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Words of Wisdom to Live By & How They Can Help You Do Your Best Work

by Thought Starters

Having been struck down with a cold for the last few weeks I’ve had some extra time to indulge in a few thought provoking documentaries on Netflix. I share this with you as a warning that this week’s blog is a slight deviation from the functional ‘how to’ blogs more recent readers may have come to expect from me. Today’s insights are a more personal reflection, sharing some of the words I live by.  It’s a deeper dive into what’s in my heart and head right now and the patterns I’m observing around me. It is my hope that these insights may also encourage you to think about what you allow yourself to be influenced by, and whether it’s helping you do your best work.

The Power of Words

As a lover of the written word, words play an incredibly important role in how I navigate the world. I’m realising that the older I get, the more the advice given to me by my parents and mentors holds true and acts as my guiding light to living the life I imagined for myself and my family.  Many of these wise words have become gems I hold close to my heart. For those of you who’ve worked with me or know me, you’ll have heard me share these thoughts in our conversations, when I train and guest speak.

1. The Importance of viewing the world in colour

Some of the most valuable words of wisdom I received from one of my first line managers was in the context of how I was going to achieve the career progression I wanted at Diageo Australia.  My manager, Wendy, gave me some invaluable advice during a performance review. Importantly, my willingness to be open with Wendy in this conversation was the beginning of the development of some key habits that have stood the test of time, including:

  • being brave enough to ask for what you want
  • actively seeking the advice of others who’ve walked the path before you and
  • being prepared to change as a result of feedback (it may hurt, and be hard to change, but it will be worth it).

I asked Wendy “How can I get your job one day?”  Her response was that I’d need to change a lot to be considered for management roles. She said “Karen, you tend to view the world as black and white”, meaning I was quite righteous in my world view and how I approached my work relationships. While I still hold firm opinions on many topics, I’ve learnt to ‘tuck that in’ and take people with me on the journey.  This took practice and has become an invaluable attribute when it comes to working with clients and exploring collaborations. And did I end up getting Wendy’s job. Eventually, yes.

The advice Wendy gave me helped me start to ‘view the world in colour’. This means being open and okay about other people having opinions very different to yours. In fact, it’s about being so open to this that it has the potential to take you to greater heights.

My willingness to be open to other people’s perspectives has helped me find the ‘double bubble’. Imagine two circles, or bubbles. My goals are in one bubble and the other person’s goals are in the other bubble. My focus is on how to create a safe place for people to share their views and be open about what they need or want, without any judgement. By entering the conversation with ‘no mind’ (which is to turn off any preconceived ideas about outcomes), I am in a much better position to see things from the other person’s perspective and understand what their goals and needs are.

Equipped with this understanding of other people’s goals, I can then reflect on my own goals, and we can negotiate and collaborate (or ‘play’ as you’ll hear me call it) where there is overlap in those bubbles, and so mutual benefits can be realised. This is traditionally called ‘win / win’. I prefer to refer to this overlap or the ‘double bubble’ as the place where we align and can achieve great things together. This approach has consistently resulted in outcomes that would be unthinkable in a world of black and white.

2. Have no expectations of others and you’ll never be disappointed

It was my dear Mum who once said to me . . “Really Karen, the best way to be happy in life is to have no expectations of others”.  These words have been pivotal in forming my reputation as being a person of action. This perspective has also enabled me to ‘shed the shoulds’ in both the early days of my career (along with Wendy’s advice) by more ruthlessly focusing on what was important to me. The more I brought ‘me’ to my role, the greater the success I achieved at work.

There can often be so many ‘rules of engagement’ and expectations on us in our roles. These so-called ‘shoulds’ can be immobilising and get in the way of you doing your best work.  To some, this idea of having no expectations of others may sound sad. For me, this advice was freeing and empowering.

Please think about it.

  • Who is responsible for your happiness?
  • Who is responsible for taking action in your life?
  • What do you need from others?

The expectations of others must not drive your decision making.

Your expectations of you must drive your decisions and actions.

And as a side note, my husband (and partner of 20+ years) would argue there have been some exceptions for me and this rule over the years. If you want me to be specific, I do think birthdays must be celebrated with cake!

3. Boundaries are your friend

As I climbed the corporate ladder in the mid-late 1990s and early 2000s (before establishing Think Bespoke in 2010), I let my work define and consume me. It was my dear Mum’s advice to integrate regular breaks and my Dad’s advice from the earlier years, when I was studying, to learn to rest and recharge. On reflection, it was also our family’s ritual to take regular holidays, in the earlier years, that’s enabled me to place clear boundaries on ‘work’ and ‘play’.

While laying low with this cold I’ve been reflecting on how important my boundaries are in helping me navigate my role as company director, mother, wife, sister and daughter. With ageing parents and blossoming cherubs, family forms the cornerstone of my schedule and how I engage with my clients, my team and my suppliers. The way we do things at Think Bespoke is the future of work. Family first, flexibility and virtual teams. We’ve embraced technology and engage in highly productive work that we love while being present for those who matter.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your schedule I encourage you to take stock and make sure you have clear rules around work time and family time. Tune in to when you are most productive with particular work activities and negotiate with those around you to ensure you dedicate the time you need to in order to do your best work and be in your flow.

What’s important to you?

Are you doing your best work and making a difference in a way that matters to you?  I encourage you to reflect on the words of wisdom I value and to think about what’s important to you.  You may even like to hand write your own thoughts and ‘words to live by’ in a journal. I encourage you to continually carve out time to reflect on your own journey and to check in with yourself to make sure you are living your life on your terms, surrounded by people who encourage you to be the best version of you, and to be doing the activities that light you up inside.

Karen Hollenbach

Karen Hollenbach

As the Founding Director of Think Bespoke I help individuals and organisations unlock their potential with LinkedIn. Sign up to my E-insights for LinkedIn tips.

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