Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Be Deliberate About Your Growth

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I wanted to share how I think about career development in general but also specifically at Amazon. Take is as what it is, my personal view. However, to go with Colin Powell: “It worked for me.”

 Grow your equity

Invest in yourself!

In my mind, career growth is primarily about how you invest in yourself. It’s about what new skills you can learn, what new experiences you can gain. It’s about how you can expand the scope of your impact as you get better at what you do.

You can think about it through the lens of a job interview. We all do plenty of those as interviewers. What stories from candidates excite us? What stories can you tell and what do you need to do to expand the set of interesting stories about your professional life. Your career growth plan is how you build up the examples that will excite other people and yourself. As experienced interviewers, we know that it’s never about the title a candidate brings, but it’s always about how they solved complex problems and overcame challenging headwinds in creative and inclusive ways.

Promotion is a by-product of career growth

Career growth doesn’t equal promotion. Promotion is a by-product of career growth.

At Amazon, we deliberately only have a few levels. Therefore, the time between promotions is longer than in many other companies and the difference between levels is greater. However, the growth opportunities in a level are plenty and will allow you to build the anecdotes and data to prove that you are ready for the next step when you are ready.

Looking back to a previous life that seems far away, I remember that at Microsoft we plopped from level 63 to 64 to 65 every two years. There was lots of instant gratification, but it was also somehow meaningless, since in most cases the job title didn’t even change. At Amazon, we take big deliberate steps with longer personal growth periods in-between. The scope, responsibility, and impact we are given as individuals during those growth periods are mind-blowing in comparison to other companies.

Know where you want to go and start being that person today

Where do you want to be in 2-3 years?

Be clear in your mind what you want to do in 2 or 3 years. Understand how you will operate in that role. Look at people who are already performing in that role or at that level and understand what they do differently from you. Then look for opportunities to do the same. Work in the same way (the ‘how’ much more than the ‘what’). Talk to your manager and make sure she knows where you want to go, can provide you with proper opportunities and give you relevant coaching and feedback along the way.

Seek opportunities to learn how those role models do what they do and then find ways for yourself to show similar behaviors and outcomes (don’t just copy them, nothing is more depressing than a bad copy). Deliver at that quality bar consistently, and people will notice. Once enough people notice you will get promoted.

For example, at promotion Amazon is not a bet of leadership that you might eventually be able to grow into a new level. We don’t follow the Peter principle (i.e., you get promoted until you fail in your level). At Amazon, we promote people who already perform at the next level. We promote once people have consistently demonstrated that they are ready. Promotion at Amazon is an acknowledgment that you already have what it takes, not that we have high hopes that you might eventually get there.

Make personal growth goals

Make a plan, be clear, be deliberate, and understand what the bar is.

What is it that you want to work on? What scope do you want to expand in? Where can you help your organization? What things can you take to the next level to role-model for the rest of your team?

Understand where you want to go. Understand what the expectations are for that role and level. Understand where you need to add to your existing experiences (regular career discussion are a great tool for that). Make a plan!

Those plans don’t need to be tied to a next level though (in my mind in most cases they shouldn’t). I’m coming back to my first and most important point – it’s about how you grow your skills and equity. For example, for me, I wanted to widen my focus and impact beyond my direct PM team. I made it a goal for this year to find ways to help coach the broader org so that we can all be more effective and fulfilled. Will I learn a lot? For sure! Will that get me promoted to Director? No way. Do I worry much about that? Not a minute. It’s a ton of fun and I learn many new things along the way.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Not Everything is as Urgent as it Appears

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A critical part of being accountable and delivering against your commitments (promises!) is to actually have bandwidth for them, in other words to not over-commit.

We already talked about how it is ok – actually expected – to say ‘no’ when needed. What we didn’t talk about yet are timelines (or ‘deadlines’ to make it even more scary sounding).

Not everything is as urgent as it might appear at first glance.

Clarify expectations

Not everything that comes from your leadership comes with a “drop everything else and do this right now” expectation. In most cases, leaders just want to know when they can expect an answer and have the confidence that they don’t need to spend their energy to track that deliverable for you.

