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No more self-employed lazy guilt

As a self-employed person, I have a tendency to work, work, work. But right now, it’s 9.15am and I still haven’t “done anything”. Is this bad?

Well, first of all: It is not true. Having gotten up at 6.30, I packed my kids off to school, spent 45 minutes exercising and have since been reading “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel whilst eating a healthy breakfast that I enjoyed taking the time to prepare. So I have done something.

But let’s pretend that I had just rolled over in bed, left the family to it and done nothing but sleep. Yesterday, I only did a 2-hour coaching session and I just spent all of July and August on holiday. That doesn’t sound like doing much. Is that OK? Is that what self-employed people do?

Last week, I read an article about the morning rituals of awesome entrepreneurs like Jack Dorsey or Mr Branson. Up at 5.30. Sport. Meditation. Family etc.. Inspired by that this morning, I thought I should probably now sit down and seriously meditate on my top 3 priority business objectives for the day, week and year to come. I should make plans for new services or products, improved efficiency and more profit. That’s what successful business types do in the morning, right?

But quite frankly, I can’t be bothered. I don’t need to do anything. Tomorrow and Friday I’ll be delivering training all day, my revenue-winning calendar is as fully-booked as I’d like it to be and I don’t have anything hanging over my head. Except the “self-employed-lazy-guilt”, that is.

And then the phone rings. Is it a new client calling to ask me if I’m available for training next Wednesday? What will I say? Strictly speaking, I’ll only be lazing around doing nothing but fuelling my own pleasure. Will I be able to say “No”? Can I tell the truth? Or should I say I’m fully-booked? What if he takes a day off himself and sees me at the cinema at 11am? Or running in the park? Where will I hide?

Or maybe it’s my mother, calling to tell me I’m a lazy freelancer and I can’t possibly expect to be successful if I just hang-around doing nothing when work could be done.  “Everybody has to work”. “You can’t expect to just take random days off in the week. Your father could never do that.” Or even worse: “Don’t say ‘No’ to work now. You never know if you’ll still have more next year. You’re lucky people ask you. You should say ‘Yes’.”

Fortunately, it’s an unknown number. The stuff of voicemail. I don’t answer it. Today, I am calling all the shots. As I was promised when I read “Freelancing for Dummies” all those years ago, it would be great if I could do whatever I want whenever I want. If I chose to work for myself, it’s because I thought I could be a better boss to myself than anyone else. Well, I want a boss who loves my happiness more than the cash, productive hours or time-filling. Who is happy with achieving targets and going home early. Correction: Who doesn’t even call it “early” because that implies some form of 9-to-5 ritual just for the sake of it. 

For the new season ahead, my boss is going to tell me take it as easy as possible. “The clients are satisfied and so should you be. And even if they aren’t, you can’t please everyone all the time.” Relax. It’s not lazy. It’s awesomely efficient, minimum effective dose. It’s long-term sustainable, more rounded and balanced. You deserve it. Not because you worked so hard before, but just because you deserve it. Full stop.

So go lay on the grass for a while.. 

Super Dad inspires again !

When I was a boy my Dad was amazing.

At the end of a long day somewhere, as I would drift in-and-out of consciousness in the back seat, he would pilot the car home. I was unaware at the time as to what he was really doing. He was simply an amazing Dad who could drive. When we got home, he was use his super-Dad powers to scoop my 20 kilograms of dead weight into his arms and take me to bed, somehow magically getting me into my pyjamas without waking me up.

Between October and December, he would crack nuts, using only a nutcracker and his super-Dad strength. I couldn’t do this.

At the weekend or some evenings, he would magically remember all the things he needed to do to make spaghetti bolognese, which everyone would agree was brilliant.

And he had a great collection of music. Loads of different stuff. He introduced me to James Taylor, Kris Kristofferson, ELO and god only knows what else. He was even the first person I knew to dig Nirvana.

Today, I am a Dad.

I drive a car, carry my kids to bed and introduce them to music. I still don’t crack nuts. But I can. Because I am amazing and I have super-Dad powers.

