Make that big change… or not! Thanks to these self-retrospection exercises

Unhappy in your job, but uncertain if you changed, what you would do? Or perhaps you have a job you used to love, how do you rediscover that passion?

In business and agile product management, we talk about “pivoting” a product to meet the market. Pivoting is tweaking, changing direction, rebranding and more. But what about ourselves? Why not use the same product management and agile skills to improve ourselves, the most important product of all?

Business People doing Business Things
Obligatory motivational business photo with vague symbols and action lines. This could be you!

How do we pivot ourselves to meet our own “internal market” so that we may perform our best, motivated by our passion, and increase our return on investment (aka more happiness)?

Enough of these questions! The answers lie within you. Here are some self-retrospection exercises that have helped me and others make that big (or small) change towards happiness.

Exercise #1: Papertrail retrospection: What is “Past You”‘s “why?”

What makes you happy? Dogs make me happy.

Before knowing your next step, it is first important to reaffirm your baseline of what motivates you when out in the wild. Much like a business must construct the “why” of their product and test it, so must you. This is facilitated by looking back at your past life “tests” or experiences.

This exercise is especially important when considering big changes, and the answer can keep you in check in the future.

  1. Print out your CV, your Facebook/Twitter feed, your last couple emails, etc. or have them pulled up on your computer screen and grab a notebook to make notes. Do not just go off memory as you are bound to forget the important small details.
  2. Highlight/note the experiences where you were legitimately happy and/or proud.
  3. Take it a step deeper: WHY were you happy? Keep on asking “Why?” until you get to the underlying value that motivated your efforts. This may take a couple sessions of reflection to discover and it could evolve over time.
    Example: I was happiest when I helped launch that new website for a volunteer association. Why? Because it helped multiple countries. But why that? I was able to achieve something with a multi-national group. But why that? I met new interesting people and learned about myself. But why that? I enjoy new experiences with new cultures. But why that? I like diversity and challenging my own perspective. But why that? I need to continually grow and feel part of a global community.
  4. Now brainstorm what activities can you cut out to focus on only those that build you toward happiness. Or, do you need a complete change? No worry. you already have experience. Just look at your highlighted CV or notes!
    Examples:

    1. I only do websites as a hobby. I will focus on increasing my programming skills in my off time and start applying for international freelance projects.
    2. I will liberate time in my schedule by cutting out unnecessary meetings, and I will from my boss request approval to participate in the companies’ culture think-tank.

Bonus activity: Recreate your CV putting your highlighted experiences in the forefront and start floating it around on recrutement sites or consider going independent. You will be surprised how many bites you may get and how more motivated and convincing you will be in your interviews if it something you ACTUALLY like.

You recreating your CV.
Cannot find ANYTHING in your CV that makes you happy or proud?

That is why I also suggest searching your social media feeds, old photos, or personal emails. What makes you smile? You can still use these items to professionally progress. I know someone who once got a development job due to the personal WoW videogame forum he created. In interviews, I have successfully used my volunteer dance teaching and event organisation experience to boost myself. Often these personal experiences show more your motivation than paid gigs.

Me in college contemplating how I can spin “making wine in my closet” in my next job interview

Exercise #2: Classic Retrospection… Do, Rinse and Repeat

As I wrote about in my last article, retrospection can be applied in organisations on varying team levels. Also do that for yourself! I am a firm believer that the Agile methodology does not just apply to business.

This exercise is good to do on a continuous basis. Reflecting on your entire life or one area (personal, family or side professional project), ask yourself:

In [AREA OF MY LIFE]…

What has made me the happiest?

What takes away from my happiness?

What are some solutions?

Journal out your responses; focus on one solution (we cannot change Rome in a day); and then return to this in your next self-retrospection in the coming week, month, etc. Find your rhythm and stick to it.

Yellow jacket not required.

The End Result

The end result could be:

  1. You do love your job and now you know why you love it. In addition, you can use this knowledge of your “why” to decide in the future on new endeavors or commitments.
  2. You love your job but you currently are spending too much time on happiness-detractors derailing you.
  3. You would like to change within your field.
  4. You have exhausted all possibilities, and now, want to completely change.

All these are fine responses. Reflect (but not too much) and then just do it. Take your next step or embrace where you are.

Ever feel like you are waiting for a sign? Oh well, back to the game!

A Personal Case Study:

These activities are based upon past mentoring experiences and my own recent personal journey. For those interested, my recent foibles go as follows:

I started as a web developer and designer. Seven years ago, I transitioned to team and product management. Now I am an Agile organisation and product vision coach, trainer and writer.

Accurate depiction of me

Five months ago, I took my latest leap to coach 100%. After 12 years in the industry, this change in hindsight now seems natural, but it took some not-so-evident reflection.

You see, I had an issue for despite gaining more and more opportunities and acknowledgement for my product work in larger and more prestigious companies, I was not happy.

This unease befuddled me, my husband, my friends, my family, and the random barman I would sulk to.

Me in my short stint as the lead singer of my dad’s rock band.

If you look back at my life and professional career as a series of iterative experiments, as far as advancement, all would point towards not pivoting.

After all, only now, Product Management is really getting the acknowledgement and the solidification that it deserves. Now companies are finally waking up. They are hungry to define and fill these types of postions with better compensation and recognition.

But only money and advancement matters, right?

It depends. For some people, “Yes.” That is fine, but reflecting back again, obviously as someone who gave up everything to restart her career in “salary-poor” Paris, money is not my greatest motivator (though it is nice… I am not a robot and need money for cheese… my greatest “why”).

Really what is not to love? This cheese did this on its own… in ambiant room temperature.

So after doing further self-retrospection and the activities above, I realized of all my experiences I was the MOST happy when it was facilitating team growth and product vision, but not necessarily orchestrating it.

When teams were more efficient, autonomously delivering better quality and were happier, I was happier.
When companies lost in the woods discovered the product vision they had been searching for thanks to my advice or facilitation, I felt found.

You see, despite my titles not reflecting it, I did amass five years experience helping teams transform whether as a manager, teammate, or agile advocate within the company. While often this was a side goal given to me or for which I volunteered, I started becoming known for my Agile expertise. In fact, in my last position they hired me expressly as a Product Owner whose first mission was to complete the Agile transformation and advocate for new ways of working.

Here is another cheese photo to break it up a little.

So now, after all these experiments (and I have changed jobs often), what rose to the surface naturally? It was this passion to facilitate the growth of others. I would have never come to this conclusion without wiping the slate clean, including the red-herring that was my past goal of product management upward mobility.

Flush Out Your “Idea of You” as You Grow

There is no perfect answer or perfect life “test”.  Here is a great TED talk by Ruth Change about making tough life decisions for inspiration. What is important is to move forward and cultivate an attitude of self-introspection.

Not sure how to put your past non-professional ‘happy’ experiences to work? Leave a comment. Have you made a leap recently? Share your own story.

Are you now a pilot?

Meanwhile, I will keep you all up to date with my own journey.

240 thoughts on “Make that big change… or not! Thanks to these self-retrospection exercises”

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