Centered Experiences

Shaken, Not Stirred

Given the natural ebb and flow we experience as members of families, social groups, and society as a whole, it comes as no surprise to find that similar ups and downs exist in our professional lives.

Although a freelancer or contractor is accustomed to organic relationships with clients and flexible work schedules, an unexpected change in circumstance can sweep the rug from beneath our feet. Though sudden changes prompt feelings of disappointment, frustration, and at times worry, it is important to keep calm and remain centered.

Having the ability to view a situation as a whole and in an objective manner allows us the opportunity to consider the various needs involved and make sense of a situation. Finding stillness amidst the change encourages us to acknowledge we have been shaken, but keeps us from feeling stirred and out of balance.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve acquired from yoga is the importance of awareness and objectivity. Having the ability to apply both of these concepts into any area of my life helps me “zoom out” of a situation, and see it from various perspectives rather than become upset and feel cheated, disrespected or disregarded. Instead of feeling attacked, I try to see myself as part of a whole and learn to coexist with the good and the bad. I am a contractor with abilities and ambitions, working with businesses who are attempting to grow and prosper, and we are all part of a pool of services that are required to compete, strive, and offer efficient solutions to a situation. If my goals are my only focus, I’d fail to see how others have similar needs as my own, and I will also fail to recognize that those very needs of others are what fuel my profession and demand in the first place.

Implementing objectivity however does not completely remove the initial feelings of disappointment and fear. That is why allowing ourselves to be shaken by a scenario requires internal awareness first and foremost in order for us to understand our thoughts and analyze why the ground is shaking beneath us. But the minor tremor we experience is no comparison to the potential whirlpool of negativity we may otherwise find ourselves caught in if we did not apply objectivity into the equation. By creating a still and strong center within, we may sway when the wind blows, but never break a single branch.

Sense of Place

As freelancers and contract workers, we never really have an office to call “office”. No hub, no headquarters. We exist hopping between projects and appearing in and out of meetings, study labs, and client presentations. Mobile and nomadic, we reach out and collaborate with many, yet rarely get to truly connect with one.

So when the time comes to jump on a full-time opportunity, we weigh the value of shared spaces and familiar faces with the freedom and flexibility of contract jobs. Collaborative places become attractive for various reasons. Group settings allow for idea exchanges and inspiration. They also help foster a sense of community with the individuals we interact with daily. We learn and grow from everyone around us while grounding ourselves in what we specialize in. Freelancing also offers quite a number of opportunities. We learn a great amount by fending for ourselves. Working independently establishes a sense of complete responsibility over the success of a project and requires natural project management skills. These are very valuable contractor abilities for both employers and clients alike.

Having to choose between full-time work and contracting reminds me of dealing with the two opposites that are my home and studio yoga practice. I’m at times torn between heading to a community yoga class rather than practicing in my own living room. Independent study has grown into a reflection exercise for me, as leading myself allows me to experience my ability as a teacher. I’m much more aware of the flow and the muscles that should be engaged so that I may guide others correctly. This awareness keeps me thinking steps ahead though, rather than freely following a sequence. The sequences offered at studio classes though are just as challenging and require a different type of mindfulness. We are completely immersed in the flow and are able to dive deeper into our poses while benefiting from the energy of the class itself. Hearing a neighbor breathe reminds me to do the same and participating in a task along others motivates one’s practice. Both independent and community practice allows us to explore ourselves in different realms, absorb the lessons that accompany that form of practice, and build upwards from there.

The opposite benefits of freelance versus full-time work should be seen in a similar light. It’s useful to experience both sides, and understand there are unique lessons to learn as well as specific needs to fulfill. Finding this sense of place in ourselves allow us to adjust to the changes that come with various work situations and practice flexibility in any role we play.

Reset and Restore

Effectively managing client relationships and expectations is a fundamental component for the success of a project. Establishing collaborative harmony in a team ensures that every stakeholders’ needs are met, all questions are addressed, and any concerns are pacified. While many client teams contribute a healthy and balanced communication style when engaging with vendors and contractors, some may be reluctant to do so, and it is important to be receptive to the many valid reasons for their potential reservations. Concerns regarding a contractors role, expertise, and objective in internal projects may naturally arise on the clients side, especially when the stakeholders are new to external collaborative work. After all, the contractor is indeed an “outsider” and it may not be easy for a team to immediately consider the contractor an integral part of  the group. But while a contractors job is essentially to carry out a specific activity, a better contractor is one who is tuned in to his or her clients’ sensitivities, and strives to establish rapport and trust to ease their client’s mind. In cases when clients seem overly cautious and somewhat reclusive, it is necessary for project managers and contractors alike to tap in to the “energy” of the group and open the communication channels in a safe and comfortable way. Having the opportunity to clarify any concerns and misunderstandings, no matter how small they may seem, allows for potential issues to be resolved before they grow into issues that affect the members of the collaborative team and ultimately the project as a whole.

