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SPARKIN is an executive recruitment agency with a difference. We care more about your optimum fit than about making a placement! We are focused on aiding and abetting your career progression and optimization. Our primary target audience is strategic planners of all persuasion. We work with allies in key centers in the United States and around the globe. Our experience is based around the importance of relationships and becoming an expert at building them and through them attaining personal and career goals.

The Oscar for Self-Awareness Goes To…You?

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As we approach the Oscars, no few fictional accounts would be more surprising than the 2016 reality that is the Hamar tribe of southern Ethiopia. There, the rites of passage to becoming a man include the tribe member running naked, over the backs of five bulls held together by other tribal members. If the individual can run backwards and forwards three times without falling off, he achieves manhood.

In support of this effort, during the afternoon before the bull running attempt, to prove their strength and solidarity, female relatives seek out male adults and aggressively pursue the men to hit them with a cane! Further when they are struck and scarred they are happy and smiling and when they are not, they overtly disappointed.

Rewards and Punishment – Rewards are not the same for any one person (or tribe) and the same rewards’ value can vary at different times. Society defines what rewards and success are. Conventional thinking here in the west is unofficially defined as being ‘big!’ (Office, car, salary, title) But, big for you can be (self-esteem, knowledge, free time, family, spirituality, learning).

There is no ‘right’ or wrong reward. That said, what is failure for me is a lack of self-awareness as to what we regard as reward and what is a punishment. Without this self-knowledge you will not recognize a great opportunity, even when presented to you.

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Growth and Nemesis – When you think about it, there are only two career directions. Forwards or backwards, progression or regression! And, growth, or stagnation, do not manifest in an orderly fashion but tend to be staggered, altering as we are confronted by major challenges or crossroads.

When they say that life is ‘all about timing’ they are really saying, prepare for the next crossroads! And, when I talk with anyone that is at or approaching a career junction, while they think they are talking about being bored or frustrated or at a lack of pay rise or new opportunity, they are in fact talking about their lack of growth: Financial, technical, vertical, interpersonal, managerial.

So, what is forwards for you? What does growth look like?

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Time – Are you making effective use of it? -Would you say that you are going through the motions, versus using your time effectively either in what you are creating now or through where the current experience will take you? If you know you could do more, much more, you owe it yourself to step up and to be more proactive. And, this is the best way to prepare for the next job (as you are more likely to be noticed when energetic/proactive.) Then again, perhaps you are you unsure whether you are using your time effectively.

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What’s needed to effectively assess your own situation? – Dependent on who you ask and based on their agendas, you will receive multiple perspectives on whether you are a huge waste of space or a pillar of the business. Impartial mentors and advocates are great to have in your lives but if you don’t, you need to find a way to effectively self-assess.

To effectively self-assess you need from time to time to get out of your ‘daily skin!’ Getting context and perspective on how things are really going for you is key to knowing anything. The quality of the assessment is also important, so a quality chance to reflect is key. Earthing encapsulates a broad ability to see clearly, to feel every day and truly enjoying your existence. Living in this mode is a combination of skills and habits that take time.

Personally I find remote travel a great way to look back on my life (away from the daily fray) and dispassionately assess what’s working and not, how I want so spend my time and don’t, the impact I hope to make through my work and am currently making or not!

How do you know if you’re on track? – Goal setting is part of the answer as is intermittent assessment of those goals, of who you want to be and the actions you want to experience. As important you need to be ‘actively’ involved in your own development on an on-going basis, not just occasionally.

Mindfulness/AKA Not going through the motions like an automaton – Along with intermittent time out reflection and assessment, we all need on an on-going basis, a true sense of self, which some refer to as mindfulness. For me, this is all about not being a robot! Not going through our lives unconsciously but the opposite! And if we know there is a poor quality to our day-to-day life, we pursue this course knowing what we are making the sacrifice of poorly spent time for. This understanding then justifies the time usage. That is, if we put up with boring, frustrating work, in growth-unfriendly environments, we do this knowing at some stage there is a pay-off, for us!

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Avoiding the Perfect Storm = A sudden loss of your job without any preparation to get the next one..

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A Sinking Ship

It’s the middle of the night and you are awoken to a shrieking alarm piercing the beautiful world that your dreams had transported you to. Brutally torn in to consciousness, you need to get out of the cabin and on to the deck. It’s dark, you are three decks down and for all you know the ship is sinking and this is not a drill!

