My job adds value

We all want to have a job that adds value and brings a sense of purpose. Truth is, you need to invest in order to get that job. Here is how:

“I am looking for a job that adds value”, the graduate smiles at me. “I need to feel a sense of importance”, another one agrees. We are having a discussion on why to choose which job and how to emphasize certain aspects. Priorities around payment, working hours, leisure time, sense of purpose, content of the daily doing and so on are thrown through the room. All agree that feeling fulfilled at the end of the day is among the top three for their entry jobs.

Reality Check!

Have you felt fulfilled every day of your studies? How much value added that math test? And haven’t you been working until midnight to get that project done with your classmates?

I see some sort of nodding around me. I am surrounded by high performing students who all did well at school and chose to study a high intensity topic in university – leading them to even study abroad, working in a different language and get acquainted with unknown people from all over the world. Yet, when it comes to their first steps in working life, somehow the expectation shifts to immediate gratification.

As I am mainly working with people in business, let me use this picture from the corporate world: Investment.


investment
/ɪnˈvɛs(t)m(ə)nt/

an act of devoting time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result.

Dictionary

Investment means devoting time, effort or energy in the here and now whilst believing that it will have a result, payoff or impact in the future. In the sense of learning in order to get a degree, it is quite simple to see the principle working. Therefore it is easy to understand, why thousands of students go to university, investing night shifts, saying “No” to a whole lot of parties during their exam phases and pushing themselves abroad – not knowing whom to meet or where to sleep. They all have seen others do it and at the end getting a degree which lead to a job. A job that provided for their life.

The question unanswered is: when do we get to the turning point? When is the investment-phase over and when does the reaping-the-result-phase start?

I think there are two aspects to the answer:

  1. How big do you want your result to be?
  2. Why would you ever stop investing when you know that you will see a result in the future?

The size of the result

Let’s look at the building of a house – if you invest little time in building the foundation, it is only strong enough for a small house. So the size of the foundation will limit the size of your future house. Taking this picture to your education: if you decide that your investment time is over when leaving university, your job options and your future career will be limited to the investment given.

This leads back to the discussion of the graduates in the beginning. If you want immediate results after your graduation, you will probably find a job that requires limited amount of time to be present, but it will also limit your responsibilities and payment. Usually responsibilities are accompanied by freedom of choice and impact in the organization – and with these aspects you are getting into a stage where you feel that you have impact and fulfill a purpose for your company. But the impact and purpose are results that need to be earned by personal investment.

Therefore, if you are not sensing that purpose in your job yet, take a step back and check on people that are longer in their careers than you are. Would their role give you a sense of purpose? If yes, then maybe you are still in your investment phase. I want to encourage you to keep on investing and you will be getting there.

If you don’t see anyone of your superiors as a role model, you might want to consider to invest at a different place. Or you need to create your own role model. Maybe you like your job, but you just want to turn out to be a different type of boss – then invest in your leadership skills and become the leader you didn’t have.

Let’s consider your whole working life: you probably can use your 20s – 60s for university and profession; so roughly 50 years. How many years of investment are suitable for you in order to build a career? A career that has the potential to make an impact and in which you can have a sense of purpose? You choose how long you invest.

Why ever stop investing?

Once you have tasted the sweet result of an investment, you will never want to miss that taste again. Therefore it really does make sense to never stop investing. So while you are reaping from your investment of university in your first careers steps already, continue to invest in your education, skills and mindset.

Find yourself topics in which you want to get better. Acquire relevant certificates for your job, learn how to communicate well, write that article for your company’s newsletter – just to name a few. [For sure the same principle can be applied for your relationships and your body – just to trigger two more major aspects in our lives.]

For which results are you investing? This question leads back to the discussion with the graduates. Although we often associate result with career steps and money, I want to broaden your perspective for the sense of purpose and satisfaction. Once you are settled in your first job and you have learned the necessary basics, check what you want to reap in the upcoming years.

I give you a personal example: I always wanted to have a team that I enjoy working with. I want to get up in the morning and smile because I am looking forward to work with my colleagues on that day.

Did I have that team in my first professional years? Yes, sometimes. But not always. And certainly not because I intentionally invested for that team but rather by chance meeting some nice people on a project (and then investing into the relationship with those colleagues, of course).

