Job Searching…Tips to Help You Through

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Tip #0.5: Eat More Chocolate Chip Cookies

Searching for a job is hard work. As it would happen, I am the queen of hard work. The tougher the challenge, the harder I work. Finding a new job after a layoff appears to be the most difficult challenge I have faced yet.

I wasted no time getting started. In other words, I panicked.

Tip #1: Don’t Panic. You will want to panic. Do your best not to.

The day I learned I was being laid off, I immediately posted an update on LinkedIn. I sent messages to a few recruiters I had come across in my time at my previous company, and reached out to a couple industry contacts. That afternoon I had heard from several contacts within my network and I was off and running (key word: running).

Tip #2: Walk, Don’t Run. This is a marathon for which you have not trained.

From there, the weeks have raced by in a blur of phone calls, interviews, and many, many emails. I have met wonderful people from industries across the spectrum. I have reconnected with old friends and have made several new friends.

What I have found is that people genuinely want to help. I cannot begin to express the gratitude I have for the people who have known me for a long time and have offered their support and assistance, and for the people who barely know me and still have gone out of their way to help me.

Tip #3: Ask For Help. People want to help you.

For five or six weeks now I have been running. Every single morning, I have pulled myself out of bed and gotten dressed for work. I often leave the house early in the morning and do not get home until early evening.

I had thought I would get to play the part of ‘stay at home mom’ for my kids. I thought I would bake cookies to be ready for them when they walked in the door, and would have a clean, shiny house I could finally invite my friends to visit. I would finally get all of my paperwork organized, my email box in control, and the laundry on a regular schedule.

Tip #4: Discard All Expectations of what life will be like while job searching.

This has decidedly not been the case. I have not yet baked any cookies, the laundry continues to pile up and my email – well, let’s just say that the unread count in my inbox has grown exponentially.

This past Monday I hit a wall. I no longer had a full week of meetings/interviews/phone calls scheduled. I was tired – exhausted, actually – and started to feel something like… lost.

Tip #5: Take Breaks. Take Breaths. See Tip #2.

I began to question what I was actually looking for. Meaningful work. That’s what I want. I want to be able to contribute in a meaningful way. I want to use the gifts and talents that I have to make the world a better place.

How do I find this in a job description? How do I express that in a resume, a phone call, an interview? What job title am I looking for? What industry do I consider? What person do I reach out to?

I wrote a post earlier this year cautioning us all not to put too much pressure on our jobs to provide us with our meaning in life. This, somehow, is hard to keep in mind when searching for a new job. This is a chance to start over, to try something new, to truly find my passion and my purpose. But do I really need to fit all of that in to my next job? Probably not.

Tip #6: Do Your Homework on Yourself. What do you need out of new job? That is what matters now.

Since hitting the wall this past Monday, I have been trying to take some time for myself. I finally made it to the gym. I got a massage, took myself out to lunch, and I spent several hours one day meandering around my city, going wherever the breeze took me. I only dressed for work two days this week.

I have asked the Universe to provide me with some answers. Apparently, she needs to get back to me on that.

In the meantime, I will be trying to balance things better. Instead of working around the clock, I will schedule time for job searching. I will also schedule time for family (I can’t wait to make those cookies), and will certainly schedule time for myself.

This is a unique time in my life. I have worked my entire life, whether in a job or in school (often both at the same time). It is no wonder that I am feeling lost with neither currently under way. I need to embrace this and make the most of it.

Tip #7: Celebrate Along The Way, no matter what it is you are feeling.

I have been working with a coach and in our last session she asked me to consider the question: What is powerful about being lost? I plan to spend some significant time considering this question. Perhaps this will be the topic of my next blog post. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them!

To all of you on a similar journey, I wish you the power to balance, the patience to wait for the right thing, and the resilience to make it to the other side.

As always, keep it positive!

Networking: A Critical Skill for Leaders

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Networking is tough. It takes energy. It takes focus. It is essential for leaders across all industries and at all levels. And it is critical that all leaders continuously develop and deepen their networks. This is important for several reasons:

  1. You never know when you will need help. In my case, my recent layoff required me to reach out to my network to help me find new opportunities;
  2. Leaders must maintain a healthy outside perspective in order to bring new and different ideas into their work, and a network provides this;
  3. A leader needs balance in life in order to be fully effective, and even the process of building a network can provide this.

One of the best moves I made was probably 8 to 10 years ago. At that time, I discovered that what other successful people had and that I did not have was a network. I sat down and planned an attack to increase my network in three different directions: within my company, within my community, and within my industry.

I did not have to do much to increase my network within the company – it was already rather strong. What I did do, however, was to find opportunities to volunteer and participate in activities, committees, projects, or other events with individuals from all the various business units at the company in order to meet people I did not interact with on a regular basis.

