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Transform your career by shifting: Shift 11 – From Trust As Control To Trust As Faith

Transform your career by shifting: Shift 11 – From Trust As Control To Trust As Faith

There comes a point in all things that really matter in life when trying to exert control is not sufficient.  The complexities of the world  make it impossible to be any more planned or prepared, there will always be some loose ends, some possibilities that cannot be thought out in advance. When we reach these points, if we are to confront them effectively with imagination, creativity, optimism and hope, we need to shift our trust in the power of control and embrace trust in faith.

Trust as Control

Too often people misuse the word “trust” when what they really mean is control.  When they say “I trust you” or even “I trust myself”, they are actually saying “I control you so tightly you can only do what I expect” or “I control myself so tightly, I can guarantee the outcome”.  This can lead to some fairly predictable problems:

  • It over-estimates our ability to control others or ourselves, or indeed the environment.
  • It is a recipe for micro-management and a potent way of destroying openness, thinking or creativity
  • It is in bad faith – there is no trust, only control.

full steam trust as control

Trust as Faith

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of trust is “trust (noun): ‘confidence, strong belief in the goodness, strength, reliability of something or somebody’, ‘responsibility’
have trust in (verb): ‘believe in the honesty and reliability of someone of something’, ‘have confidence in’, ‘earnestly hope’ ”

Look at the key words there:

  • Confidence
  • Belief
  • Hope

Trust in fact has nothing to do with control, but has everything to do with faith.  It is about uncertainty not certainty – you do not need to be confident or hopeful about an outcome, if that outcome is assured.  Trust is about ambiguity, complexity and mystery. It is about the limits of what we know and indeed what is knowable.

When trust as control is not enough, or not desirable, we can shift to a stronger position of trust as Faith.

faith in self

Faith in Self

It is a commonly heard injunction “to believe in yourself”, “to back yourself” during times of duress.  Having faith in yourself is an important cornerstone of career development.  There is plenty of evidence for the importance of this idea from clinical psychology such as Albert Ellis’ work on unconditional self-acceptance.

A recent favorite of mine is Brené Brown and her work on shame. In her book the Gifts of Imperfection she talks about the importance of Courage, Connection and Compassion.  The last of these, Compassion, relates to compassion for ourselves as well as others.  It means accepting who we are, and appreciating that it is OK for us to be limited in our powers to control or change things. I have written more about Brené’s work here and here.

Strengths-based approaches to Career Development that aims to build on existing strengths rather than overcome perceived “weaknesses” is another positive way of working on faith in the self.  See this post on David Winter’s excellent blog Careers in Theory for more on this.

Faith in self also means recognizing that we are strong enough to confront whatever life throws at us.   When this belief is lacking, our exploration of our own potential and of the world is also lacking.  However this does not happen in isolation and our faith in ourselves is bolstered and also determines our faith in others.

 

Faith in Others

If you think having faith in self in hard enough, just wait until you have to put faith in others!  In fact we unwittingly put faith in others all the time.  Whether it is faith the builders did a good enough job to prevent your roof falling on you while you sleep, or faith in other drivers not to do something crazy, or faith in farmers not to poison us, we are steeped in faith for others.

It is fairly obvious that our actions become very self-limiting without this faith in others.  If we believe we cannot rely on others, we will fail to reach out to them, and try to fulfill our needs ourselves or not even try.   The result is self-limitation and social isolation. A potent recipe for depression.

Again, complexity is to blame.  When we are in the grip of “Control fever”, we demand certainty from others. It is an impossible demand because the world and people in it are too complex and too inter-connected to permit certainty of outcomes.  Trust as control here really means “I do not trust you”.  When we do not trust, we are cautious, slow to move, closed and self-limited.

Trust as faith means to accept that ultimately we accept our own imperfections and in turn that allows us to be accepting of the imperfections of others.  Thus we believe in ourselves and in others too.  Indeed as Brené Brown points out, our love of others is limited by our love for ourselves.  So too with faith.

