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Have you ever been at a major cross-road in life and experienced some kind of inner conflict about which road you should choose? Maybe there was a difference between what you feel you would love to do, what you remember being taught you should do and what you have learned from experience is probably the right thing to do? What do you do when this happens? How do you separate these thoughts and what is the best way to reconcile the different ideas contained in them? I learned a way to do this from a most unexpected source and wanted to share it with you. Here is my story…

We will pick up the thread when I was in the 11th grade, in the computer lab of my high school in Bangalore, India. I had just debugged my first linked list program in Pascal and it was working exactly as I expected it to! No errors, crashes, or un-handled exceptions. ZOWIEMAMA! (That’s from ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’) The sense of exhilaration was unforgettable. I am smiling as I relive that moment. That’s when I fell in love with software and knew what I was going to be when I grew up.

Six years later – I was a Software Engineer at Siemens, being paid to do what I loved – code! I had arrived! But even before the honeymoon with my job was over, I remember asking my colleagues in the cafeteria if they would join me when I started my own firm. I used to get some funny looks. (I should have gotten used to that – that still happens. A lot.)

Ten years after starting at Siemens, the Entrepreneurial fire burned stronger than ever. I was at a major cross-road in my life – it was painfully obvious that I did not want to spend my life as a 9 to 5 employee. I still loved Software, but I got frustrated with the inability to identify and solve patterns of repeating problems that sucked the magic out of I.T.

I didn’t know then, what I know now – I wanted to be an Org Whisper and help teams recapture the magic of making I.T.! So I could not explain why I was deviating from the script, rocking the boat and thinking of giving up a decent, well-paying job. In search of answers, I found myself attending the ‘Starting a Business’ course at SMU’s Cox School of Business in Dallas, Tx.

The first lecture was by Jerry White – the Director of the Caruth Institute of Entrepreneurship. The topic was ‘Personal Characteristics of Entrepreneurs’. Jerry listed out 10 characteristics that defined entrepreneurs and asked each student to do a self-evaluation to total how many characteristics they possessed. I remember getting goose bumps – I scored a 7 out of 10! I started seeing light at the end of the tunnel – maybe there was a reason I was at this course, after all!

So I gained some insight into why I was at the cross-road. But I still needed some help in deciding which road I should take. It seemed like I had to mediate between three voices –

  • What I had been taught to do by my parents – Get a good, secure job and stick with it.
  • What I would love to do, almost like a child – Have fun at work and follow my passion!
  • What I had learned from experience that I should do – Be a responsible adult and balance my responsibilities to myself and my family.

I felt like I was peering out through a frosted glass window, looking at what my life could be. The picture was hazy but I really liked what I saw. But there was a catch – I was sitting in a slowly moving train that was starting to pick up speed. I had to either jump now, or have my window of opportunity shut down forever! The constant conflict was driving me nuts and I was out of ideas on how to resolve it. Such was the mood when I attended the next lecture in the course. The speaker was Dr. Richard Tozer, and I think the topic was ‘Identify Windows of Opportunity’.

Dr. Tozer approached the challenge of entrepreneurship from an unusual perspective – he shared a diagram by Eric Berne, the creator of Transactional Analysis and author of the book Games People Play. Berne’s model of Transactional Analysis states that we experience life through the prism of an ego-state – a set of coherent feelings and behaviors.  At any given time, we could be in one of three distinct ego-states–

  • The Parent State (P) – Similar to the behaviors and thoughts of our parental figures
  • The Child State (C) – Resembling our behavior when we were children, like the little boy or girl that is inside every one of us
  • The Adult State (A) – Like an objective adult making decisions based on an appraisal of reality

Dr. Tozer applied Berne’s work to simplify the internal conflicts that plague someone considering the plunge into entrepreneurship. These conflicts are driven by an imbalance between the three ego-states-

  • The Parent State (P) – Wants the budding entrepreneur to choose the safety of a steady 9 to 5 job.
  • The Child State (C) – Wants the entrepreneur to throw caution to the winds and jump in!
  • The Adult State (A) – Wants the entrepreneur to make an educated an informed decision.

Dr. Tozer stressed the importance of reconciling these three voices and living a life that balanced the needs and values of each state. Applied to my life, in the context of entrepreneurship, this model helped me chart a course towards starting my own consulting business – Org Whisperers.

As usual, I leave you with some questions…

  • Where do you see this model applying in your life?
  • What is the  cross-road where you are being pulled by these three states and their messages?
  • How would you reconcile these messages and achieve balance?
  • Perhaps, most importantly – what would happen if you don’t?

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