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Change Management 01 August 2016

Treading water is time well spent

In today's business world almost everyone experiences significant shifts in their career. When those changes occur most people experience a mix of anticipation, excitement, trepidation and maybe even fear.

When you set off on a new journey it can be disorientating, pose new challenges and be a little scary, but it can also be a reminder of some important life lessons. Let me explain.

Taking on a new role at Insights  has led me to spend time in Austin, Texas recently. It’s the fastest growing city in the US and a thriving technology/university/start-up culture has emerged. It’s a cool place, but also pretty hot at this time of year, so one morning I decided to take a swim to cool down and enjoy some quiet time before another busy day.

Losing direction

At 7.30am, I was the only person at the disused quarry. The last thing I saw before diving in was a sign saying there are no lifeguards and you swim at your own risk.

As I headed to the first buoy, I hit my first challenge.  As the sun rose it was blinding me, despite my polarised swimming googles.  That’s not something you experience often in London!  As I realised I couldn't see the buoy, I could feel my thoughts start to race:

"I can't see where I'm going, there are no lifeguards, what if I get in trouble with nobody around, I could drown …” 

It seems dramatic in retrospect but that's what losing your sense of direction suddenly can do.

Pause for breath

I stopped to tread water, literally going nowhere.  Slowing my breathing and my racing heart I realised that, as I was now higher up above the waterline, I could see some houses with a chimney sticking out.  By lifting my head out of the water I could see the chimney whilst swimming.  This immediately reassured me - now that I knew where I was going I could relax and enjoy my swim.                                          

On completing my first lap I noticed that my time was very slow - even by my standards! Determined to use what I had learned, I headed straight for the chimney this time.  When I completed the second lap I was amazed to discover that I had halved the time of the first lap.

A lesson learned

The parallels to my own life are clear, as I embark on a new career challenge - it is often easy to be thrown off track by shifting responsibilities, reorganisations or changes in company strategy. As I headed off into my busy day, I kept returning to that moment when I stopped to tread water, take stock and make sure I was headed in the right direction.

Sometimes the best thing any of us can do when faced with something new is tread water for a short while; breathe deeply, get your bearings, align yourself to the new direction and make sure that you can confidently strike out ahead.

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