Take the Time to Check in with Yourself

Take the Time to Check in with Yourself

7th January 2017

It may feel familiar for anyone who is on an accelerated career path, where the life feels like a speed train and the time just fleets by too fast and too soon. In this article I would like to share the importance of slowing down and remembering to pause and think:

In our work life, most of us would have a to-do list and the list tends to just get longer and longer with our increased responsibility. I certainly noticed that there are lots of things on my to-do list that I never seem to get around to do. So I guess the question then would be: What is important and what needs to come first?

This is where I find our personal belief, values, and a company’s culture come into play. If a company encourages heroism or has leaders who favors ‘personal wins’ , at an employee level what tends to come first is often down to: how can I perform to ensure my voice is heard, and what can I do so that I can stand out from my peers?  In contrast if a company promotes a strong culture with a good balance of personal development and team collaboration, at an employee level what comes first is often more people and customer related.

For me in order to find passion in what we do at work, there needs to be an alignment between our personal belief and values with the culture and belief that our work place promotes. If you feel your personal values are in conflict with your company’s culture, it would be a challenge for you to enjoy the work you do; if you don’t feel belonging somewhere, it is hard for you to excel and realize your potential.

So assuming you find the alignment, what do you need to do next in order to maintain the focus while not getting bogged down with all the to-do lists. Below are my top three guidelines:

  • People and Customers First

I want to see that my team doesn’t have to wait for my actions or guidance for them to grow and realize their potential; and I want to make sure that, in the relay race of a company’s value chain, I can assist my customers, be the customers internal or external, in order for them to accomplish their goals, and win.

  • See ‘the Bigger Picture’

‘The Bigger Picture’ means not to get bogged down on one’s own functional activities but to develop the curiosity of understanding the site needs, the business segment needs, and the whole company needs; ‘the Bigger Picture’ also means to look beyond the company that one works in, and take the time to try to understand the market and the macro environment.

  • Look after Yourself

I have found that it becomes more and more important to take the time to check in with myself. The pace of life is becoming so fast that it becomes harder to continue without slowing down, pausing to think and rest. Both working on a weekend evening and resting when there are many urgent things to do are acceptable for me, as long as the decision is an informed one.

So referring back to the speed train of life and the importance of slowing down, the above has served as a compass to enable me to gain a good sense of clarity, direction and balance, and as a reminder to force me to slow down and reflect what is important. Though the guidelines above may vary from one person to another, I think that if we all take the time to check in with ourselves from time to time, in the busy lives it would help slow the train down and enable us to enjoy our work and life more.

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Growth Thinking – 2017

1st January 2017

Growth Thinking – 2017

I am pleased to share that my article Four Humble Lessons Learnt in 2016 was selected for GE Career blog updates last week.  Here is the link:

Four Humble Lessons Learnt in 2016

One of my 2017 plannings is to continue to improve my writing skills.  As I benefit daily from other great writers I hope my writings can continue to help me reflect through my own journey of continuous learning and to help others gain some insights for their own reflective journey of growth both at work and life.

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The Journey of Transformation

29th Dec 2016

The Journey of Transformation

I was prompted to reflect upon the journey of transformation from a recent visit to a local art gallery, where I purchased a book about drawings and watercolors by Gustav Klimt, an Austrian symbolist painter. I was stunned to see the stark contrast, against the same subject matter, between the simple form of Klimt’s drawings and the richness of his oil paintings. The drawing/oil painting used for this article is an example.

In the book ( Gustav Klimt: Drawings & Watercolours) there were numerous examples where one can see multiple drawing practices that Klimt made before he created the final oil painting piece.  The sheer contrast made me think about the journey of transformation on both my own creative and career development:

I regularly attend life drawing classes outside my work life, but as I have not been able to spend much time on proactively progressing my drawings, I have made very little progress on my drawings throughout 2016; in contrast my work life has been very active, in that I have applied daily work practice, active learning, and pursued continuous improvements through a robust feedback loop so in return 2016 has been a transformative year in terms of work.

On pondering the above I realized that, to make the leap of transformation, resilience and consistent focus are essential. It is true that there are areas of our work and personal life that are out of our control, but I believe there is always something that we can do in order for us to get closer to our goal. I guess the important question would be: what is the goal that you would like to set for yourself?

For me from career development perspective, as one progresses into a more senior role, it is important to look beyond oneself and develop a holistic view, so that the personal career aspiration, the team’s yearly objectives, and the function’s strategic focus can all be put into perspective. I learnt this from Susan Colantuono’s Ted Talk: The Career Advice You Probably didn’t Get, which shared the importance of looking beyond your immediate environment and understanding the business you are in other than just focusing on self improvement.

