Want Career Success? Toss out Old Stories

A career success consultant whose blogs I follow, Kathy Caprino, wrote “How Authenticity Can Prevent Professionals From Growing Into Leaders”. I hit upon a paragraph quoted by Herminia Ibarra, author of Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader that knocked me over:

Don’t stick to your story. Most of us have stories about critical events in our lives that shaped who we are today and taught us important lessons. Consciously or not, we allow our stories… to guide us in new situations. But our stories can become outdated as we grow our skills and styles, so occasionally it’s necessary to alter them dramatically or even throw them out and start from scratch.

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Not only was I surprised to read something original and fresh, I could feel the light bulb switch on above my head.

We not only allow old stories to guide us in the present, we run the risk of letting those stories define who we will be in the future.

And that my friends, can have a huge impact on your career success!

There’s two reasons I’m excited about this idea. First, I went through a tough period and after two years, a coach colleague of mine asked why I was letting my story define me? Why indeed! It was time to shed the crazy narrative I was clinging to. And quite frankly, it wasn’t doing anything except hold me back. At that moment I realized I’m the one that gets to create my own narrative.

I also learned the stories that got us here will not, I repeat, not get us to where we want to go. Think of the snake that sheds its skin in order to live and thrive. So too must we let go of the stories we tell ourselves, the beliefs that no longer serve us and the tried and not always true behaviours and approaches we’ve clung to.

There’s no place more important to adopt this perspective than in our careers. I work with many new senior leaders. The absolute one thing they share is the idea that what got them to where they are right now will definitely not get them to where they want to go. In fact, it’s unlikely they’ll be successful in their leadership if they don’t shed their skin. More often than not, this is what brings them to seek a coach.

Even the most accomplished leaders get caught up with their old stories and history, allowing these to blind them to what’s really going on in the present moment.

I worked with a client who’d lost her job months earlier. The story she told herself was about being victimized by her Board of Director’s mismanagement. She  saw no other options than to be an Executive Director. She so identified with her story, she believed her only way forward was to vindicate and prove herself worthy of leading a similar organization.

We deconstructed her story and separated her emotions from the events. Through lots of work, she eventually realized her version of the story was holding her back from being open to a world of new opportunities. So powerful was this awareness that she ceremoniously let go of the old narrative. She’s since moved on to a whole new career based.

We all have the tendency toward a one-dimensional view, especially with events that have strong emotions attached. Holding our view long after the story is over can be a way of justifying our actions, soothing our fraught emotions or simply a way of making sense of a confusing or difficult situation.

Here’s the difference between a perspective based on what’s current and one that’s manufactured through the past, our emotions and imagination. A healthy perspective has us open to possibilities and unlimited ways of seeing things. It  offers a respectful way of engaging with other colleagues and making good decisions. Ultimately, with old stories left in the past, our burdens can be lifted and we can be present and wholehearted.

How can you leave behind your old stories? I suggest these four practices:

  1. Begin by realizing you may be showing up with tainted lenses from your past – good or bad. Is there one particular story that’s emotionally charged when you think about it? One that still doesn’t make sense or one that you still talk about all these years later?
  2. Revisit each story one last time. Hold it up like a globe and look at it from different vantage points. See it through the lens of others and you’ll likely discover aspects of your story that weren’t quite as you’d imagined or believed them to be.
  3. Notice how the story may be getting in your way. It happened, it’s over. Be compassionate with yourself. Take one key learning from the story and let the rest fall away. You may even find it useful to symbolically let the story go by setting free a balloon or throwing a stone in the ocean.
  4. Hold the value of the learning close, tapping into it when you find yourself slipping into the past. The learning is all that matters and all that should influence your present and future.

As for me, I’m learning to not give someone trust without it being earned. I rarely think about the old story. It’s been shed. Since then, it’s not that my world has opened up, rather it’s that I’ve opened up to my world!

What stories are holding you back from career success?

Why I Choose Lumina Spark as My Go-To Personality Test

Personality profiling and assessments are a common and useful tool for coaches.

But, there are so, so many.

When I first started my coaching practice, I was overwhelmed at the sheer volume of tools available to coaches to help them help their clients understand themselves as the first step to development (personal or professional).

Most typically provide a self-report inventory (questionnaire) or other standardized instrument designed to reveal aspects of an individual’s character or psychological makeup. They are a way of digging a bit deeper into self-understanding.

Corporations, the military, and the government use them to understand different leadership styles and the dynamics of working in groups.

Personality assessments have been used since the 1800’s. The modern version dates back to psychologist Carl Jung – arguably the granddaddy of personality testing. Since then, many academics have developed variations on Jung’s work.

There are a myriad of assessments available which all offer many things to many people. Assessments based on the self-report inventory depend on how you answer or respond to questions or items in a survey. The more honest we are in our answers, the more likely the accuracy.

