The experiences that we face in our lives play a role in shaping the mind-set and character that we display when it comes to facing future challenges. Another supporting quote from Terry Pratchett of
If you don’t know where you come from, then you do not know where you are, and if you do not know where you are then you don’t know where you’re going.
The introduction of using MRI scanning to improve our understanding of neuroscience and human behaviour has shown us that our behaviours are part genetic however also shaped by the environment that we find ourselves within. In fact, our ability to adapt our behaviour as a result of our experiences and environment are one of the evolutionary traits that enables the human species to thrive rather than just survive.
Personally, this is a real area of interest to me as I have seen first-hand in my own evolution how are life experiences can shape a mind-set and therefore behaviour. As a kid, I fell in to the category of ‘a coaster’, I was pretty bright and played multiple sports to quite a good standard. The issue with this is that as a child or young adult if you are told that you are good at something or clever, without really trying, it means that you can become complacent and just think that eventually things will work out for you without really having to try. However, unfortunately at a young age I faced my first adversity when I was diagnosed with a chronic illness at the age of 15. This held back my growth and physical development for a while before being treated properly. This meant that by the time I came back to school after that summer of recovery, I turned up with a chip on my shoulder, a ‘why me’ mentality which instead of making me feel sorry for myself, instead meant that I was there to prove to myself and others that I wouldn’t let things stand in my way. A few years later whilst at university this same illness came back and lead to 2 major surgeries and a number of months in hospital and at home recovering. Meaning I missed plenty of coursework and exams which had an impact in my overall grade on graduation. The chip on my shoulder was growing and getting even heavier! These operations also meant that I had to give up on one of my major passions in life, playing rugby. Now to many 21 year olds the goals and motivators that drive them are focused around being able to save enough to move out, pay for holidays or nights out. For me I had a new-found zest for life and an appreciation that we only get one go at it. So why let things that can be seen as challenges or obstacles stand in your way.
It is incredibly easy to lose perspective on life when you are in the various bubbles you find yourself in, either at uni, or work or whatever else you spend your time doing. However, when your quality of life comes in to question, all of a sudden you get a proper perspective on what is important, what is a challenge and what is just a minor bump that if approached in the right way can be easily rectified.
As leaders, we live in a pressurised environment, where we are responsible for the performance of others who have their own motives and whose success is directly correlated to the rewards we receive for this additional pressure. Therefore, it is easy to lose perspective when things do not go to plan. An expected top biller has a doughnut quarter, a commercial decision to target a new market back fires or an inability to hire the right talent to grow the team are all potential experiences that would be enough to cause the blood pressure of many leaders to increase. However, none of these events are going to mean the end of a team, or in reality the end of your leadership tenure. Instead these can be launch pads for the further progression of your team or business. Struggling to hire the right people? Rather than panicking why not invest time with your internal TA or recruitment partners to find a blueprint to what has been successful in the past in terms of characters and behaviours. Maybe the problem is your exclusion criteria and you are looking for reasons to say no to people rather than seeing the bigger picture than just the need to hire graduates. Your top biller has a doughnut quarter? Understand the person you’re dealing with, what is the cause of the dip? Has their focus dropped or was it market changes that they weren’t prepared for? Either way once discovered, you can work with them to prevent this from happening again and actually provide a real upturn in performance that balances a poor quarter. Picked a new market to penetrate that didn’t prove profitable? What due diligence did you do on the market? Did you deep dive too soon before having a robust candidate network to deliver on client needs? How much market research did you do from competitor agencies in terms of their investment in resources in to the same market?
All of these events are actually amazing learning opportunities for both your own and your team’s development if you maintain an element of perspective and your mind-set reflects your desire to never be beaten.
Sometimes as well as learning opportunities, these negative experiences in our lives can also provide us with our purpose in life. Our winning mind-set that we talk about doesn’t always have to come from winning, it can be derived from losses. “That feeling I experienced after that event, I never want to experience that again and I will do everything I can to make sure that I don’t”. This forms the basis of the ‘heroes journey’ which is the structure of many stories. Where the hero of the story embarks on an adventure, gains new skills, meets new people and then unexpectedly faces a form of tragedy which they eventually overcome and go through an experience of ‘rebirth’ where they come back with renewed purpose and vigour and a unbreakable desire to succeed and make a difference.
This is the exact position I find myself in now. 10 years after my last set of surgeries, I was 18 months in to setting up my own business which was going incredibly well, 9 months away from getting married and looking forward to the next chapter in my life. However, as with all best hero journeys, my own ‘tragedy’ struck as my illness came back with a vengeance which meant I ended up having 13 hours’ worth of surgery that basically was a necessity to keep me alive. This was followed by a further 4 months of recovery and all of a sudden, my dream life was a mere mirage in the distance.
It is safe to say that when you worry whether tomorrow will arrive, your perspective on life and the challenges that you face become somewhat altered. For me this experience has given me a mentality and behaviours that means I now treasure every day and look to make the most of every opportunity I get. A true leader is measured by the legacy they leave behind, people still talk about Sir Alex Ferguson, Steve Jobs and others long after they stopped being a leader. This experience I faced has sharpened my purpose to be about leaving a legacy behind by the impact that our business has on leaders within the recruitment sector. This is what drives me and my behaviour, the desire to emulate the true enigma that is Dwayne ’The Rock’ Johnson and be the hardest worker in the room.
So what doesn’t kill you certainly can make you stronger, as long as you cultivate the learnings and focus from the experiences and use them to create the best version of you.
What experience have you ever had that has shaped the person you are today?