Now – roughly 10 years after my graduation – I am in a position where I can invest in people in order to build that team. I can select applicants, hire team members, give them tasks and explain how that task is contributing to the big picture. I can listen to them so they feel valued, highlight their strengthens and give constructive feedback. It’s a daily work that I do – and day by day I see more of that investment bear fruit. And I really enjoy getting up in the morning and work with them!

But – please note – that vision was there in my first year of work. And 10 years later I am in the position to invest into that team. Some results take longer – and therefore I encourage you not to search for the immediate result in your professional year No 1, but rather think of the big picture and find your reason to invest on a broader scale.

Also, learn the skill of investing. The following questions can help you to explore your personal wishes and get a strategic step into your professional future.

  1. Think of what do you want to reap: high salary, good reputation, a great team, sense of purpose at your workplace etc.
  2. Find out where you want to invest: In which people do you want to invest? Which skills do you want to acquire? Which certificates will enhance your career? Which knowledge should you enhance?
  3. And then define how you want to invest: How much time do you want to spend? How much money is your investment worth? Where do you need to be in order to invest?

Have fun exploring and start investing into your purposeful future job that adds value.

Sometimes life sucks

Have you ever witnessed a good friend walking through the aftermath of a disaster? Be it a devastating illness, loss of a loved one or financial ruin – grief is involved. Find out how you can be a good friend in hard times.

“He is dead!” – the horrified scream is reaching my ear. It is 4am in the morning. I am on my phone listening to a close friend. She just lost a close person and the pure horror in that reality is shaking us both to the core. Death. End of all hope. Pure pain.

Aside of weeping there is not much more. What can be said? What are the right words? Immediately I realize that there are no words at all that can picture the emotional rollercoaster that we are in. At the same time we are just connected via phone – leaving no chance to put an supporting arm around her shoulders and squeeze her gently. So what to say!?

“I hear you”, I whisper. “I am feeling with you.”

Have you ever been in such a situation?

Not you but a close friend needs to walk through hell. And you cannot change it. You are a bystander. Somehow emotionally affected – and then again not affected at all. To see a friend in pure devastation and not be able to do anything can be challenging, too.

Therefore, I would like to share a few thoughts on that. Thoughts I draw from the experience of having walked through hell myself and from several experiences when I walked with close friends through their valley of death.

Be there. Listen. And don’t leave.

When the disaster hits, noone is prepared. Whether it is a devastating illness, the death of a close person, adultery of a spouse or financial ruin – when it hits a person’s life, there (usually) was no preparation time. The horror, shock and emotions need to be put in words. So when your friend is in this, give him/her some time to talk. Or sit in silence. Or weep. Or scream. Whatever is needed.

If you are unsure whether you should stay or leave, ask your friend. Or tell him/her, that you will stay in the room next door – so your friend can choose what is needed. The same is true if you are distant – write that sms saying “I am thinking about you.” “Let me know when you want to talk.” “I am happy to listen.”

In general, what really helps is when you make yourself available (as much as possible; it is okay that you maintain your own life, too). People in pure pain don’t know themselves anymore. Everything that was so clear yesterday, is hard to even remember today. On some days getting up, getting dressed and eat even seem unmanageable. So, although you don’t want to force your friend into anything, be a bit proactive and prepare some dinner (although he/she might not eat much) or ask him/her out for a walk.

You don’t need to be an expert

The feeling of being overwhelmed with the situation as a friend very often leads people to the assumption that they are not “equipped” enough to stay in that situation. All these questions in your head “What should I say?” “What can I ask?” “What if I say something wrong?” very often leads to silence and disconnection from the friend in need.

Remember: your friend is in this for the first time, too. You don’t have to be an expert. And you don’t have to find a solution. At best, you are just there – as you would have been, when the catastrophe didn’t hit. And you can be honest, too. Just say “this really sucks“. And then laugh together. What a f***!

You don’t need to Find the answer

Whatever happened – you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes terrorizing your friend with questions. Same is true for “good advice”. Even if you had been in the same situation, chances are high that your friend lives in a different reality than you did. Your friend needs time to figure out for him/herself.

I really encourage you, to be there and listen. But be very cautious to give advice or to ask “why”-questions. Ask your friend how he/she is feeling. Ask him/her how the day was. What is easy? What is hard? Give him/her a stage to express his/her feelings. In that way you raise the chance for healing and a feeling to be understood.

