I will admit to misusing the word “awesome” and I’m about to do it again here.
The acronym “AWE” probably won’t fill you with “A feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder” but you may find it helps achieve the following:
Delving past automatic thinking, forcing you to dig deep
Increasing the pool of ideas at your disposal, increasing your chances of hitting on a great idea
And it is super simple.
All you need to say is:
Here’s how to apply it in a brainstorming session
Think of an issue you are facing.
What action could I take to solve this?
And what else?
And what else?
And what else?
You get the drill…but here is the thing, whilst the first ideas might come thick and fast, after a while they start to dry up. This is where the “AWE” magic happens! This is where you move from your automatic preferences and start experimenting with new ideas, new perspectives and new ways of thinking.
Make yourself a little uncomfortable.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Similar to drilling down with the five whys, this iterative inquiry approach is a powerful coaching tool.
We’ll get to the challenge of implementing all these crazy new ideas in a future post. You will probably be filled with a lot of “I can’t do that!!!”. One step at a time, my friend! First, let’s work on unblocking our usual thinking and opening the floodgates of creativity and opportunity.
So try out the “AWE-some” (I warned you!) question this week and let me know what new insight or ideas you gained from applying this approach in the comments below.
Last week I had a full body check up on my moles. I think this must be in my personal Guiness Book of World Records for “Longest period of procrastination”.
About five years ago my colleague was diagnosed with skin cancer. At that time I said,
“I should get that checked out.”
My colleague told me about the specialist he went. I did a bit of research but you needed a referral from a clinic to get an appointment. I didn’t have a dermatologist…And so, I let it go and life, work, and kids took over for a while.
Every so often I would notice that my moles were changing, especially after the birth of my son three years ago.
I should get checked out.
But nothing happened…
Fast forward to this summer.
A fair skinned friend recommended a clinic she had heard of. But there were some bad reviews about the doc so I let it slide.
I should get checked out.
Fear drives procrastination
The biggest driver of procrastination is fear. Fear takes many forms: fear of failure, fear of lack of perfection, fear of the unknown, fear of challenge.
In my case, my worst case scenario was that I had skin cancer and that I would die, leaving my young children without a mother. When you verbalise your fear that you can begin to decide how realistic it is. All too often our fear nags at us, hiding in the shadows. Well, friends, it is time to bring that fear kicking and screaming into the cold light of day! Fear tends to whither under scrutiny. Its power over us begins to falter.
During a Lean In Circle this month, a member mentioned that one of her accountability actions was to take better care of herself. She would schedule a mammogram and a mole scan.
I should get checked out.
I heard the familiar refrain. I got her referral but this time something was different. I actually made the call.
So what changed?
It just seemed easy to do. The weight of the fear was less than how difficult the task appeared and how scary my worst case scenario was.
I checked the site and made the call straight away.
I didn’t have to ask permission or help from anyone to make the appointment now I run my own business.
I’m competitive! I wanted to be able to say I had done it too (if she can do it so can I!)
I wanted to be free of the burden of the unknown more than I wanted to continue to shield myself from the results.
I got checked out and…
I feel a huge sense of release and relief. I can focus on the necessary action of a simple operation in the winter. I’ve changed my mindset about now annual checks can become a calendar item, a habit rather than a fear.
Next time you find yourself procrastinating, ask yourself these questions:
Coaching questions for procrastination
What am I procrastinating over?
Why am I procrastinating?
What am I afraid of?
Why is that fear there?
How likely is it that my worst case scenario will come true?
What is the best case scenario if my fear is false?
Would love to hear your stories of how you changed your mindset and overcame procrastination.
Write the comments below now – not tomorrow ;-)!
When I returned to work after the birth of my second child after a 15 month childcare leave (thanks Japan for your lack of daycare spaces), I was lost.
Whilst I returned at the same grade and pay scale, in effect, I’d had a demotion. I’d had the bright idea to hire a Director to support the hyper growth we expected due to several planned acquisitions across Asia. I still stand by this idea as the right thing to do for the business. However, I had no idea how much returning to an individual contributor role would effect my motivation and impact my identity at work.
Gone were the days of being the go to person on projects, the joy (and tears) of managing and motivating a team. I felt like a part of me was missing.
As I struggled with the logistics of two different day care locations, I was having deeper struggles with my own sense of purpose and values in regards to my career.