Approaching the end of the financial year can be a very uncertain time for agency employees, as agencies desperate to make their numbers, cut the only meaningful costs, payroll. What can you do to mitigate this uncertainty?

Life can sometimes send us a perfect storm and we should anticipate the possibility by preemptively ensuring we are able to jump to another ship. Anticipation will ensure the other vessel is a yacht sailing quickly in to calmer and more prosperous waters, versus another sinking ship!

Preparing to Evacuate – Fire drills make sense

Don’t wait to make connections with other agencies and businesses; Don’t wait to have an up-to-date resume; Don’t wait to be engaged with social media, building your own reputation. And certainly don’t wait to be building specific expertise and achieving meaningful results. When you finally decide it’s time to move from your current job, be prepared in the only way you can be, leave from a position of strength. Don’t leave it until you’re desperate, until the alarm bells are ringing rather, plan ahead and, have a clear sense of what it is you are looking for. Anticipate that there could be an emergency and avert its effects because of you preparedness.

The whole idea of ‘on-going preparedness,’ covered in my previous article, ‘Mitigating Risky Career Maneuvers’ aimed to address. (The idea of actively every day preparing yourself for your next role.) https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/mitigating-risky-career-maneuvers-stuart-parkin?trk=prof-post

Significantly, even if you are prepared to leave one ship for another, you then need qualify information in order to make a fair assessment as to whether an opportunity (or ship) in front of you is the best one for you.

How to gain a true sense of the opportunity?

When somebody is desperate to hire you, be mindful that they will, whether they know it or not, try to ‘sell’ you and therefore, may be tempted to tell you what you want to hear.

Equipped with a sense of what role and circumstances will make for a great professional progression, your challenge is to ask questions which do not alert the interviewer to the information you need objective answers to.

Can I be successful in this role?

To understand whether you can be successful in a new role requires an understanding of culture, leadership style, agency goals, team, strategic style and the resources and timeframe you will have to deliver. And if working on an account, the state of the account and why the role exists for which you are being hired. You should have a clear sense of the value associated with your core skills in the new agency.

Which questions help me to truly qualify the opportunity in front of me?

So, what types of questions help you evaluate the opportunity for your next career step: Some good ones include:

Who does the agency regard as its main competition? = what type of work is ‘really done’

How does the agency primarily derive its revenue? = What is the real channel focus here?

What type of work is most celebrated here? = Creative, strategic, cost saving?

What characteristics do successful people here exhibit? = What/Who is valued?

Why is your agency successful? = What defines success here?

What is the biggest anticipated change expected here in the next year? = Gives the interviewer a chance to inform you about pending leadership, client or organizational changes.

What does a successful 2016 look like for the agency? = How ambitious are people here?

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Mitigating Risky Career Maneuvers

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If you’re an uncomfortable ‘back seat’ driver, you’re someone that either doubts the ability of the person at the controls and/or, you just feel you’re not safely going to get to your destination in a certain timeframe.

Typically, you are frustrated at not being in control of the velocity or direction you are going, so you do what back seat drivers do best, direct the driver from the ‘non-driving seat,’ never a satisfactory experience. The alternative is to drive the car.

Many ‘back seat’ drivers’ show up similarly in the context of work and career progression. That is things evolve or happen organically, with them playing a bit part in the motion of their own career progression rather than directly controlling their own destiny.  They neither map out or devise a platform for their own happiness if not, career success. (Career success and personal happiness are not always concurrent!)

Why does this happen so often? And, what can you do to make sure you drive?

Why we fail to map out a path for our own success/Open Ourselves Up to Risky Career Maneuvers?

Loyalty v blind loyalty – Your loyalty to the agency you work for should be expected! You have a role to play and you should deliver against it, 100%. That said sometimes even when you do this, you can lose your job. That is, for business reasons the agency will ‘let you go.’ It is not blind to economic circumstance and will retain your services based on its needs. Similarly, neither should you be blind to your need to grow and progress. So, if you are not developing or achieving things that are important to you, it would be crazy not to either seek to get those things where you are and failing that, to look for them elsewhere.

