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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

The secret to everything (including career success)

It’s a moment of joy when a client wants to work on being more present and how to do that. It’s a powerful question that leads further into the good stuff of success. Once you realise you can co-create pretty much anything you want and certainly infinitely more than you originally thought - whether it be the dream job, business or relationships - life takes on a different flavour. The game then becomes a matter of being present. Present in the moment. Present to life as it unfolds moment-to-moment; and deliberately engaging in the process – mainly to get the fearful ego out of the way and cultivate qualities of courage, joyful-kindness and wisdom. This expands the range of opportunities available to you exponentially and creates a rather exhilarating experience of life and success. What being present looks like

It’s easy to mistake presence for a Zen-like, silently intense attitude. Sure, it’s good to meditate and practise that level of intensity of presence (i.e. connecting with silent awareness and holding with kindness whatever thoughts or feelings come up within it). However, unless you are a monk or nun, it will be pretty difficult to carry that off when engaging in a fast-paced world. Presence cannot be described fully in words as it’s a felt-experience connected to that silent quality no one can really fully grasp through the logical brain. So let’s start with what presence doesn’t look like. Have you ever had the experience of talking to someone and realising they’re not really there? They’re lost in their thoughts about how to reply or something else altogether. There’s no one home. They’re not present. We’ve all done it… This is because the information from what is being said is picked up and processed automatically. Full attention isn’t brought to the situation nor are higher cognitive functions (e.g. of empathy) engaged. To use an analogy, let’s take the kneejerk reaction. It’s a spinal reflex, meaning it doesn’t get processed in the brain. A signal from the knee being hit is transmitted to the spinal chord, and a signal is transmitted back from the spine to the quadriceps muscle to move the knee. Your higher cognitive functions are not involved. In other words, it’s just your knee and your spine talking to each other. YOU are not involved. The power of presence in day-to-day interactions One of the most common automatic behaviour patterns that keep us disconnected from presence is the victim story. You know it: the reason things are just not right in our lives…The story you share and then regret sharing realising that you don’t feel better and you could have spent the time more fruitfully. Through presence (your non-judgmental attention in the moment), a victim story can be transformed into a heroic tale that inspires others. Or be dropped altogether to make way for something that’s more relevant in the moment. As an example of what presence looks like in a day-to-day interaction, you may have read or watched Jane Eyre, the heroine brought to life by Charlotte Bronte. An elegant moment of presence displayed by Jane is when her new, condescending boss asks her: “What is your tale of woe?”, “All governesses have a tale of woe”. She pauses and responds simply: “I have no tale of woe”. She proceeds to tell him her background in its glory and horror but retains dignity seeking neither sympathy nor significance. She transforms her tale of woe because:

  • It’s in the past. It’s not now. She’s present in the moment.

  • She doesn’t identify with the tale nor with the character in the tale.

  • She is a witness and enchanting storyteller inviting the other person into a fantastic world.

  • By displaying such fortitude and dignity, her story is an act of giving rather than pleading. Such is the power of being present in the moment.

One of the first times I cut the tale of woe and starting speaking from greater presence, was at conference in Cambridge as a medical student. I remember slowing down in the moment and being very aware of the interpersonal dynamics. I spoke freely of my passion for public health and social justice. The result from one conversation was that I got invited to be a rapporteur for a medicine and science conference in Havana, Cuba organised by a Nobel Peace Prize winning organisation. It was a BIG deal for me and opened the door to a line of career successes. Your words create your world. Be present to the best possibilities in the moment. Bringing presence to the narrative in your life can transform the world around you. Think of the way people you might admire as great leaders speak, particularly when they answer questions… Interestingly, “the tale of woe” or victim story is treated very differently in therapy and coaching. In therapy, there is an assumption that something is wrong – after all, therapy was developed to address mental illness. So the tale of woe is validated. Of course, in clinical illness that may be appropriate! In (good) coaching, closer to the transpersonal and humanistic psychology schools, the focus is on positive qualities. The assumption is that you are a formidable, fully functioning adult (with quirks) and that you want to expand your range of abilities, optimise your performance and “express your full potential”. The tale of woe dissolves and is elevated through presence. I would add that REALLY good coaching helps you become present to your place in the bigger picture to ignite the fire in your belly and make you unstoppable. Where can you bring more presence to your interactions this week? Is there a tale of woe you can drop?

Have a great week,


p.s. I’m excited to share a few speaking events I’ll be doing that may be relevant to you to transform your career, find balance and make a difference. It would be great to see you there!

AUTUMN 2017 SPEAKING EVENTS: Join in if any of these are relevant to you!

Thursday 21st September 11.45-12.45: Public Health Alternative Careers [panel for PH specialists], Senate House, London.

Wednesday 27th of September 8 - 9pm: “Break Through Career Confusion and Transform Your Life” [webinar for doctors]. Sign up here.

Monday 16th October at 8pm - 9:30pm: “Overcome career confusion and step into leadership: insights from medicine, public health and international policy.” Goodenough College Port Talk [for GC members and alumni]. Register on The Square.

Monday 27th of November 1.30 to 4.30pm: “Boosting Your Research Through a Creativity Strategy” [for UCL research staff]. Look out for announcements from Organisational Development.

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