Frequently, significant events like birthdays can indeed lead us to contemplate what we haven't achieved, our past mistakes, and our regrets. And they occasionally pull us into negative thoughts.
Today's episode of "Making Sense of Work," is a special one. I discuss how we can leverage significant life milestones as chances for celebration and gratitude, while also acknowledging both the positive and challenging moments that contribute to our legacy.
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Hi, everyone, and welcome to Making Sense of Work. This week is a slightly different episode. It's a more personal episode than I would normally do. In the week that this Goes live. I have a big birthday. This is a birthday that I would rather not face, put my head under a rock and hide. But as I once heard said, life has a way of making you live it. And so here I am, choosing gratitude instead of running away. As I've been approaching this time, I've been thinking a lot about how we mark important life events and particularly these big birthdays. So often this period is a time where we might think about what we haven't done, all our mistakes, our regrets. And trust me, I've noticed myself moving towards these kind of negative thoughts. And then a kind friend reminded me that this is an opportunity for celebration for gratitude for acknowledging all that has brought me to this moment. And as I thought more about this, I felt my system relax. And I began to think about all the good in my life. I could see how much has been possible and how much has happened. And in this short episode, I thought I would. Post some questions and share some questions that I've been thinking about in relation to that and thinking that these could be helpful for you as well to think about important milestones or times in your life, or even just to use them now to help you think about where am I and where have I come from? When I'm working with coaching clients at the beginning of a coaching assignment, we often start by doing something called a lifeline exercise. It's really commonly done. We look back at highs and lows, successes and failures. And I have a specific memory of a client who, when we were doing this, noticed each promotion, each career success and said, Oh, that was luck. I got lucky. She kept saying how lucky she was there and really not taking the credit for what had happened. I really gently pointed out that nobody gets to the point that she was in her career by luck alone. No one. She must have been doing a lot right. And this is a good reminder for us all. It can be tempting to look back and simply identify all that went wrong, all the failures, the low points, and not take credit for what went well, what was right. And yet, I believe we create the good things in our lives and it's good for us to acknowledge these and to be grateful. So here are a few questions. I've been posing for myself that, that may be helpful for you as well. And the starting question is that, what am I grateful for today? And what am I grateful for every day? What is my life bringing me? Where does the joy come? Where is the celebration? This week that I'm recording this, the world news actually makes it very hard to do this and I've been personally really struggling with how to reconcile that and I don't think it serves me or us to forget what we're grateful for, to remember all that life has given to us even when life is so very challenging. The second question I've been thinking about is what struggles have I experienced that have helped me grow? As I think about this, one of the ways that I've lived and continue to live and hope I will continue to live is to look for places for personal growth. What about this moment can I learn from? I talked in previous episodes about the importance of taking responsibility for ourselves. And I guess this relates to this. How do I do this? When I hurt someone or I've not been the best colleague, how did I grow and change? How did I make sure that I learned from that? And how can I continue to do this in the future when I've had times where I've been emotionally down, which has certainly been a feature of parts of my life? How did I learn from this and what did I learn from this personal growth and self-discovery? It is actually a bit of an obsession for me. I sometimes hope not in a narcissistic way, but in a way that helps me to be a better human in the world. I've had many years of therapy and therapy is hard work. In the early years of my therapy, I couldn't really afford it. And paying for therapy meant that I was not going to the cinema or traveling or out for dinner. And yet I kept going back and I would do that all over again. That is a struggle that helped me grow. I remember sometimes walking to therapy in these dark winter evenings in London and every step sometimes resenting that I was doing it, asking the question. And yet I did. I continued to go and I became more and more well, and I continue on that journey now. I don't stop. And so if I think about the struggles, I have had real struggles in my life, but without those struggles, I wouldn't have gone to therapy. I wouldn't have gone on that journey of growth. And I'm pleased that I did. The next question is what risks did I take that I'm grateful for? And for me, this is really important because I think I'm sometimes looking at risks I didn't take, actually, because I feel ambitious and have some drive, I sometimes look back and think, why didn't I do that then? But when I say this, outsiders often point to risks I did take. So a couple of examples was moving to Singapore. That was a risk. And after we moved, there was a time where actually it looked like it might go badly wrong financially. And so I'm grateful I took it because It's been such a great experience. I left New Zealand when I was 22, and that was another big risk. I left on my own and never really went back to live there. And I think that without those changes, without taking those risks, I wouldn't have grown in the way I did. And I needed to step out of the places I was comfortable to bring about new ways of seeing myself, of seeing life, of seeing the world, of opening my mind. to difference and embracing different ways of being and seeing the world. And so I am really grateful. I took those risks. Both of them held a lot of angst after I took them, but I'm really grateful. Next question. What are a couple of things I'm most proud of? As Rick Hansen tells us, the brain is like Velcro for negative memories and experiences and Teflon for