It would be easy therefore to think that my Dad was actually just normal. Just bigger and further on in life. But that’s not the point.

The point is that the little things we take for granted as adults continue to amaze and inspire our kids, and to affect their future.

I still make spaghetti bolognese like my Dad told me to and I can see the awe in the eyes of my girls when I do these normal things and they see super-powers.

And the same is true for the not so cool things. I don’t really remember what they were with my Dad, but it stands to reason that if all these other things were blown up into super proportion, then the not-so-good things were too. So what do my girls think when I am tired and miserable, impatient and angry?

And the inspiring never ends.

When I see my Dad today, I see someone who has understood what is important and what is not. Who has stopped running around and no longer does the things he doesn’t want to. I see a man who got his shit together to retire at 50. Who can build a pond or a vegetable patch or fix a motorbike. He still has super-powers and I still want to be like him.

So, I guess that whatever I am doing on Father’s Day, the point is the same: For better or worse, I am inspiring my kids.

All Dads are.

Make it count.

Good luck!

Jim Smith on letting go of your fearful boxes

ATD2015. Session SU304 is underway. Jim Smith says it’s not good enough to think out of the box. We need to get out of the box and act out of the box. 

To do that, you need to keep your personal power. You need to be able to be vulnerable enough to be yourself and not cater to the opinion of others.

But it’s not easy: There are many ways that we lose our personal power, from having fear of failure, to wanting to be liked, being overly-critical of ourselves or being perfectionists…

 

  

 

If you (like me) recognise any of these things, what can you do about it?

In short: Let it go. (I knew that was the theme song for ATD2015)

Really, that’s the whole message: Dare to live in the moment, stop worrying and believe in your personal power.

 

Want to see it in action (that sounds arrogant!) ? Here is my improvised mini-presentation from Jim’s session…

 

As I said to Jim later on, I think the key message here is far important than this post gives credit. Probably, I am not the only person with “self-esteem issues”. Lucky is the man who can say he is really in the moment, not caught up in what is “good” or “bad”, what has always worked in the past, or what “should” be done into future. Many of us worry (Are we doing OK? Will it work? Will people approve?). And caught up in the worry (box) we try desperately to keep doing the same things we always did in the hopes of getting the same satisfactory result.

But is “satisfaction” what we want out of life? Or do we want more? Do we want joy and awesomeness? If the answer if “yes” then it can’t be about staying in our boxes and conforming (to our own self-image or that of other side). “Awesomeness” is not a thing you can put in a box, measure, write and run a process for. It’s a “way” and a “being” that has to be felt. You have to trust in it. And that requires a little faith.

 

Let it go.

 

Read more:

Breaking the wall of idolisation in Furious 7

If grown men have shed a tear in the cinema these last few weeks, it is not for nothing. Even those who manage to maintain their proper place in the audience without playing “Is it him or his brother?” during the first two hours of (Fast and) Furious 7 will have a hard time not being sucked through the fourth wall to join Vin Diesel and friends in their sad tribute to a lost friend during the final scenes.

And it is indeed the actor Vin Diesel they will join. Not his character Dominic Toretto. But the wall-breaking in question is unprecedented: A strange mélange of perceptual positions, a reflection of the human need to idolise and the sad story of every young man who wants to go just a little too fast.

 

Breaking the fourth wall is a storytelling tool we have seen many times before in the movies.

When Ferris Bueller and Jordan Belfort look the audience in the eye, they are giving us permission to sympathise and join them in their comedic or tragic story. They are looking out, talking to the audience, as if they too were a spectator of the story, sitting right there next to us. But of course, they are not even in the room. Only the audience is. The rest is just moving pictures.

At the theatre, things are different. Actors are actually there. But their physical proximity on the stage is no burden to the suspension of audience disbelief. Although we could stand up and touch the actor at any time, it is not the actor we are looking at, but the character in the play. The wall remains intact. It is only when the final curtain falls and the cast steps out from behind to take a bow that the distance is broken and we can make contact with the actor.