Job focus – In your effort to do a great job, to be a great team player and to deliver the results you are set, you tend to be focused on the short term. And, while short term focus and learning are at times critical, so does a need to see the road ahead, if you are to safely and optimally travel. The need to find time for thinking, to know what you are working for and what skills and experiences you will need to get there are key. If you know what skills, experiences and connections you need, then you can begin to factor them in to your work or request that they are.

Want to be flexible/maximize options – Being open to where your career path can go is to be encouraged. Being open to the opportunities an employer might deliver should also be applauded. That said, doing so without a clear sense of what you are working toward, without knowing what a great next career challenge looks like is just stupid. It’s like sitting in the back seat of a car, except in this case there is not even an attempt at ‘virtual driving.’

We rely on others/feel we are special and therefore will be looked after – If you have a fantastic boss then you are lucky. The reality today, very often bosses may well care but typically they don’t have the time to do the advocating you’d hope for. You are the only one fully vested in your success. So, you can’t rely on being liked or effective! You must assume that you have to navigate and drive your career forward. 

What can we do to optimize your career trajectory?

Know what you are working for/Personal Mission – If you have a personal sense of mission, you will then have a much better sense of what knowledge, experience and connections you need to achieve that mission.

Know what experience you need to have next – Knowing what you are working for, you will have a much better sense what is the next challenge you need to experience on the road toward your ultimate goal. Which skills and experiences do you need to enhance? What challenges do you need to embrace? What environment might best equip your learning?

Make your current work situation work for you – If you know what would be an optimal use of your time in the pursuit of your goals, you will then be able to effectively pursue that experience in your current working environment.

You will also be able to negotiate effectively when you have a review as you will know what matters most to you and relatively what you can be relaxed about. And, you will also be able to understand how good your chances our of achieving your goals in your current agency versus proposed alternatives.

Knowing which resources and opportunities to pursue whilst delivering on the role you have been hired for, is the optimal springboard for your progression. It is the ultimate way to avoid risky career jumps. Being conscious about your goals and needs will you give your employer every chance of making you happy and more important, every chance of you achieving your definition of success.

 

 

 

 

 

Loyalty – There’s No Need to Fall on Your Sword!

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Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, a Roman general, senator and consul under the Emperor Nero, ‘a Patten’ of his day, was inexplicably ordered by Nero, to take his own life. Nero, the Roman Emperor, was jealous of Corbulo’s military success and feeling threatened both by his ability and military backing, ordered Corbulo to do the unthinkable except to someone known to be completely loyal. Nero ordered Corbulo to fall on his sword, literally. Corbulo followed the order and as his sword was about to strike the sanctity of loyalty personified, he uttered the word, “Axios,” ‘I am worthy; I am loyal.’

Almost a daily conversation I have with individuals involve the words, ‘I am loyal.’ These are noble words, sought after words, words that any of us, personally or professionally would wish to hear from those around us! Why? Because the utterance of those words ‘I am loyal’ says as much about the individual as perhaps it does about us, that is if they are made in relation to us…Our family, our relationship, our agency. And even if they are not made in relation to us, the person uttering the words does so believing we understand the significance of those words.

All relationships, personal and professional, are based on loyalty, defined as a, ‘faithfulness to a person, country, group or cause.’ The value of loyalty in relationships, is that it allows for ‘some’ degree of certainty in planning, crucial to the running of anything, but particularly an agency. (Arguably one of the key threats to the advertising world is the lack of loyalty.) So how does such ‘faithfulness’ manifest?

Loyalty is not something that typically emerges overnight, although it can develop quickly when individuals, groups or teams face great adversity as it is under the most extreme circumstances that true allegiance is revealed. That said, loyalty is something that usually takes time to evolve and is earned when individuals believe others are genuinely invested in them and seek to respond in kind.

Equally, Fealty in a work context is not something that appears without a belief that the boss, the team, the agency culture, that we are loyal to, has not given to us over and over. This giving can be in the form of developing our business savvy, financial support or recompense, in developing the way we think, in creating a ‘virtual family’ for us, so long do people spend at work… The key point, ‘we’ feel that the boss, the team and/or the agency has provided things we consider to be very valuable and meaningful to us with the net effect, we feel beholden, defined as ‘owing thanks or having a duty to someone in return for help or a service.’ And, we should feel this, to a point. Where that ‘point’ is depends on how we have benefited and, what we have given in return, the most valuable thing that we can give, our time.

