Leaders, Say “Yes!”

There has been a significant movement recently to empower women (and everyone else) to say “no.” This is, in fact, a very important skill for us all to develop. When we say “no” to something or someone, we embrace the power to determine our own path in life.

Recently, I was asked to chair a particular committee with a non-profit I work with. Normally, I hold with the saying one of my friends often repeats: “If you are asked and you are able, you must say yes.” In this case, however, I knew for certain that this was not a good fit for me. What might be made incredible and vibrant in one person’s hands would merely survive in mine. This was not what the organization needed. So I gathered my power and graciously declined. I sincerely believe the organization is in a better place for it.

This post is about exercising a different muscle. This is about the need to say “Yes!”

In many situations this can be even more daunting than saying no. Saying yes means putting yourself in new, different, and sometimes scary situations. It means assuming responsibility, becoming vulnerable, taking risks. It might mean something new and exciting, or it could lead to total failure. We don’t know until we try.

One of my favorite books I look to for inspiration on building this skill is Shonda Rhimes book, “The Year of Yes.” In this book, Shonda shares with us what it took for her to realize she had been saying “no” to just about everything. She then shares her commitment to say yes to everything that scares her for a full year, and the amazing things that happened in this year and beyond. (I highly recommend the book – you can find it here).

In our careers as leaders, it is imperative that we say yes. When you are asked to consider a new assignment, say yes. When you are asked to move into a new role, say yes. When you are asked to handle a meeting, a presentation, a trip – say yes. It will be easy to say no – it will likely go unnoticed and immediate repercussions will be minimal. In the long run, however, you will miss out on important opportunities and your growth will be stunted. At some point, the offers for ‘new’ and ‘different’ will stop.

For me, saying “yes” in recent days has looked like the following:

  • I raised my hand and said “yes” to joining the Women United Global Leadership Council. That meant that earlier this month I traveled to Washington D.C. and met for two days with amazing women from around the country who are all focused on improving the lives of women and girls in our communities. I have made connections with women who have inspired me and I am certain will be important to my life going forward.
  • I said “yes” to myself and went to summer camp (yes! summer camp! for grownups!). I was nervous as could be (I nearly withdrew my reservation several times) – I had never met anyone there in person before I arrived. Turns out it was the most powerful thing I could have ever done. I made life-long friends and learned more about myself that week than I had in a long time.
  • I said “yes” to being in a fashion show for a non-profit group I work with. Talk about scary! This is pretty far outside my comfort zone. I am holding to the belief that somehow this is going to help me build my confidence. I’ll definitely be making use of my power poses! (Shonda loves the power pose).
  • I said “yes” to presenting my research from my doctoral program to two different groups over the next few months.

In every single one of these situations, saying no would have been very easy. I could have never raised my hand, never signed up, or politely declined the invitations. No one would have blinked an eye. No one would have even noticed. Perhaps I wouldn’t have either.

Instead, I now have a strong network of like-minded women, a circle of the most amazing friends a person could ask for, and a future means for sharing my passion around my research. All because I said “yes.”

I am not by any means perfect at this yet. There are times you have to choose between two yeses. This is especially difficult when it comes to saying yes to your own body. We can either say ‘yes’ to feeling healthy, vital, and strong, or we can say ‘yes’ to the temporary joy that comes with eating what we want, when we want. In her book, Shonda says, “This Yes is about giving yourself the permission to shift the focus of what is a priority from what’s good for you over to what makes you feel good.” I struggle with this daily.

I also struggle with following through on all of my yeses. For example, I had signed up for a free seminar on goal setting to be held the other day. When it came time to go, I had every excuse why I shouldn’t go – I was in the middle of cleaning the house and couldn’t stop, it was a free seminar so how good could it be, I am already pretty darn good at goal setting…. The reality was that I was nervous about going somewhere new with people I didn’t know doing something I knew could raise emotional issues for me. I didn’t go. I’ll try harder next time.

So what are you saying “no” to in your life that might be holding you back? Where can you find the confidence and the courage to say “Yes!”? Can you imagine what might happen if you do? Please share! I would love to hear your thoughts.

Go get it! And keep it positive and smile!

Job as a proxy for purpose – a hazardous path

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This is an internal debate I have been struggling with in recent times: What is my purpose? Why do I look to my “job” for my purpose in life? Why do I ask so much of my job? Why do I only look there to find purpose?

I think the best way to explore this is to share my personal experience on this topic.

On the one hand, I spend the majority of my waking hours at my job. I work hard at my job, and always want to do well at my job. This means I expend most of my energy at my job. I feel good about my day when I accomplish big things at work, and feel terrible when I have failed at work. I spend countless hours, when not at work, thinking and dreaming of ways to improve things at work.

Of most import is that when someone asks me what I do, my answer always is, “My job.” My identity is unfailingly connected to my job. I don’t think I am alone in this. In fact, I am quite certain this is true for so many of us.

For the most part, I am okay with this. I am proud of the work I do, I love the company I work for, and my coworkers are exceptional. I believe that there are times I have made a difference for my employees and for my company. I take pride in that. I genuinely believe that what my company does makes a positive difference in my community and my world.

Now, though, consider the other hand. I am a “creative.” I am much, much more than my job. What excites me the most is inspiring others to see new and different possibilities for our future. I want to create change in our world. I want to sing and laugh and dance and help others to envision and realize brighter destinies for us all.

