Three Things I Know About You

Without knowing you, there are already three things I know about you. Why? Because there is more that makes us similar than different. Now don’t get me wrong; we are all unique individuals with a number of factors differentiating us, such as upbringing, education, culture, and language, just to name a few.

But there are a number of characteristics that we all share as humans. Understanding these things about ourselves can aid and advance our personal and professional growth.

 You are your own worst enemy. You have a tendency to play the blame game or you shoot yourself in the foot sometimes, don’t you. Why? Because you’re wired for it. Without getting deep into the physiology or psychology of it let’s just cut to the chase and say that your brain is wired for the negative. It’s a preservation thing. An artifact of our hunter–gatherer days. Don’t believe me? Why do you have to work so hard on that positive affirmation thing, then? ’Cause you’re not hardwired for the positive. You’re hardwired for the negative.

Because you’re wired this way your tendency is to focus on your faults and shortcomings. You’re always comparing yourself to others and find yourself coming up short. Sure, it’s nice once in a while to weigh the scales and find yourself on top, but more often you’re looking at the qualities that you lack. You want to know who’s going to beat you—because you expect to be beaten.

Don’t sweat it. It’s natural. The key here is to relax and accept it. Acknowledging that this is the case is halfway to overcoming it. We’re all doing it. Constantly. So, as with any mindful practice, notice when you’re doing it and make a change. Because you’re not the worst at everything. You may be weak in some areas (everyone is ignorant of something) but you are definitely strong in others. This gets easier as you find your place in life and work and hone those skills that you really enjoy exercising. Obviously, the implication here is that age helps.

You are creative. You might not think so, but you are. How do I know that? Because you have a brain and an imagination. These two tools are prerequisite to creativity. And since everyone has these tools, we are all creative. Now, somewhere along the way you may have convinced yourself that you’re not—but notice that that was a turning point in history.  What were you before that turning point? Pablo Picasso once said, “We’re all born artists. The problem is trying to remain an artist as we grow up.”

Most likely early on in life you compared yourself to someone who was a “classical” artist (painter, writer, singer), decided you weren’t any of those and, therefore, you’re not creative. If you didn’t go through that particular mental process and still feel that you’re not creative it’s most likely because someone else told you and you let it stick (yes, you let it stick; remember, you’re your own worst enemy). It could have been a parent, teacher, or any other person with influence in your life.

So, maybe you’re not “classically” creative but you have solved some problems in your life, right? You have produced, designed, built, or constructed some things that other people didn’t. Something has come out of you that didn’t come out of anyone else. (I’ve always believed that there’s at least one good book inside each one of us. And many writers have proved me right. Remember, I said one.) That’s creativity. And if you’re thinking, “Yeah, but Paul, I’m not writing any symphonies,” there’s that comparison thing again. I will never write a symphony. Why? Because I’m not focusing my creative energies on that task and (news flash) I’ve never studied music! Get really real about your creativity because you’ll find it’s a primary motivator for any new thing you do, any direction you change, any solution you come up with. And it needs to be cultivated or it atrophies.

You want to belong. If not physically then ideologically. Again, how I know this is that you’re hardwired for it. We’re social creatures. Dependent beings. Don’t let your rugged individualism get the best of you. You want to belong and you know it. Resistance is futile.

Now, you may be saying, “This is where I disagree with you, Paul. I don’t like being around people!” This one usually comes with age, too. And you may not particularly like being in crowds, socializing, talking up a storm, especially if you’re on the introverted side of the spectrum. But we’re not talking about time with people specifically here. We’re talking about identifying with others; that’s what belonging is. You don’t have to spend time with people to identify with them, although we often do.

Think about it: You like people who are like you. You like to identify with people who think the same, care about the same things, and even participate in the same activities as you. That process creates a sense of belonging without which you’d be lost, adrift among your fellow human beings, isolated. Who was it that said, “no man is an island”? No, really, who said that? I have Simon and Garfunkel (I am a rock, I am an island) in my head and I can’t get there from here.

We’d all probably go crazy after about a week on a desert island without anyone to interact with. Our talking to ourselves proves we crave someone to hear, respond, engage. Just watch Tom Hanks in Cast Away; it’s not a silent movie. Does “Wilson!” ring any bells?

