where I worked in Palmerston North and he finished his studies in Wellington.  (Quite different to now).  The three situations were all different, but had one key thing in common: they all kinda sucked.

Sure there were good things.  My time in the Netherlands was amazing, and my year in Palmerston North was one of my favourites in many ways.  But the relationship side of things: not so hot.

The main issue for us has always been finding a good way to communicate.  Skype is good, a good phone line is good.  But we’ve never had these reliably available.  So we’ve always been making do with scratchy phone lines, dodgy skype connections, and instant messages.

Instant messages would actually be great for me.  I type quickly, and am good at tracking multiple conversations.  But the engineer is not such a fast typist, nor such a good multi tasker.  So he gets frustrated with my overload of messages; I get frustrated with the lack of quick response.  I  spend the space between messages thinking of more and sending more; he gets more frustrated.  It’s a vicious cycle.

What would be great is if at this point I could turn the post around.  Transform it into a nifty list of ways to deal with long distance, or with communication struggles.  Unfortunately, we haven’t really found anything that works well.

But there is an upside.  We both know that we’d rather have this not-so-great communication than not talk to each other at all.  And we both know that this will be over at some stage (even if we’re not entirely sure when).  And as long as we keep reminding ourselves of this, we both know we’ll get past it.

In the meantime, we’ll sulk a little bit, get a bit annoyed, and find people to commiserate with.  We probably won’t drown our sorrows (he’s now in a dry country, I don’t really drink), but we’ll find other ways to treat ourselves.  We’ll keep our contact sensible, and both try our best to enjoy the places we’re in now, rather than just waiting and wishing for what the future holds.  It won’t be easy, but as experience has shown, we can do it!

Has anyone else out there done the long distance thing?  Any tips or tricks?  What got you through?