Try This Title on For Size: Decoding the Job

I’m constantly reviewing job descriptions to understand what organizations are looking for and who might be the ideal candidate. As one would expect, I look for the key experience and skillset desired as well as the level and years of experience. I also try to get a sense for the subtext of the organization’s priority and emphasis on this position – is this position replacing a previous person? Is the position brand new in the organization? Or is the position being re-branded in a new way? But before I can get to any of this, I start by considering the job title. A job title says a lot about the organization and sets the tone for an organization’s approach towards innovation and hiring.

I have noticed a few ways that organizations are using job titles to describe their work and reflect their values – in ways that you might have to read into to understand:

  • In some companies and workplaces, choosing a title is an adventure - an exploration of who you are and what is possible. This Forbes article highlights a few creative titles like Director of First Impressions, Master of Disaster, and Creator of Opportunities. The Union for Reform Judaism has a VP of Audacious Hospitality.
  • In other organizations, job titles are fairly standard - they represent the core function of the work and they are often more straightforward to understand: Director of Sales, Operations Manager, and Communications Specialist.
  • I often see job titles that are new and different, yet they describe work that is familiar- like product/program development, project management, communications, etc. The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently polled people to learn about new fundraising titles such as Chief Progress Officer and Director of Capital and Growth. Check out #FRTitles for more.
  • There are job titles that are new because the work is new: in the marketing world, there are now an extensive number of more niche positions like Mobile Marketer, Content Librarian, and Social Media Engineer. There’s a whole job board dedicated to community management positions that showcase positions like Head of Engagement & Networks and Head of Community.
  • And then there’s the reality that work is constantly evolving and we need new ways to describe the work that we’re doing. CultureAmp published a post on the 5 Unique Human Resources Job Titles for 2017 which detail titles like VP of Teammate Success and People Analytics Lead. Airbnb renamed a title Chief Experience Officer because of the way that talent has evolved in the workplace.

Here are some questions to think about as you choose the job title:

  • Are you looking for someone who resonates with a traditional title such as “Director of Operations,” who inherently understands what this title signifies?
  • Are you expanding and evolving your work in ways that necessitate a new way of describing the work? Are you creating a product or program that never existed and need to develop the syntax for this new work?
  • Are you trying to package a position that seems unappealing by creating a new and improved job title in order to recruit a new and different talent pool? 

And, most importantly, will the person you’re looking to attract resonate with the title? Be honest with yourself and your colleagues, as the job title speaks volumes about the organization, affects the candidates you can recruit, and also impacts the internal perception of your current team.

Thank you to Hannah Schaeffer, who helped with research and editing. And, thank you to Heather Martinez (@corpgraffitiart) for helping to workshop the picture I drew above.

How to get – and interpret job references

As Schusterman’s career matchmaker, I work with job seekers and hiring managers in our network to place great candidates into top jobs. In my conversations with hiring mangers the past few months, I’ve heard a consistent theme about hiring talent: several hiring managers told me they had been excited about top candidates they were about to hire...until they talked to their references!

For the hiring manager, calling references is the last step in the hiring process – the only thing standing in the way of an offer is a reference call that checks out. For the job seeker, providing references can feel like the icing on the cake since your handpicked references will surely give you a good recommendation, right?

But it’s time to rethink job references. Job seekers have been selecting the wrong references to provide – and hiring managers aren’t asking the right questions of them.

The key is to look forward, rather than back.

All too often, references serve to shed light on the candidates past performance. This makes sense – after all, the references know how the candidate performed at a previous job.

Yet the best references focus on the future. And the key to looking forward is focusing not on the job seeker’s achievements, but on their mindset.

Carol Dweck, in “Mindset,” talks about a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. When people have a fixed mindset, they believe that their basic abilities, like intelligence or success are traits set in stone. Past performance will dictate future potential; essentially a spiral of history that repeats itself.

Individuals with a growth mindset, in contrast, believe that their basic abilities can be developed through hard work and dedication. A growth mindset is desirable, as it promotes life-long learning and an ability to change behaviors.

Asking for feedback on a job seeker's past performance assumes that their past performance is indicative of how they will perform in the future. Yet, that future doesn’t account for the job seeker's potential personal and professional growth, or in other words, their growth mindset.

The lesson for the job seeker is to showcase their growth mindset by picking references that also have a similar outlook. Do references engage in constant learning? Do they tend to have a more positive or cynical approach towards their own circumstances in life? If the reference has a gloomy outlook toward themselves and their work, you can’t expect them to paint the job seeker in a positive light. 

