Chapter 3: Street fighter (Hadouken)

I think Street Fighter was the last game I played seriously in my middle school gaming days and MY OH MY did I love it. Maybe that’s why I kept thinking of a street fight analogy for the next step of my plan.  That, along with watching Brene Brown’s great TED talk where she talks about being in a ‘year-long street fight’ before truly coming to terms with her work on vulnerability and shame.

Of note?  She was in a street fight with herself.  So was I.

In my experience, it’s true that it gets harder before it gets easier.  I was about to enter the dip.  Yep, back to the ol’ Seth Godin references.  This graph nails it for me.

the dip

The dip felt like a street fight, complete with hadouken projectiles.

Ryu_Hadouken_sprite

That’s Ryu sending hadoukens my way. 

Leaving my position was both easier and harder than I thought it would be. I wrote my director a long letter explaining my decision – a short, form-letter resignation letter didn’t feel right to me.  I sincerely appreciated the opportunity, got to travel, learn a ton and accomplished a fair bit in the year I was there. He handled the news with grace and understanding and we got to work on filling the gap. I re-learned that it’s better to make way for someone else than to try to force a fit.  Through reshuffling some territories and responsibilities, my decision to pursue the next thing for me created jobs for 3 younger salespeople.  Win-win, the outcome I’m chasing. I had the opportunity to work with 2 of the young men who were going to replace me and it was a true honour – they’re both very early in their careers and total movers and shakers.

I was sad to leave the people I worked with, though I knew this position wasn’t the right fit for me.  I was a little sad to leave my comfortable routines too. It was also hard because of the moments of self-doubt, of asking myself whether the critics would be right.

People did say the expected things – ‘you’ve been moving jobs a lot’ and ‘are you sure you really gave it a go?’ and the ‘you gotta give it 2 years’.  Those comments were a bit exhausting as I knew they weren’t true for me and I was already tired from being in the ‘dip’ aka street fight.  I was unsure how much to justify or explain my decisions to others.  I’m still unsure on this, though I’m landing at the conclusion that my response should come after assessing the intention of the comments.  Sometimes people (me included) have our good intentions come out as a challenge or negativity to others simply because we care about them. Another important reminder for me.

I mentioned this in the last post, though I knew I hadn’t really been moving jobs that much. I’d primarily been working in short-term contracts, and while I wasn’t necessarily following a linear career path, I knew why I had made all of the decisions I had. I was also 100% certain I gave it a go. And the 2 years comment just seemed completely arbitrary.  I’m wholly unsure why you should stay in something (job, relationship) that you know isn’t right for you to fulfill some sort of obligation to society – as long you know you did the hard work of assessing why it wasn’t a fit for you and how you ended up there.  It seems like learning something from the experience is more important than counting the days.

I listed my property, which has since sold.  Also hard.  I love that place, though I’m ready to make space for the next thing.

I bought tickets to travel southeast Asia.  I had already set the funds for this aside. I found loving places for my dog and cat (and I CANNOT WAIT to see them soon).

I got on the plane. I made it. I even had a lead for a remote project management gig with a great organization (Simple Square) come through after I arrived in Asia.  This was great because it appeased my pragmatic mind to ensure that I: a) have income coming in on the trip and more importantly, when I come home, and b) am still challenging myself to learn and grow from people whose work I admire.  It helps mitigate my risk, making my leap more of a calculated one.

This is me the day after we landed. A reminder that we can do anything but not everything. 

I’ve learned a lot on this journey so far – a lot about other places and mostly, a lot about myself.  I’ve visited 4 countries and 12 cities – all with only a 28-L pack.  There have been a lot of magical and a lot of tiring moments – hanging out with rescued elephants in a group of people from around the world, people trying to scam you over and over again because they know you’re a traveler, eating amazing food from street markets, waking up unable to breathe due to malaria meds (only taking those again if I actually GET malaria), scootering around the mountains of Northern Thailand, crashing a scooter coming down from one, touring the largest religious monument in the world, witnessing incredible poverty and injustice, and meeting resilient young people with very few resources who are working so, so hard.  A reminder of the importance of radical self ownership.

