THE POWER OF OBSERVATION
“Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future.” T.S. Elliot
Be an observer of your own WorkLife. Why? Because the power of observation, as you are about to discover, is both simple and profound.
A Case Study
My Story: 3 WorkLife Stages of Observation: The Present, Past and Future
The Present: Looking in the Moment
“I want to make a living by combining the knowledge, skills, and experience I’ve gained in my WorkLife as a Career Coach helping people manage, develop and transition their careers with the learning I’ve gained through my love of the arts, along with all the other things I like to do.”
I do not remember exactly when I wrote this, what I call ‘My WorkLife Intention’. I think it was two or three years ago, maybe even longer.
Have I achieved it? Actually yes, I have in many respects.
Is it the best it can be? Some elements are, others are not, which is probably down to the vagueness of the intention (namely “along with the other things I like to do” – which actually for me means travelling). I did not have full clarity when I wrote it, but that is actually OK, because not knowing exactly where I wanted to be and what I wanted to be doing, or how I was going to do it, has taken me on a wonderfully explorative journey.
So where exactly am I in my WorkLife right now, and what does the power of observation have to do with this?
My WorkLife today evolves around three, somewhat entwined aspects:
- I am writing this book, with the intention that it will be available in paperback, audio, as an e-book and an online course;
- I am developing and delivering people-development programmes through Workplace Theatre;
- I am writing a series of blog posts, which will also be available as a podcast series.
I am achieving this by doing it: writing, reading, then writing and reading some more. Along the way I am gaining the skills, knowledge, know-how, ideas, inspiration and gathering stories. All the learning I need is coming to me by simply observing everyday life, my own and other people’s.
I am meeting family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, even strangers socially, having conversations through which I am observant of their WorkLife stories.
I am reading – books, newspapers, blog posts. I am listening to podcasts. I am watching TV. I am going to the cinema, theatre, art galleries and museums. I am embracing my love of the arts, and learning through my observations.
I am walking in nature through the wonderful parks of London, and along the river Thames. I am taking train journeys out of London to visit the seaside and countryside. As a result, everything I need is coming to me through the power of observing daily life.
Taking the approach of ‘Doing It’, combined with the power of observation, is helping me in achieving my WorkLife Intention.
To help you understand how I got to here, let me take you back in time to look at my past:
The Past: Looking Backward – Looking to The Past – What Got Me to Here
“I want to make a living being creative. I want to make doing what I love, and loving what I do a reality. I want to incorporate/combine my love of the arts, the outdoors, and travel with my love for learning and development – my own and other people’s.”
I am also not sure when I wrote that intention. I suspect it was three to five years ago.
Oftentimes what you do not know can be your biggest asset. Your greatest challenge can become your driving motivation, to get you to where you want to be. That was certainly true for me.
Completing my degree in Career Coaching and Management allowed me to transition from working in investment banking to joining a careers consultancy company. I worked with individuals and organisations on their learning and development programmes. The one-to-one coaching work came easily to me; group training did not. I was extremely nervous talking in front of people, and I was also really inhibited – I suddenly became quite wooden!
I shared this with my friend Norma, who recommended an acting class, which she thought could be helpful in overcoming my nervousness and inhibition. I enrolled, and while the twelve-week class definitely helped, my nervousness and inhibition were so severe, they needed more work and more time to overcome. So I undertook a Foundation Year in Drama, along with several shorter acting courses, and a year-long directing course, which led to me being Assistant Director on a production of Hamlet that went on to being performed at the RSC Open Space in Stratford Upon Avon – my claim to fame!
It was then I had my eureka moment of how the techniques, structure and methods of theatre making are significant in the world of WorkLife learning and development: the unique skills sets performing artists have had to develop in their craft brings learning alive. This is ‘learning by doing’, enabling the practice of new skills sets and behaviours in a safe, supportive, challenging and creative environment.
I was now able to combine my knowledge and experience of WorkLife learning and development with drama-based techniques, collaborating with performing artists. Our work enables individuals and teams to be more active, spontaneous and flexible, freeing their minds to use their imagination in being inventive and original. The intrinsic nature of our work helps foster creativity, team spirit and emotional intelligence.
I had achieved my intention to create a WorkLife that embodied what is important to me: combining my love and passion for learning and development with my love and passion for the arts. I have worked with so many interesting people, helping them manage, develop and transition their WorkLives; and I have worked with an amazing team of performing, visual and literary artists in delivering the work.
When I wrote the above intention, I had no idea how or what I was going to do to make this happen. I did not have the clarity on what it actually meant in practice. Once again this was actually OK. I gained clarity by getting on with my WorkLife, doing what I needed to do every day, while being observant of what was going on around me.
Along the way I also gathered many wonderful stories, and although that was not part of my intention, it is something that happened organically through my day-to-day WorkLife. I began to write a blog. Initially this was simply a means of creative expression, a way to share people’s amazing stories. Through this I developed my writing skills and technical ability, along with an understanding of social media platforms. All of this played an important part in getting me to where I am now.
Your WorkLife journey is all about the transformation that happens to you as you strive to achieve your intention. The skills, the experience and learnings you gain are a by-product of your growth and development. When you immerse yourself in situations that push you to grow and learn new things, you look back after a while and you will be amazed by how far you have come.
That is exactly what happened to me, and what got me to where I am today. What began with the above somewhat vague intention, combined with wanting to overcome my crippling nervousness and inhibition when speaking in public.
