happiness-quote

The Pursuit of Happiness

Happiness – this seems to be the recurring theme.  Ever since I started my journey to escape my current job, I have heard countless people talk and write about the search for happiness.  Am I looking for happiness?  I’m not per se.  What I am looking for is contentment and fulfilment which I don’t feel I have right now. I guess, achieving the latter and former should ultimately lead to happiness.

So why is it we are all so unhappy?

What is happiness?  Having searched Google, I’ve found there are a whole host of definitions.  This however is my favourite and it resonates with me. happiness-quoteAre we all so unhappy because we aren’t achieving our values or goals?  Are we not flourishing as individuals?  For me this is true.  Why are so many of us now seeking a new way of living?  How did we end up where we are in the first place?

Ken Robinson describes the fault with the education system “every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects…at the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities and at the bottom are the arts”.  Why is this?

Ken Robinson has written many books on this subject and his famous Ted Talk – Do Schools Kill Creativity is a favourite of mine.  The education system was created in the Industrial Revolution to produce academics.  The subjects that were placed at the top of the education hierarchy were there because they were the subjects that would lead you into jobs.   Back then this was what we needed and it meant a steady well paid job for those who chose that path. Today there is so much more choice and the working environment has completely changed.  The paths the academic system led us to are not necessarily areas we particularly excel in, so is this the cause of our unhappiness?

The fact that the education system stigmatises individuals who choose to study arts means there is an unfair pressure being put on individuals to choose subjects they don’t excel in. Are we unhappy because we haven’t found our element?

Finding your element

Another book by Ken Robinson is Finding Your Element.  Ken recommends using a multitude of methods to find your element; he never recommends one over another because he recognises that we are all individuals and we have different learning styles.  He points out that we may believe ourselves to be weak at a subject, but the reality is this may be down to the way we were taught.

We all have unique learning styles.  Having completed the Honey and Mumford learning styles questionnaire, my preferred styles are pragmatist and theorist, followed by reflector and lastly activist.  This makes sense as I like a good plan and I like to understand why and how things fit together.

honey-and-mumford

Thinking back about my education and experience, I have always favoured pragmatism. I am a pragmatist – someone who is practical and focused on reaching a goal. So long as I have a goal in sight, I am pretty happy working my way towards it.

I went through school to get to university.  It had been drummed into me from an early age, in order to get a good job, I needed to go to university.  I studied Business and Marketing, my favourite part was my sandwich year – practical application.

After university, I did several temporary jobs in the public and not-for-profit sector before I went travelling for a year. I returned to work in the charity sector (as a fundraiser) because working for a commercial organisation didn’t feel right.  Many people are unhappy because they don’t see the value of the work they do.

Should I be happy just because I work for a charity?

To be honest, I think the work our front line workers do is amazing. However I am not happy because I still find my role unfulfilling and I don’t like the culture I work in. I would feel more fulfilled if I was having direct impact, working for myself and with more like minded people.  There are several boxes that need to be ticked. Is problem solving for social good my element?

Organisational culture is interesting.  Freedom, flexibility and creativity are important to me.  Areas of which I don’t feel are promoted or encouraged enough where I work.

In fact, I feel creativity is quite often stifled due to laborious processes which drain the fun out of everything.  Also, shortsightedness – the inability to plan for the future and see what might be is frustrating.

This has made me focus on who my actual target audience should I follow my creativity and innovation consultancy route.

The Opportunity Exists

Our education system is no longer fit for purpose; it no longer meets the needs of changing society. It doesn’t respond to the fact that children are growing up in a digital and always connected world.  This creates different needs and brings many different opportunities.  The present education system doesn’t prepare them for the future.  The fact that our education system still chooses to be based on a hierarchy established in the Industrial revolution means that many young people are being excluded unfairly.

Children are taught to conform, following a standardised curricula so they can perform well in their standardised tests. Standardisation means we are ignoring and only developing in areas dictated by a few individuals – mainly politicians – and let’s admit it, what do they know about the real world?

