#595     Innovative Leader           Volume 13, Issue 2                    February 2004

Shifting Your Professional Life In Gear
by Joyce Weiss

Joyce. Weiss ( www.joyceweiss.com) customizes keynote speeches and training workshops.  She is author of Full Speed Ahead: Become Driven by Change and Take the Ride of Your Life! (Bloomfield Press, W. Bloomfield, MI, 1996, 2002).

If eighty-hour workweeks and impending layoffs are leaving you apprehensive about your career decision, you’re not alone. These days, countless professionals are yearning for a more fulfilling career that can give them both personal and professional satisfaction. They want the freedom to design the career of their dreams and the self-reliance to trust that they made the correct decision.

Unfortunately, many business people are going through their day-to-day work activities feeling as if they’re pedaling a bicycle uphill in the wrong gear. They feel as if they’re racing through their day out of control and unable to put the brakes on fast enough. They secretly yearn for the feelings of freedom and self-reliance they used to have when they rode bicycles as teenagers. Due to increasing pressures of work, they feel overwhelmed and are desperately seeking some sort of balance in their day.

For many people, their most vivid childhood memories center on their first bicycles. Baby boomers, sounding like teenagers again, describe their muscle bikes, stingrays, ten speeds, and mountain bikes. They vividly recall that “tat-a-tat” sound of playing cards placed in the spokes and the sight of banana seats, high-rise handlebars, and shiny chrome fenders. The more people talk about their bicycle stories, the more it becomes evident that those experiences are deeply related to who they are today and how they face their everyday work life challenges.

Think back for a moment to your first bicycle experience. Who taught you how to ride? What lessons did you learn? Are you the same now as you were when you were a little girl or boy? When we look back at our bicycle experiences, we gain a better understanding of how to recapture those childhood feelings of independence, adventure, and joy. We learn how to maneuver though our adult career journey and are able to enjoy this ride we call life. The following suggestions will help you regain your sense of balance so you can grow to reach your true career objectives.

Safely navigate work’s potholes.

In order to excel professionally, you need the ability to learn from mistakes rather than dwell on them. While learning lessons only through positive experiences would be terrific, life isn’t like that for a good reason. Our negative experiences teach us how to use failure as a learning tool. In fact, we wouldn’t be who we are if we didn’t have both our good and bad lessons.

The truth is that the only wrong mistake is one we didn’t learn from. Another key to mastering the ride of work is to understand that when things go wrong, we have a choice. We can be our own worst enemy or we can be our own best friend. We can criticize ourselves and curse our own bad luck, or we can coach ourselves, extract value from what we learned, and focus on how we can handle that situation better in the future.

The next time something devastating happens to you, whether it’s a layoff or a failed project, remember that there are lessons to be learned. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t savor your positive moments and enjoy your achievements, awards, and accomplishments. Enjoy them—just make sure you don’t stay stuck in the “I’m the greatest” mode. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that since you are “already there,” you don’t have to try as hard. Truth be known, those are the times you need to try even harder to excel and stretch your perceived potential.

Take the direct route.

Many people are so confused at work that they don’t know what is expected of them anymore. They can’t get honest feedback from colleagues or managers, and they question whether or not their work is up to company standards. It’s during these times that people need to use straight talk to build rapport and solve issues.

Straight talk means being able to communicate openly and honestly without alienation or hurt feelings. Straight talk is one of the hardest, yet most important, skills. It is a new way of communicating for those who are used to holding things inside. When you use straight talk, you’re being direct and truthful, and this makes you feel self-confident and enables you to gain the respect and mutual feedback you deserve.

Encourage straight talk by thinking about what you really want to say, writing it down, and practicing it. The more you use it, the more comfortable you’ll feel and the more your colleagues will follow your lead. In order to continually improve and grow, being direct and opening lines of communication will be a step in the right direction.

Stay balanced when the road is bumpy.

The majority of people are running on empty these days. They’re exhausted from going all out, all the time. They need to learn that there’s more to work than simply increasing its speed. When they do, they’ll create a balance that will enable them to excel.

If your workday feels out of balance, the quickest way to identify what is missing is to know your core values. Values are the qualities that have tremendous impact on your life. Core values are the laser beams that keep you focused on achieving your brilliance. Some common values are empathy towards others, commitment to a cause, uniqueness and creativity, and being at peace. When you ignore your personal values for the sake of others, keeping balanced is a challenging ordeal.

What is holding you back from achieving balance in your day? Can you say no to the things that are not consistent with your core values? To be fulfilled, sometimes you have to say no to others. Ask yourself if you spend your time on things that really matter to you or if you spend your time on other people’s goals. To gain balance, you first must be true to yourself. When you gear down, relax, and enjoy the flowers on the side of the road, you learn to see the forest for the trees and the bike paths that go through it.

Stop pedaling in circles.

How long has it been since you’ve tried something new and different in your work? If your daily work routine has become a rut, it’s time to stop pedaling in circles and begin to take risks in order to reach new heights. When you refuse to move forward and embrace new challenges, you begin to stagnate. The result is often a disgruntled mindset that leads to unfulfillment.

Look in the mirror to evaluate your weaknesses, and constantly improve. To get an even broader perspective, ask people who you trust to make suggestions how you need to grow. They will probably give you new insights about yourself. Think of their constructive feedback as a gift for your own growth. Use their advice to guide your skills education decisions. Do you need to take a computer class, a writing course, or attend a management training workshop? Do what’s necessary to expand your horizons.

Continually add value to your organization and contribute more than you cost. Expect your employer to want more from you. Go to networking meetings and share what you learned with your team to make your company stronger. Realize that what worked in the past won’t necessarily work today. So if you want to carve a new career for yourself or enhance your current one, you must take responsibility for your own future and continue to learn new skills on a daily basis.

Success rarely has anything to do with your financial success or your position title; it’s about the sense of accomplishment and the enthusiasm you have about your work. Your ability to safely navigate workday obstacles, use straight talk, stay balanced, and keep learning will help you recapture the feelings of your youth when your bike was your ticket to exhilaration and your future was limitless. Just as you were the only one who could control your bike’s path, you are the only captain of your professional life. Sometimes the journey will be easy coasting, while other times it will be an uphill bumpy trek. Either way, it’s up to you to shift your professional life in gear and create the career of your dreams.

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2006 Winston J. Brill & Associates. All rights reserved.