As we enter January many of us will undoubtedly bump up against folks setting new year resolutions and those refusing to do so on various principles. So here are three insights that I have recently shared with a group of professional executive assistants. If you implement these practices, you will no doubt notice that your life improves and your actions take you in the direction of your dreams.
- Ask for help – however far you’ve come and however smart you think you are or think people expect you to be ask others for what you need
- Stay tall and aim to raise your standards all the time
- Find your niche of support and tap into it often
1. Ask for help
When I was doing my PhD at Caltech there was an unspoken rule that it was okay to look ‘stupid’ and ask ‘silly’ questions in the first year because you were new, you didn’t know very much and you were surrounded by people that were really smart! For those of you familiar with the American PhD system, you will know that unlike UK, an average PhD can take 6-7 years. Getting a PhD is training your leadership as such study demands that you embark on a journey of discovery, form a hypothesis, study yourself up to become an expert on a specific topic and achieve all of this in a relatively short amount of time. But most importantly doing a PhD also requires that you connect with other people and learn from and with them.
One of the best things my PhD helped embed in me was to ask for help all the time when I felt I needed it. This doesn’t mean giving up and let other people solve all your problems or do your work but certainly not allowing myself to dwell in false leads, darkness and so on purely from some false sense of pride or ego state that would say it’s not okay to ask for help because I should know the answer. And I think this is a vital practice. Today, working with leading scientists and creatives, I see that those that succeed are able to take responsibility and chart their own course by asking people along the way for advice, help, and support. No one gets anywhere alone. In fact on all my programmes, one of the very first exercises people do is map people in their network they can turn to for support as well as map support they can offer other people. So if you have a dream or an idea for something, and feel you don’t know where to start, connect with other people. Ask around. Before you know it, you will be doing things you never thought you could.
2. Stay tall
Last year, Suki Chan a digital artists asked me to participate in her installation 100 voices and offer a nugget of wisdom. I was uncertain up to the very last minute about what I would actually say and in the end resolved to let the energy of the moment be my guide. Once in the recording studio and faced with a microphone and her question about what I want to share with the world, I ended up talking about being a tall poppy. I don’t know who originally coined this phrase but tall poppy syndrome describes what happens when someone seems to grow taller or stand out in some way against their peers. This puts a lot of pressure on the person and draws a good deal of attention to them. So there are two dynamics that often occur in this scenario. The tall poppy feels uncomfortable and tries to play small to fit in and the other poppies try to pull her/him down as well because they feel a lot better when everyone is more or less the same.
Tony Robbins, a famous motivational speaker and performance coach has a lot to say about this topic and urges people to hold their standards high by 1. understanding this dynamic and 2. holding high standards. I agree. Tony says that when people around you notice that you’re excelling in some way, they simply don’t want to lose you so they don’t welcome or support the change in you. They may discourage your new fitness routine or your business ideas or that new job you want to try for.
Similarly, as we don’t generally like to displease those we are close to, we will stop aiming high enough to limit the gap. It’s sad but in fact everyone loses. I see this happen a lot with leaders in their early to mid 30s. So, my second piece of wisdom is to stay tall and find yourself people that are in fact taller than you so that you have a buffer and can stay true to your dreams. This means that introducing even one person that you admire, that is further ahead of you in some way, more wise, experienced etc, into your circle or network will have a massive impact on your life and what you achieve.
3. Find your niche
To succeed leaders and visionaries need fertile ground and support. This comes from being in the right environment. This is why people choose to work in certain places, study at certain institutions and why some people become our friends for life while others come and go. So, my third tip is about developing even more purposeful connection with people that you have things in common with.
Finding people that motivate you, challenge you, sustain you and help you celebrate your achievements is vital for realising your goals. These are the circles where you pick up useful information, can assess your progress, learn valuable skills and where you are likely to be inspired.
Finding your niche takes time and experimentation. You may need to try a few before you will find ones that do the job. Everyone talks about networking these days but few can do this well. Networking without purpose leads to loss of valuable time and can feel odd and fake. But when you’re in the company of people that share your challenges, your values, are in pursuit of similar goals, all of a sudden you find you have lots on common with them and conversations flow naturally as does support. So get out there and connect with people who are after similar things as you.
As I hope it’s evident to you, each of these insights relies on making connections with other people. Taking that first step is vital. It will feel hard at the start but trust yourself. Ask a question, share your dreams with those that will listen, call a meeting of minds. Some people say the world is filled with mean, selfish, terrible people. This has largely not been my experience. For every person in need there are two whose generosity will touch your soul and restore your faith and belief in humanity. All you have to do is take the first step. Get in touch with me if you don’t know where to start! I wish you a great 2013.