We are all born with the capacity for divergent thinking but studies have shown that this ability deteriorates with age.  It is educated out of us because of standardisation. By the time we leave school, our ability to think laterally has all but gone.

In this current age, we are looking for innovative solutions to the world’s problems, we look for collaborators as we know that the best ideas come from groups rather than individuals working alone.  Our education system has not and does not prepare individuals for this.  Tapping back into our creative mind set takes effort and requires re-education.  There are a lot of people who could do with this training, finding and working with those who it would benefit most is now the challenge.

Choose wisely

Even as a consultant, working for myself, I am still accountable to my client.  Therefore, I should choose my client base based on who will bring me most contentment and fulfillment.  Who will achieve the most from what I have to offer and where can we make the biggest impact.

Is it a case of the ‘what ifs’ or something else?

I’ve discovered that developing new products for an employer is a completely different ball game to starting my own business.  I have a business idea, in fact I have several, but why am I struggling to make progress? I know what I need to do but I am I really struggling to get anything done.

I’ve come to the conclusion that fear is my barrier.

In order to get started, I need to gather my supporting insights. I need to:

  • validate assumptions about my users
  • build my user profiles
  • research and understand the competitors – direct and indirect

Avoidance

fear_ahead_sign
fear ahead

Rather than just get on with it, I’m sitting here writing a blog about it.  It’s clearly an avoidance technique.  Is it fear that is holding me back? What if no one wants to use the service I am offering? What if the market doesn’t exist? What if there are already lots of competitors? What if, what if, what if?

I am overwhelmed by the ‘what ifs’ and it is starting to drive me a little bit crazy.  If I am really honest about it, I truly believe there is a market for the service I want to deliver and there are few UK suppliers, if any (I have already done a bit of research) so what’s the real problem?

Do I fear failure?  Well no, because I have already said that this is very much my first project and I need to do it to learn from it.  So what exactly is my problem?

A lot of my anxiety is around starting an online business and the legalities and technicalities behind it. I did some research into starting an online business but I don’t feel the information is sufficient and I am not confident with what I have read. I think this is what I am truly avoiding. I need to speak to someone who has done this before, who can provide the advice I need to crack on, as this avoidance technique is hampering my progress.

Reaching out and asking for help

Some people have no problem asking for help, in fact a colleague of mine drives me insane as her first thought is always to ask someone else rather than to turn to her own internal ability. I, on the other hand, am used to being self-reliant.  I rarely rely on others for anything and this can hamper.  I recognise this as a weakness and is one I need to face head on if I am going to make progress faster.

There are so many different levels of fear, but fear is a good thing.  If I wasn’t aware of it, I wouldn’t know how to really challenge myself. I am therefore going to set myself a task of identifying potential mentors by mid September as I am going to require assistance in quite a few areas.  Asking for help is not a weakness but a necessity in growth and development.

You have to know what you want… that ideal job

As planned in my last update Getting Granular, I have been actively working away on my targets for this week. Right now I am feeling very inspired and hopeful. It’s been a progressive week, in many ways, which started with focusing  on getting onto paper what my ideal job was.  A lot of it was just things I like about my present role and things I enjoy doing that should be a main part of my job but aren’t because I work in a mammoth of a machine for an organisation and I am a mere cog.  The culture is definitely killing me, whether it be slowly or fast I’m not quite sure yet but I sure done want to hang around too long to find out.

A Clear Vision

So I wrote my job description. It is by no means full and complete. I’ve trained myself to just be able to get things done without worrying about it being perfect and complete. If the bare bones are there, it’s a starting point. I can’t grow something which doesn’t exist so I aim to get anything down just as long as it’s something. I wrote down five aspects I enjoyed and would like to continue doing.  I felt a weight had been lifted; I had a clearer vision of what I enjoyed.

Here’s where the strangest thing happened. My current job has been under review for the last few months because I have raised that it is not fit for purpose from a business point of view. I have had various discussions about what might work better but nothing has been agreed.

