Hi,

When you are in between jobs careers, relationships, or phases of life you are in a state of becoming. It’s a state that we all experience, but rarely discuss as a stage. This makes it even more challenging to navigate.

The School of Becoming is a place where we seek to understand how to navigate this space, learning from experts and people like you and me about what it means to become, professionally and personally.

If this is of interest to you, subscribe to get a weekly dose of inspiration, tools, and information that help you become.

I am looking forward to welcoming you all as Student of Becoming, hear about story, and supporting you on your journey.

Ingo

Fuel Your Becoming

We commonly identify ourselves with our jobs. I am an executive; I am a professor; I am a manager. Identifying strongly with your job is a stage called “enmeshment.” Enmeshment can benefit your career – and your employer – as it makes you more focused and more invested. But it can also become a trap if it becomes all-encompassing. Anne Wilson, professor of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, stated in a BBC interview that “If you tie [your self-worth] to your career, the successes and failures you experience will directly affect your self-worth.

The chances of becoming enmeshed seem to increase in “high-pressure jobs.” According to a Harvard Business Review post by Janna Koretz, Psy.D, the pressure that leads to enmeshment can be the result of:

  1. A work culture that rewards long working hours with prestige and promotion. “What makes you leave early today? It’s only 5 PM?”
  2. Internalizing family expectations that link specific career achievements to self-worth. “There are only three career choices in this family … .”
  3. One’s socioeconomic status being tied to one’s career and a paycheck. “Who am I without … ?”

Being aware that you are enmeshed is the first step to change. The second is knowing how to think about yourself beyond your job. If you want to build awareness of who you are beyond your job, I have a little challenge for you.

Take a piece of paper (or a word document) and answer the classic networking prompt: “Tell me about yourself.” The trick, answer this without using your social roles (e.g. job, family relations) or physical features (e.g. brown hair, 180 cm/6 ft) or hobbies. Answering this question increases your self-awareness and is a first step to seeing yourself more holistically. It might also help you to have more exciting networking conversations 😉

This can be part of what Koretz describes as an important first step: developing a thorough understanding of what is important to you. Additional, often recommended, exercises popular include writing a eulogy, interviewing friends and family, and keeping a journal asking yourself, “What was important to me today?” Beyond these popular self-help exercises, coaches often recommend engaging in value and strength clarification exercises, which we also start with in the Life Design course.

Discovering yourself beyond work can support you in finding what Nilofer Merchant aptly named Onlyness Ⓡ. According to Merchant, “New ideas come from centering that distinct spot in the world where only one stands.”

Once you know what is important to you, Koretz recommends:

  • Start to engage in activities that help you discover yourself outside the job. Here, one might start small instead of overcommitting oneself. E.g. begin by writing a one-paragraph long short story instead of going for a novel.
  • Expand your network by strengthening meaningful connections outside of work.
  • Think about work skills you enjoy and how you could apply those in contexts outside of work.

If you are interested in talking about your enmeshment, career development, or career change, join me this Wednesday starting at 1 PM EST.

How would you answer, "So, what do you do?" generally? If the first thing that comes to mind is "what you do for a living," chances are you are "enmeshed," 🕸 Enmeshed is used by psychologists to describe when the boundaries between your job and your identity blur.

If you know me well, you probably know that I got a hard time speaking to a camera. I recently described this problem to my friend Tom McCook, saying “Somehow I face a barrier when it comes to speaking in front of a camera.”

Tom’s response “How is this barrier serving you?”

It was some of these moments where it “clicked”. I realized that the felt barrier was not about speaking in front of a camera was difficult. It was that I wanted to protect myself from failing or doing something stupid.

Talking to Tom about this made me realize that most of my barriers are protective mechanisms. No matter if it was not publising a blog post, saying “no, I did not enjoy my meal,” or shying away from addressing a fellow travel who watched an action movie without headphones on a packed flight, it all served me.

Thinking about the barriers as a protective mechanism helped me in two ways. First, it helped me to change perspective and see it as something positive. The barrier had a purpose instead of just being an annoyance. Second it allowed me to take control. It wasn’t something abstract that I couldn’t tackle. I knew it’s purpose and felt more in controle.

How about you? What barriers do you face and what purpose do they serve?

Journal Prompt #9

Confidence is vital. No matter how accomplished, knowledgeable, or creative we are, we won’t take action without confidence. A lack of confidence, which I am all too familiar with, can stop us short of achieving the careers and life we want. Missing confidence hinders us, even if others try to convince us that it is easy, obvious, or that we don’t have anything to lose. In her TED talk Brittany describes this situation eloquently in saying:

“A lack of confidence pulls us down from the bottom and weighs us down from the top. Crushing is with a flurry of “can’t”s, “won’t”s, and impossibles. Without confidence we get stuck. And when we get stuck we can’t even get started.”

