Benchwarmers

My very sports-minded daughter recently sustained a minor injury that sidelined her for a few days and unfortunately a few games. Thankfully it was not serious and she was back at it within the week. However in her almost-13-year-old world it was a significant and unwelcome event. While she recuperated, I insisted that she suit up and show up ready to support her team from the bench. As a starter, she’s lucky to know how good it feels to make immediate impact. She works hard: even at this age she probably puts in about 12-15 hours per week outside of games. So warming the bench was most definitely not in her plans.

A few years ago, warming the bench wasn’t my plan either. But I too suited up and tried it. My stint wasn’t injury-induced but like my daughter’s it was really unwelcome.

When I was younger, I poured every bit of effort into whatever was my chosen pursuit at the time. By the time I started working, I didn’t just work, I lived and breathed my job. Even in my mid-twenties, I was among the last few in the office at night and sometimes went in to “clean up my desk” on Saturdays. (This was pre-Internet/e-mail so impossible to work from home.) The harder I worked, the more compliments I received and eventually I was rewarded.

The more validation I received, the more I wanted and eventually I lost the ability to enjoy the work without it. If I didn’t receive it, I panicked. I left a few really great jobs because I didn’t “feel like anything was happening.” If I couldn’t see the next stepping stone ahead of me then I must be done, right?

Then WHAM, one day seemingly out of the blue I got laid off. I had worked so hard (albeit with blinders on) that I hadn’t seen it coming. Later on, 20/20 hindsight showed obvious clues – the economy was doing poorly and I wasn’t savvy enough to understand the bigger picture about the business. I had been too focused on checking all the boxes and getting the praise for it.

When I found a new position, I got right back on the praise train and spent the next ten years doing the same thing: getting better titles, higher pay, positions closer to the center of the action. Eventually as life changed and I added other responsibilities to it, I found myself at a crossroads between my normal overachiever approach and what I could reasonably accomplish as a single parent with a long commute to a high-stress, often erratic, sometimes toxic and always changing job.

So I left, but after a bit working alone and feeling too isolated, I decided I needed to return to a more traditional work environment which I did, but in a much less visible position.

Although I wanted the role, I wondered “What will I do?” “How will I make this work?” “What if I never make it back to where I was?” Momentary panic set in.

Then something amazing started to happen. I found my creativity again. I designed plans and presentations that I used to envy of others. I started to understand more complicated business concepts that had once eluded me as I focused instead on the impending praise. I found myself offering to help colleagues and finish off projects without worrying about whether I would get the credit.

Like my daughter, I didn’t choose the bench, but life events had shown me there. Her stint on the bench was a successful one. She remained in a good mood and tirelessly supported her teammates. But she was ready to get back.

And me? I’ve learned some really important and good things from being a benchwarmer.

Sometimes it’s a nice spot to be. You can still hone your skills, dial down the pressure, and give someone else a break when they really need it. (And I wish I knew this at 27, but even when you’re the backup, you still get kudos.)

When you’re always gunning for the top position and need to have your hands in everything, that’s when you’re at risk for developing blind spots about how you work and how others perceive you.

When you feel like you’re always the go-to, you lose the ability to truly co-create with colleagues, because you’re too focused on getting the praise and the credit for your way.

Being on the bench gives you a certain amount of flexibility to move, because your role isn’t etched in stone. You may discover new skills and interests, because you’re not focused on doing the right thing at every moment.

I often wonder why I landed here. It wasn’t just by chance; I chose it. Perhaps there’s a second career someday or a side pursuit to explore, or maybe it’s simply that I should enjoy my off-hours more. Regardless of what it is, I’ve learned there’s great honor in being a benchwarmer and not always the star on center court.

Drop the props

Check, check and check.

A few days ago, I was on my way to meet with a client who has worked extensively with some of my colleagues, but not yet with me. I was a little nervous about this meeting.

