To Follow Your Heart

I posted the image above on my social media accounts a while ago and was amazed to find how much it resonated with people. Maybe you’re not tired, maybe you’re just doing too little of what makes you come alive. It’s a theme that has kept cropping up in my coaching sessions and in random conversations with people over these last couple of months, as well as something that has been particularly close to my heart this past year.  

I don’t know about you, but my energy typically comes in bursts – often in moments of palpable connection and chemistry when I find a kindred spirit, when I’m talking about things I care about a great deal, or when I’m completely absorbed in making a project that matters to me happen. It’s also a running joke in my family about my ability to sleep anywhere, at any time, and for rudely long periods. There are days when I’ve simply had no energy for anything at all, yet also others when I’ve been on fire. 

You have, most likely, experienced what it feels like to just get by in a job, your work environment or just life in general – your energy levels dip, motivation wanes and productivity suffers. I hope, however, that you will also have had moments of alchemy when everything seemed to be working out – when you believed yourself to be happy, you were surrounded by the hope of possibility, and your energy levels and motivation were correspondingly high. 

There’s a complex relationship between energy, motivation, productivity and happiness. I’ve written before about motivation and how we’re all driven to achieve three things: autonomy (the ability to behave with a sense of volition, endorsement, willingness and choice), competence (mastery of our environment), and relatedness through purpose (the ability to care about and connect to others and to a bigger cause). When those three conditions of autonomy, competence and purpose are in place, there’s a much higher chance that you’ll be able to find yourself in the zone of what positive psychologists call ‘flow’: the mental state of being completely immersed in what you’re doing, where your skill is equal to the challenge and you are enveloped in the focus of the present moment – a space for you to be more productive, creative, and yes, happy. Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi (credited with having popularised the concept of Flow) has described it thus:

(Flow is) being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” (Wired interview, 1996)

You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger.” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990)

You’ll see from the images above that Flow has a number of key characteristics, but I like a bit of simplification, so where all these concepts come together for me is in recognition of this one thing: tapping into what, for you, is the meaning that makes life worth living. 

Meaning, I think, is the ultimate intrinsic motivator.  We catalyse our own happiness when we have meaningful goals that challenge us, yet are within our grasp, and when we’re able to direct and control our own actions in pursuit of those goals. 

In coaching I sometimes find that people feel happiness to be quite elusive, mainly because they’re looking for it anywhere but right here, right now. The thing about the energy of happiness, however, is that – unlike many of the events and things around us – harnessing this energy is very much within our control.1 Rather than expending energy on places, people and things that drain us, we can choose to direct our energy and presence into the optimal experience and ease of pursuing mastery of an area we care deeply about.

So where do you start? When working with my coaching clients we often look at the question of values pretty early on. ‘Values’, in straightforward terms, are the things that we stand for and how we want to behave as we move through life – they’re not something to be achieved, but rather what we want our lives to be about. Your set of values is individual to you, and when you connect with and set goals based on those values, you become able to take your life in meaningful directions even when the going gets tough. 

It’s helpful to think of them as a compass, giving you direction and keeping you on track as you go through life, setting and achieving goals along the way. Or perhaps like a lighthouse, guiding you on your way – your goal never being to obtain the lighthouse itself. Valuing is about the process and the journey, rather than the destination. 

There are plenty of tools and techniques to help people identify and clarify values. With my clients I like working with values card sort exercises (e.g. Carriochi and Bailey’s (2008) Survey of Life Principles) and questionnaires like Crace and Brown’s (2002) Life Values Inventory, but you can also do this old-school with a pen and paper, thinking about what matters to you in your life – you can split your life into as many areas as you like, or you may want to keep it simple with just a few key domains: work and education, love and relationships, health and wellbeing, and leisure and recreation. The values you identify might be obvious to others, or deeply personal to you, and there are no right or wrong answers. Perhaps your list might contain connecting with nature or having a life filled with adventure, or being self-sufficient, working with your hands, and making a lasting contribution to this earth. And then, perhaps the trickiest part: once you’ve clarified your values, it’s time to take a good close look at them and think about whether the life you’re leading is one that aligns with what you care about. 

What really matters to me, deep down?
What kind of person do I want to be?
What personal strengths or qualities do I want to develop?
What legacy would I like to leave?
And what am I going to do with these answers?

Plenty of people think of success in terms of goal achievement. If you do, I invite you now to consider an alternative to this, and see how it changes your thinking: success is living by your values. No matter how far your goals reach into the future (and no matter whether you ever achieve them), just like how happiness can be right here for you in this moment, so too can you have success right now – all that is required of you is that you choose to commit to your values, and start to work in the service of what really matters to you.2

This isn’t always going to be easy. You may have heard the adage that ‘fear and desire are two sides of the same coin’. If something really matters to you, when there’s a lot riding on something, the more it also matters if you don’t get what you want: what you desire is also what you fear to lose. 