It was at that time I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (and if you still haven’t read it yet, get a copy now!).
There were so many inspiring ideas and most powerful to me was the idea of the Lean In Circle, a grass roots, peer to peer support network for professional development for women.
During a CEO sponsored lunch about our organisations need to increase female participation in our management team, I raised the idea of having a corporate Lean In Circle to my high-potential female colleagues.
“Oh, we should probably wait until the official D&I programmes are established.”
“It sounds like a lot of work. I don’t know if I can commit got attend a meeting every month.”
I was so disappointed in these replies and they seemed to me symptomatic of the participation challenges faced in many organisations.
Creating your own path
Waiting for the official D&I programmes to be established? How about taking the initiative and driving your own change? If you want a seat at the table, you need to show that you can make things happen.
Corporate decision making can be slow (understatement!) and in the meantime, my life is passing, my career is going nowhere. Why on earth would you want to wait and give that power to someone else? Own your future and create the reality you want to see, please, ladies!
As for the meeting attendance, if you can’t commit two hours per month to personal development, then you are going to find it a very slow and painful process hauling yourself up that corporate ladder. We need to continually grow and develop ourselves. If not Lean In, then fine do something else! My colleagues had given clear feedback that the company was not developing them and yet as individuals they were not investing time and energy in taking charge of their own future.
So I set out on my own! With the CEO’s permission, I got access to one of our large meeting rooms and reached out to my network. That was in September 2014. The Lean In Tokyo Girls on Fire Circle is about to go into our third year. Our membership is fluid as people get transferred, have babies, get promoted with increased travel but some things are unchanging.
I look forward to every single meeting.
I leave energised, motivated and inspired.
I learn something new about myself every single meeting.
I have a group of cheerleaders in my corner who have no agenda other than seeing me be successful.
I have more accountability knowing that these women will ask me at the next meeting “So did you do what you said you were going to do?”
I’ve made some amazing new friends and I will always be grateful for their support.
Creating real change
Lean In runs so well due to very strict confidentiality so I can’t share details but it has been inspiring to see the members support each other through job changes, promotions, interviews, negotiations, pregnancy and relationships.
In July 2016, I launched a second Lean In Circle, Lean In Japan Entrepreneurs. Whilst we plan to meet online only I can already feel how committed the members are to each others success.
My advice to women who are stuck in a rut – Look for like minded women and start your own circle.
(Or Contact Me if you would like to join one of the circles I facilitate)
Stop waiting for someone else to tell you how to develop your career and take matters into your own hands. LeanIn will be a valuable tool for you to move your career forward.
Would love to hear your Lean In stories in the comments below!
“I should be grateful I even have a job in this economy.”
Ah, the terrible “shoulds”. Those insidious feelings – what you are supposed to do, think and feel. Many coaching clients feel guilty about what they have when there are so many people in worse situations in the world. #firstworldproblems might not be trending as a hashtag these days but for my clients in Tokyo, they are extremly comfortable in the grand scheme of things.
So the guilt begins…”I should be grateful for this job… even though I can’t see my future path, even though I feel burnt out, even though I never see my family.”
One of the ICF Core Competencies says a coach “communicates broader perspectives to clients and inspires commitment to shift their viewpoints and find new possibilities for action. ”
When you find yourself with a case of “the terrible shoulds” try to turn the situation around. Ask yourself:
Why do you need to be grateful for it?
Could you accept why you are not grateful?
What would happen if you were not grateful?
What would the worst case scenario be if you were not grateful?
You may find that you can acknowledge that it is ok not to be grateful. This acceptance may move you to change and action. As a friend said to me in the past, ” ‘not so terrible’ does not need to be your goal. You deserve more.”
Finding gratitude when you feel you have nothing
Some days, it’s really hard to feel grateful for anything. You know those days when everything seems to be stacked against you. My coaching mentor advised “You need to work with the client to trust that there is a learning experience in all of this. There is a reason they are facing these challenges.”
When you ask yourself “How am I going to use this situation?”, you open yourself up to experiencing an opportunity for growth. It becomes a moment of choice. Choice brings back your control. You become action oriented, future focused and you can reclaim a sense of lightness.
It’s important to realise that you can be grateful for what you are, not just what you have. You can be grateful for your feelings, for acknowledging your strengths and your awareness of your weaknesses.
