Have y’all ever had periods of extreme increased self-awareness and growth? The kind that happens for no particular reason; no life-changing experience prompted it, it just sort of evolved because the timing was right…
That is how I feel as I look back and reflect over 2018. No single great thing happened, but everything added up equals a pretty amazing year.
This newfound insight has served me well in every area of my life, but it has had the biggest impact on my professional life and my work.
I’ve been working in a professional office environment as an architect for twelve years, and while I haven’t always loved every second of it (in fact I’ve been trying to escape it a good portion of that time) it is as deeply a part of who I am as any other aspect of my life. This year, I’ve finally learned to embrace this part of myself in a way I’ve never been able to do before. I’ve finally learned to see her not as a separate part of myself that goes through the motions every day to pay the bills and put food on the table while the real me waits till after hours to pursue her passions, but as an integral part of myself with access to all my mental, emotional, creative, and intellectual abilities.
This has been a subtle but very distinct mindset shift for me and over the past year, I have gradually come to realize a few very simple truths:
1. The reason I’m not yet where I want to be in my career is not a lack of talent or ability; it’s a lack of confidence and focused effort.
And also maybe an unwillingness to fully commit and give it my all (due to said lack of confidence).
For years, I would beat myself up for not knowing certain things at work. I would convince myself that I just wasn’t cut out for certain aspects of the job because I didn’t intuitively know how to do them. The sad fact is, if I’d put that same time and energy toward actually learning the skills I lacked rather than complaining and beating myself up, I would be much better off. I realized that I was expending all my effort by whining and complaining and I was giving all my power away, rather than simply buckling down and doing the hard work.
Of course, I truly had no idea I was doing this at the time. I wasn’t able to see beyond my fears and my insecurities and my limiting beliefs to recognize that I was in control all along. I didn’t realize that no one has to give me permission to take the next step, I just have to be willing and ready to assume the responsibilities as they arise and are available to me, and I have to trust in my ability to learn and figure things out as I go.
2. When I see someone else effortlessly doing something that I long to do, I need to recognize that they have probably intentionally and consistently developed those skills or habits over time. And I can do the same.
I’ve always put a lot of value on my “natural” abilities, my “strengths”, my intuitive knowledge and what comes easy to me. For most of my professional career, I have been searching for a place and time where the stars align and I’m in my sweet spot - doing things that I love, that I’m good at, and that come easy to me. Of course, this place and time does not exist, especially if I want to continuously learn and grow in my career. And this year has taught me that life and work are not supposed to be easy. Even if you passionately love your work, it is still supposed to challenge and stretch you and continuously call you toward a better version of yourself.
I’ve also started to learn the incredible value of setting “forward thinking goals.” These are habits and behaviors that you intentionally cultivate because you know you will need them in a position or a role or a situation that you aspire to. You may not necessarily use them where you are in life now, but they are the skills you need to take you where you want to go.
I have always struggled with speaking in front of an audience. I am truly terrible at it. It would be so nice if I could just strike public speaking from my goals and accept the fact that I suck at it, and never do it again. But I can’t. I feel drawn to it. I feel like it is something that I need to conquer, something that I need to prove to myself and I cannot let it go. So I do things that require me to develop those skills. I teach classes. I speak up in meetings. I joined Toastmasters. And it takes an enormous amount of effort for me to make myself do these things, but it does get a little easier each time and that is the whole point.
We have to practice the things we struggle with until they become natural to us. Most people are not automatically good at most things. They do it over and over until they figure it out. So, instead of sitting on the sidelines, avoiding jumping into something we yearn for because we think we don’t have what it takes, we need to understand that we can learn what we don’t know. We can practice and improve our weaknesses. There is no excuse to wait one more second to jump in and get started.
3. If I want to be a certain type of person or do a certain type of work, I have to be willing to do what it takes to do that. I have to be willing to grow into that.
For years, I wanted to be a project manager. But I despised calling people up and asking them for things. I resented having to shoot the breeze and build relationships. I was timid and reluctant to take charge in meetings. And so for years I assumed that I was not cut out to be a project manager because I wasn’t good at those things. But over time I realized this: if I want to be a PM, I have to ACT LIKE ONE. I can’t avoid and deflect the very tasks that the position requires. HELLO. This was life-changing for me. The only decision I really had to make was whether or not I was willing to do what it takes. I finally realized that the types of skills that I lacked are not necessarily natural God-given abilities, meaning I CAN LEARN AND DEVELOP THEM. Which also means: I have been procrastinating and deflecting and avoiding the very work that I need to be doing. Which means: I have to suck it up and do it and understand that it is supposed to be uncomfortable and stop complaining about it. And if I’m not able or willing to do this, I need to move on to something else. Period.
Of course, sometimes, we’re not ready to move to the next level. And that’s OK. Maybe there is something we need to learn, a life experience we need to gain, some growth we need to experience, before we’re ready. Sometimes, when we long for something more, but we simply cannot bring ourselves to do what it takes to get there, it’s best to just let it go for a bit. Focus on something else for a while, let ourselves get lost in the process of learning other things, gaining different experiences. Then, if it still calls to us, we can come back to the thing later to see if we’re ready.
It’s incredibly uncomfortable to grow into a new role or a new version of ourselves. Oftentimes, I have felt like a fraud, worried that at any moment someone will call me out as the imposter that I am, or secretly mock me behind my back. But I realized that all this irrational fear really boils down to is worrying way too damn much what other people think of me. A fear of being rejected or of not being liked or some other nonsense like that. I actually let this hold me back for far too long until I finally realized that I was just going to have to get the hell over myself and do what I needed to do.
And that’s what 2018 was all about for me- honoring and embracing this transition in my heart and my work, and learning how to do what it takes to achieve my professional goals.
Honor the struggle. Stop being mad and bitter that you have to do the work.
What about you? Have you had a similar mindset shift in some area of your life? Where did you experience your biggest growth in 2018?
Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!
Till next time,
© Haley McManigal 2019
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