Don’t assume. Clarify and verify.

If a request came in without a timeline or clarification on urgency, don’t assume. Just ask: “Hey, when do you need this by?

No decent leader will hold it against you if you ask, “By when do you need this?” I’m actually pretty sure for most leaders this will register as a plus point (if it doesn’t it’s time to look for a different leader).

What leaders want to know is whether you commit to provide the answer and by when. They want to be confident that you will do it and that they don’t have to worry about it. They will tell you if a timeline is not flexible and why.

As an employee, train your leader to provide that information with her requests in the future. However, also make extra-sure that you are managing yourself against that timeline! It is super frustrating as a leader if you need to keep your own reminders on everything you need, because you cannot rely on open loops to be closed without your constant follow-up.

Understand timelines

Not everything needs to happen right now. In fact, very few things are truly urgent, although many are perceived or presented as urgent or initially appear non-negotiable.

Unfortunately corporate culture has developed many bad habits in order to try to compensate for low accountability:

  • Setting deadlines way ahead of time to build in buffer
  • Setting short deadlines so that people do it right now and don’t get distracted
  • Setting deadlines just because that’s what you do
  • And the worst: setting a short deadline because something was sitting idle on your own desk for too long and now it’s really time to make progress

Understand the true urgency and timeline. Offer a plan to get there. Make sure you hit the plan.

Feel empowered to understand and validate urgency and tight deadlines. Ask for when a task is truly due. If it requires you to drop other things, understand what drives the urgency and what breaks if the deadline is missed.

If you think a deadline has a ‘safety buffer’ built in, ask for the real deadline. However, once you get the real deadline, you must make sure that you will be ready by that time. Otherwise, you just teach your partners to add additional buffers to manage in the future to work around your tardiness and unreliability.

If a deadline is infeasible, check your calendar and priorities and see when you can make it. Offer that alternative plan and check for agreement. If pushed, be clear what you will have to sacrifice in order to make that timeline.

In most cases, you will find that a deadline is actually negotiable.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: How to Develop and Sell a Strategy

Strategic planning is the holy grail of leadership. Or is it?

Let’s talk about mental models for strategic planning (e.g. 3 year plans, business strategies) and also how to best communicate the outcomes – the famous ‘evangelizing’.

Strategic planning is all about setting the right priorities to have the biggest impact on desired outcomes. Strategic planning is setting the goal post, tactical execution is actually getting there (it took me about 10 years of my professional career to truly get that – I can be a slow learner).

Strategic planning is – or should be – true working backwards. The question should not be “what can I do next” but “where do I need to be 3 years from now”. With that, it always starts with getting clarity on the end state, the goals and the big problems to solve.

Where do you need to be in 3 years?

What are the goals (even better: what is THE goal)?

Identify the goals that you need to achieve. How can you measure whether you make progress against those goals?

Understand why they matter and how they might be correlated (positively or negatively) to each other.

What have you learned? What are your fundamental insights?

Goals are great metrics for progress, but there might also be big fundamental or structural issues that need to be solved, but are not immediately apparent from looking at the goals.

It’s good practice to reflect on what you have learned since the last strategic planning. Did new key problems or constraints present themselves that can have material impact on your ability to achieve the goals? Did new opportunities present themselves that weren’t obvious the last time?

Think backwards, not forward!

Don’t constrain yourself by what you know and have (e.g. current capabilities, existing funding, roadmaps and team structures).

Define where you need to be. Figure out how to get there in the next step.

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” – Forget that you have a hammer for a moment, think about what you need to do and only then about what tool you might have to acquire.

What are your big levers?

Now that you know your goals, problems and opportunities – how can you have the most impact on those? What are your biggest levers?

Brainstorm

Make a list of all the things (the means to an end) that will help you to move towards the end state you want to achieve in 3 years.

Again, don’t limit yourself by current structure or what tech pieces you have. Think about what you need to move the goal, solve the problem or seize the opportunity.

