Monday, 31 December 2007

Lists and resolutions - and the end of 2007

So the new year is upon us, and now we look forward to 2008. Only two years of this decade remain. I was impressed by what Seth Godin had to say about this:

Here's a question that you should clip out and tape to your bathroom mirror. It might save you some angst 15 years from now. The question is, What did you do back when interest rates were at their lowest in 50 years, crime was close to zero, great employees were looking for good jobs, computers made product development and marketing easier than ever, and there was almost no competition for good news about great ideas?
Many people will have to answer that question by saying, "I spent my time waiting, whining, worrying, and wishing."


This is why I am so in favour of new year's lists. They get a bad name, but I think this is because of poor execution rather than anything else. Lists represent action and change. They are a tangible attempt to improve our future. In so doing, they symbolise hope. And without hope we are nothing.

So tomorrow my list. I hope you have one too.

In the meantime, Happy New Year.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Why...

has the top bit of Bloom blog gone all funny? And why can't I fix this myself?

It's because I have extremely poor self efficacy in this area. In other words, I expect myself to fail, so I do.

I mention this and I was reminded in the brilliant book Meaning Inc of Rosenthal & Lenore's experiment about children’s expectations. Simply by telling children and teachers that they were being watched as 'high performers' they raised performance by 0.6 of a standard deviation - enough to catapult an average performer to the top echelons.

Meaning Inc goes on to ask whether organisations' high performance programmes are worth the effort. They may get 25% more from the top 5%, but at what cost to the 95?

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Liverpool for Christmas

Back in the 'pool for Christmas. Went to see Liverpool play. Reds won 4-1. Had a pint with an old Scouser in a pub. Cost about a quid. Saw the folks. Talked about the neighbours caravan (really). Felt the urge to run back to London within about 5 minutes.

The problem with running from something is that it's not authentic. I fear ending up being back in Liverpool, but in the Liverpool of the early 1980s when unemployment was rife, my parents were screaming at each other and I was writing terrible poetry in my room.

But there isn't any chance of that. What I need to do is understand what role Liverpool plays in the narrative of my life, and acknowledge it.

My Mum was telling me a story about working in the libraries in Merseyside and Cheshire - places of great polarised wealth and opportunity. (Not the libraries so much as the counties). Bear with me on this one.

She was talking about serving the public and everyone was commenting on what a pain it must be. And I made a joke about some of the old bats that come in and say 'Gorrany Catherine Cooookson?' in a big Scouse accent, (cos I used to work there too and I met them). And my Mum laughed but then said 'Yes but I'd prefer them to the posh rude ones' and told us about a middle class woman who refused to pay her fine and was all rude.

And there it is. That's the bit of Liverpool's narrative that stays with me. I'd prefer that too, like my Mum. I'm on the side of the poor ones, the ones who'd give you a cup of tea with their last tea bag. The ones who like Catherine Cooookson.

I don't want wealth if it means I've done nothing in my life to help the underdog. I'm on their side, like it or not. It is part of my narrative, part of me.

And if that doesn't stay with me meaningfully throughout life, if I don't struggle to do something about it, then I've failed utterly.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Positive Psychology - 1

One of the key positive psychology interventions is to pay a gratitude visit. Whereby, you write a letter to someone who helped you explaining how they helped you and then deliver it in person and read it out.

So far, so Californian.

Anyway, I decided to try it out. It only occurred to me when Martin Seligman - the Father of Positive Psychology - sat behind me just before lunch. When the session finished I turned round and said something like 'Marty, can I pay you a brief gratitude visit?' and then launched into a speech about how his book, Authentic Happiness, essentially reconceptualised my understanding of what happiness is, and in so doing changed my whole life.

I would love to say that it was great but in truth it was just slightly awkward, probably for both of us. I think I'd prefer to be miserable.

Does positive psychology need translating for a British audience?

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Positive Psychology Conference

Last month I attended the Positive Psychology Conference at UEL, Docklands. it was an interesting day, with the following speakers:

Prof Martin Seligman, Authentic happiness: the pursuit of fulfilment at work
Dr Susan David, Yale University, Evidence-based emotional intelligence
Dr Alex Linley, Centre for Applied Positive Psychology, Leveraging business performance through strengths
Dr Gurnek Bains, YSC Consultants, The power of meaning in organisations
Dr Ilona Boniwell, University of East London, Positive psychology in business - from potential to action

More of the day follows. There are two observations I always have to make about positive psychology:

Its central premise, that happiness is so much more than an absence of unhappiness and that it therefore deserves scientific research, is beyond doubt.

