This week we have the pleasure of visiting with Diana Wu David. She is a TEDx speaker and author of the book Future Proof. Her company, Sarana Labs, invests in young people and companies to prepare them for a bright future. Diana shares her thoughts with us on our newest podcast and as a guest on our blog. Enjoy! -ZH
There’s been a lot of discussions lately about what work will look like in an age of globalization and automation. I think we’ll see people coming together, collaborating on joint experiments, and solving important problems.
So what does a future-proof life look like?
A future-proof life is one that has considered how to mitigate the risk of accelerating change and disruption by being prepared mentally, professionally, and financially. It is a life with a broad enough definition of success to honor the experiences, relationships, and opportunities you’ve achieved, not just milestones of achievement externally defined.
It is always adapting and proactively seeking the next learning opportunity aligned with values and focus. Honoring yourself in more varied and creative ways contributes far more to your ultimate success.
When I think about redefining success, I reflect on a corporate lawyer friend of mine, Jennifer: she didn’t love every aspect of her job but thought a lot about her values and desire to help people. By doing so, she expanded into a role in thought leadership. This helped her win the top employment lawyer award in Asia, which she might not have been able to do without taking a close look at her passions. She followed her curiosity to a natural place where she leveraged her experience into something new, challenging, and exciting.
Likewise, Lale Kesebi launched her strategy lab, human-at.work, to broaden what she did for one organization to other companies trying to build great businesses for humans.
Both redefined success, beyond just clocking in and out every day, to reach further and be more ambitious about living their own visions of success.
An Action Plan for Success
It’s not easy to break from enduring habits, belief systems, and past prestige to explore and find new ways to grow personally and professionally. The greatest resistance we sometimes meet is ourselves. Yet we owe it to ourselves to create alternate opportunities and plunge in bravely past our own resistance to set a new course to new ideas of success and significance.
Success can be broadly defined. A rigid definition exposes you to the risk of not realizing that the winds are shifting, and you might not be ready. The company you work for may no longer be around in the coming years, or the industry might be dramatically disrupted. With self-awareness and courage to act, you can prepare for those kinds of events and capitalize on the lack of structure to create one that best serves you.
Don’t wait for success to come to you and don’t think that once you have it, it’s there forever. Think about where you are today, where your work is heading, and take calculated risks to get where you want to be. Many people reading this article are already in that frame of mind or they’re nervous and not exactly sure how to move forward.
Yet they have a lot of career capital and can become leaders in the new economy. To maximize your potential, it’s vital to think, reflect, and shift your perspective. Many of us are already leaders of some sort, which makes us even more responsible to think and reimagine the future of work for ourselves and others. Get out there and challenge your ideas. Craft your own life and role model the possibilities of the future. It’s time to act.
One of the common issues I see leaders face is that they identify too strongly with one aspect of their lives and ignore the other parts. It can be easy to fall into this trap because it typically starts out innocently enough as you pursue something that you enjoy or that is important to you. In the pursuit of more, we let other parts of our lives go neglected. We then begin to put all of our identity and worth into only a single aspect of our lives and we begin to lose that sense of fulfillment.
Think of your life holistically
Think of your life as a bookshelf. On that shelf are different books that represent who you are. It may include things like parent, job, spouse, friend, runner (or other hobbies), 2nd hobby, student, church, professional group etc. People begin to feel the pressure as the single book (let’s say work) begins to push more and more against the other books of your life. You put all your worth and identity into work and you begin feeling depressed because you know it is impacting your home life, but at the same time, you feel like your job is who you are.
Your life is more than just the one “book” and each book needs its own time and attention in order for you to have a healthy balance and a true sense of identity.
Where do I find more space?
Your shelf is time and we all have the same amount. Some people think of their shelves in terms of a day week or month. There are two ways to gain space for your “books”.
Great time management: If you have really strong time management skills, you can usually find some space on your shelf. The good news for those struggling and don’t practice time management is that you likely have a large amount of space that can be freed up if you begin to utilize this skill.
Reduce the page counts in other books: So you have no other space. You’ll need to reduce the page counts in one or more other books. This is exactly what I did with my running this year. I went from doing 26 races a year down to just a handful. The space it provided gave me a chance to work on a project that had been on my to-do list for two years, spend more time with family and do more film work. I’m still a runner, it just doesn’t dominate my life as it did before.
Do your best to only have one “book” out at a time, meaning don’t bring your work issues home and let it dominate your home life. Don’t let your running consume you so much that it keeps you from doing other things that you want to do. Get one book out at a time, enjoy and do your best, then put it up and get another book out.