Coming back to the subject ‘the Journey of Transformation’, I see the importance of understanding one’s current position, one’s goal ( search for the right goal other than waiting for the goal to come to you, and balance the % of self focus),  taking the time to plan the journey for reaching the goal, and, last but not least, cultivating resilience and persistence.  As I learnt through my own sluggish creative development, the leap of transformation is hard without the above, but can be highly achievable through examples such as Klimt and his extraordinary oil paintings.

Reference: Susan Colantuono: The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get: https://www.ted.com/talk/susan_colantuono_the_career_advice_you_probably_didn_t_get

 

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Christmas Ramble: the Art of Being

I have to confess that I know nothing about the art of being. Even in a festive break like Christmas I could stop and rest for half an day at most before I get edgy and itchy for doing something that can feed the mind.

My ideal time outside a working environment normally has to comprise of some time linked to nurturing the mind such as visiting new places, reading, drawing, visiting art galleries, or meeting with my close friends. Small talks which sometimes are essentially for starting a relationship are not my forte, in a way I think deep down I am quite shy and I find it hard to convince myself that my small talks are that interesting.

From that sense it is fortunate that I have a partner who is outgoing, naturally warm towards others, be them familiar faces or completely strangers; It is also fortunate that after a failed marriage I realised the importance how a discordant relationship can impact one’s being and in comparison how a healthy relationship can help nurture one’s mind and soul.

So the art of being for me gradually evolved from the being of myself  to the being of living and letting live.  It is hard for me to change the fact that my mind has to consistently search for stimulation and growth so I guess in a way I have to accept my imperfect being and letting it be. But the balance  of myself being with someone who is outgoing and warm enables me to stay connected and be a far better person than if I was left on my own. So for that the art of being I guess is the art of being yourself as well with being with others and sometimes it is the being of others that can help us stay grounded and remind us of not to settle in our own ways but being more receptive towards other ways of thinking, living and being.

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What Would You Do if You Had an Extra Day?

I was recently asked a question in a synchronous interview with MBA summit 2017 that what I would do if I had an extra day in a week. In the brief time intuitively I shared the needs and importance of more reflection, more giving, and more of what I do every day but probably with a bit more balance.

Irrespective of the interview outcome I have been thinking about the question in my down moments in the past week. I think it is a great question to ask in that in many levels it prompted me to reflect and ponder about the level of contentment and enjoyment that I have with my work and personal life:

I love the definition of ‘success’ by Maya Angelou, an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist, who defined success as liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it. I really love this quote as it reflects my own thoughts and outlook towards work and life.

Having grown up in a country village in China and myself being the ‘invisible’ second child in the family, for a very long time I never liked myself that much in that I always felt that I could be much better so I was often very quick to let go my accomplishments but very slow to let go my failures.

Now looking back I feel it is pertinent to highlight the importance of accepting, liking or even cherishing myself as an individual being, and that can be the first step of being successful: the very mindset of liking oneself can be contagious in that you then learn to accept others and embrace their beings and by accepting yourself you learn the art of accepting others. So unless you only define success under your own merit, liking yourself can be the first step of you being successful and you being useful in helping others become successful also.

Coming back to the definition of ‘success’ and the question of what I would do if I had an extra day: For me every festive break like Christmas is like an extra day in which I often use to reflect, learn and sometimes putting my thoughts into words. The world that we live is changing so fast right now; I see the continuous ‘learning on the go’ is the must have habit for anyone who relentlessly strives to become better and to be successful. So if I had an extra day I would see myself continue the journey of what I do today and that is to stay focused, stay grounded, stay curious, and never forget to stay connected with those around me.

Happy Christmas & New Year everyone!

 

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Four Humble Lessons Learnt in 2016

18th December 2016

Four Hamble Lessons Learnt in 2016

As it approaches the end of 2016, I would like to take the opportunity to reflect on my journey of growth in 2016. Below are four humble lessons that I learnt throughout the year:

1. Undivided attention

I actually learnt this incredible insight through my relationship with my partner’s eight year old son, in that it is important to give the person your undivided attention, be that person your family member, your colleague, your team member, or your suppliers. It’s the attention and focus that can help you grow into a credible and well respected person and achiever. As quoted in Daniel Goleman’s book Social Intelligence, it is not so much about the amount of time that you give to the person but the quality of time that you give that makes the real difference.

