Human “Being” or “Doing” – Who am I?

A lot of people have asked me with shocked and puzzled look when I would tell them that I am retired and have been for a few years.  I am not sure if its because I don’t look like I have reached the acceptable age of retirement or if it’s because I am so comfortable with the word “retired”.

I should start with the definition of the word “retire”.  According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, one of the definition is “to stop a job or career because you have reached the age when you are not allowed to work any more or do not need or want to work any more.”  The next word to define is “work”.  Work to me sounds a look like labour and toil.  Therefore my definition of “retire” is to stop work (labour and toil) because I can and I want to pursue my passion which aligns with my purpose.  I knew that I wanted a change when work became more toiling than enjoyable.  I knew that if I did not make a change when I did, I would end up being someone I didn’t want to be, just drudging along life as life is short and precious.  I made the move in the traditional sense and wanted to see what the next stage of life has to offer.  So now I am in the midst of aligning and re-creating my vocation – I am a coach.  I am a coach because I want to inspire growth in others, to help them achieve their goals, to put into practical steps what they can do to break through barriers and to fulfil their potential.  So yes to me I am retired.  Retired from the labour and toil to aligning with my passion and purpose.

One of the tricky if not hardest question to answer when you are not “working” is “What do you do?”.  This is because for such a long time, I had defined who I was by what I was doing.  So I would say I am the Marketing and Business Operation Director at Microsoft.  Wow, sounds really fanciful and maybe even important.  But really what did it mean?  What do you do?  I am responsible for all the marketing activities and blah blah blah.  All of which made me think about a more important question that I needed to answer and  be clear about which was “Who AM I?”.

The “Who AM I?” question is one that goes to the heart of knowing and being confident and comfortable about being you, not being defined by what you do but for just being you.  To know the answer requires that one be honest about yourself, your strengths, your dreams, your passions and your goals in life.  To get to know yourself in a deeper way and imagine if everything is stripped away, who are you?  If you don’t define yourself with what you are doing, with what job title you hold, and how much things you possess, how would you answer the question.

I have the great blessings of having a number of Christian friends and one of the common attribute that they have is they would answer the question “Who are you?” with the first sentence as “I am a child of God.” followed by their personalities or what they are passionate about and so on.  That’s a great way to be rooted in belief.

Ask yourself:

  • What am I passionate about?
  • What are my values?
  • What’s my life purpose?  Can I describe in one or two words?
  • Is my work aligned my values and life purpose?

Just remember we are human beings and not human doings.  The heart of Human Being vs. Human Doing is to answer the question “Who Am I?”.

Underlying belief holding you back?

The question that is most often asked during a coaching session is “What is holding you back?”.  What is the barrier to change and to move forward?  The most frequent answer is Fear.  It’s either fear of failure or fear of success.  To unpack fear, the next question is “What is the cause of this fear?”  This will lead to the unpacking of the underlying beliefs that each individual possesses.

For example, I would like to establish a new habit and routine for a healthier lifestyle, I know that I need to eat better and exercise.  What is holding me back from doing what is seemingly 2 very easy things?  To eat better would entail substituting a Big Mac with Grass-fed beef salad and to exercise would just require me to walk/run for 30 mins a day.  I am sure that I can make those adjustments.  The underlying beliefs that are holding me back would be “comfort zone”, “laziness”, “not an athlete” and so on.  These negative underlying beliefs would effectively stop what my rationale mind would think as beneficial to “it’s too much work and hard.”  On the flip side, there are positive underlying beliefs that I can start to establish, for example “no pain no gain”.  This underlying belief basically says to you that you can do it and everything good comes from hard work and pain.

Where do these underlying beliefs come from?  They are certainly an accumulation of our past experiences and our value system.   By knowing and being self aware of your underlying beliefs, you are able to then decide what changes you might need to make.

For example, I have an underlying belief of “no pain no gain”.  I will work hard at work, push through the hours, take on more commitments than time permits, pile on the stress and so on.  After all, no pain no gain, right?  All underlying belief can serve you well or taken to the extreme can have a negative impact.  To be able to discern the impact of an underlying belief, I need to be self-aware of the limits of its usefulness and know when to stop.

Ask yourself:

  • What beliefs are helping you to move forward?
  • What beliefs are holding you back?
  • When is a certain belief useful and when does it become not useful?
  • What are the signs that an underlying belief needs to be changed?
  • What steps can you take to create a new belief?

Underlying beliefs determines your actions and decisions hence taking a step back to know what they are can be useful to help you to move forward.

To move forward: Out with the Old, In with the New

One of the great things about having 4 seasons in a year is that nature forces me to change.  The changes of the season from summer to autumn, requires me to change the type of clothing I would wear, the fruits that I would eat, the amount of daylight I would enjoy and when I can exercise and so much more.  Like the leaves of trees that falls during autumn, it begs the question, is there anything that I need to let go off in order for me to be ready to usher in the new?

To remove what’s old and not needed is part of making room for something new and exciting.  Too often we keep and store so much junk from tangible things (clothes, gadgets, shoes etc) to intangibles (hurt, pain, forgiveness, anger, bitterness, etc) that it weights us down.  The more significant aspect of this is that it leaves us with no room to take in the new.  The new learnings, growth and experiences that is in front of us is hindered as we can’t let go of the old.   To move forward is not about carrying as much as we can but to enjoy the experience and release it in order to enjoy new experiences.

