A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the category “Serendipity”

Paradigm Shifter #18: Never say “never”…and never say “always”

Paradigm ShiftSome parts of life are predictable.  Birth, death, happiness, sadness, success, and failure.

Other parts of life catch us by surprise.  Serendipitous meetings, relationships, and “good luck.”  Unexpected illnesses, accidents, or tragedies.

The predictable events in life “always” happen, but the unpredictable, life-altering events are things that we “never” expect to happen.

Why, then, do so many of us use the extremes of “always” and “never” to describe what will or won’t happen in our lives?

Given the right circumstances:

  • Anyone can do anything – both good and bad.
  • Anyone can become anything – both good and bad.
  • Anything can happen to us – both good and bad.

To compound the conundrum, we humans are hardwired to paradoxically want both stability and surprise.  Yet we are bored by the predictable (the “always”) and caught off guard by the surprises (the “never”).  It’s impossible for us to simultaneously exist on both ends of this spectrum.

But life is not a black-or-white experience.  Life is inherently about the grey nuances – nothing is either totally good or totally bad.

These grey nuances of life are colored by the surrounding circumstances.  The exact same event can be viewed positively or negatively AND have good or bad consequences, depending upon what else is occurring at that time.

The events and results following whatever happens to us (both expected and unexpected) are shaped by our perceptions.  While we can control our actions and reactions to any situation, it is impossible for us to control the thoughts, minds, and actions of other people which help to shape that situation.  We might be able to influence others, but their free will assures us that we can never control them.

The curse and blessing of learning to accept that certain things are outside of our control presents a huge challenge:

  • The curse occurs when – despite our most valiant efforts – we realize that we can’t control the world around us and that bad things can (and will) happen to good people.  It can be terrifying if we choose to view ourselves as pinballs mindlessly being buffeted by the hands of fate in some cosmic game.
  • But the blessing occurs when we finally agree to control the only thing that we can control:  our own thoughts and actions.  We then recognize not only our own self-imposed barriers to success, but also our inherent power to eradicate them.  We finally have the freedom to get out of our own way.

Paradoxically, therefore, we have ultimate control yet we have no control.

The Peaceful Coexistence of Ultimate Control and No Control

Recognizing and accepting the boundaries of our personal control can be invigorating and exciting.  It creates a fertile ground for the anticipation of surprise or serendipity in our daily existence.  We begin to notice the nuances of the circumstances surrounding us and forego rigidly trying to change reality to match our personal expectations.  Living life in this way is rarely boring.

Understanding the paradox of having both ultimate control (over oneself) and an utter lack of control (over others) shatters many existing paradigms.  This balance is the core of staying on course toward our goals and mindfully enjoying the journey because:

  • We acknowledge that some things are predictable and that certain actions lead to predictable consequences, so we consciously act in ways that are more conducive to success BUT…
  • We also embrace the surprise and serendipity that are the “stuff” of life, so we focus on what we can control (ourselves) rather than what we can’t control in order to determine the ultimate “goodness” or “badness” of any unpredictable event.
  • We accept that (despite sounding like an oxymoron) change is constant and we embrace it.
  • Finally, we recognize the futility of saying “never” or “always” to describe what may or may not happen in the future.  After all, life is what happens when you’re planning something else.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Confessions of a Reformed Control Freak

Control freak words“Take charge of your life!  Control your destiny!  Manifest your desires!”  We are constantly urged to plan our destinies – but, even more importantly, we are advised to control all the actions associated with ultimately achieving our goals.

Many believe that control of self and surroundings is the secret to “success.”  In other words, successful people don’t leave fate to chance – they “take the bull by the horns.”

But this well-meaning advice is challenging in a world that is chaotic, hectic, and constantly changing.  To cope, many of us try to control that which is uncontrollable.

Is it any wonder that so many of us have become stressed out control freaks?

The Control Freak’s Obsessive Need to Control EVERYTHING

While we may be able to influence events and circumstances, we must ultimately face the fact that we humans simply can’t control it all.  But it often takes a long time to realize this basic truth about human potential and limitations.

In an effort toward full self-disclosure, I admit it:  I am a reformed control freak.  Although I shudder when I think about it, like many other control freaks, this is just a small sampling of the ways in which I used to try to control everything:

  • For relaxation, I scheduled in periods of planned spontaneity…in other words, I couldn’t be spontaneous unless I planned for it.  (Ugh.)
  • I rationalized my controlling behaviors as the result of being someone who cares a lot…perhaps too much.
  • I was the poster child for “paralysis by analysis”…and spent countless hours planning my schedule hour-by-hour.  (Ironically, I could never quite grasp why my days tended to rarely go as I had anticipated – in which case, I tried to control even more.)
  • I worried about what the future would hold…and arrogantly believed that I could assuage those fears by trying to control not only myself, but also everything around me.

Do any of these behaviors sound familiar?

Control freaks often say that we don’t try to control other people, but the results of our controlling behaviors prove otherwise.  Control freaks are much more prone to micromanage due to a refusal to fully recognize the talents, skills, and abilities of the people around them.

After all, delegation is impossible when you are trying to control everything.

There seems to be one universal blind spot shared by all degrees of control freaks:  although we don’t want others to control us, we forget that others also don’t like it when we try to control them.

In addition, most control freaks are perfectionists.  Both believe that things must be done right (according to our own exacting standards).  Anything less than perfection is unacceptable…and often perceived as an abject failure.

While doing something perfectly is a noble goal, it is also unachievable.  There is always something that could have been done better – which is a good thing because that helps us to learn and move forward.

However, to the perfectionist control freak, it “makes sense” to give up or avoid taking the necessary actions if there is any chance that the result will be anything less than perfect.  Procrastination is the close cousin of perfectionism.

Puleo’s Pointers:  Feeling Good About Letting Go of the Need to Control

The gnawing fear predicating much of the control freak’s behaviors is an often unwarranted lack of belief in our ability to effectively respond to the unexpected.

To a control freak, surprises are never a good thing.  In fact, we try to mitigate this fear by attempting to compulsively control everything around us so that we are never “surprised!”

What we forget is that those unforeseen situations, events, opportunities, or obstacles are an unalterable part of being alive.  In fact, it’s the serendipity and surprises that keep life interesting and exciting.

The stories of our lives are shaped by the unexpected.  Whether the surprises are immediately positive or initially negative, they change our perceptions and alter the trajectory of our lives.

However, I’m not going to lie:  letting go of the security blanket of compulsive control wasn’t easy.  It required a major paradigm shift in how I viewed both the world and my role within it.

What precipitated my recovery?  My tidy little world was turned upside down when my mother passed over 28 years ago after a 17-month battle with cancer.  In navigating the five stages of grief both prior to and after her passing, my ultimate acceptance required three important realizations that shattered my belief that I could (and should) control everything.  I realized that:

  1. The majority of things in life are outside of our control – the only things that we can control are our actions right now and our reactions to whatever happens.
  2. Despite what we might think, we’re never given more to handle than what we can handle – and if it’s particularly difficult, it is an incredible opportunity to grow.
  3. There are no guarantees in life – so it’s foolish to waste even a minute by not being fully present and mindful.

Of course, recovery from being a control freak doesn’t happen overnight.  But I now have a new understanding of a simple paradox:  by letting go of trying to control everything, I not only accomplish more, but also (and more importantly) enjoy the process.

Even better, I am confident about my ability to move forward no matter what “surprises” may occur.

Yes, I still plan.  Yes, I still analyze.  And, yes, I still have control mechanisms in place to make sure that I am on course.  But instead of the compulsive need to control controlling me, I now harness it as a tool to move forward in my life.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Letting Go to Go Forward: The Role of Serendipity in Management

Letting go

The cornerstones of managerial capabilities are:  Planning, Organizing, Leading, and Controlling.  This has been drilled into anyone who has ever taken a management course.

But are these cornerstones the only way to achieve success in an age of constant, unrelenting change?

Should the ability to allow “serendipity” also be an important competency in order to succeed when everything around you is changing?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, serendipity is defined as “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.”  These things of value can be unanticipated opportunities (e.g., new markets or customers), unforeseen developments (e.g., technology or lifestyle changes), or even the unexpected chance to finally hire someone who had always been “off the job market.”

While we can plan for the future, no one can actually predict the future.  By focusing purely on actions that we assume will lead to our predicted results, are we really focusing too much on models and assumptions that blur our ability to see and respond to what is happening now?

Big data has given us the capability to drill down into the causes behind effects and outcomes.  By doing this, we can better understand the correlations between actions and results.  When we understand why, then we are able to focus our attention on activities that are aligned with these correlations – and not “waste time” on other activities.

While I’m a firm believer in analysis to understand the underlying causes of any event (either good or bad), I also firmly believe that sometimes we need to “let go” of these models so that we can be more responsive to what is occurring around us.

While serendipity describes those lucky instances when we find something good that we hadn’t anticipated, “luck” can also be defined as the result of preparation plus opportunity.

Are we spending too much time on the preparatory actions that we expect to result in success or luck – but ignoring the importance of being open to new, unexpected opportunities?

Puleo’s Pointers:  Creating the Foundation for Serendipity   

If you are anything like me, “lucky” experiences were often not the result of planning.  Instead, they were the result of being in the right place at the right time and with the right skills.  In order to create a serendipitous environment, it is important to not only plan but also to be present, curious, and available.

  1. Be ready.  Serendipity does not eradicate the need for planning.  In order to take advantage of unforeseen referrals, contacts, and opportunities, it is important to be prepared.  Have you developed customizable templates to immediately respond to an RFP?  Have you kept abreast of trends in your industry and created potential responses to them?  Have you mastered the necessary or desired qualifications that the opportunity requires?
  2. Be curious.  It’s very easy to become immersed in the minutiae of daily operations.  Look outside at not only what’s going on in your industry, but also what is happening in other industries – even if they don’t seem to be related to yours.  Many game-changing ideas are the result of modifying something used in an area that seems far removed from what you normally do into an innovative product, service, or process in your own field.
  3. Be visible.  Serendipity seems to rarely occur from judicious networking within your own circle.  Instead, the “luck” of serendipity is unforeseeable.  Chance meetings or events are often the catalyst for serendipitous new relationships, partnerships, or even joint ventures.  Expand your horizons both intellectually as well as geographically (Internet chat rooms, groups, and social media are great ways to accomplish both).  Create ways to move outside your current box.
  4. Be willing to let go of something that is no longer working.  This is perhaps the most difficult element of creating serendipity.  It’s emotionally draining to let go of something that sounded so good on paper, in order to pursue a new track arising from an unforeseen (but highly valued) source.  A well-crafted vision is critical to stay true to over-arching goals – but serendipity will stimulate new, unanticipated ideas on how to achieve that vision.
  5. Smile, relax, and realize that you can’t plan everything.  This shift in perception not only wards off burnout, but also enables us to breathe, explore, and move forward.  Planning (while a good and necessary foundation) is, in the end, only a plan.  Plans are road maps, but they are not the actual journey.  By being open to serendipity, not only can we better navigate the inevitable unanticipated twists and turns, but also allow ourselves to enjoy the ride.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

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