Every day is different

In times of grief it is amazing how rapidly emotions can change. One day you are not able to see any hope, another day you might have first – crazy – dreams for the years to come.

Therefore, if you are supporting someone in grief, ask him/her how she is feeling. Don’t assume. If you haven’t talked for a day – check on the status quo. And don’t judge – regardless what the answer is. Be there as a friend and listen. For your friend that very listening will mean the world.

Take care of yourself, too

How are you feeling? When seeing a friend suffer it can be extremely overwhelming and stressful. Admit to yourself what the whole situation is doing with you. Start journaling – and put your emotions in words.

Although you are not the one in pain, somehow you are in pain, too. Be honest about it, tell friends yourself. And be gracious to yourself. Pain and sadness draw a lot of energy – therefore it would be quite normal if you need to sleep more and when you are not as powerful at work as you usually are.

I assume when you made it through the article until this point you are or have been walking this road. Let me tell you this: Thank you! Thank you, that you are the friend who is not running off despite the horror. Thank you for walking. Keep on.

UNFAIR!

Unfair, screams the heart! Move on, says the head! Leave resentment behind and use your energy in a more productive way.

Last day before bank holiday. Everything needs to be set until end of business. One call rushes the next, stress increases, words get louder. Not only is everyone looking forward to the offsite but also everyone is stressed out from not having had a few days off for months. In this heated environment it happens – my boss treats me unfair. Having invested night after night into a presentation, some questions are still unanswered – rightly so. Now, all of this seems to be my fault. Uff. Unfair.

Do you know these situations? You worked your a** off but all the work is not being recognized? You invested time, heart and brain to reach the 95% – and damn are they good! – but the feedback focuses the 5% that could be enhanced? What do you do?

Just recently I read a book on leadership and how a leader should position herself in order to forster each team member. In this context the author Simon Sinek is changing the perspective to an interesting angle. Leaders are human beings, too. They react under pressure pretty much the same like everyone else.

So when our boss comes down hard on us and we don’t know the reason, it is equally our responsibility to express concern for their well-being.

Simon Sinek, LEADERS EAT LAST

I highly favour the emphasize of responsibility in this perspective. Instead of complaining to be treated unfairly changing the perception by considering the situation in which my boss is stuck. This requires and trains real leadership skills in you! Complaining is easy. You don’t even need a degree to tell everyone how unfair you have been treated. But to decide to leave your hurt, puts your ego aside – and that requires strength.

So what did I do in the mentioned situation?

I would lie if I tell you, I wasn’t mad. As you can read, the situation made it into an article. Nevertheless, considering the overall situation with tons of calls, stress and tight timelines I asked myself if my boss is a great boss in general – and yes he is! And he is a human being who gets stressed out, too. And that is fine. In addition, he was right – there were open points to be clarified. So we got back to business, found solutions and turned in the result by end of business – without wasting any minute on discussing fairness-issues.

Which situation of unfairness is still in your mind?

Let me guess: these situations of unfairness cost you way more energy in rethinking them than it adds value to your life, right? And if you don’t see this aspect, ask your spouse or colleagues whether they want to hear that old unfairness story again. They might not.

It is about time for you to leave the resentment behind. Find an explanation why someone has been unfair to you if you need to. Forgive what happened.

And move on.

Blind spot!

If your company is selling services and knowhow, your biggest asset are the people who serve and bring in their knowledge. If your people leave, your service leaves.

Sales. Revenue. Profit. The reason business is done. But what actually impacts the financial success of a company?

Just recently I heard a conversation in the train going like this: “I would have loved to pitch for that project! It’s totally our topic! Unfortunately I had to withdraw from the request for proposal because the key resources on that topic just left the company and we had no one with the same knowledge.”

I was stunned. How would you even consider a topic to be “yours” if there is no one available in your company!?

This obvious mismatch wasn’t visible for the business man in the conversation. He was convinced that his company was selling topics – and didn’t even consider that people could be the key for financial success.

Blind spot!

