Career Advice in 6 Seconds

Brevity is the new black. OK it’s not very new, but it’s definitely very popular.

I wrote a 250-word blog a few weeks ago, a two-minute read that seemed to go down well. In our time-poor/attention-deficit world anything beyond a tweet is seen as overkill. We’ve come to believe that more than a page will destroy us, as though we’re being tortured by War and Peace on a loop.

So I wondered, should my blogs go on a diet? Twitter length, or a Japanese Haiku? Perhaps I could re-write my 100 Spoon-by-Spoon interviews as a tiny poem?

So here is my ode to transitions.

Change:

Uncertainty expected.

Mindset everything.

5 words. Smashed it. That’s 0.0012% of War and Peace.

I can’t take all the credit. It’s a collaboration between me and Tim, one of my Spoon by Spoon interviewees. He messaged me last week, “I just wanted to say thank you for the blogs. They’re a great (and needed) reminder that change and uncertainty are OK and mindset is everything.”

Thank you Tim. His reminder to me: that no woman is an island.

Change and uncertainty — why is it so hard? As a species we’ve endured a millennium of earthquakes, volcanoes and droughts. Lived through pandemics, obliteration and war. We’ve survived where other species have gone under and yet we shun the unpredictable. Why isn’t change baked into our genes?

So what can we all do when we find resistance to change so irresistible? How can we persuade ourselves to jump off the diving board when our collective psyche tells us to turn round and walk back down the steps?

Here are some questions you could ask yourself when you’re contemplating a change in work, relationships or life:

– Whose voice are you hearing? Are the doubts, questions, concerns really yours? Or are they from others — parents, loved ones, family, friends, people at work?

– What is the tone of your inner voice? Helpful, curious, interested? Or, questioning, patronising, negative?

– If a friend came to you with the same dilemma, what would you say? Would you be kind and interested or dismissive and cruel? It’s helpful to use the same voice or words of comfort that you’d give your friend, but on yourself.

– Can you pull on your own reservoir of change? Try reflecting on the times where you’ve successfully navigated transitions in the past. Remind yourself how you did it. Was it your skills, experience or your personality that got you through? You still have those in your toolbox, so you’re likely to be successful with this as well.

When it comes to mindset we’re our own worst enemy. Carol Dweck, the Stanford psychologist, talks about fixed or growth mindsets. Either we consider our skills, abilities and talents as fixed and accept that what we’ve always got will be what we always get. Or, we focus on growth, assuming that we can learn new skills and the future is in our gift. We just need to take action and focus on effort and persistence.

An exercise you can do is to watch out for your “thinking errors”, as psychologists call them.

– For example, “focusing on the negative,” only paying attention to what has gone wrong in the past. Whatever we think we can or can’t do, we are probably right. It’s helpful to shift your mindset. Pivot instead to what has gone well and remind yourself of these when you are feeling full of doubt.

– There is the “fortune telling” thinking error — predicting how something will go (often the worst-case scenario). Try to re-imagine a change and think through all the aspects that will be successful. Athletes do this all the time. They imagine themselves in a race or a playing a game, picturing how well it goes and how they win.

– Another one is “mind-reading” — second-guessing what someone else is thinking, how they’ll behave or what they’ll do, without much evidence. Is there a challenging conversation coming up? Maybe you are avoiding it since you already “know” how the other person will react. Instead imagine different responses that are more positive. It will make you less anxious in the run up to the conversation.

– Or “overgeneralisation” — taking the outcome of one event and predicting that will always happen every time. Instead remember other times when you tried something new and it went really well. Be aware that we often overgeneralise on what went wrong, not what went right.

Another tiny poem to finish. Remember, you know more than you think and you are better than you imagine.

Transformation:

I have lived many years.

A thousand tiny choices.

I am still here.


This is part of a series called Spoon by Spoon — a project I’ve run interviewing 100 people going through career, relationship and wider life changes. If you’re looking for support with your own career or life change find out more here.

Photos copyright of Charlotte Sheridan

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