An astute user of Google or Amazon can very quickly tap into a variety of sources that lay out a virtual Yellow Brick Road towards a new beginning, a fresh start, or a makeover of one’s very essence. Don’t like your friends – get new ones! Hate your job – screw it, and start over! In my brief foray into the theory of personal reinvention, I found articles for 4 steps, 5 steps, 8 steps, 11 steps, and 12 steps. I found advice measured in steps, tips, days, and essentials. All of these resources were geared toward the person who had reached a point in life where disconnecting from their current state of existence, either completely or in part, was the point of the day.
What was lacking in the deluge of self-help advice was how to accomplish this process under a higher degree of difficulty. Let’s be real for a moment. When you are in a career field that you worked hard to get into, invested time and effort on education and training, put down fairly sturdy roots and committed yourself body and soul to, chucking it all for a trip to the other side of town, state or country just may not be in the cards as a valid option. On the other hand, if you take my previous premise to the next level, let’s assume that at this point in the career to which you committed, you aren’t happy.
The root of this unhappiness may be in your current state. Perhaps your personal relationships are not going well. You may have a feud or two going. There may be a fairly solid and widely held perception about you and your style that although you may disagree with it, it still rears its head time and time again. And the sum total of all of these factors is that absent some stunning turnaround, these factors are not going to change and your situation is going to continue until you quit, retire, or die. It is a pretty brutal moment in a work career at the instant your reality switches from “my path of progress is unlimited and within my power” to “I am right where I will remain for the rest of this career”.
It is at this critical moment that opportunity knocks. You may not be able to hear it right away over the pounding of the voice in your head that is yelling “they are all wrong – I am right in how I do things!!!”. Trust me, you will eventually hear it. And at that moment, you will realize that things will change only if you decide to change them.
As with all things, Steven Covey’s work provides an excellent place to start this process. Consider what the “new and improved” version of yourself looks and sounds like. Is it someone people trust? Is it someone your co-workers believe have their best interests at heart? Is it someone who is willing to listen and communicate with people and hear their ideas? Asking that question means confronting the perceptions that are out there, which as we stated, you have a hard time accepting. You need to know why it is you have driven yourself into this position and be willing to start from a position that your teammates’ feelings and perceptions have a foundation in truth.
Once you have decided on what the “new” you needs to look like, the next step is even more terrifying. By communicating your goals and desires with your peers and bosses (if need be), you are letting them know that you believe a change is needed, that you are willing to make it, and most importantly, you want their help in keeping you accountable for the switch. This is a big hurdle for teammates who may feel wronged or hurt by you in the past and don’t be surprised if they are initially skeptical of your new desire to fix things up. By enlisting them, and soliciting their observations about key behaviors or situations that you have identified in your self-assessment, you make them part of the process and communicate your willingness to be vulnerable.
The next “step” is patience. It may have taken years to work yourself into a position. It is going to take hard work and a lot of humble pie to demonstrate progress. We all know the power of first impressions. Imagine how ten years of impressions have set “you” in concrete. It may be that not everyone is willing to accept the new you. Be prepared for it, as this is a test of how much you really thought making this change was needed. It may be that someone will never accept you in your new persona. Well, were you sincere when you set out on this path, or just trying to con people into buying the illusion? Tough questions.
Ultimately, the primary motivation to change your work situation is the desire to remain relevant. This is a human emotion which we can all easily understand. Being relevant means we are connected, respected, trusted, admired, and needed. If this is your situation when you walk in the door each day, the steps are lighter than a feather.