So, what of the daily utterance I hear, ‘I am loyal?’

Firstly, it is a good thing to here but, there is a true difference between loyalty to the animate and to the inanimate. To a person, a boss, a team when compared to a brand, a culture, an agency. One exists whilst the other ‘exists’ to make money. One has given to your development for reasons that might include money but invariably has given for personal reasons, there’s and yours. The other is not typically interested beyond your ability to help make money!

Very often an individuals’ sense of loyalty is misplaced. It is not to a boss or team, which have long since left the agency, but to the agency, which will hire or fire them very largely based entirely on business numbers, with little thought about them or the impacts of sudden job loss for them. Anyone that believes this is not true will be fortunate in their careers if they do not experience the reality of losing a job. (Perhaps they haven’t taken enough risks?) Then again, this is the power of a culture, that an individual can feel so much continued loyalty.

Secondly, whilst no-one can question the value of the trait of loyalty, there is a clear difference between loyalty and blind-loyalty, ‘being loyal to a person, agency or cause despite the damage the person/agency/cause inflicts.’

Damage is a relative term and typically more one of opportunity cost. The damage is relative loss of opportunity for more rapid development, be that more money, responsibility, practical and intellectual development to name a few things. Loyalty is proffered with the feeling that what has been provided for the individual and their development requires in turn that individual should not work for another boss, or team and certainly not for another agency as they perceive this would be ungrateful or in the worst case, disloyal.

My belief is that loyalty is a great thing, to experience or to seek. I say this as it means we have had great people around us, that we feel have shown an interest in our development. We should repay this loyalty to individuals certainly and to the nebulous concept of the ‘agency’ as well. But, today we have to be the Chief Coach in the management of our own careers. If we’ve had a nurturing boss, team or culture, fantastic. If others are mapping out our development for us and, we are growing, then ‘we’ are fortunate indeed. But that said, past growth is great, but it is, past. We need to continue to develop. And, if we can no longer do this in our current role, we must seek it most certainly in the agency to which we are loyal first and then if necessary, to look beyond.

Reviewing market possibilities or simply comparing our current salary, benefits and opportunities can actually make us even more loyal as we have a renewed sense of how well we are being looked after. Although, reviewing market opportunities can also be a wake-up call as individuals do see real opportunity for more rapid advancement. Some might suggest, in simply asking about the broader market, that an individual is acting in a disloyal manner I suggest not if you give your current employer every opportunity to keep you growing whilst you keep working hard and focused and take the suggested steps below.

Initially, we should seek the counsel of those individuals that have always helped us, to give them the opportunity to reassure, to re-equip or to provide new challenges. We should where possible (and where we believe the agency has the ability to deliver) be open about how we hope to develop. This openness along with all our hard work, is the way to return loyalty. (sometimes it is impossible to be open.) Having done this, if we are still unable to continue to develop in our current role or place of work, then we should look for new career challenges with our heads held high and in the words of General Corbulo, but without the tragic consequences, we can to ourselves at least, utter, ‘axios’ or, ‘I am worthy.’

 

 

IS YOUR SUCCESS A CONSCIOUS CHOICE?

YOUR SUCCESS IS…..?

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.’ (Jack London)

I believe we also need to pursue success with a club but the danger of blind pursuit, of not knowing what we are seeking is almost as bad as non-pursuit, which brings me to a recent meeting I had with a candidate.

The individual in question, who I shall call ‘Von, ’arrived slightly late, carpet bombing the table between us with his satchel and jacket.

I usually like to frame a candidate conversation with an understanding of broad life goals that they aspire to. Context I was taught, is king. To that end, I asked Von to tell me what success looked like for him. And then it happened….A very sudden and meteoric meltdown ensued. “Isn’t that obvious! Don’t you know what success is…” he shot back. “Aren’t we all pursuing the same thing?

I reflected on this notion of us all pursuing the same things and of course we are, at different times, to differing degrees based on a finite number of core motivations, pursuing the same thing. The great thing about success is that we can make it anything we want it to be. The awful thing about success, we tend to make it all about everything everyone else wants it to be.