But it then struggles to explain how to apply this practically, in either organisational, scholastic, political or even everyday settings.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Money and meaning

I spent Friday evening surrounded by Russian models drinking champagne in one of London's 'top nightspots' with a friend of mine who picked up the bill for the whole night (which must have been about £4k!). In America, one of my finest friends has just purchased this car and is enjoying leaving various people (i.e. men) for dead at traffic lights.

Meanwhile, I have given up my job and am carefully watching the pennies as I pursue what I consider a more 'meaningful' life.

One might suspect that these two versions of the good life are dichotomous. Indeed, a whole branch of psychology is now devoted to proving that happiness does not equal wealth. Bizarrely, given my situation, increasingly I disagree. And AC Grayling, the philosopher disagrees too.

The good life is all about identifying what you are on earth for. This is not some unified version of goodness, but a complex, sometimes contradictory set of factors unique to each individual. Money has a place in this, because it buys freedom, choices and things that reinforce our identity.

All I am arguing is that this is the right identity being reinforced. I think pursuing and gaining wealth does make us happy. But I am arguing that pursuing wealth is unlikely to be enough by itself to be happy. Just as going off to work with orphans is unlikely, by itself, to make many of us happy.

It's a question of thinking about what you want from life, prioritising your time around your own values, creating a balance reflective of your goals, utilising your highest strengths, and taking the time to think about what you might want to look back on when you're on your death bed.

It isn't duty versus pleasure, but working out how to integrate these concepts which truly makes for 'a good life'.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Right brain left brain

Not convinced by this, but interesting nonetheless. I can't make her go anti clockwise and can't even imagine that anyone can - but see what you think.

http://www.news.com.au/perthnow/story/0,21598,22492511-5005375,00.html

Also, from the description I am definitely more left brain, yet it insists I am more right brain. How about you?

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Multiple Careers

Back to examining the key elements of career decision. The last exercise was about judging jobs by the criteria one has already identified.

I recommend constructing your own, as described here, but you can do it with special psychometric tests too. I remember I did one and my ideal job came up as..... Dental Hygienist. Not that that's a bad job...it was just, well, I hadn't really considered it before.

Second was Counselling Psychologist, so not all wrong.

When I constructed my own spreadsheet 'Writer' consistently came up with the highest scores. Counselling Psychologist came second. Personal trainer was third and journalist and then academic researcher 4th and 5th. Using my number 1 choice as a benchmark, I put my current job (management consultant) through the test and it came out as 75% of the benchmark.

Of course, the problem is that giving it all up to be just a writer is somewhat difficult with perhaps not a great gain to be made (25%). And what about my wish to do all the other things on my list, which also all finished ahead of consulting?

This is where the idea of multiple careers comes in. We are on the home stretch.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Jonny and the art of imperfection

Jonny Wilkinson has only just become a hero. When I say only just, I mean this year, 2007.

How on earth can I say such a thing about England's greatest ever rugby player? Because perfection inspires in a different way to excellence.

In 2003, Jonny changed English sport by beating the Australians, in Australia, thereby fulfilling his own talent as well as that of the England team itself. This was the fruit of Jonny's perfectionism - he is the most dedicated professional the world has ever seen, who will not settle for second best. His dedication to perfect goal kicking is legendary. He would take 99 kicks in practice, and if the 100th was wrong, he'd start again.

Notoriously, Jonny's is a driven, troubled mind. He will not sleep if he does not do well. He cannot live with himself if he makes a mistake. Therefore, he will pratice endlessly to control what happens on the pitch. And til 2003, he never really did make a mistake. He was driven, by fear of imperfection, to be perfect. And he pretty much was.

But, as the great Simon Barnes once wrote, it was as though in exchange for that winning kick in Sydney, Jonny entered into a Faustian pact in which he would never play properly again. Since that time he has played 17 matches in 4 years. He has injured both knees, his back, his kidney, his feet, his neck, and if I remember correctly, his bicep. I think he threw in a hernia operation too.

It is Jonny's response to this that marked the beginning of his hero status. Because Jonny
showed the same dedication, determination and guts to come back from all those injuries. For someone who worked so tirelessly to eradicate the flaws from his game, he must have begun to doubt himself, and realised that fate was his master after all.

