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Category: Skills

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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Let’s Make A Deal

On July 26, 2019, Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner signed a three-year, $54 million contract extension with the Seahawks through the 2022 season with $40.2 million guaranteed. The deal elevated Wagner to being tanned the highest-paid middle linebacker in the NFL.

What makes the deal even more remarkable is Wagner negotiated directly with the team without an agent.

Now this isn’t the part where I tell you that Wagner waltzes into the GM’s office and charms him into the biggest contract in the history of his position.

In actuality Wagner took time to study the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement and several linebacker contracts to gain knowledge about his worth. Once he had the information he needed, he possessed the leverage to get his ‘bag’.

The distance between where we are right now and what we ultimately want in life lies in the trenches of effective, deliberate, and sometimes unconventional work. It’s the unconventional that often yields uncanny results.

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More vs Efficient

Before many of us were mandated to work from home due to the global pandemic, entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes already had driving operational efficiencies on their radar.

Remote work and lockdown closures has unlocked another layer to what efficiency looks like in our holistic daily lives.

Case in point, my home office has evolved into just more than a space I use to conduct business. It doubles as my home gym, coffee reading area, man-cave for movies and gaming, and a fully functional studio space.

Oh, and my wife operates her business in the same space too.

The Covid-19 pandemic has emphasized that more is the enemy of efficient. And the more efficient we can be in our whole lives, the more effective our impact will be in whatever we set out to do.

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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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The Unconscious Shortcuts We Make

In the evenings during the week I take time and watch the show Brain Games on Disney+ with my kids. It’s a great informative show about the way our brains work and encourages the viewer to be interactive with the host by playing several fun brain building games along the way.

After watching a dozen episodes, several of them refer to the concept of Heuristics and Cognitive Biases.

Heuristics are mental shortcuts that allow us to problem solve and make choices fast and efficiently. It helps us minimizes time we use to make decisions and allows us to operate without constantly stopping to think about our next move. Heuristics are beneficial in many ways, but they can also result in cognitive biases.

A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking that happens when we process and interpret information in the world around us and affects the decisions and judgments that we make. Cognitive biases are often caused by our brain’s attempt to simplify processing information. Biases often work as ‘rules of thumb’ that help us make sense of the world and reach decisions with relative speed.

In other words, our view of the world and how we respond to it could be coming from a place of limited understanding and we don’t realize it. Whether it’s political, spiritual, social, economical, our brain daily pushes us to make short cuts in information processing and will continue to do so unless we push back.

So the question is, how do we push back?

For starters have a solid foundational understanding of the issue before making a decision and be aware of potential biases that could be tainting your thinking process.

For example from a political standpoint why do you support the party you choose to support? Is it just because that particular party on the surface lines up with the values of the faith you practice? Or do you have a thorough understanding of the foundational policies and principles that party holds and its affect on the community where you live?

In a fast-paced world where time is of the essence in every area of our lives, slowing down and taking time to really understand before we move is a skill we all need to be conscious of developing.

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Accepting Roles We Don’t Want

I’ve had to let go a hand full of employees in the last 3 years. Mostly due to poor performance.

The most difficult was letting go an individual who arguably was one of the highest skilled professionals on my team.

Though highly skilled, before I took over management of the team, he accepted the position for which he was overqualified for with the previous manager. He constantly struggled to stay on task for the daily duties and lacked discipline to focus on the details.

Ultimately when we sat to go over his exit interview, his response to the poor performance was, “I joined the company in hopes of eventually getting a role in my specific professional background. The role I’m doing now is not what I’m interested in”.

My response to him was that approach wasn’t acceptable based on the needs of the role, his coworkers and our customers. He seemed disinterested in that response and for that reason I had to let him go.

The growth potential from taking on diverse roles and functions in route to our ultimate goal can be limitless. Sometimes it’s a painful road. It takes shutting down our ego sometimes to be open to these possibilities.

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Shift Your Energy from Mistakes to Skill Sharpening

50 presentations in 30 days.

That’s the test I’m currently facing in my new role. Repeating the same information to 50 different companies.

There’s bound to be mistakes made with that many meetings. Brain freezes, missed information and voice cracking like a teenager in puberty.

The good news? I can mess up on 6 of them and still have 44 chances to create excellence.

Don’t give mistakes the time of day they haven’t earned the right to get. Shift that same energy to sharpening your skills and kill the next one.

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Easily Upgrade Your Skills

I’m not the best negotiator, possibly because it’s never been a large part of the career roles I’ve occupied.

So when I accepted a new role at a company that involved negotiating at a larger capacity, I immediately looked for training and tools to improve that skill set.

I gained some insight on negotiating from a free online Ivy League course, but most of the knowledge I collected came from the popular book: Getting to Yes. Through Amazon i purchased the book for only $11 with shipping. $11 to upgrade a skill that led to me being more effective and valuable in my role.

We shouldn’t avoid situations or opportunities because we lack the appropriate skills. It’s those skills we need to spend the most time upgrading and practicing so we’re more effective in our businesses, workplaces and communities.

Most soft skills can be learned or improved with minimal financial commitment. We just need to be up to the task of seeing it though to the end.

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Record it, Always

A few years ago I read probably one of the most epic bedtime stories ever told to my four kids (their words, not mine). But it didn’t come from a book.

The story took several days to finish from beginning to end and it all came creatively from the top of my head at that very moment. The entire storyline, character development, scene depiction, plot twists and story action never existed previously on a written sheet of paper or electrical document.

To say the least my kids were entertained each night and often refer to the story of ‘Prince Edward’ as the best story I’ve ever read.

Too bad I no longer have any idea in what the story was about. I made the mistake of not recording or writing down any details of the story. Nothing. Not even jot notes. At the time I was just trying to get my kids to sleep not realizing a literary master piece was being created. Any chance of passing the story to my grandkids was now zero to none.

Ideas, thoughts, plans, names of new network contacts and where you met them, and yes stories you tell you kids – write/type/record it all down. Trust the capacity of your mobile phone note app over the capacity of your mind in remembering hundreds of hours of creative thought in detail.

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Welcome Complex Ideas

The other day my teenage son was sitting in our living room with his portable gaming device, fully engaged in the application he was playing.

I glanced over to quickly see what was so fascinating. The game was a simulation of a surgical procedure. A voice would give critical directions on the next step and he, acting as a surgeon, had to execute it virtually with his gaming stylus on the screen.

I was intrigued and continued watching him for a few more minutes. The game seemed complex and the fact that he used his leisure time to partake in what looked to be a stressful endeavour was pleasantly surprising.

Sometimes we avoid complex ideas or tasks because they come cloaked in stress. Stress because we can’t figure it out or we don’t hold any pre-existing knowledge of what we’re about to do.

That stress is actually our fear of failure. But we should always run towards complex ideas because it’s the only way we achieve personal growth. When we stick to only concepts that are ‘black and white’ and don’t entertain layered or more complex ideas, not only will our personal growth suffer, but our impact on a much larger scale will be minimal.

That’s assuming you want to have a greater impact in the personal and professional circles you frequent in. If that’s not the case then you will continually avoid the difficult, uncomfortable and complex discussions/actions that we sometimes need to take.

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