It’s a great way to build a daily practice. Bookending your day helps to set you up for a happier mood and send you off for a peaceful night’s sleep.
I highly recommend it – it’s easy to use, beautifully designed and really works to set your mood.
Other people use social media to do gratitude challenges – sharing gratitude with your wider community can help bring joy to others. Gratitude is all about abundance and generosity so this sharing practice can be meaningful…just watch out for the “humble brag”!
Close your eyes, take a deep breath in and a slow steady exhalation.
Now, think of all the things you are grateful for.
Open your eyes and write down the first three things that come to mind in the comments box below.
How does it feel? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience with increasing your mindset of gratitude.
In mid June, my husband received a phone call from the 6th grade teacher at our daughter’s school. “Shinkai san, do you think your wife would be able to make a presentation about england to the 5th and 6th graders on the day before the summer holidays? With the Rio Olympics coming up, the last Olympics being held in London, the next Olympics being in Tokyo, we thought it might be interesting for them to hear from her…”
As a cross-cultural communication and diversity and inclusion consultant, I’m always happy to have an opportunity to raise awareness of other perspectives. I ignored the fact that the request went to my husband and not to me directly (language worries? indirect approach to prevent losing face? sexism? – a post for another time!), and said “Yes”.
Having recently read Presentation Zen, I decided to put some of Garr Reynolds’ ideas into practice. Here’s how applying his concepts influenced the presentation preparation, design and delivery.
Start with the end in mind
Reynolds asks you to focus on message. What is the goal of your presentation? What is the big idea you are selling?
The killer question you need to answer is:
If your audience could remember only three things about your presentation what would you want it to be?
In this case, I wanted them to remember:
To be open minded – there is not one way of doing things in the world.
Igirisu (イギリス）is not just England.
To cheer on team GB.
Know your audience as much as possible
Reynolds ask you to focus on basic “W questions” when preparing for a presentation
Who is the audience? What is the purpose of the event?
Why were you asked to speak? Where is it? When is it?
Most of these kids have never travelled overseas, some have never spoken to a non-Japanese person apart from an English language teacher. It was important that I was approachable, friendly and interesting.
With the presentation being held on the day before the summer holidays, this audience was probably a little distracted about the prospect of six weeks of freedom! How would I keep the engaged.
Using this audience knowledge, I used the following approach
Made all the content about school life, it was easy for them to grasp the concepts.
Included the experience of their schoolmate, my daughter, in the presentation to make it feel more tangible.
Brought real money for them to hold and made them move about in the quiz. Active experience and brought the kinesthetic learners into the mix too.
Planning in analogue
This was a real game changer for me. I was able to cut out a lot of fluff. Working with post it notes really helped me to distill the content to the most useful parts.
Reynolds points out that when we work in a presentation software we make our story fit the template and it limits our thinking and creativity. Being forced to follow a cookie cutter approach makes us deliver cookie cutter presentations.
Limit bullet points and text
I’ve been subjected to some terrible, text-heavy slide decks recently so I took Reynolds advice on board happily.
Almost no text at all, just full-bleed, high-resolution images. This really helped when it came to delivery. We had no projector for the first 15 minutes!
At all times: courteous, gracious, & professional
When your icebreaker requires pencil crayons and paper and you realise that the students are empty handed…it’s time for a visualisation exercise.
When no one knows how to connect the projector for the first ten minutes…it’s time for an engaging run around the audience with your laptop in your hands.
When you realise that there is too much furniture for your interactive quiz to work…keep the quiz but change your approach
As Reynolds says, “The true professional can always remain cool and in control.”
I received individual handwritten thank you letters from the students. From the feedback I can see how well the Presentation Zen approach worked in practice.
Comments about their jealousy of no school on Saturday, surprise over the way that lunch is served and that there are no walking groups showed that the audience realised there were different ways of doing things around the world.
Students repeated the facts we discussed and said “I did not know anything about the UK before your presentation. Now I know more, I would really like to go there”.
And as for team GB…they just got 60 new supporters! My favourite comment was “I will cheer on team GB in the Olympics. But if Japan and Team GB are competing with each other, sorry, I’m going to have to cheer on Japan”. Love the honesty!
If you haven’t read Presentation Zen yet, head over to Amazon asap
What other resources do you recommend for presentation skills?