But he never gave up. Instead he came back again and again and again. He even made it to the world cup final.

But now here's the real lesson.

He is not the player he once was. He just isn't as good. His kicking is not as good. He missed crucial kicks against both Australia and France and gave too much possession away. He is also in a team which is nowhere near as good as 2003.

The moment Jonny became a hero is not when he was perfect - kicking England to victory and never making a mistake. No, Jonny because a hero when he started missing kicks, yet STILL carried on doing his best for the team. And Jonny's best still wins games for his team, partly because he is still good, but partly because he inspires his team mates.

Sure, it must be great having a perfect player in your side. But this doesn't inspire those around you in the same way. In terms of teamwork, in terms of all being in it together, of the sheer value of having a man such as this in your side, I suspect England would take this new, damaged Jonny.

This is now a Jonny Wilkinson who knew perfection, but who then fell short. Then without ego, he shrugged even that off, and set out once more do his best for his team.

I know many perfectionists, and I can be one too. But now's a good time to remember, Jonny's best can still be good enough, though it is not always. But he became truly inspirational when he became imperfect, and still kept trying.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Back to running!

I have been thinking about T's observations about running and cycling, and my own conclusion that it is essential to find a form of exercise that is comfortable and around which one can build a routine and a narrative for one's own exercise.

Cycling fulfils all those criteria for T, and that is great.

But I think T must also return to running. Let me explain my argument.

The problem is, I think, that what happens as we become unfit is that we lose control over our own body weight. As this happens, everything becomes more of an effort - standing up, sitting down, walking - and we feel more tired doing more and more mundane things. Age compounds the problem by introducing creaking joints. Brilliant.
Unless we counter this (seemingly inevitable) process, and regain control then we will never feel really fit ever again.

Logically, to counter one force you must resist with an equal force. The only way to regain control over one's own bodyweight is to control the weight of one's own body when exercising.
Running, yoga, or any exercise where your weight is unsupported and you are moving (like press ups), is essential to providing that challenge. When overweight, these are all unpleasant (believe me I know!).
Therefore, cycling can continue to form the basis of a fitness routine, but it will not do enough to counter the loss of control over one's own body weight, essentially because the bike helps you out. It is an excellent addition (or foundation) to fitness, but we all need to find at least 3 hours a week to challenge ourselves properly.
If T were a client, I would encourage a narrative that included running, however displeasing the prospect, balance work on the swiss ball, and yoga.
And if it's any consolation, I'll be doing exactly the same thing myself.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

A lesson...

Now, I'm sorry for gloating (I'm not really) but let's just take a nice long look at the attached:




















To those of you who don't follow rugby, Australia were huge and overhwhelming favourites, whose media and players had crowed all week about their superiority. How can one explain such a defeat of massive, overwhelming favourites?
Quite simply, psychology. Being the favourites, or being the better side is promising, but it is no more than that: a promise.

What life values is action. You'll see in those stats a stubborn refusal to yield to overwhelming inevitability (by England). Slowly, the thought must have been in Australia's mind: the pressure is actually on us, not them. Australia's media is a double edged sword.

Whenever I play sport I always try and pick out those who are either under pressure or feel pressure and just remind them of that fact, again and again. It's amazing what that can do. But you have to do that - make them think. You don't want them to feel they have nothing to lose. You want them to know they have everything to lose.

Australia play sport too often with a sense of adventure and freedom. Whenever England play them we should seek to turn that spirit into oppressive doubt and apprehension by reminding them of the expectation at home and the cost of failure. And last night, we did.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Seth Godin

Interesting blog this one. Here Seth writes about the power of blogs and marketing. Or rather, attracting people with the right mindset to the right place at the right time and then delivering your message.

The relativity of time

Another fascinating article by the consistently excellent Oliver Burkeman in yesterday's Guardian.

Friday, 28 September 2007

There is an option

When I was growing up, unemployment was a real and genuine terror. Boys from the Blackstuff was horribly real and I remember how grinding the sense of poverty was. It takes a while to un-learn that jobs are not something to be grateful for, no matter what they involve.

But un-learn it you must.

Because life has become - for most people who'll ever read this - less about survival and more about choice than ever before. Most people now have a choice, but convincing yourself that you can do work that you love takes some doing.

Maslow once linked happiness to following our 'true natures'.

Are you letting your true nature guide your life? Because if not, there is a choice.

And at this point, I'd wholeheartedly recommend How to find the work you love, by Laurence Boldt. It may help convince you.

