Yesterday I spent quite a lot of time waiting, thinking and reflecting. Then waiting some more.
It's the best and worst thing about air travel.
You have no choice. No choice but to wait for long periods without internet access where you’re forced to literally and metaphorically decompress. To talk about whatever happens to float into your head. To express things inadvertently you didn’t realise were even on your mind.
Except sometimes you end up realising things you didn’t want to know. It’s like when you wind up sat next to someone on a plane or train with annoying personal habits. In this case that person is yourself, and it’s the life you’ve made for yourself that irritates you under the artificial cabin lights. Forced to face up to yourself and to who you are.
In this confrontation yesterday I realised three things.
Firstly, I saw my career so far, my journey through the mountains of the world of work from the so-called "40 thousand feet" perspective. I saw what it looks like from a great distance and where it seems I’m going. Secondly — I believe I’ve absorbed some of the wisdom from some material that I listened to and read today during those periods when I had nothing else to do. I literally was a captive audience so I’m hoping these lessons are burnt onto my brain for good. Finally, I reflected on a particular experience that occurred in the evening, a few hours after arriving at my destination. It showed me just how easy it is, even knowing everything else I know — even after everything I’ve read and seen — to be completely swept up in the tumult of one’s own emotions.
In the morning, I got the rare opportunity to view England, France and much of Eastern Europe/North Africa from 40 thousand feet. When I did this, which happened to be on a plane on the way to South Cyprus, it made me think: when was the last time I looked at my life, my career and my journey in the same way? The answer, it seemed, was 'not for a long time'.
So, after that yesterday I spent a significant amount of time reflecting back on my time working, and then also absorbing quite a lot of information. This is largely because I spent a further four hours on the plane between Manchester and Cyprus - so there wasn’t much else to do. I also spent quite a lot of the time listening to podcasts, and we will return to just what I took from those a little later.
But, returning first to the 40 thousand foot high view... When I thought hard about this and tried to form a narrative for myself over the last fifteen years, I began by deciding that I’ve worked hard and travelled a great distance through the low foothills and peaks of the world of work. I’ve transitioned between jobs quite a lot - the most I’ve spent in a job is three years and it’s mostly far less than that... So my path through this terrain has been fast, with many turns and some false steps. But, mostly I believe I’ve moved in the right direction. This direction might be summarised as toward the realms of coaching, helping others and guiding them toward their own definitions of success. I like to see this as a theme; first through call-centre management and then later through coaching junior BAs, and then most recently expanding my definition of what it means to be a Business Analyst by moving into customer research and user experience design.
This theme excites me because not only can it be rewarding and in high demand for someone that does it well — but I also find it personally fulfilling and enriching to help others. The surrounding terrain of my journey may change, but this core component, my north star, shouldn’t change too much. When I looked forward, to the portion of the journey still to go, I see coaching featuring highly in here. I get something from coaching and mentoring... like when this month I met D, a friend of a friend, to talk about my previous roles and how they may apply to him. I gave him some advice that I don’t believe he was expecting, but he said afterward that he really felt it helped. And I felt good when I heard him say that. Coaching people is something that for the first time I believe can be dovetailed in nicely with my agile development insights. Coaching and mentoring in this area will be a start, but I expect the coaching will lead to far greater, more dynamic things from there...
So that's a brief snapshot of my life seen from the great height I experienced in both reality and metaphor yesterday.
Getting back to the subject of podcasts, here's some of the stuff I absorbed from them during the plane journey. The first interview was between Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss. In this conversation Tony Robbins talked about personal influences. In particular, he discussed why we often as children crave the love of a distant parent precisely because it is harder to win than with a parent who is always emotionally available, or has no expectations for you. This was relevant to me, because I suspect I craved my dad's love more, as we only saw him once a fortnight and he was often moody or unpredictable. Listening to this, I wondered whether this was why as an adult I now go to such lengths to acquire knowledge; to read books; and to become - as I see it - "learned"; maybe I'm just doing what I believe he'd expect me to do.
Later during the podcast Tony Robbins made the distinction between achievement and fulfilment. He used the example of Robin Williams: high achiever; hugely successful; so unhappy he hung himself. Most importantly, he talked about his central belief that we are all subject to decisions not conditions; that is, we can choose to react in a certain way.
I love the personal connection that Tony seems to feel with his coaching subjects. Is this the sort of coaching that I want to build my career around? He seems to care a great deal about what happens to them. As I mentioned earlier, it's important to me to feel as though I'm also helping people.
Tony's final point during this podcast was to stress to listeners that they can choose their mental states. This is something I believe. To this end, he shared an activity designed to help move someone from a state of anger, anxiety or suffering, to a state of thankfulness and gratitude. I eagerly made a note of this practice, which involves making use of the biochemical connection between the brain and the heart, and using key pleasant memories to anchor oneself to a time when one felt different, and recreate that mental state in the present.
After finishing the Tony Robbins podcast, during my flight I also spent some of the time continuing to read Scrum by Jeff Sutherland. It's fascinating to revise my core knowledge of scrum from this resource.
Reflecting on the words I'd read, I realised that as per Sutherland's advice, I want to make people happy; I want to help people be good, and do good. I do not like how I used to feel sometimes at work (usually fist-clenching anger or anxiety). Tony Robbins talked a lot in today's podcast about letting that go - I mean, letting go of the one adverse feeling that has the biggest negative impact on your life. I would like nothing better than to leave these feelings behind for forever... but it won't be easy... As soon as I recall past encounters, think of familiar old situations, or even see familiar faces going about their familiar routines, my patterns of thought begin to stir up in the same, self-stoking sequences as before. After hearing this podcast by Tony Robbins, I have promised myself I will eradicate these feelings of anger and frustration from my work.
Later that same day, I had an immediate opportunity to practice this new approach when caught in traffic. Because of the podcast I’d listened to, and some of the lessons I’d eagerly noted down, I was able to reset my mental state. If you get the chance, I think you should listen too; I really believe it will do everyone good.