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a blind spot an area you cannot see and draws an analogy to driving a car. It is quite obvious how dangerous it is when you are entering a part of the road you were not able to see and all of a sudden there is an obstacle. The realization of that danger makes your heart bump and you are bright awake and ready to change directions.

blind spot

noun [C usually singular ] UK /ˈblaɪnd ˌspɒt/ US /ˈblaɪnd ˌspɑːt/

an area that you are not able to see, especially the part of a road you cannot see when you are driving, behind and slightly to one side of the car

Cambridge Dictionary

This awareness in context of companies and people is rarely given. You seldom see managers make a mayor change in their people management even when they see obstacles ahead – e.g. declining of sales or rise of attrition.

There is another definition for blind spot that is quite helpful in bringing in a new perspective.

a subject that you find very difficult to understand at all, sometimes because you are not willing to try

Cambridge Dictionary

When you are facing failure in business, e.g. the missed proposal of the mentioned story, it is easier to focus on aspects that you are familiar with [“that is our topic”], than on aspects that are much harder to understand [“we missed to keep our key resources” or “we missed on training new people in that knowledge”]. But an honest reflection in the sight of failure can work miracles for you.

If your company is selling services and knowhow, your biggest asset are the people who serve and bring in their knowledge. If the people leave, your service leaves. If your people are not trained, your company will deliver poor quality. Ultimately you will see the effect in your P&L.

Let me challenge you a bit:

  • How do you see your people?
  • Do you think they actually like working for you?
  • What could you do to keep your people in your business?

We all have blind spots every once in a while. Let’s make sure that we don’t keep them due to laziness to check on them and unwillingness to change. Because when it already has an effect on your P&L, it is quite late to take turns.

Happy Birthday, isn’t it?

If you take care that every year of your life is enjoyable you will have lived an enjoyable life in the end.

Birthday. Whether you like celebrating yours or not – most likely you will not forget the date when you turn a year older. Independent from all the rituals that you are following – or trying to ignore – the very date of your birth is present in your mind. And even if you are not much into celebrating your aging, every time you need to fill in your birth date in any form, you are reminded of the progress of time.

The days around the birthday are a good timeframe to pause your life and invest a few minutes into reflection.

Reflection of the past with all of your accomplishments, successes, losses and failures.

A sharp look at the here and now.

And an inspiring envisioning of the years ahead with so much potential for your dreams and hopes to come true.

Let’s have a look at these three perspectives and get some practical tips on how to actually invest in yourself during this time.

Reflection on the past

Let’s assume you are doing this on an annual basis, then you reflect only back on the last year. If you are at a major milestone of your life like 20th, 30th, 40th etc. birthday it might be worthwhile to take a longer timespan into account.

Take some paper and a pen, find yourself a cosy place and sit down. Calm down for a few moments and enjoy the very fact that you now invest in one of the most important people in your life – yourself.

You are the starting point

Start by drawing a person in the middle of the paper or by writing your name in the midst. You are the starting point – and from there the mind-map-style starts. Now start to write areas of your current life situation around you – you might want to circle them if you are a more creative person.

Here are some ideas: family, friends, job, sports, health, career, relationships, emotional well-being, social work, hobby

Take at least 4 areas of your life that you want to reflect on. And be bold. Take also those areas where you like to be more fulfilled or more successful.

How are you doing?

If you have defined your areas you want to focus on, write to each area what you liked during the last year. Where have you been successful? What did you achieve? What made this area of your life special in the last year?

If you are unfamiliar with writing stuff about your life on a piece of paper, you might want to start by taking a few notes and the further you get start writing sentences. Add to each event or bullet why it is on your list and how you currently feel about it.

When you are done with positive things, start to write down also the bad experiences. What didn’t work out? Whom did you lose in your life? Where did you fail? Be honest to yourself and admit how you are feeling.

Side note for business people: Emotions are valuable indicators where you are currently at - and if you need change. Admit when you are feeling sad, frustrated, angry, disappointed. Although it is uncommon in the business context to talk about feelings, it is a real asset when you check on your emotional well-being every once in a while. If you are happy on the inside, it is most likely that you will display the happiness on the outside and be even better in your business tasks at hand. Unluckily this is true vice versa. 

One year on a piece of paper

Now look at your mind map. How do you feel?

Since this is a practical guide and not an entertainment text, I just take the freedom to ask you again: How do you feel when you see your past year?

What would you like to take with you into the next year?

What served you until today but now needs to leave? Say goodbye to these habits / situations / emotions. It’s just the right time.