But not all profiling tools are created equal.

In my career, I’ve done at least eight different assessments and at face value the results are similar. They tell me I’m a big picture thinker, a motivator, spontaneous, and a people-person. All good information to know. But what many don’t do is give me my underlying motivations and how to use my strengths and understand my gaps.

For my practice, I went on a hunt. I wanted to find the personality assessment that would be of greatest value to my clients – one that doesn’t put us in a box.

I found Lumina Learning.

In his blog, Peter J. Smyth, PhD explains why Lumina is different. Most other assessments measure you as having one or the other opposing aspects (eg. either one is introvert or extravert, outcome focused or people focused, flexible or structured – never truly both). Lumina incorporates the opposite aspects of your personality across a continuum. For example, you can have strength as an extrovert while still having some extroverted tendencies in your personality.

Lumina Learning offers our personalized portrait through three unique yet integrated views (personas): underlying, everyday and overextended self.

Let’s dig into these a little more.

Underlying Persona

This is our preferred behaviour. These qualities feel natural and motivate us. It’s our closest family or friends that get glimpses of us in our underlying persona. It’s my husband and daughters who see me in my imperfect yet natural glory.

Everyday Persona

Our everyday behaviors are the ones we make a conscious effort to use, especially when we take perceived expectations into account. For many of us, showing up at our workplace often means we adapt ourselves to the culture and demands of that environment. We may put on an outgoing face even though we’re more comfortable shutting our office door.

Overextended Persona

We all have those times when we’re stressed and start to use too much of a quality. This is when we are overextended. I know that when I get overwhelmed I can’t make a decision if my life depended on it. Naturally strong at making quick, solid decisions, being hesitant is a sure sign I need to take notice and slow down.

What I find so useful about looking at things this way is that rather than beating ourselves up for certain qualities, we can learn that certain traits only come out when we’re overextended. Consequently we can work to avoid putting ourselves in situations when stressed.

Or, say we’re feeling really great when we operate within our underlying persona. We can then work to create conditions that allow for more of that. Becoming a coach has meant I work at aligning my underlying self with how I show up in my coaching practice. It’s important to me that clients experience the authentic me.

We can use the understanding of how we function in our three personas to understand ourselves better in different environments and under different circumstances.

How then can we bring this level of deep self-awareness and understanding into our business? Check out more about Lumina by clicking on the Lumina link on my Corporate page!

How Well Do You REALLY Know Yourself?

The truth can hurt sometimes and we often find out our hard truths indirectly.

Maybe you’re left out of a gathering of friends.

Or a job you thought you were perfect for, didn’t pan out.

Of course, one-off situations like this are not cause for alarm but paying attention to patterns in the way people respond to you can give some clues as to where your blind spots lie.

Your friends tell you that you weren’t included because you aren’t flexible and it was a last minute event.

And the hiring panel provides feedback and tells you they need a candidate who is conceptual.

Hmmm.

Do any of these stories resonate with you? If you’re like many clients I’ve worked with, when faced with a truth about yourself (from someone else) – you might feel gob-smacked.

The good news is that you’re in great company. Almost all of us have qualities we don’t have full awareness about. Or we believe we have certain shortfalls or characteristics and they’re not at all how we’re perceived.

How does this happen?

Let’s break this down by starting with how others perceive us versus how we see ourselves. These two perspectives could be miles apart like in the examples above. But before you jump to the conclusion that others’ perspectives of you must be the truth, it’s important to understand that self-awareness does in fact have two sides:

Internal awareness – your own perceptions of yourself
External awareness – how others perceive you

Now here’s the key – it’s as important to know who we are as to know how we show up in the world.

Let me give you an example.

I’m highly resilient but I hate conflict. I tend to avoid difficult situations and challenging conversations with others. In the way I see myself, I run to the hills when the going gets tough but I’m known to others as being able to handle high-pressure situations. Funny that.

So what does this mean? What I think of myself and how others see me in the frame of conflict is miles apart. There must be something here I’m just not getting. Shouldn’t the two perceptions – internal and external – be congruent?

Let’s dig a little deeper.

We all have a persona from which we think and behave. But did you know your persona could actually be broken down into three distinct personas?

You have your:

underlying persona – you at your most natural (this is where you get your motivation from)
everyday persona – how you tend to behave and how others might see you
overextended persona – who you are and how you react under stress

Lumina Learning, a tool that I use to help my clients build self-awareness, makes use of years of research and psychometric testing to figure out exactly how we show up in different situations and how to leverage the strengths in each area. Lumina testing measures 24 different qualities that make up you and figure out the amount of each quality for your three personas.

So when I was thinking about writing this blog, I became really curious about my tough quality. So I pulled out my Lumina Spark portrait and guess what I discovered? My peeps are right!

