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From the Blog

Do You Have A Strategic Plan For Your Career?

I spent the first 15 or so years of my working life drifting in and out of a series of different legal jobs, without a clear plan for the future. Actually, that's not quite true. Towards the end, I did have a partial career plan. It was called GET ME OUT OF HERE!

(The law is a great career for many people, but not for me.)

However, the obvious flaw in my exit strategy was that there was nothing in it about 'what's next', so I kept leaving jobs, travelling, daydreaming - and then having to go back to the law when the money ran out, my sugar-daddy failed to materialise, and I had no idea what else to do.

Even when I found the right career direction for me, it took me a ridiculous amount of time to learn how to manage my career. But in fact, it's not so hard to take the driver's seat, to develop a plan for your working life and map out action steps to take you there (whether 'there' is CEO of a top company, or owner of your own small business, or doing a series of satisfying creative project jobs).

In the interests of you getting a handle on your working life more quickly than I did, here is a 10-step checklist for a simple strategic plan.

1. List 3 ways you will increase your strengths (and the time spent using them).
Using your strengths at work is a recipe for job satisfaction, and it is also a key way to get noticed and promoted. Think about your key strengths (things you enjoy doing, that make you feel strong) and plan to use them more.

2. List 3 ways you will reduce time spent doing activities you dislike.
Most of us are very clear about what we don't like doing, but often assume that we have no choice in the matter. Can you use some creative thinking here - swap tasks with a workmate or filter it through a strength (if you are a people person, why not make the dreaded task a team activity, for example)?

3. List 3 skills you will improve.
These might be in areas that are holding you back, or new skills you'd love to add to your repertoire.

4. List 3 ways you will keep up with developments in your field.
What about a journal subscription, joining a networking group, or doing some strategic internet browsing.

5. List 3 ways you will connect more with your values.
If you're doing work that is not aligned with your core values, dissatisfaction and internal stress will follow. List your top values, and make sure you work (and live) in accordance with them.

6. List 3 ways you will increase your use of networks.
Online and offline networking are NOT optional if you want to forge ahead in your career.

7. Is your resume up to date? And your Linked In profile?
If not, fix them.

8. Is anything in the way - unhelpful beliefs, anxiety, inner critic talk or procrastination?
These are often the biggest reason behind a stalled career. If you suspect this is true for you, do something about it - read a book, talk to a coach or counselor, devise a strategy for handling the issue.

9. Where are you playing small? What is the risk (or opportunity) you're not talking?
Most of us know that if we couldn't fail, we would be braver and more strategic in our career. Even though failure is always possible, you need to find the courage to make these moves anyway.

10. What are the action steps that will take your career to the next level?
These questions are a great first step. Next, turn your answers into a series of actions that are clear and have a timeframe to them - and then DO the actions, one by one.

Simple. (And if you find it's not so simple, contact me {} and I will help you.)
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Is Magical Thinking Holding You Back?

Over the new year, I reflected on the reflection questions that were the subject of a recent blog. (Yes, I actually do use the exercises I recommend to others...).

I've been doing this for the last 8 or more years, so I didn't expect any major surprises in answering the questions. But in fact, every year I find I have indulged in magical thinking in at least one area of my life.

Magical thinking is 'believing that one event happens as a result of another without a plausible link of causation'. Examples abound, as we are hard-wired to look for patterns in our environment, to want to be in control and to avoid surprises. So if we wear our lucky charm to an exam and do well, we want to believe that if we wear it next time too, all will be well again. If we wish for something and it comes true, we tend to believe that somehow our wishing caused the event to happen.

It's a fascinating topic, and there are benefits as well as downsides to all this - without magical thinking, we would never go to parties, let alone blind dates. We'd be less creative and find it much harder to spot useful patterns. (Too much magical thinking however, leads to psychosis, so there's definitely an edge...).

Magical thinking and I go way back. When I was four or five, I decided I was an alien, and haunted our back garden every night waiting for my 'real' alien parents to beam me up. When I was 12, I decided if I did well enough at school, everyone would love me and life would go well. When I was 20, it was all about princes on white horses and when I started my business, I just knew if I worked hard the rewards would flow.

