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Woman treading water near surface of sea

Change Management Monday, August 1, 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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