The 4-Hour Work Week

Change the way you think about how you live your life and earn your living.

By Timothy Ferriss

4 hour work week

I read this a while ago and I still haven’t decided what I really think of it.

The ideas sound great in theory, but I’m not so sure in practice. Sure, if you’re running a particular type of business or living a particular type of lifestyle it might work, but I don’t really see how I could fit the theory to my lifestyle. Continue reading “The 4-Hour Work Week”

My Purpose

Defining my purpose in life

A couple of weeks ago I determined my unique combination of skills and experiences and came up with 5 bullet points to highlight this combination. I then took it a step further and identified 5 key descriptors which give a very condensed overview of who I am and what I do.

Brand You cover pageThis was taken from one of the exercises in a book I stumbled across in Oxfam and have been finding really useful. The book, ‘Brand You’ by John Purkiss and David Royston-Lee, is a step-by-step guide to determining your own unique skills and experiences and developing these into a coherent and easily identifiable personal brand.

I read through the book pretty quickly, but over the last few weeks I’ve been going back through it more slowly, completing the exercises as I go.

I’ve already identified my talents, values and unique combination and feel like I’m gaining clarity with where I want to go with my blog, website and life as a whole. I already had a pretty good idea about this, but the book is helping me articulate it and give me a clearer focus.

This week I’ve been thinking about my purpose. As the authors say,

‘A sense of purpose helps you focus your efforts, making your life meaningful and enjoyable’.

I can’t argue with that!

If I’m clear on my purpose it will be easier to communicate who I am and what I do to others. If others understand what I’m about right from the beginning, those that don’t like what I do or the way that I do it will weed themselves out, leaving me with the people who will support and encourage me.

The book stresses the importance of differentiating between goals and purpose. Your goals are not your purpose.

Goals are short-term motivators; once they are achieved you need to make new ones. Your purpose, on the other hand, is limitless; it’s the way you want to live your life. Goals are still good, but as a means of working towards your purpose rather than as an end in themselves.

Purpose pyramidThe authors use a diagram of a pyramid to illustrate how your aim, goals, plans and tasks cascade down from your purpose. Always start with the purpose at the top as it’s only once you know this that you can start to identify aims, set goals, make plans and complete tasks. And it’s always in this order.

The example given in the book is of someone whose purpose is to improve people’s health. As a way of working towards this purpose they aim to cure sick people. Ways of doing this include qualifying as a doctor and writing a book; these are the goals. Plans to achieve these goals could be going to medical school and gaining writing experience. Tasks could be passing exams, carrying out research, making notes, washing hands between patients and applying for student loans.

Following this example, I put together my own version of the purpose pyramid.

Personal purpose pyramid

The wording may need some tweaking, but on the whole I’m quite happy with it. And the path I’m on is becoming a lot clearer.

What’s your purpose in life? Do you think infographics like this are useful?

My Unique Combination

Identifying my unique combination and determining 5 key descriptors which would look good on a business card.

Brand You cover pageI’ve been reading more of ‘Brand You‘ by John Purkiss and David Royston-Lee. In the first part I completed the exercises and identified my ‘talents’ and ‘values’.

If I want to be successful with my blog and have it lead to bigger things, I need a ‘brand’ – this might sound like I’m turning myself into a box of cornflakes or a particular type of phone that may or may not be named after a fruit, but really it just means that there will be certain things people automatically associate with me. I have to ensure that these are the right things as well as making sure the association happens in the first place.

My talents and values alone won’t provide me with a ready-made brand. Lots of people will share particular skills and beliefs with me; what makes me different is the combination of these. It’s very unlikely anyone else will have exactly the same combination making my combination unique.

It’s from this unique combination that I can build my brand.

Each of my areas of skill and experience can be developed in many different ways. The way I develop these and inter-link them is something that should be unique to me.

For example, I listed ‘budgeting’ as one of my talents. My skill with budgets could lead me to careers in accountancy, book-keeping or even debt advice. Instead I use this skill to plan expeditions and adventures in life whether they be a year wandering through Africa or a decade spent renovating an old house.