On this particular day I picked up my daughter’s favorite breakfast sandwich before I hit the road (check) met my target departure of 7:00 am (check) first dropping off my dog at doggy daycare and confirming that my daughter had made it on time to her grandparents’ house for a ride to camp (check). Feeling very accomplished, I got on the highway and settled in for the drive.

About 45 minutes down the road and too far to turn back, I realized I left my laptop bag at my house. So there I was, heading down the New Jersey Turnpike on my way to a meeting with a complete stranger, without my computer or even a pad of paper. The me of ten years ago would have completely freaked out. On that day, I decided I had made this mistake for a reason and decided to figure out why and use it to my advantage.

I think most of us are pretty addicted to our technology, yours truly included. The thought of being two hours away from my home office without my laptop at first struck fear in me. “What if I can’t get something to someone on time?”  “What if I haven’t read enough about this client or their issues?”

Pause. Stop. Rewind.

Insight #1: I was definitely juggling a bit too much in this particular 24-hour time period. What I neglected to say in the lead paragraph is that this particular week, my daughter was also in a day camp that took her and classmates on buses to places like Times Square, Six Flags and the Jersey Shore. Each day was an exercise in packing an almost-teenager for a mini-vacation. Additionally I had spent the prior evening de-cluttering for cleaning people. Perhaps this was a small lesson about capacity and maybe I didn’t have to be the perfect mom (the sandwich) or the perfect housekeeper (the decluttering). After all isn’t the reason we hire people to clean our houses because they do it better?

Insight #2: The more important message to me was whether I really needed those props like my laptop and notebook. In total, I would be away from my office for about six hours. That included traveling to the meeting, having a meeting, and traveling home. Unless traffic became a huge issue, I would still have a solid three business hours to get the day’s work wrapped up.

Therefore, the worst that could happen is a client really needed something urgently. What would I do? Of course I would call a team member, we would talk through the situation, we would work up a solution and I would do as much as I could by phone and lean on the other person to type it. It truly wasn’t a big deal. Had it been a deal-breaker presentation day I’m pretty sure I would not have forgotten the laptop. Today I forgot it for a reason.

When I was in my late twenties, I had a few performance reviews in which supervisors and peers expressed (in similar themes) that I would often let my technical proficiency and desire to make progress impede my ability to connect with clients and colleagues. In the moment I recall being pretty indignant: “I am a people person. Everyone likes me. They say I am an easy-going. How can I possibly not connect???” But that’s what we do when we know something is probably true: we get defensive because we don’t want to see it, admit it and correct it.

Eventually I did correct it. But that focus on execution is something I have to keep in check all the time. It’s my thing. I have to consciously ask myself: how can I connect better with this person? How can I be more authentic? Am I truly listening to this person or shoving solutions at them?

Sometimes I think we hide behind our technology, our business cards, and our titles. Those tools, while valuable, are sometimes like armor. They surround us and give us a false sense of security. I’m pretty sure that the absence of technology on the table set me up for a much different, and probably much better, meeting than if I had been “prepared”.

Without my tools, all I could do was go into the meeting open to listening and learning about the people. The conversation could go in any direction. I could be less focused on having all the answers and more focused on building a relationship.

So whatever your armor is, whether the laptop, a phone, a designer bag: think about whether that tool is really enabling you to succeed or is it just a habit.

 

This is not me.

Photo by Aljoscha Laschgari on Unsplash

In the last five years, I’ve gone back-and-forth between self-employment and “regular” jobs a couple times. Often these transitions were preceded by a concern that I had become “too corporate” and maybe had not taken enough time to figure out what and where I was supposed to be. I was convinced that maybe I wasn’t the all-business looking person you see in my headshot photo so I would ditch my usual reading list in favor of health and wellness titles on the fringe of mainstream and start buying clothes a little different than I’d normally wear.