2. Deliver results in an uncertain world

This is one of GE beliefs which I really love. I think as one progresses into a more senior role it is important not to lose the focus of delivery while maintaining the focus of leading and influencing the team towards achieving a common goal. I found there can never be a perfect project where everything fell into its right place, hence it is important to remember the strategic positioning of your function and base your and your team’s behaviours aligned with your function value. Overall my view is that a clear vision, a strong connection with the customers, a relentless focus are three must haves to deliver results in an uncertain world.

3. Mindset change from ‘me’ to ‘us’

Jack Welch, the former GE CEO, shared that before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself; when you become a leader success is all about growing others. 2016 is a year I really learnt about focusing more on others and celebrating wins more under the merits of the team other than myself. I ws convinced that this was the only way forward that can create a win-win situation for everyone. This was not to diminish my own voice but more of a conscious decision of selecting servant leadership as the way forward in my own journey of development and growth.

4 .The balance between work and play

In the Ted Talk My Year of Saying Yes to Everything by Shonda Rhimes, the speaker talked about the ‘hum’, a feeling not uncommon for anyone who found the passion in their work life. In my own case I am a true believer both in terms of the strategic importance of indirect sourcing and the difference that I personally can contribute in a changeable business environment, hence it is not unusual that I encountered the diliemna or struggles of balancing my work needs, family and personal development needs at times. Shonda Rhimes’ Ted Talk did not provide the fix but it shared a great ingredient towards a work life balance: the importance of play. For me maintaining an inquiring mind and not taking everything including myself too seriously have been a valuable lesson in 2016. By learning to let go and let my hair down really enabled me to struggle less and enjoy more what I do every day in life.

Reference:  Shonda Rhimes: My Year of Saying Yes to Everything https://www.ted.com/talks/shonda_rhimes_my_year_of_saying_yes_to_everything

Source: www.carolinewadhams.org

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Be Comfortable in the Uncomfortable

4th December 2016

When I was a little child I was often educated the importance of security and stability. After his retirement from the army my father was placed in a public transport company responsible for vehicle maintenance and my mother was a teacher at the time, both of them were perceived by our neighbours ( who were predominantly village farmers) as being respectable and someone who enjoyed a secure and stable monthly income.

That status then had to change as my sister and I reached the age of further eduction. The disparity between my parents’ income and the funding needed for our education ( there were no other options such as student loan in China at the time) drove my parents to quit their jobs and start a small retail business in the town. Suddenly there was no so- called job security any more and our family income was wholly subject to the market forces.

I think it was because of all those events that happened in my early life that I started to question the concept of job security and stability at an early age. Long term job security and stability among the family can make one feel comfortable, from that sense I never knew how that felt. While I was growing up, my family relocated three times by the time I reached fifteen and because our rented house in the town was a shop at the front and a bedroom at the back, the home was never much a home to me. From the wider environment, it was in the 1990s and China was undergoing tremendous reforms at the time hence it was not uncommon to see what was once familiar such as houses and roads that had been there for years were swiftly replaced and rebuilt. So in a way many people, like me, entirely relied on their memories to reminiscent about their past and childhood.

Hence from that sense as a teenager I had always craved for some sense of security or stability in my life. But as time is our best teacher, gradually I realised that there was really no such thing in life. The comfort and being able to snug in an environment that does not change are more like a fallacy as the world we live in changes so fast right now. In a way the world we live in now is more like the waves of the sea; the sea ebbs and flows and never stays the same.

So what can one do or what outlook can one take in the waves of changes? For me it is better to embrace the changes and learn to be comfortable in the uncomfortable:

Instead of rejecting or ignoring the changes, it is better to acknowledge them, embrace them, or even better to anticipate and prepare oneself for the changes. Instead of coasting in the status quo or chasing for the fallacious state of future stability, breathe and live in the state of the constant changes we are in now; build the resilience, confidence and capability within yourself so that in the moving world of changes we all can be a courageous surfer, who refuses to drift but chooses to surf, rise above the waves, and take charge of our own destination.

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Wallow in It

27th November 2016

I would like to to start this article with a post written by Beth Comstock (GE Vice Chair) and shared through Linkedin: Best Advice: What I Learnt from Jack Welch Hanging Up on Me.

The advice shared in the article was that sometimes we have to wallow in it: Other than being super direct and efficient, sometimes it is important to take time to get to know people, understand where they are coming from, what is important to them and make sure they are with you.

My reflection of the advice is about the balance between getting things done and how one gets things done, and about the importance of focusing on both results and the journey of achieving the results.

I have been always self reliant in my life and took pride in myself that I could stay focused and get things done. The can-do attitude, though probably part of what I was born with, was largely developed through my earlier years in life, where I left home at thirteen to study and be trained in a healthcare school in China,  started working at eighteen, and then studied through the evenings for three years in order to attain the access to an university education.