This use of my skill serves me well when it comes to feeding my wanderlust habit and working towards my desire to live a life less boring.

My unique combination may seem obvious to me and serve me well, but if I want to develop a lifestyle where I can help other people achieve the same, I need to do more than just understand my abilities. I have to clearly understand how I can use them to benefit others.

The exercise relevant to this in the book instructed me to think of 4-6 ways other people might describe me and then to condense these into bullet point soundbites.

Each bullet point needs to be quantifiable, measurable and objective. It’s no good saying I’ve travelled a lot – a lot of travel to some people could be a 2 week package holiday each year, whereas others might not consider anything less than visiting over half the countries in the world and spending a least a month in each to be well-travelled.

Here are the 5 bullet points I came up with:

  • Travelled and worked globally for over 30 years across 5 continents.
  • Outdoor enthusiast and long-distance walker covering terrains as diverse as the central African rainforest and the Swedish Arctic.
  • Social Anthropologist with MA from SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies).
  • Qualified teacher with in-depth knowledge of how people learn developed through having taught a wide range of academic and vocational subjects to students of all ages from early years to university level.
  • Blogger for 5 years across several platforms.

When I see my life condensed into five bullet points like this, I can immediately see how my skills and experiences can feed into the lifestyle I want to develop for myself in the future. This leads me to my next lesson from the book: My Purpose. But that can be a whole post in itself.

Reflecting on my bullet points, five key descriptors jump to mind and I think they describe me pretty well.

TRAVELLER – WALKER – EDUCATOR – SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGIST – BLOGGER

What descriptors would you use to describe yourself?

 

Defining my Values

My first steps towards developing my personal brand.

Brand You cover pageDuring a visit to my local Oxfam recently, one book in particular called me to it. A quick flick through the pages and I knew it was a book I needed to buy.

Brand You by John Purkiss and David Royston-Lee is an easy read interspersed with exercises to get you thinking about how to brand yourself.

Everyone and everything seems to have a brand these days and if I’m planning to be even half serious with my website then I need one too.

The book got me thinking about the nitty-gritty of developing a brand.

A brand has to be authentic – it’ll be hard to pull off and maintain if it’s not. I don’t want to get part way down the line and be revealed as a fraud, so staying true to myself and my beliefs is important.

But how do I really know what is the authentic me?

To start thinking about what is authentic you first have to identify your talents and values. Talents are things you are good at, skills you were born with, the sorts of things others might say ‘you are a natural’ at. Your values are the things you believe in and stand for.

If your brand is authentic it will be easy for people to know what you do and what you stand for. The authors point out that not everyone will like what you do or what you stand for, but others will. If your brand is clearly defined then it will be easy for people to decide if they like you or not. Making it easy means you can quickly forge better relationships with those who are favourable to you and your brand whilst not wasting time with those who don’t like what you do and never will.

Once you have a brand you have to think of it in two dimensions – reputation and reach.

To be successful you need a good reputation. This seems obvious, but won’t do you much good if hardly anyone knows about it. So hand-in-hand with your good reputation you need to be reaching an awful lot of people.

Ultimately your brand should turn you into a commodity so you stand out from the crowd and people want to work with you. They may even pay a premium just because it’s you.

My talents

For the first exercise I had to think about seven high points in my life and identify the talents I was using at these times. I then had to think about which talents I enjoy using the most and in which kinds of situation and with which kinds of people.

When I boiled everything down I came out with a list of talents I employ most frequently, feel successful when I use and gain the most energy from.

The talents I identified are:

  • planning
  • learning
  • writing/blogging
  • goal setting/achieving
  • confidence
  • adapting/being flexible
  • budgeting

I also felt that determination and perseverance have been important factors in my past achievements and high points, but didn’t think these really counted as ‘talents’.

My values

Next I moved on to my values and started by making list of 20 people I admire. The list could include people I know personally as well as people who are well-known. Next to their names I wrote what it was that I admired about them.

By analysing what it is I admire in others I could begin to see what values are most important to me.