My word of the year = radical.

I was originally planning to be away for 6 months and decided to change that to 2.  I didn’t see all of southeast Asia, though I already have my next trip planned.  I’m heading home because I’m ready.  I’m eager to start the next chapter (and face the next dip).  I have a few opportunities to weigh and I’m not fully decided exactly which way I’m going to take it, though I have a framework for making this decision.

Nice to meet you, 2018.  Looking forward to getting to know you.

Chapter 2: Getting ready or getting ready to get ready? A skydiving preflight checklist

Checklists.  I love them. I recently audiobooked Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

Here’s an excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell’s review of the book:

Gawande thinks that the modern world requires us to revisit what we mean by expertise: that experts need help, and that progress depends on experts having the humility to concede that they need help.

Checklists (read: process) can help in a lot of ways.  Once you know where you’re going or what you need to do, it breaks down the goal or task into clear, executable, manageable steps.

2017 started with goals. Next was the checklist – how to get these done.

I personally find the thought of skydiving terrifying.  Heights…. yikes, I get dizzy even thinking about jumping out of a plane.  Which is why it’s the perfect analogy for what I was feeling.  I had no idea how these goals were going to turn out, but I knew I wanted them.  That made the thought of failing scary.  That told me I was on the right track.

In one of my business trips this year, I ended up in the city Bill lived in.  I asked him for lunch and he luckily happened to free on the day I’d be there, agreeing to meet.  I thanked him for the course in late 2016 and asked him to tell me the story of how he started his business.  I was on the edge of my seat.  Everyone’s story is different, which is precisely why I love hearing them.

His skill though, as a teacher of sales, is to ask the questions and soon he was asking me where I was at and what I wanted.  I told him.

He looked me in the eye (again) and asked if I was getting ready or getting ready to get ready.  I thought about that for a second.

A subtle, though critical difference.

I was… getting ready to get ready.

Shit.

Okay, back to the skydiving preflight checklist.  Time to get the plane in the air and get ready for the jump.

I still didn’t want to nail myself to rigid dates because that was one thing I was trying to work on, and there were some other factors rolling around in there.  Keeping an open mind to opportunities while simultaneously focusing on your goal can be a hard balancing act (side note: how did Dr. Seuss convey us so much wisdom in our childhood books and sometimes we still forget it?!)

Dr. Seuss

I like to keep busy, I love getting things done – though I also realized I had to make space for these new goals.  In the stories of every successful person I’ve read about, they’ve had something along the lines of ‘you can do anything, but not everything’.  I had to start saying no to more things.

Right.

Some of my terms were coming up on boards that I truly loved, but it was time to ask the difficult question of how much attention and time did I really have?  When I commit to something, I fully commit so I need to be able to have the resources (time and attention) to execute.  I’ve been training myself to see the silver lining in everything and in giving up my seat, I realized that while I’d be sad I’d no longer be contributing to these organizations in the same way, I was making space for others to contribute in their unique ways and that’s a great thing.  And there were of course other, smaller, ways I could continue to support these organizations.

So, now that the checklist was ready and I was knocking it off – no longer getting ready to get ready, but instead getting ready (gulp) – it was time to jump.

Image result for skydiving comic

Coming up tomorrow, the jump.  Also known as Chapter 3: Street fighter (hadouken)

Chapter 1: A guy named Bill, a radical observer

Sometimes in life you meet people who change the course of your life drastically and for the better.  I’ve luckily had the chance to meet a few of these people in my life already.

Bill has been one of those people for me.

I met Bill in late 2016 when I was attending a course he was offering.  I LOVED this course.  I loved it for a number of reasons, though one of the main ones was because this guy simply exuded JOY for his work.  He was smart – really smart – and had been running his business for multiple decades.

He helps people improve their sales outcomes, primarily through radical self awareness (yes, the word radical is going to be a theme here).  He was challenging all of our notions about sales – how we engaged with our pipeline, how we approached calls, and how self-aware we were during this process.  I took every chance to talk to him after the course each day – I remember thinking to myself, ‘I want to BE this guy’.  Not literally of course (!).