Over the years, I have done much weeding of the magical hotspots in my life and work, and I thought they were all eradicated. And in the main, this is true.

My piles of pixie dust are pretty small these days, but often it's the small things that make a big difference. So, in 2017 I will focus on (gently) sweeping up some of my remaining pixie dust.

What about you?
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Is The Script In Your Head Running Your Life?

All of us have a script inside our heads that contains our beliefs about our world. These are not necessarily helpful to you today, or even true. They were laid down long ago, and should be brought out and checked against the light of day from time to time.

Some of them were literally absorbed with your baby food, some from school, our culture or early life experience. How many people are told by their first teacher that they couldn't draw or spell or were too loud or...and still believe that today? Or did your mother tell you that you shouldn't trust people, or did your father explain that the only definition of success was a uni degree and a good salary - and do you still think that's true? Or did you absorb the message from the world around you that to be acceptable you needed a great body, a fast car, a big bank balance, a cool mobile or... The examples could go on and on.

Some of your beliefs are no doubt useful to you (such as 'I can be really determined', 'Life usually woks out OK' or whatever) but it is quite possible to sidestep beliefs that are not true any more, or which are not helpful ('I never finish things', 'No-one will help me').

You may well think of some of these not as beliefs, but how the world really is. In fact, the more desperately we defend our view that, for example, 'everyone knows that people can't be trusted...' the more likely it is to be a belief, rather than an objective observation of reality.

The first step is to get really clear on your beliefs - what are your perspectives and attitudes? Only then can you start changing those that no longer serve you. My beliefs once included such decidedly un-useful things as 'No-one will help me', 'I would rather die than network', 'Success is not an option' and 'Sensible people don't take risks.' It took some time to eradicate that lot, but I have now largely succeeded - and the change has been huge.

If you'd like to know more about dealing with beliefs, contact us with the subject 'beliefs' for a longer worksheet.

What are some of your beliefs about work? About success? About change? What do you believe about risk taking? About the importance of money? How have these beliefs affected your life?
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Looking Back On 2016 - And Forward To 2017

I like to have some questions to reflect on over the end of year break. Over the years, I have collected my list from here and there. A couple of years ago I started sharing my list with you towards the end of the year.

You can tackle all of the questions, or just pick a couple that speak to you. Write about them, think, discuss with someone - or just keep them bubbling away on the back burner while you enjoy your break. I've had some great feedback stories about people's adventures with these questions, and I am looking forward to my annual reflection using the questions, too. I hope they are useful and intriguing and enjoyable, maybe even productive of some 'aha' moments.


About this year

  1. What did I achieve this year?
  2. What did I learn? How am I stronger/better/happier?
  3. What activities put me into flow? When did I get so caught up doing something that I lost track of time? How can I have more of those activities?
  4. How well did I fulfil my professional/business vision and goals this year?
  5. What were my biggest disappointments?
  6. What will I do differently next year?
  7. What will I leave behind?
  8. What will I carry with me into next year?
  9. What risks did I not take this year? Where did I play small?
  10. Where did I let limiting beliefs or damaging self talk hold me back?
  11. What did I do that was useful in the world, or in my community or family?
  12. What will I remember about this year?

About next year

  1. What do I want more of next year? What do I want less of?
  2. If there were no obstacles (time, money, skills, confidence, lack of support) what would I change?
  3. What are my biggest challenges for next year?
  4. What conversation with myself am I avoiding?
  5. Am I holding onto something I need to let go of?
  6. What's something that I know I do differently than most people? How can I let that shine?
  7. How would I write down my dream? How would I paint it? Sing it? Dance it?
  8. What would need to change for me to live a truly satisfying life?
  9. If life was an experiment, how would I change it?
  10. If I knew the answer, what would it be?
  11. How can I live through my top three values? How can I use them every day?
  12. What do I really want? And what do I really really want? And what is under that - what do I really really really want?
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Have you ever run out of ideas? Or become caught up in your own assumptions (about materials, time, markets, budgets, or...?) Or felt like having a simple structure through which you can work through your problem - instead of all that chaos in your head?


It's brilliant.

A guy called Bob Eberle developed the SCAMPER tool as a way of using improvements or adaptations of existing things to come up with new products and services.

