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Monthly Archives: October 2012

I watched two talks giving career advice on the weekend. They were both great. They gave the opposite advice.

Jonathan Adler is a creative who started as a potter and has built a business employing hundreds of people. He always wanted to be a potter but was put off by discouraging comments from a teacher. Problem was, he couldn’t seem to do anything else. So he returned to his one passion, pottery. He made the decision to just do what he wanted to do and see what happened. People liked what he did for its style and originality and he has been very successful, in artistic and business terms. He says “I wanted to follow my heart and not be strategic and throw all preconceived ideas away”. This is the “Follow Your Passion” school of thought.

Cal Newport is an author who ‘debunks the long-held belief that “follow your passion is good advice”‘. He has taken and academic and scientific approach to studying career success, and has come to the conclusion that Follow Your Passion is a flawed cliche and that pre-existing passions have little to do with how most people end up loving their work. He advocates choosing something and allowing passion to grow in the process of developing expertise. This is the “Follow Your Passion is Bad Advice” school of thought.

I find this debate disturbing, so I had a think about what was bugging me. From a personal point of view, I spent a long time pursuing a sensible career, but it didn’t lead to passion, it led to unhappiness. So I am not convinced that the sensible approach is necessarily going to be fulfilling. Now I am engaged in an experiment that could be called “Follow Your Intuition” so I guess I am operating more in the Follow Your Passion camp at the moment. But I don’t think thats the core of what bothers me about this debate.

As soon as I started blogging about intuitive decision making, I became aware of a sense of responsibility to people who might read what I am writing. Its a tool I am using, because the time is right for me to do that, but the time or the tool may not be right for other people. So I am not going to make a poster with “Follow Your Intuition” blazoned on it, because just now it might be the worst thing you could possibly do.

And thats my problem with the “Follow Your Passion” debate. Its the assumption that any catchphrase can be regarded as intrinsically good or bad advice, regardless of context. Cal Newport is right, most people don’t start out life with a clear passion that can lead to a rewarding career. But some do. Jonathan Adler did, and if his pottery teacher had said “Follow Your Passion” it would have saved him a lot of time messing about in dead end jobs. If a high school student walks into a career counsellors office and describes their passion for a sport or art or anything else, and they have the skill, drive, ambition and singlemindedness to pursue that passion, then what they need is encouragement.

On the other hand, many people don’t have clear passions, and it seems artificial to be doing mental exercises to “Find Your Passion”  so that you can then “Follow Your Passion”. Maybe if a student walks into the career counsellors office with no passion, no clear direction or interests, the more pragmatic approach of choosing something viable to get started on is more useful, particularly if that student is seeking to be a success in the traditional terms of status and wealth.

Its not a competition about which advice is good or best, its about choosing an approach that suits the person, their abilities, values, stage of life, tolerance of risk and so on. Catchy sayings are helpful tools if they enable use to pursue our goals, but more important is the ability to use our discernment in knowing which tool, to pick up or put down, at any given time. Jonathan Adler and Cal Newport are very different people, with very different styles, mindsets, and values. They each give excellent advice for people like themselves. The mistake is in thinking that the same advice is going to suit everybody.

For myself, I know that I have taken a risk in moving from a career in which I have a lot of “career capital” into a new field. It is costing me money in lost earnings that I may never recoup. But I see it as a valuable investment in learning about myself, and even if I do return to a traditional job, I will return a different person. People spend money on travel to broaden their experience. I see an experiment in following your passion as a career option as another kind or journey, another of life’s adventures. You won’t know if you don’t try.

Warning: this post contains geeky technical talk that might be wrong anyway.

In the last few days there has been progress on the business name registration situation. After nearly two weeks of waiting I found out my business name was registered, but I had not been notified because of a computer glitch. I don’t know how much time I waited for something that had already happened, anyway, I am glad I contacted them to get it sorted out.

This has enabled me to register a domain name ( eg somethingorother.com). After a bit of research I decided to register the domain name separately to my email and web hosting so that I wasn’t tied to one company. Registering a domain name wasn’t too difficult, but there were a few decisions to make where I had no idea of the implications one way or the other.

