The Answer to the Great Question… Of Life, the Universe and Everything… Is… Forty-two,’ said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.
~ Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
What would you change in your life if you knew you were to give an account for your past year? This question is on my mind as I prepare for another public yet personal birthday reflection blog post.
Reflect to direct, and learn from others
In Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the great computer Deep Thought gave “42” as the answer to life, the universe, and everything. Deep Thought then took another millennia to determine the actual question. As I enter my “meaning of life” year, I find I am gaining clarity over the answers, even as I consider whether I am asking the right question.
A year of transition
The big story of my past year was a career transition from a role as a manager in a digital studio into a management consultant position focusing on change management, personal coaching, and team building. Some of my thoughts through the journey included:
- The extent that we choose or inherit our career;
- The stages of our careers;
- The tools that contribute to more effective careers; and
- How we know if we are an organisational “fit”.
Exploring what we mean by “career” also raised how much our identity can be defined by our career. I explored how we create various “identity markers” in our lives and how we define those identities online through our “personal brand”. To keep things in perspective, I also realised that the thoughts we have about ourselves have not changed significantly over the past century.
This past year also marked 20 years of marriage to a friend I continue to learn more about each year. We are both transitioning into parents of a university student. My daughter turned 19 and is now in her second year of Engineering, preparing to head to Singapore for a few weeks as part of a team to compete in a race with their robot boat.
I have also noticed myself relinquishing my previous digital focus based on no longer being immersed in the IT industry. Apart from my online personal branding conversations, my only digitally flavoured posts in the past 12 months related to the disruptive potential that technology presents for career development and my annual review of social media.
I expect to continue the annual social media review in October, although the scale has changed significantly from when I started four years ago. I suspect, however, that moving forward I will borrow on my digital experience similar to how I tap into my past careers in the environmental field and manufacturing. Case in point, my comments last year concerning the Australian car manufacturing industry following Holden’s announcement to stop manufacturing in Australia.
Learning to do “new”
A career transition presents an interesting paradigm. On the one hand, there can be a sense of having “arrived”. On the other hand, any transition in life represents the start of a new journey and acts as a reminder that we need to continually let go of a need for a destination and treat each day as a new journey.
I explored a few concepts in my journey…
Attitudes, beliefs and thoughts can be difficult to change for a few reasons: 1) they are not directly visible, 2) they are habitual, 3) they are often created to protect us as a defensive mechanism, and 4) they can result in judgement or shame which can cause them to be buried even deeper. Mindfulness is a tool to bring awareness and stop judgement, allowing acceptance and action. As I settled into my new role, I found significant benefit in both the principles and the practice of mindfulness.
Flow is a powerful concept that helps explain our tension between anxiety and boredom based on challenges and our skill levels. As I increased my skills to handle my new challenges, I explored:
- how we can have control over our responses,
- how our consciousness works to satisfies our needs; and
- how we can be intentional about achieving the conditions of flow.
There is a tendency in life to look for problems to solve. Appreciative Inquiry instead looks for the best that is and the best that can be. I apply the concept for myself and my clients using both:
I realised through my journey the dark side to goal setting, where identity and self-worth can be associated with performance and outcomes. This led me to research and apply:
- The connection between achievement and self-worth;
- The theory behind self-esteem and the role of mentors and healthy goal setting; and
- The development of a model to help explain the path towards healthy self-esteem.
Gandhi and life as an experiment
I am where I am as a result of my professional and personal success and failures. The opportunity is to realistically view success and appropriately learn from and reconcile perceived failure. I found in Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography a powerful and useful metaphor of life as a series of experiments. The principle can also apply in a modern narrative of life as a game made up of a series of learning opportunities, which I wrote about in my Donkey Kong retrospective.
Application: Values and speeding tickets
I had opportunities to apply the concepts I learned in a couple of areas. I had the honour of facilitating a train-the-trainer program for Vital Projex, a not-for-profit that teaches values to at-risk youth and young leaders. I also was able to explore my own values in my reflections of my driving behaviour against Kohlberg’s model of ethical decision-making.
What’s next: Discovering the question
I have found many answers over the past year, most of which are related to what you would consider to be “the meaning of life”. As Douglas Adams infers, finding the answer often highlights what we don’t know about the question. The more you invest in finding the answer, the harder it can be to admit you may not have the “right” question.
The opportunity then is to let go of needing the answer and just letting life speak. I am naturally curious, even fascinated, about how we all work together and what it could look like to get the most out of life. I believe that in amongst the theology, philosophy and psychology of the world, there is a “Unified Model of Everything”. I believe there is an answer, and that the intent of our life is in discovering the question as it relates to our life.
If I consider the twelve months ahead, I see three areas of focus. One is to continue to develop my craft in my role as a Management Consultant. A second area is integration of new tools such as the Enneagram personality framework, agile execution of strategy, and the Human Synergistics suite of tools – all of which I expect to share on this blog.
The third area of focus is to identify with the feelings behind the Sideways Thoughts. I often question why as a species we invest so much in consumption when we cannot even seem to sort out the basics of living together on this planet. That is a question I can only ask of myself until I am able to look myself in the mirror and respond. Perhaps for the next year, that will be my question to my answer of “42”.
I write to teach myself, to share with others, and receive feedback along the way. It is my hope that my journey and my Sideways Thoughts add some value and perspective to others participating in this great experiment of life. I also expect you will see in my writing many things I still need to learn.
Thank you for sharing the journey with me. Your comments and social shares provide encouragement and remind me of the much needed “social” part of my ongoing social media experiment. I look forward to our next year together, sharing our collective Sideways Thoughts.