It looks like this:

Components, materials, people

Mix, combine with other assemblies, products or services, integrate functions

Alter, change function, use part of another product, service or element

Increase or reduce in scale, change shape, modify attributes eg colour, materials

(To another use)

Remove elements, simplify, reduce to core functionality

Turn inside out or upside down

You just formulate a question or dilemma and run through each element of SCAMPER, noting all the ideas. Even mad or completely impractical ideas are just fine - you can always critique them later, but often in the maddest idea is the seed of the one thing that will spark a really innovative new product or service, one that will differentiate you from your competitors.

For example, you might wonder, using SCAMPER: 'How many changes could you make to a coffee cup?' Think of obvious things like extra handles, or unbreakable materials, of course, but what about a cup that cleans itself or walks itself to the dishwasher? (Now, that would get my vote!)

How could SCAMPER help you?
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Your Work/Life Snapshot

Plenty of people have done a 'life satisfaction' exercise where you rate yourself in different areas (such as health, work, finances etc). It's usually limited to 8 categories, but it's not a bad way to start to see what's going right - and not so right- in your life.

I've recently started using an expanded version of this with my career change clients, so we can get a snapshot of their work and where it fits into their whole life. It has a number of more subtle, but very important markers (such as 'sense of identity' and 'engagement versus boredom') that are frequently the key to dissatisfaction in work. I thought you might be interested to try it, especially as the end of another year approaches.

It goes like this:

Using the following list as a starting point, select your top 8-10 or so current areas of focus or importance. Please change the wording to reflect your thinking, and add any areas that aren't on the list. They might be large or small aspects of life, it doesn't matter, all that counts is that they are important to you right now in your life.

  • Work
  • Family / Partner
  • Friends
  • Social life
  • Finances
  • Health
  • Physical environment
  • Sense of Identity
  • Feeling useful
  • Intellectual life
  • Working to (or beyond) capacity
  • Creativity
  • Engagement versus boredom
  • Structured versus unstructured time
  • Hobbies, fun, recreation
  • Learning and adventures
  • Spiritual life
  • Community
  • Giving back, service
  • The future, what lies ahead
  • Dealing with change
  • Shrinking or growing sense of what's possible
  • Legacy
  • Other?

Now, rate your current level of satisfaction with each of your top 8-10 areas of focus. Use score out of ten, where 1 is 'not satisfied at all' and 10 is 'completely satisfied'. This is entirely personal, and based on your sense of fulfilment or 'Okay-ness' or contentment with that area. For example, two individuals may be working beyond normal capacity, and one is 'fully satisfied' with that, and the other 'very unsatisfied'.

Think about areas where you want to change something. What could you do about that? Can you use the areas where life and work are going well to give you support while you work on something else?

What does your snapshot show you?
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If You Can't Find Your Passion, Are You Doomed?

What if you don't have that 'one thing', the thing you are utterly passionate about, the thing that's just waiting to be turned into your dream career? Can you still have a satisfying working life?

Of course you can. In fact, you may have a greater chance of a happy and successful life if you can develop passion or fascination (or even just interest) from within your job.

I often have career change clients who worry that they don't know what they are passionate about, and so cannot make a successful career transition. Rubbish to that.

Unless you are Mozart or Marie Curie, chances are you are interested in many things, and your enthusiasm waxes and wanes with time and circumstances. This is true of most of my clients - in fact I doubt that either Mozart or Marie Curie would have the time or the need for career coaching...

It's a lovely fantasy to think that there is one career for every person, and that somewhere in heaven is a fortune cookie with the name of your one true vocation inside it. But, like most fantasies (including the one about a predestined perfect man for every woman...), it just isn't so. For a very few, there may indeed be a calling that is always clear and never doubted (and a partner who meets out every need), but most of us have to put in some hard yards and create our life and work satisfaction, piece by little piece. 

So, what to do if that single passion eludes you?

Start by working out your strengths, abilities and skills. Look at what interests you, what fires you up, what you care about.

Then, create a list of possible occupations that might allow you to utilise these strengths and interests. Run some experiments (talk to people in that field, shadow a practitioner, read about what's involved, get some adult work experience). Apply for jobs, see what you think.

It's not rocket science (unless of course that's your new field, in which case it's absolutely rocket science).

Yes, it takes commitment and courage, hard work and reflection. You need to take risks. It's not nearly as alluring as lying around, waiting for your one true passion to fall from the heavens, but it's an awful lot more practical and achievable.

And it's an awful lot more likely to result in long term satisfaction and success. Have you ever fallen for someone, absolutely known they were yours for keeps, and then fallen out of love just as quickly? So it is with many of our career enthusiasms. We may fall out of love with our desire to be a nurse or a fireman. Or your dream occupation may disappear - think of papyrus scroll makers, telex operators, horse-and-carriage drivers...

But if you base your decision on research and a sound knowledge of yourself, coupled with enthusiasm for the field you're interested in, you generally find yourself falling in love with your work from the inside. You do it, you learn more, you find your feet, you engage your strengths... and voilà, you're in love!

Passion is vital for long term career satisfaction, it's just the bit about expecting it to descend-from-heaven-all-wrapped-up-and-ready-to-open that's problematic.

Do you agree? What is your story?

(Still not convinced you can get by at work without a pre-determined passion? Contact me and I'll show you how...)
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Where Do Ideas Come From?

I was listening to an audiobook a while ago, all about research done on how mathematicians and scientific types came up with their creative ideas. It seems that creativity happens in the space between other thoughts, in those moments when the mental chatter, day-to-day concerns and external stimuli drop away. This is why we get so many of our good ideas in the shower or when waking or when out walking the dog.

I haven't tracked down the underlying research yet, but it all makes great sense to me.

You can't think creatively - or at all, really - when your mind is full of chatter and your external reality is full of too much stimulation. You know that thing - what the Buddhists call monkey mind, lots of self talk from a mental 'to do' list to 'I'm so dumb, why did I do/say/not do/not say that?' to 'Why is that person looking at me like that' to 'I wish it was Friday today' and so on and so on. Add in the sounds, sights and smells from a busy surrounding world, and it's a wonder we ever have an original idea. (It's actually a wonder that we stay sane some days, but that's another story...)

The paradox is that often we need some stimuli to start the creativity process, but then we need to stop the stimuli to recognise the idea and make space for it to take a shape that we can play with.

So, how can you put space into your (busy) day? Here's a quick list of ideas:

  1.  Close your eyes, bring your attention inwards, and focus on your breathing for a minute or two (not while driving, though).
  2. Change tasks for 30 minutes (or more if you can), leaving your ideas to simmer away on the back burner.
  3. If you have a meditation practice, you will already know how helpful this is for clearing the mind and allowing new stuff to surface.
  4. Do something practical, hands-on, something that takes the focus away from thinking - maybe clean out a cupboard or cook a familiar dish. Even drawing your dilemma as a mindmap or a picture can do wonders, as can using plasticine to give it shape.
  5. Do something physical, like going for a walk - recent neuroscience research suggests that exercise builds new brain connections, and we all know it's good for our general health, so it's a win-win, really.
  6. Listen to music. For me, Bach cello or Chopin piano does the creative trick, but I'm (just) prepared to be persuaded that Metallica works for you...
  7. Can you juggle? If so, it can be quite meditative, and has been proven to build connections between right and left brain. If you can't juggle, however, you will find the whole thing just really really irritating!
  8. If you are in a group, maybe a brainstorming meeting at work, suggest a few minutes of silent time. This can do wonders for creative thought.
  9. Just becoming aware of the internal chatter and thoughts, and especially becoming aware that they are only thoughts of the mind, not the mind itself, can put space between 'you' and 'your thoughts'. This may seem a bit out there or metaphysical, but it's actually about basic mindfulness, which is essential for sustained creativity. 

I'd love to hear from you - where do you get your ideas?
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14 Ways To Get Time Out (Now)

I am busy at the moment, really busy. (Actually, REALLY REALLY busy is more like it...)

And I am starting to fantasise about taking time out to reflect, relax and recharge.

My first thought was that a year would be about right. Yes. Sure. That's going to happen. Not.

