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I yam what I yam - Why we need to be less Popeye and more purposeful

September 21, 2021

How many of you changed careers in the last 18 months, or dropped habits and picked up new ones? How many of you decided that you truly loved what you do, or realised that you needed something more. How many new friendships were forged, and others left behind? When you strip away the familiar, and all of the routines that we thought made up our lives, what actually lies behind it?

It is a good time to talk about this. We are still emerging from a period in which so much has changed. The way we travel, work, teach, learn, communicate and interact has been radically upended over just 18 months. Or better expressed, the change happened literally overnight, and we have spent 18 months adapting to it. And this is the point. Think about all the things we, as adults, tell ourselves about our ability to change and adapt.

"You can't teach an old dog new tricks"

"I'm too old to change careers"

"Technology is only for the new generations"

"It's harder to learn when you are getting older. "

The last one is pretty much accurate, according to the most recent body of research, but the rest really just does not stand up to scrutiny. So much focus is (rightly) given to talking about a growth mindset in our young learners and budding entrepreneurs and creatives. But what about those of us further on in careers? The campus administrator, the university teacher, the researcher, the recruiter for international schools, or the seasoned agent for language schools? What happens when change knocks at our doors?

Purpose is everything

As you move forward from this time of great upheaval, purpose will be your anchor. If we are to truly embrace that change is the only constant in life, we need to know what the thread is, which connects past, present, and our authentic selves. That thread is our purpose; the inner sense that tells you to surround yourself with the things and people who act as wellsprings and fountains of energy in your life, and leave aside those that drain and sap you. Purpose is aligning with what you just know to be right for you. When you are in that space, the world can throw what it will at you, and you always have solid ground underfoot.

We can always change

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to create new patterns, and wire in new habits, beliefs, knowledge and all the rest. There was a perception for many years that change was for the young, and though it is true that neuroplasticity gets a bit more challenging as we advance in years, the evidence is now clear that our brains are malleable throughout our whole lives.

This is incredibly empowering. Watching your job in student recruitment get slowly edged out by AI? You can upskill at any age. Bamboozled by the new directive to market your institution via TikTok? Embrace being a learner again, and being out of your comfort zone. That all sounds like a load of hollow advice until you realise that your brain is really ready to support you.

Until you realise that when things got tough in 2020, you figured it out, and you can do it again without waiting for an external event to force that change. Being out of your comfort zone will produce fear in the primitive part of your brain, because that's its job. But there is another part of you that knows that this is where the growth actually happens.

Making change last

The challenging part of change is not only embracing it, but sustaining it. The recruitment agent who suddenly had to adapt to a world without fairs and events, and even suddenly had to recruit students for wholly digital institutions, which were ready to thrive in this turn of events, or the teacher who was pushed into a whole new realm of EdTech and digital literacy just to reach the learners.

These were both opportunities to learn and grow, but the enduring change depends on whether we perceive this change as purely reactive. In other words, were we just doing what had to be done, and waiting to get back to familiar territory as soon as possible, or are we ready to keep growing, learning and adapting?

Habits and beliefs take time to change and rewire. You've already learned how to support learners using a range of digital tools, so what else might be out there? Even as they return to your classroom or lecture hall, what new practices could you roll into the traditional environment to enrich it and keep moving forward? You learned how to adapt to a desk-based remote working environment and perhaps even partner with education portals or other recruitment gateways. Could you consolidate this and reorient your business? Is the "old" way really future-proof if this happens again? Or should we say....when this happens again.

VUCA is not just a buzzword for education

Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous. This is the world as it really is. The planet is heating up, traditional socio-political systems are shifting, people have access to a wealth of information but often lack the tools to disseminate and filter it critically. The big players in education marketing and recruitment, teaching and learning, are all forging new alliances and new business models. The jobs we are preparing learners for may not even exist yet, and AI is slowly taking over so many of the functions that humans used to perform.

Challenging? Yes. But sometimes, we have to look back before we look forward. Take a moment to think about what 2020 brought you in terms of growth and awareness, and what you might take forward. You really can forge something new out of this, and your brain won't let you down.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” —Lao Tzu

Cast your mind back to March 2020. Dark times for so many of us. For those at the front of the roller coaster, in China and Italy, there wasn't much security in being able to observe what was happening in other places, because it was unfolding here first. Those of us in the UK, or the USA watched as it happened to others, with a growing but grudging awareness that it could happen to us too.

You see, we don't like change much, as human beings. There is security in the predictable, and the bit of our brain that keeps us alive and helps us respond to threats just loves to know what is around the next corner. The problem is, that this is just not the way life is. We want to keep ourselves safe and surround ourselves (and our children) with routines, familiarity and a linear sense of how life might unfold. Life, however, has other plans.

Embracing change as adults

Suddenly, students could not travel. They could not even come to class. K-12 schools scrambled into action, because there was no other choice. The learning and the support had to continue. Some teachers learned how to use Zoom or Google Classroom for this first time, and there was a sense of just having to adapt. We learned that we could do it. Those of us behind the scenes in marketing, recruitment and administration had to step back and watch events unfold as we tried to make sense of what that might mean for our world.

Within all of this, so many of us learned important lessons. The challenge, however, will be in taking those lessons forward with us. As travel opens up, and the world lurches slowly back into motion, the seduction of the familiar will pull us back into the patterns of security and predictability. But were we to allow ourselves to be changed by the experience, what might we find? What did we actually learn from all of this? How do we embrace change, and flourish in that practice, rather than freezing and fearing?

At NEO Academy we stay small and flexible, adaptable and open to change, and we are ready to support you in growing your agency, institution or yourself. Embracing change is much easier together.

"I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam" said Popeye, but he also lived entirely on tobacco and spinach, so let's look to someone else for life advice.

“Step out of your comfort zone. Comfort zones, where your unrealized dreams are buried, are the enemies of achievement."— Roy. T. Bennet

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