British theologian John Henry Newman said, “Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather that it shall never have a beginning.” So ask yourself this question: Are you willing to face whatever comes when you’re heading in the direction you desire? Self-doubt, distress and anxiety are common when we’re seeking meaning. Willingness takes strength, but if you summon the strength to say ‘yes’ to overcome your fears, there is a whole world beyond what you think you already know, filled with possibility.   

And finally, that image I posted at the top of the article? This was the accompanying caption.

Life is fleeting. One day you may look back and see how you let time march on inexorably, passing you by. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Happiness doesn’t only come about through grand gestures; it is in the moment of unguarded laughter, finally learning to be who you are, the willingness to be vulnerable, the seeing of joy in the mundane, the purpose in the pain, and living out what really matters to you. Go big or small, as long as you go. 

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

References

Carriochi, J. & Bailey, A. (2008). A CBT practitioner’s guide to ACT: How to bridge the gap between cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Crace, R. K., & Brown, D. (2002). Life Values Inventory. Williamsburg, VA: Applied Psychology Resources. 

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row.

Career Reinvention Day – 15% discount!

Who’s coming to the workshop on 21st April?! It’s gonna be good. Here’s a sneak peek at delegate workbooks and the cards we’ll be using as tools for one of our exercises on finding out your values, strengths and skills! Plus a three-course lunch from the award-winning Warwick Conferences, at the University of Warwick in Coventry (and Warwickshire), and a valuable follow-up coaching session with me to consolidate your learning from the workshop.

Pssst – now running a 15% discount for the final 3 spaces! Message me for your code, and then get your place at www.quietspacecoaching.co.uk/events!

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Returning to work after a career break

International Women's Day 2018

In a week encompassing International Women’s Day and Mothering Sunday, I’ve been thinking about women’s careers in the context of gender inequality – glass ceilings, the gender pay gap, harassment, societal expectations and conditioned expectations of self. I don’t want to get too political today though, so maybe gender inequality is a topic for some other time. What I did want to write about was my perspective on the impact that motherhood has on your career, particularly with your first child or when you’ve taken an extended career break to raise your family (still a disproportionately female endeavour, but yes, politics…).

In the course of my coaching career, as well as in previous management roles, I’ve worked a great deal with women who have taken time out of the office for family reasons. One thing is clear, whether you’ve had nine months of maternity leave with your first child, or a fifteen-year career break to raise three children, returning to the world of work can be hugely daunting, both in the prospect of return and in the actual transition.   

The challenges vary from person to person, of course, but I think there is nonetheless a great deal of commonality in the experience. If you’re returning from maternity leave, fatigue and overload are often front and centre – quite apart from horrific sleep deprivation (and the concomitant caffeine dependency) if you’ve been battling with a child who clearly hasn’t read the sleep manuals, you might still be coming to terms with a new physical and psychological identity in which the person you once knew has gone AWOL, replaced by someone who’s mostly forgotten how to have a proper adult conversation and whose life for most of the past year has mainly consisted of attempting to get out of the house before you’re due back home and trying to drink a cup of tea that hasn’t been microwaved at least twice (although you do now have new skills that include being able to switch off lights with your toes and work a variety of household gadgets with your elbow).

And when you return, everything is simultaneously familiar and foreign (all the more  so if, like me, you decided to get a new job while you were on leave – you know, because you are slightly masochistic). Your sleep deprivation is magnified from the exhaustion of being back in the work environment and absorbing new information in addition to re-learning all the things you forgot while you were away. Plus you’ve still got all your responsibilities at home, juggling kids’ schedules alongside keeping the household ticking over and in a vaguely clean, fed and organised state, and bearing the mental load of remembering everything on that burgeoning task list. You think you’re failing at everything because you still expect yourself to be able to perform the way you did before life changed and now you are neither a good employee (because you can no longer work all hours) nor a good mother (having left the baby wailing at nursery), or indeed a good wife/partner (because you are almost exclusively a mother and have somewhat forgotten how to be yourself). And then when you’re finally up to speed at work again – maybe, just maybe, you find yourself fretting about no longer having the focus or ambition you once had.

If you’ve been out of the workforce for a matter of years rather than months, lack of confidence and the issue of identity can feel like even more of an insurmountable barrier. The gap in your work history can feel like an ending, and your professional self a distant memory. Because you’re firmly rooted in a different world, going back is about something larger than a ‘return’ – it necessitates a re-invention. Perhaps you don’t want to go back to your previous sector or industry, or discover you’re going to need further education and retraining to get anywhere. Then the big questions start. Who are you now? Who do you want to be? What are you interested in (that will pay you)? What do you actually want out of a career? Where do you start? How do you get from now to where you want to be? Are you even going to be able to get a job? Do you have any currently marketable skills? Are you going to fall flat on your face?