The day after I write my ideal job description, I come across an article about replacing Chief Innovation Officers with Innovation Enablement Leaders – the IEL role is to my surprise more or less the job I had drawn out for myself. To top things off,  my boss raises the question about the direction of my role again. It could not have been more perfectly timed.

The organisation I work for needs to go undergo a number of cultural changes before it is ready to take the next step. It wants to be more innovative; it needs to be, but everything that is a move from the norm is a struggle, or fails because the foundations are poor. The house isn’t in order and there’s too much bureaucracy and internal politics.

The previous discussions I had about my role have been merely plasters over a wound. They don’t treat the cause. I like to use the sand castle analogy. I can build a castle and make it huge, but if the foundations are poorly arranged then the sea will just erode away anything I build.

Insight, Values and Opportunities

With my newly developed insight and the timely article, I feel that actually my role should be something different, more than a plaster, more like a breeze block. This sounds like an amazing opportunity; to be doing what I want to be doing, however I am only part excited by it. I am not jumping for joy, but why?

Fact is I no longer like my employer. There are parts of the business that don’t fit with my values. I never wanted to work for a religious organisation but it is becoming more so. It’s a huge machine and everyday is an uphill battle. I spend more time thinking about and trying to resolve politics than doing the things that make a difference to the bottom line. Besides, I have felt like my skills will diminish if I don’t leave soon. I don’t practice what I am self learning fast enough and I am impatient and thrive on growth.  Although this opportunity is tempting, I’ve learnt to stick to my guns.  If it doesn’t fit with my values and what I am striving for, then I shouldn’t choose it. The role is right, but the environment is wrong; I’m striving for the full package.  I am more excited about leaving this all behind to start a new phase of my life.

My manager has no idea of my intention to leave but as we have been discussing a change in role, the time is fast approaching for that awkward conversation. I have however made a plan – a proposal of sort – for what I’d like the role to do and to make it a six month project. This way the project is defined and I get to help deliver substantial changes which should leave them in a much stronger position than they are in now. That’s the theory anyway.

My vision for the role is to build innovation capacity so that they can deliver innovative solutions. It’s a self sustaining model and it’s about capacity building which is ultimately what I stand for. Empowerment of individuals who can collectively make a difference. I feel excited by this. I just hope they buy it!

Making Substantial Progress

Other progresses I’ve made have been about what to do after my placement. I have more ideas now. If the project above succeeds that’s a string to my bow as I’d definitely like more of that. But having returned to The Escape Manifesto – my Bible – I have found inspiration from the suggested readings and case studies of fellow escapees. The article that resonates with me most right now is How to become an idea machine. Reframing questions:  “when is an idea too big” re thought as “how do I make all ideas smaller and achievable”. The Richard Branson story of how he started the airline business inspired me to have faith and confidence in myself. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do anything new because I didn’t have the right expertise but you know what, when you break it down, it becomes instantly possible. The opportunities now appear to be endless. I shut down many ideas because  I thought they were too big, but now I have a renewed energy to chase those tennis balls.

If you read The Escape Manifesto or talk to anyone from Esc, you will immediately understand the tennis ball reference. It’s about finding your passion.  Apparently, it was Drew Houston, founder of Dropbox, who made the first reference to Tennis Balls in his MIT Commencement Speech but I first heard it at the Esc taster session I attended.

With my renewed energy and focus, my mental to do list has grown exponentially. I am starting to feel a little overwhelmed with the things I want to cover and get through.  I woke up with a busy mind, which frankly is not a great way to start the day.

Prioritise and Chill Out

As I have made a lot of progress in identifying things I need to read, sites I need to visit, videos I need to watch, people I might want to connect with, I feel a prioritisation exercise looming. Being someone who can often be impatient, I have to remind myself that this is a marathon and not a sprint.  I need to pace myself to avoid burnout.

This week I will:

  • Get organised – make lots of lists on my OneNote account so that they are accessible where ever I am.
  • Prioritise the information I want to get through
  • Decided on my meetups as I’ve still not done this
  • Confirm my _SocialStarters placement