Next I signed up with Google Apps (google for business) for an email address using my own domain name (me@somethingorother.com). That was fairly straightforward until I worked out that DNS Hosting was required. Forgive my bumbling explanation, but I had to tell the company that the domain name was registered with about the company that was looking after the email. Since I did not know Domain Hosting existed, I had not paid for it, so the first thing I learned was I had to pay extra for the right to point the domain name to the email. This made the “cheap” domain name much more expensive.

I am a big believer that a  relatively intelligent person should be able to get things done by following instructions, but the instructions to set up this DNS Hosting business for my domain register referred to a screen shot which was replaced by  ?  which linked to Page Not Found. Unfortunately the screen shot contained the codes I had to type in.  I eventually got around this by looking at the instructions for other domain registration companies, which did contain the information I needed. It seemed like a small miracle when I was able to email myself at my own domain by 7pm at night after working on it all day.

So far; so so. Next job was to choose a webhost, which is the company that is going to house my new wordpress website on its servers. I decided to go with a cheaper overseas companies as the local ones cost a lot more and provide much less (except perhaps in the area of personal service). Despite my obvious need for personal service, I felt it was more important to keep costs down. I managed to get the sign up done, but couldn’t download wordpress, then realised there were other steps involved, mainly telling the company that owns my domain name about my webhost. I eventually found instructions for this at the webhost and at the domain register, and with a little bit of help from my friends worked out what I needed to do.

At this point I am going to send my webhost to the naughty corner. Their instuctions included a step called “transfer the domain registration” as if it was a routine step in the process. This effectively means dumping the company I had been using to register the .com domain name and using them instead. Had I done that, I assume I would have lost the money spent on registering the domain, and the link to my email. It seemed to me that this step was not essential, so I ignored it,  but it would be very easy for people to think they had to do it. Goodness knows I was operating at the edge of my understanding (and probably a bit over the edge). I sent them feedback telling them it wasn’t helpful to tell people that had to do something unnecessary without adequate explanation. It damaged my trust in them, as I see it as blatant business grabbing.

It takes about 24 hours for the redirection of the nameservers to take effect so I am doing other stuff before I go ahead and install wordpress at the webhost. Pause for breath, I am using big sentences I barely understand myself. Its like playing Trivial Pursuit, you need to know things that you don’t even know if you know or not.

So the upshot is, I think I am going to make it, but in hindsight if I was starting all over again I would pick a web host then register the domain name and set up the email with them. It would have been much quicker and easier for a novice like me to do it that way. I was concerned that doing it all with one company would lock me in with them and make it difficult to move, but to be honest, splitting it all up made it difficult to even start.

The whole process highlighted the fact that I am doing all this at home alone without the back up of an IT department.  Fortunately I have technically competent buddies at my old work who are willing to help out. I am really missing my old work team at the moment, and not just for technical support. Its nice to be able to swivel in the chair and say “You won’t believe what just happened…” I have to remind myself that this technical set up process is just a stage I am going through to get myself a website so that I can explain what I am doing to potential clients. Once I get that going, I won’t be tied to the computer with my head in my hands all day.

PS Just got an email from a fruity computer company saying my hard drive could fail and has been recalled. Fun and games.

If you find decision-making in your personal life difficult, you are not alone. Decision-making is something that I have struggled with for a long time and I am very familiar with the agony of indecision. Very gradually I have become better at listening to my intuition, and making decisions that I feel comfortable with. I thought it would be fun to illustrate with a case study from my life:

Saturday afternoon 30 years ago:

Its Saturday and a group I belong to going on a social outing to the pictures. I can’t decide whether to go. I should go. They are all going. If I don’t go I will just be staying home and watching TV. Boring. Why wouldn’t I go? I really ought to just go. But I don’t really want to go.  If feel a bit like I might be getting sick. I’m tired. But I am not actually sick so that’s not a reason. If I don’t go, I’ll never go out and I’ll always be home watching TV. So I’d better go. If I am going, I need to ring someone for a lift. I don’t want to ring. But if I am going to ring, I ‘d better ring soon, or it will be too late. I don’t really want to ring. But I should ring and I should do it soon because its rude to ring at the last minute. I need to ring by four o’clock. I’ll decide by four o’clock. Its only 2 o’clock so I have two hours to decide.