Here and Now

Take a moment to be proud of yourself! You just revisited the last year, showed gratitude for your successes, looked at some unpleasant moments, said goodbye to a few things. For your soul it’s like the clearance of the basement. It isn’t the most entertaining thing to do but it creates room in your mind for new things. Well done!

I can see you smile. That’s good.

Let’s dive into your future.

Envisioning the future

A new year lies before you. How do you want to use it?

Check on the categories of your mindmap again. Which category should stay and which one(s) leave? Is there any other area that you want to add?

When you are done with setting the scene, write to each area what you would like to achieve. Which area should be your focus on? Where do you need growth? What area do you enjoy most?

I like to encourage you to get a little crazy and visionary in this moment – reality will settle in soon enough. Write down all the things you like to be doing. What makes your heart leap?

Remember, you are the game changer of your everyday life. Take your annual pause to reflect the past year and adjust your priorities to make sure that the upcoming year will be enjoyable.

Get into first row!

When you are standing at the shore of your comfort zone, you will feel the waves of fear clushing to your feet. That is the moment when you have to make a decision whether you take the challenge.

When was the last time you left your comfort zone and how did it make you feel?”, my colleague starts our weekly team meeting with this thought-provoking question.

One teammate shares her last attendance at the sports lesson. Being quite new to the course she thought about staying in the last row, giving her the chance to check on the sport mates and copy movements quite easily. But before the class started, the trainer asked her up front since there was some space left and so they wouldn’t have to squeeze themselves in the back. She took heart and moved to the first row. Now being in sight of everyone and role model herself for the following rows of sport mates who cannot see all movement of the trainer, she even invested more power, strength and preciseness in all poses than she would have staying in the last row.

She smiles while she is telling the story and you can tell that she is proud of her accomplishment despite the uncomfortable first feeling of walking into row one. The whole team is cheering with her and together the discussion evolves into being in row one in the job as well.

Everyone agrees that getting out of the comfort zone first feels very insecure, vulnerable and crazy. But with each time you step further outside, you learn that actually leaving the comfort zone is a good thing because you are rewarded with success and an enormous powerful feeling of accomplishment.

While I am writing these lines I am feeling the result of a successful walk out of my comfort zone as well. I love to hold meetings, teach and moderate even complex gatherings – but when I have been asked to speak in front of ~400 people it was outside my current comfort zone for sure. Nevertheless, I took the challenge and it went quite well.

“Take the challenge” involves an inner fight that each one of us has to fight for him/herself. Usually the comfort zone is surrounded by fear. Fear of disapproval, fear of rejection, fear of failing. So it is pretty easy to tell when you are standing at the shore of your comfort zone – you will feel the waves of fear clushing to your feet. That is the moment when you have to make a decision whether you take the challenge.

When you walk towards your fear, you are leaving the comfort zone.

The reward for taking the challenge and overcoming fear is personal growth. Additionally to the immense feeling of accomplishment you will soon see the growth in your character, personality and life. And this growth will have a positive impact e.g. on your relationships and job.

The team meeting ended with the insight that you can even become comfortable with leaving the comfort zone. When you overcome fear on a regular basis and learn that you have the ability to handle all situations you become strong and bold.

Are you ready to leave your comfort zone?

Ask! Thought-provoking!

“What is the favourite question when starting a feedback session?”, curiously I throw this question into the discussion. We are having a chat with several mentors working with their mentees for quite some years now. “What rhetorical phrase works well for you?”, I continue. I don’t get an answer straight ahead but rather an “uff, good question. I think I have never thought about it.”

I smile. As a coach there is no bigger nor better compliment than “that’s a good question”. Being thought-provoking is the key element in coaching – and throwing a question into a discussion that cannot be answered right away feels awesome.

But aside from having fun in asking good questions, the thought process that is triggered by a good question is so valuable! People start thinking new thoughts, walking on new path and getting a new perspective. A thought-provoking question can inspire your friends / team / colleagues / boss.

When was the last time you asked a thought-provoking question?

Even as the youngest team member you can influence a whole discussion by asking a good question. For sure you have to put some thoughts into the creation of a valuable question – just a plain “why” helped you when you were a 2-year-old toddler.

Therefore, let me ask you this: Which question made you think intensely? What did you ask that made your boss/team go “uff, good question“?

I am looking forward to read your thought-provoking lines.