For hiring managers, listen closely not only to the way references talk about the candidate’s success (or failures) but also to how they talk about the candidate’s personal growth – to what degree has the job seeker sought out professional development and learning opportunities on the job and outside of work? Ask the reference how the job seeker behaves in different situations and ascertain the reference’s mindset by asking some probing questions that might highlight the complexity and self-awareness the reference has about the job seeker’s behavior. Has the reference given feedback to the job seeker? What was the feedback and how was it received and what happened as a result?

For the job seeker, think about how to choose references that can best showcase your growth mindset and self-awareness. The references you are inclined to ask might know your work well but could be stuck in their way of thinking.

For the hiring manager, if you ask the wrong questions you might miss out on a good candidate. How are you synthesizing feedback from the recommender that is representative of your own growth mindset? And how much weight are you putting on the reference’s input compared to your own evaluation of the job seeker?

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Am I the shell of someone I once knew?

Olympic Training Center 023.jpg

What happens when you wake up and forget who you used to be? Is it a sign of growth and rejuvenation? Or have you lost a piece of yourself, a shell of who you once were?

I often introduce myself to new friends and colleagues, without mentioning a detail that at one point in my life defined me. I used to be a competitive swimmer. It’s that simple. I used to be a competitive swimmer and now-a-days I sometimes forget. 

I forget that competitive swimming defined my life and my identify. I forget that I would have sacrificed anything - time, friends, and even my grades for the chance to compete internationally and make it to the Olympics.

Identify is a funny thing. We try on identities all the time - as partners, as friends, and especially as job seekers (something I’m focused on quite a bit these days). We immerse ourselves in the language and culture of our in-group, sometimes to the point of not being able to leave; it is so ingrained in us that sometimes it’s difficult to imagine identifying with another group in this way.

At what point does our identity shift? When do we awaken to the conscious notion that we have changed and our world views are different? Passions and hobbies that once seemed so important (i.e. making that documentary in Argentina or writing a children’s book) have stopped being so important. Is that okay?

Sometimes, I remember the hours I spent staring at the black line on the bottom of the pool. I remember the long practices, the sore shoulders and the nervousness I felt as I prepared for a big swim meet. I remember the diligence by which I recorded every workout in a tattered journal now hiding in my storage unit; the obsessiveness by which I tracked competition results, labeling each medal with my time and place in permanent marker.

These memories fade into the distance; they are no longer my reality. 

We change, and the environment around us changes. As many leaders point out, change is the only constant. When we are ready to face the change in our lives, we have to accept it. We have to honor the memories of our former life and face who we are now, and what that means. I acknowledge the impact that swimming has had on me; being a swimmer has shaped how I see the world and how I approach the relationships I build and the work I do. 

Being a swimmer will always be a part of me, but it does not define me right now. That’s difficult for me to hear, and I am slowly trying to accept it. 

If you're wondering what inspired this post: Last month I was grateful to attend the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia. On the agenda was a session featuring three Olympic soccer players which I thought about skipping because I had other more important work to do; it was at that moment it hit me: in my former life, I would have never missed an opportunity to hear an Olympian. How can I reconcile this with the obsessed swimmer-athlete that I used to be who would never miss a talk from an Olympian?

If you're wondering what the picture is above: It's of me the summer I interned with US Figure Skating and lived at the Olympic Training Center 10 years ago, standing next to my childhood swimming idol, Janet Evans.

How much do we share and why?

Hi, I’m Lauren. I tend to overshare.

I often find myself telling people I’ve just met about the struggles I’m facing in my relationships or my dreams from the night before. Lately, however, I find myself sharing less and less of myself. You might wonder, why is that?

Earlier this year, I heard Brene Brown speak at an International Coach Federation (ICF) conference and since then, I subsequently read her book “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” which dives into the world of shame and vulnerability. One of Brene’s statements in her book really struck me as I started to think about why we share, what we share, who we share with and when we share: “When we over share, it’s an act of something else – we are desperate to connect,” she writes.

Yet, what is the fine line between sharing enough and too much?

An act of under-sharing can seem stand-offish, disengaged or disinterested.

An act of over-sharing can seem effusive and self-centered.

I used to think that by sharing a lot of myself with others helped form connections. For example, by sharing my dating trials and tribulations I would feel a sense of camaraderie. By sharing something personal to me (sometimes, very personal!) might help others gain insights into my personality and who I am. I didn’t realize that over sharing could actually, in a counterintuitive way, hinder my goals of connecting and building relationships in an authentic manner.

Me, after sharing a few anecdotes about dreadful first dates, “Isn’t this story interesting?”

Colleague: “Why is she telling me this?”

Nowadays, I might allude to recent adventures on a trip to Spain, but I won’t go into details about … (that was a practice in leaving out details).

What I’ve realized is that by sharing too much, as a way to bring people in, can actually lead to mistrust and a sense of disconnection. Instead of forming a deeper connection through the interaction, the person on the other end feels removed – from me and from the content I’ve shared. My desire to connect overlooks the need for a connection to be based on something that we really share, versus what I share. 