How to destroy a Saturday afternoon! It seems comical now, but I spent quite a lot of time stressing out about apparently simple decisions like whether or not to go to the pictures. At the time I was at a complete loss as to how to understand my own ambivalence, and what to do about it. In later years I struggled with more serious decisions, and it wasn’t so funny, it was painful. In hindsight I can see that my intuition was working, but I could not recognise and support it.  What I needed was a Starter Kit for Dealing with Ambivalence. It might go something like this:

1. Look for clear statements of what you want or think.
Clear statements of what you want or think are often pointing to the core of the matter, but get buried under other thoughts.
I don’t want to go. I don’t want ring.

2. Look for clear statements of what is needed, and evaluate the strength of that need.
In this case, since I am making a decision about a social outing, there is no compelling need to go or not go. Thats useful information, and puts things in perspective.  (If the decision was whether to attend a court appearance, the risk of contempt of court would create a compelling need to do it).

3. Interrogate “shoulds”, “oughts” and “buts”
The biggest barrier to intuitive decision making is usually the rules we tell ourselves about what we should do. They tend to follow close on the heals of thoughts about what we really want or think. They often masquerade as rules or needs, but are sometimes based on dodgy logic, unquestioned belief systems, or projections of what other people would think or do. Its important to question these rules to see if they really make sense and add value to the decision making process.
I should go. I ought to go. I should ring by four o’clock.  (Its a social occasion, I don’t have to go, and I don’t have to ring. These beliefs are not adding to the discussion. )

4. Identify and Address Fears
Another barrier to decision making is fear of the consequences of making the decision, such as Fear of Regret, Fear of Loss and Fear of Emptiness. These point to the things we will have to deal with if we make a decision that feels risky.
In the scenario, I fear  the lonliness of being at home on Saturday night when my friends are out, and what that says about me.

5. Watch out for catastrophising.
Sometimes fears are supercharged by catastrophising, ie making the negative consequences seem bigger than they really are.
If I don’t go out tonight, I will never go out again and I will always be at home alone…

6. Pay attention of physical sensations.
Sometimes if we are not paying attention to what we really want, our body chimes in with physical sensations that are an extra indication of what we really want to do.
I feel sick, I feel tired, but I am not really sick.

7. Review, Decide and Plan
Once you have considered the different factors affecting your decision in this way, you will have a better idea of what you really want, what is holding you back, and whether those barriers are genuine reasons, or self imposed limits. If the shoulds turn out to be red herrings, and the fears manageable, then you might be able to give yourself permission to do what you really want to do. If necessary you can plan strategies to manage the shoulds and fears as you move ahead.
I could go out tonight, but I don’t really want to. That fact that I feel sick at the thought of it is telling me something is not right. It worries me that I am drifting apart from my friends, and I feel sad about it, but its reached a point that I am just not enjoying being with the group like I used to. Rather than go out and have a bad time, I am going to stay home tonight and do something I enjoy. I am going to need to think about other groups that I can get involved in that will be more rewarding.

Intuitive decision making is a tool for living, and like any tool, it needs to be used with care. The process described above is for people whose thought processes and feelings are generally operating well, but they are having trouble deciding what is important. Care should be taken before applying intuitive decision making in situations when you are feeling dominated be extreme emotions or disturbed thought patterns. In these situations, there is a risk that Step 1, looking for clear statements of what you think or feel, could be distorted by extreme emotions (such as depression) or disturbed thinking (such as hearing voices). I have written about barriers to intuition in an earlier post.

Did you hear that? That was the sound of me coming back to earth. I had a couple of big time reality checks yesterday.