“Yes” and “No” my answer equivocal, my tone anything but. “Have we met before?” I asked? “Did we speak at length?” Knowing we hadn’t. I continued calmly, measuring his response. “Are you a carbon copy of everybody else?” He blinked a few times. My tone then raised an octave, indicating slight impatience. “Because, you need to be able to tell me what your definition of success is. I want to know what it is you really want” “I need that direction from you if I’m going to help you.” I continued.

I really liked something Sheryl Sandberg said, ‘let me not die while I am still alive.’ That resonated. It scares me, the idea of living life without passion/not making great use of time. But passion and time usage in themselves vary greatly based on life-stage, background, relationships, support structures, what we value and the way we see the world, along with a host of other influencing factors.

Von leaned back in his chair. He looked somewhat confused. Because I had reacted? Or, because he felt perhaps he had been too forthright, even rude? Or perhaps because he thought that what was obvious, what is success for him, is anything but? Perhaps he had assumed success must be everything everyone else is encouraged to see as success.

Many candidates I meet today seek progression in a framework of what I describe as ‘big picture success.’ They need to conquer this world, or others.. That is bigger title, responsibility, salary, team, office…which presage the bigger apartment, car etcetera. And you know, this ‘conquer the world mentality,’ ‘big tangible success’ is fine, it’s just not for everyone all the time, it can’t be. And then others are focused on ‘big intangible success:’ Bigger meaning regarding larger non-work goals, more significant relationships, desire to have a positive impact on the world; People are thinking at a much earlier age in terms of their legacies. And, tangible and intangible are not irreconcilable, just in flux.

As our meeting progressed Von’s manner mellowed. It became clear to me that his defensiveness projected as arrogance. He knew that for someone paid to think, to work out how to solve problems it could be construed as weakness if he was unsure what he really wanted yet, he was unsure. He assumed he had no choices, that he was consigned to having to follow everyone else’s definition of success. And that’s when we started to talk meaningfully about what was truly important for him and how to navigate forward. We discussed.

  1. Knowing what you do well.
  2. Knowing what context you thrive in.
  3. Knowing what you won’t put up with
  4. Knowing what resources you need to be in place to thrive
  5. Knowing that your skills/function are valued by a prospective employer
  6. Knowing your putative employer’s definition of success
  7. Knowing what success is for you/that this next step takes you toward your objectivesth

Embrace today even if it’s simply a springboard for tomorrow

‘Don’t count the days, make the days count!’ (Muhammad Ali) or perhaps, if things are so bad that you need to count them ensure you have a definite plan in mind when you start fully embracing them again..

 

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Positive Career Progression/Avoiding A Precipitous Career Decline

The most extreme Roman military punishment for failure in the line of duty, the order of ‘decimation,’ which involved those to be punished being divided up in to groups of ten men, who would then draw lots. The soldier on whom the lot fell, would be executed by his nine comrades, usually via clubbing to death!

Given this context, career decline is far from physical decimation but you’ll be surprised at the modern psychological decimation that can occur when careers get off track. Not unlike the ‘offending’ Roman centurion, most 21st century career warriors can also experience mental if not physical decline and, whilst not life threatening, just like the centurions, most do not seek what befalls them. So, what do even the best of you need to think about to avoid precipitous decline?

Self-Reliance Helps Avoid Complacency

The most recent ‘Narrate’ newsletter focused on job security and whether it is possible today. http://createsend.com/t/i-E179DC03DCD8DB41 It outlined the need to be proactive not only to maintain what you have but to drive your career forward. Being the master of your own universe dictates that you become self-reliant and pro-active when it comes to managing your career. And, that you do not to a large extent, rely on human resources departments or benevolent bosses, all of whom are more stretched than ever before.

Professional Self-Awareness

The two biggest threats to your career include, ceasing to learn and more fundamental, not knowing who you really are in terms of what you do well. Allied to this thought, knowing what you want to learn next! Indeed, the two ideas are symbiotic. Soren Kierkegaard said, ‘The most common form of despair, is not being who you are.’ I suggest something far worse is not knowing professionally at least, who you are.

When you lack self-awareness in a work context, this manifests as you lacking passion and drive and you show up in a reactive mode. Outside your agency, perhaps with recruiters, you become the person that doesn’t ask for anything in particular. Rather you seek to be made aware of opportunities without specifying specific goals or needs.