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away for; the time will have changed you. Your priorities, values, interests and skillsets are likely to have shifted, and with them possibly also what you might want from your career. Sometimes a career change isn’t what you want, but is nonetheless going to be enforced due to childcare issues or the lack of a sufficiently supportive or flexible work environment. More often than not, however, many women come to a realisation that they themselves want to make a change that will fit their new circumstances or desires more closely. But this doesn’t mean that your career has no future. Take note: your career doesn’t have to stop because you’re now a parent and might want to move to part-time or flexible hours, or to a job that fits more easily around family.  

Where do you go from here? There are a few things worth reflecting on, I think.

The first is that you probably have more going for you than you might realise even if you’ve been out of the work world for years. Coordinating three children and a household? Administration, organisation and budgeting, not to mention creativity and the ability to pull things out of a hat at the last minute (World Book Day, I’m looking at you). Volunteering with the PTA? Tact, teamwork and negotiation. You get the idea. I don’t say this to be flippant; the important point here is about recognising transferable skills and being able to present them in a way that’s relevant to potential employers.

The second is giving yourself time and permission to ease back in, because it often takes at least 3-6 months to properly get to grips with the big change in your routine and to start feeling like you know what you’re doing. In any job the learning curve can last for a year or more. Don’t expect, after just two weeks on the job, to be back at the level you were. Be kind to yourself.

Thirdly, I think there are always compromises. Can you have it all? Personally, I think that every choice you make about how to spend your time means a choice to not focus on something else. But that also means that you don’t need to feel guilty if you’re not keeping all the balls in the air 100% of the time. Some things will give. And that’s ok.

And the final point? You don’t need to do it alone. If you’re currently planning a return from maternity leave or a long career break and this article has struck a chord with you, get in touch to see how return to work coaching can help you make the transition back into the working world with confidence. Take a look too at the upcoming Career Reinvention Day for a perfect kickstart.

To your success.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Career Reinvention Day

Career Reinvention Day instagram advert (grey)

Take some time out this April to invest in yourself! This special career reinvention day is for you if you’ve been feeling a little (or more than a little!) disillusioned or dissatisfied with your career. Maybe you’re in a job you hate or in a career rut, but you don’t know what else you could do or what you really want. You’d like to take action, but you feel stuck.

This reinvention day is also for you if you’re someone who’s looking to return to work after a long career break. Maybe you’ve been dealing with illness, or perhaps you took time out to raise your family. You’d like to get back into the working world but you don’t know what you would be suited to and you’ve lost some confidence.

Bookings and full details at www.quietspacecoaching.co.uk/events. Come join us!

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Now is the time!

Clocks

NOW is the time. Whatever time zone you’re in (you’re allowed to wake up first if you’re currently asleep 😉). The longer you play the waiting game, the longer you will have NO results. As one of my favourite authors says, you don’t want to be in the waiting place, for people just waiting. Waiting around for a yes or a no, for the fish to bite, for Friday night, a Better Break, for Another Chance. That is NOT for you.

No! You’re going to be the person who this year ditches the New Year Resolutions that are forgotten about after January, and instead makes the choice to get some lasting results this year. With bunting or with no bunting (although I always recommend bunting, because in every day there is a cause for celebration).

I’m really excited about the new career reinvention programme that Quiet Space is going to be launching in the next few weeks! I’ll be looking for people who’re fed up of waiting or making excuses and want to say YES to finally making some deep and lasting changes in their lives and getting a job they love in 2018.

The venue for the workshops has yet to be confirmed but they’ll be held in the Coventry and Warwickshire area. If you want to get an advance preview of some of the programme content before it’s ready for launch, drop me an email at natalie@quietspacecoaching.co.uk and I’ll get in touch!

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Goodbye 2017, hello 2018

A year ago today, I bid goodbye to my year of crisis. In 2016 depression got the better of me and I spent the rest of the year hauling myself back to a better place. I learnt lots of things, including how to take much better care of myself. Like how not to take things personally, leaving work in the office, knowing when to say no, making micro-resolutions, not sweating the small stuff, and embracing lots of new experiences. I started playing rugby and running regularly, joined a choir and dabbled in acro yoga, and attended my first music festivals and live gigs.