OUCH

In the morning I went to open day at a new gym near home and did the free fitball and circuit class ( a fast paced class alternating between a weights circuit and fitball exercises). It was very evident, very quickly, that I had work to do in the areas of core strength and balance. I already knew this, but now that I am planning to work as a professional organiser, which can involve lifting and shifting peoples stuff, I really need to be strong. It felt good to be back in the gym after a few years, so I decided not to overthink it and joined up on a month to month plan. (More expensive than a 12 month plan, but I can bail out more easily if it isn’t for me). The first ouch is for unaccustomed exercise, joining fees, and monthly direct debits.

THUD

In the afternoon I had a sudden and unexpected urge to do a detailed and realistic budget. I have been living on my savings and exploring my options in an open and creative way, but the time had come to get realistic about the financial side of things. The first budget I did was a mish mash of personal and business expenses, and it didn’t achieve much other than to confuse and alarm me. There’s the THUD. The budget was difficult to understand because I am used to a regular income as an employee, and the old style budget was built around allocating a fixed amount. Working for yourself means the income is a moving target, and as a result the tax liability and even tax rate are moving target.

I decided the budget would be easier to understand if I divided it into modules, and tried to make those modules self sufficient. Module 1 is Personal Living Expenses, and included some temporary part-time work, say two days a week, to make sure those were covered while I get set up. Module 2 is Investments and it can be self contained if I pay the tax on the investments from the investment income. Module 3 is Professional Organising Business and I did a model of how much I would need for the business to support itself, as a starting point, then how much it would take for the business to actually pay me. There might be a Module 4 coming up, Business Analyst Consultancy, which is the kind of work I did before as an employee, repackaged as a consultancy. This has more scope to provide an income in the immediate future than Professional Organising, but could split my focus.

Despite the OUCH and THUD, I feel good today, because I have made a commitment to getting strong, physically and financially. Its seem like a constructive move to get out of la la land and into the real world of flabby abs and recurring expenses.

And the second OUCH? I did crunches (sit ups) yesterday, and it hurts when I cough.

OUCH

A gym with a view

I have been reading a lot of blogs lately, and every so often I come across someone who is going through a difficult time. It got me to thinking about the difficult times in my life, and what was helpful to me. A while back I decided to adopt a policy that goes something like this,

If in doubt, choose hope over despair.

I came up with the policy, because it occurred to me that if there was any kind of choice involved, it would be in my best interests to be backing the hopeful options, rather than the negative. I found this was particularly important when I was feeling overwhelmed by difficult thoughts and feelings, and the hope option didn’t seem very strong.

We tend to think of hope as some kind of magical thing out there in the universe. Maybe it is. But I like to think of it as a muscle. Muscles need exercise, and the more you use them, the stronger they get. I think hope works the same way. The more little choices you make in the direction of hope and possibility, the stronger and more hopeful you are likely to feel.

When I talk about choosing hope, I am not talking about denying how you are feeling, or ignoring the reality of the situation you are facing. I am not talking about simply replacing negative thinking with positive thinking, or grasping at things that are unlikely to succeed. I am talking about understanding the reality of your situation, and taking small steps, baby steps even, in the direction of something that is going to be helpful and constructive for you.

Something that can be helpful if you are having difficulty in choosing hope, or even finding hope, is to get in touch with your observer. If you are flooded with uncomfortable feelings and emotions, or negative thoughts, it can feel as if thats all that there is. But oftentimes you will be able to locate that quiet inner voice who is able to observe what is going on with you. Its that voice that says “Hey, I’m feeling lousy – whats going on here?”

The observer is your friend because it allows you to get curious and notice things that are happening to you, and that gives you a bit of perspective. You might notice that your body feels heavy, that you don’t want to get out of bed, and you are thinking that you might never want to get out of bed again! Deciding to check in with the observer to get perspective on what is going on, rather than getting totally absorbed in negative feelings is exercising the hope muscle.

Another thing you can do to choose hope is draw conclusions from the process of what is going on that will be helpful to you, rather than drawing conclusions from the content of what is going on that might be destructive. For example just because you are thinking “I am never going to want to get out of bed again” does not mean that you have to accept that as the truth. Its just how you feel right now. Be aware of the difference between observing the content of your thoughts and feelings and believing them. This is important because we are very upset, the content of our thoughts and feelings can be misleading.