Can I do this at work? Sometimes. Except maybe the dancing. But herein lies the danger…

If I look to my workplace to constantly provide me the opportunities to be the inspiring, creative person I dream of being, I am absolutely going to be disappointed. And frustrated. And angry. I will likely become disengaged, distracted and if it goes on long enough, toxic to my workplace. The business I work for has a purpose, and that purpose is not to fulfill my individual dreams and goals. It might support me in my efforts to improve and grow, but working for a large company, the alignment will not always be 100%.

So rather than be disappointed and disheartened that I cannot realize my full purpose at work, I must look elsewhere. I must supplement my need for purpose with activities outside the workplace. And this is what I recommend for everyone who is struggling to find purpose at work. Look elsewhere. Be your best self at work. Strive to achieve all you can at work. But don’t put the burden on work to fulfill your true purpose in life.

Here are some suggestions on where I look:

  1. Community involvement – so many programs in our communities need help. Volunteer, take on a leadership role, or start your own organization!
  2. School – there is so much to learn! Get a new degree, study a new subject, take an online course, or even consider teaching a class
  3. Art classes – stretch yourself by trying something new! You never know what you might discover about yourself in a painting, pottery, glass, or dance class
  4. Church – quite a bit of purpose to be found here. The opportunities are endless.
  5. Side-hustle – start your own business!

What other ideas do you have for finding your purpose in life? Please share!

As always, keep it positive and smile! Hope you had a happy Monday!

 

What is important to me/Taking risks and finding joy

I have, today, a personal story to share. My hope is that there is a lesson in here somewhere that will be of use to some of you out there. Please comment and share your stories.

In a previous life, I was a singer. A serious vocalist. In high school I took private voice lessons during the year and went to music camp every summer. I went to college on a vocal scholarship, and earned a Bachelors of Music degree. I sang with a semi-professional opera company in Chicago, and then paid for my grad school musical studies through an internship. My plan was to be an opera singer.

Then tragedy struck. Three days before I was to give my Masters recital, I lost my voice. Completely. Gone. Not even a whisper. For three months. It might as well have been forever.

Looking back, I have realized there was an incredible mountain of stress burying my voice alive. I was preparing for my recital while simultaneously singing in a mainstage opera production. With my practice regimen, I was singing close to 8 hours every day, if not more. I was nearing the completion of my degree and did not have a clear path forward after graduation. Talk about stress! Though I had learned my craft, I had not yet learned how to turn my craft into a career. On top of all of this, my voice professor was wildly unsupportive – one may even say cruel. Cruel to the point of making me doubt just about everything that came out of my mouth.

After losing my voice, I saw doctors and therapists and vocal coaches. I took medications and vitamins and underwent analyses and procedures. Basically I did everything I could think of, or anyone else could think of, to recover. At some point during those three months I came to a conclusion: My body was not to be trusted. I simply could not put my future and my security in the hands of something that I could not rely upon.

So I stopped. Completely.

For the next many years, I rarely sang. I would sometimes do Christmas caroling with my husband (an amazingly talented classical guitarist), sang intermittently with a church choir, and sang a wedding or two. I sang nightly to my children, but talk about a non-judgmental audience! Plus they usually fell asleep by the second note. But in reality, very little singing. I put all of my effort into my family and into my career. My (now) non-musical career.

And I missed it. I missed making music. I especially missed being on the stage, sharing my music, my joy, my stories, with an audience. But for some reason, I stayed away. It was just too hard.

This year, I made a new choice. I decided it had been long enough and I needed to take a risk. I needed to try again. I wanted the specific joy making music brought to my life. So, I took a bold step and signed up for voice lessons. I knew it would be hard, and in fact, just figuring out who to study with, what my story would be would be tough enough.

It was even harder than I imagined. I anticipated difficulty in reaching the high notes and the low notes. I knew I needed to get my support system (breathing muscles) back into shape. I understood that I needed to find new ways to fit in practice and regain that discipline (still working on this one). What I did not anticipate was how much I had changed. And how much baggage I was carrying.

My body, my instrument, has changed, and not in inconsequential ways. I have given birth to three beautiful children. I have gained weight (I blame those three children for that!). I have, unbelievably, gotten older. I am now working with a completely different instrument. And boy does she sound different! She is richer, fuller, deeper. It’s taken several months to realize this, but she is beautiful!

As for the baggage – I have had to recognize the ‘voices’ in my head. Even after all this time, every time I open my mouth to sing I hear my professor tell me I can’t sing, that I shouldn’t even try, and that I should give up. I have nothing riding on my singing – no career ambitions, no expectations – and yet her voice keeps me scared from really trying. It has taken weeks and weeks of lessons to even recognize the voice, and who it belonged to. Now, I am working to ignore it and/or work around it.

So the lessons here – there has to be a lesson, right? One might be that it is never too late to start – or restart – anything. Another might be that change is inevitable, and many times it results in something beautiful. Yet another might be that old habits (or voices) die hard, and we must be vigilant and persistent in dealing with them. Still another could be that unused skills do not come back to us as easily as we might think/wish, so we must not let them go.

For me, the big lesson is that I need to take more risks. I need to keep in mind what is important to me as a person, what brings me joy, and do those things. It may have no connection to my career. It may be no bigger than me in a room with a piano. But I needed to find more of my joy, and I found it in a song.

Are there things you aren’t prioritizing in your life that would bring you joy? Are there risks you aren’t taking? What is holding you back? Please share!

As always, keep it positive, and smile!

TGIF!