I realised that my values can be classed under three key words: caring, achieving and doing.

Caring

I care about others. I’m a socialist and believe deeply in fairness and justice for all. I also care about the world around me; the natural and cultural environments, animals and wildlife. I care about myself too; I aim to live a lifestyle that is healthy for both my mind and body. I care about my beliefs and think it is important to cast aside fears and stand up and speak out for what you believe in. I don’t always live up to own beliefs, but on the whole I think I do pretty well.

Achieving

I constantly set myself goals and targets. These are always for things that are important to me, that interest me and that I want to achieve. I don’t see the point otherwise. Achieving goals, dreams, ambitions or whatever you want to call them, takes passion, confidence, determination, perseverance and self-belief. I’m constantly working towards them, planning, adapting when necessary and never giving up. Aiming to achieve, aiming for the best I can be is important enough to me for me to consider it a key value.

Doing

I hate feeling like I’m stuck in a rut. If I find myself getting bogged down in one, I quickly start going stir-crazy and behaving quite irrationally. I only have one life and it’s far too precious to waste trying to live inside a predetermined box, particularly one someone else has designed the parameters for. I want to live a life full of variety and I want to live it on my own terms. Hence it’s important to me to be constantly learning and experiencing new things, visiting new places, trying new foods, meeting new people. A life of ‘doing’ is a life I’m involved with rather than a life I’m watching pass me by.

So, there it is. My talents and values identified and the first steps taken towards developing my brand.

And I’ve still got a lot more of the book to read.

Dealing with Change Resiliently

Resilience, rather than resistance, to change leads to a happier, healthier and more interesting life.

The school I’m currently working at recently hosted a workshop on ‘Resilience’ as part of a training day. This particular workshop was run by a lady called Pauline from a company called ‘Sticky Change’.

The idea was to get us thinking about change and how we react to it and deal with it.

Are we excited by change or do we feel threatened by it? Or excited and intimidated by it at the same time?

Change is inevitable and of course can be good for us – ever heard the saying ‘a change is as good as a rest’?

Of course change can have a huge impact on our life and wellbeing no matter what type of change it is. What is important though is to realise that the change itself doesn’t affect us nearly so much as the way we react to it and deal with it.

Pauline got us to think about a scenario in which we approach the coffee machine and two colleagues who are standing by it in deep conversation, go quiet as we approach. What is the story we make up in our head to go with this scenario?

Some people suggested it may have been a private conversation about something too personal to share. They would shrug and carry on and think no more about it.

Others thought the two colleagues must be talking about them and out of these some thought they must obviously be discussing something bad and so they would immediately feel uncomfortable, defensive, concerned and upset.

The remaining few assumed they must be planning something nice like a surprise party and so would feel happy and appreciated.

Our reactions to change are the same. Do we find out about a change, say ‘whatever’ and go with the flow? Or do we immediately assume the worst case scenario, fight against it and let it fill us with negative emotions?

Or then again, do we see it as something we can use our advantage? Something that will have a positive impact on our lives?

Obviously having a positive mindset and looking for the pros rather than the cons is the healthy approach. We will feel happier and more in control and thus our our mental health and overall wellbeing will get a boost rather than a kicking.

Thinking this through, I can see that even if you really don’t like the changes that are happening, there can still be a positive side because you might need that kicking to get out of a rut and go find something better whether that be a new job, a whole new career, returning to study, taking a gap year to travel the world or something else entirely.

Some of the best things I’ve done in life have only happened because something else changed in a way I didn’t like.

When we get anxious about something our bodies experience a chemical reaction that gears us up to fight or flight. Successful and calm people are aware of this happening when they first feel that rush of adrenaline and say ‘Stop!’ Ensuring you’re in control of yourself like this puts you in control of the situation.

If you’re going to run away or pretend it isn’t happening (flight) or get all angry and worked up about it (fight), you probably aren’t going to achieve much and will just set yourself off on a downward spiral.

Staying in control means you can think the situation through and identify which is the most advantageous path for you take.

I wasn’t happy with changes that were made to the part-time job I had when I was a student. I worked out my finances and realised that rather than looking for another job, I could afford to give up work and focus more fully on the final half year of my degree.

It also meant I had to time to do a computer course I’d been wanting to do, but couldn’t because I couldn’t afford the time and it clashed with my working hours anyway. That computer course led to a temporary teaching job at the college a few hours a week. I ended up working again, but a lot less hours and for more money, whilst getting a free qualification and some really good teaching experience.

So that change, which had seemed so bad it had me evaluating everything, was actually a really good thing for me. It kicked me off the path of a dead-end job and onto one that was much more beneficial in many ways. I earned more money, had more time to focus on my degree, gained additional qualifications and got relevant work experience.

During the latter part of the workshop, Pauline referred to Stephen Covey’s book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People‘. In his book he talks about how the things we can control sit at the centre of a metaphorical circle. This is our circle of control. A ring around the outside of this central circle is our circle of influence and an outer ring is our circle or concern.

Our circle of control contains all the things within our control – we can make decisions about them and act on them.

Our circle of influence contains things we can’t control, but might be able to influence in some way, e.g. by giving an opinion – by engaging in discussion we might influence the person with the control so much that they change to our way of thinking.

Finally, our circle of concern includes all the things we have no control or influence over whatsoever. Like an apple falling from a tree or the sun shining these are things that are going to happen.

Unfortunately, the circle of concern is often where we spend the most time – worrying about things that we have no control over. Staying here wastes our own time and that of others and never gets us anywhere anyway.

If we jump back to the circles of control and influence we can think of solutions that may make the situation in the circle of concern less important or go some way to resolving it. If it is raining, we can’t stop it, but we can take an umbrella or switch activities around so we don’t have to go out in it.

So, my lessons learned from this workshop are:

  • Change is going to happen no matter what – what’s important isn’t the change, but how we deal with it.
  • Having a positive mindset and looking for the pros rather than the cons will help us deal with change whilst boosting out mental wellbeing.
  • Don’t waste time focussing on the things we have no control or influence over – instead look for solutions by focussing on what you can control or influence.
  • Building resilience to change by learning how to deal with it positively leads to less wasted time, less stress and a happier, healthier and more interesting life.

 

 

Who Moved My Cheese?

What would you do, if you weren’t afraid?

By Dr Spencer Johnson

book coverI put this on my Amazon wishlist recently as I’d read good reviews of it. Lo and behold, the very next time I went into a charity shop, there it was sitting on the shelf. Of course I had to buy it.

I was quite surprised by how thin it is. And it has quite a big font size. And a lot of the pages are simple illustrations (of a piece of a cheese with a slogan written on it). And some of the pages are taken up with the foreword, reviews, an ‘about the author’ page … you get the picture.

The actual Who Moved My Cheese? part of the book only runs for just over 70 pages and just over 50 if you don’t count the pages that are illustrations rather than text. The pro sides to this are that I read it in about an hour and it’ll be easy to go back to for a top-up of motivation.

Who Moved My Cheese? is a modern day fable. The story is split into three parts: the first part has a group of school friends meeting for a reunion years after leaving school and getting into a discussion about the changes in their lives and how they have dealt with them; the second part consists of the fable itself – one of the friends tells it to the others; the third part returns to the group and reveals their reactions to the fable.

The fable has four characters, each of whom are meant to represent one part of ourselves and the way we react to change.

Sniff and Scurry are mice – Sniff sniffs out change early and Scurry scurries into action to react to change.

Hem and Haw are the ‘little people’ – Hem is afraid of change and lives in denial, whereas Haw takes his time, but eventually realises that change can be good and reacts accordingly.

The four characters live in a maze in which they one day discover a cheese mountain. There is so much cheese they know they are set up for life and move their families and homes to be close by; they build their lives around the cheese knowing the cheese will always be there for them.

Of course, the inevitable happens and one day the cheese mountain is depleted.

Sniff and Scurry react best. Sniff has realised for a while that change is in the air and has already been exploring new possibilities in the maze. Scurry is not far behind him; once the cheese is gone, he doesn’t waste time and gets his running shoes on and is off back into the maze to seek out new opportunities.

The little people don’t adapt to change so well. Although Haw eventually realises the cheese is gone for good and goes back into the maze, it does take him a while. One he starts looking for new opportunities he realises that although it may be difficult he finds enough cheese to sustain him until it all becomes worthwhile and he finds a new and even better cheese mountain.

Hem, on the other hand, doesn’t adapt at all and continues to live in denial, watching his life fall apart around him. He can’t understand why it has happened to him – he’s always been loyal to the cheese; always worked hard spending all day, every day eating the cheese, why should it suddenly abandon him like this?

Of course, the fable relates to modern lives and corporate culture. There’s no such thing as a job for life anymore (and frankly, why would you want to do the same job for your entire working life anyway?) and good things come to those who can adapt. They come even more quickly to those who keep one eye on the future and don’t become too complacent; those who are prepared to leap long before they are pushed.

To be successful in life we need to be like Sniff and Scurry, though for most people it’s far too easy to end up like Hem and Haw. Even if we don’t intend it, it’s all too easy to find ourselves becoming enmeshed in the safety net of our jobs and salaries and of the familiarity of the routine. That safety net becomes more restrictive as we settle deeper into it and pull it ever more tightly around us.

When the safety net is pulled away we are left floundering.

I didn’t learn anything new from Who Moved My Cheese? I’ve always felt restricted by safety nets. Although the security can provide a nice warm feeling to start with, it’s never long before I start feeling shackled rather than safe. I’ve always felt safer standing on my own two feet than relying on someone else for my cheese.

Even so, I know how sneaky those safety nets can be. One minute you’re thinking, ‘I’ll do this job for x months until I achieve y and then I’ll be gone’ and before you know it you’re worried about pensions, annual reviews, targets, promotions, benefits … the spider has well and truly spun its web and it’s too daunting to even think about extricating yourself.

I might not have learnt anything new from Who Moved My Cheese? but I enjoyed the way a belief that has always rumbled around the back of my mind has been worded so succinctly and in such a regaling way. I felt the clarity flooding my mind with light as I read it and finished the book feeling my path of ditching my job and wanting to do things my way has been affirmed.

When people doubt me in future, I’ll direct them to read Who Moved My Cheese? as Spencer Johnson has articulated my philosophy on life better than I ever could myself.

If you don’t have time to spare an hour to read the book, here’s a 15 minute animated version I found on YouTube.

Learning to be a Developed Woman

A weekend spent developing skills and learning about inspirational women.

I spent this weekend on a Women’s Development course.

I was offered a place on the course by the teaching union of which I am a member. As I’m always up for a bit of self-development I jumped at the opportunity. Of course, the fact that it was a free course and included a stay in a posh hotel had nothing to do with it!

Over the weekend I learnt the stories of many strong and determined women who stood up for themselves and other women and achieved many of the things we take for granted today. Not just the biggies, like getting the vote, that everyone’s already heard of, but things like being able to own your own bank account or get a mortgage without having to defer to your  husband and rape in marriage being made illegal. When do you think that law was passed? I was astounded to find out it was only in 1991.

As well gathering inspiration from these women we had a practical session on learning how to chair a meeting and finished with a grand finale where we were given just 15 minutes to write a powerful speech on an issue affecting teaching and then had to stand up in front of everyone and deliver the speech.

I’m used to standing up in front of people and talking, but my audience is usually much younger and less qualified than me. And most of the time they’re not listening anyway. It was a whole different ballgame to have to stand up in front of a cohort of my peers and speak passionately, articulately and knowledgeably on a topic I’d only had 15 minutes to prepare!

As I’d quite like to have a go a public speaking, whether it’s as a motivational speaker or just trying to flog my book (if I ever get round to finishing it), I felt that this was a really worthwhile activity.

But as well as getting to hone some important skills, learning a lot about inspirational women, eating good food and sleeping in a posh bed, I also got to meet some interesting and fun women and now have an email network to keep in touch with.

I’m well and truly developed.