Faith in the Universe

Wow! Why stop at faith in ourselves and others?  What about the bigger picture?  It strikes me that at some level, having faith in systems that our bigger than ourselves and our social circle is an empowering and transforming thing.  Having faith that we belong and take our own place in Universe is not only reassuring, but gives us a sense of ownership and responsibility that transcends daily hassles and doubts, and provides:

  • courage
  • connection and
  • contribution

We cannot predict and control everything in our lives, nor is it desirable to do so.  We and the world we inhabit are complex, open and changing.   Trust as control is a limited and potentially damaging response to those realities, it needs to be subsumed within trust as faith.  It is perhaps the most important shift of all the Shiftwork principles.

Shiftwork is the work we have to do to manage, thrive and survive in a world where shift happens.  I’ve identified 11 shifts that we have to make (see here), this was the final shift.  The earlier ones you can read by following these links:

  • first shift Prediction To Prediction And Pattern Making (see here)
  • second shift From Plans To Plans And Planning (see here)
  • third one From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness (here)
  • fourth shift From Control To Controlled Flexibility (see here)
  • fifth shift  From Risk As Failure To Risk As Endeavour (see here)
  • sixth shift From Probabilities To Probable Possibilities (see here)
  • seventh shift from Goals, Roles & Routines to Meaning, Mattering and Black Swans (see here)
  • eighth shift from Informing to Informing and Transforming (see here)
  • ninth shift from Normative thinking to Normative and Scaleable thinking (see here)
  • tenth shift from Knowing In Advance To Living With Emergence

What other shifts do you think we need to make?  What shifts do YOU need to make? Which of these shifts presents the biggest challenge to you? How are you going to SHIFT?

The Day my Dog became a Triangle

The Day my Dog became a Triangle

Dogs are not triangles.  Any fool knows this.  They don’t even bother assessing this knowledge when they issue you with a dog license.  So it was very awkward indeed when my dog became a triangle. For a start her name is Chloe. This is less embarrassing to call out at our local dog park compared to “Pythagoras”, even if people called Chloe do get offended when I point out it is a dog’s name.  Equilateral would be a very inappropriate name for a Welsh Springer Spaniel.  Scalene sounds like a skin disease or a song by Dolly Parton.  Isosceles, well now we are getting just a tad pretentious.

triangle dogNow you might be wondering why my dog became a triangle.  Did she decide one day that our social construction of welsh springer spaniels was way too limiting for this pooch?  Had I been at the green chartreuse again?  The answer is simpler and more complex at the same time.  I decided it was time to have a look around me.  And I mean really look.  To look at things in a way I’d never looked at things before.

Looking at things newly is a lot harder than it sounds.  Try telling someone to look at things differently and generally all they will do is look at you in a very familiar and unoriginal questioning manner.  Or they will punch you in the face.  Or both.

The trick is give yourself or another some parameters. Some limits.  Presumably you are reading this blog on some form of screen.  Look at the screen and everything around you in only one of the following ways:

  • as a series of circles
  • as blotches of color
  • as a series of triangles
  • as a swatch of textures
  • as a stormy sea
  • as a part of a basketball
  • as the head of a flower
  • from the front and the side at the same time

 

 

 

 

chloe welsh springer spaniel in trianglesHow did you go?  Could you manage it?  Could you draw what you saw?  For those who managed successfully, you have very probably been creative.  Who knows some might even have been Creative (little c creative is what I term small personal wins, amusements or provocations. Little nudges that prompt our thinking.  Big C creative is the type that Csikzentmihalyi (1996) sees as solving a problem in a new and useful way that is recognized by others.

We could try the same exercise using poetry.  Stephen Fry in the Ode Less Travelled, points out that the limitation of Iambic Pentameter (having five feet to each line of verse followjng a “tee-tum, tee-tum, tee-tum, tee-tum, tee-tum” structure) actually fosters creativity as one has to fit meaning into this structure.  For instance, he cites Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73

“That time of year; thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang”

As Fry points out, it is the limitations that we impose on our attempts at expression and the tension that these create that often lead to great creative expression “Painters paint within a canvas, composers within a structure. It is often the feeling of the human spirit trying to break free of constrictions that gives art its power and its correspondence to our lives, hedged in as ours are by laws and restrictions” (p24).

The idea of Creativity arising from constraints is commonly understood in creative circles and those that study creativity (e.g. Stokes, Creativity from Constraints, 2006). Related to this idea is US painter and jazz musician Larry Rivers, who used a musical metaphor in describing the material we use for the basis of our creativity as the “first chorus”.

