Emotional Intelligence: Learning to prune and refresh your professional life

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Let go of the old to make way for the new explains Sarah Richson

The Executive Assistant plays one of the most critical roles in an organization. Often this includes accumulation and storage of contact databases, lists, and general information on the company or about their executive. This also means that their ability to discard unnecessary items becomes a great asset. However, have you ever felt laden down but cannot find a good reason to discard things?

Sometimes people go through life carrying baggage from the past without realizing that they cannot move at speed if they are heavy laden. As a mentor, whenever my mentees want to begin ‘a new chapter’ in their lives I advise them to first prune any wastage, barriers or irrelevant weight in order to make space for the new things or ‘extras’ in life.

Imagine you have been dreaming of getting yourself a new wardrobe.  You wake up one day to find that you have won the lottery and can afford the new clothes, so you go into a spending spree buying a truck full of new items. However, upon reaching home you realize there is nowhere to put the new items because the old ones are still fully stuffed in your wardrobe! What will you have to do in order to give the new items a home? Of course you will have to create space or probably buy new storage.

You have to create space for many reasons but the main reasons would be:

  • To ensure the new clothes do not suddenly smell like old clothes
  • To ensure you have somewhere to keep your new
  • To avoid clutter and a stuffed wardrobe where it is difficult to find your precious new items when

So what do we mean by the act of pruning? According to vintagetreecare.com, “there are many reasons why pruning a tree is important. Pruning a tree can influence in what way the tree grows. With proper pruning, a tree can be made to grow into a certain configuration of limbs and branches that is more ideal for the structural integrity of the tree. Maintaining the tree’s structure helps to mitigate the risk of broken limbs and falling branches. A properly pruned tree will not have compromising branch structures and improper weight distribution that could lead to disaster later on in the tree’s life. Structural pruning can also greatly improve the general look of the tree. If aesthetics are important to you, proper pruning can make a tree grow in the desired fashion”.

This approach also rings true in the professional life of an Assistant.  But what kind  of ‘life items’ should we prune? I have found that most people derive value in pruning the following things in their lives.

Prune your network

As the saying goes “your network is your net worth”. However, as Marshall Goldsmith’s best-selling book entitled ‘What got you here won’t get you there’ states, we must realign our network for the future.  Go through all the groups you belong  to on Whatsapp, Facebook, LinkedIn etcetera and ask yourself if they are still relevant or whether you need to align yourself with other types of groups. Periodically check your phone contact list – you might find that several numbers are outdated! Observe your email inbox for a week and determine what is useful and what is not. This also extends to the registrations you might still be paying for that have ceased to be of value in your life or your executive’s life.   Finally, check your regular invitations to networking events. Ask yourself whether your time could be better spent attending other forums that add value to your future aspirations or net worth. Remember that your personal brand is associated with that of your executive, hence your network is an extension of how you position yourself and your executive.

Prune your regular activities

Sometimes certain activities stop adding value to you as you step up into new chapters. Any assistant on the road to personal and professional development will have to choose wisely when they decide to study higher education while working; time becomes limited and it is important to use this valuable resource diligently. For example, I decided to spend more time on health enhancing activities in 2016, which meant I had to prune my life  of all the stressful  activities that affected my health and emotional balance negatively. For me  it  was  the endless breakfast meetings that added little value and late evening events that took time away from my family. Saying “yes” to everyone was my default and that led me to many regular unnecessary activities. I began redefining how I spent my time and now enjoy a healthier more productive lifestyle by simply pruning a few activities in my life!

Prune your language

Some people do not realize how much language, choice of words and communication prowess can lift or limit a successful transition into a new chapter. I like sharing a story of how a professor at university told our business class to go and learn 100 ‘high-level’ words. At first I did not know what he meant and why this was so important. However, change begins with raising awareness.  Whilst watching the news channel that evening I was intrigued by a highly-respected business leader who sounded so eloquent and smart.  I realized that he was using some of the 100 ‘high-level’ words on the list I had been given!

Once I became aware that these high-level words can position someone for a greater future I immediately set about finding these words and pruning my language to suit what my future needed. I committed to learning one word a day, and within 100 days I had learnt 100 new words.  Using at least 20% of these words regularly made me sound more sophisticated and in tune with my future as a consultant. It is equally important to shed inappropriate language or habits on text or social media that position you in the past, and which barricade your wonderful future. Watch out and restrict people who post inappropriately on your social networks or reach out to them in real life to caution them about it.

It is important to ensure that the timing is right for any pruning otherwise it will not be a pleasant experience. You need to find a good balance even as you begin to prune; do not cut your tree too deep and hurt it. Explain yourself to others who love and care about you; unpack for them the reasons why the process is important in your life right now. Understand your WHY (What… Hurts… You), because this understanding that will sustain you through the ups and downs of the process.  Take small steps and feel the benefit.

Happy pruning!

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About Author

Sarah Richson

Sarah Richson (MBA, MCIPD, AOEC, MIHRM) started her career as an Executive Personal Assistant but transformed her career path through her passion for people, to become one of the world's top human development thought leaders. Her passion for developing grass root talent and unleashing hidden potential in others is the driving force in her life. She is a prolific speaker and trainer who advocates for empowering lives of local communities with inspirational mentorship programs. An international consultant, executive coach and organisation development expert, her career is multi-dimensional and includes years as a leadership professional trainer and HR Consultant working on European, Asian and African projects. She is a wife and working mother of 5 and claims that her success is underpinned by having a warm supportive family. Sarah works with Assistants on topics such as emotional intelligence and personal branding, that inspire and build the Assistant as a professional and as a holistic individual.

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