2017 has been kind to me, and I’ve been kind to myself. I’ve been altogether more sanguine about life. I completed my postgraduate qualification in career development and coaching, then took the plunge with a year-long work sabbatical. In just two months since leaving the 9-5 in October, I’ve launched Quiet Space, established a website and social media presence, networked, designed and developed programmes, and learnt so much about business development, branding, sales and marketing. None of this has actually felt like work, because I finally feel like I’m doing what I should be. And above all – I’ve been proud to be part of the transformational journey of my amazing clients.

I have lots of plans for 2018, but for now I’m looking back to appreciate all the things I’ve achieved. I’m proud of myself, and enormously thankful for all the love of my family and friends, who’ve gotten me through it all.

Look back on 2017 and see just how far you’ve come. Notice what skills you’ve learnt. The insights you’ve had. The people you’ve helped. The new experiences you’ve embraced. The challenges you’ve faced head-on. The friendships you’ve made. You are amazing. I guarantee it.I wish you all an amazing 2018. Love is louder than all of it.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Identity and the Community of Selves

I’ve been mulling over the topic of identity a lot in recent weeks following some pretty intense client sessions, and thought I’d share some of my thoughts.

One thing I’ve been introducing to clients has been the idea of the self-concept – your collection of beliefs about yourself – and how this can affect your perceptions about how others view you. Those of you who know your Carl Rogers will be familiar with his theory of self-concept, comprising self-image (your view of yourself), self-worth (the value you place on yourself), and the ideal self (the person you wish you were). Unless these components overlap, people will find themselves out of balance with respect to how they relate to their world, leading to unhappiness, dissatisfaction and lack of confidence.

Your self-concept isn’t immutable; it’s something that develops and changes throughout life as you grow and learn. It’s shaped by all sorts of factors, such as your environment.

I’ve lived a life on two different continents since having relocated to the UK nearly two decades ago. For the first few years after moving I felt a bit lost in the in-between, never knowing if I was coming or going. I didn’t only speak differently; I acted differently depending on whether I was here, or there. What had been home was full of hardwired associations with family, school, and childhood traumas, and I found myself falling into all the old patterns when with family and friends. On the other side I was anonymous; free to rewrite my story.

I’ve found it helpful both in my own life and when working with clients to think about identity not as a single entity, but rather as a “community of selves” that come to the fore in different arenas of your life. You’ll probably recognise this if you consider your own life: do you see yourself differently depending on where you are and the people you’re interacting with? Do you see the dedicated athlete? The corporate professional? The strict parent; the stubborn child; the jokey friend; the weekend warrior?

Sometimes some of these identities may seem to be in conflict. Perhaps you’re a highly-respected expert in your particular industry but find yourself unable to assert yourself in social situations. Or perhaps you’re the life of the party, but the idea of public speaking sends you into a cold sweat.

But you can learn to choose which aspects of you you’re going to allow to take centre-stage at any point in your life and in whatever circumstance. You can learn to own your identity and define how you want to see yourself; to realise that you’re not any single one of the labels that you or anyone else gives you. You’re much richer and more complex and more beautiful than that, and you have the power to choose which mantle you’re going to put on – and when.


Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself;
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
– Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass


Has this resonated with you? Get in touch.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Get ready to live your dreams

The recipe:

1) Meet new people.
2) Get out of your comfort zone.
3) Dream bigger.
4) Progress, not perfection.
5) Take control of your fear.
6) NOW is the time.

What are you waiting for? Start here; start now. Get in touch for a chat about how Quiet Space can help you soar.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

This is not your practice life

Wolf Run mud slide
Are you making the most of what life has to give? Or are you putting off what you really want to do, blaming your fears or the suffocation of the daily grind?

Life is all about the choices we make. We always have a choice – opting for one thing over another, or deciding how to respond to what life throws at us.

This shot is from the Spring Wolf Run in April 2016 – one of my bucket list experiences that I dived into during crisis point. I was hypothermic by this stage in the race and was having to skip the freezing water obstacles (ended up in the med tent to get my temperature back up from 34 C) – but I wasn’t missing the 100-metre mud slide!

If you’ve been wanting to make changes in your life, or life is telling you that you need to, NOW is the time. You don’t have to start with a big bang. That something that’s going to change your life? It starts with small steps, reawakening yourself with new experiences, being kind to yourself and then going out there and absolutely killing it, because you are amazing.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Dream bigger!

Dream bigger
Last week, I attended a mini-workshop all about tackling fear. On Day 1, ‘Some Kind Of Fairytale’, we each had to write a story.

The story, as you might imagine, was an allegory. I gave mine a happy ending. Which I was then asked to rewrite so it was even happier.

I’m looking at my story now which is full of annotations in the margins. At the end, one annotation stands out. It says DREAM BIGGER!!!

How often do we constrain ourselves without even realising it? Don’t censor your dreams. DREAM BIGGER.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd