In one of the coaching sessions, after a long silence, my business coach drew closer to me, looked directly into my eyes and asked me,
“Would you consider yourself successful, so far in your life and your work?”
My big ego said, “yes, of course”, my heart refused to oblige and however said no. I wanted my own space to reflect and decided not to give voice to my response. But the coach had done her job and the question kept burning inside me!
When a student is ready, a teacher appears.
Have you ever experienced a sense of exhaustion, burn out and a sense of heaviness, you don’t even want to talk to people anymore? You just do the bare minimum you need to do, so you don’t get fired? That was where I was near the end of a 12-year career dealing with satellites and communication. The prospects seemed good, people thought I was in a great spot, but somehow I found myself withdrawing into myself, and up against a brick wall. I found my voice so feeble and dragged myself to work everyday.
It took some time for me to figure out what was happening. My conclusion was that I am ‘selling’ a product that I did believe in. I was not connected with what I was born to do. I was not using my strengths at work nor stay aligned with what gives me fulfillment in life.
BACK TO SCHOOL
The thought was very scary and unsettling, however I decided to pursue that insight that I received. I decided to explore other options at work and generally in life including new hobbies, stretch routines and new friendships. I started getting more insights about what might I love to do, through books, reflective conversations and observations of myself. I realized that I enjoy working with people, help them gain skills and insights and participate in meaningful conversations. I started asking around in my own organization if I could move into a more people centric role, probably in Human Resources. I went back to school and joined a Masters Program to learn skills, test my insights and also build a new network. I refocused my energies and shifted my priorities towards a future that seemed less painful than the present.
Have you ever experienced a sense of exhaustion, burn out and a sense of heaviness, you don’t even want to talk to people anymore? You just do the bare minimum you need to do, so you don’t get fired?
I still vividly remember the first day of the leadership module I attended as part of the Masters program. As always, I was pretty excited to walk into the classroom after work, as I enjoyed those sessions so much. I was surprised to see our new professor in class, listening to music from an audio player, leaning back in his chair like a high school boy with both feet up on the table. This did not fit the image I had about someone who flew in to teach us leadership. Where was the tall, charismatic, influencer who would impress you in the first 5 seconds with an attractive smile and a firm handshake?
AN UNLIKELY MENTOR
I was appalled! How will a person like that be able to teach me anything: much less about business in a corporate setting! In the hours and days that followed, I fell in love with myself and appreciated the professor so much who helped me to do the ‘spade work’ as he commented in my assignment – digging into your inner self, without getting distracted with the noise outside. The poetry, videos, humor, the generous giving and the flashed of insights planted the seeds for a transformation. A leader isn’t someone born perfect, meant to lead. It was someone who emerges out of a necessity, being mindful of self and others, intentional in his words and deeds, someone who did their best and sometimes, just someone with the courage to be different, yet made mistakes.
My learning and exploration continued. I was in a larger corporation, in a role that was much closer to my heart and my energy was at its peak. Few years down the road, I felt the same exhaustion I experienced a number of years back. Why this sense of dissatisfaction then? I realized I am capable of more and wanted to do more, but the structures around me were not helping. Why am I in this bad situation again? What is wrong with me?
When a student is ready, a teacher appears – I believe. A friend appeared with a question:
“What would be the next step in your career/life and what would you do now, so that you prepare yourself for that next step?”
I realized that I didn’t fully appreciate the resources I had and did not see the opportunities that presented in front of me. It was quite some tine before I was clear that I wanted to start my own business practice and will use the current situation to learn all I needed, before making my move. I started saying yes to any projects, especially challenging projects that came my way. Everything made sense now, I was motivated and I saw myself getting closer to where I want to be, with gratitude.
All the events followed helped me become observant, resilient and reflective. I started asking questions to myself and others, explore opportunities even getting out of my comfort zone. I recognized how important my friends, family and well-wishers were, who supported me in all my transitions. My journey had just begun.
THE 3 Cs – Clarity of purpose, Choice in actions & Courage to do something
When I look back and connect the dots, the cycle of insights and growth seemed to be emerging from 3C – Clarity of purpose, Choice in actions and Courage to do something. Each one of them led to the other, all initiated with great questions and the pursuit for answers. I am very pleased where I am, looking forward to the long journey ahead.
Once in a while reflecting on the original question of success, I ask myself:
Am I using and giving the best of all I have?
Does my work help me just to be myself?
Am I in balance in my relationships with family, friends and the planet?
Am I at peace with myself?
The moment, my answer to these four questions is a ‘yes’ (or almost there), the original question about success becomes irrelevant. The journey seems sweeter than the destination.
Principle Consultant & Founding Partner
Singapore CEntre For Positive Change