In a day and age where we all feel so divided let’s remember that in our core being, at a soul level, there is more that makes us similar than makes us different. We’ve got to learn to live on this planet together a bit longer (at least until SpaceX starts building that condo on Mars) so let’s work at enjoying real differences and championing real similarities.

Why Your Work Is Killing You

Work. We all do it. It’s what occupies the majority of our waking hours. And it’s killing us.

Now, before you go running off to the doctor for an anti-work prescription, hold on. Let me explain why I think your work may be killing you and what you can do about it.

First let me explain that I’m a big fan of work. I’m doing it right now! I don’t think that the ideal life is one in which we don’t have to work or where we look for ways to minimize our work.

Our work, if done effectively, should bring us purpose and meaning. It’s not the only thing that does that, but it makes a large and, I would suggest, overwhelming contribution in bringing purpose and meaning into our lives. The fact that it may not be doing that for you right now is why it may be killing you.

Let me outline four reasons why I think your work may be killing you and what you can do to get healthy again.

The number one reason some of you are being killed by your work is that it’s not your work. It’s someone else’s. Someone else suggested that this career path you’re on would be good for you. You took it and ran with it. A few years out—and it’s killing you. Who was this person? And what was their motive in making that suggestion? Most likely it was someone you looked up to, some authority figure or role model you admired at the time. Parents, teachers, influencers all come to mind.

The more important question is, what was their motivation? Parents, for example, are notorious for putting security and safety for their children above all else, so their suggestions may err on the conservative side. Few parents push their kids to take risks, try new things, venture into unchartered waters. This could be the reason you feel a lack of passion for your work. It doesn’t ignite that spark within that motivates and inspires you to do your best. It’s just safe and comfortable and provides a good living. And it’s killing you. It’s killing your energy, passion, creativity, and identity. It’s not your work.

Another reason your work may be killing you could be that you’re not currently doing what you set out to do. You got sidetracked along the way. I find this reason common among middle-managers. You liked the industry you started in. Saw yourself contributing to some meaningful projects that aligned with your passions. Wanted to fit in with your colleagues. But things were different once you were inside. But you went with the flow, accepted some promotions, and now find yourself on a completely different track. Now you’re managing people, writing reports, and maintaining quotas. You got sidetracked.

Another reason your work may be killing you is a quite natural one: You’ve changed, grown. That thing that sparked your passion at 24 doesn’t quite do it for you at 34. It sounded good at the time and maybe you were a bit idealistic, but now that you’ve learned a few things about yourself, you’re not sure it’s a good fit. Everyone says hang in there, but it’s killing you.

There’s a fourth reason your work may be killing you, and it has nothing to do with your industry but everything to do with your career. Your work is killing you because every day you have this nagging thought in the back of your head that you could do it better on your own. This corporate thing is sucking the life out of you. You spend more time in meetings and less time in creative. You spend more time in the back office and less time communicating with clients about your innovative ideas. Your entrepreneurial spirit is trapped in a corporate body, and it’s killing you. You could do it better on your own, and you know it.

Since work is the one thing we spend most of our waking hours doing, it should be something that brings meaning, purpose, and fulfillment to our lives. It should strengthen our confidence that we have something tremendous to contribute to this world. It should satisfy us right down to our soul.

We’re living at a time when career change has never been easier. The resources and tools we have available to make those changes are literally at our fingertips. It does take some effort, though. It also takes some faith–faith in yourself, in your abilities, your gifts, and your talents.

More than that, it takes vision. Vision to see what life will look like if you were doing the work you are called to do. Vision that sees you working with passion and purpose. Vision that pictures you doing work that has meaning.

Work doesn’t have to kill you. You can make changes in your career so that you thrive in the work you were designed to do. 

The Neglected Leadership Art Of Vision Casting

One of the traps that I see many managers fall into is the belief that people don’t change. Often they fall into this when they feel they’ve tried everything to motivate and engage their team without success. A cynical attitude sets in followed by a commensurate reduction in expectation. The next step is a decrease in productivity, and the downward spiral begins.

But people do change. Even if the specific evidence around us says otherwise. Subjectively you may tell yourself that people don’t change but science tells us that they do. As a matter of fact the very definition of life is the ability to change. Anything that isn’t changing is dead (a lesson for business).