People ask how I remain sane with a job, running, family, podcasting, writing, film work, friends, family and church and this is my secret to the balance. I enjoy one, put it up and enjoy the other. I do talk about work some at home and I do film work with friends. I just don’t let one aspect dominate the other.
You may know someone that only talks about their hobby or job or the same thing every time you see them. This is a person that holds their full worth and identity in only one part of their lives. They typically aren’t that fun to hang out with for long periods. Use that awareness to avoid the trap in your own life.
Give all of your books the love and attention they deserve and don’t let one encroach too much on the others. You’ll have a happier life and feel more content in your true identity.
Entering the corporate environment can be intimidating. It’s like starting college mid-semester. The cliques have already been formed, they are in the middle of working on a project and the dynamics of the class are already set. You’ve got to take a seat and figure it out. Welcome to your new job!
How well you navigate the corporate environment can either give you a career boost or become an anchor that you will have a difficult time getting rid of. It’s important that we are successful as we acclimate ourselves to the environment.
Learn the environment and survey the landscape
One of the first things that you’ll need to do is learn the environment and survey the landscape. This goes beyond just settling into your new workspace and finding the breakroom, bathroom and conference area. You’ll need to spend some time learning the different teams, the culture, and subcultures that are happening in the organization. If you are working for a national or international organization, learn your local office first and then seek to gain knowledge about other locations.
You will need to understand the nuances before going through the next steps of picking a sponsor and mentor. You don’t want to saddle up with the person that turns out to be the office jokester or the person that no one respects. Knowing the environment has higher stakes than it did when you were in school. Making the wrong connections and associations could severely impact your trajectory.
Find a sponsor
Find someone in the organization that can be your sponsor. This will be a person that will vouch for you as you gain credibility and introduce you to other people in the organization. They don’t have to a senior level employee, although that never hurts. The right peer with a good reputation can be a great sponsor as you get your footing in a new company. Be sure to thank them and show your appreciation for every opportunity!
Find a mentor
It’s also helpful if you can find a mentor in your organization. They are different from your sponsor in that they focus more on your personal and career success. This person can actually be your boss if you two have a good connection and trust each other. If you feel more comfortable with a third party mentor, ask around and make that connection. The mentorship doesn’t have to be forever. Having someone for the first 6 months is a great timetable for both parties to get a feel of the relationship and determine if it’s necessary, or wanted going forward.
Starting a new job in a corporate setting can be overwhelming if you let it. Remember to have fun. You earned the spot you are sitting in now and your new co-workers want you to be successful in your duties. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt and let all of your co-workers start with a clean slate no matter what you hear about them.
The value of your word is much like the stock market. Its value fluctuates on a continual basis. Any company out there would love the ability to be fully in control of their rating on the market. There are many outside factors that go into the evaluation of a company with many of the factors being outside of the organization’s control. The good news is that while you have outside influences on the value of your word, you have full control over its value.
Underpromise and overdeliver.
One way to quickly lose value in your word is to consistently make promises that you can’t deliver on. Avoid trying to impress people with short turnarounds and unrealistic quality standards. Instead be up front and realistic and impress them by delivering something quicker or higher quality than you promised. If you know that you can’t deliver on a solution, don’t offer it.
Phrases like “always” and “never” work well when talking about the principles that we lead on. “We always treat each other with respect.” They also work well when talking about moral and ethical issues. There are not many other things that are absolutes. When you communicate with someone in an absolute and then it doesn’t play out that way, you’ve severely hurt your value. Find ways to be both clear and not as absolute in your communication.
Be clear and avoid adding confusion/rumors.
People will try to fill in the blanks when you aren’t clear in communication. Some leaders enjoy playing a cat and mouse game in their communication. They don’t want to tell you what fully going on, but they want you to figure it out. This only frustrates the ones that are sharp enough to catch on and others will miss the point entirely. Also avoid adding in subjectives, rumors or what-ifs when you have to deliver tough news. It’s weak leadership to try to hide behind a rumor to make yourself feel better about delivering a message. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Trust me. I said trust me!
If you find yourself saying the phrase “Trust me.” all the time, then you don’t have that person’s trust and you can’t command them to give you that trust. In cases where the trust has severely deteriorated, telling someone to trust you actually increases the damage. People can find it offensive for you to ask them to trust you when you’re the one that has destroyed the trust. Use the trust me phrase as a good check on your self-awareness.
Why it matters
The value of your word is closely associated with trust, integrity, leadership ability and relationship management. Your worth in your career increases as the value of your word increases. Your relationships grow deeper and are more meaningful as well. The value of your word is truly like currency.
If the value of your word were on the stock market how would it look? Would it be ever increasing? Would it have peaks and valleys? Would it be in a full sell-off, having lost all its value? Work to strengthen the value of your word so that people know they can take what you say to the bank.
Life is all about curveballs and unexpected changes. I’m not aware of anyone that has lived life exactly like they imagined and planned for. Sometimes these changes come out of nowhere and alter your life forever. A sudden job loss. The unexpected passing of a loved one. Other times you get some warning, but it doesn’t make the change much easier. We are creatures of habit and dislike things that challenge and change our comfort zones and routines.
Fully process the change.
When navigating a large change or sudden curve in your life, it’s important to address your needs in four ways.
Physically. People will most often jump to their physical needs first. It’s the survival instinct in us as humans. Think about what you need to do take care of your immediate and approaching needs. Do you need to start saving money if you know your job is going to end? Can you put food on the table? Having a sense of security will help you navigate the next steps.
Mentally. You need to allow yourself a chance to mentally process the change. If you are the one that is delivering hard news to someone, you need to allow the other person that same space to process. Leaders sometimes make the mistake of not allowing the person to process the news effectively because they have had a chance to process it before delivering the message.
Emotionally. As we discovered in emotional intelligence at the beginning of the year, emotions are not good or bad. They are simply an emotion. It’s important that you allow yourself to work through the emotions that you have during changes that impact your life. Suppressing them only lengthens the time it takes to work through the change.
Spiritually. Meditating and having a prayer life will help you stay focused on the larger picture and will provide you with a sense of comfort in the tough time.
Look for the resulting opportunities.
There is an opportunity in every curve that life throws at us. Losing the job might be the push to get you in the career that you always dreamed of. Getting unexpected news at the doctor’s office can be the wake-up call you needed to a healthier lifestyle. Take full advantage of what your current curve offers you. If the opportunity is not obvious, search for it. It’s there somewhere.
Begin to change to the new reality
As you process the change, you have to adapt to your new environment. I’ve seen many times where people failed to let go of the past and it kept them from a great future. It’s ok to acknowledge and think back fondly on the time before the change, but you also have to continue to live life and the enjoy the moments that you are currently in. Make the necessary changes and move forward.
The curves that life throw us are not always fun. I personally don’t look forward to them either, but my excitement about what life holds around the corner keeps me going.
Being around people that you admire from afar, have authority or are well known can spark a number of reactions in a person. Some get overly excited, some dread the interaction, some fear it, and others embrace it. Which are you?
We’ll talk about higher management today, but the thought really applies to a number of interactions in our lives. Meeting your idol, “celebrities”, certain political figures and more grounded examples like your pastor or significant other’s parents are some examples of this outside of work.
Take them off their pedestal
Part of the difficulty in being around higher management is that we like to put people on pedestals. Make yourself more comfortable by remembering that they are just normal people like you. I have had some odd to entertaining interactions with people because of what I’ve done with Passing the Baton, the Disney Runner and with my work responsibilities. We’ll cover some of the funnier ones on the podcast this week. I can guarantee you that the person you are going to interact with struggles with many of the same things that you do.
Understand their perspective and time
Now that you’ve gotten over the fact that they are not a superhero or a robot, you need to understand their perspective so that you can communicate in the right way. Most high-level leaders are very visionary and see things at a higher level. They also have many time constraints and are usually on tight schedules.
Be prepared so that you don’t waste time. Think about your presentation, questions, and thoughts from a higher level so that you can connect well with them. A CEO is likely not interested in why a marketing communication got to you a day late. Stay out of the weeds, be yourself and don’t lie/over exaggerate your points. They can see right through those efforts.
When the interaction doesn’t live up to your thoughts, don’t take it personally.
Many leaders that lead at a very high level can be a bit…impatient. If you nail your presentation, proposal or conversation and don’t get a bunch of affirmation or accolades, don’t take it personally. They are very busy and are likely trying to move on to their next appointment.
The victory comes from being able to go forward with your ideas and projects. The personal victory comes when you get asked back or they want to continue the conversation later.
A note for those that are higher level leaders and personalities.
Perhaps you are the person that is in higher management or a personality that many people gravitate to. Know that some people are going to be odd around you because they are uncomfortable. Don’t take it personally, instead help the situation by being very approachable and down to earth. The awkwardness will quickly fade away and you can have a productive conversation.
Times around higher management and personality don’t have to be stressful. You can do it!