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IN COLOUR

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From the Blog

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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Mind Mapping: A Simple and Elegant Tool



I have been a fan of Tony Buzan's mind mapping technique for at least 20 years. I use it most days for one thing or another. I use it to plan workshops, map out articles to write, prepare my class notes - and daydream possibilities for my next travel adventure.

Mind mapping has become so much part of how I think that sometimes I think I take it for granted. I went through a phase a few years ago when I started to think that teaching people to mind map was as obvious and unnecessary as trying to teach someone how to make a shopping list....

So, for a while I got slack about it. (I even started to wonder if this Tony Buzan fellow was really worth all the fuss - after all, anyone could have invented shopping lists.)

But then I went to a Happiness Conference in Sydney and heard Tony Buzan give a keynote. I also went to his post-conference workshop and was struck all over again with his presentation and examples of the uses for this simple technique. It only seems obvious because it mimics the way we think, the way the brain actually works. That's the power of it, and its elegance.

Mind mapping allows you to tap into your left and right brains at the same time - to use images and association, logic and intuition, big picture and fine detail all at once. It's a bit like making a street map to your destination.

(And it's fun.)

So, now whenever I teach, mind mapping is on the agenda. I even did a case study on teaching mind mapping for a Master of Education subject - I guess you’d have to class me as an addict!

Here are some tips:

  • Put an image in the centre for the main idea - add a word or phrase.
  • Use a colour to draw a branch out from the centre...add a word that relates to an aspect of your project.
  • One word or concept per branch, each branch connecting to the central image.
  • Add sub branches around the main ones.
  • Let your imagination go - you can always edit later.
  • Use pictures to prompt your memory.
  • Lots of colour is great.
Check out Buzan's website for ideas, a gallery of maps and more inspiration. 

What can you mind map today?
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Transition Tips



One of the last things in my new book on working after 50 is a section on dealing with transition. it’s a big topic, so I thought I’d share some of my tips with you.

Any change involves transition, and that brings uncertainty, and uncertainty brings uncomfortable feelings – and the need to make changes and do experiments without being sure of the results.

Can you relate to this? Are you are moving from an old world towards a new one? Are parts of your life changing? 

It is useful to embrace and accept the processes of transition as much as possible, but this is sometimes easier said than done. I recently rediscovered an old list of my tips for minimising the impact of transition on you, and on those around you -  and it’s been useful to me again, this time around.

Take your time
Change takes time, and often ‘slow cooking’ is the way to go. Each transition has its own pace, and if you can find and respect that pace, it will be a smoother trip. Be patient with yourself if it seems progress has stalled. So long as it’s cooking at its own pace, all is well.

Hold your vision
Write down your goals or dream, or collect pictures that bring the dream alive for you, or create a sense of something worth moving towards - keep the words or pictures where you can see them; add elements as they occur to you. Know that this is a stage that is leading you where you need to go, and one which will pass in time.

Arrange temporary structures
Do you need a bridging job? Do you need to arrange extra support from friends or at home? Are there people you need to clarify your situation with? Do you need more space to be alone at the moment? What will best support you at this time?

Think before you act
When we feel uncertain or uncomfortable, there can be great relief in doing something, anything, to ease the pressure. Be wary about this urge to move – if you can stay in uncertainty a little longer, some deeper needs and ideas may bubble to the surface.

Accept that you are uncomfortable
In times of transition, feelings of distress or being lost or scared are just signs that something in your world is changing. Whether it is anxiety, resistance, fear or anything else, breathe into it, accept it and get to know it.

Talk it through
…with a trusted friend or a counsellor if the going gets rough. Call on your support team (sometimes all you need is time out with a friend, even if you don’t talk about your own life). 

Take extra care of yourself
What works for you – is it long walks, time with friends, a fun book, nourishing food (even chocolate…)? Look after yourself 110%. Treat yourself as you would treat your best friend during a difficult time.

Realise you are in a cycle and the process will bring you out the other side.

Enjoy the ride!
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Why? Why? Why?



When something goes wrong in business (or in our personal life, for that matter) we tend to spend little time on analysing the reasons, but jump straight in to find the quick fix. With small things, this is often just fine - it’s a waste of time and energy to agonise over that little dribble of spilt milk.

But with bigger issues, if we haven't worked out why the problem occurred in the first place, this ‘action-oriented, just try anything’ approach is really an experiment that has an almost random chance of success.

So, if you do have a tricky situation where the cause is not readily apparent, try this technique:

  1. Write a short description of the problem at the top of a piece of paper (A3 if possible), e.g. 'Marketing efforts not working for product X'.
  2. Underneath draw a horizontal line with a series of vertical branches off the bottom. Asking 'Why?', complete these with, say, 5 categories of reasons, e.g. 'Price too high', 'Targeting the wrong market', 'Too much competition', 'Sales force badly trained' and 'Ad campaign'.
  3. Then add a number of branches under each of these and again ask 'Why'?. So for example, under 'Why sales force badly trained' you might write 'Not enough time spent on training', 'Trainer didn't understand product' 'Not enough resources for hiring and training sales staff'.
  4. You can go on as long as useful with this. So if you wanted a third tier, you could take 'Not enough resources for hiring and training sales staff' and write under that 'CEO does not believe marketing is useful here'.
  5. Once you have your chart in enough detail, have any other people involved prepare their own charts, then compare notes. Each team member will have their own unique perspectives and insights, and the person with the clearest eye is not always the one at the top!
  6. So, in our example, the most useful next step may be to find a creative way of persuading the CEO of the importance of sales spending - rather than abandoning the project or tinkering with the product design.

The point of all this is to drill down deeper than you might do otherwise, rather than just coming up with more and more reasons at the same superficial level. The 'Why?' is an invitation to look beneath the obvious - you may find some surprising answers (and a simpler, less drastic solution than you might think...).




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Stuck in a Rut? Collage Your Way Out!



I had a client a while ago who was struggling to get clear on a new direction for her life. We had done a number of exercises, discussed options and played with possibilities, but she was still stuck. I suggested to her that she try to do a collage, finding and arranging images and words together on a page.

Two weeks later she returned, with a photo of her finished collage. She had divided it into four quadrants - three were each on a part of her present life, with the fourth headlined by the words 'North Star' and 'Leap of Faith'.

For her, this meant a realisation that she couldn't make change by talking about it, but only by taking actions, maybe small at first, maybe some experiments or trial experiences, but actions nonetheless. The collage process had helped her bypass the logical (and in her case, cautious) part of her brain in order to tap into her imagination and create a compelling image of two possible futures - one if she kept on doing what she was doing, and the other if she took her leap of faith and headed in the direction of her north star.

Collage is a particularly powerful technique for creating a clear picture of your vision and starting to make it real. It taps into the power of both the left (verbal, linear, logical and rational ) and right (holistic, visual, big picture, spatial) sides of the brain. By collecting images that you are drawn to, and arranging them on paper you get a picture of your goals or dreams, a storyboard or blueprint of whatever it is that you want to create in the world.

What if you think you're not the collage type, that this form of creative expression is not your thing? 

I have found that some of the best results come from people who are not naturals at this, probably because they have no choice but to take a fresh approach to it all - my favourite example was a builder who did one of my group programs. When I introduced collage as our next group exercise, he looked at me as if I had suggested he leap up and dance Swan Lake...but he (reluctantly) agreed to give it a go. By the end of the night, he cornered me to quietly ask if he could take some of the magazines and the glue home to keep working on his creation - and the end result changed his life.

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Can You Overuse Your Strengths?



It’s very fashionable these days to focus on strengths and ignore weaknesses, and in the main this is a good thing. But it doesn’t mean that you just need to find your top one or two strengths and focus on them to the exclusion of all else. If you do that, you risk falling off the edge on one of two ways - by overuse of those strengths, or by ignoring relevant weaknesses.

Overusing Strengths
Do you overuse your favourite strength or skill? For example, do you marinate yourself in your deep and narrow field of expertise? Or do you always rush to help people, whatever the circumstances? Because our strengths are, by definition, the things we love, and they come from doing activities that make us lose track of time, there is a real temptation to go further and further into the strength and to rely on it in an increasing range of situations.

For me, my love of learning is a great asset in my business - but I need to be ever-mindful of my tendency to keep learning and learning, without taking that learning back into the world. (And of course, it all takes time that could better be spent on other tasks!)

Academic researchers are divided on whether this approach is always a bad thing. But all agree that relying on only one strength is not useful - if you expand your favourites list to about five strengths, you are are on much more solid ground as you develop deeper skills in these areas.

Over-relying on one or two strengths can lead to:

  • Burnout
  • Becoming lopsided or one-dimensional, which often leads to...
  • ...Irritating or boring other people
  • Lack of adaptability to changing circumstances, or not enough flexibility to move between different work tasks
  • Selling yourself short - who knows what you could do if you unpacked some of your other strengths as well?

Ignoring Relevant Weaknesses
It’s true that you will get much further in your career by polishing your strengths than by trying to compensate for your weaknesses. But there is an exception, and that’s in the area of those weaknesses that are central to your work and which are holding you back.

It may be that you are a gifted verbal negotiator, but struggle to convey your thoughts on paper in your final reports. Or that you are great at logical analysis, but not so good with presenting your results in a meeting. For me, it’s all abut the numbers and the detail (not my thing...). If a weakness is all that stands between you and your next big promotion, you need to adopt one of these strategies:

  • Do a short course, read a book or get some hands-on help to lift your skills
  • Find a strength through which you can create a work-around that will adequately bridge the gap. Following the above examples, perhaps our gifted verbal negotiator could dictate their reports and then type them up? 
  • Enter into an alliance with someone in your team, who has the strength you lack, and who would benefit from your way of looking at the world. Perhaps our logical analyst could connect with an extroverted presenter?

Remember, it’s only necessary to work with those weaknesses that are holding you back - and only to the extent needed to allow your strengths to shine!
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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:

http://joannamaxwell.eventbrite.com.au/