Saturday, 17 February 2007


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


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


So I did the tests in 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:

Decision making

Forgive me for a moment, but I am going to pause a while by this gatepost to sound a 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?