What Are You Holding On To?
At the beginning of September I had just finished re-reading Dan Pink’s Drive and I was writing about the difference between motivation and drive and how they influence who we are and what we do. I was making good progress. But when I was almost ready to publish, I felt I needed to write a different story. A story about a few lessons I learned in the last year. A story about having trust in the idea that it’s never too late to find out who we are and what we want. At 39, I finally accepted that it’s ok to not know. It’s ok if I’m not right. Who I am is not defined by what I know or what I believe in. And who I am will continue to change again and again, like it always has. A year ago, on an early morning at the end of the summer 2020, I was preparing to leave to the office. I took my coffee, jumped in the car and headed to Germany. It was an hour and a half drive, and I hit play on a podcast episode that Cristina sent me a day before. It was an interview with Andrei Rosca, change strategist and entrepreneur. I knew Cristina from her insightful newsletter, but I had never heard of Andrei and had no idea what a change strategist was. During their three hours conversation, they talked about people, behaviours, attitudes, mindsets, habits, decisions, and how we deal with life changes. They also talked about what coaching is and isn’t, and how change strategy is different from classic coaching. Andrei suggested that the only way to really understand what change strategy can do for you is to go through one session. To me, this was a call to action. The next day I sent him an email and we scheduled a first meeting. As impulsive as my action was, I know it was partially driven by curiosity and partially because I needed a sense of direction. The sessions that followed were a mix of coaching, sharing of know-how and practical tools, and discussions around my big questions about work, family, relations, health, and beliefs. I was in a point of my life where all my different identities and areas kept on expanding and piling up, while the hours in the day went by faster and faster. I felt like I wanted to be in too many places, and I wanted to do too many things. I had to make choices and that was the hardest part.
It wasn’t anxiety that I felt. It was fear of missing out, combined with a feeling of uncertainty that had been amplified by a small pandemic.
Working with a change strategist pushed me to rethink what I was doing, what was truly important to me and what I wanted to become. Looking back now, I see those hours as a gift I gave to myself, to stop, reflect and imagine a present and a future exactly the way I wanted. Ironically enough, I came to realise that I was exactly who I wanted to be, in the right place, at the right time. I just needed some productivity tools, a few new habits and… less fixed ideas. I know now that I couldn’t have found the answers on my own. Or maybe I would have, one day. But it could have taken years… Having someone to guide me in this journey accelerated the process ten times. And Andrei was right. It’s so hard to explain what this change process means. Because it means something else to everyone and you need to experience it before you can grasp in how many ways and at what levels it makes a difference. One of the most challenging experiences was to understand what my core values and core beliefs were. I spent days and weeks and months journaling, diving deeper into each of them to understand where they came from and why they became a part of who I am. I wanted to understand what I stand for, what my mission is, what I am good at and what I want to improve.
With each week and each month, I felt how my mindset was shifting from wanting to prove, to wanting to improve.
I used to carry with me a heavy backpack full of fixed ideas, unnecessary opinions and limiting beliefs. And gradually, I started to understand that my thoughts and my beliefs were not who I was. They could come and go, and I didn’t need to attach to them, nor let them define me. When we attach ourselves too much to our beliefs and opinions, we want to prove that we are right, and we become defensive when someone else has a different opinion.
We like to attach ourselves to our identities and our beliefs, and while it is important to live our life on good principles and values, attaching ourselves too much to our beliefs, makes us resistant to change and new ideas. Going through a change strategy process made me understand the world around me as a place of abundance and endless possibilities. Who we are changes over time, our core identity can change, so if we have a few guiding principles, we can stay open to new opportunities. What is most important is to master our own story and know how we got from where we were, to where we are now. In Think Again, Adam Grant talks about the joy of being wrong, a positive emotion we feel when we discover that we were wrong. Wait, what? Well, yes, it makes sense when you think that accepting that we were wrong, means that we are now less wrong. If we accept that we were wrong, we are ready to learn and we are better than we were yesterday. If we think like scientists, we embrace rethinking and accepting other opinions as a natural process of discovery and learning.
There are two ways of detachment that we can practice: detaching our present from our past and detaching our opinions from our identity. It’s about embracing a beginner’s mindset.
Adopting a beginner’s mindset is liberating at all levels: at work, in our relationships, in our family, but mostly for ourselves. When we let go of the need to know it all and be right, we are free to explore new possibilities and see everything from a new perspective. It doesn’t imply that we should be passive and non-assertive. It just means that we should always remain open to others’ opinions and accept that sometimes, others can be right too. To practice a beginner’s mindset is to periodically question and reassess our long held deep beliefs. When it comes to our lives, being right is not the answer to being better. Being right closes the conversation, instead of opening it for new ones. Being right doesn’t help us tap into new resources and deepen our learning. It’s just using ideas and the tools that we already have. As Shunryu Suzuki would put it, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
It’s not December yet, but I started to think about what 2021 brought me and how it impacted who I am today. The puzzle I have been assembling over the past twelve months is far from being finished. But I am confident that even if the pieces of the puzzle continue to move and turn around, the picture will become clearer with time. I have many roles and wear many different hats as leader, manager, change strategist, mother, partner, daughter, friend and many more. But none of these alone define who I am. It’s the unique combination of all these that make me who I am. And you’re the same. We are all unique and the best at who we are. Nobody can beat us at that. So, whatever it is that you are holding on to, imagine for a second the liberating feeling of letting go. The liberating feeling of not having to prove anything to anyone. The liberating feeling of being a beginner who starts an exciting new journey. As a beginner, you know it won’t be easy. There will be hurdles and voices who will try to make you doubt yourself. And you will smile at them, knowing that you were also in their shoes once, always wanting to be right, always holding on to your backpack of unnecessary opinions and limiting beliefs. But you let go.
P.S. After going through a change strategy journey myself, I realised that I would love to do what Andrei was doing. So, together with other 22 people with very different backgrounds and interests, I followed an intensive four months training to became a change strategist myself earlier this year. Next to using my new acquired skills in my work as manager, leader and mother, I started to work with people 1:1. Working with people has always been my thing, and I feel that while I like to pass my know-how to others, I enjoy even more the process and the rich perspectives I get with each human interaction.
Recommended and Mentioned Resources:
Think Again. The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know. [BOOK], by Adam Grant
I am the best, by Daniel Madison [VIDEO], the most inspiring thing I have seen in a while.
Pelotaunt on Saturday Night Live [VIDEO], a commercial advertises an exercise bike that replaces the usual motivational speeches with criticism. Talking about conflicting opinions... Listen To
Think Fast with Daniel Kahneman,[PODCAST], Hidden Brain, with Shankar Vedantam.
How to Rethink a Bad Decision,[PODCAST], WorkLife, with Adam Grant. If you liked this article and it helped you in any way, share it with a friend and subscribe to my newsletter for a monthly dose of drive and inspiration. To ask me a question or schedule a short phone call, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.