Pro-Active Choices

Being passive is terribly dangerous in todays’ climate, when those around you, who do know who they are and what they want, manifest because of their clarity of mind and purpose.

Career decline is ultimately inevitable but relative, but managing its progression is a choice and with it how it manifests: Summary decimation or your own path to honorable discharge? Don’t fail to be aware of and master of your own progression. For more on managing your career, contact me or someone you feel you can confide in.

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Positive Career Progression/Avoiding A Precipitous Career Decline

The most extreme Roman military punishment for failure in the line of duty, the order of ‘decimation,’ which involved those to be punished being divided up in to groups of ten men, who would then draw lots. The soldier on whom the lot fell, would be executed by his nine comrades, usually via clubbing to death!

Given this context, career decline is far from physical decimation but you’ll be surprised at the modern psychological decimation that can occur when careers get off track. Not unlike the ‘offending’ Roman centurion, most 21st century career warriors can also experience mental if not physical decline and, whilst not life threatening, just like the centurions, most do not seek what befalls them. So, what do even the best of you need to think about to avoid precipitous decline?

Self-Reliance Helps Avoid Complacency

The most recent ‘Narrate’ newsletter focused on job security and whether it is possible today. http://createsend.com/t/i-E179DC03DCD8DB41 It outlined the need to be proactive not only to maintain what you have but to drive your career forward. Being the master of your own universe dictates that you become self-reliant and pro-active when it comes to managing your career. And, that you do not to a large extent, rely on human resources departments or benevolent bosses, all of whom are more stretched than ever before.

Professional Self-Awareness

The two biggest threats to your career include, ceasing to learn and more fundamental, not knowing who you really are in terms of what you do well. Allied to this thought, knowing what you want to learn next! Indeed, the two ideas are symbiotic. Soren Kierkegaard said, ‘The most common form of despair, is not being who you are.’ I suggest something far worse is not knowing professionally at least, who you are.

When you lack self-awareness in a work context, this manifests as you lacking passion and drive and you show up in a reactive mode. Outside your agency, perhaps with recruiters, you become the person that doesn’t ask for anything in particular. Rather you seek to be made aware of opportunities without specifying specific goals or needs.

Pro-Active Choices

Being passive is terribly dangerous in todays’ climate, when those around you, who do know who they are and what they want, manifest because of their clarity of mind and purpose.

Career decline is ultimately inevitable but relative, but managing its progression is a choice and with it how it manifests: Summary decimation or your own path to honorable discharge? Don’t fail to be aware of and master of your own progression. For more on managing your career, contact me or someone you feel you can confide in.

punishment1

 

Bring It

I’ve heard the oft castigated millennial mentioned many a time, as lacking ‘it’ in working roles or interviewing for jobs . I refer of course to passion or watered down, enthusiasm, or even, tepid excitement.. This phenomena is not age exclusive, actually it’s the opposite. Those with much experience are too often equally culpable of assuming they are a ‘must have.’ It doesn’t matter how much you know, how much experience you have or how unique you believe you are, without passion, without the belief that you want the opportunity, without the prospective future client or your would be employer believing you are interested in them and what they are trying to achieve, you will almost certainly fail. Don’t forget to ‘bring it!’

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Making Bad Past Experience Work For You

‘We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.’ (Kenji Miyazawa)

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Or, perhaps, we should ‘burn pain’ and embrace fuel!’ Seriously, we’re talking about motivation to achieve our goals. The use of fear of undesirable outcomes as a means to motivate greater effort is one strategy to achieve goals but I prefer something more reliable than my imagination rather, remembering a ‘bad’ experience, one that was quite possibly so bad that I told myself, ‘never again!’ Having such painful experiences is one thing, intentionally and vividly drawing upon them is an important ability. When we are able to ‘bank’ really bad situations (as hopefully we do happy memories)we can remind ourselves and better still, relive albeit in microcosm, how terribly we felt. I find doing this can if nothing else, release a deep feeling of gratitude that the situation I’m currently in is relatively not a big deal! I’m not saying that it doesn’t cease to be challenging, simply that it ceases to be so much of a challenge. We have faced personal Armageddon and come through and lived to tell the tale! We are able to use the past negative experiences actively, to enhance our current peace of mind as well. We have embraced the pain.