After I took a few online marketing classes I thought maybe it was time for me to start promoting myself a little more and not just hide behind my corporate clients. I created my website and envisioned as the months progressed I’d be adding functionality and cool design and the occasional jaunty photos like all the gurus do. Then when I really thought about it, it kind of made me feel ridiculous … because it wasn’t me.

At the end of the day, most of us DO really know what our natural set point is when it comes to our public persona. We don’t need to search too hard for it. It’s kind of like fitness; you know where you feel best. You know the size you like to pull from your closet. Similarly, with communications and our personal brands, we know when we are in our element. We know the kind of people who make us feel good about the interaction, the groups where we feel welcomed and the venues that help us feel most comfortable. It just doesn’t take too much work and feels pretty effortless.

News flash: I am not the jaunty photo type. Despite my flirtation with other job descriptions, I know what my personal brand is and it’s pretty corporate. And that’s okay because most days, I feel pretty darn good about that.

I also learned that I already know what my set point is for networking because when it’s real and authentic, the interaction I have with the person or people gives me way more energy than it takes. When it’s really working for me, I will leave an event with a handful of business cards in my pocket or my bag practically skipping back to my car brimming with the possibility of scheduling a meeting and getting to know those people better. On the ride home I’ve often got a half-written blog post rambling around in my head.

Additionally, I can almost always find a place for the people I meet in my professional or even personal life. It’s no stretch or hard sell to get to the point where I say “I’m going to do business with this person.”

Last year, though I really intended to create a refreshed personal brand, a different kind of network, and a new direction in my career, it never really felt right while I was doing it. I could tell because I ended up accepting any and all meetings and after a while, some of the interactions didn’t feel all that energizing or productive. I drank a lot of coffee, got on a lot of new mailing lists, but can’t say that I moved the needle.

There is nothing wrong with being generous and open to meeting people outside your normal circles; in fact I try to generally live my life and career that way. But it’s a problem when you realize you are accepting meetings and coffees out of guilt and obligation rather than intent and desire. What I learned is that there’s an important balance to strike between being decisive, prescriptive, planned, and results-oriented with being open, generous, flexible and creative.

My set point is somewhere in between those two scenarios.

Ironically after all those meetings, coffees, business plans, website copy edits, and list building, I ended up almost right back where I started. Just a little clearer, a little more accepting of my corporate self, and a little more disciplined about how I use my time.

Excellent!

Photo by Karolina Szczur on Unsplash

When I was in college, I had a part-time job on campus at one of the dining facilities, a take-out deli. In addition to the customer-facing duties like making sandwiches and staffing the registers, sometimes we did behind-the-scenes chores like restocking the lines, portioning supplies for later or cleaning up in between crowds. While our deli mostly served out of paper and plastic, a few times per shift we’d have to bring a few sheet pans or trays of serving pieces upstairs to the main dining hall’s dishroom.

The dishroom was a pretty gross place, TBH. I am pretty sure I almost wiped out a few times due to the grease on the floor and lack of tread on my shoes. There was a big long conveyor that would take all the dirty pans and trays of flatware through the cleaning and sanitizing and one person would need to collect pans as they came out clean, yet steamy, and either finish drying them or put them away.

In addition to employing us workstudy students, our dining services also employed a lot of adults from surrounding communities in the non-culinary positions. Some were retirees looking to stay active; some were part of a program for developmentally challenged adults; a few I suspect were just people down on their luck and being given a second chance at success in a part of the facility where they could excel relatively unsupervised. One such place was the dishroom.

I often saw Dishroom Guy (I never knew his name) as I brought pans upstairs. He would be jamming to whatever music was on the radio, hustling and bustling the dishes. Without fail, he would be the first to speak “Hey, how are you doing today?”

Me: “I’m good, how are you?”

Dishroom Guy: “Excellent! Just excellent!”

Being a pretty self-sufficient person, each time I planned to run the dishes through myself and wait for them but he never let me. He took such immense pride and ownership in his job, each time he said, “I’m here for my shift, and this part’s my job. I’ll do it. Hey, you need me to bring these back downstairs? ‘Cause I can do that, ok?” I’d nod in acceptance and he would always say, “Excellent!”