My passion for learning and the arts was always there, and I always felt the two could be infused. I thought if I could bring these together then I would have the chance to grow my WorkLife into something amazing. I had the dream and belief to do what I felt I wanted to do.
I believe everyone has the ability to do something really special. When you have had the realisation about what your purpose is and what you are meant to do in your WorkLife, the power of observation will take you to another level.
The Future: Looking Forward – Looking to The Future, What’s Going to Get Me to Where I Want to Go
“I want to create programmes that help people live fulfilled WorkLives true to their purpose. I want to reach people throughout the world through programmes that are affordable to everyone. I want to make a difference by bringing WorkLife Learning, Arts, and Technology together. I want to embrace my love of travel and adventure to be able to do this from anywhere in the world.”
Still somewhat vague, and that is still OK. How am I going to achieve it? Through the power of observation, of course, and I have already begun to look to the future to explore what is going to get me to where I want to go.
Reading is an integral part of my daily WorkLife Observation. Most days I read for an average of two to four hours: books, articles, newsletters and blog posts across all the genres that interest me, both work and non-work. I read the stories behind the people, the brands and the companies I admire and respect. This allows me to look to futuristic happenings in the world. Reading helps to cultivate my exposure to different ways of thinking and doing.
Through the power of books, I am carried away on adventures to faraway places in my mind. This allows me to explore the big world around me from wherever I am. Along my journey, reading is helping my love of writing and enabling my way of expressing myself to bloom.
Listening to podcasts, watching TV and embracing my love of the arts, continue to be part of my WorkLife Observation Strategy, along with my ‘Learning By Doing’ Strategy. Because I want to create an online learning platform, I am learning through online platforms. I am doing this to gain an understanding of what I need to do, and then to learn whatever that is. For example, I know I need to create videos for my online programmes, and so I have set out to learn how to do that. I also know I want to draw on my passion for photography to learn how to take good photographs with the intention of using these as part of my learning programmes, and so I am learning how to do that. I will also use videos and photographs as part of my marketing campaign.
To facilitate this, I have bought the latest iPhone and I am setting out to learn how to use it to make great videos and take great photos. To give this focus, I have created an intention ‘To recognise and capture the greatness in everyday life’. I do this as I go about my WorkLife.
I continue to have sociable conversations with family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers. I have set an intention to discover more community and business events to attend to support me in learning what I need to know. Conversations are such a simple yet profound observational strategy from which I learn so much.
Develop Your WorkLife Story
The power of observation is such a simple, profound, yet powerful strategy to help you develop and shape your WorkLife Story.
Re-Wind/Re-Play Your Day Observation Assignment
A Day in The Life of … Drumroll … You!
To develop your power of observation, begin by taking something that happened in your day. I like to suggest a two-minute event, but it can be shorter or longer. It could be a brief interaction you had in a coffee shop, or in a meeting. It could be something you observed as you went about your day without interacting with anyone. It could be a moment when you were at home alone doing something.
Now replay that in your mind. The idea is to observe yourself when you were in that moment, along with everything else that was going on around you.
Simple? – Yes! The power of observation really is that simple.
Developing Your Power of Observation Assignment
The power of observation becomes more and more powerful the more observant you become as you go about your daily WorkLife.
Find something to capture every day. Begin with one moment building to many moments.
Maybe there will be days when you think there is nothing to observe, because they are very normal days. But actually, normal days are great days, because they force you to be a little more mindful, a little more aware, a little more creative.
Building Your Power of Observation Assignment
At the end of your day, ask yourself the question that you consider is the most important you can ask in that moment, by way of making sense of what you observed throughout your day, and how it applies to what you want to achieve in your WorkLife.
If you cannot figure out what your most important question should be, ask:
What is the most important question?
Write down your response in your journal and then let it go.
The next morning sit down and journal any answer to that question, anything that comes up through your stream of consciousness. Self-expression in your journal will help you to tap into your power of observation, to turn your WorkLife story into a work of art.
Write Your WorkLife Intention Assignment
1. Write your WorkLife Intention. You can draw from the examples I have shared from my Present, Past and Future Intentions.
2. Write your daily, weekly, monthly intentions that are going to help you achieve this. Again, you can draw from the examples I have shared that will help to focus your power of observation to help you achieve what you want and need to do. For example, I have created an intention ‘To recognise and capture the greatness in everyday life’. Then do whatever you have set as your intention by being observant as you go about your daily WorkLife.
The Moral of this Story
Sharpening and fine-tuning your Power of Observation will enable breakthroughs in your WorkLife learning, development and growth. Recognise the greatness in everyday life. Inspiration can come from the strangest and unlikeliest of places. You suddenly stumble on something that is exactly what you’re looking for, when you did not know you were looking for it. Being present in the moment is a simple yet powerful technique to keep your WorkLife real. Being observant of best practices within different industries, the world around you and the world at large will allow you to know what’s possible.
Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback
Continuing to journal is an effective way to keep in contact with your own thoughts, not only for self-expression and self-knowledge, but for observation of the world around you. Taking down your thoughts before they escape you is a good way to sharpen your observational skills.
Develop a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning
To tighten your self-feedback loop ask yourself the following questions:
Where am I now?
Where have I come from?
Words of Wisdom
Implement ideas in real life, develop a practice of doing, stay observant, stay curious.
In the last three chapters we have touched on three more superpowers: Learning, Knowledge and Experience. You will explore these further in chapter 11.
© Carmel O’ Reilly 2019 First published 2019 by WorkLife Incorporated
Feel free to publish an excerpt from this chapter, wherever you like. Your blog, your book, your newsletter. It’s all good.