I made an effort to establish deeper connections with people I talked to regularly. Sometimes this happens in the normal course of business. Sometimes you have to help it along. One thing I did was to form a women’s group to help us connect and to build support for one another across the business. This was successful, so I helped to form a similar group of women at a different level of the organization so that they could experience the same.

I scheduled lunches with many different people and always had delightful, inspiring, meaningful conversations with people when I did. I stopped to talk with people during the day. Some of my favorite times at work are the serendipitous hallway conversations I have with my colleagues. Building my network within my company not only made my work days much more pleasant, but helped to ensure work was completed more quickly, more easily and with fewer meetings.

To grow my network within my industry, the first thing I did was join an industry group that met twice each year. I established relationships with these individuals much as I had with my coworkers back in the office. Next I attended industry conferences and networked purposefully. It can be easy to retreat to the hotel room during breaks or to spend the time on your phone, but instead you need to be meeting people and exchanging business cards. Another place I found useful to grow my network was with our partners and vendors. I got to know our reinsurers and established strong relationships with them (side note: reinsurance people are some of the best people in the world!).

By growing my network within the industry, I brought value to my company and myself by being better informed on products, strategies, new technologies, and a broad range of topics. I also cultivated resources I could reach out to with questions and developed a broader range of understanding of what was possible.

To grow my network within the community, the obvious place to start was volunteering. I love volunteering. I also participated in leadership training through an organization in town called Artswave and through them was placed on the Board of Directors for a local arts organization. From there, I just kept saying “yes.” I ran the Artswave campaign for my company. I joined Zonta Club of Cincinnati, a women’s philanthropy group dedicated to advancing the status of women through service and advocacy, and now serve on the Board. I also serve on the Steering Committee for our local Women United group. I keep in touch with as many of these people as possible and count them as dear friends.

Each of these experiences brought me new friendships and a deeper connection to my community. I also gained new insights that helped me to solve challenges within the workplace and gave me new ways to grow my leadership skills.

One unexpected area I did not originally intend to explore or expand but that has brought me more personal satisfaction, support and connection, was my personal network. Over the last three years, I have met some incredible friends who are now my biggest support net as I go through my current transition. Both through my doctoral program and my personal development efforts I have established a stronger personal network than I have ever had before in my life. I am grateful every day for these beautiful friends who have taught me so much and helped me grow.

From my networking efforts, I offer you the following suggestions:

  1. Be intentional. Build a plan. Nothing too intricate, nothing too specific. Be sure to include SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) goals, but make sure you stay flexible. Keep in mind that networking is more an art than a science.
  2. Look in all directions to build your network. I looked at company, industry and community, but you might also consider your hobbies, your religion, or your personal network.
  3. Use every opportunity you can, but be gentle with yourself. As I mentioned, it is so easy to retreat back to the hotel room at conferences, but instead you need to push yourself to use that time to make connections. Sit down next to someone and start up a conversation. Introduce yourself to a vendor. Then take the breaks you need. Remember that the goal is to form meaningful connections, not just exchange business cards.
  4. Say Yes. Put yourself out there. Volunteer for events and speaking engagements. Take meetings and talk to new people. You never know where the next great idea is going to come from so keep reaching out.
  5. Be open to new and unexpected opportunities. Sometimes the most valuable connections will come from the most unexpected places. Let the universe work its magic for you!

I would love to hear your thoughts on networking. Please share!

Good luck! And as always, keep it positive and smile!

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!

The End of a Chapter

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I had several other topics planned for my next posts, but I think it would be disingenuous to ignore the current situation – my layoff this past week from my company. It’s a hard thing to talk about, but already I have found help in others who have been through this before me. I think, therefore, sharing my experience might help others.

Let me say this first. I bear my (now previous) company no ill will. Whatever the reasons for the layoff or the reasons my particular position was eliminated, this is, after all, just business. One of the most oddly comforting things anyone said to me was when my friend John asked, “Is this just your first layoff?” It is powerful knowing that you are not alone.

The news of my layoff came to me in a rather unusual way – by phone, in the middle of a presentation I was giving at a conference out of town. Many people asked if we had any warning. The short answer is no. At least, not the specifics.

The longer answer – there had been rumors circling for months and all manner of suggestions had been offered. That’s the way so much of this goes. Actions have to be taken but explanations cannot be offered. That leaves everyone to fill in the blanks with speculation.

A week out I am experiencing what the handy transition workbook I have been given calls “an emotional rollercoaster.” In fact, those are the exact words I have been using. Normally I love rollercoasters, but in this case, not so much.