I love the idea of the first chorus.  In jazz, the first chorus is often played “straight” to give the audience the structure of the piece, and from there the musicians can improvise (though like Fry’s poetry the improvisation is limited by the chords and chord changes).

The idea of the first chorus is the point at which one has mastered some domain, become familiar or expert.  Rivers says that creativity is the variation on history – on all the stored ideas in ones memory. The first chorus is merely a repetition and is not creative.  This is why experts often get bored because they master the first chorus and then are engaged to endlessly repeat it. They are interested in adding and combining – improvising – and therefore being creative.  This fits well with my model of creativity, creative people want to go beyond mastery, hence the title for my model.

The importance of limitation to creativity is a valuable reminder that when working with individuals looking to change their lives, or looking to change our own, an important first step is to acknowledge the limitations.  Then we we have something tangible to work with, something that allows us to be creative as we look for ways to improvise in our lives, to find solutions by combining the pieces we have or we can obtain, to get a new hand by shuffling the deck of cards we already have or could obtain.

It seems as though everything I am saying here about limitation goes against counseling injunctions to focus on strengths, or to be optimistic but that misses the point.   A true understanding of strengths only comes in the context of knowledge of the limitations, optimism is most powerful when directed at the attainable. Nor does this mean we should overly encourage people to limit themselves, we should not.  Too often people who are looking for solutions in their life are “stuck” (Amundson, 2007).  However in unsticking other people or ourselves, getting people to improvise and strategize using the materials they have and those readily to hand around them is likely to result in more inventive, creative and positive solutions to their own problems than simply asking them to be more creative.  Our limitations are our strengths.

As I’ve said before, each of us is like a beautiful song.  We are limited by the melody and chord structures.  However those limitations are the very things that give us our uniqueness, our identity.  It is those limitations that allows us to strain against them by being creative in rearranging and improvising so our song can be played in an infinite number of ways.   We cannot be anything we want to be, but there are an infinite number of ways of being us.

Often in counseling or coaching for change we encourage others to take a different perspective on a situation.  Changing metaphors, re-writing the story, re-framing, reality checking, skills audits, values lists, interests are all examples of encouraging people to take a new look.

However what I am talking about is fundamentally deeper and that is to see something familiar, something mastered not from a different perspective, but through new eyes.  To hold multiple stories at the same time, to have multiple metaphors simultaneously, to find new solutions using the materials of your history and what is readily available to you in terms of supports, resources, and ideas. Good career development gives you a new perspective. Great career development has you seeing differently.

Sadly for me and my thinking it didn’t stop with the triangular dog.  The cat become a crescent, my kids become trapezoids, trees become oblongs. And this sentence became a full stop.

References

Amundson, N. (2007). Active Engagement 3rd Edition.BC. Canada Ergon Communications.

Csikzentmihalyi M. (1996). Creativity. Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Perennial.

Fry, S. (2005). The Ode Less Travelled.  London. Hutchinson.

Stokes. P. (2006). Creativity from Constraints. New York, NY. Springer.

 

The Edge of Chaos Posters

I want to share a resource I’ve been working on over the last week called the Edge of Chaos Posters.   I’ve designed a couple of posters that try to illustrate the idea of the relationship between certainty and uncertainty.

I decided to select words that in some way illustrate the ideas of certainty and uncertainty, order and disorder.   I decided I wanted a complete A-Z of words which was something of a challenge.   I determined to put words redolent of certainty on the left hand side and words indicating uncertainty on the right hand side. I found it easier to think of or find words for certainty. It was more challenging to find words for uncertainty. In fact often, just like the word “uncertain” – the uncertain has to make do with a modification of a word about certainty.  This I find intriguing.

The poster above is the “Yellow” version. Click it to download a 6Mb PDF version.

The poster above is the black version. Click the poster to download an 8Mb PDF version. Note you may have to right-click to save these posters to your computer, or look in your downloads folders, or even look in Acrobat as different browsers do different things.

All the words on these posters will be familiar to you.  On the left there are words like Plans, Goal, Control, Prepared, Stuck. Similarly on the right there are words like Exploring, Change, Serendipity, Vulnerable and Magical.