Monday, 24 September 2007

The Sound of Paper

Some time ago Laura wrote about the therapeutic effects of blogging. I believe in this too, and enjoyed the Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron. Here's an interesting post on the possible science behind this.

Visualisation

Friends who I've worked on this spreadsheet with have sometimes struggled with it. I think it's about imagining, in detail, what your life looks like when it revolves around a job you love. Think about every single detail. Describe the hours, dress, colleagues, pay, surroundings.

Think about the job itself - the content of the career, or the subject. Do you need to feel passionate about your work?

Then think about what you will actually do. Meetings, phone sales, travelling, research, analysis - what do you like doing? What would an ideal breakdown of these activities look like in a pie chart?

Now think about hygiene factors: pay, pension, freebies, childcare etc. How important are these to you? How much do you want to earn? And how much do you need to earn? Work both out.

How about where the job can be done? Would it mean being in one place, or is it flexible? Do you want to travel abroad and would it enable this? Is working from home important?

There may be other features, like focusing on one subject (being an expert) or many, or a job with high levels of autonomy, or teamwork, or integrity, or its ability to combine with something else? Maybe you really want to work for yourself, get a promotion or manage a team?

And finally how does it fit your strengths you've already outlined?

Work out, in detail a series of criteria which essentially describe your perfect career, and the life it enables. Write them down and weight them according to their importance - try it!

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Martin Seligman

Another interlude, but the brilliant psychologist and creator of Positive Psychology, Martin Selgiman, is in London and speaking at the following events:

http://www.bps.org.uk/lhc/forthcoming_events_lhc.cfm

http://www.uel.ac.uk/positiveconference/

Getting specific

Let's assume that you are through the worst of limbo, and now are at least doing something different or trying something new. Let us also assume that you have a good idea of what your strengths are, as difficult as these seem to be to act on. Finally, let's assume that exercise is providing you with sufficient control over your life to feel as though your actions do have an effect on the world.

You now have the tools to get a little bit more specific about your potential career. It is difficult to provide generic advice to such an individual decision. Even 'do the thing you love' would not work for everyone I know.

But an excellent piece of advice for me was to create a personal framework with which to judge potential jobs. This framework is a list of criteria you value in your job. This could be money, hours, ability to work where you want, autonomy, ability to have flexible hours, clear promotion structure. But it should also cover the type of work you aspire to. Mine included elements of creativity, one to one work, and the chance to be an expert in something (rather than being a generalist as a management consultant). List these criteria in a spreadhseet and weight them. On the left, list the jobs that interest you and score them against your criteria.

The end results look like this:
















But this is not the end of your career decision. It is just the beginning.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Step 4: recognising limbo

The brilliant Oliver Burkeman wrote in this week's Guardian about self help gurus who always talk about their 'lowest point'. The point at which they pick themselves up, brush themselves down and start all over again. They recognise that things can only get better, and then LO! then they do.

My problem with that is that I knew I was unhappy, but was also aware that things could be much, much worse than they were. I had a good, high paying, high status job, a flat in London (miracle!), nice friends, lovely holidays...could I really complain about a lack of fulfilment?

Yet in the meantime I hated my job so much I would see Friday nights as just being closer to Monday mornings. I could barely speak to my family about my job and got quite depressed.

But the last thing I felt like doing was risking all the good things in my life to try and get a bit happier. This is what I mean by limbo. If I had had a real problem I'd have solved it. But I had no idea how to deal with this.

So, before you get out of limbo, you have to recognise it. But how?

It's clearly difficult to generalise but from my experience:
1. Listen carefully to how others complain about work. Do you hate your job more than they do?
2. Do you spend time straining to avoid work?
3. Do you hate the idea of being your boss?
4. Do you feel embarrassed when you tell others what you do?
5. Would you be disappointed with your life if you were to die tomorrow, doing what you do?

And yet, do you feel paralysed by the thought of doing something else? Like you have too much to lose, or don't know what you would do anyway?

If the answer is 'yes' to any or all of these questions, it may be time to accept you're in limbo. And that this is as dangerous as the 'lowest point' all those self help gurus waffle on about.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

recap

So, let's have a recap. The important things in a difficult career decision have been, so far, to focus on one's strengths. You don't need to do anything with those strengths to begin with, just work out what they are. And think about them a bit.

