By way of biography, earlier this year I left my job and the company I’d been working in for 12 years. It had not always been a comfortable 12 years but it was known and understood and at times exciting and stretching. And it provided consistency, structure and security. I had lots of friends. I had history. I was respected. And trusted. I had a very clear identity within that establishment.
As the Challenger (to myself) I had to step away from all these familiar comforts. Even if I really didn’t like some of them. And they were bad for me. They were comfortable.
And I was stepping into an unknown space. The small circle in the Challenger model may be small but that doesn’t make it any less unknown when you step into it. What will I find there? Will I find anything there? How will I feel? Will there be anyone with me?
In some respects, it was easy because the big circle; my familiar job, in all its comfort had become restrictive. I had ceased to learn. It was time to move on. To change. The difficult bit was not swapping this establishment for another. Instead swapping it for something wholly unknown.
Some things have surprised me. And I have learnt from them and I recognise that this learning applies to Challengers in many situations. So, herewith, the four lessons I have to share…so far.
The connection to the people that I work with has been easily replaced with a new set of connections – some that I have taken with me – and many new ones. I expected to be lonely and I am not.
Challenger lesson 1: It’s difficult to be a Challenger on your own but Challengers can find support and connections around them if they look for them and make themselves open to them. Often this means making yourself vulnerable to possible rejection and usually it means asking for help in some way.
I’m not as good at motivating myself as I thought I was. In fact, sometimes I’m quite rubbish. Twenty-five years of working under imposed pressure may have something to do with it. Recently I’ve been kind to myself, allowing myself to enjoy less pressure for a period. But I can’t do this indefinitely.
Challenger lesson 2: Establishments can drive out self-motivation and individual goal-setting. Challengers need to create the urgency and drive to change from within themselves, and often against the presiding force of the establishment. This takes effort and momentum.
The identity derived from work and career over a long period runs deep. My career identity was a thick, stiff overcoat. Restrictive of movement? Yes. Warm and protective? Yes. Clearly recognised and understood by others? Definitely. And now I’m in an unfamiliar coat. It’s light and easily packed away. It allows me to move with more agility. But I don’t yet know how well it will protect me if a storm comes. And others can’t see it. It’s invisible. Think see-through plastic. A bit 80’s. So I have no identity protection. I only have myself. Sometimes I feel like I’m part of Fagin’s gang. A street urchin with nothing to go on but my wits. Often I love this. Sometimes it is terrifying.
Challenger lesson 3: Challengers need help in defining their new identity as Challengers and getting familiar, and to a degree comfortable, with this. Having time & space to anticipate and prepare for this is really helpful. This is because when the identity has changed and you’ve changed from being part of the establishment to Challenger others will be confused by this and will react (sometimes badly). Relying on one’s inner resources of wit, intuition, and gut can replace that identity.
The biggest asset I have is my adopted status as a learner. I’m the rookie; a raw-recruit; a novice. At the moment I measure my success by my internal learning barometer rather than an external measure of power or volume of work. This frees me to really be a learner and to maintain this focus at all times. It liberates me from external pressures because only I can really judge the degree to which I’m learning. It’s personal. In an uncertain environment following the learning helps me navigate and decide which way to go next, when in truth I could go in 100 different directions.
Challenger lesson 4: A focus on learning can be liberating, powerful and provide much guidance. It also helps you avoid distracting thoughts that draw you back towards the establishment.
So, going forward in my work with Challengers I’ll be asking the following questions.
1. How can you get comfortable with asking for help and feeling okay about possible rejection?
2. How can you set goals and targets to help build momentum?
3. What identity are you giving up? What will it be replaced by? How can you tune in more deeply to your intuition and wits to help you in your work?
4. What are you giving up to replace with learning? How can you stay focused on that learning throughout?
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