You need help

Most people start their year with good intentions. But the reality is staying on track can be hard. Here’s how to get help.

The start of every year provides a somewhat arbitrary chance to create a point of inflection for ourselves. A point at which we pause and reflect on our previous year, what we did well, what we didn’t and what we could do better, then setting out do do so. There’s a plethora of posts on the internet about how you might stick to your resolutions, on goal setting, on developing good habits and so on.

Whatever you do, the best advice I have is to get help

The change we seek

At the end of every year I do a review of the year past, set out my plans for the year ahead and set myself goals. Other people come up with new year’s resolutions. Last year I wrote about an alternative, questolutions, where instead of creating resolutions you ask questions about what you’d like to achieve over the year. It’s essentially what I do in planning my year ahead.

The beauty of questions is they’re more durable than resolutions. Resolutions can fail on the first day. Questions set you up for ongoing experiments. The first attempt might fail in execution, that’s an experiment. The question might be answered by the next experiment or the one after. What else might you try to achieve the success and change you seek?

Goals can work in a similar way. There’s always more than one way of achieving a goal. Goals are aspirational, setting a direction for what you want to achieve. Once you’ve worked on them, there’s nothing wrong with reappraising goals. Setting new ones, a new direction, whilst maintaining the aspiration. Hopefully you’ve also learnt something setting you up for success for your revised goal.

What does help look like?

Help can take many forms and This is not an exhaustive list, they’re the first that came to mind.

Coaching: a coach will illuminate your blindspots, ask you the questions you need to hear, hold you to account, put up some guard rails, teach you frameworks and provide the support you might need. Coaching is the Rolls-Royce of help.

Mentoring: a mentor is useful when they’ve faced the challenges you’ve faced and can provide insights and suggestions to help you overcome those challenges. They’re good for advice around the direction you want to go and can light a path for you. It’s often worthwhile to have more than one mentor to assist with different aspects of your work. They’re also helpful for accountability.

Courses/learning: it’s worthwhile maintaining a growth mindset. Be continuously open to learning. Find the course that you need, they might be as little as an hour or as long as, well a university degree! It’s not guaranteed but once enrolled you’re accountable to learning.

Accountability partner: you can have all the knowledge in the work, but if you’ve a knowing – doing gap, ie if you don’t execute on what you know, you won’t get far. Having someone to support you and hold you to account in your wok can be invaluable. It can be as simple as texting an emoji when you’ve completed your commitment or a sit down over a drink to talk through what you did and didn’t achieve.

Consultants: frankly we often take on too much ourselves. It’s better to engage someone to do the work they’re expert in rather than you doing the same job less well. It’s so nice (and such a relief) to hand something over and ask an expert to do it for you and know that it’s going to be done well and you don’t have to waste your time on it.

Personal (or professional) Advisory Board: set up your board of people to provide coaching, mentoring, accountability and consulting, all wrapped up into powerful help. Go all in. Have regular meetings and pay them for their time. It puts you on the hook and ensures they know you’re serious about getting stuck into the work. For some this is the top of the range Rolls.

Square squad: In this case I suggest a broader definition of how Brené Brown defines her square squad. They can do more than be there for you to seek out alternate opinions and bolster you in times of questioning. They could there for accountability, mentoring, advice, insight, perspective, all the things that you might also get from a mentor or coach. It’s Advisory Board Lite.

Any combination of the above can be helpful. It comes down to what you need and what works best for you. Some more relevant to practice owners, others more relevant to employees. Always worthwhile experimenting with what works for you.

Putting it bluntly, if you’re saying you don’t need any help, you’re kidding yourself. We all need help.


A confession

Last year didn’t work out the way I had envisaged at the start. Goals were forgotten, things didn’t work and there were times I avoided doing the hard work I needed to. Whilst I engaged help with some copywriting and marketing. I had a square squad. For the most part I tried to go it alone. It wasn’t enough. I needed more help.

Help to see what I didn’t.

Help to call me out from hiding from the hard work.

Help to change the narrative around the stories I tell myself.

Help to structure my work better.

Help to be accountable to the goals and plans I set for myself at the start of the year.

We can all do with some help. I’m seeking more help this year. I’m also trying an experiment, as follows.

A footnote about the help I now seek

Aside from technical help and/or coaching the biggest help I need is with accountability. I’m OK with being accountable to myself, but I always find hiding spots. I contemplated either engaging a coach or finding an accountability partner and then my friend Kirsty Stark asked this question:

How do I remind myself of the promises I’m making now?

It’s one of the biggest struggles I have. One way is to set up a process of constant review, a system. And then as I contemplated that, I thought…

What if I do this in public?

Make myself accountable to anyone and everyone, whoever chooses to. So I built a [b]log to log my work each and every day. So even if no-one is actually holding me to account, I don’t really know if people are checking in and I’ll still feel I’m on the hook, which is enough. I’ll also know when I’ve missed posts or had bad days – I’m still accountable to myself. It’s also a good way to start to better understand what contributes to the days I’m on fire and doing great work. It will be a useful resource for my reviews as I go along and at the end of the year.

This year I’m doing all my work in public. Check it out:

Michael Lewarne is working in public

Feel free to peruse, read what I’m up to and call me out if and where I need it!

Over there, the comments are on!


Image by Riccardo [edited and cropped]

Hi! I’m Michael

I’m an architect and coach. I help architects rethink their practice and support them as they uncover better ways to work. I’ve worked in architecture for over 25 years, and I ran my own practice for 14 years. I understand architectural practice from the inside out. Fun Fact: my NSW architect’s registration is #10 007 and I have a license to skill.

I believe improving practice takes asking hard questions and deep listening.

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