With 2017 just around the corner, it's time to pause and wonder if this year will be the one where we finally make the break -- pursuing positive changes that will fulfil our potential.
In the first of a two-part series, I meet Harsha Perera, founder of Executive Coaching London. Having formerly spent a decade in the financial sector, Harsha now coaches people across the careers spectrum, from C-suite professionals to teachers and writers.
Harsha takes a holistic approach and combines learnings from across different areas, including a career in investment and creative endeavours as a part-time musician.
As he explains, 'success' shouldn't merely be defined by a bigger wage or promotion, though many operate from this limited perspective. He defines it as 'conveyor belt living' and believes it is contributing to the UK's rising mental health problems.
His insights chime with a newly-published study on happiness by the London School of Economics. Report co-author Professor Richard Layard has called on the government to play a new role in fostering greater public happiness by focusing on "wellbeing creation" rather than "wealth creation".
Below, I share my conversation with Harsha
Can you explain your philosophy on 'conveyor belt' living?
I am referring to the human tendency to follow a somewhat pre-ordained path in life, similar to being on a conveyor belt. The path will inevitably be shaped by our educational and socioeconomic backgrounds. The danger here is not being on the conveyor belt per se, but rather being on it without having wholeheartedly willed it.
Social conditioning has a lot to do with this. For example, much of traditional education is still stuck in ideas from the industrial revolution and more interested in preparing a work force, rather than in unleashing human potential. Many in the world live under the constant threat of physical danger and in extreme poverty. For those of us privileged enough to be free from such harm, we owe it to ourselves to take a step back and ask ourselves why we do what we do.
What are the most common themes that you encounter with clients?
What I see time and time again, particularly with 'high achievers', is the pressure they put on themselves to 'succeed' and achieve. And, despite their achievements, many express feeling dissatisfied with life. Often, they then seek to cure this dissatisfaction by striving for even more achievement, which in many cases ends with burnout.
What tends to underlie this behaviour is a more fundamental feeling about 'not being good enough' -- a fear of 'failure'. This is because we are caught-up in a dangerous and far reaching cultural web of conditioning that promotes status, money and power as the defining features of success.
We're living in a fast-moving, fast-food culture; are you finding that this is creating pressure?
Undoubtedly. We are constantly bombarded with carefully crafted advertising and propaganda that seek to influence us through multiple media platforms now. Psychological research tells us about the dangers of being constantly exposed to manipulative messages. Over time, we begin to accept them as truths because the mind is incapable of accounting for information that it does not have. The Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman very aptly calls this cognitive bias "What you see is all there is." Psychology also tells us that once opinions and beliefs are formed, they can be very difficult to dislodge.
Who would benefit from your coaching?
I offer coaching to those who want to be somewhere different to where they currently are, either in their career or in life. So, the coaching I offer is fundamentally about change. It is very common for my clients to have a 'stuckness' that they are trying to breakthrough.
What I offer requires a willingness to ask of one's self the difficult questions -- to dare to look beneath the surface. I use creative approaches and seek to move beyond just sitting and talking during sessions. Whether the context is organisational, to do with resolving conflict in a team for example, or personal, and about achieving life goals; I combine insights from my business background with those from being a part-time musician and a martial arts practitioner, to support my clients get unstuck.
What single piece of advice would you give to someone seeking to make a positive life change in 2017?
I would say "find your calling in life". Finding our calling can have a profound impact on our wellbeing. It allows us to unleash our inherent creativity. It allows us respite from the stresses of everyday life. It allows us to turn the concept of work on its head - work is then no longer 'work', but rather something deeply enjoyable. Finally, finding our calling allows us to live more joyful lives.
To kick start your new year, contact Harsha Perera via his website executivecoachinglondon.com
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