Self-awareness and planning the key to a successful leap

I’ve always had a reputation for calling it as it is. Coupled with impatience for just getting stuff done, this led to a quite volatile, but ultimately pretty successful, career trajectory. Ahead of amicably terminating my full time employment at the end of 2018, these were two factors that contributed to my decision to set sail on the sea of ‘seniorpreneurship’.

Calling it as it is comes is pretty easy when applied to the decisions and actions of others. When applied to one’s own situation and future decisions, it’s quite a bit harder. It demands a level of self-awareness that is absolutely objective about your fit with your workplace and colleagues and a deep sense of whether you either have the skills, or the will to develop them, to meet the changing dynamics and requirements of your job.

If honestly undertaken, this self-analysis is confronting. However, in my experience, it can lead to the promised land, where you can transform and re-energise your path. In my case, it led to negotiating an exit from my full-time executive position, but being retained at reduced hours as a consultant by my employer. It has also led to the official launch of this Verbology project, through which I am aligning my work content with my core skills and passion.

Through Verbology, I am consulting in areas of brand narrative, external relations and corporate communications and, of course, copy writing. These were the things that are important to me, of value to my clients and, most importantly, have divested me of the work activities that I was not so good at, but which came with my previous job.

Yes, it required an honest conversation with executives at my previous workplace, but I based my decisions on some homework I had done to clarify my thoughts. I created two charts, which enabled me to turn the exercise into a more objective and better-articulated process.

The two distribution charts were: 1) ‘what I am good at’ plotting ability versus execution and 2) ‘what I like doing’ plotting what I like versus my job description. Both charts included the same set of skills and job functions. I marked the dots that significantly shifted in the ‘What I like doing’ chart relative to the ‘what I am good at’ chart in a different colour.

The result was quite stark, with many of the things i really liked doing shifted to the left on the job requirements axis, while many of the things I didn’t like doing shifted to the right. Note that this did not mean I was necessarily no good at some aspects of my job. It just meant I didn’t really want to focus on those things and, I believed, I was probably underperforming and letting the team down in some areas.

This simple process crystallised my decision to set myself up for greater success by aligning what I liked doing with what I did. More importantly, I decided to share this with my employer, which ultimately led to an on-going and, hopefully, more rewarding relationship for both parties.

So how does impatience with wanting to get stuff done chime into this process? It amounted to what was good for my employer - nearly doubling in size in one year - was not necessarily a transformation that worked for me. The future drivers of success in the larger organisation were greater oversight of projects and a much more rigorous and documented process to get things off the ground. Both of these capabilities were absolutely essential to the future of the organisation and many readers in large organisations will be familiar with it.

However, what it meant for me was greater attention to process, regular reporting, gantt charts and spreadsheets. I was spending a great proportion of my time in meetings and preparing these documents. While I could do these things, they did not align with what I wanted to do, which was to concentrate on the big picture strategic thinking, writing the narrative for the future success of the business and, sometimes, simply being more entrepreneurial.

Above the line I still fitted with the company, but below the line I was beginning to struggle with my own purpose. Serious self-analysis had taken several months, but landed me in the right place.

Of course, it’s easier for someone like me with no debt, well-established home and relationships and a lifetime of experience to just ‘up and leave’, but undertaking this exercise could, at minimum, lead to a better conversation with your employer about your career path within the organisation in which you work.

A word of advice from someone fresh from the process. Don’t think this reflection can be done overnight before your annual performance or salary review. I spent several months playing with my distribution charts, thinking about how honest I had been in placing those dots and, occasionally, adjusting them. It is as deeply emotional as it is a rational process and you should take care with it.

Most of all it requires strategic thinking on your part about how to approach your employer and what you should say, including what might be best left unsaid.

Take plenty of time and consider all angles. After all, it is your future you’re planning and you take the brickbats and bouquets that go with any decision you make.

Next month: Why setting up a small business now is more exciting than in 1990.