Instead of accepting the way you are thinking and feeling as the permanent truth of your life, your observer can help you work out what might be a helpful thing to do in your situation. You could observe that you are feeling bad, and having negative thoughts, and conclude the thing that would be helpful is to take care extra good care of yourself until that feeling passes. Or you might observe that you are very frightened, and are worried that you are going to feel even worse. You might conclude from this that you are feeling overwhelmed and need to ask for help before things get out of hand. Looking for constructive things to do that would help your situation is another way of choosing hope.

Sometimes when things seem very black, hope seems impossible. But even in those times, you can choose hope by doing nothing. You can choose hope by not acting in ways that are self destructive, or going to hurt other people. The policy in this case might be changed to “When despair seems like the only option; choose hope.” Sometimes if you are having a very difficult time, other people might notice and try to choose hope for you, by offering some form of help. Another way of choosing hope is to let them choose hope for you and accept their offer.

Each time we choose hope, we create a possibility for a better outcome. This doesn’t work by magic. Realistically, sometimes things don’t turn out quite as we had hoped, and we need to allow for that possibility. The important thing is not to give up on the big picture if one option doesn’t work out. For example you might ask a friend for help, and they might not know what to do. That doesn’t mean you give up on choosing hope. It means you need to choose again. Its a numbers game. The more small choices you make for hope, the more likely you are to see a shift in your situation.

Here is the best thing. The more choices that you make for hope over despair, the more you learn to trust yourself. You begin to believe in yourself as a person who is able to respond to a bad situation in a good way. This works like a power plant, it generates hope. That very choice, that series of choices, brings hope into the situation in a very practical way. You might start feel a determination to give hope the best shot you possibility can. If you do can that, then over time hope becomes your life companion, and you become a source of hope, not just a beneficiary.

Today I am going to tell you about a little project that I have successfully completed. I have been thinking about doing it for about 15 years, and in the last few months got around to it. The process went without a hitch and today I was able to tuck away some of my records for the last time. What is this simple project that requires 15 years procrastination? Consolidation of my superannuation.

I had my retirement money split between two companies, and for some mysterious reason one of those companies had the money split between two account numbers, so I had three superannuation accounts. This meant three lots of mail about superannuation; two superannuation files, two online superannuation log ins, and lots of adding up. It was all too much and the superannuation letters would pile up on my intray unread for months, until then next ones came and I could ignore them instead.

I know its a boring topic. Of course its a boring topic. If it wasn’t so boring it would not have taken me 15 years to fill out a couple of forms to get it sorted. Apart from the general boringness, what held me back was that although I knew I needed to do something about it, I didn’t know what. I wanted my decision to be “for the best” and I didn’t know how to work out what that was. I had the idea that it might be wiser to have the money split between two companies in case one went bust, maybe just consolidating the two accounts with the one company. I also had the idea that financial advisers were either going to be biased because the get a financial benefit from their advice, or expensive because they were independent and charged a hefty fee. What I did know was that I felt out of control and paralysed by indecision.

What enabled the situation to change was my increasing interest in simplicity and minimalism. I came to the conclusion that fear had caused me to split my finances between too many companies, and I was overwhelmed by all the communications. The need to add up bits of money stashed here and there made it difficult to know how I was going, and I could not bear to read all the literature sent to me by the various companies. This was particularly the case with superannuation, which is my major investment.

This change in thinking allowed me to bite the bullet and proceed with the rollover process. I stayed calm and walked through the process step by step. Find out what to do. Print off two forms. Get more info from the company I was leaving. Complete two forms. Get a photocopy of my drivers licence. Get drivers licence copies certified. Prepare letter with forms. Post letter with forms. Wait. During the waiting time I decided to let go and trust that the insurance companies would do the right thing, and let me know when they were done. Amazingly it all went smoothly. I got two identical letters from the company I was leaving saying they were closing each of my accounts with them. Then a few days later I got a notification that the money had been deposited with my main account. No fuss, no bother, no mistakes. Today I checked the online records, and all is in order. Job done.

Its really satisfying to have solved this problem which has been a thorn in my side for many years. The next step is to get a better grip on the options available to me with the one company I am dealing with. I feel like I am in a much better position to understand my retirement money and make good decisions about how to manage it.