Force yourself (!) to not just think about thinks you ‘could do’ but focus on what actually, truly, directly moves the priorities you defined previously.

Prioritize

Obviously, you cannot do everything you came up with in your brainstorming. You need to decide what to do first, what to focus on. No peanut-buttering.

What are the few things that will have outsized impact on your ability to achieve the desired end state?

Identify the biggest levers. Look at the outcome/impact, but also the cost/feasibility (i.e. what’s the Return of Investment, the ROI, of an idea). Make a sorted list of your biggest levers, their impact and their cost. Once you have that list you and your leadership can draw the line wherever you think the right ROI tradeoff is for investments.

Solidify your case

Get data. Make sure your initial assumptions are correct and the ROI story holds water.

Understand more details and make sure the idea is still feasible.

Start making a worry list or risk tracker (i.e. what could go wrong?) and burn it down. This process will not end until your final project will be shipped. Having a risk tracker or worry list is generally a good practice to avoid surprises.

Sell your story!

By now, you have put a LOT of thinking into your proposal. Be mindful that no one else has any comparable context or level of detail. You will need to catch up readers quickly and completely.

The best way to do that is to re-create your thought process for them in your story telling. Here’s a story flow that works.

Start with the goals

What do you want to achieve? What are your measurable priorities?

Why do they matter? Why these and not others?

Proper framing

What is the environment you are operating in? What have you learned (e.g. problems, opportunities)?

What assumptions about the future are you making that further inform your plans and thinking? What constraints do you need to work with?

What multipliers can you leverage?

Prioritization

Why did you pick the things you picked? What did you identify as the biggest levers and why (ROI)?

What did you push below the line and why (that’s a great appendix to have, especially when leaders are looking for additional projects to fund)? What are the most painful tradeoffs and what would it take to bring them back in?

This part is the ‘money piece’, you either get decision makers on board because they can follow your reasoning or you lose them because they cannot re-create what prioritization and tradeoffs you made.

Get tactical

Start giving a preview of how you will deploy your levers.

This is where reality kicks in.

From your current state, what are the next steps? What are rough timelines on how you would go about solving your problems as well as building and deploying your solutions?

What are the big questions you need to answers? Is there anything you need from leadership (play this card carefully and deliberately)?

Go do it!

You have a plan. You have approval. Go Execute!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Become A Better Leader

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Being a leader should mean that you maintain a learning mindset and constantly aspire to improve and grow. Being a leader is (or at least should be) a journey, not a destination.

There’s TONS of amazing advice out there on what leaders should do. The flip side of this is, that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the things you are supposed to do.

I like to focus on a few things at a time. Usually the power of three works for me. I can keep up to three things in my head. After that things will get messy and messed up. Here are the three things I focus on for growing my team, as well as the three things for growing myself. They are quite powerful and work beautifully for me.

Grow your team

Motivation has always been a big topic in leadership. It’s been established for a while that money alone doesn’t do the trick. Everyone wants to get a decent paycheck for what they do, but that alone won’t keep folks motivated.

A coworker recently pointed me to a TED talk by Dan Pink that really resonated with me. Dan explains that there are three major components that create or destroy job satisfaction and motivation. I won’t do Dan justice with my words and you should listen to the TED talk, but here are my three personal homework assignments from his talk.

Provide purpose

We spend a LOT of time at work. We want that time to count for something. Understanding the purpose of what we do is very important (if you can’t find purpose in what you do, look for another job).

As a leader, that means that just delegating work is not enough. You need to engage people by explaining the ‘why’ and the broader picture. They need to understand, why the work that they do is important. They need to see how it fits into the broader mission of the organization.

Along the same lines: praising results is great. That acknowledgement or ‘thank you’ becomes even more powerful if you clearly explain, how these achievements helped advance a higher goal for the organization.

Give autonomy

Work sucks if you aren’t empowered to make decisions. It also sucks if you have to explain your decisions to everyone again and again (in this case. in reality you actually don’t make the decision, you rather repeatedly have to ask for re-approval from everyone).