My tough quality measures at 3% when I show up in the world (everyday) but I have 64% toughness in my underlying persona. Hmmm. For years I’ve bought into the idea that I just didn’t have the ability to face conflict despite the fact that underneath it all I’ve got a fair amount of capacity for facing conflict.

So why is this?

Well it could be many reasons. But, I do know that even though I naturally have toughness, somewhere along the way I must have believed it wasn’t a “good” quality to have or didn’t value it enough to develop aligning behaviours. It really is just undeveloped.

Whatever the reason, the point how others see me is spot on. I know that people see me as being able to be tough when it’s called for. But my take on my own ability is off. So, now that I have that bit of information, I can focus on how I can show up comfortably (to me) and appropriately when conflict does arise. I actually have it in me to do it.

The same goes for when people perceive you one way and we know differently. When this happens, it’s time to sleuth out which is closer to the truth. And then put that strong quality to work or stop using up energy when it isn’t in you.

That my friends, is self-awareness!

It’s understanding yourself, as objectively as possible, and leveraging that understanding to create a life and business that aligns with our natural inclinations, not challenges them.

Curious and want more? I’ve got a FREE webinar May 12th that takes a deep dive into why getting to know yourself is critical for your business – Build your Biz by Being YOU!

How I Ended the Race

For years I thought that competitiveness was non-negotiable – a survival skill, a tool of war, a race for first and the only path to success.

Growing up in an all girl family with three very smart and accomplished sisters, being competitive was the only way to stand out. I didn’t know any other way to shine.

It didn’t matter that I don’t have a competitive bone in my body. Who cares what my preference is – this was about doing what I needed to do. It was about fitting in, showing up and rising above my sisters.

Of course, this belief didn’t stop there. I carried it into my career and used my practice of competitiveness to climb the corporate ladder and step boldly into conversations and situations that made me cringe.

I didn’t know at the time that I was exercising a muscle that just simply did not want to grow (and didn’t need to, either). I always had a really uncomfortable feeling in my tummy when I attempted to be competitive. It bordered on traumatic. And yet this is what I thought was expected of me.

As I shifted my career to one of executive coaching, I focused on the process of self discovery. Not just what I’m good at or what I like but deeply insightful and disruptive learning about who I really am and what my natural tendencies are.

I learned one day that I have ZERO tendency for competition. This was equally earth-shattering and liberating at the same time.

On one hand, I had spent years trying to be good at something that just doesn’t fit.

On the other hand, I felt so free. I gave myself permission to sit back and watch while others fought the race. And the funny thing is that I wasn’t left behind. I moved at exactly my pace so I could be successful without the noise and stress of someone else’s game.

FINALLY, I could work with my strengths and stop worrying about anyone else’s expectations about what I should or shouldn’t be doing.

Here’s the beautiful colorful splash that set me free:
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What is it, you ask?

It’s my personal Lumina Spark Mandala. No one else has exactly the same splash. It tells me where my strengths and tendencies are as well as my gaps or non-preferred qualities.

The mandala is made up of four quadrants marked by different colored energy. I have a high degree of yellow energy, which denotes enthusiasm and optimism, conceptual thinking and ease in social situations. Big Picture Thinking and Extraversion mark this.

The green energy in the top left quadrant speaks to being in touch with feelings and the ability to resolve conflict through listening. Inspiration Driven and People Focused mark this.

Red energy comes across as very direct and upfront. It can mean comfort with competition and the willingness to initiate and provide direction within a group. Outcome Focused and Discipline Driven mark this.

The lower left quadrant, of which I have very little, is reserved for organized people, having a penchant for evidence-based behavior. These are often our introverted friends who like to work independently. Introversion and Down to Earth mark this blue quadrant.

It’s not that we have one thing and not another. We all have all qualities to varying degrees – like a continuum for each characteristic. Unlike many other personality assessments, we aren’t one or the other of opposing aspects. We can have both – it isn’t either/or.

It’s not that I didn’t know myself before I used Lumina testing. It’s just that it provided insight that I just couldn’t put my finger on. It revealed truths about who I am that helped me step into those qualities instead of trying to conceal or override them.

All this to say it’s had a profound effect on how I manage my business. I continue to refer to my mandala and my Lumina Portrait to make sure that I’m not straying too far from the things that make me, me. I have to – my business depends on it!

What about you? Could your business benefit from a little more YOU?

What would you say is the number one barrier between where you are and where you want to be?
Is it:
A) I don’t know where I want to be!
B) I know where I want to go but have no idea how to make it happen.
C) I’m scared!
D) I don’t think I have the skills/knowledge that I need to get to my goal.

Join me for Build your biz by being YOU!
This FREE webinar will set you on your road to action by starting with you – your biggest asset.