Eyes Up #4 – Believing you’re a success when you’re not the best

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Our tendency in life is to measure ourselves against those we see as being the “best” – those who are number 1, those getting attention for their achievements from others either publicly or in our own circles at home and work.  Us women in particular are our own harshest critics, rarely prepared to look objectively at ourselves and constantly comparing all aspects of our lives with others, often with a very negative slant.  Our cultural upbringing seems to deem it inappropriate to play down our achievements and skills – we don’t want to be seen to blow our own trumpets, and talking about things we know we’re good at seems boastful.

 

This goes beyond basic self confidence to not only how we measure ourselves but whether we truly believe we have been successful. I was involved in elite sport from the age of 18, playing in an U21 national side and then in the senior reserve side for several years.  I trained hard, played hard, and harboured longstanding ambitions to run on just once for the senior national side – something I never achieved.  In my mind, I’ve always seen this as a failure as my final goal was never reached – and since moving countries where no one knows my background, it is something I rarely mention or discuss.

 

It wasn’t until my family mentioned proudly to my kids that I had represented my country, that I saw things in a different light.  My focus had been on achieving the elusive goal of getting a spot, just once, in that national team.  It was a great stretch goal, but not achieving it didn’t mean my sporting career was not a success.  I played at that level for over 5 years, whilst working as a graduate in an investment bank and completing my accounting qualification.  I trained late in the often frosty evenings, practicing skills, fitness, strength training, battled a run of injuries – I always felt I could have done more, but not many of my work contemporaries were running 800m reps at 9pm in the middle of winter!  On the flip side – very few of my fellow athletes were in such demanding jobs – they were students, trainee teachers with ample vacations and more flexible hours.  And the most important factor was, I was not the best player, the most talented, the fastest or the strongest.  I was very good – but not quite good enough for that number 1 team.

 

So what have I learnt?  My sporting career was a success, just not against the harsh benchmark I set myself.  I learnt a lot about practice, hard work, juggling priorities, and working in a team.  But my biggest takeaway was that I have the ability to be a leader.  My favourite memories from those days are from my university side, which I captained to the national championship.  We had no coach, so strategy, team selection, game day tactics and motivation were all down to me.  We came back from a several goal half time deficit to win the Grand Final in extra time – as well as scoring 3 crucial goals myself, I truly felt like I had personally turned the team around.

 

I’ve found myself dipping back into the feelings generated by that day many times – savouring what success felt like, but also recalling the tougher side to leadership, taking risks on selecting the team, having hard conversations with those who didn’t make it into the line up, and how vulnerable I felt trying to motivate the team when we were in a losing position– followed by how sweet it was when we were, for one moment, truly number 1 – undeniably successful in our small corner of the world.

 

This experience has served me well over the years, and influenced me greatly in my actions when managing teams and making decisions.  I’m still not the best, whatever that looks like – but I can continue to be successful if I build on my strengths and experience going forward.

I’d love to hear comments and feedback on the definition of success!  Comment on the blog or on twitter @eyesup2014.

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Eyes Up #3 – Life is like a box of chocolates…..

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If you’ve seen the movie Forrest Gump, you’ll smile as you remember the line “My Momma always said, Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

As a control freak, my advice would be “look at the inside of the lid Forrest, you’ll see exactly what you’re getting, no surprises”.  My rational side says don’t take the risk, do your research, consider your choice, look for your favourite first, and so on.

But this approach, whilst “safe”, misses the mark – unless you have a serious food allergy, ANY chocolate is a fabulous treat – and there is the chance you may be surprised by trying something new and finding you really love it.

At some time in our lives, it seems most of us stop taking risks and stick to what we know and are comfortable with.  Of course, I’ve encouraged my kids to “try things” when I’ve considered it appropriate – try this fish, or a different vegetable, a new sport or a new musical instrument; their privileged upbringing allows them many opportunities.  It’s easy to discuss how stepping outside our comfort zone – just a little – has benefits at home and work.  But what happens when life serves up things we didn’t plan for and can’t control?  Serious illness, accidents, redundancies, relationship breakdowns, financial problems.  These things have not been packaged up and delivered with a bow from Cadbury online; they happen to ordinary people we all know each and every day, often out of the blue.

This is the point where I think Momma Gump has it right.  Life is unpredictable; you can plan and try to control what you can, but as Forrest’s story shows, eventually amazing things can happen as a result of even tragic events.  In my case, the movie wasn’t enough – when crisis hit me hard I needed several well qualified medical practitioners, some medication and some very good friends to get my mind to realise the glass is ALWAYS half full.  But once that realisation really hit home, it has become incredibly powerful in all areas of my life.

Growing up in England I was hardly a water baby – once living in Sydney, I was at best suspicious of the surf – by no means comfortable in the water.  But my newly liberated, post medicated self was persuaded a few years ago to take up the challenge to try surfing.  Totally ridiculous you might think – but that first day getting pounded in the white water unleashed a previously hidden surf chick, and struggling bruised (and bleeding!) from the shallows that first day I had unexpectedly found a new passion.