In today’s era of “view-with-commentary” Blu-Ray and social-media friending of the stars, we may feel closer to our favourite film stars than ever before. But we know it is not really true. They are not talking to us at all, but to another studio microphone or iPhone keyboard on the other side of the Atlantic. We remain the audience.

But Furious 7 is different. The men sitting in the cinema are as much a part of the tragedy as the men on the screen. What makes the fans cry during those final scenes is not a cheeky wall-breaking wink from Ferris Bueller mid-scene, a handshake with the leading actor backstage, or a revealing DVD-commentary from a sad co-star. It is a true fusion between cast, character and audience that we are not accustomed to in modern cinema, proper to our human need to idolise and fundamentally linked therefore to the tragic story of Paul Walker and our relationship with him.

 

Idolising others is normal human behaviour.

As children, the answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is inevitably the result of our relationship with some hero-figure we would like to emanate. I still want to surf because Johnny Utah did; and every one of my guitar-faces has been subconsciously replayed and rehearsed whilst watching concert footage of Steve Vai.

As adults, we may be less outright in our expression of idolisation, but we still hold the image of successful others on a pedestal and we still strive with more-or-less effort (and success) to be something we are not.

This has probably been the case forever. As Alain de Botton explains so well in his book “The News: A User’s Manual” we have always idolised. Romans did it. The church does it. The role of an idol in any society is to give us someone to identify with, look up to and learn from.

The success of our favourite movies depends on such identification. If you can’t empathise with Cooper‘s promise to his daughter in “Interstellar”, there is no investment or reason to stay with him on the 80-year journey home.

 

In the Fast and Furious franchise, we are given double reason to idolise. 

The first is Paul Walker himself. A handsome, successful strong man, women want him and men want to be him. Poster-boy for Davidoff’s “Cool Water”, humanitarian and father, any near-middle-aged movie fan could be forgiven for having a man-crush on Walker. Most do not have the triceps to be Vin Diesel, nor the Humvee to be The Rock, and Bodhi died already in 2009. And Walker gets to drive really fast cars, which is probably what we all wanted to do when we grew up. The man was a walking success story.

paul walker

Paul Walker, star of the Fast and Furious franchise

The second reason is Walker’s Fast and Furious character Brian O’Connor, who through his own idolisation of Dominic Toretto gives us permission to idolise in the first place. In the original episode, we are introduced to young man who just wants to be cool. Submerged in the world of fast cars and booty, we see the action through the eyes of a child who cannot believe he is really there. And in fact, he is not. O’Connor is undercover as Spilner, pretending to be something he is not, just as we all do. When O’Connor/Spilner nearly beats Toretto in his first quarter-mile race, his “I almost had you” is akin to the feeling of placing a beautiful triple-word score in Scrabble against your father. “I fooled you”. You thought I was just a child, but the boy has become a man. Almost.

 

This strive to identify and subsequent idolisation is the foundation for what is happening today in the cinema.

And it happens in a very special way. The wall is not broken, but transcended by our double identification with Walker/O’Connor and our own confusing place in his story.

And so, in the final scenes of Furious 7, the tearful man on the screen is neither character nor actor. He is both and we can no longer tell if we are looking at Dominic Toretto or Vin Diesel.

And neither is he talking to character Brian O’Connor, nor to the lost actor Paul Walker, but again, to both.

As the soundtrack reminds us that our hero and star is gone, we being to wonder: Who are we exactly? Are we still the audience of these fictional characters? Or the mourning fan? And are we mourning this unknown film-star or have we by now become the man himself? As we consciously realise the extent of our own childish idolisation, we mourn for the person we have never known and for the man we will never ourselves become. And just as this confusing process of self-identification is nearly complete, the camera pans full out to leave us planted back in our seats unsure of exactly what is happening, who we are and who we want to be.

 

There’s no respect in tolerance

Tolerance is supposed to be a good thing. The British stiff upper lip demands that we take a deep breath and don’t aggress those who don’t fit our standards. But this is not the same as true respect.

Today in training, we have discussed the different things that annoy us and how we deal with them. Participants have shared several examples of how people do unacceptable things, but they tolerate them. As if that’s a good thing.

