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Category: Motivation

What Evolving In Our Career Truly Means

We all have deep need to evolve into something or someone better than who we were before the pandemic, for ourselves, and for others around us.

My 9 year old son is a big Pokemon fan. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t give me another update about his Pokemon card collection. The iconic trading card phenomenon that originated in the late 1980’s has now turned into a multibillion dollar business including several video games, cartoon series, toys, merchandise, and more recently full length feature movies. If you’ve never dived into it yourself growing up, you probably know someone who has. During conversations with my son, I’ve always been intrigued about how Pokemon creatures evolve. They grow from their original size and skill set and upgrade to new and improved physical attributes. I had to look this up some more and found the best description of this from a Pokemon fan site (Stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this):

“Pokemon, like all organic life are characterized by growth, specialization, and reproduction. One of the biggest elements of growth in the Pokemon world is the phenomenon of evolution, by which a Pokemon takes a form more suitable to its environment and circumstances. This is a much more simplified and rapid form of the same general idea as evolution in the real world. The point is, Pokemon evolve because that’s what their environment demands of them. This is especially obvious because many Pokemon evolve naturally over time, as they grow, and take on more powers and more complex shapes and abilities.”

Though at the core it’s a fictional idea, Pokemon evolution can be synonymous with how we can evolve in our careers. If the last 2 years has taught us anything during this pandemic, it’s evolving in our careers is something we need to continually consider and strive for. As the world rapidly changes around us, the increase in remote work has not only transformed the way we function and communicate with our colleagues, but it has opened up new ways for businesses to market and sell to their customers. There have been challenges, but at the same time it’s opened up new possibilities for innovation and creative problem solving. As new opportunities around us become available, we tend to get uncomfortable with the status quo. We get frustrated when we feel ‘stuck’ in the same role or company because by nature we have a desire to keep growing and stretch ourselves to participate in new experiences and use our expertise to solve the new problems ahead of us. 

Evolving in our career is not just about achieving a promotion or finding another opportunity that provides you with an increase in pay and benefits. It’s about upgrading your skills and finding ways to solve uncommon challenges that arise in today’s economy. It’s about giving yourself purpose and excitement each day as you wake up and face another workday.

As we’ve seen with the ongoing pandemic, our lives are unpredictable and fleeting. We really don’t know how much time we have left. As a result many have decided to make their work days count. The Great Resignation of 2021 signaled the end of meaningless work for millions of North Americans. Last year in July an estimated 4 million North American employees resigned from their current positions. They resigned because at the time there was a record breaking 11 million open job opportunities by the end of July.

As Ian Cook describes in an Harvard Business Review article, the pandemic pushed many to think about evolving in their careers. “Months of high pandemic workloads due to hiring freezes and other pressures caused workers to rethink their work and life goals. [This lead to] mid-level employees leaving their jobs in droves. With remote work there’s a greater demand for employers to hire experienced workers due to the lack of in person training available.”

The Atlantic’s Dereck Thompson’s take on the Great Resignation is slightly different. “The increase in people quitting is mostly about low-wage workers switching to better jobs in industries that are raising wages to grab new employees as fast as possible. [Resignations in the] leisure and hospitality [sector] have increased four times faster than for the largest white-collar sector. More people are quitting their job to start something new.”

Indeed. 

It seems as though the pandemic has pushed many of us to consider the opportunities available to use our transferable professional skills and do better. The Great Resignation on the surface can seem to be about just better wages, but when we look closer it’s more about a deep need to evolve into something or someone better than who we were before the pandemic, for ourselves, and for others around us.