positive ones. So our brains basically hold on to negative things because they're programmed to keep us safe. And the good things that happen slide off, we forget them. And looking back, To mine for things to find things that are positive and moments of pride helps us to be strong. It helps us to have a feeling of contentment. And as I was doing this, two things came to mind. First, the first was getting my master's degree. When I left school, I didn't do a first degree. I went to teacher's college and then it wasn't a degree program because I'm old and I've had a bit of a struggle about not having a degree because I was working nearly always with people who'd been to university. I did some smaller qualifications and then the moment came and I signed up on a win for a not cheap or straightforward master's program and I really am really proud that I did that. And involved going on a really big personal journey, looking at myself and how I was a coach and consultant. It was coming from the basis that when we're coaching or consulting, it's about our skill and who we are and how we are. that has a big impact on the experience. And it was really hard. It was hard academically, it was hard personally, and I wouldn't change it for anything. I'm so proud of that program, I'm proud of the work I did, and I'm particularly proud. of the piece of writing I did at the end which had a big impact on shifting me personally. And I know from others who have read it that it had an impact on them. The other thing I'm proud of, and it feels a bit strange to talk about this, but is our coaching program. I said many years, for many years, I'm not going to run accredited programs. It's too much work. It's work that I don't enjoy. And yet here I am, we have two programs that are accredited. And they bring me huge joy. And I see so often that the programs, the training as a coach changes people's lives because whether or not people come on to be a coach, whether they go on to work as a coach learning. To be a coach is life changing because we learn different ways of being with others in the world. And I think we need now more than ever to be empathic, to offer non judgmental presence to others, to be a deep listening ear. And I'm, well, I'm shamelessly proud of our organization and the people I work with and helping people to do that. My next question is, what would I say to my 20 year old self as I look back? And I think we can ask this question even if we're only 21. So we can ask this as I look back, what am I learning? What do I see? When I was 20, I read for the first time the book The Road Less Travelled. It opens with the line, life is difficult. And I remember reading that. I can still remember exactly where I was. Sitting, reading that line. And it was like a, oof, okay, somebody sees me. And that book really was the initiation of my personal discovery journey. It's still really impacts the work I do. It impacted the choice of master's program I did. And so I would actually say to my 20 year old self, thanks for reading it. It was such a good thing to do. I would also say, do the work on yourself, keep doing the work. And I would say, believe in yourself more, lean into your ambition and drive. It's a good thing. It's part of how you're made. I would say to my 20 year old self, be more aware of your strengths and pay less attention to your weaknesses. Notice your difference to other people and value it. Grow in the direction of what you love doing and embrace those strengths even if others think that they're a bit strange. And finally, to me, I would say know and believe that one day your confidence will come. What would you say to your 20 year old self now? Next question is, what has my legacy been to now? We all leave a positive impact on others in small ways and in big ways. And the word legacy has often been associated with people who do big grand gestures or make things we all own or hold in our hands. But we all have a legacy. I looked up the definition of legacy as I was thinking about this, and it read something that is passed on. And we all do that. We all pass something on. We all touch people's lives. We can think about how did I help people when I was at uni or at school, or who did I teach or enable to be in their role? How did I help children if I'm a parent? How did I help them grow up? How did a piece of work I'm proud of lead an impact on the world? We can ask questions about how our kindness and generosity helped others. We can also ask, how did I help someone by showing them the truth by holding up a mirror? It's all about thinking about what good am I passing to others in the world? And we can all ask ourselves that question. And my final question is how have the people in my life helped me to be the person today? Oh, I can't ask this question when I wrote it. Tears appeared and they're appearing now. So many people have been with me and I'm so grateful. I'm mostly grateful for the gentle nudges in directions of helping me and for their love and the toughness at times and actually for all the wine as well. I'm doing this with a big birthday, but as I said, we don't have to wait for a big birthday to ask ourselves these questions. We can ask these questions or any questions that help remind us of who we are and how we have been in the world. And here's a reminder of the questions I'm asking. What am I grateful for today? What struggles have I experienced that helped me to grow? What risks did I take that I'm grateful I took? What are a couple of things I'm most proud of? What would I say to my 20 year old self as I look back? What has my legacy been up to this moment? And how have people helped me in my life? And how have they helped me to be the person I am today? We've created a handout with these questions and if you would like access to this you can download them from the website and there'll be a link in the show notes. And now maybe it's time for me to say that this birthday is my 60th birthday. 60 is big. I can't tell you how many people have asked me about retiring, but that really isn't for me. I'm inspired by a few people, and I've heard Jane Fonda, for example, say this, who when they turned 60 said, now it's time for my third act. Naught to 30 was growing up, 30 to 60 was being an adult, and 60 to whenever is. Well, my third act, I am definitely not retiring. I'm going to take more risks, be more ambitious. I'm going to write more and I'm going to write more from my heart. I will coach till I drop and teach until I cannot speak. Oh yes. And I'll do more exercise.