But I only need to tolerate something I can’t tolerate! When someone is disrespectful, I can “teach him a lesson” or I can tolerate it. When someone exceeds the limits of what is acceptable, I can “put him in his place” or I can show tolerance.

But respect is different. Respect is true acceptance of the idea that I have my vision of things and you have yours. I have my beliefs and you have yours. I have my way of doing things and you have yours. None of them are “correct”, “better” or more “valuable”.

When I have respect for the vision, beliefs and behaviour of others, I have nothing to tolerate. I accept that everyone has the right to his own vision, beliefs and behaviour. Everything is “OK” and we can all agree to disagree. 

Tolerance is SO last year.,,

Obligations don’t exist

We all feel obliged from time to to me. But obligation is not a “thing”. Not like a tree is a thing. Or an arm. So, what is it? If we can answer this question, we may find the key to some kind of personal liberation. And maybe even real happiness.

When I first met my wife 13 years ago, I started to learn French. Following the first childish phase of her pointing at objects and giving me their names, we moved on to basic grammar and sentence structure. Pretty soon, I heard the phrase “Il fait beau” (It’s nice weather today). I was expecting that French speakers would say “C’est beau” (It is nice) but was instead confused by this “il”, which had thus-far been restricted to meaning “he”. I wondered: “Who makes it nice today?” (And suspected the answer might be “God” or “the sun.”)

As my learning went on, I heard more and more of these strange third-person phrases, but didn’t give them much thought until I noticed that my wife would regularly say “Il faut…”

  • Il faut qu’on parte
  • Il faut manger maintenant
  • Il ne faut pas dire ca

In all of these expressions, the meaning is the same: “It must be the case that…” But grammatically, this strange “he” appeared again, as if someone else was obliging her.

Having at first wondered if French speakers were controlled by some invisible third-person, I decided it must be a cultural thing. Maybe they do feel more obliged by something external. But then I realised that although the grammar is not the same, my own language is full of these same obligations:

  • I must go now
  • I have to eat
  • You shouldn’t say that

Whatever the language spoken, my reaction to such phrases varies based on my mood: Sometimes I ask “Says who?” Feeling friendly, I might say : “If you like.” And to expose what I sometimes see as indirect manipulation in these phrases, I might ask “But what do YOU think?”

But whatever I feel about such phrases it is important to restate that obligations don’t exist. Not like trees and arms. The answer to “Says who?” is always “me”. Even when I first think it is someone else. I accept that for my wife (and everyone else) her education, belief system and habits lead her quite naturally to feel that some things simply “are the case”, or that there are some rules to which we must abide. But we always choose to subscribe to these rules (or not), consciously or not.

If I want to be a law-abiding citizen, then I have to follow the rules of the country in which I find myself. If I want to understand people, then I have to listen to them. And so on and so forth… But if I don’t want to, I don’t have to.

So the first question is always therefore: What do I want? And to answer this, I have to know who I am. If I know who I am, where I come from, what works for me, what I like and don’t like etc.. I start to get a better picture of why I say things like “We have to…”, “I have to..” and all these other seeming obligations. I get a better understanding of why I announce these things as if they were true, rather than simply my own opinion.

The more I realise this, the more I can decide: Who do I want to be? Which obligations do I want to subject myself to? Who is responsible for my life and my behaviours? And every time, whatever I decide, I realise it’s just me who decided. And me who obliged myself.

Obligations are not a thing in the world, but a thing in me.

The no-mind of creativity

The mind being a collection of experience, education and value judgements, it keeps us safe, structured and sure of the world. But it doesn’t help us to be creative, open-minded and fresh.

It’s Christmas Day and my brother-in-law is playing the piano. In contrast to my mother-in-law or myself, he has no classical training or musicianship and, in short, no idea what he is doing. His music is without scales, without harmony and without structure. But it is beautiful. Since his fingers have not been conditioned by his mind to follow the rules, his music is fresh and different. There is soul and there is innovation.