The purpose of these posters is to help people appreciate that a full life needs all of these words.  However when we are feeling confused, sad, unsure or vulnerable we tend to retreat into what we often see, or are encouraged by others to see as reassuring, and somehow more legitimate, more proper left side words.  However, this can only provide short-term succor. Sometimes we believe that all we need are the right-hand side words, but these alone wont do either.

A full life requires all these words – order and disorder, chaos and certainty, strength and vulnerability.

There are lots of uses for this poster.  You can circle the words you identify with – are you more left or right sided?  You can use words on the left to help you strive toward words on the right. You can use words on the right to help you arrive at words on the left. You could even measure new ideas, initiatives and policies against these words – is a balance of left and right achieved?  The possibilities are endless.

You might be interested in this related post on Why people don’t get uncertainty

You can download low-res posters in yellow or black and white by clicking on their images above – they are 2381 x 1684 pixels, but they are still large files (6Mb and 8Mb).  If you want high-res versions, you’ll need to email me as these are very big high quality files suitable for making large posters.  I am happy for you to use them with acknowledgement. I’d love to know what you make of them.

 

 

Is goal setting past its peak? Some new data.

How long has there been serious interest in goal setting?  You might be forgiven for thinking it has always been a key approach to changing human behavior.  However according to PsycInfo (the largest and most authoritative database on published psychological research), between 1900 and 1980, a search of this data base on the terms “goal setting” yielded only 39 publications.  The first being in Harry Spillman’s chapter Tides of Life in Personality: Studies in Personal Development. New York: Gregg Publishing US.

The 1980s were not much better, in fact they were worse than the average of 0.5 a year, with only 2 publications (both in 1986).

The 1990s were when goal setting really started, well, kicking goals. A whopping 335 publications turned up in the search – more that the previous 90 years combined.

But it was the 2000s when we became totally obsessed with goal setting as the answer to just about everything, a whopping 1168 publications came out about goal setting.

However, something interesting may be happening.  Have a look at the graph below that shows the search results for “goal setting” across all types of publications by year.

It seems that goal setting publications peaked in 2008 and have been in decline ever since.  (Note the figure for 2011 has been adjusted by taking the figure produced at the end of September, dividing it  by 9 to get a monthly figure and multiplying that by 12 to get a comparable annual number – given the dramatic drop off, this probably over-estimates the true figure for 20110.)

There are a few intriguing things here.  Firstly, are we over goal setting?   Regular readers will appreciate that from my theoretical perspective of the Chaos Theory of Careers, goal setting can be seen to be limited in its efficacy, especially for longer-term behavioral change (because complexity and change serve to move or obliterate the goal posts) this is not an unwelcome thing if it turns out to be true.

Secondly, is it the case that goal setting has been in decline since the GFC?  The GFC really hit in mid to late 2008 (see graph below of S&P 500 since 2006).  2008 was the peak year for goal setting papers, and 2009 was not far behind.  However journals and other forms of academic publications and outputs (like theses) tend to reflect work that was done or submitted 2 or 3 years earlier.  So there is likely a lag effect in operation here.  And sure enough if you look at 2009, and 2010 and almost certainly 2011, we see an exponential drop off in papers on goal setting.

So, is it a little like the financial markets, that people are beginning to appreciate that the world is more uncertain and changeable than we realised, and that maybe we need techniques that are not so firmly rooted in the idea that the future (goal) is relatively unchanging and predictable.

It is truly fascinating, and reminds me of the Peak Oil debate, have goals reached their zenith – have we reached a tipping point on goal setting? Is this just a temporary blip? Is goal setting so accepted there is nothing more to say, or is it the case as I am hypothesizing that we are beginning to appreciate goal setting as useful, but an over-simplified response to complex and changing problems?  Or is it simply turbulence in the numbers?

Who knows for sure, but this graph certainly makes interesting reading to me.  I guess we must wait to see how it emerge over time, and on that chaotic and complexity-laden bombshell, I shall leave it to you to ponder!

 

 

Note: Psycinfo is “Unrivaled in its depth of psychological coverage and respected worldwide for its high quality, the database is enriched with literature from an array of disciplines related to psychology such as psychiatry, education, business, medicine, nursing, pharmacology, law, linguistics, and social work” according to Proquest.

