“Who we really are, is revealed most clearly in moments of great stress.” - Jim Loehr, performance psychologist and friend of Next Jump
In most fast moving companies, it’s easy to fall prey to stress. Negative thinking can become all encompassing and there are often are no tools to stop it. In this post I want to share my story of the last twelve months - and how a period of personal loss helped kick start a period of growth, both personally and professionally, and what helped me get there.
Last summer, my best friend and grandfather passed away in quick succession. It hit me hard… and looking back, I wasn’t the best person to be around, especially to those who mattered most to me - my family. I ignored concerned calls and detached myself completely. I remember a particular instance where my cousin drove across London to check up on me. I didn’t even answer the door.
That period made something abundantly clear to those around me - that in times of stress, I both shut down and fall into a cycle of negativity. Like a snowball, this becomes bigger and faster.
While I threw myself into work as a distraction, the problem translated into the office. It was my team manager at Next Jump, Mike, who addressed the issue at the time: “You’re always worrying. Your lack of optimism is holding you back.” I dismissed this notion. I’m always smiling, cracking a joke and, much to annoyance of my peers, singing loudly at my desk. So that can’t be true! But after some thought, it was a powerful self-realization. Like Jim Loehr said, who we really are is revealed most clearly in moments of great stress.
And while this situation above is an extreme case, I reflected back on previous hard times - my natural reaction would always be to think of reasons why something won’t work. In work projects, fear of failure would mean I would try to perfect something instead of launching it. Even trivial tasks. For example, when I first started, I was tasked with buying freebies for our College Recruitment Fairs. I went through every variation of Next Jump branded pens, cups, bottle openers, stress balls, bags, key rings, USB sticks. Translate this to a bigger, more important work project, and my process was taking far longer than it should.
However, one of the things I love about Next Jump, is that it provides us with the tools required to succeed and grow. Through internal initiatives like Project Padawan (mentorship), Talking Partners and others (Next Jump University, Hosts, CEOTalks) I’ve been lucky enough to have guidance in trying to overcome this. There are two main lessons I’ve learnt.
1) Overcoming a fear of failure. Through Project Padawan, I was partnered with Gautam, a senior engineer in the NYC office. I was slightly confused at the pairing. After all - I’m in the London office, he’s in the New York office. I’m on the business team, he’s an engineer. And even though I had seen him present at company meetings, we had never actually met. Our first meeting, though via video conference, resembled more of a blind date than a mentorship meeting! But even after 10 minutes of conversation (and then getting to know Gautam a lot better over 6 months+), it was clear why we had been paired; Gautam is ideas-driven, passionate & excited. His strengths were all my weaknesses. In particular he taught me the importance of experimenting.
Constantly try new things. Quickly. Most experiments will fail (get over it). The best leaders however, will recognize the experiments that work and scale that success. He encouraged me to practice the same concept in a safe playground - by setting up Toastmasters across the company; a weekly culture initiative we had been running in the UK office, aimed at improving public speaking through practice and feedback. That was lesson one. And again, it’s best articulated by Jim Loehr: “Failure is an indispensable element in the building process. Failure pushes us much harder than winning does. We rarely reflect after following a win. Losing forces us to go back and recalculate, recalibrate, and rethink”
2) Talking it out. Through Nooreen and Anuj, I have two ‘talking partners’ (TPs). The concept of TPs is simple - we meet & discuss everything that’s worrying us. From family troubles, to work problems, to our commute into work, to our fitness levels.. We get on a roll, and through trust and complete honesty - the ‘venting’ alone can stop the negative thoughts manifesting themselves. My initial struggle was finding people to have that open & vulnerable dialogue with. But it came through building up trust by meeting on a consistent and frequent basis. Keeping things that worry me bottled up inside is self-destructive.
Fast forward a year, through self awareness (with the help of NxJumpers) and then mentorship and talking partners, I have been lucky enough to address what I had never before noticed. Last week, Kevin - head of the UK office - tasked me to lead our revenue efforts this quarter with two colleagues (Sabrina & Joe). This is Q4, the pinnacle of the year, where we have the largest goals. It’s daunting. It’s scary. But with Sabrina & Joe - I know that succeed or fail, I’ll learn more than ever.
And dare I say it, I go into the next twelve months with a sense of optimism.