When he reappeared downstairs with our dishes, we would say thank you and he would say, “You have a great day okay? Excellent!”

Over the last year I’ve thought a lot about some of the things I lost along the way climbing the ladder of my career and for a long time I lost that “excellent” feeling. It was hard to feel that way about my daily workload when I was the only one going the extra mile or when I was the only senior person digging deep and working outside my comfort zone. Eventually (I suspect this is normal) instead of just doing the work I spent a lot of time thinking about “why I am doing X, Y and Z in my role? Why isn’t so-and-so doing it too?”

With time and distance I realize now that being “forced” to ditch the title, dig deep and work like I’d never worked before was such a great gift because it has made me a better PR person and will eventually make me a better boss when I am in that position once again.

For starters, being employed – getting a regular paycheck – is excellent. Knowing with certainty that the work product going to the client is excellent is, well, excellent. And the feeling of competence and a week well spent while entering time sheets on a Friday is excellent. Getting my hands a little dirty reminds me how important it is to stay current, and not get too caught up in titles and roles because everyone is replaceable, and I don’t want to be the one replaced!

There are many who think that getting a big title, having an assistant (or some direct reports) or managing a large budget is a harbinger of success. I used to think that. But I’ve had all those things, and none of them ever provided me with the feeling of “job well done” on a Friday that I usually feel now, when I am fully engaged in all my work, doing everything from the most senior-level strategy down to pitching trade media like I did when I was in my twenties.

I would bet Dishroom Guy felt that way about his job. Every. Single. Day. So if a guy who works in a steam-filled smelly commercial dishroom with little room for advancement can see the excellence in his job, then so can all of us. Even when we are lacking an assistant, don’t get the promotion, are doing work that our peers aren’t, working harder than the boss – whatever. Sometimes I catch myself mid-thought just about to gripe and moan and I remember that guy, and it humbles me a little.

I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Google “increase job satisfaction” and see dozens of posts like this about how to build job satisfaction yourself rather than waiting on titles and worrying about what others are doing.

Here’s to an “excellent” week!

 

 

 

 

Labeling ourselves

I have always been a dependable person. In high school I followed through on the commitments I made to clubs, earned pretty good grades and had friends from all groups around school. In my professional life I showed up at the right events, talked about topics people expected to hear and joined the type of professional organizations one would expect. In those settings, I often volunteered for roles that fell into the category of – you guessed it – dependable people you can count on. Even in a leadership role I’d often find myself doing work in the background, coordinating events and inviting others to speak.

While I did this and basked in the relative comfort of being known as a capable and thoughtful team player, there was always a little piece of me that wondered what “those other people” knew that I didn’t. The people who raised tons of money for good causes, won awards and effortlessly accumulated (and sometimes declined) speaking opportunities.
Last year during my mini-sabbatical I finally figured it out.

No matter where you reside as you read this, you probably know the people I describe above. They’re the handful of people who are ubiquitous around charitable, civic and business circles. This is the soundtrack that would often run in my head about this group of people:

“When I get that next promotion, I’ll have the right title to join that group.”

“I said yes to the role this year because they didn’t have anyone else. I’ll just keep the trains running on time for now and let next year’s chair address those things because he’s more knowledgeable.”

“I’m just a PR person; not a lawyer, investment banker or corporate executive. I can support the effort but I don’t really have access to the kind of contacts I need to make that happen.”

How much B.S. is that? It’s a lot.

Each time I said something like that I gave myself permission to stay in that dependable role of “doer”. I never gave myself permission to be a person who makes things happen. Even though I could. How many times did I hear myself say, “Give me a job. Sure I’ll do that, I’m a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of person.” Yes that’s true but I really didn’t give myself much credit for my other pretty significant contributions. I’m also a strategist, an adviser, a connector, a speaker and a probably a whole lot more.