“Each day we wake slightly altered and the person we were yesterday is dead”
– John Updike, On Being a Self Forever
In coaching, I work with clients on transformational change. On ridding yourself of self-beliefs that are no longer serving you and of changing the narrative of your life. But how does change actually happen?
Moreland discusses the need for a compelling positive vision of change, coming from within the individual as a key trigger for “human agency”, a force of action she discusses frequently in the book.
According to one interviewee, resistance to change is really about loss aversion. In organisations we often think that people are resistant to change. Actually they are thinking “Is this change good for me?”. Once people can see it will have a positive impact on them, they will embrace the change. As a witness to many botched roll outs, this highlights for me the need for a crystal clear communication plan, as well as a focus on WIIFM from the employee perspective.
Part II How Much Can We Change?
Morland raises the idea of neuroplasticity, the changes that happen in our brains as our lives change in small or large ways. She contends that this plasticity stays with us all our lives and you can, in fact, teach a new dog old tricks. Which is why a married woman in her fifties can fall in love with another woman or a 33-stone man can lose half his body-weight.
Most interesting about the weight loss story is the impact that the external change had on the man’s inner life:
“Mike made an extraordinary outward change and only then could the door be opened to an inner transformation that is still clearly under way”
Part III How Do We Change?
Morland raises the theory of Post-Traumatic Growth. Sometimes it can only be after huge tragedy that change can occur.
The interviewee H’Sein Hayward, who suffered the death of her brother aged nine and became a paraplegic aged sixteen “…I have this fundamental belief in the power of change in the darkest of circumstances. I think for all people at all times there is hope, which is not to minimise anybody’s personal suffering. I just think that there is always the ability to change your state.”
Whilst few of us will go through such dramatic change in our life, the idea of embracing the situation and moving forwards with our new reality is an empowering one. In my coaching, I focus on the power of choice and control: the need to respond mindfully, rather than react.
Part IV Changed?
“Change is only meaningful in terms of identity because in part we also stay the same. The caterpillar and the butterfly are the same single creature.”
This idea of continuity in change can be seen in the Ship of Thesus or John Locke’s Socks. Violet K says of her drug addiction and recovery that is still part of her, despite being clean for several years “How is it separate from your life? Because it is not external. Your recovery is in you. The change is inside and goes on.”
Raymond Tallis says, “You are never one role. There’s never that luxury. You have a multiplicity of roles, a family of selves. So yes, there is an awful lot of change but also an awful lot of continuity.”
It is challenging to juggle all these different parts of ourselves and to understand what to give priority to. The Wheel of Life can be a useful exercise in coaching to discover balance.
We are all in constant flow like the river of Heraclitus. Sometimes, we may not be happy with the way the river is flowing. Neuroplasticity and agency give us the power to change the direction. We can never dam the river. It will always find a way to flow!
Morland closes with the importance of metamorphosis as a metaphor of change and the power of imagination in bringing about change.
“It is less taxing on the mind to visit the past that to imagine the future. However, if we want to change or need to change, imagine the future we must.”
A few weeks ago I had an “only in Japan” moment. I met with my tax accountant (Mori san – she’s great!) to discuss the best timing to submit the documents for my business entity.
Me: I’d like to submit the paperwork on a taian…
Accountant: Of course! And are there any memorable dates coming up?
(We both leaf through the diary)
Accountant: It’d be smooth to start on the first but there aren’t any taians coming up.
Me: (laughing) How about the 29th? Ni-ku no hi?
Accountant: It’s certainly memorable! You can have a steak! …and when we do the 2 month back-dating. It’s Showa no hi.
Now that is a high-context conversation! Let’s look at what is going on here:
Japan follows a cycle of rokuyo (六曜)）- 6 days of varying luck. When it comes to business, you need to care about two days in particular
Taian 大安- lucky all day. Perfect for launching your new business
Butsumetsu 仏滅- the day Buddha died and considered unlucky all day – not a great day to launch a business or have negotiations.
You can have a steak!
Ni-ku no hi – Japanese numbers offers a lot of great puns and marketers use them to increase awareness and sales. In the case of the 29th, the 2 becomes “ni”and the “9” becomes “ku”, Niku (肉) – Japanese for meat!
I have to start with a disclaimer…my youth was all about instant gratification. My mum said my breach birth set my approach to life – jump in feet first. I’m still for the most part a fan of trial and error with the belief that most mistakes can be rectified.
