For a long time now, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and soul searching about my life.
I’m not going to lie that going my own way as an independent consultant was one of the best things I’ve done but also one of the most incredibly painful and expensive wake-up calls.
Admittedly, I failed. I couldn’t make it work.
The time invested in building my services around helping organisations didn’t pay off – I was losing money.
But it wasn’t the only about the money, it was the impact on my health and well being where it was on my mind constantly.
I realised that helping people to be learning at work did not resonate as it wasn’t a business or critical priority. I was also talking to the wrong people.
As someone who doesn’t espouse following formulae or frameworks nor did I write any books or have formal qualifications in education, psychology or academia, I started to compare myself to others in the field of Learning and Development who seemed far more successful in their business.
People started offering all sorts of advice about what’s worked for them. Although appreciated, again, their system was THEIR system, not mine.
I had to find something that was uniquely me – and then do the OPPOSITE of what everyone else was doing because I just don’t want to follow formulas. I wondered if this type of thinking was holding me back and this was the reason why I felt so disconnected with the mainstream thinking of building and marketing your business?
That’s when I started to doubt myself and my value in a BIG way.
“After all,” I kept thinking, “I have absolutely no value to add except my own stories of what I do to learn; everyone can do that themselves. I cannot provide any more research, informed opinion, insight into this because every person can do this for themselves. My system is my system – they need to find theirs. Also, much of what I do is inspired by others so why aren’t THEY the ones to be asked at the conference? Why am I singled out as being special over anyone else? Standing on the stage and just talking about my way of learning and how people should follow what I did is egotistical.”
So you can see the state of my internal thinking. It was soul destroying because back then, it felt like I was screaming towards 50 being an utter failure.
All I seemed to be good at was jumping into every project, collaboration or activity that would come my way through my network with gusto because it seemed like a good idea at the time. The stranger, the better. If it wasn’t even involved with Learning and Development and meant that I was around people from diverse backgrounds, I was IN IT! However, I also was mindful of how that looked like to my peers because it seemed spontaneous, frivolous and irrelevant to the serious nature of corporate and business.
Instead, I was driven by the possibilities of what I could learn about others and myself; how I could stretch my thinking and what we could build together. I wanted to be part of a “team” where we could co-create our own solutions. However, I also valued my own time – kept it sacrosanct – because it meant that I could focus more in my internal world. My own reading, knitting, travel experience, deep and meaningful discussions about art, history, politics, philosophy, ethics with my friends and family provided me with an escape from the noise. I could just be myself without having to explain anything to anyone.
However, this thinking was in stark contrast to the advice of what people were telling me to do – build a business which is all about providing services to customers and have your services “productised”, repeatable and scalable. Don’t show vulnerability; keep your work to yourself; pretend to be successful even when you’re not; you’re wasting your time if you’re not working on your business; only promote and share your own work to your community (read: your potential customers).
I couldn’t think of anything worse.
See the thing is I knew myself. If I make something repeatable and scalable, I’m going to get bored. Worse, I’m not following my own values here.
I’ve learned for a while now that I didn’t want to build a business; I wanted to be part of a creative team of people who are open to exploring new opportunities and experiences to actually MAKE and CREATE something new and different and present it to the world; and who don’t want to follow formulae. I wanted to be invited into a team where they had a problem to solve but did not look to me as the leader of the thinking because we all were.
So where am I at down the track?
Well, I’m far more content with how things are nowadays. I have found a role where I’m part of a wonderful team of people at Adopt & Embrace who I’m always learning from and the work challenges me too. At times I do wish I was nearer to them that is, working with them in person – physically – in the same room to see and roll off the spontaneity that comes with in-person office environments but we make it work. Working the few days also affords me the mental space and break to use the time to do the things I love – learning – so I believe that I’ve now reached my happy place despite having to go through all the ups and downs.
Do I still think of thoughts like above? Sure I do. Every.single.time. someone asks me to present at a conference, run a workshop or get on their podcast. My stomach churns but I have to remind myself that whenever this happens, it’s your mind and body telling you that there’s a learning opportunity that may turn into an unforgettable experience ahead.