Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Coaching Lessons: How to Start Over

By choice or by chance, or even by necessity, many people today find themselves having to start over again. Many have lost their jobs; some have even lost their careers. Some have worked long and hard to earn degrees, only to discover that there are no jobs for people with their qualifications. The Great Recession has played havoc with plans, with prospects, and with the future.

Feeling alone, lost, and adrift, people do not know where or how to start. People talk about reinventing or rebranding themselves, but for many it feels like they are being called on to become someone else.

This is a lot easier said than done.

Alexandra Levit defined the problem this way: "... many people, prospective career changers included, are paralyzed by inertia because of negative circumstances like the bad economy or a chaotic workplace." Link here.

I mention in passing that the need to start over is not limited to the workplace. Someone who has broken up with a lover, who has gotten divorced, or has moved to a new part of the country or the world will immediately find himself faced with the same psychological inertia, the same feeling of anomie that haunts those who are being forced to reinvent or rebrand themselves professionally.

But people usually have fewer problems with professional rebranding than they do with personal rebranding. The difference is between desire and necessity. You may want to have a new relationship, you may even crave a new lover, but you must get a new job.

When it comes to overcoming psychological inertia, necessity is a much better motivator than desire. More so because if you have become fully demoralized you will not want much of anything. Depression kills desire. If you wait for the first stirrings, the green shoots of desire, you will stay in your rut.

No one ever recovered from a depression because he wanted to; people recover from depression because they have to.

Dire necessity will force you to take that first step toward reinvention. You need to be pushed by necessity because the first step will feel like a leap of faith, a step into the void.

You need to take the first step, not knowing whether it will lead somewhere or nowhere. Once you have learned how to step forward into uncertainty, it will be easier to do it the second time.

What are some of the possible first steps. Here's one.

As David Allen explained, if you are trying to reinvent yourself, to start on a new career path, or to start a new business your first step must be to write down your ideas... to get them out of your mind and on to a piece of paper.

Mulling it over, ruminating, reflecting, or introspecting are good ways to feed your inertial impulse. Writing things down will break you out of that inertia, will make the ideas more real, and will afford you the opportunity to start planning how you are going to put them into action.

The first scrawl or scribble will lead to a check-list, a master plan, an organization chart... and so on. But there has to be a first step, a moment when pen touches paper and where ideas start to appear in written form.

You might be thinking that, when all is said and done, the ideas that are free floating in your mind are the same as the ideas that you are going to write down... so, what is the point of adding this superfluous activity.

The answer is simple. As almost any writer will explain, whatever you had in your mind when you started writing, once the words start appearing on paper, new and original thoughts will immediately pop into your mind.

The process of writing things down cures our tendency to ruminate, but it also gives us access to ideas that, in my opinion, would not have been otherwise accessible.

The principle forms the basis for the cognitive treatment of depression. Aaron Beck's cognitive therapy involved writing down lists and doing written homework assignments. Could there have been a better antidote for the depressing psychoanalytic exercise of ruminating, introspecting, and generally pretending that speech is thinking out loud.

Writing cures overthinking. But so can a good conversation.

For some people the first step might be: reaching out to someone else. By this I do not, and Allen certainly does not, mean that you should call up your friends and complain about your fate. You do not want to draw people into your inertia; you want to allow them to get you out of it.

When you use other people as sounding boards, you will overcome the feeling that you are in it alone. You must also pay close attention to the advice you are receiving. Just because it does not feel right and does not feel like it came from the depths of your own mind... that does not mean that it is worthless. If you dismiss it as useless you will be taking a step back.

What does this all mean? In short, that, especially when you are starting over again, you should not even try to go it alone.

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