What can we do to let go of the old and embrace the new?  Ask yourself:

  • What I am holding on to?  Is it holding me back or not?
  • What do I need?  Hint:  the answer is not everything.
  • What am I looking forward to?  What do I want to achieve next?
  • What steps do I need to take to leave behind the old?
  • What steps do I need to take to accept the new?

It is useful once you have completed all the “self talk” that you share it with someone.  Talk through it, get feedback and take steps to achieve it.  Looking back is great to learn from mistakes, feel good about what was accomplished but life is about moving forward.  To move forward require that you look forward and not look back.  You can’t change the past but you are certainly in control of changing your future.  Start by releasing the old and letting in the new.  Enjoy the new season of life.

To move forward, Don’t ask Why, Ask What instead

I have been asking myself a lot of “why” questions recently as I have a couple of friends facing some tough times.  The first thought that comes to mind is “Why did it happen to her?”  “Why should someone who did nothing wrong have to suffer?”  The “why” question does not bring about any answer that helped me to further understand the situation or even to help me figure out the next steps.  It just presented more questions and with more questions, more confusion and less clarity.  All leading to no clear action plan to move forward.  All leading to a lot of inner reflections around my underlying beliefs but not in any concrete way to help the person move forward.

The “what” question on the other hand helped me to see the situation in a different light.  I started to ask myself “What can I do to practically help her?”  “What is my role as a friend?”.  The “what” question starts a chain of thoughts that opens up possibilities and alternatives.  That’s powerful as the need to know what to do is critical in our quest to move forward even if it’s a baby step forward.

Think about how you are currently starting a conversation whether its a review, feedback session or everyday conversation.  Do you start with “Why”?  If you were to turn your “why” to “what” what would that sound like?:

  • During a review instead of asking “Why did you do that?” to “What did you learn from taking that action?”
  • When faced with a mistake, instead of “Why did I make that silly mistake?” to “What can I do to stop making silly mistakes?”
  • During a feedback session, instead of asking “Why are you not able to lead the team?” to “What do you think needs to improve in managing your team?”

As with the examples above, the why question is important as it’s a reflective but it’s a cyclical question.  It has the power to help uncover our underlying beliefs.  Underlying beliefs that determines our thoughts and actions.  However, because of its cyclical nature, it brings about more questions and in the workplace context, there is not enough time or expertise to unpack.  The why question also will put people in a defensive position as its intrusive and judgemental.  In most situation, instead of starting with the why question, try out the what question.  Once we have established a non-threatening platform for the discussion, the why question can be powerful to unpack more insights.  I have personally experienced very different responses and the conversation usually leading to many options and actions.

What does a balance life look like to you?

I was reading an article this morning by Jared Lynch on the Sydney Morning Herald entitled “Work-life balance?  Take condoms , says Southern Cross Austereo radio boss.”  I thought it was interesting and funny and that got me thinking.  When did this term work-life balance start?  Why did anyone even come up with it?  What has happened since this term became a vital vocabulary?

Balance in anything is in the eye of the beholder.  To some it’s all about spending time at “work” and that’s because work is their life.  To others, it’s about a 50:50 split of your time (literally).  The key to what we perceive balance to be is how we define and feel is our balance point.  Trying to put everyone into the same category is near impossible especially in the workplace where the pressures of deadline, performance and competition are in full throttle.  Trying to make everyone around you “happy” with you is even harder as each has a different set of expectations.

Balance is about alignment with your purpose and priorities.  I believe that the challenge lies when we are not clear on what our purpose or priorities are.  If we aren’t sure what our purpose is, we can’t really define what our priorities will be and that leads to feeling unbalanced.  The people who feel that they are not having work-life balance are those that feel that they are not spending enough time with what they consider to be their true priorities.  It’s normal that mothers who work will always feel a sense of guilt that they are not spending enough time with their children because they know that’s their No. 1 priority.  However, the pressures of life, making money, making sure that everyone is fed and clean and the list goes on, will lead to a lack of alignment between priorities and realities.  What can you do?  Accept that’s life and move on or make changes that will help bring a greater degree of alignment.  What can you do?

  • Discover what you love to do, who you want to spend time with and what you are doing today.  Ask yourself:
    • When do you feel most satisfied?
    • What activities or tasks do you enjoy doing that you don’t even think about spending the time to do it?
    • What do you need to absolutely do?
    • Where are you currently spending time on?
    • How much time are you spending on activities you love, have to and optional or “waste of time” activities?
    • At the end of the day, what would you look back and be proud of or grateful for?
  • Define your definition of balance.  Once you have outline some of the above areas, then decide on how you want to allocate your time.  Time is the only commodity that all of us have in equal amounts.  You may decide that balance for you is majority work as that’s where your passion and love lies.  You may decide that balance is really about how you spend time between what you love to do vs. what you “have to do”.  Let’s face it, there are things that we just have to do e.g clean the house, attend long and boring meetings and play candy crush.
  • Be flexible and adjust along the way.  This is a journey and a process of figuring out what works for you.  Trying to compare or follow what someone else is doing almost never works.  Set your own course and know that it’s not going to be perfect.  Be prepared to make changes when you have to.

I do belong in the camp that believes that work-life balance is a myth.  To think that we can separate what we do (work) with what we do (life) is kind of funny.  To me, it’s all about how we want to live out our lives based on a sense of purpose which creates the priorities that we then live out in real-time.  Are you feeling like you are living a balance life?  If you are not, what changes do you need to make?