From a personal perspective, developing professionally is proven to increase the levels of our brain’s neuroplasticity. Learning environments that offer plenty of opportunities for focused attention, novelty, and challenge have been scientifically shown to stimulate positive and rapid changes in the brain. When we were young, it was easier to experience improvements to our brain’s plasticity because we were eager to discover and learn new things. On top of that our motor skills grew leading us to go from crawling to walking and then eventually running and other tasks as we came of age. New neuron connections and brain pathways were consistently being created. When we become adults, we tend to get settled in a career and slow down this neurological process when we don’t challenge ourselves to evolve professionally or personally. Having a personal desire to evolve in our careers builds intrigue, growth and excitement, all factors that increase the development of our neuroplasticity.

From a corporate standpoint evolving in our careers can breed innovation within our companies and ultimately lead to a positive impact on our communities. In the late 1800’s George Washington Carver wasn’t just a brilliant scientist, he had a knack for creative artistic impressions, specifically in the area of botanical drawings. Before the days of photographs, botanists (or plant scientists) depended on precise drawings that displayed the essence of a plant’s physiology, reproductive organs, and commercial potential. In discovering this, Carver combined the two skills together, using art to provide visual insights for his scientific discoveries. But it wasn’t a skill that just gave him personal satisfaction alone or looked good for presentations.

As an agricultural scientist, Carver’s ability to combine art and science led him to discover marketable products from crops that poor southern farmers could grow, including sweet potatoes, peanuts and other horticultural products, such as fruits and vegetables. In 1941 TIME Magazine labeled him the greatest African American scientist alive in an article entitled, “Black Leonardo”, bringing reference to his many discoveries combining arts and science including finding 285 new uses for the peanut and 118 products from sweet potato including vinegar, molasses, and shoe blacking. Carver’s evolution from just being an agricultural scientist had an impact not only on his life but on thousands of others, socially and economically.

From reading about Carver’s significant contributions to understanding our brain’s full neurological growth potential, we can be confident that there are unlimited possibilities for us to evolve in our careers. Enhancing our work life and making an impact on those around us. This will be a journey of self discovery. One that will mean we’ll need to face the following truths to fully experience the career evolution we’re looking for:

We must be intentional about identifying opportunities that are not in our place of comfort or familiarity, and put ourselves in situations where our thinking and creativity can be stretched.

We must be vulnerable to admit when we don’t know something, and commit to lifelong learning and professional development.

We must be willing to invest time in building strategic relationships based on a willingness to serve and develop others, as well as learn from others, without the expectation of getting anything back in return.

Ultimately there will need to be something specific to each of us that creates a desire to evolve professionally. As the Pokemon expert explained, “Pokemon evolve because that’s what their environment demands of them”. What do our personal situations demand of us? Our ‘Why’ of evolving is just as important as how we go about achieving it. Stephen R. Covey sums this up best in his book Primary Greatness, “Security today no longer lies in the old psychological contract of lifetime employment. Security lies in the ability to continue to produce what the marketplace wants, and those wants are constantly changing. Unless people learn, grow, and progress to accommodate the market, there can be no security. Our personal development should be relevant to the economy, the industry to the company, and to our current assignment”. 

Our assignment is our purpose. And our purpose is the very thing that will ignite a passion to evolve.

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Opportunity Missed?

Everyday we make decisions. And those decisions reflect how much we value our time and money. In a larger sense these decisions are ultimately building blocks for the future real estate of our life and career.

That’s why Opportunity Cost should not just be measured in business. It should be measured in our entire lives holistically. Opportunity Cost is the value of the next-best alternative when a decision is made; it’s what is given up. $100 going out to eat is a $100 not invested in a high interest savings account.

However, not all Opportunity Cost decisions are black and white. If the $100 for dinner is with a mentor that can help increase your professional value and network, or with someone we’re building a significant personal relationship with, then the opportunity missed to invest for monetary gain was given up for something of equal or greater value.

In the case for spending $600 million on a Canadian election (2 years after the last one) during a pandemic, only to have little change in the results? Well, most would say that Opportunity Cost is pretty black and white. $600 million could have been better spent.

Author Todd Henry sums it up best: “Each choice you make to do something is a choice not to do something. You can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want.”