Transform your career by shifting: Shift 9: From Normative Thinking To Normative And Scalable Thinking

Transform your career by shifting: Shift 9: From Normative Thinking To Normative And Scalable Thinking

When I was a child, I didn’t want to be with the other young kids in the shallow end of the pool, but I was also secretly too scared to want to be at the deep end where the cool kids hung out and dived in. So I settled for the middle of the pool, and I wasn’t the only one. In fact, that is where most of the kids were – in the middle, with some at the shallow end and some at the deep end.  It was normal to see the kids spread across the pool like this.

You see a similar pattern at the beach, some kids close to the shore, some way out beyond the breakers and most somewhere in the middle. In fact quite a few things in life seem to be arranged in this way: a few at each extreme, with lots in the middle. Think of weight, height, the length people wear their hair, length of movies, and political views.

Indeed it is tempting to think that all human behaviour and qualities conforms to this pattern, which of course is otherwise known as the normal curve, or the bell-shaped curve.  The trouble is that life is not always like that.

Thinking that things conform to a normal curve – normative thinking – can be quite misleading. One of the most common fallacies is to under-estimate the potential that outlier events have in transforming our world.  In a normative way of thinking, outliers are exceedingly rare events, and because of this, it is “safe” to act as though they really do not exist.   However such a view completely misconstrues the nature of things.

 

Bell shaped curve monster

Bell shaped curve monster

Nassim Taleb makes this point in his book Black Swans, by contrasting two imaginery worlds, Extremistan and Mediocristan.  Mediocristan is world that contains things that conform to the normative rules, where things change only in small increments.

Height is a good example of a mediocristan quality.  Imagine you had 99 people whose mean average height was 165cm.  Then imagine that Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest ever living person wandered in. Adding his 272cm height to the average, we find the average goes up to a whopping (wait for it), 166cm.  In other words, a once in human history event leads to a change in our height less pronounced that putting on a pair of Jimmy Choo’s or a pair of Dock Marten’s.

In Extremistan, things are different. In this world, things are scaleable.  This means that when change occurs it can be changes in the order of magnitude, change that changes everything.   Now imagine our 165cm 99 people had an average wealth of $500,000.   Now suppose instead of Wadlow, Warren Buffet walks into the room and in a philanthropic gesture offers to share his 62 billion dollar wealth equally with the others.  The average wealth in the room increases to: $620 million or enough for 413,000 pairs of Jimmy Choo’s (enough to shoe the entire population of the Assabet Sudbury & Concord rivers district of New England) or 3.12 million pairs of Docs.   In other words you could be a Rude Boy with a new pair of Docs every day of your life (assuming you lived to be 8500) or alternatively you and your life partner could have matching Docs every day of your life and still had enough to shod every man, woman and child in Madrid) .  That ladies and gentlemen of the jury is life changing.

Slipping into my comfortable, yet challenging and exciting career development slippers, the implications for career development planning are that careers too are subject to change that can change everything.   One management decision, one idea, one meeting, one workplace accident can change ones world in unimaginable ways – be it positive or negative.

Some scaleable events that occur in careers include:

  • the closure of a complete industry due to economic, legal or political factors
  • the impact of a war or terrorism
  • a chance meeting leading to a new career path
  • a conversion or enlightenment moment leading to a new path
  • the acceptance of a new philosophy or faith or world view
  • an exposure to a life experience that is transforming
  • an accident
  • an inheritance or lottery win
  • the invention of a new technology
  • the opening (or closure) of a new or old business nearby
  • a mistake or failure that exposed you to new unanticipated experiences
  • and on and on

If we think and encourage our clients to think in normative terms, then we will be encouraging them to think that the present is as it always will be, and any change will be small, incremental and largely controllable and predictable.  In other words we will be encouraging them to either be overly optimistic about their ability to predict and control their circumstances, or overly pessimistic about their ability to radically change their situation.

Recognising that Extremistan not only exists, but may account for most of the important moments in the history of mankind (Taleb), means to alter our approach to career counselling.  It means helping clients to understand these realities and to see the potential for reinvention within them. It also means helping them to understand that risk management strategies, like career plans can be sometimes be overwhelmed by change on a scale that was unthinkable.

It might seem easy to write about this idea having witnessed the madness that are the current global markets, but it is worth remembering that when Taleb started writing about these notions, the GFC was not upon us, and some commentators (like Standard and Poors) were predicting stock market growth in 2008.

