Reaching Your Full Potential

Your career cannot be put in a box and kept separate from the rest of your life. As a professional your work is important to you and you have accepted responsibilities which mean you will need to integrate work/career with the rest of your life.

This does not mean you have to be available on your phone or laptop at all hours or spend all your home time working. However the way in which the working environment has evolved means it is even more important to take control of the way in which you manage your life both day to day and for the longer term.

Developing your self leadership skills will help you to increase your sense of satisfaction with your life and make you more effective and successful in the work place.

CHOICES

We make choices all the time. While many are small and appear meaningless they often contribute to a bigger lifestyle or career choice which we are making without realising it. For example every time we agree to miss the gym class, don’t catch up with a friend or do not go to a networking event because we decide to stay at work, we are making a choice about what is important to us. Sometimes staying at work will be the right choice for you but there will probably be times when it has just become part of a pattern. When you start the day knowing that you can stay late every evening then perhaps you are not as focused or diligent during the day.

It is easy to recognise specific choices such as comparing two job offers but you should recognise that you have three options and should add the decision ‘not to move’ to the decision making process. This will change the way you consider the options.

KNOWING WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE FOR YOU

I usually get two types of response when I ask about career plans. There are people who seem to know exactly what they want to achieve and how they’ll get there. Then there are those who really don’t know, hate the question and find it difficult to define what they are looking for – that’s why they’ve asked to speak to me. It is useful for both groups to reflect on the fact that life is long and we don’t need to map it all out on the day we leave school. After all as good actuaries the one thing we all know is that experience won’t be the same as our assumptions!

“I would be unstoppable… if I could just get started”

I usually recommend that it’s useful and comforting to have a plan even if it is just for the next few months. On reflection, what I am really suggesting is spending some time thinking about yourself and your environment (work, home, social), recognising your desires and ambitions and how you are going to achieve them. We may not all have a big plan for our lives but we can all think about questions such as:

  • What am I good at?
  • What is the nature of the work I enjoy?
  • How important is money (and the lifestyle it can give me)?
  • What makes me get up in the morning?
  • Do I enjoy learning new things across a broad spectrum or do I want to be ‘the expert?
  • How much interaction do I want with – people/computers/numbers in my job?

Once you understand yourself better, the rest will flow more easily, you can start to look at the choices you are making on a daily basis and see whether they are consistent with your goals or acting as invisible barriers.

SELF AWARENESS

The first step in self leadership is self awareness and understanding, among other things: what motivates you; what scares you and what gives you satisfaction.

Once you have a frame of reference you are better positioned to make decisions which are right for you. Notice that this is about you. Certainly take advice from others as this may give you a different perspective and help you understand things more deeply and you may need to take the needs of others into consideration but finally only you can make choices about your life. If you do this with a good understanding of your motivations and why you reached a decision you are much better placed to have a positive attitude and make the most of the outcome.

Whatever your stage of life you can decide to be proactive and identify some changes you would like to make, e.g. new area of study, behavioural change to give you more time for things you love, a decision to network internally to increase your knowledge of the organisation you work for, volunteering for a new project to develop your skills. Alternatively you may be content with your life but find that an increased awareness will make you more open to new opportunities and will give you a framework which allows you to examine them more objectively and identify whether it is a lack of desire or just fear holding you back.

When reading about self awareness and leadership more broadly I find that the messages can feel contradictory and add to your confusion rather than helping.

For example…

“Be prepared to say no”; “Be a risk taker – don’t think too much before you say yes”; “Have an open mind”; “Be focused on your plan and goals”; “Seek out new perspectives and contexts”; ”Become an expert”.

All of these are valid in the right circumstance, the more you know about yourself the better you will be able to work out whether to say no or to take on a new challenge.

Making personal, independent choices can be difficult, there is no one to blame but yourself if it doesn’t work out, but this is what self leadership is all about, taking responsibility for yourself and the choices you make in life. In reality we learn the most from those things where we have struggled or that they have gone wrong. Mistakes happen and the more you listen to others talk about their experiences you discover that successful people have used these opportunities to learn, reflect on and then they let go of any negative feelings associated with them.

Instead of thinking about what might go wrong or what people might think of you try; then think “I’ll give it a go, figure it out and make it work for me”; it can be very liberating.

CPD: Actuaries Institute Members can claim two CPD points for every hour of reading articles on Actuaries Digital.

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