For many leaders this is a tough one. We usually think that we are so much smarter. That’s why we became leaders in the first place right!? Wrong!

However often we have more experience because we’ve been in the area longer. We are also often exposed to a broader picture of what’s going on in the organization. Having that experience and broader picture is awesome if it is used for coaching. It becomes destructive if it leads to micro-managing.

Let go of doing things by yourself or being ultra-prescriptive. Let go of making the decisions for your team members. Instead provide the right data and context. Guide your team in developing the best decision framework. Empower your team members. Ask questions to better understand the solutions your team proposed. And let them make the decisions – you can always jump in if they seem to head in a terribly wrong direction.

Of course there is a spectrum for this. If someone is new to a problem space, he will need more guidance. If someone is well versed in an area, she will want less direction. Situational Leadership II is a great framework to find the right level of management.

Nurture mastery

We all want to be great at what we do. And if we aren’t yet, we want to learn how to become great. Mastery of an area is an amazing feeling!

Mastery requires trying and learning. As a leader you need to create the right balance between freedom to experiment and gentle guidance. People need to try things. They have to be allowed to make mistakes in order to learn. They also crave for just enough guidance to be successful, while not getting too frustrated in the process.

This is where leaders really need to focus on being great coaches and mentors rather than mere managers. We need to force ourselves to stay away from doing things ourselves or prescribing the ‘right’ solution, because we think that would lead to quicker results. We must stay away from managing every detail and rather give feedback along the way, while we let the team explore possible solutions.

Honestly I’m still failing at this one too often. The important thing is that I’m now conscious of the challenge and I’m working on myself.

There’s also an exception to the rule: sometimes you just have to step in and take over because there is an urgent deadline. In those cases there is no time for trying and learning, things just need to get done right NOW. If you let your team know why you personally step in, it will be much less harmful for team motivation. Hopefully this is the exception, not the rule in your team.

Grow yourself

Yes, you are a leader and most of what you achieve gets done by your team and not yourself. Leading and growing your team is your top priority. But that doesn’t relieve you from taking a hard look at how you perform individually.

I got inspired to this section by a post from Jeff Weiner talking about the three qualities in people he most enjoys working with.

Again I won’t do the breadth and depth of the original post justice, so please jump over there and read it for yourself. Below are the three homework assignments I took away for myself.

Dream big

I’m a ‘getting things done’ person. That can sometimes mean, that I focus too much on resolving tactical issues and roadblocks, because I want to get them out of the way as quickly as possible. The problem is that there are always some tactical issues that will distract you from the bigger picture.

If you don’t dream big, you won’t accomplish anything meaningful. Mediocrity will be your world, not greatness.

As with everything else, awareness and consciousness already gets you 80% down the way to the solution. If you are a ‘go-doer’, block time to dream big. Reserve time, where you will not allow yourself to ‘fix stuff’. Look at the big picture and think about the impossible. Then make a plan how to get there!

I make it a point to spend time thinking about the bigger picture and bigger aspirations. I actually put a recurring time blocker on my calendar.

Get things done

This one comes naturally to me.

I write everything on a ‘to do’ list. Once it’s on my ‘to do’ list, I don’t have to remember it anymore and my mind frees up to think about more interesting questions.

My ‘to do’ list is always long, but I hate having a long list. That’s a great motivator to get things done, one by one. Sort your list by priorities. Then work your way from the top towards the bottom. Finish as much as you can achieve in the allotted time. Focus on finishing. Rather start fewer things, but finish the ones you started. And be ok if you got less done, than you had planned (hoped). Life happens. You’re good as long as you kept focus on the most important things and made progress on those.

From time to time you should also look at your low priorities. Most of them will turn out to not be as important anymore. Remove them from the list.

Instead of worrying about all the things that need to be done, just write them down, prioritize them and get on it.

Be great to work with

In think this one was ‘fun to work with’ in Jeff’s post. I’m a German and as such inherently not fun(ny), so I changed this one a little bit.

