Imagine for a moment that you wake up inside the body of someone with no job, with the anxiety of not knowing how you will pay your bills, trying to hide a naked fear that you can’t stop feeling. Befuddled, as if having no clue what to do next, I was having serious doubts on whether to make a drastic career change or not.
This is my story. I am another casualty of the downturn. It took me close to a month to digest what had happened and to be able to think clearly about what to do now. I never thought that I would need to reinvent myself again, after having done it four or five times in the past.
I had been manager of an elite team of data scientists, people who I truly admire and deeply cared for. After reading James Clear’s “Atomic Habits” amazing book, I successfully implemented a relentless pursuit of 1% improvements in my team, by automating manual tasks, which resulted in 3,000 person-hours saved last year alone. I was proud of this accomplishment, not knowing that soon thereafter I would regret not having sought those one percents on myself.
When I was fired, I could not believe my ears. Some days later, while frantically applying to every open position that matched my profile, I noticed that there were some skills that the job market was requiring and that I had not fully mastered. I realized then and there that I had comfortably settled into my position, and I failed miserably in my personal growth by placing all my energies and focus on my job. I felt as if now I had to start over.
I applied to at least 265 jobs on LinkedIn, until I got two invitations to interviews (my conversion rate was close to 1%). But I found out that resorting to my network was the alternative that yielded the best results (as had been the case in the past). It is ten times easier to do business with people who are familiar with you. I quickly landed two different contractor opportunities, just by sending some emails and making a few calls to the right people.
It is ten times easier to do business with people who are familiar with you.
I seriously evaluated if I needed a career change. I was already familiar with Ikigai, the ancient Japanese concept of my “reason for being”. Whatever skills that you have, which match all four criteria, is your “reason for being”. Instead of sticking post-its on a template, I created a spreadsheet version. I was determined to know at once if I do have skills that feel natural to me and I enjoy, and if there is a market for them.
You can start by filling out the columns in the following order:
- What you love
- What you are good at
- What can be paid for
- What the world needs
Those rows where all four columns are filled out are your key strengths. I added additional columns to specify how I would translate those skills into canned products and how I would transform them into habits.
I felt relieved that I did find some skills, those which I was desperately looking for, after a deep exercise of introspection. However, the other part of the exercise is to determine who you want to become. You need to start with the end in your mind. What are your most profound, non-negotiable beliefs? Are your most recent actions a true reflexion of those beliefs? What do I want my friends and family to say about me at my funeral? Such deep questions force you to reevaluate what matters most to you. This is the seed of your reinvention and is fundamental to determining your habits and start building the “brand new you”, one percent at a time.
This brings me to another superb book, which is called “Tiny Habits”, by BJ Fogg. It explains in detail all aspects of behavioral design, which you can use to easily build habits by applying just seven steps. One essential key to make habits stick is to use the phrase “After I … , I will … , then I’ll immediately …”.
For example, I find it daunting to do planks, although they are amazing to strengthen my core. However, I found out that it’s easier for me to do them right after stretching my back (which feels more like pleasant therapy, and I always do after getting up anyway). So, I settled on “After I stretch my back, I will do a plank for ninety seconds, then I will immediately reward myself with a savory breakfast”. This way, it will become a habit and it will stick. You set the trigger, then specify the action, and finally create the reward.
I am now in the process of designing my schedule around those tiny habits, incorporating them one by one. Try not to rush multiple habits into your schedule at once. Let them stick first, before building new habits.
I am now feeling empowered by my new, tiny, growing habits. They will be geared towards becoming a better version of myself. This habit of building habits gives you a sense of control. I do not have a full outcome to share with you yet. But you can apply the tools that I described earlier on yourself during this journey of uncertainty and, hopefully, they will bring clarity to you.