My dad, the wise guru

Every night for five years my dad would ask my mother, brother, sister and me the same question:

So, what was the best part of your day?

We’d spend the next 10 minutes sharing stories and he and mum would sit patiently, listening and smiling.

Sometimes we’d tease him for always asking the same question, but mostly we’d take this exercise very seriously, thinking long and hard about what really was the best part of any given day.

The lessons I see in retrospect are wise and threefold:

  1. Reflecting on the positive is akin to practicing the gratitude. It changes the lens through which we view the world. No matter how bad your day has been, it’s always worth searching for the one good part.
  2. The power of asking a question and holding space, uninterrupted, for people to respond cannot be overstated.
  3. Good questions deserve to be pondered repeatedly. See here, here and here for more inspiration.

Passion isn’t innate

A writer isn’t born a passionate writer. They develop said passion after experiencing the profound effect of writing.

A Broadway artist isn’t born passionate about performing. They experience theatre at a young age and then develop a passion for it.

A peanut butter enthusiast isn’t born one. This comes from experiencing the deliciousness of such a magical spread.

Passion isn’t innate.

It is developed through experiences and practicing specific skills.

PS. Jen Waldman and I recently recorded a podcast on this very topic. I hope you’ll check it out.

Babies and changemaking

When speaking to a baby we use different words, change our tone and simplify our message. We goo-goo and we ga-ga. We try and meet the baby where it’s at.

Curiously, we often forget to do the same with other adults.

We assume others know what we know and care about what we care about, we fail to change our tone and message to meet them where they’re at and then we act surprised when our message doesn’t land.

Pausing to consider what’s important to this person? How might I communicate this in a way that will resonate with them? might just be the most effective way to create change.

9 lessons from 100 days of ocean swims

  1. Accountability to others provides the right kind of tension to keep showing up (even when it’s 4 degrees, raining sideways and frankly, you’d rather sit inside with a hot coffee).
  2. At some point you’ll feel like giving up because, who even cares anyway?
  3. When you zoom out you might realise that the days you do feel like giving up are less than 5% of the time (though in the moment, feel like 100%)
  4. Outcomes like hitting 100 days become arbitrary and less important as you begin to love the practice.
  5. Exercise can be calming and energising, rather than frantic and depleting. This undoubtedly extends to work and life, too.
  6. Time seems to slow down when you’re undistracted in nature. A 20 minute swim can feel like an eternity.
  7. The only difference between the 100th day and the 43rd is the story you tell yourself (and others)
  8. You’ll never regret a swim
  9. Finding an Octopus teacher is harder than you might think

Momentum is underrated

Just ask a domino block. None of them would fall if it weren’t for the momentum created by the first one.

This provides a useful way to think about the thing you’re hiding from and avoiding.

It could be a conversation with your boss, a new project or business or something far scarier like cleaning the dishes.

Each time we avoid the task it becomes seemingly more monumental.

Instead, we can remember the lead domino and consider: what’s one tiny way you could nudge this forward?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to fill the sink with water.

Something to optimise for

Calm.

Too often we focus on efficiencies, productivity tools and hacks in order to squeeze more into our days.

More to-do’s, more emails, more meetings, more social media posts and ultimately, more self inflicted stress.

This frantic energy to get more done is vastly overrated.

What if instead, we optimised for calm?

What if we did away with questions like: will this save us more money, resources or time? and instead asked: will this create more calm?

Hat tip to one of my favourite books of 2020: It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work.

Three rules for asking great coaching questions

  1. Avoid framing them in a way that can be answered as ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Binary questions tend not to be conducive to uncovering possibility.
  2. As much as possible, start your questions with ‘what’ or ‘how’. ‘What if…‘, ‘How might…’ and ‘what would it look like if…’ are solid examples.
  3. Most important of all: Follow your curiosity. Ask the question you want to ask based on what the other person has said. Seek to understand what it is they’re really saying.

That’s it.

Simple on paper, harder to execute. Hence, practice.

The best way to ask better questions is to practice asking better questions.

When is the last time you…

  • Asked for help?
  • Admitted you didn’t know the answer?
  • Closed your email?
  • Had a day without meetings?
  • Took a week off?
  • Asked someone “how can I support?”
  • Felt like an imposter?
  • Declined a meeting because it didn’t have a clear purpose?
  • Defined what success looks like?
  • Got clear on the hard part?
  • Went for a 60min walk?

These are all choices that can make us better leaders. Which one will you take on in the next week?

A reminder on imposter syndrome

If you’re sharing creative work, starting a new role, working with a new client or leading a new project, chances are you’ll feel like an imposter.

That’s because you’re doing something you’ve never done before and so, by definition, you are an imposter.

This means that everyone we’ve ever admired is also an imposter.

The reminder, then, is to actively choose to dance with our imposter by:

  1. noticing this feeling and giving it a voice
  2. showing up anyway and giving ourselves a voice.

I call this dance the imposter two-step.

Surprises

Surprises change our reality.

The good kind, like a surprise birthday can take us from “I’m having a quiet dinner with one friend” to “looks like I’m having a party with 30 of my friends”.

The not so good kind, like a big client deciding they no longer need our services can take us from “there are plenty of projects for us next quarter” to “coolcoolcool, we need to step up our business development.”

In both cases, in order to navigate what’s happened and move forward we must accept the circumstances of our new reality.

Consider how odd it would be to ignore the 30 friends throwing us a surprise birthday party and pretend we were still having a quiet dinner with one.

When faced with a surprise, then, a good question to ponder is: what’s my new reality?

Making it up as we go

That’s what we’re all doing.

Whether it’s your boss, the CEO, a mentor, the person you admire, your best friend or a complete stranger.

Sure, we might notice patterns or rhymes based on our past experiences, but it’s worth remembering we’ve never experienced this moment, these people, this context or this year before.

The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can let go and bring joy, purpose and humanity to our work.

Case and point:

The meeting default worth challenging

Your next meeting doesn’t have to be one hour long just because Google or Outlook said so.

In fact, 20 minutes of focussed, intentional and non-distracted conversation in small groups is enough to create meaningful connection, progress and alignment.

We default to one hour because it’s easy and safe, not because it’s the most effective.

Instead, we can take the more intentional and generous route by pausing to consider:

  • What’s the one thing I want to get out of this meeting?
  • What if I only had 20min to achieve it?

Out loud

Often it’s really helpful to say things out loud.

To share, using your voice, what you’re working on, where you’re stuck and how you could use some support.

To unpack what it’s like to be you right now, what you’re excited about and what feels hard.

Anyone who’s ever had a coach, therapist or curious loved one knows this.

Saying things out loud can help us connect dots, solve problems and cultivate empathy with others.

It’s why we say things like “Thanks for letting me get that off my chest” or “I feel better having said that out loud”.

The catch is it requires someone who’s generous enough to hold space for us.

The opportunity then, is to be that person for someone. To checkin with others for no reason other than to give them the gift to share what’s on their mind.

Striving

It’s quite possible we are (read: I am) striving for the sake of striving.

Maybe it’s increasing revenue, finding a better job, gaining another client, getting more listeners/readers/followers or listing more examples of things we strive for.

While this can be an effective strategy to grow and develop we also risk getting stuck on the metaphorical treadmill with the setting set to 16, sweat pouring down our face and legs pumping faster than we thought possible in order to stay upright and avoid being the next viral face plant video.

Knowing that it’s worth pausing to consider: What does enough look like?

PS. I recently had a wide-ranging conversation with Craig Harper on The You Project related to this and other topics including coaching, leadership and making change.