Last year’s break from the corporate world was very eye-opening for me on so many levels. Once I was stripped of my corporate creature comforts like a job description, a boss who could bestow an “attagirl”, business cards with a fancy title and a recognizable employer; the only thing left was me. I had to figure out what I was willing to say about myself; how much credit I was willing to give myself, and how seriously I was willing to accept myself as a contributor to the business world. Unfortunately I realized I’d been labeling myself as that dependable doer for a long time. I wore it like a badge of honor.

And the irony is, when I asked friends and colleagues as part of a business planning exercise what they thought were my best attributes the words that came back were creative, strategic, results-oriented, polished and even risk-taker. Not one person said dependable!

So the secret to cracking the code on that inner circle? There really isn’t one. One of the best lessons I learned being my own boss was that if you think you’re capable and deserving, you are.

Sometimes it takes a major jolt to our routines or forcing us out of our comfort zones to learn this. While the last several years have not been without bumps in the road, I’m grateful for the learning opportunity. It has made me realize I can be peers with lawyers and accountants, I can write confidently about non-PR topics, and I can network with the best of them.

To be honest I’m not sure I would have done this so determinedly if I were still in my comfortable surroundings in Boston. As much as I loved the roles I occupied there, I also realized I had gotten so comfortable I may have wrongly imposed limitations on myself.

We already know slapping labels on others is bad, yet many of us do it to ourselves. I’m ready to give myself a break from that!

Now when I get ready to attend a networking event I think a little less about being dependable and little more about being creative, strategic and results-oriented!

Graceful transitions

Photo by Braden Barwich on Unsplash

Graceful Transitions

With the 2018 Winter Olympics just behind us, I was thinking about what I heard a skating commentator explain about pairs skating. I don’t know much about the sport but the commentator said pairs need arrange their choreography in a way that allows them to make a distinct transition right in front of the judges so they can evaluate their precision and ability to shift gears so to speak. It got me to thinking about our own transitions: in my case, good thing there’s no panel of judges watching me all the time!

Whether we are changing jobs, moving into a new phase of life or have moved to a new geography, sometimes we stumble. It’s not always graceful and seamless. But, as long as we put 100% into it and are clear about intent and desired outcome, usually we can feel good about it.

Speaking of graceful-or-not transitions, starting today I’ve moved the blog to a new schedule. Instead of two Thursday afternoons a month I’ll be queuing up each post to hit twice a month on Monday mornings to offer some perspective on the upcoming work week.

The timing switch is driven largely by my big transition: I’ve accepted a new full-time job with a pretty amazing PR firm. It’s not what I envisioned doing twelve months ago, yet when I inventory what I wanted most out of my career at this stage it’s all there: firm leaders truly want to help their team succeed, there’s flexibility, a chance to contribute at the highest level and be creative as I build a book of business.

As I’ve been making this gradual transition from part-time to full-time over the last six months, and I’ve been keeping up a heavy networking schedule, it hasn’t always been easy to make graceful transitions. I wasn’t always sure what to say or what I even wanted to do at certain events. Was I inviting someone to read my blog? Partner with me? Learn more about my PR firm? Was I approaching corporate types or individuals?

When I launched this business last year, I thought I had done a lot of work figuring out my “why”, developing my ideal customer profile and really honing my offering and my story. As the year unfolded, I realized while my story resonated with a lot of people it might not be ready to be a standalone business. Eventually I found myself having a really hard time giving the elevator speech I created. It stressed me out for a while but then I realized sometimes life leads us right where we are supposed to be. After this “sabbatical” I’m now armed with some great insights to apply to the way I work. As a result, I thought I’d share a few.

Always assume every new experience will present you with the opportunity to learn something new. Once I passed the 25-year mark of my career (wow – yikes) I wondered what I would learn. Had I only known! Every new assignment is an opportunity to learn. Maybe it’s not a subject but it could be about a person, a trait, or a new way of working. I’ve made a promise to myself that I will learn something new from every facet of my work every week.