Sharing is not connecting. And over-sharing may undermine efforts to make real connections with others. What do you share and why?

Channel Your Creative #Genius

I’ve been reading Tina Seelig’s book “inGenius” the past few weeks and her ideas and perspectives about creativity have been trickling into my psyche. How do we recognize our own ways of seeing the world and how do we enable ourselves to be more creative through the spaces we inhabit and the people we spend time with? How do we approach our own creative process of brainstorming and risk taking, both building on and letting go of the ideas that come to us in the moment?

Inspired by a recent conversation I had with Mark Albion, a mathematician turned Harvard Business School Professor / branding expert turned do-gooder, I started to think about this idea of genius. What is genius? Is it an extension of Tina Seelig’s notion of creativity – for example, the idea of putting information together in ways that have never been done before? Is it the ability to perceive radical ideas when others just see something as status quo?

At what point do individuals, or organizations, or even projects tip from a good idea to a great idea? How do we maximize our creative juices to support innovation?

What I’ve noticed is that the experts master the basics before they are able to create brilliance. The master mathematician starts with algebra and calculus, understanding the basic concepts before developing his or her own assumptions about the world, and starts to create problems and solutions that test his or her theories. The master artist sees the world in shapes, sounds and colors, and learns about the basic patterns and approaches to capturing these aspects in watercolor, or oil, or photography. The master coach understands how to hold the space, ask powerful questions and perceive trends in her clients before she is able to develop a new model, or way of seeing how people fit in the world.

By experimenting with the basics, we are able to test and challenge what we believe to be possible. We are able to gather data, through failure and experience that contributes to what emerges as new ideas and solutions within our fields.

This notion of mastery brings me back to the idea of apprenticeship I wrote about a few months ago. How do you channel your own creative genius and embark on a personal commitment to brilliance by studying those who have done exceptionally well before you? Who, in your field of work, is ahead of the curve and how do you work with them?

As Mark Albion wrote to me in a follow-up email, “Masters know how to think in the box before they think out of the box.” How are you starting to think in the box, so that you can think outside of it?”

Acknowledgment: What Happens When We Aren’t Heard?

I’ve been really into “acknowledgement” lately. I’m not talking about the section in my latest book but rather the small subtle ways that we tell people that yes, we hear them.

Here’s a couple of ways I’ve been thinking about acknowledgment:

Acknowledging Others

I would argue that it’s almost impossible to make ‘progress’ in a team or work through any type of conflict without listening to the other person and giving them some indication that you have “heard” them (do you hear me?). Dorie Clark, in her review of Amy Edmunson’s book Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy, loosely refers to this as “airtime quality.” She writes, ‘Literally going around the room to ensure everyone has spoken up can introduce an element of ‘airtime quality.'” I like this concept, as I imagine loaded statements flying through a conference room as they land, and exploring whether they are met with adversity, respect or simply ignored.

In many cases, acknowledgement can be associated with doing a “good” job and thanking someone for what s/he has done for you. It can also come as an apology, expressing regret or remorse for something that has been done. Are you one of those people who always says, “I’m sorry” as you sidestep people in the streets? Do you immediately say “nice work” when you receive a draft communication before reading it to really know if it’s a job worth praising?  While it’s important to think about your natural instincts and habits of behavior, true acknowledgement demonstrates that you have reflected in a thoughtful way and are expressing what’s on your mind or in your heart, whether it’s perceived as positive or negative.

By recognizing the other person and their impact on you, there is greater space and opportunity for productive dialogue.

Acknowledging Yourself

Acknowledgement is often the elephant in the room, the silent intruder in your internal thought process. There is so much time spent trying to show others who you are. When building connections with other people, it’s important to do this to a degree, and it’s also helpful to be able to articulate what’s true for you… and not just what you want others to know about you. How do you demonstrate who you are based on what you think and feel?

A technique many coaches use with their clients is a “pause” practice. It’s taking a moment to notice what’s going on around you – what’s happening on the inside and what are you experiencing at a given moment? I am reminded of how I used to prepare for meetings – by not preparing. I enjoyed the spontaneity of conversations that had no structure, and later realized that I didn’t really know what my own opinion was. I hadn’t quite tested what was important to me and how I wanted to approach a topic. As I grew into being a Manager, I realized that I needed my own pause, or preparation, that would help me solidify my stance on an issue so that I could argue from a stronger vantage point. It was important to recognize myself in the conversation and it ultimately made for stronger dialogue.

How often do you “pause,” listen to yourself, and acknowledge what is true for you? And how often do you feel heard? Or seen for who you really are? Getting some acknowledgement from other people serves a purpose, and also the way in which you treat yourself helps inform your own viewpoint and see others.

