Springtime for the mind: How reframes can benefit your career journey

I used to dread the arrival of spring.

While flowers in bloom might signify beauty for many, for someone like me who suffers from severe hay fever, spring means the annoying recurrence of runny noses and staccato sneezes. It also typically means hauling out the lawnmower and thus producing even more of the grassy debris that leaves me with red and itchy eyes. And let’s not even get into my fear of a popular character of spring: bees. (I still can’t shake the memory of being stung by bees when I was 5 years old while on a bike ride in Comox, BC, at the height of spring.) So yeah, this hasn’t always been my favourite season.

I started to gain an appreciation for spring about 18 years ago and I have my wife, Mina, to thank for my different outlook on the season. Having grown up in Vancouver, I was used to seeing cherry blossoms and didn’t fully appreciate their annual bloom. But Mina’s enthusiasm opened my eyes to their beauty. She was eager to take in the blooms all over the city and took us on walks to see the beautiful pinkish-white canopies lining the streets. Because of how she “reframed” spring for me, its arrival now means that every March and April, I find myself pulling my car over to take snapshots of cherry blossoms and other picturesque scenes rather than dreading the arrival of spring.

The practice of reframing — that is, intentionally viewing a thought or situation in a new way — can be a useful tool in our careers as well. When I was first introduced to the concept of reframes, it felt a little silly and obvious to me. But after going through a reframing exercise from Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, I found the practice to be eye-opening — like seeing cherry blossoms in a different light. When you are carrying a limiting belief, a reframe can provide relief — and help you move from stuck to unstuck.

So what’s the best way to go about reframing a limiting belief? That’s a question that my former colleague Irene Navarro and I asked a couple of years ago. Based on Burnett’s and Evans’ work, we recommend taking the following steps:

  1. Ask yourself: What is honest in that belief? Identify one to three assumptions.
  2. Then ask: What is limiting in that belief? Identify one to three assumptions.
  3. Consider the ideas that are limiting from a new perspective.
  4. Create a new belief and write it down.

For example, when I first started working at UBC, I used to believe: “I am so far behind the rest of my peers, who are earning more money and are in higher positions, and thus making more strategic decisions, than I am.

So I asked myself: What is honest in that belief? And I identified three assumptions:

  • Many of my peers ARE making more money.
  • Financial stability and increased responsibilities are important factors for my career.
  • I feel like I should be further along at this point in my career.

(Even though the above points may seem obvious or repetitive, there is power in intentionally writing out the assumptions underlying a belief. Give it a try.)

Then I asked: What is limiting in that belief? I identified three corresponding assumptions:

  • It implies that I don’t have time to grow my career.
  • I’ve reduced what’s important for my career to only two factors.
  • I feel like my ego is making me only see what I am missing rather than what I have.

I then considered the ideas that are limiting from a new perspective:

  • I am ignoring the fact that I had a 14-year teaching career before I pivoted to UBC.
  • I am forgetting that money isn’t everything. The main reasons I took this job were to have the flexibility to support my wife’s career and to be more available for our two children.
  • I greatly enjoy the work I get to do and the impact I get to have on so many people.

And finally, I created a couple of new beliefs and wrote them down:

  • I am focused on building my skills for the next year, while recognizing it will take time for me to grow my career here at UBC.
  • I am privileged to have the opportunity to change my careers because I’m part of a dual-income family, which means I also get to have more time with my family.
  • I am where I need to be in my career — excited about the work I get to do and the impact I get to make all over campus.

The beliefs we carry about our careers can feel heavy. Reframing them can help usher in a “springtime” for our minds. An effective reframe can both acknowledge the negative thoughts we have while allowing for a positive perspective to bloom.

Of course, reframes are not meant to gloss over your real problems — I still have allergies. Rather the practice of reframing pushes you to seek what you can control, which may in turn decrease your stress or allow you to be more present. And once you start reframing your limiting beliefs, you might just realize that reframes themselves are limitless — that an abundance of fresh perspectives and new insights are available to you whenever you engage in the practice of seeing yourself and your career journey in a new light.

For me, the arrival of spring in general and cherry blossoms in particular take on an extra significance each year. They remind me of the long walks Mina and I took, taking in the pink skyline of various parks in Vancouver and awaiting the arrival of our first child who was, of course, born in the spring.