In a way not much in life was handed over to me on a silver plate and I had to try very hard and learnt the importance of thinking and planning ahead. But I was fortunate enough to have met so many wonderful people who accompanied me through the journey, who were open and direct, and who believed in me more than I believed in myself.

I used to be proud in my own efficiency and directness and that I could assume the responsibility and get things done. It was only recently that I started to realize, thanks to the feedback from those around me,  that the trait was not always great, especially in a working environment where one has to relay on many in order to achieve a joint outcome.

Like what the article above shared, sometimes it is really important to get to know people around you, get to know how they feel, and get to know how your actions or behaviours may make others feel. The question I started asking myself is whether it had to be me who spoke first and who took control. My reflection of late is no: it really didn’t have to be me who did it all or who raised the hand to be the lead on everything:

A good leader is not necessarily the one who always takes the lead. The balance of getting things done and how the things get done has to be right, in that it is important for one to empower the team and achieve the results through joint efforts.  If you believe that no one does not want to do a good job, then it is important to provide others with the opportunities and the space to flourish.  And as a leader, it should be the mentality of ‘’we did it’’ that matters more than the mentality  of ‘’I did it’’.

Reference: Best Advice: What I Learnt from Jack Welch Hanging up on Me, by Beth Comstock

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20130226113021-19748378-best-advice-what-i-learned-from-jack-welch-hanging-up-on-me?trk=mp-reader-card

 

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An Excerpt

26th November 2016

Below is an excerpt that I translated from an article originally written in Chinese, which I would like to share and maintain here as a reference:

  • Other than presenting a problem, communicate the problem but also propose solutions for the problem
  • Only provide constructive feed-backs
  • Understand your role at difference occasions
  • Execute well, especially when things don’t go well
  • Avoid negative energy
  • Assume the responsibility
  • Never get too comfortable or believe in false security
  • Embrace and learn from others who have better capabilities
  • Open to and learn from feed-backs, especially the ones that help you grow
  • Make the best of what you have, other than complaining and focusing on what you don’t have

 

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My Key Areas of Learning last week

21st November 2016

  1. Lessons Learnt on ‘’Doing It All’’

I came across a Linkedin article entry about the pitfalls of ‘’ doing it all’’ over the weekend and somehow it summarized my key lessons learnt during the past few weeks.  For me the most difficult part of my journey of transition from being a team member to a team lead since 2015 has been relationship management and managing the fine line between team empowerment and lack of control.

The Linkedin article Moving Above and Beyond ‘’Doing It All’’ provided a good insight about the downsides of  ‘’doing it all’’ and I am learning to move beyond and focus more on the people around me.  I had rarely thought that by trying to ‘’do it all’’ and trying to address business issues there and then may make other people feel less valued and this realization probably is the most valuable lessons that I learnt recently. I am hoping to be able to tailor my behaviours and provide more space for others to flourish which hopefully also provides more spaces for myself to grow and build trust back with the team.

  1. The fine line between Leading and Managing

I really enjoyed listening to the GE Annual Conference Minds + Machines  2016 over the weekend.  There are two areas that I reflected and thought they are also of relevance in terms of leadership and personal development.  The first area is when Beth Comstock, GE vice Chair, shared that when every individual pursues a single motive and exchanges the information in real time, a new large scale of an organization path emerges.  For me this answered the true values of empowerment and leading other than managing. The fact is that as one moves up it is impossible for one to micro manage or manage people and in a world as dynamic and changeable as we are in now  leading  is the only way forward.

The other area is when GE CEO Jeff Immelt reminded everyone that why can’t it be GE who is the one that can connect the minds and the machines in the era of digitalization. The ‘why can’t it be you’ mentality stuck in my mind ever since and the can-do mentality resonates well with The Five Components of Leadership, a talk by Suzy Welch. The five components are Energy, the ability of energize others, edge, the ability to execute,  and passion.   For me we are in such a mobile and fast moving world right now hence it is important to adopt continuous learning so that others are able to, through all the meaningful impacts that you made to a business, acknowledge and recognize your capability besides your strong belief in yourself.

Reference:

  1. Moving Above and Beyond ‘’Doing It All’’: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/moving-above-beyond-doing-all-katya-andresen
  2. The convergence of Minds + Machines: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/convergence-minds-machines-jeff-immelt?trk=hp-feed-article-title-like
  3. The Five Components of Leadership, by Suzy Welch: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/are-leaders-born-or-made/the-five-components-of-leadership

 

 

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