There are moments when I am scared as can be. I have cried, I have had a panic attack or two. I have had moments of self-doubt and anger. As the main breadwinner for my family, the feeling that the futures of my children are in jeopardy can be overwhelming. Also overwhelming – the well-meaning comments that keep coming that say I will certainly find something incredible, something amazing. What if I don’t?

To find a new job, I suddenly find I need a clear vision of what I want for the future. Having to instantly articulate who I am, what I want out of a career…not easy stuff on a good day.

At other times on this rollercoaster, I am up. I am dreaming, scheming, networking, and planning for a brilliant future that may never have been possible without the layoff. I feel free. The world is my oyster. My family and I can go anywhere we want. While the kids do not want to move, we are all coming around to the idea that this inevitability could be an exciting (if daunting) possibility. I am generally a positive, don’t-look-back kind of person. I am fortunate this way – more of my time is spent in this space.

For the last week, I have been busier than I have been in a long time. I have been reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances. I have been talking with recruiters. I’ve been meeting with coaches and participating in all of my non-profit organizations. I’ve been continuing my research. And I have been driving my children around the city seemingly non-stop (I’m considering adding Pro-bono Uber Driver to my resume).

I am grateful for all of the opportunities I have had up to now. I have met so many incredible, wonderful, exceptional individuals, and worked alongside some of the most brilliant minds I have ever met. The teams I worked with were extraordinary. I’m sure many of these friendships will survive this.

And I will survive. The workbook says that unemployment can feel the same as the loss of a loved one. All of the stages: shock, fear, anger, depression, acceptance (many of them appearing simultaneously) are all there. I can confirm this.

I’m trying to learn now how to take things one day at a time now. I realize this is a whole new world for me and I am bound to make some mistakes along the way. I accept that. I am working to ensure I am not concerned about the expectations of others and that I keep the expectations of myself in line.

I am excited. I am scared. I am empowered. I am nervous. I am full of ideas. I am overwhelmed.

And I will continue to keep writing. I hope all is well with you!

What it takes to be yourself in corporate America…

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One piece of artwork I have in my office

This has been an incredibly difficult article to write. I am curious about your experience in finding yourself in corporate America. Please, if you would, share your experiences by leaving a comment on this post.

While I believe that corporations are evolving and that individual expression is becoming more acceptable than ever before, I believe we still have a problem. Certainly, some corporations are significantly further ahead on this than others. In many, though, the rules of the game demand that individual expression be left at the door.

What I want to share here is my personal journey and experiences I have had over my career. In doing so, I hope to offer others some guidance and if I do this right, some hope.

I have been doing quite a bit of thinking on the topic of what it takes to be yourself in corporate America lately. Over the last few years, I have been on a journey to ‘find myself.’ Or perhaps I mean I have been looking for my purpose in life, or my true happiness, or my mission.

Whatever it is, what I do know is that It can easily be lost in corporate America. This may not be true for everyone, and may be true for those outside of corporate America. What I know is that I lost part of myself somewhere along the way, and am now working hard to bring her back.

Before I go any further, let me say that what has lead to my success thus far may have been necessary. It seems to me that there is a pretty clear recipe for success in corporate American. Many people may not like this part of what I have to say – I honestly don’t like it myself.

Most of us, in joining the corporate world, begin at the bottom in an entry level position. We are one of many. In this position, we have to find ways to differentiate ourselves from everyone else. How we go about doing this determines whether we rise or whether we stay.

The best way to differentiate yourself is quite obvious – work harder, work smarter, and work politically. Notice that none of this says anything about being yourself. In fact, I would argue that all of this asks you specifically to subvert your uniqueness. This is, of course, true only if you are looking to move up the corporate ladder. If you are content where you are and have no ambition to climb higher, I believe corporate America will willingly take you as you are. We need people like you.

But if you are trying to get ahead, advance your career, earn more money, have a greater influence, you are going to hit some road bumps. You are going to find situation after situation where being yourself just doesn’t feel possible.

That may be your truth for a time.

You may find that you have to cover those tattoos, forego the bright blue hair color, save the crazy shoes for the weekend, talk more quietly/loudly, write your blog under an assumed name. You may have to play the game. For a time.

I am here, though, to tell you it won’t always be that way. Not completely.

I have found that when an individual has proven their skills and has earned the respect and admiration of their colleagues, that door cracks back open. Those parts of you that were stashed away can come back out to play. As your success grows, your ability to fully share your uniqueness will grow as well.

Before I share some examples from my own career, I want to address the need to be authentic to be a successful leader. I believe firmly in the need to be authentic. I believe that even when hiding away important parts of yourself, you can still be true to your ethics and beliefs. I believe that what I am suggesting here is not in opposition to being authentic. It is simply finding a way to be authentic while playing a game with rules written by someone else.