This “no mind” spirit has created something new. Gone are the 3 or 4 chords of almost every other tune in the Western world. Unaware of how things “should be done”, he is just doing. He is truly creating.

If you want something new, you need first to be free of the old.

The question is how to get this “no-mind” after years of experience, education and value-judgement?

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The burnout monkey trap

Burnout is getting a lot of press in Belgium these days, given the new legislation stating that employers must do something about it. But what can they do? Isn’t burnout just another monkey trap that needs what Charlie Sheen would call a “blink to cure the brain”?

 

Having just subscribed for the Epsilon ForumPlus 2014 conference, my interest in burnout is rekindled (pun intended). I will be following 4 sessions on well-being at work, burnout and flow. I’m intrigued to see what speakers have to say about decreasing the risk of burnout in the workplace.

Recently, I was invited to complete a survey about burnout by a well-known actor in the Belgian HR sector. Questions like “Do you think there is more stress in the workplace today?” and “Do you think remote and mobile working increase stress in the workplace?” seemed odd to me. Maybe I missed the point, but isn’t stress something that is in people rather than the workplace? Or, as the American Institute of Stress says: “we create our own stress because of faulty perceptions you can learn to correct”.

 

Isn’t burnout just another monkey trap?

 

If you want to catch a monkey, but some food in a hole or a jar rooted to the floor. The monkey comes along to get the food and reaches in. When grabbing the food, the monkey forms a fist. And due to the size of its fist, the monkey cannot get its hand out of the jar again. The monkey will not let go of the food in the jar. He has trapped himself. The hunter waits for the monkey to die, or captures it.

Other blog posts have already talked about the analogy between the monkey trap and addiction. And if you think the monkey trap is just a myth, watch this video.

 

I’m just wondering: If burnout is like the monkey trap should we be blaming the forest, the jar or the food? Or should we be blaming the monkey? Should we be trying to change the organisation or conditions of work, putting a stop to flexi-time and homeworking and banning email after 6pm on a Friday? Of course, if the work conditions and employers are unlawful or simply unacceptable, that does need to be changed. But isn’t it more necessary to help our employees better understand why they seek to hold onto their “monkey food” through their burnout disposed behaviour and how to let go of it?

I’m not saying that this will be easy and I’m certainly not belittling burnout. I just don’t think that the organisational solution to stress and burnout reduction should be to take away anything that might cause harm to the people susceptible to burnout. It is easy to rehab when you are in rehab. But people will fall off the wagon when they are back in the real new world of work. Should employers change everything in the environment to suit dysfunctional employees (yes, I did just say that! Whoops!) ? Or should they help people to better deal with their own private monkey traps?

 

And while we are not on the subject: Is burnout a bad thing anyway? It costs companies money and productivity, and it’s no fun for the burnout “victim”, but it may also be a fantastic opportunity to replace an unhealthy flame with something more sustainable, satisfying and healthy for the employee. (More on that later)

 

So, what can the employer do?

 

My own expertise being limited to one person in a non-corporate environment and without a complete vision on the law, this short list of actions is no more than a first brainstorm for employers to consider:

  • Be willing to help
  • Look out for people who show unsustainable behaviour and attitudes towards work
  • Create better dialogue better dialogue between employer/employee; make the “person of confidence” worth confiding in
  • Educate those at risk on the impact of their behaviour and attitudes
  • Help employees to find structure and limits in their approach to work
  • If necessary, help employees to reorient towards more satisfying and fulfilling work

…hopefully, I will hear more ideas at the ForumPlus conference on the 6th November.

See you there?

 

 

Time doesn’t only fly when you are having fun – focus on what brings you energy

There is an idea that “time flies when you are having fun”. 

* (see below post for disclaimer)

But time flies for other reasons too: When you are stressed or under time-pressure, when you are doing addictive chores, when you are asleep…

So don’t think that just because time flies, you are having fun.

I have spent a lot of time flying through time not having enough fun, so my first New Year’s resolution for 2014 is to regularly re-do an exercise proposed by Marcus Buckingham in his book “Go Put Your Strengths To Work”. It’s simple and you can do it too…

 

Step 1: Note what gives you energy

As you go through your working day, any time you are having fun or feeling energetic, make a note of what you are doing. Use seperate post-it notes of bits of paper for each idea – this will help when you get to step 3 later.

I have already noted the following in the last few days:

  • Chasing new ideas, researching things that get my attention
  • Blogging and writing ideas in order to try and communicate them well to other people
  • Hospitality and welcoming people

..and the last time I did this exercise, I had also noted:

  • Developing a presentation for a large audience
  • Speaking to a group of people about a topic on which I am an expert
  • Editing an article to ensure the minimum effective dose of content
  • Consulting with new potential clients, by phone or face-to-face, asking questions in order to understand their situation, values and needs

 

Step 2: Note what drains your energy or makes you unhappy

As with step 1, any time you feel drained or unhappy in what you are doing, note it down. Again, use separate notes.

My own ideas:

  • Working with particular people … I noted their names, but won’t share here 🙂
  • Raising invoices
  • Writing administrative emails to tick-off silly little tasks in preparation for a training or conference
  • Booking hotels, flights and travel

 

Step 3: Categorise wherever possible in order to see the thin-red-line

If I remember well, Buckingham proposes to do the exercises (steps 1+2) for about a week. At the end of the week, see if you can find common points between the different notes. Spread them all out on a table and re-arrange them in order to see how they fit together.

This should give you an idea of what really turns you on … and off.

 

Step 4: The hardest part = Create strategies to maximise the energisers and minimise the drainers

Although I won’t get into this here and now, if you have an idea of when turns you on and what turns you off AND if you are truly willing to invest in your own happiness (so that time flies) then you must work on this step.

Bear in mind that there is always a way to improve your working experience, even if you don’t work for yourself. If you are not sure how to actually make it happen, consider the following ideas to get you started:

 

I know very well that this last step may seem a bit dreamy and some people will read and think “It’s not that easy” but that doesn’t mean the exercise is worthless in itself. Think about what gives you strength, what drains your energy and then make the choice to have a Happy New Year!

 

Thanks for reading,

D

 

ps

* The idea that “time flies when you having fun” is almost true, but in fact there is a mistake in this phrase which is both philosophically interesting and also, I believe, quite dangerous for the fast-moving, entrepreneurial, recognition-seeking type of folk (like me) that are rather desperately on the road to dissatisfaction and burn-out.

In fact, time doesn’t fly when you are having fun. It stops. It disappears. This is important because our obsession with time as an entity or currency leads to lots of attempts to save it, redistribute it or make it move faster or slower than it actually does.

But even my previous paragraph is faulty, because there is no such thing as time. At least not as it is intended in the phrase “time flies when you are having fun”. In that phrase, the time referred to is “clock time” and in reality, we just stop thinking about “clock time” when we are really having fun. We live in the moment, without regard for what will come later or what came earlier. That is indeed why it is fun. Because we are truly alive in the “now” instead of “thinking” and getting caught up in other ego-led desires. And when we do start thinking about it (“clock time”) again, we see that it has flown by. We are much “later” than we thought.

If this little philosophical suffix interests you even in the slightest, read “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle.

Who dares wins

A few weeks ago I was speaking at a conference for a client who wanted to be inspired to move forward with social media initiatives to improve communications, learning and productivity. I did my thing and shared examples of how different tools could be used well for the different goals they had and shared best practices and helped them to discuss risks and opportunities. During the pause, the big chief came to see me and said:

 

“You know Dan, the trouble is that in all these kind of conference sessions we do, we hear a lot of good things, but never any examples of success stories from within our own domain. It was the same with cloud computing, big data, etc.. So I remain reticent.”

 

To be clear: The organisation in question is a large public non-commercial bureaucratic organisation in Belgium and it is true that there are not a hundred relevant examples of other organisations already doing the same thing. But here’s my point:

 

If no-one is willing to try out new things and accept some risk in being the first, how is anyone else going to be able to show relevant examples to the late-adopters? If no-one dares, no-one wins.

 

Am I being naive?