Some things in life are normative – they are generally the rather boring and unimaginative things.  Whereas other events in life are scalable – their presence is sufficient to change everything.  Those break-through moments in counselling are not merely the slow movement toward to a new outlook, they tend to come suddenly and unexpextedly – like an “aha” moment, when things combine, a new possibility emerges, a new insight or direction becomes clear.
It is our job to help clients see the difference between normative and scaleable thinking, and when a scaleable event occurs, we want our clients to be ready with their bags packed, and a fresh pair of Jimmy Choos or Docs on their feet, ready to travel whatever pathway emerges from these sudden transformations.

Shiftwork is the work we have to do to manage, thrive and survive in a world where shift happens.  I’ve identified 11 shifts that we have to make (see here), so far I’ve addressed the first eight, and in this post, I addressed the ninth shift.  The earlier ones you can read by following these links:

  • first shift Prediction To Prediction And Pattern Making (see here)
  • second shift From Plans To Plans And Planning (see here)
  • third one From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness (here)
  • fourth shift From Control To Controlled Flexibility (see here)
  • fifth shift  From Risk As Failure To Risk As Endeavour (see here)
  • sixth shift From Probabilities To Probable Possibilities (see here)
  • seventh shift from Goals, Roles & Routines to Meaning, Mattering and Black Swans (see here)
  • eighth shift from Informing to Informing and Transforming (see here)

The Strange Strength of Vulnerability

The Strange Strength of Vulnerability

Here is a paradox – the strongest systems are those that are most susceptible to change. They are the ones that have a lot of connections.   The more connected a person is, the more sources of support they can draw upon when they are struggling. The more people in a person’s network, the more likely that they can recover rapidly from a career reversal and find something else to do.

Yet, each time we make a connection to another person we must overcome the hurdle of vulnerability.  We are putting ourselves out there for tacit judgement by the person we are attempting to connect to – will they accept us or not?  If fear gets the better of us, rejection can be internalised as confirmation of our own worst fears about our worth.  Or worse, we never get to the rejection, because fear makes us get in first and blocks us even reaching out in the first place.

Le Cyclop - La Tête Maquette 1970

It is tempting (and common) to believe that self-sufficiency is the best way of building strength and resilience.  As Paul Simon wrote “I am a rock, I am an island, and a rock feels no pain and an island never cries”.   However real islands are very vulnerable. If the resources on the island run out, they are dependent upon outside links for their survival, and if the link to the outside world is cut, the result can be catastrophic.
It turns out that the most resilient systems are the most interconnected.  The island connected to land by many bridges, an air service, a tunnel and many ferry services is far more likely to be able to withstand any degradation or removal of one or several of these links.   It is what is called graceful degradation and not catastrophe!

The idea of there being strength in vulnerability is not new, you do not need to go back much further than the Corinthians to appreciate the fundamental and deep seated logic of this idea.  However, just because it is true doesn’t mean we should stop trying to understand the idea and communicate it.

In my previous post I celebrated the work of Brené Brown and her book the Gifts of Imperfection, and it was my reading of this that has caused me to think more deeply about the connection between her ideas and the Chaos Theory of Careers.

One way of approaching the Chaos Theory of Careers is to think about ourselves as systems and that these systems are governed or limited by Attractors.

The first three Attractors describe systems that are closed, that is no new or outside influences can alter behaviour of the system – they have the effect of making people into little islands.   When people become completely focused on a goal the rest of the world is shut out. When people see the world in exclusively black or white terms, all the colours in between are lost. When people stick rigidly to routines or rules, the exceptions and outliers no longer have a home.   The last Attractor – the Strange Attractor – is the signature of Chaos, because it is an Open System.   This means that it allows external connections or influences and these can change, sometimes radically the system, in fact the system is continually changing, only most of the time the change is not very noticeable.

So the Strange Attractor is vulnerable because it allows connections, and those connections serve to change how the system behaves.  However it is this very dynamic, this habit of continually learning, being open and adapting that gives the Strange Attractor its resilience.  If the environment radically changes, the Strange Attractor naturally modifies its behavior too, because it is connected to that environment.   The resilience or strength is a dynamic resilience or strength. It does not act to keep things as they are, rather it acts to keeps thing going, which is why I prefer the term persistence – too keep going, rather than resilience – to bounce back (to the same place).

Making connections to others means letting them into your life and being open to changing.  As Mark Savickas is prone to say, To Live is to Move.  If life is about movement, it is about continual change, and continual change happens only in the Strange Attractor – being an open system. In human terms continually reaching out to others, and allowing yourself to be reached by others.

To see strength as the ability to withstand, to maintain the same, to effectively stop time is an error, because it is not possible in anything other than the very short-term.

Jean Tiguely from Tinguely Musuem

Méta-mécanique Méta-mechanische Skulptur 1955

I prefer to see strength as the ability to be vulnerable and open to change, and so (in the words of my favourite artist Jean Tinguely) to become Static in Movement.  When I hear and read Brené Brown’s ideas about vulnerability and strength, I hear echoes of not only the Corinthians, but also artists like Jean Tinguely and theories like Robert Pryor’s and my Chaos Theory of Careers. When you’ve got the Corinthians, a Texan, a Swiss, an Englishman/Naturalised Australian and a born and bred Australian on the same song sheet it makes for dynamic, sweet, vulnerable, and strong music!

So the key in Counseling is not to encourage clients into yet more goal setting – or at least not until – they have explored and appreciate their Strange Attractor – the complex pattern of stability and change, of Identity and Transformation, of Dividual and Individual.  It is not so much that people need to change, rather it is the understanding that living is change and to live authentically is to accept, embrace, invite and instigate change.

 

 

 

 

The imperfect career and a gift from Brene Brown

I got a gift from Brené Brown the other day.  Actually you could call it a gift squared, because the gift was The Gifts of Imperfection, her popular and really very very good book. Brené, unbeknownst to me, offers prizes for contributions of comments to her blog. My name came out of her Houston Hat, or however names get picked in Texas, and her book arrived soon after.  A gift squared in Brené’s thinking is quite fine, because being squared is a lot better than holding onto being cool and in control.

Gifts of Imperfection

Brene Brown Gifts of Imperfection

 

Having seen her Ted talk I was eager to read more, and avid readers will know I have referred to her ideas in my blogs about living on the edge of chaos.

I want here to share my reaction to her book, and how I feel that it has plenty to offer to people considering their career development, or those professionals that are helping such people.  Indeed, Brené includes a chapter on Cultivating Meaningful work.

What has struck me about a lot of her work here is how it provides a complimentary and reinforcing perspective on many of the key themes in the Chaos Theory of Careers.   For instance, in her chapter on Intuition and Faith, she writes: “In my research, I found that what silences our intuitive voice is our need for certainty.  Most of us are not very good at not knowing. We like sure things and guarantees so much that we dont pay attention to the outcomes of our brain’s matching process”. (p.88). It is a theme of the CTC that uncertainty is inherent in all that we do, and therefore learning to live with, or in Brené’s terms learning to “lean into” uncertainty is an important thing to do.

There is a theme in much of her work about insecurity, lack of self-efficacy, anxiety and worry.  Brené researches Shame and more recently what she terms “Wholeheartedness” which she argues is a process we cultivate through Courage, Compassion and Connection.

Now interestingly I misread this, changing “Compassion” to “Conviction” when I was playing around with triangles and her ideas on my iPad (see first figure below).  What caused me to do this? It was not a lack of thought about the triangle – I carefully chose red- the colour of the heart to represent Courage – a word that comes from the Latin “cor” meaning heart. Connection I saw as green, a colour used to denote the environment – so green is about connection to those around us.  I put Conviction in yellow – a colour representing the heat of a flame – a standout light, beacon, intensity.

By why did I mistake Conviction for Compassion? I suspect because I am drawn to and have been trained to privilege the cognitive over the emotive, and conviction to me is more closely related to ideas, and compassion is more closely related to emotion, but Brené would probably want to say it is also a process, and I think that is correct.  What it means is that I have to work hard on being wholehearted, and that Compassion is a key component of that that perhaps I need to work on more.

And this is the kind of thinking that Brené Brown’s book provoked in me.

So here is my “correct” triangle (above) of the 3 processes in being Wholehearted and I am happy to share my mistake – no shame thoughts there! This time I chose blue.  A synesthite I know (a person who has a condition whereby they “see” numbers and words as colours) told me that “Compassion” is “black”, but I decided on Blue.  This is because I have recently become reacquainted with Southern Blues music, and in my life more generally I have begun to welcome and like exploring the blues and blue moments.  It is ok and indeed normal to be blue from time to time.  It is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of.  Compassion for Brené Brown means not only showing that compassion to others, but also, and especially to yourself.

Each of these processes are intimately linked with Career Development.  I have written and spoken before about continually summoning courage to try things out, take risks, live with uncertainty, be bold enough to fail, to reach out and connect or network.  All of these activities also require self-compassion.  Whether it is the overwhelming majority who fail to put achievement statements on resumes because they feel they haven’t achieved anything, the job seeker who writes cover letters that start by pointing out what attributes they do not have, or the perpetually scared and frustrated person who dares not take a risk because they feel that are not good enough to do so, or too weak to deal with any failure – all these people are being too hard on themselves, and not living wholeheartedly.

Perhaps for some, Brené’s message that our love for others is limited by our love for ourselves, may be confronting, but I like her quote (p61) from Leonard Cohen “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” (from “Anthem”).  I found myself relating her concept to that of fractal patterns, the self-repeating pattern at every level.  If there is no repeating pattern of love in our patterns of ourselves, then how can love patterns be repeated in our patterns toward others? There is a disconnect, a break in the pattern. Those external patterns of love are not wholehearted, not fully authentic expressions because they do not fully belong with those inner patterns.  To produce that scalable pattern of love, love has to be in the internal or self-referential patterns.

With a nod to Koch’s Snowflakes (fractal patterns of snowflakes, see the example in my youtube movie Where will you be?) I produced this kind of like a fractal picture of triangles within triangles – the outer one, the limiting one being self-love, and the inner ones (and they can be infinite, are love for others).

Again what I love about Brené’s ideas are that she stresses that dynamic nature of these processes.  It is the practice of connection, belonging and relationship, the practice of love that matters.

Again I see the very obvious links to career development and the Chaos Theory of Careers in particular in this formulation.  The CTC states that we are intimately and massively inter-connected to others. It is the acknowledgement of this that is crucial for effective career behaviour. It has obvious links to relationship, and all work is relationship.  Put simply you cannot work without others.  Even an assassin needs other people!

There is also an obvious theme of limitation and how we can live within and be stronger for acknowledging our limitations, such as limits in our ability to control, predict, surpass, achieve, know and do.  In the CTC, the first three attractors (Point, Pendulum and Torus) describe varying forms of self-limitation in the pursuit of control, prediction and perfection, whereas the last – the Strange Attractor, describes an open system that is paradoxically vulnerable to transformation and change yet at the same time more authentically resilient. It is also more dynamic.  These ideas work well with Brené’s outlook, and I like that.

The aspect of Belonging resonated strongly with me.  A good friend of mine, the jazz musician James Morrison who is accustomed to performing in front of large audiences, once had to perform live in front of a billion people to open the Sydney Olympic games with a spectacular fanfare.  I asked him about that experience, I was curious to know whether he was nervous about playing a bum note.  His answer was “when you have a strong feeling that you belong where you are, the anxiety recedes and there is no question of playing a bum note”.   I have personally found that idea extremely powerful when it has come to moments in my life where in the past I might have succumbed to a panic attack, such as addressing large audiences.  If you have a strong sense of belonging, then the worry about “I’m an imposter, get me out of here” can be replaced with “they have entrusted me to do this, I can do this, so the questions that remain are what will I do and how will I do it”.

Having a sense of belonging allows you to focus your energy on doing your best.  The same goes for a job interview.  The employer has invited you to the interview, so they have given you a strong signal saying “you belong in this interview”.  It then becomes not a question of being found out or examined, but rather mutually exploring a subject of mutual interest – they want to fill a position and so do you!

In Career Development, a lot of our work as career coaches is around helping people to appreciate their sense of belonging. It is also about helping people recognise the signs that they belong and being able to use that data to inform their decisions about career direction.  Finding a job that you love can be informed by considering Belonging, Connection and Relationship.

Connection, Compassion and Courage strike me as the appropriate responses to both ourselves and a world that is characterised as per the Chaos Theory of Careers as Complexly Connected, Changing, and Uncertain.  We cannot fully control and predict our careers or lives.  We are not perfect and no career or job is either, but we can make the most of our gifts of imperfection.