To me the important quality is to be great to work with (not necessarily fun). Greatness can have multiple aspects. It can mean that you are a fun person. It can also mean that you are a great mentor, a valuable resource for your coworkers, a supportive person or a critical sounding board to bounce ideas off.

Find what makes you great to work with and hone that skill. I cannot help you with this one, you have to find your superpowers and build on what makes you special. Bonus points if you also critically explore, what makes you suck and then work extra hard to get rid of those behaviors.

Finally, get folks (and yourself) out of their comfort zone. That’s when amazing things will happen!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Living is Learning

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I was reading “Mastery” by Robert Green and one of the things that stuck out for me was how Robert stressed the importance of the ‘apprenticeship phase’ before creativity and mastery can be reached. It reminded me of key lessons I learned early (and unconsciously) through martial arts practice.

However reflecting a little more I would suggest the learning mindset should never change and what one should truly develop is a ‘lifelong apprentice mindset’.

Never stop learning new areas

Everyone talks about lifelong learning today. Most people think about deepening their subject area expertise when they do. I think there is a bigger opportunity hidden in expanding into completely new areas.

Robert Greene has some such examples in his book as well, as he discusses people who went through multiple different apprenticeships over the time of their life, finally merging those skills together to understand underlying principles better or to develop completely new areas.

The most compelling opportunity that learning new areas opens up is the fact that the spectrum of things you can do widens instead of shrinking. If your focus is on getting better and better at one single thing, you face a good chance of either that thing becoming obsolete in the future or someone else outcompeting you in that narrowly scoped area. If you learn to do many things well, then your horizon of opportunities keeps expanding through your life as you mix those abilities into new compelling portfolios.

I learned this in martial arts, studying diverse disciplines and with that enhancing my core style. Looking back it rubbed off on my approach to professional life as well, where over the years I pursued experiences in coding, marketing, business development, PR, product management and teaching.

Learn to love pain and frustration

Robert Greene mentions this as well: you must learn to embrace and seek learning experiences that are painful and frustrating. If you don’t focus on the things that are hardest for you (and thus most painful and frustrating), then you won’t learn the traits of your trade that you are deficient in and will never truly master the area.

It’s way too easy to focus on the easy wins and the things that you’re good at. I am guilty of that too. However only playing to your strengths will prevent you from expanding the scope of your abilities. While leading to quicker wins in the short time, it will limit your ability to master an area long term since you will never close those capability gaps.

Martial arts teaches through pain, sweat and tears. For good schools that’s figuratively rather than literally (maybe with the exception of the sweat part). However they make you constantly face your biggest challenges and learn to overcome them. I think the same is true for our professional development, only with the big difference that it’s usually up to you to push yourself beyond your limits. Business often offers you an easy way out until the day when it’s too late to change. You need to be pushing yourself.

  • Never stop learning – Never think you ‘know it’.
  • Disrupt yourself – When you feel like you’ve reached a comfortable level in mastering an area, then it’s time to disrupt yourself and move on to something entirely different.
  • Face the challenges – Focus on learning the skills that are hard for you. You will learn the things that align with your strengths anyway. As to learning time, your knowledge gaps are what needs the most attention.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Spiritual Balance – Week 46: Explore Your Purpose

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What is your purpose? What makes you get up in the morning? What keeps you going when the going gets tough?

Understand your values and purpose. Then take a critical look at what you are doing right now. Be willing to experiment and take risks. And always keep your eyes open for opportunities that present themselves.

The passion trap

In many ways we are over-emphasizing purpose and passion today. We tell High school kids that they need to find their passion when they pick a career. An impossible task at that age. Many people actually never discover what their passion really is.

Doing something, that you are sufficiently interested in, with full dedication until you head towards mastery often turns into passion. This is in fact a more likely way to find something that you will be passionate about, than soul-searching for the perfect occupation.

Passion doesn’t come magically for free. It requires dedication and hard work.

Alignment with core values counts

However, at the same time too many of us spend our lives in settings, that go against our core values and our purpose. We do things and execute work that we don’t agree with in principle.