Here are some examples from my career:

I am an artistic sort. As such, I love to add color to anything I do. While managing a number of different teams, I was sending out emails that had updates for each team color coded. Team A was in blue, Team B was in pink, and so on. My manager had a rather violent reaction to this (he felt that I had produced something that belonged in a kindergarten classroom rather than a business office), and henceforth, I withheld color from all emails, and from most of what I did in the office. This was 10 years ago or so.

Whether he was right or wrong does not matter. What matters is that I had learned a rule of the game – when working for this manager (and others like him), do not use color. Got it.

Recently, I felt pulled to bring color back into all areas of my life. Taking a huge risk given the conservative industry in which I work and the conservative town in which I live, I added a few pink streaks to my hair. Then a few more. Before I knew it, I had a large swath of purple hair on the left side of my head. It felt amazing!

The exciting part – the only comments I got at work were positive ones. From there I have been adding other elements of creativity and color back into my work life – my office is decorated with different and crazy art and I have been intentionally buying brighter colors for my wardrobe.

Another example:

When I was first promoted into management, my manager pulled me aside and said this: “You need to be careful who you spend your time with during the day. You would do yourself a favor by choosing new lunch companions. Who you are seen with will reflect back on you.” I remember at the time being thoroughly confused – my friends were wonderful people, as far as I could tell.

The lesson there, though, was that people like to paint with wide brushes. Apparently, the folks I was eating with were not viewed as management types, and were, in some cases, seen as ‘difficult.’ If I continued to associate with them, I would risk being painted the same. What a horrible thing, and yet it was the truth.

Today, however, I have lunch with whomever I want – many, many different people – and I enjoy every one of them. I am not worried any longer about being painted one way or another – the privilege of my position protects me from that.

Final example:

Anyone who knows me knows my laugh. I love to laugh! I love to talk with others and share fun and delightful stories. I like to get to know others, hear about their lives, share in their joy. Early on, however, I learned that being loud and boisterous was not seen as having ‘executive presence.’ It was crass and unprofessional.

I have heard managers, regarding other associates say things like, “I need to get her to clean up that wardrobe,” or “She really needs to be wearing makeup,” or for men, “I really need him to shave/trim/get rid of that facial hair.” I even heard a comment at a recent event on workplace dress that all women who wish to get ahead should wear skirts and high heels every day. All of this in service to the rules of the game.

Nowadays for me, however, very few days go by without a loud, hearty haHA! and I feel much better for it. And I rarely wear high heels anymore. They hurt my feet!

So, what changed? From the early days to today? Time, effort, dedication, and proof that I am here, I am all-in, I am a leader, and I am serious. Despite (terrible word) the colored hair, the crazy artwork, the loud laughter, I am invested in the success of my organization and my employees.

In a word, I have earned privilege.

So what gives? Are we, the ambitious leaders of corporate America, doomed to a life of repressed self-expression? Of subverting our wishes and desires for the greater good?

The hard answer is, in many ways, Yes. The purpose of the corporation is to provide a return on investment to the owners, not to allow space for the personal expression of all employees. We win the game by playing the game.

But once you begin to climb, the freedom comes. You just have to insist on it.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this. Please share!

Have a great Wednesday!

An Experiment All Leaders Should Try

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I had an amazing experience this past week. I went to summer camp (Yes! Summer camp! For grownups!) up in the woods of Michigan with 70 or so other women. We did all kinds of fun things like swimming in the lake, having a pool-side happy hour, and sharing many deep and magical conversations.

We did arts and crafts, we danced, we did ropes courses complete with the biggest climbing wall ever (not me, but some stronger, braver people did). We cried, we laughed, we stayed up late and shared stories we couldn’t share anywhere else.

This was all due to the amazing work of Molly Mahar and her Stratejoy team. I give my highest recommendation for her work.

Underlying all of the fun, games and conversations at camp was one basic premise. This is what I want to bring back to all of you leaders.

In coming to camp, we all pledged to be completely judgment free for the whole week. We were coming from all corners of the US and further, and we were everything from doctors to lawyers, professional photographers to stay-at-home moms, vice presidents of life insurance companies (that’s me) to pharmacists, and everything in between. We were introverts and extroverts, early birds and night owls, single, married and divorced, young and old(er).

Bottom line, we were all very different.

It would have been the easiest thing in the world to be judgmental. For most of us, it is nearly second-nature. “She shouldn’t be wearing something that short/long/tight/loose!” “Why does she talk so much/so little?” “Is she really going to eat that much/that little?” All of this is part of what we do to some extent every day.