If you’d told me even 5 years ago what my life would look like today, I would have chuckled politely, rolled my eyes and shown you to the door.  Sure, I’ve been to some dark places, and challenges exist very day – but life is surprising, delightful and full of unexpected joy – largely because I no longer look at the inside of the chocolate box lid, I keep my eyes up and just dive on in.

Eyes Up #2 – Why I must learn to network like a man

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As we move to increase the representation of women in senior management and on boards, deep and supportive networks are held out as being one of the keys to long term success. Networks provide ongoing mentors, sponsors and above all opportunities if we’re well positioned. But recently I was left wondering why I find it so unnatural to network like a man.

I attended a panel discussion held at work on the topic of workplace flexibility in professional services.  The panel comprised female senior and managing partners in large law firms and consulting practices, and it was surprising to find that I already knew 2 of the panelists and another attendee from an external firm – because our sons have all played in the same cricket team at school.  Whilst it was lovely to say hello and chat, it felt very unusual and slightly uncomfortable to see these people out of their usual context, discussing topics which we wouldn’t usually touch on.  I came to the conclusion that my natural bias is to put my network into boxes – work, school, home, family, sports – because my subconscious dictates that it is inappropriate for these things to overlap in any way.

Thinking back, I recalled a school cocktail party for my eldest son’s year 1 class.  My then husband, himself in professional services, embarrassed me by discussing his firm’s abilities with the host, an accomplished investment banker – a conversation that ended with exchange of contact details and a promise to follow up.  But why was I embarrassed by this? Both parties were happy to chat briefly about how they might do business together – indeed the host took me aside later to mention how impressed he was with the approach – and the subsequent follow up resulted in new business being transacted.  But to my subconscious, such approaches should only be made in a business context, and I was left feeling that such discussions were out of place in that social setting.

As working parents, we end up with networking opportunities that spread far and wide – workplaces, clients, suppliers, family, friends, neighbours, school/childcare, sporting teams, the list goes on…. but as women, it feels like we naturally divide these groups up into neat segments of our lives.  On closer consideration, I think I’ve used this as an unconscious coping mechanism to keep my mind focused on the task at hand – when I’m on the cricket sidelines I should be watching my son and only making casual chit chat with everyone else, I would need explicit permission to discuss anything even vaguely related to work or career.

There is only one conclusion – massive opportunities exist to expand my network into more meaningful areas – as most men would do naturally.   All that is required is to have the courage to strike up conversations on topics other than our kids’ teachers, the weather, our holiday plans or the latest renovation – and see what unfolds.

Starting this blog is part of my journey to invite discussion and feedback on these types of topics – so please follow my blog via this site or Twitter @eyesup2014 – and get in on the conversation!

Eyes Up #1 – When is the right time to say NO?

no-68481_1920Why the blog I hear you ask? I’m a 40 something working parent with things to share. But this is not about my story – although I’m sure bits of my personal journey will come out along the way – this blog is here because the world is a place where how people relate to each other matters, and by sharing thoughts, ideas and feedback, even in this fast food format, we can be better equipped to make choices in life we are comfortable with, whatever they may be. So don’t spend your time looking down and pondering your toes, keep your Eyes Up and look around you – sometimes you’ll see things that will challenge, surprise, inspire and delight you!

I’d like to start my first entry with a Bible Quote from Ecclesiastes:
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, … a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance….” and so on – to which I would add, there is a time to say NO. The ability to say NO to things in our working life has long been touted as a required skill for time management, but being a glass half full type of person, saying NO has always seemed to summon up overly negative vibes for me. So is it possible to say NO in a positive way?

Saying NO to things can make you feel in control and get people’s attention fast – but in my experience it can also lead to people avoiding or going around you, as well as seeing you in a negative light – which in a work and home environment can lead to frustration and resentment for all involved. Hence we tend to lean towards bargaining rather than the outright NO, for example – I’ll handle that query for you if you ensure my document is approved, or you can have ice cream for dessert if you eat all your vegetables.

But saying NO to things can yield surprising results – for me, saying NO to driving my car to work every day not only produced cost savings but gave me time to tune out and rest on the way to and from work; my kids learnt more independence in travelling by bus and working out their own way home from various places.

Why is this type of NO a win? Used in this way, NO is not a time management tool – and I’m a big advocate of positive time management – but in this case, saying NO was a valid choice. The choice had pros and cons, was well considered, and still contained flexibility – if I chose to, I CAN still drive my car to work – for example when one of my kids needs to be somewhere before the bus can reasonably get him there, or when I need to be home at a very specific time.

So I consider saying NO not as a power play, but as a valid, positive, choice when exercised at the right moment.

I’d love to hear your views on using NO – and get comments and feedback on Eyes Up – so post or get in touch!