Both trying to find the one thing that will make you happy just by its nature as well as sticking with something that fundamentally disagrees with your core values and purpose are futile.

It is much better to understand what your core values and purpose are, and then experimenting with different things. Once you find something that aligns in principle and peeks you interest, go deep and give it your full self.

What makes you tick

Self reflection and self awareness is not easy. For some of us it comes more naturally, others never truly find it.

If you are not clear about what inherently motivates you and what turns you off, you can start journaling your mini-motivators. Throughout the day, what did you like, what felt great, and what didn’t. When you watch other people, what do you admire and what do you despise. What would you want other people to say about you, and what would you rather not?

Those should be small and in-the-moment things. Don’t overthink it. Jolt down the random reactions and thoughts as they come, for example ‘those meetings as sapping out my energy’, ‘it felt really good to help Joe through his problem’ or ‘it was awesome to solve this situation my way’.

After a few weeks look at those micro-motivators and see what patterns emerge.

Brainstorm on new options

Then reflect on how much those value and purpose patterns are matched in your current occupation. If they are not, make a list of other careers that would get you to a closer match. Don’t go for perfect match, chances are you won’t find that (lucky you, if you do!).

Make a list of those close matches and be aware that you will still have to work hard for them. Nothing will be rosy all day every day. Just setting expectations here.

Make a change, reinvent yourself

Let’s assume that your values and passions don’t align well with you current occupation. That’s nothing to feel bad about. For one, it’s super hard to find good alignment from the get go. In most cases we don’t know enough about the job as well as ourselves when we begin. Also we are (luckily!) changing over time and what might have been the perfect milestone a few years ago, might not fit anymore as our path leads us to the next one.

Start experimenting with the occupations that made it to your list. Or something completely different that just feels right for reasons that you cannot explain.

If we talk about big shifts in your occupation and trajectory, really experiment. Don’t go full in right away without really knowing if you like where you’re heading. Try out a few things on the side. Volunteer in the new occupation rather than leaving your current job only to figure out after a few months that the grass actually isn’t greener on the other side.

Experiment, be flexible

Experiment a lot. Learn from those experiments. Adjust what you know about yourself and tweak the list of things you want to do based on that knowledge.

Recognize open doors and opportunities as they present themselves and find the courage to explore them.

Don’t put yourself under the stress of having to succeed with the first thing you try out.

One of the life lessons I learned from my martial arts teacher was to have a plan but remain flexible.

Have a plan, but always keep your mind open for opportunities that present themselves. Have the flexibility and courage to leverage them. Life is a winding path, not a straight line.

Looking at my own winding path, I can point out at least four rather big shifts in the direction I was heading for. Each shift has set me back a little in short-term – as big change always does – but propelled me toward a much better place in the long-term. I don’t even want to imagine who I would be if I had been stuck in my initial (subsequent, current,..) choices.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Spiritual Balance – Week 42: Get Inspiration

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Just as our body needs food and nutrients, our mind needs inspiration. We usually get that inspiration from being exposed to new experiences, information and stimuli. The more we work in our comfort zone of the things we already know and the routines we already master, the less our minds are challenged, inspired and nurtured.

Seek out new experiences that challenge your existing beliefs. Nurture your mind. Get inspired and work hard for new insights, instead of being dulled by passive consumption.

Treat yourself with a new stimuli every day. Opt for active experiences and information over passive consumption. Active stimuli are those that you need to process and work for like learning a craft. Passive Stimuli are those that you can mindlessly consume like watching TV.

Ditch your TV (we did that many years ago and never regretted it), delete your computer games, limit your social media times.

Instead seek experiences that extend what you already know, push your boundaries and challenge your comfort zone.

There are many ways to stimulate and inspire yourself. Pick a few and make time for them. Pick a fixed time in your day or week that is devoted to those experiences and inspirations to make sure you prioritize them.

Reading – Read a non-fictional book about an area that interests you, or even a completely new topic. Read a chapter every day and reflect on it.

