Late last year I attended a breakfast in Sydney, where the guest speaker was discussing ways that you could grow your career. One of the concepts that has stuck in my mind is that of the “oh shit” moment. A moment each day where you look at what you’re doing and think “Oh shit, what have I gotten myself into.” The presenter argued the case that if you don’t have an oh shit moment from time to time – preferably daily – you weren’t pushing yourself enough and were simply coasting through life.
I’ve been wracking my brain while I’ve been on annual leave, trying to come up with the last time I had an oh shit moment. I can’t find one. Over the past few years I’ve been very careful to avoid them. Partly it’s because it’s easier to do what you know you do well. Partly, I think, because I’ve not really pushed myself in the slightest for several years. I’ve been too busy trying to “good” at what I do, rather than risk being wrong, or God forbid, great.
It’s a daunting realisation to understand that life is lived by those who take on a gamble. Part of the programming I’ve been developing in the past year examines the role of Women in Leadership. It’s a topic that attracts a large ballroom full of people, four times a year. 80 to 90 per cent of the audience is made up of women who are already sold to the cause. They eat their lunch, drink the wine and listen to female leaders talk about why it is important to balance the power in the upper echelons of the business world, then go back to their offices and continue on with their careers and journey’s.
I found myself at one of my final events – not a women in leadership event – of 2014 sitting at a table with several women. Talk soon turned to the event we’d held previously where we had members of the Male Champions of Change on a panel discussion. An interesting discussion at our table over chicken and couscous flared up with 3 of the guests at the table. All three had been at the event with Male Champions of Change.
The discussion revolved around a particular member of the Male Champions of Change and how he was ensuring Women had an equal voice at the decision table. One of the ladies at my table said “it was a wake up call. We attend these events all the time, and yet we go back to the office and change nothing at all. If the decision makers at the company are not in the room, the discussion is a moot point. Nothing changes unless somehow we can make it that those in the room have the power to do it.”
We got talking about how to increase the level of decision makers. What was it they wanted to hear?
Given the state of the economy in Australia at the moment and the decrease in both consumer and business confidence, how do you engage top level decision makers in equality when they’re more concerned about bottom line profits, falling sales and overseas tax haven?
That lunch that was being discussed was an “oh shit” moment for the three ladies at my table. They realised that by sitting back and waiting for others to change, nothing ultimately would change at all. One of them said to me “I’ve taken a good hard look at my own team and the decisions I make regarding staffing and development goals. It’s not about stocking my team with other women, it’s about empowering all my staff, male or female, to be the best they can be and to be best leader I can be for all of them.”
It was a breakthrough moment that garnered a lot of further discussion at the table. Not just among those who had attended the Women in Leadership event in question, but also the other people at the table who were also in positions of leadership.
In my commercial career, I’ve been everything from general shit kicker to leader and back again. One of the decisions I made early on in my senior management career was to instil an “Oh Shit” moment in my producers lives. I don’t believe that being a leader and being a manager are the same thing. Yes, there are cross overs, but to lead is to show the way for others, to manage is to get bogged down in the day-to-day grind. I always tried to be a leader to my staff, not a manager.
There were times when I had no choice but to manage. To issue orders and expected deliverables. To follow up and make sure the job was being done. But mostly, when a job came up I would involve my team in the discussions. I’d see who floated to the top so to speak. Who put their hand up, who made suggestions, got involved. Who in the team was bored, or ready to take on extra responsibility.
I found by engaging the team in the discussions and decisions I was able to pinpoint who was ready, and who needed to be pushed. I must have done something right. Most of my team were fresh out of University. Most of them are now in senior management roles across various companies in the commercial conferencing world.
I tried to teach them to rely on themselves. To trust their gut and follow their vibes. I gave parameters, but tried to leave the “day to day” to them. I rarely if ever had to step in. It’s about trusting your staff. You hired them for a reason, let them explore themselves. Understanding when to step in, to prevent the “oh shit” moment becoming the “I quit” moment was a lesson I learned fairly fast.
I’ve spent the year working with and listening to some of Sydney’s best business people. And the one thing all of them have in common is they’ve embraced the “oh shit” moment. Not out of fear but out of the knowledge that sitting on your bum will get you nowhere other than where you already are.
In searching for my own “Ohh Shittt” moment lately I’ve found it in the words and adventures of my characters. A fading High Priestess, a petulant princess, a slave girl with power unmatched in the world, a frustrated and fearful prince, a warrior queen with a salty wit and a preference for trousers. I’ve found it in letting go of my carefully plotted and planned story and learning to ride the waves of wherever my muse decides to take it.
Late last week, writing while tired, I managed to blow up a ship on which one of my main characters was hiding. I’d forgotten I’d put her there. For a while I groaned under the need to rewrite not just the chapter but all the points that put her on the ship in the first place. It would have been an annoyance at least.
So I shut the manuscript and went off in search of wine and laughter. A couple of hours later a friend made a comment on Facebook and half way through writing my response it dawned on me. Just how to fix it, without the need to rewrite it.
It was the perfect opportunity to unlock something that had been locked away in the first place. The flames lapped at my mind, the burning deck, the timber and I saw a chance to unlock a power, not in my pesky princess but in another. And in doing so, managed to find a key element of my future storyline I had no idea how to find.
It was my “Oh Shit” moment. If you want one of those, might I suggest you take up writing fantasy fiction. The Muses in charge of that particular genre love throwing you a curveball and seeing how you’ll cope. Normally for me it’s with wine, but with this novel it’s been more about moving away and complaining my through it.
Whether you’re a writer or a corporate guinea pig – I play both roles in my life – look for the “Oh Shit” moment and if I may be blunt, if you can’t find one, find a new job or a new novel where you can. Life is too short to play it safe all the time.
Find your Oh Shit moment. If you fail and fall, so be it. Just get up, dust yourself off and go find another one. There are plenty out there.