The science behind motivation shows that people will change when they’ve been motivated properly. The problem is that we often use extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivators because they’re easier to apply.

We’re at a place in our business history where leadership and management are experiencing diminishing returns on their extrinsic investments. Incremental pay raises and fringe benefits aren’t producing the commensurate increase in productivity that we were looking for. And it’s getting harder and harder to retain great talent. Many employees aren’t that interested in more external rewards if it means just doing more of the same work.

Something or someone needs to tap a nerve in the worker that will generate an internal vibe that motivates them intrinsically. This can be done. This must be done if we’re ever going to turn the tide of waning employee engagement.

The good news is that it’s possible, but only if we commit to giving our teams a greater vision. For too long we’ve had our head down and plowed, only looking up to check the bottom line. It’s time to lift our heads to see the big picture, to inspire our teams with the whole vision.

We’re growing as a nation of workers. We’re seeking new motivations for doing what we spend most of our waking hours doing. We want to use all of our skills and talents. We’re looking deeper into the purpose of our work and trying to find meaning.

This is a challenge for leadership and management because it demands that they dig deeper, too. Seeking intrinsic motivators means we have to find ways to inspire our teams to do great work. It may mean some reorganization within the team. It may mean some fine-tuning of our structure. It probably requires deeper understanding and communication on both ends. It certainly means casting a larger more inspiring vision.

Another Look At Work-Life Balance

A lot has been written about work-life balance—justifiably. As we move farther away from the inception of the information age and deeper into the era of the ubiquitous Internet, the concept of work-life balance becomes less helpful. But was it ever?

My contention has always been that work-life balance is an unattainable metric. So let’s get beyond the idea of pitting these two things against each other. Making “my work” and “the rest of my life” compete is an example of a dualistic approach to making sense of our world.

The problem with this dualistic approach is that it makes one “good” and the other “evil.” Guess which one becomes evil? That’s so “industrial age.” We’re never going to become whole people with this concept following us around. This is what keeps us watching the clock until 5:00 pm so that we can finally get to our real lives. This is what makes us look at work as that thing we do so that we can get to the weekend.

Dualism can help us make sense of our world from time to time, but it’s not helping us here. If we’re going to extract the best from each other, we’ve got to see ourselves as one whole, integrated being. I’m one being, not a worker 40+ hours a week and a father, husband, dog lover, the rest. As a matter of fact, my life is a work!

Pitting one against the other is not helpful to our personal lives, our work lives, or to the people we connect with in both. It’s a dualistic way to live that creates anxiety and confusion.

When we look at the lives of those who have accomplished great things, we see they had something in common—they integrated their “work” with their “lives.” One sphere fed the other. One brought meaning to the other. They were living one life, accomplishing one work. Humanizing the world of 21st century work demands that we take a new approach to our thinking. Jettisoning the dualism and its effects on our perceptions of work and life is one way we can all move forward.

Resistance is Futile Integrate Now

Compartmentalization is a learned behavior. We learn early on that there are some subjects you don’t talk about in certain settings. We learn that our work life and personal life shouldn’t really mix. We learn that life is a series of plates that you spin, hoping that one doesn’t crash into the other. These compartments become domains with strong walls that resist penetration.

As we travel farther into the digital age we realize that many of these compartments overlap (quite naturally if you allow them to). Folks who borrowed from one compartment to seed another were considered “creatives.” But as time moved on and technology allowed for more fluidity between the various domains of our life, more of us began to experiment with borrowing. Physicists borrowed from jazz musicians to create new theories of how our universe was ordered. Doctors borrowed from mystics and learned that there’s a spiritual side to the healing arts. Education borrowed from gaming to teach students more rapidly and effectively.

The fluidity that we now live in is coalescing into whole-life integration. Many no longer live in the compartmentalized world of the past but rather in an integrated world. Others are feeling the futility of attempting to balance the various domains of life and are looking for a way out.

Whole-life integration is the process of allowing the various domains of life to influence each other. It is an approach to life that not only helps us unify these domains but also helps us develop a unified body, mind, and spirit so that we experience less dysfunction and dissatisfaction and more fulfillment.

As with all change, whole-life integration happens best in small doses. It can start by asking yourself some fundamental questions, such as, Which of my personal interests can influence my work? What practices do I employ at work that could facilitate a more productive home environment? What skills have I sequestered in one domain that could be of value in another?

The very act of asking these questions starts the integrative process and helps us to break down the barriers that compartmentalization erected. Developing this process can evolve into a lifestyle change that helps us get a clearer picture of who we really are and what we are about. Meditating on these types of questions produces profound changes over time, helping us to reprioritize and unify what previously may have been disparate parts of a fragmented life.

It all starts with inquiry, intra-personal inquiry—because the most significant conversations you have each day are with yourself. The conversations that most affect your actions are the ones you have inside your head. Those are the conversations that lead either to maintaining the status quo or to change. Those are the conversations that determine whether we’ll respond or react. Those are the conversations that determine how we will relate to others.

Learning to integrate the various domains of our life is not going to happen overnight. It will take time, patience, and practice. But it’s something that we’re all going to have to do if we’re going to shed old ways and come into the digital world with our sanity and productivity intact.

Those who resist this process will continue to experience the frustration of always being two steps behind, wondering why their attempts to balance the various domains keep failing.

Those who proceed in integrating domains will reap the benefits that our great technological advances have to offer.

From Fragmentation to Integration

Integration is the way ahead if you’re seeking work/life balance, because many of us right now live fragmented lives. Who taught us to live that way? Was it taught, or was it a case of creeping evolvement over time? I have a feeling it was the latter.

Back when we were all farmers we did everything together: Family members were most likely co-workers, our neighbors were our closest friends, etc. As the industrial age set in we began to separate our work life from our home life. We now had work colleagues that knew very little about our lives at home and visa versa. We went to the factory, put in our eight hours, and came home to our pensions.

Fast forward to the information age, and these two dimensions get a little blurry. Work is brought home, flex-time makes room for the parent-teacher meeting in the middle of the workday, and technology allows for a more fluid conversation with co-workers during off hours.

We’ve come full circle now, post-information age. We tend to see our work as integral to who we are as human. It’s a part of our makeup. We represent ourselves to others that way: I’m a teacher, I’m a manager, I’m a vertical surface emulsions application specialist (painter). But the old habits and strictures of the previous age still influence how we go about our life and work. Thankfully, that’s beginning to change.

Many are waking up to the realization that they live, to some extent, fragmented lives. I’m one person at work and another at home. This has been going on for decades, but the interesting thing is that it doesn’t feel right anymore to many. We want to live holistic lives, integral lives, and not fragmented lives.

Those pursuing that holistic life are finding that it brings an added measure of productivity, creativity, and peace. Companies that encourage the blending of the two major divisions of our life (work/home) are finding the same benefits accrue to the organization as a whole.

The age ahead is one of integration. Fragmenting our lives, ten years from now, will look as primitive as working 9 to 5 does today. Bringing all we are to our work will become the norm as we move farther into the 21st century. And we will reap the benefits of an integrated lifestyle, one that grows from the insight received in realms previously considered non-work-oriented—our emotional and spiritual lives.

Change: Five Steps to Personal Transformation

Change is often perceived as something that is hard to accomplish. That generalization is not too helpful. Some change is hard, some is easy. If I ask you to change the clothes you wear – that’s easy. If I ask you to stop smoking – that may seem hard. It’s important that we define change a little more specifically if we are going to make some effective adjustments in our life. Change actually happens on many different levels: the environmental level, the behavioral level, the capability level, the belief, and identity levels. Think of these levels as five concentric circles. Change happens most easily at the outermost circle, the environmental level, and demands a bit more effort as we move toward the core, identity level. Let’s take a look at the various levels and how you might make some changes in each to shake up your routine and get you out of that rut.

Change At The Environmental Level

The first and easiest level to make changes in is the environmental level. This is the external world that you’ve created around you. Yes, you’ve created this world! The clothes you wear, what you eat, where you hang and who you hang with, are all a part of your environment. Changing your environment is crucial to getting you out of that rut. Now remember, we’re taking some simple steps here. We want the first changes to be easy but effective in moving us out of our routine.

