Our instinct is to try to ignore what’s going wrong so it doesn’t bring us down all the time. But really, the key to improving what we don’t like in our lives is to pay attention to it. By paying attention we can’t help but make it better.
For the past several months, I've been avoiding mirrors. I noticed my clothes getting tighter, but I didnt' really want to see this, so I pretended that wasn't happening. If I didn't give my rising weight attention, then maybe it would go away. This weekend, though, I was forced to pay attention because I needed some new clothes for a big training I'm doing this week. And let me tell you, the image is burned into my brain. Now when I think about dessert, it's been replaced by the picture of me in that mirror.
Why am I talking about the fact that I need to lose weight and what does this have to do with careers?
It clicked for me when I read Penelope Trunk's post this morning on paying attention to problems. This is something we do in our careers all the time--pretend that things aren't as bad as they really are. We avoid looking at what is really going on, both the results and all the behaviors and choices that have brought us here. Just like I've been avoiding paying attention to my creeping weight gain, we avoid paying attention to our creeping career unhappiness. Until that day when we're forced to confront reality. Usually it isn't pretty.
Our days are made up of a million small choices. When we go on auto-pilot (as I've been doing with food, mindlessly eating when I'm not really hungry), we stop paying attention to what's really going on. That's when things get away from us.
Change starts with paying attention.