Learning a craft – Learn a new craft or a new hobby. Push yourself to learn and grow all the time. Maybe your job provides those opportunities, if it doesn’t, either seek out new challenges in your work or find them in your personal time.

Pursuit of mastery – Push for mastery in something that you are passionate about. Find something that excites you long-term and go deeper and deeper, exploring the core ideas and concepts (for me it’s my martial arts journey that kept me exploring and discovering for over 25 years now).

Different perspectives – Talk to interesting new people and try to understand their views. This is not about talking to the same people you already know and meet all the time. Those are often echo chambers, only confirming what you already believe. Rather seeks out new perspectives and opinions and reflect on them. Avoid negative people though, they are not worth the negative impact they will have on you.

Seek surprises – Expose yourself to situations that surprise you. Travel, seek out new experiences. Change your context and challenge your frameworks. Break complacency whenever it creeps up.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Spiritual Balance – Week 40: Simplify and Declutter

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We already talked about focusing on your priorities, cleaning up your calendar and inbox and decluttering your workspace. Let’s now take a broader stab at simplification and decluttering.

Simplify and declutter. Do it quick and radically, it will develop inertia. Don’t limit decluttering to your physical space, do it everywhere. Don’t fill up the empty space with new stuff.

Simplification helps you be you more relaxed, in the moment and happier because you are distracted by fewer things. There’s less stuff to maintain or to worry about. Further, clean space allows your mind wander freely and come up with new ideas, while stuff distracts and captures it (often with all the things you still have to do, like dusting those vases…).

Simplify and declutter radically

Simplification and decluttering (i.e. the art of getting rid of things you don’t really need) gains momentum as you are doing it. It has a strong inertia in either direction.

It’s pretty hard to get started. Off the top of your head, you seem to need all the things you have – why else would you have bought them in the first place?

However, push through it. Once you identified a few things that you don’t need anymore, or never truly enjoyed having in the frist place, things will get easier. As you get rid of things, you will feel a relief and that will propel you to get rid of more things that you don’t really need or want anymore.

Be willing to cut deep and cut fast. Putting one thing away a week will not give you that momentum and positive feedback. Instead take a weekend afternoon and make it a goal to fill a whole moving box (or two if you are an ambitious person). Don’t fret over decisions, if you don’t want to fight for an object, you are probably ready to let go.

Cut your losses

There’s a rule in investing that applies here as well:

“Don’t throw good money after bad money.”

What that means is that you should not add additional money to a sub par investment only because you hope that it will get better in the future. While that stock that went down for a year is really cheap now, chances are that the trend will continue and you will lose a lot of money.

Likewise, if you have bought something in the past that seems like a less stellar idea today, don’t get stuck in that ‘investment’. It might have been a good idea back then, but if it is not anymore, then say goodbye. Don’t throw ‘good money’ (your time, energy and mental capacity) after ‘bad money’ (something you don’t care about anymore).

If you have separation anxiety, don’t throw things away or donate them right away. Put them in a box. Once you didn’t touch that box for three months, bring it to a local charity for donation.

It’s ok to have bought something that doesn’t fit your life anymore. Cut your losses.

One area at a time

Attack one area of simplification at a time. Don’t let yourself get distracted as you hop from area to area.

If you want to declutter your living room, don’t get distracted as you bring stuff out through the garage. Pick one area or room at a time and tune out everything else. As always: focusing wins the day!

Decluttering and simplification is not only about stuff. The space you live in has a big part, but clutter and complexity is everywhere. Address all those spaces:

  • Spaces – your home and living spaces, your yard, your office and work spaces, you storage (how much of that stuff do you really need),…
  • Obligations – emails, calendar, volunteering, promises to ‘friends’, events,…
  • Digital – websites, news, games, (phone) apps,…
  • Relationships – friends that don’t lift you up, connections that drag you down, negative people, ‘friends’ on social networks,…

Don’t fill up the empty space

Of course, once you have decluttered an area, don’t fill up the empty space with new stuff. Keep the emptiness and enjoy it.

A clean empty space is not an invitation to bring in lots of new stuff (new clutter).

