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  • Matthew Davies

It's All I Know

It's been over a month since my last blog post, with a lovely family holiday over Christmas, visiting friends in Connecticut. Proper downtime after a busy 2022 and a chance to recharge the batteries. Before I know it, however, I was getting straight back in the thick of things, on the road last week working with a couple of fantastic companies down in London, Gloucester and Birmingham, but it feels like the normal routine has been resumed and I'm looking forward to writing more this year. It never ceases to amaze me the people who read my blog and to every one of you who do, thank you very much for that. It pops up in conversations on calls, in sessions I'm running and even when I'm out socialising and it's great to turn my thoughts on here into conversations so please continue reaching out!


Last night I took my daughter to an art class that she's recently started. She loves arts and crafts and so Mrs Davies and I thought it might be nice to find a group she could join where she's surrounded by like-minded little people who can create together and to help her expand her friendship group beyond the village we live in.


I took her to class last night and when we entered the room, the leaders curtly informed me that parents weren't allowed with the kids while they're creating, so I took my Yeti of tea and my notebook and pen and found a quiet spot in the building to have some thinking time and see what blog ideas came to me. Leafing through the pages of my little notebook which comes everywhere with me to capture ideas, I was presented with a quote I'd written down on the way home from a session I facilitated in London last summer for a global pharmaceutical firm.


In that session, senior medical professionals (surgeons, doctors, clinicians, etc) were using the Lego Serious Play methodology to explore their experiences of the Covid19 pandemic. As is often the case with sessions of that type, they started the session with a range of emotions from excitement, to scepticism (bordering on disgust that someone as senior as they would waste time playing with a child's toy!) but by the end of the session, the level of engagement and the depth of the conversations was remarkable and it was one of the most rewarding facilitation gigs I've done to date. The pandemic had been, as you'd expect, extremely hard on everyone in their industry and those in the room had seen considerable loss of life from colleagues, patients and friends and family. They'd also experienced isolation as they'd remained away from those family members from long stretches to prevent transmission, particularly after performing surgery on patients who had Covid19, knowing that the patient would die without treatment. The emotions were raw and the support for one another was visible and valuable and many delegates shared their thanks for the session.

Two of the attendees, during the conversations, spoke about how they'd taken early retirement, but had both been drawn back into their roles. When I asked why, they explained that they had found life away from medicine unfulfilling. I probed further, asking about what specifically brought them back to these roles, rather than finding that fulfilment elsewhere. Both, almost in tandem, responded with the quote I found in my notebook:


"It's all I know"


The reason this quote stuck out to me and the reason I wrote it down, is because that room wasn't the first or only place I'd heard it. I've mentioned previously having done some incredibly enjoyable work, both one to one executive coaching and running action learning sets, with groups of Headteachers from across Scotland. In the immediate aftermath of the worst stages of the pandemic, where teachers had experienced huge amounts of change and been expected to remain active on the frontline, even while many other professions didn't, the level of burnout and exhaustion was considerable. Several of them used the coaching time to contemplate and reflect on whether they had a future in education, or whether it was time to leave it behind and do something else. Time an time again, however, they came to the same conclusion. Teaching is all I know.


Recently, I spoke to a friend who had spent her entire career in the Police force. With the opportunity to take early retirement and a pension, while she's still young enough to transition to a second career, she was contemplating the idea, but she, too, was being stifled by the same self-limiting belief. Police work is all I know.


Part of the challenge is the sunken cost fallacy. People are often reluctant to abandon a course of action (such as the direction of their career) because they've invested so heavily (often with years of their life) in that direction. Just like a gambler chasing their losses, they continue to invest in the course of action, hoping that it might yield the results they're looking for somewhere down the line. And sometimes it will. Sometimes the frustrations that people have with their jobs or other aspects of their lives (relationships, hobbies) are only temporary and with time they pass.


The other challenge is the inability to break things down, and that's where talking to someone can really help. Let me give you an example. People often view their skills t the macro level. Teachers are good at teaching. Police Officers are good at police work. Sports coaches are good at coaching sport. But those are not individual skills, they are chunks of skills!


Take teaching as an example. Teachers have some of the most diverse stakeholder groups of any profession. Children of varying backgrounds and abilities. Other teachers (peers). The senior teachers they report into. Regulators and inspectors. Support workers who work with sub groups of their pupils. Parents. The local community. So being an effective teacher requires strong stakeholder management skills, just to start with. Then there's the planning and preparation that goes into building lessons and building out the path over an academic year. There's a project management element to it. Maintaining professional competence and staying up to date with the latest thinking on pedagogy and the curriculum. CPD is crucial. And dealing with the pupils isn't just teaching. Emotional intelligence, dealing with varying skill levels, keeping the pupils interested and engaged. EQ, performance management, presentation and facilitation skills. You can see from this short example that there are already a load of discrete skills that a teacher uses every day, and we're only scratching the surface.


So when those teachers doubted their ability to do anything beyond teaching, I encouraged them to reframe their thinking by looking at the micro skills, not just the macro. Which employer wouldn't take a serious look at someone with that list of transferrable skills?


Maybe 2023 is a year of growth and progress and continuing on the path you've set out for yourself. For me, that's certainly the case. But maybe you're feeling restless or unfulfilled. Maybe it's a year of change. Perhaps this approach can benefit you to break through that self-limiting belief and stop viewing yourself through the lens of your role title and start viewing yourself through the lens of your skills and capabilities.


Let me know if this has sparked a thought in you and please continue the conversation. Let's make 2023 our best year yet!

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