Autumn Leaves

Tim Johns | 8th September 2016

Summer is over, annual leave has ended, Autumn is upon us, and it’s back to work. Despite the summer break it is all too easy to settle back into the same old routine and roll downhill to Christmas. All those dreams and ambitions of the summer, the wistful feelings of another way of living, all land with a bump when real life comes back with a vengeance. It is surprising how many people jump back onto the treadmill and carry on as if nothing has happened. They shake the sand off their flip-flops and they’re back at their desk as if they’ve never been away. Some people see the new year as heralding a new start but for me it’s always been the beginning of the Michaelmas term and the rugby season that gets me thinking. Every time the leaves start to turn I see it as an opportunity to pause, reflect and, in modern parlance, reboot.

The environment in which we all operate is more complex, volatile and uncertain than ever before. And yet many seem programmed to carry on working and living as if it is business as usual. This silo mentality is instilled in us from an early age. We are put into compartments by, on the whole, well-meaning parents and teachers; we are either good or bad (delete where applicable) at games, music, maths, science, languages, art; we are either academic or good with our hands; we are shy or gregarious, and so on… But this language is important because it goes a long way to shaping how with think of ourselves and, especially, our attitude to our work lives. It dominates our life choices and shapes our destiny.

Coaches frequently come across people who are stuck. They’re people who are very good at what they do but they feel stranded, trapped by their own success and with a feeling that they’re pointing in the wrong direction. It is extraordinary how many brilliant people can suffer from poverty of ambition. They can see clearly from their current vantage point but struggle with being able to imagine other scenarios. Sometimes it is because their view is coloured by extrinsic issues: for instance, their perception of their own status or their financial needs. But other times it is due to their intrinsic sense of what they’re good at and their sense of purpose. One technique that coaches use to unblock some of these issues is visualisation: getting people to imagine multiple possible alternatives. Reimaging oneself can be a useful tool in helping unblock the sort of rigid thinking that keeps people, and their talents, in a box. For instance, just because you were good at maths and became an accountant doesn’t mean that’s what you have to do for the whole of your life (although as Monty Python showed us, if you are an accountant and want to be a lion tamer it is probably best to make the transition via banking). Similarly, pausing to reflect can also be helpful in reaffirming commitment to one’s current path.

The world may be uncertain and volatile but is also exciting. To prosper people are going to have to be more flexible and fluid in their approach to work than ever before. The nature of work is being disrupted (by, inter alia, big data and AI), and the gig economy and freelancing are both growing rapidly. Rigid thinking towards careers and work are being challenged. More people are seeking to seize control of their destiny and make their own luck. After all, it is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves, as Shakespeare put it.

With or without a coach, Autumn is a good time to challenge oneself instead of jumping straight back into the old routine. Rather than seeing it as a time of twilight, try and kindle the memories of the summer when you managed to not think about work. If you’re content with the status quo, fine, carry on. But if there’s a nagging doubt, then pause and try and let the voice make itself heard. Either way, rather than allow yourself to be stuck in your self-imposed silo, aim to do remarkable things. After all, we only get one chance.

And, by way of a bonus track, here is the English Chamber Choir singing Autumn Leaves, by Joseph Kosma arranged by Andrew Carter http://bit.ly/2c09et3

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