Then it's a question of moving. This is both literal and metaphorical. Firstly, move physically. This must be in something which you can fit in to your day, is comfortable (i.e. does not cause you pain) and which gets you out of the house. Second, move metaphorically. Do something. Take a course. Start a blog or a diary. Go to talks. Read books. Make a plan or start something which may or may not succeed.

This is important if you find yourself in limbo and unsure what to do. The answer is 'something'.

But what then?

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Old Photos

A pause in my quest to examine my own career change decision-making process (see last few posts).

I was watching Who do you think you are? this evening, with John Hurt. He was talking with his brother about his Great Grandmother. It was fascinating as they speculated on what type of woman she was all form a grainy black and white photo.

I love old photos, and I am coming across a few of them as I slowly piece together my family tree, with my Gran. The one below shows a picture of my Great Grandfather and Great Grandmother and in the middle, in his long baggy shorts, my Grandfather.



I love this photo. They all look happy, and spirited.






Old photos can tell us a surprising amount. In a famous study, researchers at UCalifornia studied 141 class photos from a girls' school yearbook in 1960. They differentiated between 'real' (Duchenne) smiles and the 'fake' smiles like you get on airlines (Pan American smiles).

All but three of the women in the yearbook were smiling, and half were Duchenne smilers. All the women were subsequently contacted at ages 27, 43 and 52 and asked about their marriages and life satisfaction.
Astonishingly, Duchenne smilers were more likely to be happily married, and to report significantly higher levels of life satisfaction than the Pan American smilers.
Something to think about when you look at your own school photos.

Monday, 12 February 2007

...and Cycling!

Thanks to T for firstly drawing attention to Bloom blog. It's always interesting to hear how others describe what we're doing and how they interpret it. Thanks T.

He also points out that running isn't the be all and end all of exercising.

The key appears to be something that;s active but is easy to do. The absence of pain is a pretty understandable pre-requisite!

He also draws attention to the sheer practicality of cycling to and from work. But the most interesting feature to me was that he drew attention to a feeling of 'superiority' of getting to work in this way. I can really relate to this when running (ridiculously I pride myself on never getting overtaken and on the fact I run every day). The notion of identity and exercise is something I hope Bloom will focus on.

If we can get people to view themselves positively when exercising, as opposed to feeling uncomfortable, embarrassed, or less able than others, then I think we'll make progress. Incidentally, I think gyms often reinforce these negative feelings, with their sheer lack of fun, perhaps especially for women?

The motivating power of identity is even more evident, given that neither T nor I mentioned goals, even though I know both of us are naturally motivated by goals.

So our hypothesis could be: if we can pesuade someone that a particular activity is congruent with their personal identity, we are more likely to persist from day to day with that activity. The more we persist, the more we reinforce our identity.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Step 3(b): Running

I haven't always loved running. I used to hate it, but I forced myself to go. Now I love it, mainly because I lost weight by eating and stretching better. I also finally admitted to myself that it doesn't just keep my body in trim, but my mind too. Running is as necessary now as my first cup of tea of the day. (Essential).

Running is a time when I can think, de-stress, fight the blues, get fit, get more energy, feel closer to nature, solve problems, become creative and induce post-run euphoria. If that came in a pill we'd all be on them.

I think for all of our clients at Bloom, we will recommend some form of exercise as essential parts of a new life. And the advice will be to incorporate it into every day, rather than have that 'must go 3 times a week, oh I'll go tomorrow' thing. Every day. Even if it's to the end of the road and back. Don't give your mind space to argue.

If you're slipping into limbo, or if you don't know where to move to or in what direction, run somewhere. Anywhere will be fine. Walking's fine too.

And then just keep going.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Step 3: Moving (on)

If you are in limbo, and almost feel like you are paralysed as I did, what should you do?
The answer, for me at least, was this: move. It doesn't matter where you move, or how, but move. Do something. For now, it can be anything.

A great friend and I were remarking on the following quote, by Goethe:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

And I have to say, I really think I believe this. I am not ruling out rational thought or considered action. But if you are genuinely feeling lost and rudderless, then doing something is always better than doing nothing.

And this is one of the few things I did right. The one thing I kept doing when I was lost, was exercise. And in turn this gave me the energy to keep trying things. So, the bar in Bow failed before we'd even thought about a location, but we did try. And from it, I knew I really wanted to start something myself. And I had the energy to start my psychology degree, even when I was dreading it, and had no idea what to do with it. And from that I met my business partner.

You may feel lost and weary. If so, I urge you to gather your strength and courage.

