When I was growing up in Arizona, we had a swimming pool in our back garden (our “backyard”, to use the American term). I remember well the day we moved into that particular house – we’d just moved from California, and it was the height of summer in Arizona – July or August. Even hotter than we were used to, and just because it was “a dry heat” (it is) didn’t make it less exhausting. The heat just sort of drains any energy right out of you.
But we got to the new house and there was our shiny blue swimming pool, in all its glory. We found the swimming costumes and were splashing about to our heart’s content while the movers hauled boxes back and forth, back and forth.
I swam a lot in that pool growing up. As I got older, I’d go out and swim laps in the morning, or in the evening when i got home from school or work. And if I wasn’t wearing swim goggles, I didn’t exactly swim a straight line.
I’d start out in the shallow end, centred from either side. Pool steps were to the right of me, the far corner to the left. I’d strike out straight, directly for the other end of the pool, the deep end. Stroke, lift, breathe. Stroke, lift, breathe.
At around the halfway point I’d open my eyes to make sure I was staying on track and discover I’d drifted – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. There was a little embedded tile seat about halfway along the pool, on the left side, and if I was really drifting I’d end up bumping up against the side of the pool and discover to my surprise not only had i not made a full length, I’d not stayed straight and had to correct my path.
I wear glasses (or contacts), so opening my eyes underwater was sort of useless. If I wasn’t wearing contacts, I couldn’t see anyway; and if i was, I ran the risk of the contacts floating out into the water and not being able to see, again.
So we got me a pair of Speedo goggles, and it solved all the problems. I could open my eyes anytime, and when I was drifting even the tiniest bit, I could see it straight away and correct quickly – meaning no more opening my eyes to discover I was practically sitting on the underwater tile seat, instead of arriving at the deep end of the pool.
Staying in your lane is hard when you are struggling to see, or when you’re looking at something else.
I’ve been thinking a lot about “staying in my own lane”. It’s a phrase we’re familiar with, and as a business owner I need to repeat it to myself often. When the comparison game is strong, or imposter syndrome kicks in, or even when I’m just scrolling through LinkedIn and feeling like “everybody” is making more progress than me: that’s when I need to remind myself to stay in my own lane. To keep my eyes and my progress centred, because I know where I’m going and I’ll get there a lot faster without drifting.
Some drifting is normal. The last year of pandemic has been full of drifts. Drifting from being tired, or grieving, or processing the life and world we are now in. And yet the more I think about it, the more grateful I am that I haven’t drifted too far or too long. My “goggles” of the plan for the business and checking our progress monthly (or weekly) have kept me right.
My values goggles have kept my focus centred on what success really is: it’s not a certain monetary achievement, or a certain number of team members or clients, although we’re certainly working towards those & celebrating our progress along the way.
And one of the greatest achievements for me this year has been recognising what “my lane” is, and what it isn’t. I haven’t locked it in perfectly yet, but I do know a few things:
My lane is more about connecting with people one to one, than it is connecting in big groups.
In the early days of PF, I did a lot of speaking. Webinars, events, conferences, seminars. I was still doing loads of these when the pandemic hit. I remember a big conference being cancelled, and still going down to London to record my talk so they could share it online.
Since all the live events have been cancelled or moved in the past year, I’ve slowly moved away from that arena myself: and almost without realising it I’ve been less active in the bigger groups, and more focused on the individual people in them. Our PF community, a few others I’m in. I can do speaking and record videos and be “present” online, but ultimately I’m a “Quality Timer” and always have been. One to one calls, handwritten notes, a text to a team member or a client – these are my lane, and I’m good at them.
My lane involves personal coaching more than public speaking.
If I’m totally honest, I almost didn’t want to write that sentence. “What if someone reads it and they were thinking of asking me to be a speaker at their big event and then they decide not to?” I thought.
But the truth is, although I can and am quite happy to do public speaking at times, I’ve realised in the past year it takes an incredible toll of energy from me when it’s in person. I put a LOT into a public speaking engagement – I prepare for literally weeks, sometimes months. I think over my talk. I write it out. I practice it daily on my morning walks. I repeat it, striding back and forth on my living room floor (or wherever). By the time I’ve given the actual talk, I have presented that same talk nearly 45 times. And then there’s the travel and the actual talk itself and the follow up and the after party and the recuperation.
Having a break from that this year has reminded me that although I can speak, and it’s been good for PF that I did it, the lane I shine in is in helping one or two people in a focused way, or working with a small group of the team or our clients who we’re training and supporting in a particular marketing area. I’m discussing with the PF team how we can give them more and more opportunities to speak – at webinars, at conferences, at events, at workshops.
My lane involves quiet, and rest, in between seasons of heavy activity.
This entire year has been all of this, but experienced in a new way: the way of routine. I’ve literally never had a routine like this before. I’ve never been someone who has woken up at the same time each day, done the same exercises, taken the same walk, drank the same coffee, and started work at the same time. And yet now I’m doing literally, exactly, that.
This past week I woke up at 6 or 6.30 every morning. I did my situps and pushups (getting back to those!). I walked the same path in the woods near my house. I came back and made a black coffee from my new coffee machine. I sat quietly and read and meditated or prayed and then took another coffee upstairs and started working. I even this week worked on my book content for an hour or two every morning before I checked Slack and email. It was really lovely, and still feels really weird.
The month of March was INTENSE, for many reasons.
We had new clients and new team members and we were pushing forward our hiring process at top speeds. We’ve hired two new people who start in May, and we’re looking at 4-5 more over the rest of the year. I’m finishing the content of my book. We’re working on a web developer mentoring programme to bring along more web developers into PF.
And at the same time as all that, I was having my kitchen renovated AND saying goodbye to one of my best friends who was moving country. It was a lot. I didn’t even know how much it was until it slowed down, and I took the whole of Easter off, and suddenly looked around and looked up and took some deep breaths and realised it was time for a week or so of quiet.
So i had my week, this week. I followed my routine and did my exercises and drank my coffee and wrote my book content and met with team members and it actually felt like I had space in my head for the first time in a while.
Naturally a few times I was tempted to feel like I wasn’t doing enough, wasn’t achieving enough, things weren’t moving fast enough: but I reminded myself that this is my lane, and I’ll achieve the most for me and for PF when I stay in it.
My lane involves writing.
I was meeting with my book coach this week, and I was thinking about the meeting on my morning walk that day. I was thinking about how finishing my “book roadmap” was getting me excited about this book, this actual book, this content which will become something printed and which people can buy and read. And I was thinking about how that would make me a writer.
And then I thought about all the writing I’ve been doing for…well, all my life. Journals I’ve got in boxes under the bed from when I was 13, or even younger. Notes I’ve taken in sermons, at conferences. Blog posts I’ve written. Emails. Instagram posts. LinkedIn posts and articles. I am literally a prolific writer. If I were to stop one pathway for my writing, another one would open up (like if you stop the flow of water in one place, it won’t just stop altogether, it will simply create a new pathway and go that way).
I even had a client ask me a few years ago, “Karen, you write ALL THE TIME. How come you haven’t written a book yet?” I told him I was sure I would, and I had many books inside me, but the time hadn’t come yet. My lane was writing, but there were many, many little tributaries from that lane which my writing needed to flow into before I saw the channel which would lead to a book.
I’ve now got three other book concepts I’m talking to my book coach about – it’s like once the book channel opened up, all the water from all the other sources has diverted towards this one channel, and here we go. So it’s not that I will one day be a writer: I am one now, and my lane involves writing.
From time to time I’ll feel like I have moments of drift: but actually, looking back, I’ve stayed in my lane really well. And I’m getting to know it a lot better. It’s a good lane, and I like it.