Though it IS tantalising, and could have big benefits (so they say, I have never done it...). Check out this TED talk by Stefan Sagmeister if you need convincing.

My next thought was a short break after Christmas. Much more practical. But how to manage in the meantime?

I have a list of 5 minute 'spacers' I can put into my day, in order to survive the coming weeks with some grace and dignity - and stay fresh enough to actually deliver competent work! Here's my list, in no particular order, and each taking about 5 minutes:

  1. Meditate
  2. Breathe
  3. Move my body...jiggling, dancing, shaking, whatever
  4. Scan my body and relax the muscles that are tense
  5. Make a cup of tea and vague out while the jug boils
  6. Drink a cup of tea in my garden
  7. Pick some fresh herbs to add to dinner, and really smell them
  8. Write or even just think about my day, under headings called 'Good Stuff' 'Challenges' and 'Gratitude'
  9. Write about a favourite place
  10. Laugh
  11. Do some juggling (this is only relaxing if you can already juggle, though!)
  12. Visualise a favourite place, somewhere that makes me feel relaxed and spacious
  13. Visualise the fun I will have when I do take a longer break
  14. Remind myself that this time will pass

So, that's my list - and I am going to make sure I do at least two of them a day. What about you? What do you do for a quick refresh?
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What If You Broke The Rules?

I was talking to a client the other day about when to follow rules and when to break them. It can be tricky, and we all have a different idea of where to draw that line.

It reminded me of one of the first networking meetings I went to, nearly a decade ago. I am not a natural networker, and I felt fairly brave agreeing to come along. The week before, I was emailed a template so I could prepare a one-minute pitch about my work, and being a good girl, I followed it. (You know the thing, 10 seconds on your name, 30 seconds on what you do, a quick call to action then repeat your name.)

As a recovered lawyer, I understand templates and how they help us to produce a uniform end result. And as a human, I understand the desire to fit in, to be like the others, to belong and to share values.

So, my one minute was predictable, boring and safe. But this other (brave) woman, also a first-timer, she threw away the template and told us a one-minute story about her business - very effective and far more compelling.

As I thought about the experience later that day, I realised that it was a good example of the upside and the downside of rule following.

I have no desire to rock the boat in a new environment, and I take a while to warm to a new place and people, so having a 'rule' to follow was good for me. I felt safer and more quickly at home. This is the good thing about rules, they help us know what to do, they capitalise on previous learning and they point the way for us. We don't have to waste energy re-inventing the wheel and we can be reasonably confident of fitting in and being accepted if we learn the rules and follow them.

But (this should be in 24 point font, it's a big but), following the rules stops us coming up with new stuff, stops us questioning assumptions, keeps our corporate cultures fixed in time and prevents innovation, in individuals and in companies large and small.

It's true that necessity is the mother of invention and we can be extremely creative within very tight rules and narrow paradigms - if you doubt me, check out the story of Apollo 13 where the scientists on the ground had to create a new carbon dioxide scrubber from materials in the lunar module, improvising from refashioned sections of plastic pipe, flight manual covers, socks and the like, so that a round peg could literally be made to fit in a square hole.

But, far more often, we rely on rules without ever thinking about them, and our failure to question them (or just to ditch them altogether) stifles adventurous souls and leads to businesses failing to keep up with the competition, sometimes failing to even see the competition coming. It's hard to see through our own assumptions sometimes, as they masquerade as 'how we do things here' or even as 'reality'.

I teach a number of assumption-busting tools, but it doesn't really matter which tool you use - the important thing is to get into the habit of questioning the rules, of becoming curious about where you could try something different, where you could throw the windows open, where you could let some light and air into your work.

So, what rules could you question? What assumptions could you challenge?
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News & Events

Dangerous Minds

Check out Dangerous Minds, an article I wrote for BOSS on corporate culture and creativity. Do some cultures encourage creative thought and innovation? Do other cultures kill it stone dead?

Taking Charge of Your Work. 
Joanna is speaking at the Network Central breakfast in Sydney on 20 September on Taking Charge of Your Work. Do you have a strategic plan for your working life (or even for 2012)? Whether you run your own business, or work for someone else, you need to take charge of your career development. If you'd like to find out more, why not come along? Use this link for the discount rate: