Sunday, April 29, 2012

Career Secret #7: Resilience Matters

By now, you’ve had numerous successes, you’re building momentum in your career, and your peers – and leaders - trust and admire you.  Life is good and you’re way ahead of your career schedule, accomplishing more than even you imagined. 
Then something happens.
A brilliant idea is rejected because your organization is changing directions.  Or you lose out on a big promotion.   Maybe you get a new boss.  Or you are given ‘constructive’ feedback on your performance that you didn't see coming.  
Whatever it is feels very personal to you.  Anyone who tells you not to take things personally at work is full of shit.  If your heart is not engaged in how you spend each day, you’d be wise to look for another job that warrants your emotional attachment.
Having said that, you must also learn to manage disappointment.  This is critical to your career, and the way you handle setbacks will determine how, or if, you continue to move ahead. 
Yes, I know, I know.
‘But they made the wrong decision in changing directions’ 
‘I knew someone would sabotage me’
'I can’t depend on this company anymore’
 My own experience has taught me that one of two things happen following a career disappointment.   People withdraw, blame others and lose both confidence and momentum. Or, they realize that change is often unpredictable, so they recalibrate and adjust in order to maintain professional progress. 
Two years ago, I lost out on a promotion and I was devastated.  For the next year, I lost valuable time and energy grieving instead of looking for new ways to move forward.  My heart was no longer engaged in the process.  No one had sabotaged me, but I almost sabotaged myself by indulging my disappointment too long. 
Tips I've learned for managing professional disappointment:
1)  Give yourself time to process what has happened and just generally feel bad.  Your emotions will come out anyway, so you’re better off dealing with them honestly.  Take a week.  A month at the very most.  Then get back in the game.

2)  Reassess the political environment.  Learn why things changed and what impacted the new priorities.  Ask with an open mind, and you’ll find the answer.

3)  Once you have this information, lay low for a few weeks as you’re putting together a new plan.  Avoid jumping to immediate solutions because you’re not doing your best thinking after a setback.  Be deliberate and strategic.

4)  Regardless of your personal opinion, support the change in direction and/or leadership and help your colleagues do the same.  That’s what leaders do.  Work through your disappointment with your partner, a trusted, non-work friend or your therapist.  Never with a colleague and never, ever with a subordinate.

5)  Spend time indulging yourself in a non-work interest.  When the ego is bruised, creativity suffers.  Reconnect with your imagination by resuming an old hobby or picking up a new one.

6)  Let yourself swear a little.  A heartfelt f-bomb can be the best therapy on earth.  Outside of work, of course.  Your dog will understand.

Unforeseen Challenge:  This always surprises me, but a few people will be quite pleased to see that you’ve finally been put it your place.  They can hardly wait to share their pearls of wisdom with you in a parental, condescending tone.  ‘I thought you were moving a little fast,’ or ‘that seemed like a pretty wild idea,’ or, my personal favorite, ‘I could have told you that wouldn’t work.’  You may be tempted to use one of your therapeutic f-bombs here, but try to take the high road and give them their moment.  Ultimately, it costs you nothing.
Challenges are part of any career that is advancing quickly. Just remember that you have the ability to keep moving forward, even if all the signs in front of you say otherwise.  Next time you have a setback, consciously practice resilience, guide your momentum back on course and you will re-emerge stronger than ever.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mom In My Dreams

Last night, Mom visited my dream.  Again.  This is the third time since she died, for sure, because I've blogged about two others.  And it seems like there was one more, but I can't be certain because it's not recorded anywhere.

This is the first time we've had actual dialogue.

When I see her, my heart beats louder and my 'asleep but awake' brain races.  'Oh, my God, it's Mom,' I say to myself.  She's sitting at the end of my bed, like a girlfriend at a slumber party.

She says, 'What's up with the grandkids?'  

I ask what she means.

'Well, as soon as I knew I would die, I just let go...of all of them.'

I say nothing.

She asks, or says, something about my brother.  'Is he okay?'  That's what I heard.

Then, 'I was there on Thursday at eight, and I'll be back again this week.'

Huh.  Thursday at eight...morning or night?  And will she be back this Thursday at eight, or just some random time this week?

Now, because I have her captive, I quickly search my mind for questions I want to ask.

Me: 'Can you be with us anytime you want?'

Her: 'Not really.  I have five other places to go.'  I have the feeling that she is responsible for these areas in some way.

Me: 'Are you with your family?'

Her: 'Sometimes.'

I ask if she has seen my sister's former husband, who died years ago.

'No, not yet.'

Me:  'Do you like it there?'

She shrugs slightly and says, 'yeah.'  Like I had asked someone here, 'do you like planet Earth?'

Then it was over. 

Her easiness - her lightness - has stayed with me throughout the day and given me peace.  This is significant because Mom was not a 'light' person.  She felt things deeply, heavily, and grieved circumstances she could neither change nor control.  This fed her melancholy and frequently, her despair.

But not last night. I saw my mother involved in a life that has importance beyond us.  She was not grieving, not sad, but simply in step with a new way of being.

And she'll be back...this week.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sycomore Still Almost Makes Me Cry

Last fall, I boxed up my perfumes in their original packaging and placed them in a larger box for storage.  Apparently, I needed to clear some space to begin dabbling in making perfumes myself.

Which I'll return to any day now.

Well, the good new is, they're back, and I have resumed playing regularly with my perfumes.  Explaining this would be embarrassing to anyone but you fellow perfume geeks.  Don't even act like you don't know what I mean: sniffing each bottle, one-by-one, then pondering which perfumes might work well blended.  Swooning and remembering lost loves that haven't been worn for a long time, but have waited patiently for me to come back to say hello.

Tonight after work, I stopped at Ulta for a 'clearance rack extravaganza,' then came home and had fun putting away all of my loot; lotion, make-up, nail polish and various other unneeded items.  Soon after, I found myself engaged in full-on perfume play.  After sniffing multiple darlings, I reached for Chanel's Sycomore.

Dear God, what an aromatic masterpiece. 

I almost cried.

And you know exactly what I'm talking about, don't you?

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Career Secret #6: Think Bigger

Keeping your eye on the big picture is an important part of advancing your career. But thinking big means more than that; it means staying at least three steps ahead of everyone else, every day.

Pay attention and look around.  You'll be amazed at how few people think beyond what's in front of them right now.  They're worried about tomorrow, next week and next month, carefully following a strategic plan to achieve their two years.

How very dull.

From the beginning, every idea, opportunity or event you pursue should be taken to the peak of your imagination.  Use your vision and enthusiasm to engage others to make great things happen quickly.  Strategic planning has its place, but it is no substitute for big, creative thinking.

When I worked at the hospital, my directors often came to me with good, solid ideas.  Rather than simply approving them, I always challenged my staff to use their ideas as a foundation for thinking bigger. For example, one leader had the idea to create training modules for physicians so they would know how to fully utilize the service he directed.  Okay, great.  Now what if he also measured patient and family satisfaction, published an article co-authored by an influential physician and gave a presentation as a topic expert at a national medical conference?

Now, he's more than a director who launched a successful project.

Now, he's a freakin' rock star.

Yes, I know, I know.

'But I'm not really an expert.'
'Physicians (or others in power) intimidate me.'
'What if no one publishes my article?'
'That sounds really hard'

A.  Cowboy up (Career Secret #4)
B:  Realize it takes very little extra effort to go from doing something valuable to creating something truly extraordinary

Seven tips for making the extraordinary happen by thinking big:

1)  Unload the details.  I've mentioned this before, but now it's absolutely essential.  You cannot lead and 'wow' the organization if you're stuck in your office working on an algorithm for the new billing process.

2)  Become the Pied Piper of ideas.  People naturally want to follow someone with vision and energy. Pursue ideas that sound outrageous even to you because that's what will keep you juiced. You'll be surprised at your own resourcefulness and creativity.  

3)  Work fast.  You're more likely to get  approval and support along the way if your solutions are coming quicker than anyone's objections.  This forces you to think ahead and allows you to control the outcome of your idea and gain influence in your organization.

4)  Tap into something your organization truly needs.  Is it money?  Customer satisfaction?  Prestige?  National recognition?  Find out, then target your idea toward this goal. 

5)  Let go of linear thinking.  You don't need to complete task A before beginning task B.  Save energy by bringing the low and high impact components of your idea together at the same time.  Using the example above, my director should write the article and form his presentation at the same time he's creating, implementing and tracking the training modules. 

6)  Get in front of people.  You will accomplish more in a five minute face-to-face encounter than you could in weeks of back and forth e-mail communication.  Plus, valuable, inside information will come your way if you get out of your office and talk to people.

7)  Nothing has to be perfect.  Perfectionism is a tool of the insecure.  The most important thing about a great idea is to make it happen. Tweak the process and learn as you go.  

Unforeseen Challenge:  As exciting as your idea might be to you, not everyone will want to keep pace with your energy.  Perhaps it reminds them of what they don't feel - or want - and they may find you annoying.  And, let's face it, your relentlessness probably is annoying.  Nevertheless, these same people can be valuable to the completion of your plan because they will be content to look after mundane details while surfing the web for fishing equipment.  You must be willing to stand alone in your enthusiasm.  Apologize to no one and simply keep doing what you do.

Thinking big means pursuing what others assume is impossible.  By now, you know your own abilities, and you're not afraid to challenge the status quo and  chase goals that no one else has even thought of yet.  So go ahead, engage your imagination, take action and ignite your career.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Career Secret #5: Act Like A Leader

If you want to move your career ahead - and do it quickly - you must learn to manage your professional image.  With just a little focus, you can develop the qualities of a leader, which will ignite your career and make you a better person in the process.

This means losing some behaviors and adopting others.

Yes, I know, I know.

'I'll feel like an impostor'
'What will other people think if I change?'
'It will take forever to learn'

Acting like a leader doesn't mean you become someone else, but it is a turning point in your career that sets you apart from all the others.   And if you follow this advice, you may look and feel different than you do right now.  But once you let go of your objections and become willing to see yourself in a new light, anything is possible. 

Simple tips for acting like - and becoming - a leader:

1)  Stand up straight.  Do you ever see great leaders slump or shuffle down the hall looking at the ground?  Of course not.  Leaders stand erect, look straight ahead and walk with purpose. 

2)  Stop fidgeting.  No more drumming your fingers on the desk, tapping your foot, biting your nails, folding and unfolding your arms or picking a zit.  Leaders remain still, especially during stressful times.  Their body language projects calmness, confidence and safety.

3)  Pay attention to your facial expression.  Sitting in meetings, I notice that many people relax into a natural frown.  Some have a furrowed brow.  Others sit with their mouths open and stare off into space.  Mentally check your own facial expression to reflect pleasant, relaxed engagement.

4)  Speak with calm authority.  How many times do you say 'you know' 'uh' or 'like' in a sentence?  Filler words diminish your message and make you appear uncertain and less intelligent than you are.  Also, lower the pitch of your voice and speak at a moderate pace.  

5)  Make eye contact.  Look directly into a person's eyes when you're interacting with him.  This communicates your interest, and tells him you can be trusted.

6)  Listen first, then talk.  Rather than jumping in with your own opinion, wait until everyone has had a chance to share their thoughts.  Ask follow up questions, consider their ideas and never interrupt the speaker.  Then, you're ready to summarize the discussion and propose the next step. 

7)  Find your style.  Great leaders don't change their hair color every three months or wear fuzzy boots with a skirt because it appeared on the cover of a magazine.  That doesn't mean that leaders aren't stylish.  It simply means they find a flattering, authentic look and, with subtle variations, stick with it. 

8)  Create your brand.  What do you do better than anyone?  Do you have an elevator speech that describes both your  strength and your passion for the organization?  If not, create one and use it every chance you get.

9)  Always keep your cool.  When your career grows quickly, you can expect that your motives and your competence will be challenged. The way you handle this is so important, especially in an open setting.  Never respond in anger or defensiveness. 'How interesting, I'll give that some thought' is an effective statement to shut down criticism in a meeting.  Silence is also very powerful.

10) Leaders are never victims.  A leader I respect includes this principle in all of his speeches.  You have the ability to move forward, make a positive difference and succeed no matter what.  It's up to you alone.

Adopting these behaviors consistently will change the way you view your work.  And they will change you, too, because we act our way into becoming better people.  Soon, new opportunities will appear, and because you have grown as a leader, you'll be ready.

Unforeseen Challenge:  This career secret will shift your professional life into high gear.  You may have difficulty keeping up with the changes because opportunities and successes are coming so fast.  At times, it will feel like your career is running you instead of the other way around.  This is a totally natural response to rapid change.  You may be able to confide in friends or partners, but they are adjusting to your changes, too.  A good therapist can help you navigate this process much better than you can manage it on your own.  This doesn't mean you're crazy or on the wrong path.  Seeking therapeutic help shows you are self-aware and proactive through your positive transformation.

Fake it 'til you make it?  Act as if?   Well, maybe.  But if you've chosen the fast track (and incorporated the previous four Secrets), your professional life is already changing.  Now, act like a leader and watch your career blast off.

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