But she also reminds us that a lack of confidence isn’t an excuse. Choice is a choice that we can and have to make:

“For some of us, confidence is a revolutionary choice. And it would be our greatest shame to see our best ideas go unrealized and our brightest dreams go unreached all because we lacked the engine of confidence. That is not a risk I am willing to take.”

In her experience, we can focus on three things that will help us gain confidence:

1. Permission burst confidence. Confidence can come from seeing role models or “people like us” succeed with the things we wanted to do. If you are thinking about switching careers search and find a person with a similar background, who has the job you want to get into. Here, Brittany herself is a courageous example of someone who started out as an elementary school teacher and who became an activist, a member of President Barack Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force, a TED speaker, to just name a few of her many accomplishments.

2. Community engagement nurtures confidence. It provides us with the support to rebuild our confidence when we feel low or mess up. Chances are we are not alone in your lack of confidence. When I was a Ph.D. student, I worked with Christi ZuberLisa Carlgren, and Maria Elmquist to launch a community called “Design Thinking Exchange.”  The goal was to bring together executives and researchers who work with #DesignThinking for peer-support and learning. It was amazing to see that “we weren’t alone” and to learn from each other’s failures, successes, questions and ideas. Coming together around a niche topic like #DesignThinking — at the time — gives me confidence that there is a group of people like you and me somewhere out there. Search LinkedIn groups, Clubhouse, Facebook, or Twitters Spaces to find active groups. In case you don’t know where to start, and you are looking for a small group to get started with check out Working Out Loud! Or follow us at the School of Becoming in case you want to connect to people who seek to find their way from paycheque to purpose.

3. Curiosity affirms confidence.  It invites us to learn from our “mistakes” and take charge of our development. Two things that reduce confidence are failures and intimidating goals. One of the simplest ways to rebuild our confidence in both cases is to journal. If you have failed, you could ask yourself: “What can I learn from this that will allow me to succeed next time I try this?” This will allow you to increase your confidence and your chance to succeed with your next attempt. If case you are intimidated by a goal, you could ask yourself: “What is a low-risk version of this goal?” Contrary to popular wisdom and the idea of stretch goals, this question allows you to make your goals less intimidating. Here are two examples of how this questions can help. A former client came up with the idea to test his idea pitch for a career change with his family and trusted colleagues before presenting it to top management. A former MBA students came up with the idea to volunteer in an organization for a week, before signing her contract.

I am sure there are many more ways in which we can build our confidence. If you have additional ideas or resources, please share them in the comments below.

“Confidence is the difference between being inspired and getting started,” says Brittany Packnett Cunningham, who's amazing TED talk I just watched.

I was sitting down with a coaching client not too long ago. Starting our conversation with “What would you like to get out of this conversation?” she responded that she would like to figure out what she wanted to become next. Exploring what she tried in the past, her strength, and actions she casually shared with me that “I always wanted to become a novelist … “. Sharing this, she smiled, which was immediately followed by a lough, and a sigh after which she added: ” … but I can’t, because I am too old and I need the money from my job … I don’t think I’m good enough since I haven’t been writing much since colleague … [and] nobody would read my stuff anyway.” As we continued our conversation, we discovered that her issue wasn’t a lack of clarity regarding who she wanted to become next, but that she lacked trust in her abilities and that it would work out. In other words, she lacked confidence.

We often expect ourselves to change and be good at things overnight. I see it every time I’m thinking about trying something new. I intuitively know that I can’t perform at the aspired level, so I don’t engage at all, and instead distract myself studying and learning more which usually only makes me feel less confident in the process. This is because confidence does not come from studying or knowing. If anything, the Dunning-Kruger Effect shows us that we are the most confident when we don’t know anything. Trust in self, and therefore confidence, stems largely from us, experiencing ourselves performing a task and getting better at achieving the desired result.

I guess we all know this, intuitively. We all picked up a skill like riding a bike, snowboarding, cooking, or skiing at some point in our lives. None of us would have announced “I am a cyclist! I am a skier! Or I’m a chef” after watching a couple of other people do it or reading about it. We intuitively knew we had to practice, we had to try, and learn with every iteration. We knew we had to fall a couple of times before we could confidently master challenging terrains, slopes, a sauce hollandaise, or challenge our friends. Yet, when it comes to career and life transition we sometimes seem to forget that we have to develop our trust in ourselves, and thus our confidence step-by-step. It does not come overnight.

