A Smile is a Frown When Upside Down

a smile is a frown when upside down

What do you see in this picture?

I see a typical residential scene. A street of houses, people walking, cars driving by. Now turn 180 degrees with me.

What do you see now?

I’m in Carmel right now. As I was taking my morning walk and contemplating how I wanted to write this article, I noticed these different perspectives all around me – the sublime and timeless right next to the structures of our daily lives.

I was pondering how easy it is to get stuck in your perspective, your view of the world and believe that that is the only possible view to take.

Recently I was talking with a coaching friend about one of my own stubborn issues – how to fit exercise and healthy eating into a chock-full life. She challenged me to take a sabbatical, take the summer off from my clients and just focus on my own health goals. At first my mind immediately jumped to all the reasons that was impossible and inadvisable, including my commitments to my clients to help them through their stuck places. Then I realized the true challenge inherent in her suggestion, what would I do if I weren’t looking to “fit in” slow incremental change but I was truly willing to commit wholeheartedly to this goal?

When you have a work goal – what do you do?

If you’re like the majority of the people I know, you start making to-do lists. Maybe they are written and linear, or loaded up into your favorite organizational app. If you’re more visual, maybe you use mind-maps, or stick post-it notes all around you. If you’re a time-management guru – maybe they are even written into your calendar as appointments, with times to work on each item. What I’ve started to see, however, is that to-do lists (no matter how they’re done) come from one perspective only, this is the goal – now how am I going to accomplish it?

When do you create time to make sure it’s the right goal?

Brainstorming is one of the best ways to cull the wisdom of multiple perspectives. To do it well though, you generally need other minds besides your own. It’s hard to get out of your own well-entrenched perspective so it can be crucial to enlist others when you’re really ready to open up your thinking, and thus your options.

At work, the right framing (open, anything goes, crazy welcomed, think big) for a brainstorming session can often accomplish this. World Café’s are another format that were developed as a system to poll the wisdom of a bigger group and open it up to new ideas. Even town meetings or surveys, if run well, can be a way to generate new perspectives in an organization.

What about for your personal career or life goals? How can you challenge and open up your own thinking?

The truth is it’s hard.

That little voice in your head that you’re hearing – it could be your intuition speaking to you. . . or if could be the voice of fear, or worse yet, your own inner judge or critic. Your inner judge is the part of you that is worried you’ll fail and tries to protect you by keeping you in a small box.

And your friends or partner? Well often they share your perspective. That’s why you’re so close, right? You often see the world very similarly to them. That doesn’t mean they won’t have great ideas for you, it just means you might want to look further afield as well.

What does looking further afield look like? Perhaps it’s finding a mentor at work -not the same as a sponsor-someone who has travelled further than you and has a bigger perspective to offer than you might get from a colleague at your level. Maybe it’s hiring a coach – just make sure it’s one that’s able to challenge you in a way that feels supportive. Good coaches know how to offer new perspectives without kicking up your personal self-defense mechanisms; you know the ones, the feeling that you want to block out someone and ignore them because it feels like they don’t know what they’re talking about. New ideas could even come from an internet message board or LinkedIn/Facebook group. These groups can be great ways to get a multitude of suggestions and options. The only cautionary here is that you often don’t know the poster so it’s hard to know exactly from what perspective or wisdom they are advising you.

What can you take-away from this discussion?

Are you spending enough time getting new perspectives or are you only doggedly working down your to-do list? There’s nothing wrong with to-do lists – they’re great! But if you notice yourself feeling stuck more and more of the time, maybe a more rigid to-do list is no longer the right answer.

So then, what other answers can you come up with?

If you’re looking for some other new perspectives to make you more effective at work – download my complimentary ebook (below) today!

P.S. I planned to write this in a café in Carmel but as I was walking back to my car, I saw someone working on a laptop on the beach and thought – I could try that! So this perspective (on perspectives) is written from the River Beach in Carmel looking up from my laptop at the Pacific.

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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