I don’t know what is the “best solution” for managing retirement funds. Of course its possible I will regret the decision to consolidate if the company I am with has problems, although it had the majority of the funds anyway. What I do know is that letting go of the dream that there is a “best decision” in favour of something workable that fits with my approach to life has enabled me to get unstuck and take responsibility for my decisions.

Captain Seagull enjoying his retirement.

Now that I have chosen a business name for my professional organising business, I am having an online identity crisis. The difficulty is working out to how to manage the level of privacy required for the different online activities I am involved in, and to what extent I an going to link those activities.

At the beginning of the year I was an employee with an email account and a Flickr account. The only problem I was facing was what types of photos to put on Flickr. I found the privacy process so confusing I gave up on the idea of privately sharing family photos that way, and just put up scenic shots. Eventually that account feel into disuse, so I had no way of sharing my photos online.

When I went overseas earlier this year, a few people suggested I do a blog, so a couple of days before I went away I started my first wordpress.com blog. After my experience with Flickr I decided to keep the privacy issue fairly simple. I hid the blog from search engines in the controls, and didn’t apply any categories or tags. That meant that only family and friends, or people they shared it with knew about it.  I put up a few pictures of myself, but didn’t write anything outrageous, and I was comfortable with that solution.

When I returned from my trip I decided to do a writing blog, and created May and September. After much agonising I decided to go semi-public with this blog, meaning that I share my name and photo, but no address or contact details. At least that was the intention. When I started using Gravitar I think I was displaying my surname accidentally. When setting up all these interlinked accounts, it can be difficult to know what is going to be public and what is going to be private. I am taking the view that although this website is only semi-public at the moment, it is possible that I may chose to go public, for example if I wrote a book that I needed to promote.

Now I am setting up a professional organising business, I want to have a business name, and I would like to have a business website. That website is going to need to have a higher level of identifying information than this blog, because people need to know who I am and be able to ring me for a consultation. What to do? Do I relate the websites so that they feed into each other? If I do that, the whole world will have my phone number.

This interlinking of identities is already causing an issue because I have blogged about the difficulty of choosing a business name. I have made a decision and registered a name, but if someone objects to the name I have chosen, they can find evidence of my ambivalence in my own blog. So instead of being stuck before a decision, I am feeling stuck after a decision that I am not confident about.

The online world is making it much easier to communicate, but it makes things complicated. In the olden days if I was a writer with a publisher, people would know my name and see my photo on the back of my book, but they wouldn’t have all my personal details. They would deal with me through my publisher. If I was a magazine writer, the publisher would send my articles out in print form, and I would not really know who the readers were, unless they chose to respond in an active way. If I was a person providing a service in my local area, my advertising strategy would be confined to people in my local area, and contact information would be contained within that area not broadcast to the world. Of course I am complicating the picture myself, by writing and publishing photos in the public sphere at the same time as wanting to set up a service in my local area.

It seems that I am in the process of shifting from being a private person, to a public person. It used to be that only my family, friends and workmates knew of my existence, and I was reluctant to change that. I have always wanted to be a writer, but one thing that held me back was the self revelation and loss of anonymity. Now that I have started writing in a small way, it feels right, and I want to continue. That means I need to relinquish some of my privacy. Being self employed as a sole trader means that I will need to promote myself, and thats another level of public visibility that I will need to get comfortable with. Apart from all this, I may decide to do some part-time work in the field that I left earlier in the year to support myself while I write and establish my business. This means potential employers may read what I have to say in my blog.

So where am I? For the time being I am not going to promote my identity on this website, but I am going to act on the assumption that it could be revealed in the future. I think its important that whatever I do is authentic and consistent with my values to avoid my different activities working against each other. I have a feeling that I am going to have to revisit the whole business name issue. I was rushing it because I need to get going with promotion so that I can start to earn an income, but that does not seem to be working out very well.

Its ironic that despite my longing for anonymity, my desire to create leads me to do things that are very self revealing, in more ways than one. Life is funny that way.