Thought for the week: DO start from here…

"We do what we do."

"We are where we are."

Two quotes from two very different people. As it happens they are from the two people who have probably had the biggest influence on my life in terms of who I am, where I am and where I'm headed.

To begin with I heard the same thing. The words were different, but they meant the same, I thought.

It took a while to realise that "oh no they don't!"

The difference is of life-saving, career-shifting, earth-shaking importance.

"We do what we do" is so fixed. This is who we are, it says. We can't change that, it's hard wired. The person who said this to me many times over many years was very successful. Well-liked. Respected. Had a great and apparently well-balanced lifestyle, laughed a lot, travelled a lot, had wide interests, a close family.

But (and this is a purely personal view) they were at their core deeply unhappy.

I saw them take pleasure in many things, but I don't think I ever saw true joy, or real peace, or genuine excitement, or that mix of fear/excitement/conviction that signals the start of an adventure.

They have not been part of my life for quite a long time now. I hope they're happier. I hope that happiness came from an understanding that we might do what we do but there's nothing to say that we have to continue down that road.

The second quote comes from someone who is still part of my life. "We are where we are" is a phrase used a lot. It says nothing about a continuing mode of being or doing. It makes no assumptions about who we are and how we act, what we can or can't or might or might not do.

Nor does it make any assumptions about all of those external factors that are clammering for attention, which we know will be very different tomorrow, next week, after the election, when the world has been consumed in hell-fire or whatever.

It merely places us in time and space: here, now.

"We are where we are" is a simple statement. This is our current reality. This is how much we currently know about it.

It says nothing about where we're headed – that's wide open horizons on all sides – or how we might respond – that's something we're free to choose.

It simply says that despite the old advice about "don't start from here"…well, actually, yes; let's start from here, since here is where we are.

So much time – in business, in life – is wasted lamenting what should have been done. There may be much truth in the statements and many lessons to be learned, but none of them will get us one step closer to where we're going, unless we accept that we are here, now, and this is where we must step out from.

My mentor, who uses this phrase, has their own stresses like the rest of us. We are where we are has been said with a sigh of frustration at least as often as it has been said with Zen-like calm. But always, it is only the starting point.

Like my other advisor, they are also very successful. Well-liked. Respected. Have a great and apparently well-balanced lifestyle, laugh a lot, have different interests, a close family. But (and again this is a purely personal view) at core they seem to be fundamentally content. In this person I have seen true joy, genuine excitement, and that mix of fear/excitement/ conviction that signals the start of an adventure.

Their definition of adventure and mine differ hugely, but that's ok. I get to bask in their enthusiasm now and again, regardless.

Recognising the difference between these two approaches to life had massive impact for me. It was the key shift in my mid-forties from 'this is who I am and what I do' to 'this is where I am but….who knows what & where next…'

I stayed with the organisation but changed departments. I studied, got my professional qualification, got involved on a wider level with CIPS leading to Fellowship and chartered professional status, enabling me to connect with and help others in the profession not just locally but in some far-flung corners of the world.

I got to fulfil an ambition held-over from decades before and study law – and do so in a context that matters to me.

In a few short years catching that different approach took me from being a glorified Admin Officer to Head of Procurement. Then it gave me the confidence and support to decide when my road needed to change direction again, stepping out of the career-climb into a more rounded, blended working / studying / engaging / supporting life.

What works on a personal level, also works on an organisational level, and you need to deal with both. You have to start from where you are – and you have to ensure you don't allow where you are to limit where you can go.

When I go into teams and organisations, when I talk to people at events, I often hear more about the problems that are getting in the way of the solutions, than I do about what those solutions really need to be.

If we didn't have to deal with all this regulation, we would…. Ok, cool. But you DO have to deal with the rules, so start from there. How much of what you say you would do, can you still do? How much (mostly, actually, how little) do you need to adapt that in order to do it within the rules? This is often met with a telling silence.

Stop wasting your time on what you wish the world looked like. It may be heading in that direction; it more likely isn't. Stop getting wound up in how you've done things so far, and work on how you might do them in future.

We do what we do… is true for all of us, but if we take it as a given, we're never going to change ourselves, let alone the world.

We are where we are…is also true. But we can change this. This is only where we are today. Tomorrow is another day, one that might start with us being one step along the road from where we are right now, to where we want to be, but only if we're willing to really look at where we are right now.

Look at:

  • What is good about this position
  • What is horrible about this position
  • What can I change
  • What am I going to have to live with

And yes, just in case you didn't spot it,that is just an old-fashioned SWOT analysis. Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Above all, accept your present reality and DO START FROM HERE…

As it happens, it is the one thing that you don't have a choice about. Here, now, is where you are.

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