And begin something.


Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Limbo

I hated my job, but at a low level of hatred. It was never bad enough for me to take a bold decision. So I carried on, spiralling into the following loop:

1. I hate this, I must move on
2. Move on to do what?
3. Something to do with my strengths...
4. What sort of thing do you have in mind?
5. Erm. Psychologist?
6. That's 5 years full time study! Do you really want to be poor?
7. But I can't do this for the rest of my life!
8. So what do you want to do?
9. Erm. Start my own business?
10. IN WHAT???

This state of limbo lasted 3 years, during which I took two sabbaticals to 'find myself' (I found myself mainly watching sport and drinking), got fat, tried to set up a property company, lost a deposit on a flat in Hungary, tried to set up a cricket coaching company, battled mild depression, and even tried to set up a bar in Bow.

Each time I looked into psychology I felt too old to change, too scared of losing all my money and too short of ideas to make it work. I was lost. I was in limbo.

But it turns out limbo was my lowest point.

Monday, 5 February 2007

Step 2: understanding happiness

So, where was I? I was running through the steps which brought me to pluck up all my courage, leave my nice sensible job in consulting, and set up a new business.

Having thought about my strengths for the first time, I felt little the wiser. I had no real idea of what 'Curiosity and interest in the world' actually meant in practice.

Reality seemed to be this: my firm were paying me a lot of money to be averagely good at a job I hated. I was raised on Boys from the Blackstuff - this was something to be grateful for, not complain about.

But because I was so unhappy my subconscious began to tolerate the idea that happiness may be as important as status and even security.

And Seligman's argument slowly took hold in my mind:

happiness is found doing the things you are best at, every day, in a cause you believe in.

Now, I am not claiming this is rocket science.

But how many people actually do this? Do you?

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Strengths...

So I did the tests in http://www.authentichappiness.org/ and ended up with my 5 top strengths. I have subsequently retaken the tests roughly every year.

Three are ever-present:

1. Curiosity and interest in the world
2. Judgment, critical thinking and open-mindedness
3. Social intelligence (i.e. awareness of others)

A fourth and fifth, nearly ever-present are:

4. Fairness, equity and justice.
5. Leadership

And then, just as I expected enlightenment from above to be upon me, and for all to be made clear, I thought: erm, so what?

Saturday, 3 February 2007

The first step

The first step was reading Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman. I tell a lie. The first step (step 0) was subconscious, as something in the title of Authentic Happiness made me take it down from the bookshelf to read the back cover.

I had equated happiness with freedom at university. Autonomy. Not worrying about money. Money had been very tight when I grew up, and the cause of daily rows between my parents. Happiness was something that came with avoiding that.

But Authentic Happiness began the long process of changing that perception. First, it argued that psychology had always been aimed at the mentally unwell. It was focused on getting those people who felt -7 to -2. But what about the people who were +2? How do you get them to +7?

Second, it argues that happiness is indisputably not about money, but about friends, family, hobbies, religion, marriage. So what? I thought. But one more thing....

'Authentic Happiness' is found in doing the things that you love and are good at, in a cause you believe in. This may be common currency, but it was new to me. It was a step change in my thinking about what a 'good' life was and how to attain it.

I needed to think carefully about what I was good at, before anything else. So what was I good at? Like many people, I didn't really know. This is where the website helped:

http://www.authentichappiness.org/

Decision making

Forgive me for a moment, but I am going to pause a while by this gatepost to sound a little...how do I put this? Smug.

You see, I am feeling so relieved about making this decision to leave consultancy and to start my own business. It feels right. I feel more adventurous, and I do feel as though I won't fail.

But only 6 months ago I was still wracked with uncertainty. Despite having taken even more time off work (this time to study psychology) I had not worked out what to do. All the options in psychology seemed as poor a fit as consulting was. Every day, I fought depression, mainly through running, but there seemed no way out. And this had been going on for 5 years.

I am fascinated about the decision making process that got me from there to this gatepost.

So, if you will forgive me, I am going to try and piece it together bit by bit. I have already alluded to the importance of new friends (and old in some rare cases) but what else was important?

I am hoping that by examining this process there are some common elements that may help others.

Friday, 2 February 2007

A leap!

Well, I finally did it. I resigned from my job as a management consultant and am currently working my notice. What a huge relief that is...

It still feels uncertain, but I have convinced myself that this is what I have to do, to take a risk. There really is no going back.

