Do what inspires you

I started working on my second book yesterday. Last week I had been thinking about what the main areas of research are for my current research project on men opting out and I realized, as I jotted down a list of bullet points, that it kind of looked like a possible table of contents.

Well I’ve been mulling this over for a few days now and yesterday morning I just felt super inspired. All of a sudden I just knew what my first sentence was going to be. I could barely wait until I got back from driving my kids to school and I needed to write it down before I forgot it. I threw my jacket on the extra chair in my office and I barely had time to sit down at my desk before I started writing.

After my first sentence I hesitated for a second. I haven’t even published my first book yet; I’m still checking the proofs before it can go to print. I’m also working on a paper and a book chapter, both of which have deadlines within the next week or so. I have other papers that need to be written once I have submitted these and I have a bunch of theses to read through and evaluate… And what do I do? I start working on the one thing that I don’t have to get done any time soon. Writing a book based on my men opting out research is in my research plan, but the project doesn’t end until 2019.

But still, this is what I started working on. Because right then, in that instant, I felt inspired and I knew exactly how I wanted to start my book. I knew what story I wanted to tell. So I sat down and produced the first two pages in about half an hour.

When I think about it, this is what I usually do. Despite looming deadlines and long to do lists, if I feel inspired to do something else work-related (especially if it involves writing, because no matter what, I always have things to write), I just put everything else on hold and do that (unless of course it’s a matter of life and death or a student graduating or something because then I will put my inspiration on hold and just get on with it). Because doing what inspires me and really having flow feels so great and gives me so much energy that the inspiration and energy I get from that spills over on to everything else I have to do.

And needless to say, yesterday was one of the most productive days I have had in a long time. I was, and continue to be, so excited about this new book that everything I did yesterday, I did with focus and drive. And it all felt more fun, more meaningful and just easier.

Note to self: when in doubt, do whatever inspires you the most.

What not to do

A few years ago, I was approached by a small company that specialized in psychological testing. They had developed a test of their own and they wanted to expand their market. So I was approached and asked if I wanted to represent them. To this end, I was invited to take their test to get a better idea of what it was they were offering, and so I did. The test basically defined you as a ‘yes-sayer’ or a ‘no-sayer’. Yes-sayers were considered progressive and open to change and new challenges, i.e. everything a company could ask for, and no-sayers were basically negative, non-team players that a company should be wary of.

By now I hope you are all raising an eyebrow and thinking, what? Did they really have that narrow an understanding of what makes a good worker? Yes, sadly this was the case. Unfortunately it continues be the case in many companies today, and although people are becoming more aware of the real strength of diversity, many companies still find a certain type of person most attractive.

Well, anyway, while I had previously in different tests been defined as positive, optimistic, curious, and open to change, in this particular test, I was defined as a no-sayer. I think the reason was that I found the questions too simplified to reflect the complexity of what it was they were testing and I was critical in my answers. So the outcome was that I was negative and needed to work on certain aspects to become a valued and attractive employee. Needless to say, I decided not to represent them, and I’m sure the feeling was mutual.

Luckily we have, despite everything, made some progress over the years. While ‘no’ used to be a bad word in the business world, that is no longer the case. I see advice all over targeted at business professionals on how to say no, and according to this advice, to be successful you should really be saying no all the time (I’ve added a couple of links below for those interested). Luckily, we now seem to understand the importance of being selective in what we do not only to succeed, but also to survive. In that light, this uncritical glorification of the yes-sayer just seems naïve.

But it reminds me of another issue that is also related to this. In management, as in many other areas like child-psychology or pedagogy, we have learned the importance and strength of positive redirection instead of always telling people what they are doing wrong. And I agree, I am a great believer of positive redirection, but at the same time, it is also important to sometimes say ‘no’ to unwanted or inappropriate behavior.

I’ve been discussing this with a friend for some time now. We often talk over lunch about the unbelievably bad management and behavior that we have witnessed both in our previous and current jobs, and half-jokingly we’ve been playing with the idea of setting up a website or Twitter account where we would share daily advice on what not to do. For example, do not break bad news to employees when you see them having lunch with friends outside of work (don’t roll your eyes, I’ve seen this happen). Because, while you think this would be common sense, apparently it’s not. So yes, positive redirection is good, but sometimes, it’s important to just say ‘stop, no, that is something you just don’t do’.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced or seen really appalling behavior in our work. If you had to give one piece of advice (or more) on what not to do, what would that be?


Links on saying no:

Why the most successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything

12 Things Successful Business Owners Say NO to

3 Times When Millennials Should Say ‘No’ At Work