August 14, 2020

Finding the Shape of You

My leaving This is Doing and This is HCD wasn’t a pleasant experience, despite my desire for conscious uncoupling instead of painful divorce. Asking everyone re-subscribe to a different feed for my podcast rather than seamlessly moving subscribers and past episodes to a new podcast host was not done by choice, nor was it the human-centred thing to do, ironically.

Nevertheless, there some useful lessons to be learned, especially for those of you who are taking your own journeys into Design Leadership or independence. Plus it gives me a second chance to quote Ed Sheeran.

The first three lessons are short:

  1. Own the platform you publish any of your creative output on. This is as true of Medium as it was for me with podcasting. I have always run my own site, but made the mistake of not doing it this time around.
  2. People who tell you “this is all about trust, we don’t need anything in writing” are the very people you want to get something in writing from. It doesn’t even have to be a contract, just something tangible you can refer back to is useful for alignment.
  3. Do your inner work. “It’s business, not personal” is the biggest lie of work. It’s all personal. Work stress is, ultimately, always people stress. Doing your inner work is being psychologically hygenic around others.

The fourth lesson is about being clear about the shape of you and the one I want to dive deeper into.

I’ll never say never to a permanent gig again, but I left a full-time job at Fjord, because I wanted to be my own person and master of my own destiny again. Josh Seiden summed it up best in a note to me recently (quoted with his permission):

I tell people that there have been four phases to my career:

  1. Fit myself (I think I’m a square peg) into a round hole.
  2. Look for a square hole. Try to make myself squarer.
  3. Realize that I’m a josh-shaped peg. Look for josh-shaped holes.
  4. Make my own damn hole.

Moving into a leadership position, whether inside an organisation or starting your own venture, has an awful lot in common with moving into the second half of life, something that Jungian psychoanalyst, James Hollis has written extensively about.

A lot of my coachees are moving through that stage of life, but it’s not entirely age-related when it comes to your career pathway. Some come to that professional transition point earlier than others. Either way, it’s really about striving less to become something else and more about becoming comfortable and confident in who you already are and in the experience you now have.

This is Doing was pulling me in a direction I wasn’t happy about and I realised I had made a mistake. So I and left sooner rather than drag it out, which would have been worse for all involved. Although it was painful, I feel absolutely comfortable with my decision and the integrity of it. There is no way to be happy if you are trying to re-shape yourself to fit a hole that isn’t you-shaped.

The whole effort of, well, life really, and certainly the work I do in coaching is to discover what that shape is, nurture it, and to develop a sensibility to when that shape is being distorted. Most of my mistakes—including this one—have been because I didn’t trust my intuition earlier.

To paraphrase another good friend, Nik Roope, from an interview I did with him years ago, we spend a lot of time adding icing to our cake and, before you know it, it’s all icing and no cake.

Letting go of things in life is so much harder than adding more things to it.


This post was originally part of my newsletter Doctor’s Note. If you would like to get articles like these earlier and in your inbox on a regular basis, you can sign up here. And if you like that, you might like my podcast, Power of Ten.