Don’t Be A Victim Of Circumstances

As an executive coach it’s profoundly interesting to me how the way we express ourselves either provides venues for improvement or constricts us, by blinding us to existing options. Most of us, when faced with aspects outside our control tend to express ourselves by shifting responsibility to these very aspects. Let me give you a familiar example to illustrate this point.

You’re sitting in a meeting and someone arrives late. The person (let’s call him Jack) enters the room and promptly excuses himself: “Sorry for being late. Traffic was terrible.” (or “My previous meeting ran over and I couldn’t leave.”)

Whose fault is it that Jack arrived late? The traffic, of course.

Whose fault is it NOT? Not Jack’s, of course.

Given such conditions, when will Jack stop being late? When there’s no traffic, of course.

What control does Jack have over the traffic? None whatsoever.

So, whenever we use an excuse like this, we position ourselves as innocent victims of circumstances. What usually blindsides us is that our excuses are usually true. There really was heavy traffic, or the previous meeting really ran over. We usually use such arguments because they exonerate us from the consequences of the occurrence. But there’s a steep price that we pay whenever we use such arguments.

The price we pay for using arguments that exonerate us from guilt is our ability to intervene, to change the outcome of the situation. As Fred Kofman says, “the price we pay for innocence is impotence”. We remain impotent in the face of these external circumstances. In fact, there will always be things that we do not control (like the heavy traffic), but it is within our grasp to decide how we shall respond to these circumstances. We can choose our behavior.

How will you choose to respond to such circumstances? Who will you choose to be? Will you be a victim or will you be an active participant in your personal and professional life?

When we arrive late at a meeting, it’s not really because of the traffic (although there might have been traffic). It’s because we made a choice to sleep in those extra minutes, or because we chose to take route A instead of route B, or because we chose that it was worth it to spend those extra minutes with our kids in the morning. That’s ok! But it is a choice. Owning up to those choices is what makes us alive, responsible and valuable.

So, what might be a better way of expressing ourselves in such situations?

Well, in the above example of arriving late to a meeting, here are some possibilities.

“Sorry for being late! I didn’t account for the heavy traffic.” or “My previous meeting was running late and I decided to spend a few extra minutes in there to make sure we closed the issue.”

What’s so different with these expressions? There is a subject in those sentences. We’re owning the responsibility, and we’re also allowing ourselves to be a part of the solution. Here’s how we become part of the solution.

“My previous meeting was running late and I decided to spend a few extra minutes in there to make sure we closed the issue. So If you can stay a few minutes longer, I’ll be happy to address all your questions. If not, I’ll be available to schedule a follow-up meeting at your convenience”. This doesn’t guarantee that our customer or our coworker will agree to it, but we’ll be responsible for our choices, our actions and for whatever comes out of them – both good and bad.

Further reading:

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Creation – A Sioux Tribal Story

Just the other day a great friend of mine asked me "What do you have within you that is the best of you?" and it reminded me of a Sioux tribal story I’ve read a while back.
 
The Creator gathered all of Creation and said, "I want to hide a precious gift from Mankind until they are ready for it. It is the realization that they can create their own reality."
 
The Eagle said, "Give it to me, I will take it to the highest peak of the highest mountain."
The Creator said, "No. One day they will go there and find it."
 
The Salmon said, "Give it to me, I will bury it on the bottom of the ocean."
"No. They are explorers by nature and one day will conquer the deepest oceans too."
 
The Buffalo said, "I will bury it on the Great Plains."
The Creator said, "They will cut into the skin of the Earth and find it even there."
 
Grandmother Mole, who lives in the breast of Mother Earth, and who has no physical eyes but sees with spiritual eyes, said, "Put it inside of them. It is the last place they’ll look."
 
And the Creator said, "It is done."
 
We have more resources within us than we usually give ourselves credit for. Some of these resources only manifest themselves in times of need. And when that time passes, those capabilities remain dormant until they are needed again. Life is a journey. Where you are today is not where you are going to end up tomorrow. And where that is is within your grasp to determine.
 
How can you shape your own reality?
What resources do you have within you that can help you reshape your current reality?

New Article: A New Outlook On Failure

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“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

– J. K. Rowling

Failure is a vital part of our own growth as individuals and as a society. However, as a society, we collectively shun the fundamental part that it plays in our development and consequently, as individuals, we often look at failure as something to be penalized.

It is common for us – part of our nature – to confuse the things we do with who we are as a person. This is particularly dangerous when it comes to failure, as there’s the risk of starting to consider ourselves as Failures when we’re not successful – and of course, no one is successful all the time. Failure, just as success, is fleeting. Just as you’re not in a permanent state of bliss, you’re not in a permanent state of success nor failure.

Considering ourselves Failures, or considering others Failures causes us to become blind to opportunities for change. We become defensive, focusing on proven methods and on what is known to work and we leave no room for creativity, ingenuity and innovation. We often self-sabotage through procrastination, excessive anxiety or an inability to follow through with our goals, which might lead to low self-esteem or self-confidence, thinking we’ll “never be good enough to take on that job”.

In a downturn market, as the rate of failing businesses and unemployment soar, it is fundamental to be able to overcome failures and capitalize on them to build your success. The thing about failure is that you can decide how you look at it. You can choose to look at failure as the “end of the world” or as the learning experience that it often is. These lessons are very important; they’re how we grow, and how we keep from making that same mistake again.

Continue to the full article.

New Article: Finding Your Core Values

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Values are the things that you believe are fundamentally important in the way you live and work. They are the foundation upon which your Self is built. They shape how you see the world and act as an internal compass that guides you in life. They shape how you interact with others.They determine your priorities (whether you’re conscious about it or not), and they shape the choices you make. They are the measures by which you judge yourself and they’re also the measures by which you judge others.

When your actions are coherent with your values, you feel peaceful with the choices you make even if the outcome of those choices is not positive. When some action or decision is not aligned with your values, you feel conflicted and remorseful.

Why Find Your Core Values?

This might seem like a rhetorical question, but in fact, it is quite important to understand the power and importance of core values. They are your foundation as a person, guiding your actions and your decisions. The stronger the foundation the better and greater the person you will be able to become.

Continue to the full article.

New Article: Finding Happiness In The Things You Do

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“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

– John Lennon

We all want to be happy in life. This means different things to each of us. One thing, however, we all have in common. No one can be truly happy routinely doing things they don’t like doing or they’re not good at.

Most of us are driven by challenging things. When we attain proficiency in something indolence often sets in and we end up doing things we no longer enjoy out of habit or simply because we’re terribly good at doing them. This can be a serious blocker to personal and professional growth. How can we “unblock” ourselves? How can we pursue happiness in the things we do?

Continue to the full article.

Experience

In a previous post I mentioned the speech J.K. Rowling gave at the Harvard annual Alumni meeting. In her address, Rowling talks about the virtues of failure. It reminded me of a quote I heard once (I keep a little black book of quotes I find particularly insightful):

Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

Here’s my interpretation. A goal is a destination. Experience is the path that leads you to your goals. By following this path you gain experience and even if you end up not reaching your goal, there are still lessons to be learned from simply trying.

A Year Of Self-Improvement

Based on J.D. Meier’s 30 day improvement sprints, here are some of the self-improvement areas I’m planning for 2009 (not in any particular order):

Speed Reading. Lately, I’ve been quite interested in developing my reading abilities, so I’ve started reading books and doing some exercises on speed reading. I’ll try to improve my speed reading abilities with greater retention of information and comprehension of the material read.

Crucial Conversations. Time to review and improve my crucial conversations skills. I think I’ll re-read the book, and review the audio files that I keep on my MP3 player for some "easy listening".

Blogging/Writing. I really enjoy blogging and writing. However, it’s not something that comes out easily and, over the years, I have had feedback that my writing skills have become more and more "telegraphic". I’m hoping that focusing on my writing skills will also help develop other communication skills.

Coaching. In the past year I’ve had a chance to work with a career coach and found the experience rewarding and valuable. I have found great personal fulfillment in mentoring others as well, so I’m planning on learning how to become a better mentor and a career and business coach to my mentees.

Running. Although I have a sedentary job (sitting at the computer all day long), I have always been a relatively active person. However, in the past couple of years I haven’t trained as regularly as I wish I had. Running is something I really enjoy doing and one of the few things I don’t even mind doing at the local gym. If I have some music or some podcasts I wish to listen to, I can run a few miles easily. My ultimate goal is to resume my workout and build it into a routine, incorporating it into my daily activities.

Japanese. I’ve always had a "knack" for foreign languages and I’ve always had a deep interest in the Japanese culture. So, about five years ago I started learning Japanese. Unfortunately the class schedule became incompatible with my other responsibilities and I had to stop attending. I managed to keep self-teaching it but have to focus in order to get to a different level.

Iaido. This is the centuries old traditional Japanese swordsmanship art. Even today, iaido follows the traditional rites of a bygone era. Like any koryu (traditional martial art), the study of iaido (and, ultimately, budo) is a life-long, often elusive pursuit. This year, I want to focus and really push myself to a higher level of practice.

Presentation Skills. I have to admit how envious I am of all great public communicators. Those people who can make complex topics accessible to laymen and have the ability to really connect with the audience. In my job I also have to do some public speaking. Although I am aware that I’m not bad (at least according to the feedback stats I get from my sessions), I’m also aware that I’m not great. So,  even though I’ve had a couple of presentation skills training, I think I really need to focus on this topic to be able to go from good to great.

Networking. Increase my influence by extending my network. I’m an I type (MBTI), so networking is not something that I do naturally and with ease. However, I do recognize the importance networking bears in a career, especially when your ability to achieve results also depends on your ability to influence others either directly or indirectly.

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