Think about what it would take to remove all of this judgment. It’s tough! When someone sat right in the spot where I had been planning to sit, instead of thinking, “That jerk! She is so rude!” I had to think “Okay, that spot is now taken, and I can probably find another one that will work just as well.”

When someone kept talking for an extended period of time, I might have thought, “Dang it! Is she ever going to stop talking? Can’t someone else have a turn?” but instead I thought, “She has quite a bit to get off her chest, and I should listen to see if I can learn from her or help in some way.”

The results were astonishing. People were suddenly free to be exactly who they wanted to be and who they were meant to be. There was absolutely no drama. Women were able to share deep, intimate stories quickly and without fear or inhibitions. We could dress however we wanted. We could be comfortable and rid ourselves of self-consciousness.

A very wise friend and I discussed this phenomenon on the way home from camp. One of the main reasons this judgment-free stuff worked is that there was an explicit agreement on both sides of any interaction at camp that whatever happened would be judgment free. This built an incredible level of trust. The trust helped us connect quickly and easily. Without this trust, it would have taken much longer to make connections. Without this trust, a person could be taken advantage of. Or maybe not.

So, I have a challenge for you.

Pick an hour of the day. Or pick a particular meeting. Or a particular person. And then try removing all judgment.

Start small. See what happens.

In a meeting, instead of thinking “I hate when he says things like that,” try going deeper to figure out why you feel that way, and/or why he might feel the need to say the things he says. You might find yourself surprised at what you come up with.

During a conversation with a colleague, instead of thinking, “She is so ignorant! Why doesn’t she get this?” try thinking, “What can I do here to help her understand what I am trying to say? How can I be clearer?” or “What piece of information might I be missing here?”

Try it once, then try it again. Then keep trying.

One lesson we hear often that will help is the idea of listening to hear, rather than listening to respond. In other words, while someone else is talking, instead of trying to figure out what you are going to say next, stop and just listen to what the other person is saying. The difference is rather incredible.

This can open us to different perspectives, different opinions, and additional facts and ways of thinking. It results in a more diverse workplace where everyone feels welcome, and everyone feels comfortable sharing their knowledge and opinions. We would be more effective and our companies would be more successful.

I think we, as leaders, can set an example to others by being open and accepting and meeting people where they are instead of expecting them to meet us where we are. This can sometimes take more effort and energy. It will take attention and concentration. I think, though, that we can create a better world for our employees, our friends and our family members by removing as much judgment as we can from our daily lives.

If we as leaders can model this behavior, in doing so we can create open, sharing environments where we aren’t constantly overwhelmed by politics.

It will take extreme corporate and personal courage to make this work, but I believe that we can all do hard things.

Give it a try, and let me know how it goes!

As always, keep it positive and smile!

Dealing with issues head on

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Last night my 10-year old daughter learned a lesson. It was hard, and it was important.

Last night she learned that dealing with problems head on is the best way to handle of them. She learned that no matter how bad she feels, or how much she just wants to crawl under the covers and pretend that nothing had happened, she will be much, much happier if she owns her problems and addresses them as quickly as possible.

We could all learn from this. In the workplace, just as it is outside, problems come up from time to time. Most of the time, these issues have something to do with imperfect communication, and many times, can be addressed with a quick correction. But add in emotions and you have a Problem. If the Problem is not addressed quickly and directly it tends to take on a life of its own.

Here’s what happened with my daughter. Its a common problem for 10-year old girls. She and her best friend got in a fight over what game they were going to play. This time it escalated to yelling and in the heat of the moment, my daughter yelled something she could see hurt her friend. The fact that she had caused this pain threw her into a cycle of shame, embarrassment, and regret.

Her first instinct was to run home, sneak upstairs, hide under her blanket in her bed, and sob. She quickly realized this wasn’t really working and came downstairs for comfort from her parents. It took quite some time and not a little courage to share what she had done.

Together we talked through a plan. What she said she wanted to do was to simply forget that anything had happened and deal with it all tomorrow. She was certain that her friend would never talk to her again, and even if she did, her mother would never allow her over to the house again. She was so upset about the whole ordeal that we had to help her to stop hyperventilating.

What we decided to do instead, a plan she agreed to with much trepidation, was for me to text her friend’s mom and ask if we could come over to talk. She would simply apologize for her part in the disagreement and would expect nothing in return.

Her friend’s mom was quick to say yes, and we headed across the street. My daughter was incredibly courageous and apologized to her friend, and also apologized to her friend’s mom. It was awkward for a minute or two, and then, suddenly, everything was back to normal.

What could have been a long drawn-out night of tears, fears, anxiety and hyperventilation became a night of just plain normal. What could have spiraled into a major drama that ruined their last week of summer was quickly resolved and put back to right.

