In the past year, I've noticed that I have either finished or made substantial progress on many endeavors. These activities include playing successful shows with my band, learning new ideas and turning the ideas into action, making and nurturing new connections, becoming an enthusiastic follower for others' big projects, curating collaborative projects, making regular writing a sustaining habit, and aligning more of my daily activities with meaningful goals.
I have put these activities in motion after being inspired by ideas that I gleaned at conferences, inspirations from thought and action leaders at World Domination Summit, connecting with like-minded action heroes, adopting ideas from friends from my professional organizations and networks, and bouncing ideas off other creative types. Cultivating a lifestyle where I am constantly learning, synthesizing, applying, sharing, and spreading creative ideas and output is an exhilarating way to spend my waking hours. But one of the biggest changes that I adopted over the past year involves what I no longer do.
I have stopped asking for permissions.
The old way of getting things done and learning is through allowing others to control your learning, personal and professional growth, and creative opportunities. Do you have ideas for streamlining processes in the workplace? Run it up the flagpole. Do you want to play a new musical instrument? Too bad--we already have enough flutists! Do you want to learn how to paint? Your brother is already the artist in the family! Do you want to learn new skills that would benefit both your employer and your own growth? No, your superiors should dictate what you should be learning and spending your time on. Do you want to spend preparation time outside work hours so you will be prepared next morning? No, work rules prohibit you from doing anything work-related when you're off the clock!
And Gartner and other research firms wonder why over 70 percent of American workers are fully disengaged from their work. Some studies even show the level of disengagement as high as 85 percent.
Since adopting the attitude that the only person who is going to advocate for my learning, growth, and creative opportunities is myself alone, I have become more focused and engaged. I know how I can optimize my daily activities for getting quality work done. If I want to ensure that like-minded colleagues execute their projects successfully, I don't think twice about spending my non-work hours immersed in activities which would help them succeed. The notion of a "work-life balance" is a useless concept for me as I'm always learning, growing, sharing, and doing regardless of time or day. Both my work and non-work endeavors have benefitted after I stopped segmenting my time into "work" and "non-work" activities.
Contrary to the old way of conducting business, I'm not a factory worker who is making widgets for a steady paycheck; I am a knowledge worker whose career capital includes learning while "on the clock" and gaining inspiration outside work hours. Furthermore, I learn things at work that I can apply to my off-the-clock endeavors, such as applying best project management and creative practices at band rehearsals. That is how I became valuable both at work and elsewhere.
Many of my inspirational and motivational sources never asked for permissions before daring greatly and making things happen. Gretchen Rubin started a happiness movement after pondering about the subject while riding a crosstown bus in Manhattan; she didn't need multiple advanced degrees or permission before starting out. Nancy Duarte was told in school that her communications and presentation skills were deficient; now she and her company create compelling presentations for many of the successful Fortune 500 companies. Jay-Z didn't let rejections by major record labels from launching his entertainment career; he started his own label. Probably 99 percent of songs on my iTunes music library were composed and performed by people who didn't bother asking others for permissions to record songs.
Believing the permission-first mindset for many decades has led me to miss out on creative and collaborative opportunities, allowed others to advocate (or fail to advocate) for my career development, and led me down many wrong paths for growth. Allowing others to instill the "you need to seek permissions and approvals from the higher-ups" led to many deleterious effects throughout the years. The overemphasis on grade point averages steered me away from challenging courses in school, the grading system on corporate annual performance evaluations led to playing the politics and dog-eat-dog games in the workplace, and the promotion of top-down hierarchies stopped me from trying new things that would have propelled my development. Even Forbes, a traditional and conservative money magazine, recently published a blog post ("The Evolution of Work") where establishing a flattened corporate structure and a trend of workers creating their own career ladders are emphasized as the new normal.
I don't need permission to start something or to start collaborating. I am passionately embracing the "What can I learn from this opportunity?" mindset instead of the archaic and dangerous "Will this gain approval from my superiors?" one. Things got so much better after I threw off my mental chains.