Simple things like adding some new clothes to your wardrobe can begin to break our habitual cycles. Think about changing the colors that your routinely wear. As simple as this suggestion sounds, you’ll be amazed at the effect the color and texture of clothes has on your mental state. Our clothes and the colors we wear are one of the ways our personality expresses itself. Is there another side of you that your clothes currently don’t express? If you’re addicted to somber colors try brightening it up a bit. Go to a store and try on items that you wouldn’t normally. Notice how they make you feel when you’re wearing them. Try different materials and textures as well. Not a hat person? Try one on and see how it makes you feel.

Another environmental change you can make is to go do something that you’ve never done before, gathering some new experiences. These don’t have to be expensive trips to some exotic locale. They could be as simple as stepping into a store that you’ve never been to before, or taking a different route home. You never know what will turn up. Shaking up your routine is what we are after in changing your environment.

Finally, a third and deeper environmental change concerns with whom you spend your time. Chances are if you’re feeling stuck in a rut you are not being motivated by your current relationships. If you’re in a rut I’m willing to bet that some of your friends are feeling the same thing too. Finding some new friends can be challenging, but remember we are taking small steps here. You’re not looking to scrap all your friends, just make a few new and different acquaintances. This dovetails well with gathering some new experiences. Once you put yourself in a different environment chances are you will meet some different people. Be bold and step out. Introduce yourself first! Most of our lives we convince ourselves that we are so different from everyone around us. This puts a wall up between us, and those who could be enriching our world.

Change at the environmental level is easy and effective in moving us out of the rut and into a more fulfilling life. But changing your environment alone will not bring the fulfillment that we’re looking for. For that we have to go a bit deeper. We have to change our behavior. Environmental change coupled with behavioral change is a powerful force that can propel us into the life we want to lead. From here we’ll dig a little deeper and work at effecting change at the behavioral level, getting closer to the core of who we are.

Change At The Behavioral Level

Any time we talk about behavior we have to talk about responsibility, because we are the agents of our behavior. As soon as we begin to analyze our behavior, the idea of taking responsibility for our life and actions appears. Yes, a series of events did happen (life), but it was our response or reaction to those events that brought us to where we are today. The day you stop playing the blame game and stop looking for an invite to a pity-party (a party that becomes a prison) is the day you break out into real freedom and take control of your life. We can’t control all the events that happen in our life, but we can control our response to them and thus the outcome those events will have on our life. Responsible people realize that they are “response able.” You are in fact able to choose the response you will have to the events happening around you.

Often, when we get into a self-pity mode we start a cycle of negative thinking. We begin to make generalized negative statements about our self and about our behavior. The first thing to do is realize that you are not your behavior, and although you are responsible for your actions, you can admit that you may have made some poor choices, forgive yourself, and move on to some more positive behaviors. Take an inventory of the things you can do well and keep your mind focused on these. Stop limiting yourself by listing in your head what you “can’t” do. All of those “can’ts” are self-limiting beliefs. As a matter of fact, eliminate the word “can’t” from your vocabulary! Set your mind free of negative thinking and you will take a large step in your progress to moving out of that rut and breaking that routine.

One of the behavioral changes you can make is to schedule some regular new events into your week that get you going in the direction you want to go. Now don’t overdo it. I’m not talking about programming every waking hour, just a few throughout the week. Plan on hitting the gym twice a week. Commit to getting your banking done during your lunch-break every Thursday. Once we get some positive routines moving in our week, our life begins to take on new structure and meaning.

Remember to think of these levels of change as five concentric circles. Change happens most easily at the outermost circle, the environmental level, and demands a bit more effort as we move toward the core, the identity level. Let’s continue to move from the outermost level (environment) through the second level (behavior) to the third level (capability) were we deal with change regarding our capabilities or skills.

Change At The Capability Level

Capabilities or skills are the things that you can do, now. Everyone has a skillset that they have learned through training, education and experience. We often shortchange ourselves when it comes to listing the skills we have that can help us effect change in our life. Did you work in a pizza parlor? You probably took orders from customers, both face to face and on the phone, so you have customer-relations experience, as well as telephone sales experience. Were you in charge of the crew that night? Then you have managerial experience. My point, in using this simple example, is that we often don’t see all of the various skills that it took to accomplish a particular job. With that in mind there are a few exercises that we can do to help define our skills, take them to the next level, and acquire new ones.

What strengths do you have? What strengths would you like to have? Make a list for both of these categories. Jot down an action next to each one that will increase your capability in that area. If it’s a strength you already have, how can you improve it? If it’s a strength you’d like to have, how could you acquire it? What training would you need to be really good at it? You now have the beginnings of an action plan that will move you in the direction you want to go. Take the list of your current skills and rank them, with the strongest being number one. Look at the top three skills on that list. Are they things that you want to continue doing in the future? If not, rank the list of the skills that you would like to have and take a look at the top three. Would acquiring them move you in the direction you want to go? Is it possible to acquire those skills in the near future? What’s the first step that you have to take to acquire them?

Doing an honest inventory of your skills should give your spirit a boost and clarify your vision for the future. Remember, we often shortchange ourselves and don’t give ourselves credit for accomplishing what we have done in life. Quiet the “inner critic” and give yourself the credit you’re due for accomplishing what you have thus far. Chances are many of the choices you’ve made have shown some measure of courage, strength, and understanding.

Don’t let the “can’ts” that I mentioned previously get in your way at this level. Change at the capabilities level is essential to moving on in the world of work and the “can’ts” will stop you dead in your tracks, if you let them. We’ll deal with those more directly in the next concentric circle, the belief level.

Change At The Belief Level

Our belief system is what forms the world inside our head and determines how we react to the world around us. Beliefs are either empowering or disempowering. Because of this it is very important that we pay attention to the care and feeding of our beliefs. Most of our beliefs we get from others around us. Our parents, siblings, classmates, and coworkers help form our beliefs. Most importantly, we continue to modify them as time goes on.

We live in a world that is constantly trying to limit us. We are told repeatedly what we can and can’t do. Many of these limitations form beliefs in our mind about our capabilities. Society as a whole tries to get us to conform to a certain pattern and that pattern can be very limiting.

Do you ever find yourself wrapped up in some negative thought? This often generates depressive thinking. Negative thinking and self-doubt is so common. What we need are some strategies to help us out of our negative thinking and on to something a bit more positive. There are three steps we can take.

First, we need to become aware of just how deep the problem is. Many of us walk around all day long without realizing that we are constantly reciting some negative mantra in our head. These become self-limiting beliefs that dis-empower us. So, become aware of just what you are thinking during your day. Take note of the number of times and the kind of negative statements that you are making to yourself. Do you start in with it first thing in the morning? Does it only happen when you are around certain people, or doing certain things? Becoming aware of just how deep the problem is, is one third of the way toward changing this habit.

The next step is to call it what it is, a negative thought. That’s all. It has no power within itself to do anything to you. It’s whether you choose to believe it or not that’s important. Is it true? If it’s true (and it rarely is) can we do something about it so that it will no longer be true? If it’s not true, we need to take the next step.

The third step is to replace it with a corresponding, specific positive thought. Negative thoughts are usually general in nature – thoughts like, “I’m no good.” “I could never do that.” and, “I always fail at whatever I do.” Words like always, never and ever are absolutes that usually make the negative statement false.

The key in the replacement process is to make the positive statement specific. This lodges in the brain better and longer than any general statement. So instead of replacing “I’m no good,” with “I’m good,” replace it with a specific like, “I’m really good at making new friends.” As long as the positive statement is true (we don’t want to lie to ourselves) this will attach itself to our thinking much more quickly than some other generalization.

Do this with each negative thought you identify throughout your day. Write down the corresponding, specific positive thought. If you do this for a week you will end up with a list of positive affirmations about who you are and what you are capable of. Say them to yourself out loud each morning, noon, and night. Within days of this practice these statements will become part of your belief system and get you acting on the changes you want to make.

You should be realizing that change is not too hard if we have a strategy with which to work. If we start to work at changes on the outermost and easiest levels we can see progress much more quickly. With that encouragement we can then move on to the deeper levels.

Change At The Identity Level

In this last phase of our strategy we are dealing with change at a very deep level: our identity. Change at this level takes effort. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible! We’ve seen changes take place on other levels: environment, capability, behavior, and belief. Identity is just one level deeper. Each of these levels takes us closer to our core being. There is one level deeper than our identity at which change can take place and that’s the spiritual level. But whether or not that level exists can be debated and so, is outside of the scope of this article.