So, the lesson here is that the same thing works in the work world. When there is a problem:

  1. Talk to someone who can help you – just as important, don’t talk to people who can’t help you. This just adds fuel to the fire.
  2. Face the issue head on – don’t bury yourself under the blanket.
  3. Be brave.
  4. Have a plan.
  5. If called for, apologize for your part in a misunderstanding.
  6. And while there are always two sides to a misunderstanding, do not expect anything in return – but be grateful when it comes.
  7. Move on. Let go, and let things return to normal.

Sound familiar? Do you have other thoughts on addressing problems in life or at work? I’d love to hear them!

As always, keep it positive and smile!

 

Leaders, take care of yourself!

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Butter and Lily on one of our hikes

I am not entirely sure why this is happening, but recently I am seeing more and more leaders, on Facebook and in real life, reaching the point of near-burnout. In fact, just a few days ago, there was an article on this very topic on the Forbes website, and a few articles elsewhere since then. The problem is real.

Some of this could be due to over-working (in which case see this post). Some of this could be the heat of the summer (I know it makes me grouchy), or some of it could be the unsettled political environment that seems to be affecting us all. Whatever it is, burnout is real and it is seemingly everywhere.

What does burnout do to us leaders? Several things, and none of them good.

First, life becomes exhausting. Everything seems harder. I know when I was suffering from burnout, one of the first signs was difficulty getting out of bed. I knew I needed to, I knew I was going to eventually, but actually doing it was incredibly hard.

Even harder – getting out of the car at work. Have you ever done this? Just sat in the car, waiting, hoping that things would somehow miraculously get better? I know I have.

Then we fall back into bad habits. We eat poorly. We give up on our exercise. We drink more alcohol. We don’t get enough sleep. We oversleep.

On top of all of this, our attitude plummets. We develop tempers, not just at work, but at home too. Or we check out. We are not engaged, we don’t participate. Worst of all, we forget how much our attitude affects others around us.

I have talked with a whole host of employees who are angry, confused, and on the verge of burnout themselves, who simply seem to be suffering under a boss who is burned out. If for no other reason than this, we must address burnout.

Look for the signs of burnout in yourself and your employees. Be vigilant about this. As with most things, it is so much easier to correct when you catch it early. Address situations head-on and with compassion. Especially when dealing with yourself. Most importantly….

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!

There is quite a bit out there on self-care. One of the most important lessons I have learned about self-care is that self-care is NOT the same as self-comfort. Molly Mahar, the creative genius behind Stratejoy.com, shared an important essay on this on her blog, and I encourage you to check it out. The difference boils down to what you need. Molly stresses that there is a time and a place for both care and comfort.

It seems to me that we are all probably pretty good at the self-comfort piece. More often than not, though, when dealing with burnout, it is self-care that we need. Here are some ideas for taking care of yourself:

  1. Take a vacation. Something as small as just driving out of town for the afternoon. Just find a way to put yourself into a new environment. Do this on a regular basis.
  2. Take up a new hobby. Try lots of different things until you find something you love. I did a quick search for local options here and found a warehouse that will allow you to weld, a t-shirt shop that will allow you to design and produce your own shirt, a glass-blowing workshop, an archery range, several yarn shops, ballroom dancing classes, a pottery shop….so many options!
  3. Schedule those doctors and dentist appointments you’ve been putting off. I just listened to a podcast on Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam about how we all seem to avoid health information that could help us to live better lives. Take a deep breath and go take care of this.
  4. Find a new gym. There are so many interesting options out there! I met someone recently who was trying a new gym each month or so to see what option worked best for her. She was having an interesting time with this – and if nothing else, was coming away with some amazing stories!
  5. Get yourself to a therapist. Many companies have employee assistance programs that provide for free appointments. There is nothing wrong with talking to a therapist. Talking to an independent, disinterested third party can be so healing. I have done so myself when life has become overwhelming and cannot speak highly enough of the important work therapists do.
  6. Get out into nature. There is something particularly healing about being out in the woods or on a lake or in a field. Go for a walk or a hike, go fishing, or kayaking down a river. Get in touch with that side of yourself, and get some exercise while you do so.
  7. Go to the spa. Do something new while you are there. Acupuncture? Why not! Mud wrap? Sure! Float tank? Just might be your new thing.
  8. Reach outside your comfort zone. This summer, I am going to summer camp! For grown-ups! Find something that seems crazy to you, and go do it. Open mike night, poetry jam, bungee jumping, 5K, TedTalk….just go!

Burnout is real, and it affects everyone around us when we don’t address it. Take some time to take care of yourself now!

As always, keep it positive and smile!