It's been interesting this process. As I said in my last post, for me decision making is about moving inches over a long, agonising period of time. This has taken me 5 years and has involved a complete change in the sort of person I am. What I eat, drink, think, who I speak to, what I read.

I have spoken far more to people who encourage the change in the past year, and far less to the people who don't understand it (i.e. my old friends). It's like searching out propaganda.

I wonder if this is a necessary part of making a change? And can my old friendships be sustained?

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Telling the story

It's funny the things that sustain you in crisis. I have been talking to friends for some months about my intention to leave consultancy and set up my own business.

It has been like playing a role...and I tried the role of psychologist. And no one laughed. In fact people took it worryingly seriously. Go for it, they said.

So I carry on talking about it. Telling the story of my new life. I introduced myself to someone as a psychologist. And everyone says the same thing. Go for it.

When taken one by one, my cycnical brain discounts these views easily. But as the moment of decision nears, and my apprehension grows stronger, the support keeps coming.

I tell more people. 'I want to do something worthwhile'. More people support me. Go for it.

Decision-making for me is about inching towards something. It is a painful, drawn out process. You need people's honesty, above all. But to get it, you have to tell them your story. Act the part. Try on the clothes of a new direction. See how they fit.

Mine seem to fit fine.

I am listening to The Streets now, and I think I'll resign from my job tomorrow.

Its the end of something I did not want to end
Beginning of hard times to come
But something that was not meant to be is done
and this is the start of what was.


Saturday, 27 January 2007

Careful what you wish for

I've been offered a really great opportunity which would be a great career move...if the thought of doing it didn't make me feel sick.

So now I am in the position of having to turn it down, without being able to give a proper reason, as I don't want to resign yet.

So tomorrow is a big day. Interestingly, literally everyone I have spoken to has just said 'go for it, just leave'. Everyone is feeling very cavalier!

This was matched by a phone in on Radio 5 today. It's funny how you only hear about the people who left their jobs and 'it was the best thing they ever did'. What about the ones who failed? Who yearn for the old security, the bad jokes, the biscuits in the tin. A place to go.

So I am feeling a bit suspicious, and a bit scared. I'm at the edge of a precipice. After tomorrow, I have less power to go back. As a champion hedger of bets, that feels wrong.

Thursday, 25 January 2007

A surprise

So having moaned about the lack of interaction at my office, I was sitting at my desk the very next day getting stressed about something appropriately worthless and IT-related.

A woman who I didn't know came to sit next to me and after a while of me sighing theratrically, she said 'would you like some chocolate drops?'

Her voice pierced the silence and tension of the open plan office and startled me. However, we then struck up a conversation (which felt awkward at first) in which it turned out she knew someone who could help me with my current project.

Buoyed, I then had to break away and join a long teleconference. The teleconference was long and boring and quite frustrating. By the time I had finished (it was over an hour long) the woman - Hilary - had left for the day.

But when I looked down I saw an amazing thing - a silent gesture of solidarity.

A handful of chocolate drops left on my desk.










Sunday, 21 January 2007

Drifting away

I work in a place where you arrive at work and sit down, plug your laptop in and rarely say hello to your neighbour.

It suddenly struck me that this is one of the most depressing features of my job.

When you sneeze no one says bless you. You eat at your desk for lunch. Make tea for one.

The other thing I have noticed after a gap of a few months is that I work in a place where people brag about how many hours they work. This week I have listened to 5 different people talking about working through the weekend - til 10pm on Saturday and into Sunday on some pointless bid.

I know what you have to do to progress in consultancy. I understand the culture. It says 'I am a machine, dedicated to my work and I cannot be distracted'. And I know what the correct response is in this situation - you nod appreciatively and tell a war story of your own.

But I've stopped doing that now and I just smile politely and say nothing.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Consulting...part 2

Sorry but this is what I'm talking about.

I dare you to make it your My space welcome music.

Monday, 15 January 2007

Consulting

I am due to resign from my job as a management consultant in...44 days.

Why, I hear you ask? Well I don't actually. Whenever I tell people I'm a consultant at a party I can see their brain reel in horror, as their eyes scan the horizon to search for a way out. Or maybe that's just my small talk.

But seriously, it's highly paid, lots of perks, full of intelligent people, lots of variety and one challenge after another. What's not to like?

Well, given that neither you or I have got 4 hours to run through the whole list I thought I'd summarise part of it from despair.com's brilliant range of demotivators: