Tag Archives: New Year

It’s 2017 – surely we can do better than Work-Life Balance?

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I know… February is a bit late to be publishing a New Years blog… (more on this later). It’s only now that I feel ready to plan for 2017.

It has become a habit at the start of each New Year, to outline a single overarching focus for the year. Some people choose 3 words, some a phrase, and some have lots of resolutions and some have none at all. I find there is something powerful in knowing what is your single most important objective for the year – I like the #powerofone. It pushes me to ask myself how I’m doing each day, week, month and quarter and recalibrate as I go along. It ensures I don’t hide, avoid, forget or go off track for too long.

I have been sharing my New Year’s intent for 4 years now, which whilst scary, has made me more accountable and has brought me valuable dialogue, support and assistance.

2013 was the year of ‘discovery’ – I was starting a new chapter in my career, developing new skills, facing fears and being bold (Become the hero of your own story!). My big lesson was to focus by saying ‘no’.

2014 was the year of ‘devotion’ (What will you devote yourself to this year?) – My focus was on figuring out what I was going to devote my time, enthusiasm and energy to? It was the year I found my tribe at Redington.

2015 started as a year of ‘sacrifice’, surrender and pilgrimage for my wife and I. Over the year it developed in directions that we could not have even imagined. I learnt more, wrote more and did more than I ever thought possible (15 top tips for a successful 2015).

Last year, 2016, I wanted to learn how to be ‘vulnerable’. I wanted to share my thinking, my processes and my mistakes. I knew that sharing mistakes would be more valuable for me and for others, but found it difficult to do. 2016 was the year to “to lead, to serve and above all to make it personal” (2016 – time to get personal).

So, how was it? 

2016 was an incredible year. I became CEO of Redington – “the best job in the City”.  I got a lot of opportunities to lead, to serve and to make it personal (my new year’s wish 12 months ago). I’m still loving the job, the team and our game worth playing – win, lose or draw – to make 100m people financially secure.

I wrote a few blogs during the year in an effort to be more open and vulnerable – 1st day, 1st week, 100 days, 7 months, etc. Sharing my mistakes was a lot harder than I expected, but far more valuable all around.  I’d like to continue working at this.

In the spirit of being ‘vulnerable’, rather than listing achievements, here are my 10 biggest mistakes of 2016:

  1. I didn’t ask for help enough. I didn’t seek advice from those that have done it before. I was too proud and wanted to prove myself in the new role.
  2. We did a lot of stuff but I didn’t explain why I was doing what I was doing often enough. Change is hard and I didn’t signpost, flag and contextualise enough.
  3. I didn’t pay enough attention to people’s challenges, competing priorities and tensions.
  4. I didn’t praise enough.
  5. I didn’t highlight successes enough.
  6. I didn’t thank people enough.
  7. I took criticism/challenge more personally than I’d like to.
  8. I didn’t invite enough challenge, even though I knew you have to create a safe space where people can question you.
  9. Too often I allowed myself to become a victim to my calendar, rather than stepping back periodically and taking control.
  10. Above all, I didn’t make enough time for my wife, children, my health, my wider family, and friends. I made some sacrifices this year that are not sustainable.

So what’s my goal for 2017?

We used a ‘wheel of life’ to review 2016 as a family and set our new year resolutions based on this. It highlighted all the areas that I have neglected…

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Over the next year, I would really like to invest wholeheartedly in each important area of my life: Marriage, Children, Health, Family, Friendships, Charity, Fun, Spirituality and Learning.

This is starting to sound like the elusive ‘work-life balance‘ goal – I don’t really like that term (not that work-life integration, juggle, fit, effectiveness, or management are much better). In fact, I dislike the term so much that its taken me 6 weeks to complete and publish this new year’s blog.

Deconstructing work-life balance

Here are my favourite 2 insights on the subject, getting to the heart of the issue:

In Clayton Christensen’s book, How will you measure your life?, he explains – Why do we take our relationships with friends and family for granted, even though we know that they are the greatest source of happiness in life? The first reason is we are tempted to invest our resources in things that offer more immediate rewards and feedback like work. Secondly, family and friends rarely shout the loudest for our attention. It will always be tempting to defer health, family and friendships, because you are busy with your career right now, but you have to invest in these long before you need them.

Seth Godin also talks about this in his blog on Singer’s Paradox.

I think they have hit the nail on the head. We need to override our own mind/instincts to be able to give our time & attention to the things that aren’t urgent, don’t shout the loudest, that don’t give immediate results, rewards or feedback. No wonder ‘work-life balance’ is so difficult.

It is no different than saving, instead of spending; or going to the gym, instead of sitting on the sofa; or eating healthy food, instead of eating junk… health, saving, family, etc. all sit in this ‘important but not urgent’ group. Redington advises large institutions (and school children) to prioritise the important over the urgent, to begin with the end in mind, to put risk management in place when you least need it, to use conservative assumptions, to save little and often, etc. I need to apply this essential wisdom to my own life.

So my overarching focus for 2017, is going to be to experiment with daily hacks, habits, systems, routines and overrides that will help me give time and attention to my family, my health and all the things at work and outside of work that are most important in the long term.

In 2017:  The Year of Balance 2.0 – I am signing up for a daily battle, a weekly struggle and an ongoing war against my own mind, against the urgent, the loud and the easy. This is about making deliberate choices, planning, scheduling, blocking out time, setting boundaries, managing distractions, compartmentalising, reviewing regularly, having honest dialogue and creating a support network.

At the end of the year, I want to be able to look back and know that I tried to invest passionately in each important area of my life. Whenever I fail to get it right, as no doubt I frequently will, I need to analyse, review, iterate, adapt and try again… wish me luck!

Please share your lessons, hacks and tips too.

10 Tips, tricks & hacks to be more productive, effective & happy in 2017

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As we look forward to the New Year, with new resolutions, new efforts and new goals, I thought it was a good time to share some tips, tricks and hacks to being more productive, effective and happy in 2017.

There is a huge body of excellent research available on goal setting, prioritisation, focus, habits and time management. I know I’m not the only one who is a big fan of these books, articles and research. Together with my colleague, Dan Mikulskis, a productivity ninja, we gathered together our top combined tips to share with others at Redington.

We hope you find these useful. Please share your tips below.

  1. Set SMART & stretch goals

Set daily priorities, weekly goals, quarterly objectives, as well as longer term stretch goals. Use these daily to help prioritise what you start your day doing. Review at the start of each day, at the end of each week, each quarter, etc. At work, each team and across the firm everyone should know what their biggest priorities are for the week, the quarter and the year, these should be aligned with the bigger team or firms objectives.

2.  Do the Important before the Urgent

Stephen Covey was one of the first to share this 2×2 productivity matrix (https://goo.gl/images/H3e8tc) of what is urgent/not urgent versus important/not important. Everything you need to do does not have the same importance or impact. It’s ok to delegate or say no to things that are neither urgent nor important. If it doesn’t help you achieve your goals it’s not that important. You can’t spend your day dealing with a long list of last minute urgent items. Plan your time between blocks of time to deal with the urgent stuff and dedicated time each day to do the things that are most important.

3.  Do the most important things first

This is the golden rule of time management. Having identified the two or three tasks that are the most crucial to complete, you need to do those first. Willpower is a finite resource, each distraction/temptation we resist depletes the amount of willpower we can rely on. That means after resisting opening your inbox, then resisting checking your phone when it beeps, etc, when a colleague interrupts you to ask about your weekend, you welcome the distraction because you have no self-control left with which to resist it. Start by doing your most important or hardest tasks first in the day when your willpower is at its best.

4.  Keep the main thing, the main thing

Always ask yourself – what are the most important thing I need to achieve today. Don’t let your focus drift from those for too long. Try committing to particular deadlines to yourself (“I must get this done by 2pm”) to force yourself to prioritise avoid getting sidetracked into other things. If you’re experiencing a dip in productivity, take a walk, go for a coffee, get out of the office to try to refresh and get the right “headspace” to come back and focus that one thing. Some people find just being aware of their breath and being still is a powerful way of recharging and taking control of your mind-state.

5.  Multitasking doesn’t work.

Switching between tasks is a classic productivity killer. Humans can’t physically multitask. We’re not very efficient at it. If you try to do too many things at once, you probably won’t finish any of those tasks to a high standard. Plus, it could take you more time than if you simply focused on one task at a time. Eliminate distractions. Close all other browser windows. Put your phone away, out of sight and on silent. Find a quiet place to work, or put on your headphones if that helps you. Concentrate on this one task. Nothing else should exist. Immerse yourself in it. Try the Pomodoro Technique – promise yourself you’ll focus exclusively on something for 45 mins then take a break – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique

6.  Use memory and learning hacks

We are presented with infinitely more material than we can ever assimilate or retain in our minds.  Human beings are inherently forgetful. We need memory hacks to make sure we remember and can reproduce what is important. Instead of passively absorbing data, we need to overcome information blindness by engaging with it – hand write notes, draw charts, test hypotheses, etc.  If you read a good book, write notes on it, discuss it and present it

7.  Harness the power of background processing

Sometimes when working on a ‘high-cognitive load’ task (such as writing a new report from scratch) it is best to quickly sketch a rough template early in the day (no need to get it perfect, it’ll change anyway) then jot down a few thoughts. Then leave it and move onto other tasks. Often you’ll find yourself unconsciously thinking about it during the day/over lunch etc. and when you come back to it “it writes itself.

8.  Ship it

We can all be perfectionists, though we may not recognise this is driven by fear. We need to start by recognising that it is our fear that stops us pressing send on an email, that makes us avoid difficult tasks, that causes us to read, re-read, check, second check, procrastinate, kill trees by writing unnecessarily long papers. Note: we need to do be careful in how we apply this to client work we send out, for example detailed factual performance reports need to be treated with a “right first time” approach. However, by adopting a lean/agile, test, iterate, get feedback approach you can get more done and get real, honest and critical feedback on what needs more work.

9.  Create Habit loops 

Most of the time we operate on auto-pilot, that’s why it’s so hard to break old habits. We can all learn how to create habits. You start by identifying the cue that triggers a bad habit. For example, the first thing I do when I get in… Straight after lunch I … When I get a mid afternoon craving I… etc. once you know your cue, you can insert a good/new habit. It’s important you have a reward at the end of the habit loop (Cue > Habit > Reward – https://goo.gl/images/c4WYkz). Do it everyday for 1-3 months and a new habit is formed. Once it’s committed to your unconscious mind you don’t need to expend any energy on it, it becomes automatic.

10.  If something should be very quick – force yourself to get it done right there

Just told someone you’ll “send them that”, or “you’ll get a slot in the dairy”? Just do it. Right then. That should take no more than a minute or two of your time.

What do you find most useful? What works for you?  Please share.

15 top tips for a successful 2015

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I have jotted down my top tips for 2015 to help me remember the most important lessons from last year. If you are running a project, managing a team, leading a business unit, company or charity you might also find some of these tips useful.

1. Focus
2. Address conflicts
3. Consult widely
4. Be decisive
5. Don’t wait for perfect
6. Find brightspots
7. Challenge convention
8. Create new routines
9. Be prepared
10. Don’t underestimate people
11. Live by your strategy
12. Periodically step away
13. Zoom in / zoom out
14. Be flexible
15. Create assets

1. Focus: Don’t diffuse your attention over a dozen things.

As I have grown in age, roles and responsibilities I have had to take on an increasing number of goals, roles and jobs. In 2014, I found the power of focus. I decided not to diffuse my attention over a dozen things but pick one thing at a time to put all my energy into. When you apply all your energy, passion and intellect to solving one problem at a time, to delivering one outcome or achieving one goal, the results are incredible. There’s another benefit too that, with clear focus, others know what you’re working on, they can get involved, support and help you; they can also see when not to distract you; and it’s much easier to say ‘no’.

2. Address conflicts: to avoid confusion, loss of credibility and wider organisational disfunction.

Too often we are left to resolve issues that really should have been addressed at the top. So many things are left unsaid, unresolved and unaddressed despite people spending more and more time in internal meetings. Most of us would rather have polite meetings than have to face the discomfort of conflict. It feels difficult, destructive and disruptive to address the elephant in the room, even when everyone is aware of it. As Patrick Lencioni explains in The Advantage – What we often don’t realise though is that when leaders avoid conflict amongst themselves, they transfer it in far greater quantities onto the people they are supposed to be serving. We need to get better at addressing difficult issues, having difficult conversations and addressing conflicts to create momentum, clarity and loyalty.

3. Consult widely: but don’t wait for consensus.

It’s quite natural to wait for consensus before taking any action, in order to get proper support and buy-in. All too often though we end up with decisions that are too late and too mediocre. I have found that waiting for confirmation that a decision is right before making it is a recipe for disaster.
In 2014 I learnt that consulting widely and socializing an idea broadly is even more impactful than trying to get consensus. Most people will not actively commit to a decision that they haven’t had the chance to provide input to. However, they can rally around an idea that wasn’t their own as long as they’ve had a chance to debate and understand it.

4. Be decisive: overcome inertia and boldly deal with the consequences.

In the absence of clear decision making; confusion reigns, credibility is lost and the organisation suffers. It’s so easy to wait for others to make decisions or to avoid difficult decisions. We all hear people complaining about a lack of clear decision making. What I find incredible is how long people will continue to work in the absence of any clear guidance or direction, with little faith that the important decisions will ever be made. Often in these situations more than getting the right answer, it’s important to simply have an answer – one that is broadly correct and around which everyone can commit. In 2014 I learnt the value of being decisive – I still consult, test and socialise my thoughts – but I’m not afraid of making decisions and am happy to deal with the consequences.

5. Don’t wait for perfect: The pursuit of perfection is the real enemy of progress.

Whenever we are designing, writing, developing or changing something it is natural to seek perfection. We want to do the best. We want to hold on sending the document till it is perfect; we review and re-review our presentation and publications; we don’t communicate the strategy because it still has holes in it; we don’t share our values because it is always work-in-progress. I have found that striving for perfection causes huge inertia and ultimately frustrates everybody. We all know that we learn by making mistakes, even bad ones. By making decisions we allow ourselves to get clear, immediate and frequent data from our actions. We need to lead by example and foster a culture that encourages this.

6. Find brightspots: don’t just look at what’s going wrong.

In our day to day business of finding incremental improvements it is really easy to only look at problems, or what is wrong. Good teams try to analyse their mistakes so that they can learn from them. This is true and important. In 2014 I learnt that it just as important, if not more important, to also look for brightspots, to identify what going well, really well, and study the secret of those successes, in order to share them and replicate those successes again and again.

7. Challenge convention: just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean we always should.

A culture is a way of working together that has been followed so frequently that people don’t even think about trying to do things another way. There is real power, speed and scale in having tried and tested habits. A culture is set through hundreds of everyday interactions. Once it is set it’s almost impossible to change. That’s no surprise given we all like the comfort of what we know and what we have always done. It only really becomes a problem when these old habits become outdated. We need a mechanism for periodically asking ourselves and each other whether our culture is fit-for-purpose, facilitating natural opportunities for challenge and creating mechanisms for change. Great teams and companies often disrupt themselves before others can come along and disrupt them.

8. Create new routines: it’s the most direct route to changing a culture.

In my experience if you have identified a problem, consulted widely, provided an opportunity to debate and found brightspots, then all that is left is to create new routines or rituals. These new routines, however small, can appear insignificant but can play a huge role in facilitating broader changes. There is no getting round the fact that change is hard and to succeed you have to persist. Our daily decisions about where we invest our time and how we respond to issues will reinforce this. Small and well thought out changes in routine are the first steps to facilitating bigger shifts.

9. Be prepared: failure to prepare is to prepare to fail.

We all know that with pitches and presentations just taking the time to prepare, to script, to rehearse and seek feedback can lead to a tremendous improvement in success rates. Great speakers and presenters don’t just ‘wing it’, they prepare till its spot on. This year I have learnt to take the importance of preparation in all aspects of my professional, charitable and personal life. My boss (Robert Gardner) comes prepared to every meeting; he has a mind map ahead of every conversation we have. Working with him has taught me to prepare for every meeting I have with him. It’s not long before you see the benefit of thinking ahead and I have started to apply it to every meeting and every conversation I have.

10. Don’t underestimate people: take time to understand them and to develop them.

The ‘right stuff’ that most companies look for is not a superior set of skills that someone is born with but skills people have honed through life’s experiences. Companies focus too much on the grades, trophies and accolades someone has. Over the years I have found that lots of people that have become ineffective or perform poorly are in the wrong role, are not understood, or not well managed. I truly believe that everyone needs to be given a chance to shine in their area of mastery, skill or expertise. In recent years I have learnt not to accept other people’s perceptions and judgements; but to understand people better myself, to look carefully for whether a person has wrestled with the problems you need them to tackle and to create these learning opportunities. As Clayton Christensen says “management is amongst the most noble professions as it offers more ways to help others learn and grow”.

11. Live by your strategy: Carefully choose how you will spend your valuable time, effort and money.

A strategy is not just a one-off, high level plan, created in board rooms and then forgotten till the next year. A good strategy is created through dozens of everyday decisions about how you spend your time, energy and money (how you allocate your limited resources). With each of these decisions we make a statement about what really matters to us. We need to avoid giving our limited resources to whoever shouts the loudest for our attention or wherever the need is most urgent. If your team are important to you then invest in their development; if learning is important then make time to learn; If your family are important to you, ask yourself how often family comes out top in all the choices you have made in the past week. As Aristotle famously said “We are what we repeatedly do, excellence then is not an act but a habit.”

12. Periodically step away: don’t overestimate your impact, allow others lead the way.

Over the past 12 months I have tried to be home for most of the school holidays. Initially I worried that this would make it hard to manage my workload, team, clients and deliverables. It’s actually turned out to be a blessing. Having to be away for a longer period of time forces you to train and coach others. It also gives others the space to fill your shoes and to step-up. I have found that getting some space, stepping away periodically critical to developing a team of leaders.

13. Zoom in & zoom out: we need to check we’re going in the right direction

Our first accomplishments as professionals are usually rooted in our skill in getting things done. We’re fast, we’re efficient, and we do high-quality work. However, to lead effectively often we need to do less. We need to go from being firefighters to being fire marshals, taking a more strategic approach to the business, and solving problems before they become crises. Whilst we all need to be able to get our head down to make sure we get stuff done, we equally need to periodically lift our head up to keep checking were going in the right direction. We need to learn how to both zoom in and zoom out regularly.

14. Be flexible: Work does not need to happen between 9-5pm at the desk.

There are times you need to be in the office from 7am – 9pm and there are times you are better off at home. In the concept/strategic phases of any project I find it’s better to not be in the office. In the socialization/implementation you absolutely have to be in the office. In the insights/feedback phase you need to get out of the office and speak to clients/stakeholders. I think the idea of working 9-5pm in the office everyday is out-of-date. We need to have shared goals and work towards them sincerely and above all flexibly to get things done best in the most sustainable way.

15. Create assets: Don’t just do a job, build process and turn them into assets.

Our teams need our time and attention but above all they need processes. All businesses and teams need ‘processes’, habits and routines to convert scarce resources into something useful. They need to learn routines for how to solve problems themselves, how to deal with mistakes, how to build client relationships, etc. They also need values and ‘priorities’. This defines how they will make decisions, what they will invest their time and resources in and what not. The best way of developing processes and priorities is by helping them solve hard problems for themselves. When we do this systematically we create assets, that are not dependent on us, that make the company or team more productive and more valuable.

2013 was a year of ‘discovery’ for me – listening to my calling, having faith, being bold. 2014 was the year of ‘devotion’ – I made a conscious choice about where, when and how I was going to devote myself, my time and my energy.

As I look forward to 2015 I don’t yet know what it holds for me. It has started as a year of sacrifice and giving. I feel excited by the possibilities as I am a whole year older and wiser. The best part of starting a New Year is that it is still unwritten and it is full of potential waiting to be released. I wish you all the best in maintaining focus to stick to your goals and resolutions, in learning from previous mistakes, in building upon previous successes, to create new routines, build new processes and to make 2015 a fantastic year.

Best wishes for the New Year.

P.S.

Now that the year is over I wanted to look back, review and reflect on my top 15 from 2015:

1. Focus — We all know that if you spread yourself too thinly you don’t progress anything properly. This year I learnt that though you may focus on one major thing at work (you can juggle various smaller things too). Also you still have capacity to focus on one major thing at home, one in your leisure time, etc.

2. Address conflicts head on — I tend to deal with the most difficult problem first and this year was no exception. What I learnt this year though was that most of our brains’ natural tendency is to put off or avoid difficult situations. Acknowledging this is a powerful first step.

3. Consult widely — I knew people want to have an input, contribute and be consulted, even if you don’t end up taking their suggestions on board. What I’ve realised this year is that actually many brains are better than one, and people will highlight things you would never have considered.

4. Be decisive — It’s so easy to procrastinate over a difficult decision. I’ve really learnt the value this year of “shipping”.

5. Don’t wait for perfect — I am not a perfectionist, but I definitely spend too long thinking about and working on presentations and reports. I’ve learnt it’s better to just get out a version 1, so you can get feedback and iterate on versions 2, 3, 4…

6. Find brightspots — I still need to work on this. I find it much easier to identify problems, point out shortcomings and criticise. I need to make it a habit to praise and acknowledge successes and brightspots daily.

7. Challenge convention — there’s a balance to challenging the norm. At one extreme you become a troublemaker, at the other end you’re too compliant. Like everything I’ve realised this is a matter of picking your battles.

8. Create new routines — I’ve struggled. I’ve allowed old routines that I really value to fall away. I haven’t been able to make new routines stick. This will need overhauling in the New Year.

9. Be prepared — I have been preparing a lot more for presentations, meetings and even conversations rather than just ‘winging it’ this year. It’s a really valuable habit.

10. Don’t underestimate people — the most unlikely people have surprised me when given the opportunity. What I’ve realised though is that they may need some support and coaching to really succeed.

11. Live by your word — it’s no good saying something is important to you if your actions don’t demonstrate it. I’m very conscious of this.

12. Periodically step away — the value of this has been really clear this year. Every time I stepped away, or went on holiday, my team really stepped up and shone. We need to do this systematically. It’s is the key to delegation.

13. Zoom in / zoom out — when faced with a problem it’s easy to dive further into the details but it’s a combination of stepping back to get perspective, alongside diving in that creates new solutions.

14. Create Assets — I have caught myself every time I get too consumed in delivery. I have consciously stepped back and tried to create processes, routines and assets for my team. We could all be even better at this, even at home with our children.

15. Work flexibly — I’ve been awful at this in the past 6 months working every hour I can. I want to plan my time better and work more flexibly next year. Moreover, I want to leave at 5pm at least 3 times a week so I can have dinner and do bedtime with my family.

I look forward to starting fresh in the New Year, with new lessons learnt, with new resolutions and new habits to create. Change is the only constant.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”

What will you devote yourself to this year?

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As we enter 2014, and the Earth moves around the Sun one more time, I have found it invaluable to reflect on the past 12 months in order to learn lessons and move forward in the coming year.  The New Year is as good a time as any to ask ourselves: What shall we devote ourselves to? What will be the focus of our time, enthusiasm and energy this year?

In my first blog of 2013 I wrote about looking for inspiration from my Heroes, in their calling, their choices, their determination, their attitude toward obstacles and their incredible achievements (link). As this New Year begins I have to ask myself – Was I brave? Was I bold? Did I face my fears? Did I have faith in myself? Did I embrace adversity? Did I find my calling? More on this later.

My call to action

12 months ago, I had my own ‘call to action’. I left paid employment and entered the uncertain world of self-employment in the hope of spending more time with my family. I was clear that I wanted to spend more time in the next 5 years with my wife and children than I had managed in the previous 5 years. It is so easy to take family for granted, even though we know that they are our greatest source of happiness in life; family doesn’t offer the immediate rewards, recognition and feedback that our careers do.

Clayton Christensen explains it well – “The priorities in our life are determined not by our words but through the hundreds of everyday decisions about how we spend our time, energy and money. With each of these decisions we make a statement about what really matters to us.”

As I entered 2013 I knew the most important job that I needed to do right now was to be a better husband and father. I have felt this many times before and even made countless resolutions in the past to re-address this balance, but 2013 was the first time I was actually going to do something about it. This felt like a moment that might define who I am, that might give me an opportunity to use my talents and to fulfill my purpose on Earth.

However, I hadn’t figured out how I would support this new lifestyle, what kind of work I would do to sustain it and how I could earn enough to cover our expenses. In this vacuum I found myself transported back to the year 2000 when I was trying to decide between earning a living by pursuing my passions and doing something I was good at or a career that were in demand. All sorts of ideas, long forgotten dreams and possibilities filled my head – I could finally become a schoolteacher, author, film director, innovation guru, entrepreneur, etc.

I read a book about “How to find fulfilling work” that just made my predicament worse. I was torn. On the one hand I wanted to be like Leonardo da Vinci – a wide achiever – and pursue many interests all at once. On the other hand I knew I have a tendency to spread myself too thinly and then struggle to do anything well. After much mental wrestling it dawned on me that my biggest successes and achievements in life have come when I have immersed myself in one field and focused all my efforts in one direction, blocking everything else out.

Self-employment and self-discovery

It took so much effort to not get distracted and I had to keep reminding myself of the work-life balance I was trying to achieve. I decided to develop a one man consulting business where I could choose to take on interesting projects during term-time to ensure I was free for school holidays.

I attended a one-day Penna course on ‘Setting up your own consulting business’, I set up a limited company within an hour – Mitesh Sheth Consulting Ltd was born – it all seemed surprisingly easy. Getting clients, however, especially ones that would pay proved to be significantly harder. It took me 3 months to get a handful of clients, from different industries, offering me a broad mix of projects. It took a while though to figure out that I was better off earning my income through the industry I know best – pensions & investments.

Throughout my life I have always thought that there is nothing better than your own boss, but this year I have realised that self-employment is not for everyone (the lack of cashflow visibility at least in the initial period is difficult) and also working on my own was not for me (I’m an extrovert and it felt pretty lonely).

2013 has been a  year of self-discovery for me:

  • I found out that, whilst I loved being at home with my family in the mornings and evenings and during the school holidays, I didn’t like sitting around at home for long periods of time.
  • I realised that I am very ambitious, I love challenges and get tremendous self worth from achieving things.
  • I am also naturally inquisitive and love learning (I’ve read over a dozen non-fiction books this year – link).
  • I like people, especially being surrounded by smart people that challenge me. I am also a rule breaker and disruptor and needed to find a way to channel this constructively.

Finding my ‘Tribe’

The concept of ‘Tribes’ was popularized by Seth Godin in his bestselling book of the same name. He explained the concept as follows:

“Everyone has an opportunity to start a movement – to bring together a tribe of like-minded people and do amazing things. There are tribes everywhere, all of them hungry for connection, meaning and change. And yet, too many people ignore the opportunity to lead, because they are “sheepwalking” their way through their lives and work, too afraid to question whether their compliance is doing them, their family, their company and the world any good.”

Enter Redingtonhttp://www.redington.co.uk – an award winning disruptive pensions and investment consultancy co-founded by Dawid Konotey-Ahulu and Robert Gardner 7 years ago to ‘solve the pensions crisis’. I realised that this could be my working home as soon as I heard Rob’s 100 year vision to help people around the world feel confident about their financial future (link). My initial engagement with Redington started with RedStart, a groundbreaking programme that offers free financial education to young people at school. I then got involved with the Manager Research Team and have recently accepted a permanent role as Director of Strategy.

The more time I have spent with Rob, Dawid, Pete and the rest of the Redington team the more it has become clear that I have found my ‘Tribe’ – this is a group of talented and smart people who are ambitious and altruistic in equal measure, blending rigorous analytical discipline with creative flair.  Having spent Christmas at home with my family I am really looking forward to going back to being part of this Superteam (in the words of Khoi-Tu).

Final reflections

Back to those difficult questions I was asking myself earlier. In 2013 was I brave? Was I bold? Did I face my fears? Did I have faith in myself? Did I embrace adversity? Did I find my calling? I am pleased that for the first time in many years the answer is a yes to most of these questions, with the exception of the last one.

I have not found my calling yet, but I found my tribe, which has to be the first step.  For 2014, I want to make a commitment (not just a resolution) to continuing on this path of self-discovery, seeking to understand  where to focus my energy better and what to devote myself to. 

2013 was an amazing year for me on so many levels, even though it did not feel like it along the way. I will always remember it as my year of self-discovery. I want to share the key to unlocking this internal exploration: daily introspection and journaling.

My resolutions for 2014

I am 14 years from turning 50, I don’t have the luxury of time to waste by just re-living the same year over and over again. If 2013 was the year of ‘self-discovery’, 2014 will be the year of ‘devotion’ for me.

Over the past couple of months my wife and I have started a 5am routine: We wake up and do Surya Namaskar (Yoga & Pranayama) for 20 minutes, then we both write a Journal (reflecting on the previous day and our goals) for 20 minutes and finally we read something (thoughtful or inspiring) for 20 minutes. This routine has been invaluable in helping me deal with this year’s uncertainty, embrace adversity, adapt, understand myself and retain focus on my priorities.

  1. This 5am routine continues to feature front-and-center of my plans for 2014 (‘Daily routines of rock stars’ link).
  2. In 2014 I am looking forward to helping Redington grow with new clients, in new channels and new markets.
  3. After reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and learning about the massive differences that are forged between children over the school holidays, I have committed to spending school holidays at home with my children.
  4. I will use my free days but to write more this year. I started writing a blog for the first time in 2013 and I have really enjoyed it. I have written 19 blog posts and had 7,865 views. I really love writing. I am going to do more of this in 2014.

I’d like to thank all of you for your advice, guidance, support and encouragement throughout 2013. I wish you and your families a very Happy New Year.

For 2014 I offer you the gift of introspection, and journaling in particular, and leave you with this final question:

What will you devote yourself (your time, your energy and enthusiasm) to this year?

In 2013 become the hero of your own story!

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The New Year represents hope, resolution and change. A new year is a new chapter filled with potential and possibility. In 2013 – will we stick to our resolutions? Will we achieve our targets? Will we make the same mistakes as we have made in the past? Will we be able to build on our previous successes? Will we be prepared for unexpected obstacles? As I look ahead to 2013 I find much inspiration in the journeys of my Heroes; in their calling, their choices, their determination, their achievements and their obstacles.

“If you find a path with no obstacles it probably doesn’t lead anywhere” – Frank Clark

The Hero’s Journey is the basic storyline of all heroes and legends. The plot usually goes something like this. There is hero, except he/she doesn’t always know it. He lives in the ordinary world until he receives a ‘call’ to enter an unknown world. If the hero accepts the call he must face many obstacles. Initially the hero is alone but in time many new and unexpected helpers join him. Ultimately, the hero must survive a final challenge that will test him to the core. Upon success, the hero usually achieves a great gift or reward. The hero usually returns to his home with his newfound gift to share it with and benefit others. This is the basic journey of the Buddha, Gandhi, Luke Skywalker, Neo and even Bilbo Baggins.

I believe that we all get not just one but many such ‘calls to action’ during the course of our lifetime. These are moments that can define who we are, that give us an opportunity to use our talents, to follow our passions or to fulfill our purpose. Our calling can come in many different guises – an unexpected illness, losing your job, a new job opportunity, a dream, a new year’s resolution, a new hobby, a film, a book, etc. We are often caught off-guard by our calling, as we are rarely looking for it. Our missions usually find us.

Whilst we might not choose what happens to us, we absolutely can choose our response to any situation. Each of us has to decide for ourselves whether to ignore the call and stick to our routine life or whether to accept the call to enter an uncertain and risky world, with challenges, obstacles and ultimately ‘a reward/gift’ beyond our imagination.

If we accept the call we have to step way out of our comfort zone and welcome many adversities. We will have to face many challenges and trials head on. We will inevitably begin on these new paths alone. We will face our deepest fears and insecurities and learn to look at life in a way that we might not have done before. However, as we walk unexpected helpers, supporters, friends will come into our lives with assistance, guidance and support. They maybe people we know or people we have not even met yet but they will come from the most unexpected places. In following these new paths, in facing these adversities and in fulfilling these friendships we will be transformed and we’ll never be the same again.

I look forward to 2013 with much excitement, anxiety and hope. I have just started a new business, as a consultant and executive coach to the pensions and investment community. Lots of questions have been running through my mind in recent weeks – Am I doing the right thing? Where should I start? Will I find good clients? Will they be bring in an external consultant in this environment? Should I apply for a regular job instead?

The Hero’s journey inspires me to be brave, bold and not fear the unexpected. Instead, it pushes me to face my fears, to have faith in myself and to embrace adversity in order to achieve something extraordinary, maybe even to follow my calling and to fulfill my purpose.

“Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course” – William Shakespeare

I wish you all the best in finding your calling, facing your fears and in all your adventures over the next 12 months.

Happy New Year!