At one point during a role play with a neighbouring student, I made a comment and he looked directly at me for a moment.  It was one of those looks where you know the person has SEEN you, exactly as you are – every strength and every limiting belief.  One of those ‘looking into your soul’ looks that few people are capable of. He then made one comment to me and one comment to my neighbour – giving us each something to consider about ourselves – and then continued on completely un-phased to the next part of the course.

Holy mo-ly.

That one comment taught me so much about myself.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. Actually, it was more like weeks.  I realized it was one of my limiting beliefs and I saw its threads running through a few areas of my life.  It also reinforced how much of what we unconsciously reveal about ourselves through the language we choose.  This was really the kicker for me – it was something I had known subconsciously and was completely crystallized for me in that moment.  Realizing how much of our beliefs we portray through the words we choose also helped me a lot in all of my sales calls. Win-win, my most favourite situation.

I left that course totally energized. It set me up for 2017.

My new gig wasn’t playing itself out quite the way I had hoped.  It’s a long story that most importantly, left me questioning a lot of things.  For a while now I’ve treated my career as my business, even when working for someone else.  It hasn’t been perfect, though it’s been pretty great and has lead me to lots of places, to meet so many amazing people and have a lot of challenges that continuously encourage me to grow.

This particular challenge had me zooming out to think about my long-term goals. Was I on the path that I wanted to be on? Was I working for myself? I wasn’t quite sure any more, though I wanted to make sure I was.  My first move in 2017 was to hire a professional coach – Bruce, a deeply skilled, positive guy that I had worked with briefly the year before.  His questions and reframings have been invaluable in helping me get clarity and steering me where I wanted to go. A skilled professional coach is an investment.

Bruce has been the other major influencer this past year for me.  One of my fears in leaving a position early was – similar to many people’s fears – what people would say.  Like many others, I value others perspectives – while also recognizing that it doesn’t have to define me.  I worried that people might look at me as a job hopper or that I was taking the easy way out.  Neither of those were true for me.  I knew I wasn’t a job hopper – since leaving an organization where I worked for 5 years, I had spent about 2 years working primarily on a contract basis.  This of course means short-term gigs.  Walk into an organization, tackle the challenge you were hired for alongside others and then help manage the next step of change as you leave.  It has been fun and has taught me A TON. I also knew I wasn’t looking for the easy way out – and that definitely proved true, things were about to get a whole lot more difficult before they got easier.  I had luckily read Seth Godin’s The Dip (yes, I’m a superfan), which helped me frame what was going on.  [Blog post on the dip here, though I definitely also recommend the book, which is a super quick read].

When I took this new gig, I knew I wanted to focus on sales skills. I saw it as the next step in my ‘field learning’.  I’ve always tried to take jobs, projects or volunteering that would help me develop a skill set I wanted to develop while working for organizations whose missions or values were aligned with mine.

Sales was the next step for me. I had done a fair bit of fundraising and wanted the chance to refine my sales skills – it was part of my long-term plan.  That’s what lead me to sitting in Bill’s course.

Bill is a radical observer.  Like just so far ahead of the curve it’s unbelievable.  He has the ability to see you (like really see you) through asking you a few questions and listening to the way you respond.  He is a master at reading people and more importantly, based on those observations, of providing real value to you or your organization.

[I’ve been liking this word ‘radical’ lately.  Cheryl Strayed introduced me to radical empathy in ‘Tiny, beautiful things‘.  Ray Dalio’s ‘Principles‘ are a deep dive in radical transparency and open-mindedness.  While I think ‘radical’ is on its way to becoming an overused buzzword, I’m going to embrace it here as a simple word that, when paired with another, can convey a lot of deep meaning].

Bill gave me the gift of helping me see me how others might see me, just a little more, and helping me see a limiting belief – the gift of what Ray Dalio would call radical transparency.  Delivered with firm gentleness that challenged me to grow.

As I thought about this limiting belief in the early part of the year, along with my 2017 intention of not rushing, and I realized I had some time to set myself up for what I wanted.  I hadn’t quite strayed from the long-term goal I was working towards, but I was about to.  It was time to get back on track.  I started reaching out to chat with some people, and worked closely with my coach to hatch 3 shorter-term goals:

  1. Start working for myself again (which I could do within the organization I was already at by radically owning my workflow).  I would constantly remind myself of where I was going and why, and how this experience could be a living lab for me.  That changed everything.
  2. Get ready to liquidate my assets to increase my flexibility, and
  3. Travel for a few months before diving more fully into my next thing.

I decided on purpose to not attach a strict timeline to these.  Maybe I would get these all done in 2017, and maybe it would take me longer than that.  I wanted to remain open to opportunities and I had a few other things I needed to work on at the same time.  By nature I’m a planner.  I love planning, I have lists, I have spreadsheets, inbox zero gives me a dopamine hit.  But I’ve been a planner long enough to know that nothing goes quite according to plan, so it’s best to always focus on the goal and remember that there are multiple pathways there.

Coming up tomorrow, chapter 2: Getting ready or getting ready to get ready? A skydiving preflight checklist.

A year in 3 chapters

Some years have themes, some have chapters.  Some have goals and some have major influencers.

2017 was a landmark year for me. Looking back, there were 3 distinct chapters with 2 major influencers.

My intention for 2017 was not to rush – to realize that there was time.  Yes, I know – I might die tomorrow, but quite frankly, I find that to be a bit of an exhausting mindset.

This pretty successful dude has been known for saying, ‘most people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years’.  That dude is Bill Gates.  I’ve definitely fallen into this trap before.

2017 was a balance of moving towards my long-term goals while recognizing the steps I was making towards them now might seem small at the time, but they would add up.

I’m sharing my reflections on the year for 2 main reasons:

1. I discovered a number of years ago that I think through writing.  It helps me get my thinking straight.  This crystallized for me when I read Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking’.  Thinking through writing is a pretty common introvert trait.  If you’re curious, her TED talk is a great 20-minute summary of the book.

2. Perhaps my reflections may lead someone else to some self-insight.  My story is of course only my own, though I know I get a lot from reading other people’s perspectives.  I’ve always mostly kept my writing private, though one of my goals for this year was to begin to get it out there more. Some of it’s been a lot better than others, though it’s been fun working on it more. I audio-booked Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic‘ and I think she captured this desire to get your stuff out there perfectly with the sentiment: the ‘arrogance of belonging‘.  Summary here.  The arrogance of belonging – it’s kind of a jarring phrase, but I gotta say, I like it.

The 3 chapters of my 2017 are:

  1. A guy named Bill, a radical observer
  2. Getting ready or getting ready to get ready? A skydiving preflight checklist
  3. Street fighter (Hadouken)

They’re coming up.

Thanks for taking a bit of your time to read this. I hope you’ll take a bit more time to check out my chapters of 2017, and let me know what, if any of it, resonated with you.

Some things I’ve learned while traveling

I don’t need much. But what I do have / need, I want organized.

Travelling light means more laundry but is worth its ‘weight’ in not carrying extra stuff around.

No matter where they are from, people have both pride of place and are really familiar with its downsides.

Just because someone travels doesn’t mean they’re open minded.

English is everywhere.

History and leadership directly impact living conditions.

Culture – beliefs that influence behaviour – impact history and leadership.

Well-managed taxation can be a game changer.

I miss my dog. It’s true there’s a special bond between humans and canines.

Human rights pave the way for animals rights. I hope we continue moving faster towards both of these.

Hostels reminded me I’m not interested in partying much anymore. But I am interested in having time to really talk to people.

There’s hostels and hotels for every kind of traveller. Thank you, Agoda and Hostelworld.

Word-of-mouth marketing and user reviews are truly effective.

Balancing planning and flexibility is hard. I’m getting better at it. They each have a cost. Figuring out when and where to pull them out is key.

Sex tourism is alive and well.

Creating space for myself opens up new ways of thinking.

It’s hard to raise yourself out of poverty on a few dollars a day.

It’s amazing that the world can turn a blind eye to genocide. Maybe it’s because we think it’s too complex? It’s not our business? There’s nothing we can do about it? Movements always start with a few people. Whether good or bad. Some people have a lot more power than others. Understanding the differences is key to growth and change.

People are just so damn beautiful, complex and ugly – all at the same time. All of us.

We have more in common than we know, though we can learn a lot from our differences.

Open mindedness is a beautiful thing.

Believing and then doing

Sometimes things get hard. They get hard for different reasons.

Sometimes it’s because it’s out of your control and you have to learn a new perspective.

Sometimes it’s because you’re in the middle of the dip and you have to persevere through it.

Sometimes it’s because you’re not following what you know is right for you.

I learned a lot this year. Mostly I learned I wasn’t on the path that I wanted to be on. I knew I needed to get on it.

Steering myself on to it was hard. It felt like a street fight at times. But I’m on it now.

Marie Forleo is right, everything IS figureoutable.

In the last 2 months:

I left for Southeast Asia and have visited 3 countries so far – heading to a 4th tomorrow.

I found loving homes for my dog and cat while I was away – though my oh my, I miss them.

I found a remote project management gig with a great little organization and am learning a ton.

I truly and experientially learned the difference between validation and affirmation.

I sold my property.

I created space.

It’s been an important lesson to not wait until I have it all figured out.

Sometimes you gotta stop to relish it all – look back on what you accomplished to give fuel to the next steps. That’s right now’s step.

Celebrating with my favourite meal of the week. Sunday Brunch.

Sell me (translation: help me buy)

One of the things that I’ve noticed about being away is that everyone seems to be selling something here. It’s a big contrast to home where I’ll often go into a store and feel like I’m ignored.

On this trip to date, we’ve visited Thailand and Cambodia – where we’re constantly solicited for tuk-tuk rides (small modified-scooter taxis), tailored suits, massages, tours and to come into restaurants. I like everyone’s hustle here. At the same time, I’m not going to lie – it gets a little tiring to be asked if I need a tuk-tuk every 20 steps.

There’s a distinct difference between buying and being sold. Being sold feels a lot like being solicited for a tuk-tuk ride every 5 metres – you don’t necessarily want it, and you’re mostly just tired of hearing it.

Buying can be an entirely different experience. If you’re buying, you know you want (or need) something. If you’re ignored or belittled in the buying experience, you’re likely to go somewhere else – especially when there are lots of other options.

Earlier this year, I finally bought myself the exact headboard I’ve been wanting for years. It was the final step in making my place feel like a home.

I knew exactly what I wanted. I searched the internet for prices and designs, but I wanted to buy it locally. I wanted to see it and touch it – a headboard was one of those things I want to buy once and keep it for a long time, so I wanted to make sure I got it right.

I went to a few local furniture stores where they basically ignored me. I then went into Hotchkiss Home Furnishings where a young woman greeted me when I walked in, asked if she could help me with anything, and I told her I was ‘just looking around’ – typical shopper speak for: I want to check things out a bit and decide if this is the place for me before I ask questions. That’s my personal preference, while many others want to ask their questions right away – a good salesperson can spot the difference in what the person is looking for right away.

She did just that.

‘Sounds good, I’ll be just around the corner if you need anything’.

She kept an eye on me, and when she knew I was looking for her, came over and helped with my questions. She took me to the discount section to compare prices and quality. I finally settled on the exact one I had been looking for – or maybe it was exactly what I was looking for because I had such a positive buying experience. She wasn’t forceful, though willing to answer my many questions, look over potential nightstands to match and ensure my expectations were met. I’m sure she made a commission from it, and I was happy about that – she helped me find exactly what I was looking for and this headboard continues to make my morning every morning that I’m home when I sit in bed, drink a coffee and read.

This was the part I loved about selling (helping people buy) thermal analysis equipment. The awesomely diverse people I spoke with were, for various reasons, needing to analyze thermal properties. The first call – known as the ‘qualification’ call – was to determine whether I could help them or not. If I couldn’t, no problem – thanks for your time and best wishes finding what you need. If I could help them, it was exciting to help determine if our instrument would be the best fit for their complex needs. I loved winning sales because it meant I helped researchers in various fields further their research objectives. I always thought of my job as helping people buy.

Here’s to a day when sales is no longer a dirty word!