Cherish it, protect it, feel really bad for anything that contaminates it. Regard anything that move into that space as an intruder who needs to fight for its right to be there.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Spiritual Balance – Week 35: Open Doors

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I’m a person of lists and plans. I always want to have a plan for the short and longer term. I need to be organized to feel comfortable and be in control.

However, I was also taught by my teacher early on in my martial arts training, that situations constantly change and we need to adapt to new opportunities and challenges. As they say in the military: “all plans are outdated upon first contact with the enemy”.

Have a plan and follow it. However, watch out for unexpected opportunities and be flexible enough to change your plan to embrace them.

We need to have a plan and a goal to know where we want to go to, and to make progress towards that destination, instead of wandering aimlessly around (“going nowhere fast”). However, that plan must not make us myopic and oblivious for necessary change.

Throughout my life, I always had a plan, but the best things happened when an unexpected opportunity presented itself and I reached out for it. Even though many times I was scared to my bones.

Having a plan and working towards it, prepares us to be ready for the moment when opportunities present themselves. However, if we don’t make the leap and grasp them, all the preparation was for nothing.

Have a plan, work on it. Prepare yourself, but be ready to drop your plan and adjust to the moment when needed. Don’t be scared of unexpected opportunities. They are when magic happens in life.

I recently read a very similar idea in ‘Racing Winter on the Pacific Crest Trail’, by Kyle S Rohrig. It goes like this:

There are always doors that open unexpectedly for us. Walk through them. After you walk through an open door, new doors will open up behind, eventually leading to an endless universe of open doors and opportunities. You find good thing behind open doors.

If you close the door, the opportunities end right there. That’s it, end of story, you’re stuck. Being stuck is stagnation. Stagnation is the beginning of the end.

Or in the words of Daoism:

When we are young we are flexible, we push out, we try new things and grow. When we stop being curious and flexible, we get hard. When we get hard, we break, crumble and fade away.

Be open, be flexible, see opportunities!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Spiritual Balance – Week 34: Be Part of the Solution, Not the Problem

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You have three basic options to react when you are faced with a challenge, problem or just a frustrating situation: (1) you can hide your head in the ground and hope it goes away, (2) you can complain about it and become part of the problem, making it even worse or (3) you can find ways to address and improve the situation, becoming part of the solution.

We already established that hope is a bad strategy, hence (1) is not a good path to follow. For obvious reasons, (2) is not any better, unless you are striving for a live of self-inflicted pain and misery.

Don’t be part of the problem. Be part of the solution.

So rather than dwelling in your pity, think about solutions you can bring to the table when you’re faced with a tough or frustrating problem.

This happens to me every day. I go along with my day, and then out of the blue, I get that email which makes me want to choke someone’s throat. Like everyone else, I get angry for a moment. However, I try to be conscious of that reaction, and then step back and think of other ways to react. Often I will take a few hours or even a good night sleep before I respond. That gives my subconscious mind some time to process and come up with a different perspective.

In Tai Chi we say “there is always a third way”. Usually we only think about two reactions whan confronted with an unpleasant situation: give in or fight back (fight or flight). There is always a third way through which you can turn the situation into something positive.

When faced with something that annoys you, don’t give up, look away and walk away. Be part of the solution, find a creative way to solve the problem, drive that solution. Once your mission is accomplished, look back and be proud of how you reacted and what change you drove.

When I am faced with something that makes my blood boil or makes me want to scream at someone, I give it a big pause first. Pretty much all problems can wait for a moment. A well thought through response and action plan is always better than a rushed one. Then I ask myself these three questions:

  • What is the opportunity for change?
  • How can I avoid or improve a similar situation in the future?
  • How can I help others through situations like this?

I even have a Post-It sticker with those three questions on my office desk as a reminder.

I give it a moment or two. I find the third way, do what needs to be done and then move on. In every single case I will be way more satisfied than if I had given in to my first impulses.

Whenever possible, try to identify the root cause of the initial issue and solve it so that the same situation won’t happen again.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.