In my first part-time job at the age of 14, I would gleefully rip open the pay packets each Saturday and plan my Monday after school trips to Muse and Vibes to buy whatever NME was recommending that week. I didn’t really do “saving” or believe that a rainy day would ever come…
So when I was asked to speak at the Accenture x AIESEC Japan Women’s Initiative – Global Leadership Lab for 2nd and 3rd year university students on the topic of “money and your career”, you can well imagine that my imposter syndrome radar was on overdrive!
I didn’t speak about the practicalities of investments or how to make your money work for you. My focus was on the need for a mindset about what money can buy.
Money buys freedom.
Money buys choices.
Money buys control.
A few months ago I read an article about the (pardon my language here) Fuck Off Fund. It clarified a lot of what I had been thinking about money and what it means to me.
I know women who stay in abusive relationships putting their physical safety at risk. They have no control over money, no savings and no choice. I don’t want anyone I know to feel so helpless. To feel that they have to put up with such emotional and physical hardship. To feel like they have no choices, no options.
I believe we need to feel that we made a conscious choice to be where we are today. Money helps us to be in control of those choices. Money gives us the freedom to choose a different path.
This guy? He doesn’t exist!
It’s time to stop believing that a knight in white shining armour will “save” us. In Japan, marriage rates are falling, divorce rates are rising and jobs for life are gone. Putting all your eggs in one basket, a basket managed by someone else, just seems like a really risky move.
When I left corporate life and set up my business, countless people said to me, “Oh your husband can support you. you can relax and spend time with your children.”
Well, pardon my language again but, fuck that. I’m not doing this for pocket money. I’m doing this to provide for my family and share the financial burden with my partner.
For some of the young ladies in the room it was a new way to look at their future and what being independent means to them.
What choices have you been able to make because you had financial freedom?
To all the managers in Japan who have parents returning to work this week… Hang on! Let’s be realistic and start again.
To all the managers in Japan who have mothers returning to work this week after maternity leave,
Below is a post I shared on a Facebook group last week after I dropped my daughter off for her first day at 学童（after-school care). After I blinked back a few tears, I had a flashback to when I dropped her off for the first time at 保育園 (daycare). I wrote this post to motivate those taking the first steps back into the workforce.
This is what your working parents are dealing with this week and for the coming months. Be kind, be patient and ask them how things are going.
It will be tough to adapt.
Baby will cry and cling to you. Some days it will break your heart.
Baby will not cry and will run to the teacher. Some days it will break your heart.
Some days you will miss your baby so much and wonder why you went back to work. If you are still nursing, thinking about your baby will make your breasts leak and you will feel even more alone. It will break your heart.
Some days you will run to the office glad of the “break” and wonder how SAHM’s keep their sanity. Then you will feel guilty for not being more grateful for what you have. Again, it will break your heart.
Basically, get ready for a lot of heart breaking …
People in the office will remember you as you were before your maternity leave … talented, skilled, a force to be reckoned with, a change maker.
But some days you won’t recognise that version of you anymore. Instead you will see the new skills that motherhood has given you: infinite patience, ability to read body language and emotions without words, a sense of both perspective and humour.
Some days you will feel like a hamster on a wheel. You are working two shifts –paid and unpaid. Your hands-on partner with his fulltime job feels this too, but he isn’t “allowed” to talk about it. Give each other a break and a hug, hold hands and kiss in the kitchen whilst the kids eat breakfast.
Use your professional skills in your home. Delegate, outsource and prioritise. What needs to be perfect and what can be good enough?
Find a way to get paid domestic help in some shape or form. It doesn’t have to be every day or every week, but try to carve out time with your family when you are not doing unpaid work such as cooking, cleaning, and folding washing.
Most importantly be passionate about your work! If you are not, all the sacrifices are for nothing. Do a bit of navel gazing and realise that if your priorities have changed, that is fine.
Learn how to trail-blaze and ask for the things you need to succeed. Your boss probably has no idea of how to handle you. Your boss’s assumption about how you live your life may be quite different from the reality.
Help open people’s eyes to the fact that there are many types of working parents. Cookie-cutter approaches might be fair, but fail to take individual needs into account.
It will be tough to adapt, but you should trust yourself and your family enough to achieve it.
If you are a non-Japanese working mum in Tokyo, please contact me to join a monthly Lean In Circle for peer support from like-minded women.