Thus in addition to ask “what do I need to know” we could start to ask ourselves:

What experiences would help me to trust myself?

In case you wonder, the person I worked with started writing longer emails to family and friends she trusted. She eventually became confident enough to create a blog and share it beyond her inner circle. Even though her friends and family encourage her to “write more” and “finally draft her book proposal” she tells me that she is still not trusting herself 100%. She currently works on finding an idea for a book she trusts, sharing one “teaser story” at a time.

Journal Prompt #8

“All through life we are balancing things. We balance work and family. Health and sickness. There is always something pulling us this direction or that direction and I think that the key to transitions is to think that is not one factor alone that makes the difference. There are a lot of self-help books with one factor, … but it is really the balance of your resources in relation to your benefits at any given point in time. And that will explain to you why sometimes you handle something very well, and other times you are overwhelmed.”

Nancy K. Schlossberg – Transitions Through Life (Video 21:50)

To identify and balance the resources that can aid us, Schlossberg and her colleagues suggest that we investigate the four S’s: situation, self, support, and strategies. 

Researching how to identify these resources, I found Schlossberg and Nancy Kay’s affordable transition guide. Further, I found a paper by Lesly Meyer that suggests that these resources can be identified through interviews. This made me think that one could use the four Ss as prompts to identify resources that can support us in our transitions. Here a couple of prompts and a worksheet I’ve created based on the book by Anderson, Goodman, and Schlossberg.

  • What major changes have happened in your life during the past year?
  • What situations supported you in going through these transitions?
  • What traits (think talents, skills, mindsets), helped you manage your transition?
  • Which external support helped you?
  • What strategies did you learn or use to navigate your transition?

If you want to know more about Nancy Schlossberg and her work, check out this video covering her background and the 4Ss Framework. Her books “Counselling Adults in Transition,” which she co-authored with Mary L. Anderson, and Jane Goodman, is certainly worth a read to, in case you are interested in helping adults in transition. 

Transition Resources Worksheet

Transition Resources Worksheet (PDF)

Fill in the following information to get your free copy of the worksheet.

I just finished watching a video featuring Nancy K. Schlossberg, who is one of the pioneers of life transition research. Schlossberg, far from a dry academic, tells us what she sees as the key in managing transitions successfully:

Do other people see us for who we really are? Do we know what they think of us? Last week we asked, “Who are you, really?” This might make us think there is only one “me.” In reality, however, we all have multiple social identities, depending on whom we interact with. We have our work self, our family self, and our weekend-with-friends self. Thus everyone who knows us only knows a part of us. In the worst case, they don’t know us at all.

Knowing how others see us allows us to compare it to how we see ourselves, and thus helps us to improve self-awareness. The first step in the process of cultivating “external” self-awareness is to think about how others see us. The second step is to ask others and compare it to what we noted. Happy journaling!

Journal Prompt #8

According to research by Tascha Eurich and team, self-awareness is not only how well you know yourself (internal self-awareness), but also about how well you how others see you (external self-awareness). To quote Eurich:

Self-awareness isn’t one truth. It’s a delicate balance of two distinct, even competing, viewpoints.

Tascha Eurich

Only by knowing both, we can be truly self-aware. If we are lacking internal or external self-awareness we fall into one of four categories.

  • Seeker – I don’t know whom I want, not how others understand me. As a result, I am directionless.
  • Pleaser – I know how others see me but I don’t know who I am. As a result, I end up doing what they want most of the time.
  • Introspector – I know who I am but I don’t know how others see me. As a result, I struggle with relationships and don’t see ways to improve myself until it’s too late. 
  • Aware – I know who I am and I know how others see me. Surprisingly only 10-15% of us are truly (self-) aware according to Eurich.

Tascha Eurich and team, who developed these categories, suggest two simple approaches to improve your overall self- awareness:

  1. Ask for what instead of why? This allows you to find out what makes you happy and seek these events and moments out, intentionally.
  2. Ask for honest feedback from loving critics. Tell them you really want to improve and are looking for new perspectives as it is sometimes easier to see what is going on when you are not in it.

If you want to test your self-awareness, you can take Tascha Eurich’s test. The test will make you answer a couple of questions (internal self-awareness) before you are prompted to invite a person that knows you to provide their answers to the same questions (external self-awareness). In the best case, both align. In the worst case, you know what to work on! You can find the test, here.

We all think we are somewhat self-aware when asked. But it turns out, that we are self-aware to different degrees. This results in four categories of self-awareness: Aware, seeker, pleaser, and introspector. Which one do you fall into?
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