 

 

Tips for making that tough decision

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The other day I had a wonderful conversation with a colleague of mine. She had come to me for help in sorting out a particularly difficult decision she needed to make.

Together, we brainstormed some creative ways she could go about making this decision, and I thought I would share these ideas with you.

Some basic assumptions first, though:

  • This was a (personal) career decision. While these ideas may very well work for other types of decisions, I am not specifically suggesting them for anything other than a personal decision.

Examples of these types of decisions: Should I take the promotion if it means I have to relocate to Texas/Iowa/Alabama? Is it time for me to switch careers? Should I take this other assignment when I think I might be getting a promotion if I just stay where I am?

  • All of these ideas were likely suggested to me by the many and various wise teachers I have met during my life. Apologies for any oversight in attribution.
  • Some of these things may seem a little “wacky” for the average business person. I simply ask you to give them a shot. At the very least, don’t dismiss them immediately.

Some things it is important to keep in mind when these types of decisions come up:

  1. It is always important that you actually make a decision. If you don’t, you give the power over to someone else (see previous post on personal accountability);
  2. Be sure you right-size the problem. By that I mean do not give your problem more importance than they deserve. In most cases, if the choice you make doesn’t work out, you then have the option to make another choice;
  3. Most of the time, we know in our gut what we should do – any of these techniques I list below will likely only function to confirm your gut instinct.

So now, the ideas! I’ll use a hypothetical situation and question to work through each suggestion:

Hypothetical Situation: I have been offered a new position within the company. It is a lateral move into an area I find interesting. I am not fully challenged in my current position, but I am concerned that there does not appear to be any upward mobility in the new area.

Question: Should I take the new position?

1. The tried-and-true method of pluses and minuses.

How this might look:
Plus

  • New area offers more of a challenge
  • I would be learning something new
  • I am genuinely interested in the new job

Minus

  • No upward mobility
  • Might lose out on a promotion opportunity in current job
  • Risky – I might not like the new job

2. List your values, what is most important to you in life, determine which choice best aligns with this.

How this might look:

Current (hypothetical) values:

I need to be challenged. When I am bored at work, I am miserable, and then my family is miserable. While salary and advancement are important, I believe that if I am doing something I love, the money will follow.

3. Journal. Spend some time with a notebook, journal, or computer, and simply pour all of your thoughts onto the page. Keep going. Don’t think about what you are writing, just write. Many times I find that I write myself right into the decision. If not, go back and read over what you have written, and see if you find any clues there.

Some tips on how to do this:

  1. Ask yourself a question, then set a timer for three minutes. Write for the full three minutes without stopping. This is important – do not stop! Do not judge what you are writing (no one else is going to read this unless you let them).
  2. Ask yourself the opposite question. If you started with “Why should I take this other position?” now ask yourself “Why should I not take this other position?”
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 as many times as necessary.
  4. Go back and underline, circle, or simply take note of what seems to rise to the surface for you.

4. The “Why” game. This works best with a journal/notebook as well. Ask yourself what decision you want to consider first and write down your answer. Follow this with the question “why”. Write that answer down, and repeat this as many times as it takes to get to the real, underlying truth.

What this looks like:

I want to stay in the position I am currently holding. Why? Because it isn’t that bad. Why? Because there is stability here. Why do I care about that? Because I have ambition and student loans to pay off.

5. Talk it out. It often helps to include movement with this – going on a walk while you talk is a great idea!

There are some very important rules for this one, and these rules are incredibly important:

  1. This person has to be someone you trust, someone you know will have your best interests at heart;
  2. This person needs to be someone who does not have a vested interest in your choice. For example, do not talk this out with your boss who might be invested in you staying put, or a colleague who might benefit if you were leave;
  3. This person should only ask questions to help you dig deeper, and/or repeat back what they hear you say. They should use phrases like, “What I hear you saying is….” and “It sounds like you are really feeling….” and “So why is that particular thing important?”
  4. This person should be patient, empathetic, open, and understanding.business meditation

6. Meditate or pray. I highly recommend guided meditations. If you do a Google search for “guided meditations for decision making,” you can find all kinds of free examples. You may need to go through a few to find one that works for you, but keep trying. Praying can also be effective, no matter what your religion. Simply focusing on your problem and then releasing it to God, the Universe, your choice of higher power, can be extremely effective.

One thing I particularly like is the Rotarian Four-Way Test. This is an ethical guide to be used in personal and professional relationships, and would be an excellent start to a mindful meditation exercise.

Of the things we think, say, or do:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

7. Finally, try changing your perspective.

You could do this many different ways.