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Treat Yourself Mondays

A new survey by LinkedIn found that 80% of workplace professionals experience stress and anxiety that builds up on Sunday nights before the return of the work week, also known as the “Sunday Scaries.”

3 quick ways to combat these feelings when they arise are:

1. Take 10 minutes Sunday evening and write down the top 3-5 items, work or personal related, that you will accomplish on Monday. If work related issues are driving the biggest anxieties, create a quick action plan on how you’ll address them instead of just thinking about it.

2. Start winding down Sunday evening at a reasonable time. Listen to music, read inspirational articles or stimulating books. Remove every and anything that stimulates you in a negative way.

3. Treat for yourself on Monday. Wake up early and buy yourself breakfast or a fancy $10 coffee from Starbucks. Ultimately the idea is to give yourself give something to look forward to Monday morning.

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Completed Cycles

Sleep cycles are an interesting topic to research in depth of you have the time. Studies have shown the quality of our sleep directly impacts our daytime productivity levels. But its information that’s universally known.

What may not be common knowledge is that we all go through sleep cycles each night and that a good night sleep hinges on us completing each cycle we start in full. For example there are 4 stages of our sleep cycle: Light Sleep, Moderate Sleep, Deep Sleep, and REM (Rapid Eye Movement).

Each stage has its own traits that we experience. We need to experience each stage for one sleep cycle to be complete. On average we go through a total of 4 to 6 cycles a night each averaging about 90 mins. The trouble starts when we wake up in the middle of a stage, leaving a cycle incomplete.

If you’ve ever wondered why you accomplished the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep but still felt groggy in the morning, you probably woke up in the middle of stage 2 or 3.

There are hundreds of other cycles in our lives I could use to backup the main point of this post which is: cycles need to be completed in full for us to benefit from them. Even when we decide to close a business, or quit a project, drafting a ‘post mortem’ to review what went wrong is good practice to ‘close the loop’.

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We Can Stop Climbing

There’s a reason why it’s called climbing the corporate ladder. If you climb long enough you’ll eventually reach your ‘peak’ or get to the pinnacle of your career.

But there’s a catch. Once you reach that pinnacle the natural progression is to reach for the next level. And the level after that. And so on.

Careers void of any real purpose usually follow this trend. And there’s inherently nothing wrong with that. Accomplishments in higher positions and more compensation are the default pursuits when we haven’t defined a true purpose for our daily work and lives.

That’s the thing about true purpose. It should always involve making the lives of others better. And the best part is there’s no limitation to the opportunities available. There will always be those who are in need of creative solutions to some of the worlds most dire issues – e.g. Flint MI.

The beauty of it is we don’t need to keep ‘climbing’ to make purposeful impact.

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Reframing

Planning, drafting, forecasting, are all guess work in its simplest form. We do our best to gather as much information ahead of time to make the most accurate estimation of how things will work out. The only sure occurrence will be the arrival of ‘uncontrollables’. The unexpected events that can derail our plans.

And when our efforts get derailed we either give up or try again by replanning, redrafting, and reforcasting. The latter is a more optimistic view of the situation, even when things looks dire. Ultimately we decide to view the shortcoming from a different perspective.

When we do this we are ‘reframing’ the situation. Reframing or cognitive reframing is the process of looking at a current situation from a different perspective and changing the way we define it. Therapist use this technique to help clients with distorted thinking patterns.

When we don’t get what we want or the unexpected happens, there’s often a silver lining available for us to unpack.

•We didn’t get that coveted job we applied for, but the daily round trip commute was two hours on a good day.

•Our business failed, but the lessons learned from the ‘after action review’ will help us avoid the same mistakes on our next business venture.

Practicing the habit of cognitive reframing is beneficial from a productivity standpoint, but more importantly from a personal mental health perspective. The way we think about a situation emotionally takes precedence over the actual details of the moment.

Tearing down what we already know and replacing it with a refreshed, positive point of view daily is a practice that will help us personally as well as professionally.