During yoga practice, we are instructed to listen to our breathing and pay close attention to the way our muscles are responding to certain moves and positions. When our breathing is heavy or we’re failing to breathe at all, we recognize this as the queue to take a moment and restore the ease of flow and serenity in our mind and body. Being aware of our physical and mental state by the sound and frequency of our inhalations and exhalations gives us the opportunity to reset our practice and emerge on the next pose feeling relaxed and renergized.

The same “restoration” concept applies to the relationships we have with clients, coworkers, friends, and family. If we continue to move through a project or relationship holding back or powering through a process carrying feelings of discomfort or mistrust, it is difficult to build a solid relationship. Failing to recognize and address these issues will ultimately end up severing relationships between individuals or teams, and we may even end up hurting ourselves in the long run. By resetting and restoring our emotions and allowing ourselves and others the space to cleanse the air within the group, we prevent potential communication issues and foster positive interactions with those we engage with. Positive interactions only lead to positive experiences, and that is what each one of us should be striving for daily, not only for our peers, but also for ourselves.

Inspiration All Around

The gift of collaborating with others in various situations and work environments is priceless for me. Beyond the gratification I feel to work with creative and intelligent individuals, the real reward lies in everything I learn and the many ways I am inspired by those that surround me. Be it by mirroring considerate and humble acts from others or learning how to view myself by observing others, the end result is always a win, and it promotes inspiration in so many ways.

Tiny business lessons include something as simple as noticing how one person’s email will always ask how the recipient is doing before work details are addressed. As insignificant as this may seem, the detail changes the entire dynamic between the people involved in the exchange. Another subtlety with meaningful impact is the practice of humility. Thanking clients for the opportunity to serve them before taking pride in the work that was delivered shows incredible selflessness and true modesty. Seeing these examples practiced by people that surround me in my day-to-day job is so valuable. It reminds me that staying grounded and building rapport rather than trying to build an empire will take us all further, and will make doing business with others a pleasant and human experience.

Learning how to view ourselves by observing others could be another motivator. It may not be easy to accept criticism, despite how constructive it may be. However, when we are invited to provide these suggestions to others, we in turn become more accepting and receptive to the same. I’ve been fortunate to have such examples in my work environment, and seeing it in practice really inspired me to open myself to similar feedback. Putting our ego aside and promoting self advancement allows us to become examples for others while we grow in that direction. Seeing this noble characteristic in those who encircle us should encourage us to reflect similar traits. The inspiration we gain from these interactions keep us centered and aware of ourselves and how we make others feel. When we practice consideration and aim to foster better relationships with ourselves and others, we all benefit from the interaction.

A New Opportunity

I can’t be more thankful for new clients and new job opportunities. These are the core of my business and the reason why I’m able to practice what I love to do. However, with new opportunities come additional responsibilities, especially when new jobs coincide with existing projects. I know myself and my abilities well enough to know when the juggling act is possible or not. Regardless of this knowledge, my mind’s instinct is to go into panic mode. Can I satisfy all my clients equally? Will I be cutting into my home life and yoga practice by adding more to my plate? Am I welcoming stress from a busy work schedule into my life? The simple thought of these potential issues make my shoulders tense up and my belly tight. Anxiety wants to set in, even before the juggling act begins!

I realized today that the state of mind I find myself in is what makes or breaks me in these situations, and it’s up to me to keep that under control. How? By keeping still and reminding myself to breathe. My body tightens as if I was expecting a blow to the stomach. This in turn causes faster and more shallow breathing, which therefore initiates feelings of anxiety. After a few moments of intentional deep breaths I brought myself back to reality, and the reality was that I had been presented with more than one new opportunity. The opportunity to grow as a professional, grow my business, and outgrow my fears of  disappointing others, experiencing stress and stealing from other areas of my life that complete me as a person.

Having the awareness to identify what was truly causing the discomfort was a bit of a break through for me. It’s difficult to step back and away from yourself when the feelings of angst are within you. It seems counterintuitive to pull yourself away from something you put yourself in, but it’s possible. Yoga teaches us to listen to our bodies, respect our limitations, and use our breath to get through discomfort. When we begin to use our breath as a guide, we learn that the discomfort we feel is not so much a part of our physical limitations, but the mental limitations we place on ourselves. So before you panic about potential issues you may or may not experience, take an opportunity to breathe and search deep. Taking a chance on one opportunity may open doors to many others.

Balance

As an independent consultant, I am grateful for the ability to set my own schedule, collaborate with preferred clients, and work on exciting new projects.  Despite my corporate freedom, finding work/life balance amidst multiple project timelines, budgets, and tasks could be challenging at times. My business philosophy is to treat every one of my clients’ projects as my own. I strive to provide positive experiences for everyone I directly or indirectly come in contact with, be it my client, their client, and ultimately the users of the products we work on. It’s easy to lose myself in this mission – I’m passionate about my profession! But I recognize the importance of life outside of work, and must constantly remind myself to gradually fuel this passion rather than burn myself out. For this and many other reasons is why I strongly link the wealth of knowledge that my yoga practice had rewarded me with to my work life, and why the act of being centered is key for my business.