  1. Consider the situation as if an employee was asking you for advice. What would you tell him or her?
  2. Take a drive. Put on some tunes. Go somewhere you have never been, or haven’t been in a long time.
  3. Get out into nature. Breathe deep. Ask the trees and the birds for advice. (You’ll have to answer for them, but then that’s the trick!)
  4. Call a friend who knew you way-back when. See what they think.
  5. Do a headstand. Sit on the other side of your desk. Drive home a different way. Anything to shake up that brain of yours.
  6. Jump on a treadmill. Try a walking meditation (Google can help here again). Or try out a new playlist.

I know there are many other things people do to help them make a big decision. What is your go-to method? I’d love to hear from you!

As always, keep it positive and smile!

Why you (workaholics) should go home and take the day off

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Me and Dad enjoying a hike and a selfie one random day (2014)

Hi, my name is Melinda, and I am a workaholic.

I don’t know if you are like me – I certainly hope for your sake you aren’t! But for years, I neglected to take my vacation days. That isn’t to say I didn’t take vacation. I have three children, and between all of their activities and the need to show them the rest of the world, I have certainly had days out of the office. “Vacation Days” – or so my calendar at work calls them. Really, they just feel like “My Other Unpaid Job Days.”

My job was exceedingly demanding for several years. Luckily (for the company and for me), I thrive on ‘demanding’. I worked long hours, weekends, even became an expert on-line shopper for holidays. And I didn’t take extra days off.

It got to the point that I was “losing” days. We had a policy at that time where you could only roll over into the next year half of your vacation days. Then you had to use those days before the middle of the following year. If you used less than half, you lost the balance. If you didn’t use the days you rolled over by the June, you lost those days. I lost days in December and in June for many years.

It didn’t really matter to me – I was exceptionally happy at work. I felt like I was contributing at a high level and that kept me motivated. I loved my team, I loved my company, and most importantly I had an incredible partner at home (my husband). I made sure that every minute I spent with my kids and my husband was meaningful, if it wasn’t plentiful.

It seemed like everything was going along perfectly, until I lost my dad. I had dealt with loss in my life – just a few years before this I lost my great aunt, my grandfather and my grandmother. Loss and grief were not foreign to me.

In fact, when I lost my father, I was smart. I took care of myself, and (hopefully) my mother, my brother, my kids and my family. I took a week off of work. I turned off my phone for that entire week (I had never done this before). I never even thought about work. I took some time (its never enough time) to grieve and to heal. This post isn’t about that week.

It’s about the following year. At that point I was fortunate enough to be working with a brilliant executive coach. During one of our sessions, I mentioned that recently I had been having trouble focusing, that things weren’t coming so easily for me, and that I had been overreacting to seemingly small errors or differences in opinion. In fact, things had gotten so bad that I was not certain that I was able to contribute in a meaningful way any longer. The entire future looked bleak.

She asked me a simple question, “So what’s going on?”

Suddenly I realized that it was the one-year anniversary of my father’s death. And I was not coping well. I was relying on old habits of pushing through and working hard. It wasn’t going well. At all. I thought I would be fine. I thought a top-notch worker didn’t take days off for things like this, and I wanted to be top-notch. I thought that the strongest thing to do would be to go to work, swallow the tears, and keep moving forward.

Turns out I was wrong. For me, for this particular situation, this was the absolute worst thing (okay, maybe not the worst) I could do. My coach told me to pack up my things and head home. I can’t tell you why, but it was one of the hardest and best things I have done.

She talked to me about taking time for myself. About taking care of myself. Of listening to myself, and granting myself a little grace. She showed me that laying on the couch, staring at the ceiling with a bowl of buttered popcorn balanced on my belly was the best thing I could do for myself, if that was what I needed.

I needed to go home and take the day off.

And it turns out I only needed a day. I needed space to breathe and understand why I was feeling the way I felt. I needed to be free, for just a few hours, from the demands of other people. From the expectations of work and family.

You won’t be surprised to hear that it worked. I have a feeling that if I had I not taken that day off, I would have been miserable for much longer.

Since then, I have become a huge proponent of what I call “Mental Health Days.” If you are not going to be productive and you need some time to reflect, recharge, heal, sleep, journal, run, whatever it is, it is better that you take care of that right away rather than subjecting your unsuspecting coworkers to an ugly side of you.

In the event that you are a workaholic like me, I have some other suggestions for reasons to take a day off here and there:

  1. To help out in your child’s classroom or supervise a field trip
  2. To celebrate an anniversary with your significant other
  3. To appreciate the fall foliage or spring flowers
  4. To celebrate your birthday!
  5. To play with your puppies
  6. To just sleep in. For once.

Whatever you do, just be sure you are taking care of yourself. Do what you need to do to perform your very best each and every day.

And as always, keep it positive, and smile!