You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control how you frame it. Reframe your mind, restore your perspective. – Craig Groeshel

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From Okay to Awesome

The creative process is usually invisioned as this deep fulfilling experience of going into a trance and producing our best work from it over and over again. It typically does work that way though.

I follow venture capitalist Arlene Dickinson on. She’s most known for appearing on the popular show Dragon’s Den for over 10 years. For Americans reading this, Dragon’s Den is the original Shark Tank.

She recently posted the following on LinkedIn that fully summarized the creative process we actually go through.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

1. THIS IS AWESOME

2. THIS IS TRICKY

3. THIS IS SH#%T

4. I AM SH#%T

5. THIS MIGHT BE OK

6. THIS IS AWESOME

I couldn’t help but laugh inside and fully agree with the accuracy of the sentiments.

Our creative process isn’t as linear as we’d like it to be. But the emotional roller coaster we ride can end up being a significant source from where we pull our greatest ideas and solutions from.

In other words, what’s starts off as SH#%T might actually end up as being AWESOME.

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Potential Requires Process

When we have big aspirations to accomplish something significant, our brain by default goes into short cut mode and tries to find the quickest or easiest way to get there. It’s the very reason microwaves were invented.

I just finished reading the highly regarded book ‘Can’t Hurt Me’ by David Goggins. At the end when he gives his acknowledgements to those who supported him, he reveals the book was a 7 year process in the making. That wasn’t the original timeline but a result of getting the most out of the opportunity to share his story. The book went on to be a New York Times Best Seller.

A consideration of how much time will be used executing a thorough process hardly comes to mind at first but creeps up on use once we’re in the midst of the journey.

It’s important to understand that in anything we seek to do, no matter how long it takes, process is the key to unlocking our full potential.

“If you quit on the process, you are quitting on the result.” – Idowu Koyenikan

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Untarnished Super Bowl Rings

In 2020 and 2021 veteran running back LeSean Mckoy won back to back Super Bowl championships with 2 different teams: The Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers respectively.

Several media pundits were quick to point out that he never played a single minute in each game. Those same individuals wouldn’t be as quick to tell you that despite not playing in the big game McKoy achieved his 8th straight year of 1000 yards or more from scrimmage.

If you’re not familiar with that football term, just know it’s not something the majority of NFL players today can say they’ve accomplished. Also being a veteran player there were other leadership intangibles Mckoy brought to the team that could have easily gone unnoticed by the causal fan or media ‘expert’.

And that’s okay, because Mckoy will always be known as a Super Bowl Champion and it can never be taken away from him. He made the conscious decision to agree to his role in the team. And executed it when called upon.

When we sign up to do anything we must ask ourselves are we genuinely interested in experiencing success that will be personally and corporately satisfying? Or are we just interested in social notoriety? Long term, significant success tends to be the result of the former than the latter.

Success is still success even when the masses have no idea of it ever happening.

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What’s Your Favourite Chocolate Bar?

As I’m writing this I currently work for one of the world’s largest chocolate and pet food manufacturers. Mars Inc. has been around for over 100 years and I was fortunate enough to land a position with them in their commercial division last spring.

But that’s how it’s currently going, not how it started.

In 2015 I had applied for a different position with Mars and was invited in for an interview. Though I could have answered some of the questions better, overall I felt I had wrapped up the discussion on a high note. That’s until they asked me the final question:

Mars: “So what’s your favourite chocolate bar?”

Me: “Reese peanut butter cups.”

Mars: “Hmm, oh ok that’s not one of ours.”

Me: {Makes awkward smiley face}

In my preparation I overlooked one of the most basic fundamental principles in impressing during an interview: understanding the difference between a company’s products and their competitors.

Not saying that mishap was the reason I didn’t get the job, but I’m confident it didn’t help my cause.

My advice: over prepare for big opportunities. The devil will always be in the details.

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