In order for you to acknowledge other people, you have to start with yourself and speak the truth. When you acknowledge what is true for you and what you see in another person, the results can be transformational.

Special thanks to my Junie Nathani, whose conversation prompted me to write this a few weeks back and to Shelley Danner, who helped me restructure my thinking around acknowledgement.

Is the Art of Apprenticeship Dead?

Earlier this year, I was walking the streets of Fez, Morocco and I couldn’t help but notice the artisans diligent at work on their craft. Hands dirtied from the leather dyes and eyes perched over sewing looms, I imagined the years of study and apprenticeship to learn their art.

In traditional craftsmanship, the art of apprenticeship is still alive – older, experienced artisans take on apprentices to learn how to do their trade. They take the time to invest in their training and pass on years of lessons learned.

The concept of master/apprentice is apparent in modern day form – often as a mentor/mentee. A modern day mentor may share characteristics with a “master” although there is an open question around a mentor’s experience and skill, and whether she has offered up her wisdom or has simply been assigned as a mentor through a local program or organization.

Apprenticeship implies an inherent art in creating an end product. Is this even viable in our workplace today? If the end product is a PowerPoint, is that a craft? Or a piece of artwork? What are the boundaries and limitations of crafts(wo)manship?

Apprenticeship also implies that the master has successfully understood the depth of his field through a certain level of skill expertise and time investment. Who are the wise, experienced individuals who are ready to instill their ways of working and being in the world? Are they ready to create a legacy and commit to teaching others when the moment is right? Also, when time is a precious resource, do the people we call “mentors” really make the time to teach others the art of their craft?

When I look at academic / PhD programs, I am envious of the apparent apprenticeship model that still exists – professors working with graduates students in a time intensive and meaningful way. Perhaps, coming from the business and nonprofit world, where the expectations around mentors is different, I am envious of the time and commitment the professors make (even if it may be part of the job description).

Certainly, there are professions where traditional apprenticeship still exists. And perhaps this is most evident in European countries where young people test their interests before committing to a professional direction. In a recent TED talk I listened to about “dirty jobs,” Michael Rowe discusses alternate career paths and the foundation he started (mikeroweWORKS) to meet the needs of people interested in skilled trades.

To use Michael Rowe’s language, I think there is a “profoundly disconnected” generation today who is looking to revive the art of apprenticeship and really commit themselves to a worthy path. It might be by building the way in which mentors and mentee relationships exist, or it may be that there is a resurgence of traditional apprenticeship – that is no longer based on artisans, but rather in all professions that require discipline and rigor to learn the craft.

Who is ready to learn from the elders in this brave, new world when anything can be learned online? What does that time commitment and sacrifice look like?

Shout-out to Julia Enyart and Julia Holup whose conversation over Beau Thai food a few weeks back helped me formulate some of these ideas. Also, thanks to Shelley Danner for her feedback and edits!

Taking Time to Breathe Amidst Chaos and Loss

I sit and choke with the disbelief of chemical warfare. I think about innocent children and bystanders who are caught in the middle of it all.   I’ve been hijacked by the images I conjure in my head and that stay with me throughout the lunch hour. I can’t concentrate.

I try to continue working but the AP alerts and Facebook statuses take me away from my reality. How can I bring myself back to center? How can I continue my day in light of what’s happening in the world around me?

Yesterday, I read Oriah’s facebook status where she talks about Tonglen – a meditation practice that she describes as “breathing in the thing that is causing suffering and breathing out the antidote – the thing that you hope will alleviate suffering.” It makes me wonder how we can stay calm in light of so much distraction, of so much real-life news.

This week, I also learned that a fellow coach / friend has breast cancer. She is probably one of the fiercest, strongest women I know. She is also someone who stands in her body and exhibits power. I mourned the situation by writing a poem for her and reflecting on what it means to deal with the uncertainties of life.

It’s these moments – the micro and the macro – that take me away from the work I’m doing. Or maybe this is part of my work. Yet, when I think about what needs to get done and what I’ve committed to, I don’t know how to make time to address the suffering. It’s only after “permissible” events that we’re allowed to stop working and go home – 9/11, the DC earthquake, the death of a loved one. When is it permissible to shut down and mourn the loss of something that isn’t acknowledged in the workplace… but stirs you inside until you are at a loss for words and must sit in the moment of reflection, wondering what the meaning is behind all of it.

I strongly believe that we need to live in our world and be present for it. Sometimes our world is our workplace, or our friend group, or our community. Other times it is larger – the planet, a civil rights movement, globalization. Whatever your world is, take a minute to notice what’s happening around you and acknowledge what its impact is on you. If you need to take time to recover, channel some Oriah and breathe in the negativity and sad news and breath out positivity and healing power. It’s not going to solve world problems, but it is going to help alleviate some personal suffering.

Shout-out to Liz Forney, who inspired this conversation and deep thoughts over our short but sweet lunch today. I immediately came home and wrote this post. Also, I am sending healing thoughts to my coach/friend and thinking about you.

Health: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

You have a gift: you are alive and (hopefully) healthy.

Health is a funny thing. For people who are born “healthy,” it feels like a given until something happens and you realize that health is the most important factor in your life.

For people born with a chronic illness or a disability, healthy is a different kind of normal, one that I think people learn to adapt to, to make their own “normal.”

No matter what our situation is, bad health can make our lives utterly miserable and unbearable.

I have been thinking a lot about illness and life and death the past couple of weeks, especially after watching the touching video of 18 year-old Zach Sobiech, who passed away last week. In the video (which appeared multiple times in my friends’ Facebook feeds), Zach shares his story about living with terminal cancer. While the video is certainly emotional, one line he says really struck me, “You don’t have to find out you’re dying to start living.”

Stories like this are heart wrenching and remind me that the human experience is universal; there is suffering, there is illness, there is despair. But there is also joy, exuberance, and gratitude.

How do you take care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually? How do you not only live your life, but also know when to stop and slow down to make sure you’re maintaining your health? What crosses my mind is:

If you have the ability to touch your body and know that it’s “whole” (however you define it)…

If you have the ability to control your body and use it however you choose…

If you have the ability to know what it’s like to feel rested and vibrant…

If you have the ability to nourish yourself…

That is a certain kind of freedom.

Who is the “most alive” person you know? Are they healthy? Are they dying… or are they just starting to live?

Shout out to all my friends who helped me (or offered to help me) when I was sick with mono and other travel-related illnesses the past couple of months. Also, shout-out to Stefanie Ginsburg who gave me some additional thoughts on health and wellness to incorporate into this blog post.

Creating a Shift in How and Where You Work

How often do you get asked, “How do you like to work?”

As students in school, we may have never been asked how we like to learn, but over time we most likely figured out our preferred “learning style.” My older brother skipped many of his graduate school classes, preferring to watch lectures in the quiet of his apartment, using a technology platform to fast forward the slow speaking professors so that he could digest the information twice as fast as if he were sitting in class. In college, I preferred to take my homework to the quiet basement of the biomedical library adjacent to campus; as I’ve grown older, I like the hustle bustle of local cafes stirring in the background; the noise and music blurring together helps me to get into the zone.

Over time, we figure out how we learn best through trial and error; whether it’s visual, auditory or tactile (a laFleming’s VARK model) or through concrete experience, abstract conceptualization, reflective observation or active experimentation (a la Kolb’s model based on Experiential Learning Theory); we all learn how we best learn.

But how do we learn how we best work? Or translate our preferred learning style into our preferred working style?

Often, we’re at the mercy of the organization we work for and we have to fit into a way of working that matches the people around us (which may have been a reason for choosing where we work in the first place). There usually is a choice involved and it’s important to recognize how you work best: by yourself, with a thought partner, as a part of a team? Focusing on one major project or multi-tasking? Using PowerPoint, Excel or Google Docs?  I’m not aware of a leading model to describe this phenomenon (maybe I’ve gotten too lazy to go on an extended search) but I have recently started to read David Rock’s book “Your Brain at Work” which talks about how you can effectively organize your work to maximize on your brain power. After having read only one chapter, I’m already rethinking how I organize my workdays.

Moreover, it’s not only about how you work, but also where you work that can contribute to your success; what environment do you you need to spark your thinking, or creativity, or focus? With so many collaborative and open work spaces popping up around the world, an additional question may get asked – what “add on’s” would not only help you in your work, but also more broadly contribute to your success; for instance, does your work space offer new friends? Thinking partners? Office supplies? Delicious snacks?

We focus on learning style and that can very well lead to our preferred work style; however, when I stop and think about  how and where I thrive (as opposed to deferring my coworkers’ preference and the standard work environment), I’ve been able to change the way I organize my tasks, the days/time when I work and the physical location of where I work to be able to achieve the results I want.

If you have or haven’t been able to get into the work flow, take a step back and start noticing what’s going on… and “show me what you’re working with.”

Shout out to Andy Scott (check out the latest film she edited – “A Place at the Table“), whose conversation in Denver inspired my thinking around this topic. As usual, thanks to Shelley Danner who provided feedback and Katrina Gordon for posing (unknowingly) for the blog’s photo during an afternoon creative painting session. 

Decision Making: Balancing the ‘here and now’ and ‘the future’

I am constantly teetering on the fine line between what feels good in the moment and what I know in my heart is right in the long run. The two feelings, and subsequent actions do not always have to be mutually exclusive, but lately I have fallen into the middle. What is the right balance between acting in the here and now and planning for the future?

A friend of mine came to me last week with great news that he has been offered an amazing deal to focus on his startup full time. It’s what he’s been working towards over the past year, but it would require him to give up a well respected, exciting job that he has (but has grown tired of). He knows that the deal in front of him is happening at the right time and just what he is looking for…but the idea of leaving his current job is risky and scary.

If Seth Godin were writing this blog post, I’m sure he wouldn’t fail to mention the resistance (or natural fear) that builds up when we’re just on the verge of diving into our creative genius. It’s there to remind us that we are scared of actually achieving the results that we claim we want. When an opportunity falls into your lap, whether it’s a startup or a new gig, it can be overwhelming and uncomfortable to decide what the best option is.

On top of that, identity can become so easily entwined with who we are when we’re used to being in a certain job, or living in a specific place, or dating someone. When you take that job, that city or that significant other out of your life, who are you? It’s a confusing place to be, especially when you have the luxury of choice (which so many people don’t even have in the first place).

So, how to make it? Our immediate reaction, or gut tells us so much about what we instinctively know to be true. But it gets more and more confusing as we start to rationalize, make pro/con lists and talk to our friends and family. What did we want in the first place?

I recognize that some decisions carry more weight than others, but I tend to remind myself what my intentions are. As I look at the life that I’m creating for myself, I ask, “Is what I’m doing aligned to my future vision?” If it’s not totally aligned but the immediate opportunity will make me happy and help to sustain myself, then I’m okay with sidetracking briefly. But if it’s going to take me off the road that I’m paving, then I have to say no and accept the consequences of my decision.

As one of my coaches once helped clarify for me, “no decision is a decision.” So use your choice wisely.

Surrender to What Lies Ahead

“Surrender” often implies giving in, or letting go of something that we’re holding onto. When it comes to setting goals and having measurable results, giving up control feels like a loss, rather than a gain. But what if you look at “surrender” as a positive, as a way to accept what’s come your way and as a mechanism to move forward rather than take a step back?

A friend recently sent me an article, “The Most Misunderstood Aspect of Great Leadership” which describes the importance of a leader’s ability to “surrender” and give up control. The writer posits that a leader needs to get out of his/her own way by letting go of control in order to facilitate a more collaborative environment where it’s not all about the leader, but rather his/her team.

As I set my intentions for the New Year, I have been thinking a lot about the interplay between “surrender” and “control.” In religion, the idea of surrender is often associated with giving in to God or the higher powers that exist. Or it refers to the ability of an individual to give into herself and free her thoughts. But in every day life, surrender implies letting go of what you can or can’t control. It does not necessarily mean giving up on an idea, but rather it’s about being open to what the outcome is.

One of my mentors says that the most important thing is to “show up,” “tell your truth,” and “don’t be committed to the results.” But what’s the delicate balance between setting a goal and being committed to the outcome? Isn’t that the whole point of setting goals?

The answer to me lies in “surrender.” I think it’s important to set goals for the New Year, but I acknowledge that I can’t control what will happen once I set them in motion.  Trying to control the outcome is like trying to force a relationship when you know it’s not right. Joseph Campbell says “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

The athlete inside of me still wants me to set stringent goals and achievements to mark my success and the coach inside of me wants me to remain accountable to take action on these goals. However, while I acknowledge the task in front of me, I surrender to what lies ahead and embrace what’s in front of me: life!

Shout-out to Shelley Danner, who sent me the original article on Leadership… and to Mel Miller who inspired a conversation about the idea of surrendering/letting go in order to move forward.  Thanks to Nick Warren (of Perfect Fuel) whose conversation over delicious brunch about his goals opened my eyes to the possibilities… and to Marco Ambrosio for the comments and catchphrase!

Fall into the Equinox: Changing with the Seasons

The fall equinox is upon us and it’s that time of year when change is in the air. For me, it’s the combination of the actual environment – the chill of the wind and the smell of the leaves and the actual events surrounding them – the Jewish holidays, the start of the school year and a new promotion cycle at work. It’s a time of year for me when I can start to reflect on my personal development and invite in small moments of reflection.

I recently heard a beautiful Hindustani Classical violinist play a sweet tune – which she said was a raga. It’s a type of melody that relies on a set of five or more musical notes, and to my surprise is supposed to be played at specific times of the day or in a certain season in order to have maximum impact.

I love thinking that a specific melody or tune at just the right time can evoke, and invoke a certain feeling or emotion that is perfectly fit for the season.  This idea reminds me of the beautiful Kol Nidre service (part of Jewish Day of Atonement) that I went to last week in DC, which took place outside among the trees. The band’s musical notes seemed to sweep through my body as though they were meant to lift me into the air. I felt so moved by the evening’s performance and it gave me pause to think about the beauty in the ritual of the ceremony and how the music inspired me beyond just the words in the prayer book.

Over this past year, I have sought inspiration in many places and from many different people, each one impacting me in a slightly different way. However, it seems as though each person appeared in my life at the exact moment that I needed them to appear. My raga is a collection of these individuals who have come in and out of my life, shaping and informing me in powerful ways.

As the seasons change, it’s the perfect time to think about what else is changing in our lives: nature is a powerful conduit for our emotional state. As time passes and we experience the cycle of life, we need to acknowledge what is before us.  According to Frederich Flach, a famous psychiatrist, “Each period of change is necessarily stressful, for it involves conflict between a powerful force that operates to keep things exactly as they’ve been, and another powerful force that commands us to move forward and embrace new conditions.”

While the tension of change can often be stressful, so too can the comfort in knowing that new beginnings are possible… and when better to make the shift, as the earth rotates and the days get shorter; a new raga is playing in the background.

A specific shout-out goes out to Eryn Schultz, who is excited about the fall harvest, and gave me some insight for this post. Also, thanks to the amazing concert by Nistha Raj and Chrisstylez Bacon who got me thinking about music and its harmony with the seasons.

Red Rover, Red Rover: Send Everyone Who’s Helpful Over!

I was recently accepted to a Leadership Coaching program and paused to reflect on this personal achievement. It feels like the culmination of a lot of dedication and hard work. But it is also very much an outcome that is tied to the team of people who’ve supported me. Just as every professional athlete has its entourage of trainers, coaches, massage therapists and agents, I too have surrounded myself with an incredible group of individuals who have been committed to my self improvement and success.

At times, I look around me and realize that I have a life coach, a mentor, a personal trainer, a yoga guru, a group of surf instructors scattered over the globe and even a psychic! Sometimes I wonder if I’m overdoing it. Do I really need to visit a nutritionist to eat well? Or a personal trainer to help me work out more effectively? I know how to do all these things, yet I find myself asking others to weigh in and provide me additional insight or inspiration.

When is it appropriate to bring in an outside perspective or hire an expert to provide guidance?

First of all, it’s important to have an environment where it’s okay to seek help. As a young swimmer, my parents encouraged me to take weekly swim lessons and attend camps and workshops at my request. I took pride in learning from the top coaches and getting feedback on my swim technique. Secondly, I have had to understand my limitations and understand when it’s the right time to seek help. This is often challenging – acknowledging that there’s something you have to work on. And thirdly, it’s understanding the types of experts you need to bring in for the different facets of your life.

With the help of others and my insight, I am able to recognize when it is important to get professional advice and I want to share a couple of questions I ask myself before seeking “outside” help:

  • Is this something you can talk or walk through with friends/family/coworkers? Do they have enough time to invest in your outcome and give you the full attention you deserve?
  • Is this something you want to talk or through with friends/family/coworkers? Is unloading your issues and concerns going to negatively affect your relationship with them or have another unexpected consequence?
  • Do your friends/family/coworkers have the right level of expertise to truly understand your issues (e.g. strategic promotions, work or relationship dynamics) or provide the appropriate level of guidance (e.g. personal trainers, yoga gurus)? Can they help you navigate the complex issues you’re facing or overcome any fear you have?

Over the coming months, as I continue to explore coaching as a tool to further define my life path and to help others find theirs, I want to thank my support group. No one can be successful on his/her own these days and I want to thank my wonderful network of individuals who have helped me along the way this year. I am truly grateful.

A specific shout-out goes out to Shelley Danner, who gave me the idea to thank people for editing each blog post; Luisa who sparked some inspiration in a SF coffee shop and my little bro Paul, who read this over Hawaiian breakfast.

Help, I’ve Fallen Into the Busy Trap and I Can’t Get Up!

Earlier this evening, I started to pack my day bag for a quick trip to Pittsburgh and sent out a last minute PowerPoint presentation that will be used for my client meeting tomorrow. I hopped on my bike to do a quick stop at Target to pick up cleaning supplies and grab money at the ATM and then headed to my regularly scheduled volunteer gig at the Latino center nearby. An hour later, I frantically biked home, stuffed some final items into my day bag, grabbed some food on the fly and headed towards the airport to board my flight.

On my way into Target, a canvasser stopped me to ask if I was a registered voter and oh, did I have a moment? Smiling I had said, “I’m in a rush” as I made my way into the store while he disbelieving (literally – he didn’t believe me) looked on.

There’s been a lot of dialogue over the past month given the June opinion article written on the ‘busy’ trap – which seems to indicate that we’ve brought upon this busy state by enrolling in activities and voluntarily entering into “obligations” that are really choices that we’ve made. I tend to agree that we often fall into these traps, but I also think that we are able to artfully set them at our own whim.

For me, there’s a delicate balance of “FOMO” (fear of missing out) – that feeling of dread when you know something is happening without you; it’s almost better not to have known at all. And then there’s activities that you choose to do and make a priority in your life. Sometimes work or relationships trump all, but at the end of the day it’s the priority that you’ve set.

I often feel that when I’m on the move, I must be making progress… that all the dozens of different activities that I’m engaged in have given me purpose as I go through life. Sometimes, even being in motion (on airplanes, buses and automobiles) gives me a false sense of growing wiser, more mature. Yet, in these moments, when everything seems to be happening, I feel as though I’m not truly there.  I know how to act and react, but I haven’t given myself the space and time to really think about my actions. It’s in the moments that I pause, reflect and give myself time to think that I find myself making true progress.

A Spoonful of Sabbatical Does the Body Good

If you’ve been at the work grind for a while, it may be hard to take a step back from the glare of the computer and avoid the evil eye of disapproval if you want to take time off.  It’s hard to recognize that your body or mind may be telling you that you need time away from work. It’s also challenging to put aside the appropriate amount of money or convince your loved ones that it’s a good idea to put the breaks on when your career feels like it’s just taking off. Whatever the barriers may be, I want to share a couple of lessons from my recent 3-month sabbatical and suggest a couple of rules if you’re considering taking a leave from work.

Rule #1. There’s no good time to take a sabbatical/leave of absence

A number of companies offer formal (and informal) policies and I decided to take advantage of a program called “future leave” at my company, which allows employees who have been with the company for at least three years to take 3-months off (with health benefits and the guarantee of a job upon return)! Even though I had just been promoted to Manager, I felt discomfort in my life, much like wet socks, when you know that something is off and you have to change as soon as possible. Despite the (mostly self) pressure to step up to my new Manager role and dive into my career, I recognized that it was as ideal of a time as it ever would be to hit the “pause” button on my life and re-evaluate.

I do believe that there is some seasonal correlation to what’s going on in your life, and you might want to think about what timing makes most sense for you.  For instance, if you know that you want a break from social obligations and have an urge to “hibernate,” fall/winter could be a good time to take a break, especially if you live somewhere cold. However, if you’re going through a transition/make-over, spring might be more advisable (and you can avoid the holiday season if you’re looking to avoid any criticism or questions from your friends and family. On the other hand, if what you need is a good dose of socialization and activeness, I would suggest considering a summer break and give yourself the much needed time to hitch up your skirt and go for a night on the town!

Whatever you decide, it’s yours for the taking. And no one is going to stop you except for yourself.

Rule #2: Set Your Own Agenda
When I started talking about my sabbatical with others, the first question I got was “Where are you going?” Although I did have some travel plans, I wanted to use my sabbatical to take a much needed relaxation break and not become a full-time backpacker. In fact, I became committed to the following: feeling revitalized and passionate about my direction, clearly defining priorities of personal and professional life, and creating a nourished inner spirit/self image.  I had books to read and goals to accomplish on my sabbatical and some of this involved traveling to other countries for inspiration, while another part was remaining still for at least a week in the same city.

In the beginning of my sabbatical, I found it extremely useful to write a list of qualifiers to help maximize my time off. When a friend asked me to travel or invited me to join in on a joint-business opportunity, I asked myself the following questions:

  1. Do you want to do it?
  2. Will it enrich you?
  3. Will it help you in the future?
  4. Are you excited about it?
  5. Is it on your terms or someone else’s?

I was able to come back to this list over and over again to make sure that I was in control of my time off. That’s not to say I avoided all offers for fun, spontaneous activities!

Find your own groove and don’t let other people convince you otherwise.

Rule #3. Find a coach/therapist.
There’s probably a reason that you feel the desire to take a sabbatical/leave of absence. Maybe it’s that you need a break from the work that you love; the long hours and strenuous work have taken their toll and you’re ready to take a breather.  Or maybe you feel that your life is getting ahead of you and you want to take the time to  figure out what’s important to you. Or perhaps you already know what’s important to you such as your family or a new passion and you simply need to take the time and space to nurture these relationships and activities; whatever the reason may be, it’s often helpful to talk to someone about this change. Workshops and seminars can be extremely helpful, but there’s nothing like working one-on-one with a licensed coach or therapist. If you’re looking for suggestions on finding a coach, I suggest that you check out the International Coach Federation (http://www.coachfederation.org/clients/hiring-tips/) to find someone who might work for you.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone to help you work it out.