Change at both the identity and spiritual levels are not just changes, they are transformations! If we are going to be transformed then we need to wrestle with some tough questions. Those questions include: Who am I? and what’s my purpose in life? Now although answering those questions may not lead us into any quick changes, they do begin to clarify our direction, and if our direction is clear then we can proceed down the road. Transformation happens as we proceed on that journey. Transformation takes action.

Realize that changing our identity is really just gaining an understanding of who we have always been from the start, and setting out on a course of action that facilitates becoming that person. Start by making a list of your character traits. List as many as you can. Then go to three people that know you well and ask them to give you a list of your character traits. Did you miss any on your own list? Did you list things that others didn’t mention? Ask yourself why. Dig deep and be honest with yourself.

There are three things that often get in the way of our expression of who we truly are. The first is our internal vision of our perfect self. This is an ideal that we would like to attain but usually don’t. This limits us by making us always feel inferior. We never live up to the ideal and so we’re always down. Realize that this process is normal and natural and give yourself a break. As long as you are diligently working on changing things in the other areas we’ve discussed, you are doing all that you can to express who you are, right now. As long as you are committed to a course of constant improvement you will move closer to this ideal. Finding flaws along the way is part of the process.

Another thing that clouds our identity is the limiting thoughts and beliefs that we hold about ourselves. We’ve dealt with this at the belief level. At this point you should have a pretty good handle on changing your thoughts and controlling your beliefs so that you are moving in a positive direction.

A third thing that clouds our true identity is dealing with feelings effectively. Life throws lots of punches at us and we don’t often bounce back into the same shape. We get deformed and often limp down the road. Search your heart for feelings that have been left unattended and seek to resolve those before moving ahead. Unresolved anger and not forgiving others can hold you back and influence your expression of who you are in a very negative way. Dealing with this facet of limitation could need the help of a trusted friend or professional counselor.

Working at transforming your identity requires time alone in reflection. Take some time each week to do this. Ask yourself, “What is my positive purpose in life?” Listen quietly and see what you hear. Write down any thoughts or images that come to mind. Are all of your efforts and actions directed at fulfilling that purpose? If not, what actions have been leading you away from your purpose? What actions have been a distraction? Work at minimizing these and you will gain clarity of purpose.

Change doesn’t have to be an impossible affair. If we approach it with a consistent strategy we can accomplish most changes on our own, and with a little help from others we can change most facets of our life to get us out of our routines and ruts. We are complex animals as human beings. But that complexity can be simplified if broken down into its component parts, analyzed and worked with consistent effort over time.

One definition of “life” is “an entity that is changing.” If we take this definition literally that means that we are by very nature always changing if we are alive. Our culture, society and peers may tell us otherwise but these opinions don’t have to be the final authority on our lives. Choosing to change today is making a choice to become alive, adapting and impacting your environment for good.

Learning From Charlottesville

The events over the weekend in Charlottesville, VA, and our president’s response—besides the obvious and important racial issues it raises—shows how deep we are in the trough of declining emotional intelligence (EQ) today.

There’s no doubt that EQ is waning across America. The violence, lack of civility, and disregard for others is evidence of this. The question is, when will we realize that we are a people in need of help?

At the heart of EQ training is the concept of empathy. Empathy is the ability to feel what others are feeling. That only happens when we begin to listen and step into another’s shoes and see things from their point of view. We seem to have lost this capacity.

In the business world we seem to be more concerned with profits than any other business parameter. Layoffs, downsizing, and reduced benefits are de rigueur. Walking in the shoes of the employee has gotten lost.

Back in the eighties John Naisbitt wrote in his bestselling book, Megatrends, that as technology encroached on every facet of our lives we would need to offset this trend with a more deliberate human touch. He coined the term high tech—high touch. For every advancement in technology we need to make an equally deliberate advancement in our human connections.

Not surprisingly, many companies are realizing that an emotionally healthy employee is a productive employee. Companies like Aetna, Akamai, and Concur are leading the way in bringing the whole worker into the office. Providing for the various needs of workers (physical, emotional, and even spiritual) outside of their specific job function is bringing with it a commensurate increase in worker satisfaction, engagement, and, not surprisingly, profitability.

There are ways to get the job done that can benefit all in the employer-employee relationship. Thinking profit over all else is a 20th-century modality that, I believe, will look like an ancient artifact before long. Let’s wake up, learn, and seek the help we need to grow emotionally healthy people, companies, and societies.

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