Know your why for networking. Or doing anything for that matter. Otherwise why do it? For a long time, I worked WAY too hard in my new area to make friends, establish a professional niche and get my name out there. Networking was sometimes forced and I felt like I had to accept everything that came my way. Once I had time to think during last year’s transition, I realized my approach wasn’t working because I was trying to replicate what I had in Boston rather than create something new and amazing where I am. (And btw I’m still not sure exactly what it will be like here but it’s taking shape in a really exciting way. And that’s a good thing!)

It’s okay to return to your normal. This is a tricky one; we are all so primed to advance, better ourselves and change that sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to enjoy what and where we are. So as we climb the ladder, advance in our career, we don’t stop to think “Do I like where I am?” “Did this promotion do for me what I’d hoped?” Interestingly, to the outside world my new role is a little bit of a step back; less responsibility, less senior in title and smaller organization. Yet, it comes with more creativity, latitude, personal responsibility to make things happen and support from the top than most of my previous roles dating back almost a decade. It will allow me to contribute at a truly high level rather than moving through each day with my hair on fire.

People say change is the only constant and I can say with certainty the last five years have proven that for me. But today, I’m much better equipped to handle it all even if I stumble.

Have you stumbled and recovered? I’d love to hear about it.

What a difference one word makes

Spurred by my pre-holiday season post, I’ve been thinking a lot about how Iapproach my career, achieve personal growth and pursue building a new network. After a lot of change, I feel like I’m finally settling comfortably into a new phase of work and life. Last year at this time, I wasn’t quite ready to embrace it all. There was too much to learn, too many habits (both bad and good) to either make or break and also a lot of external factors complicating the picture. As a result I think I skipped almost all the work-related holiday events I usually attend.

This year, armed with new awareness I’ve approached the holiday season and the impending New Year with a completely different outlook. With a slight shift in word choice I feel like I show up and present myself a little differently.

Photo by Henri Pham on Unsplash

Last week I explored the difference between “interesting” and “interested.” This week’s post explores the idea of “I have to” and “I get to.”

Old habits die hard

Even the most spontaneous of us are creatures of habit on some level. For evidence of this just pick up any women’s magazine in October and you’ll see articles almost every year about “surviving the holiday season at your parents’ house” featuring tips on presenting ourselves as the adults we are and not as the 12-year-olds our families remember.

We form habits in childhood (including communication habits) and they’re reinforced however positively or negatively in our families and circles of friends. Then we grow up, move away, gather accomplishments and show up differently with our new colleagues and friends, yet when we return to familiar surroundings we slip into old habits. While it’s familiar it might not always be the best for us. Sometimes it takes a jolt from the universe in the form of a supportive friend, job change or geographic move to make us realize what our unique patterns are and why they might not serve us well.

The allure of “have to” …

My recent insight on this topic, made possible by this past year of solo practitioner life, was that I have always been a big “I have to” gal. Rarely “I get to.” You would think my entire life was an endless to-do list or a prison sentence:

I have to go to the gym today.
I have to finish this PowerPoint.
I have to take my daughter to basketball practice so I can’t attend that event.
I have to commute into New York tomorrow.
I have to get all my performance reviews in by Friday.

Womp womp womp. Negative and a little depressing, isn’t it?

While this concept had already been pointed out to me by my own coach Erin Elizabeth Wells and I had read materials from a well-known online entrepreneur Marie Forleo, it took living it for me to fully get it.

Living the life of long commutes and negative water-cooler chitchat can make “I have to” very alluring. We are a culture fascinated by the idea of negativity. We all want to feel like our situations are more difficult, days more full, office environments more negative. Sometimes, it’s not fashionable to show up and be really, really excited and positive about the work we do. When we get stuck there it’s really hard to see things as opportunities.

Negative speech patterns like that are probably what kept me from attending all those holiday parties last year. And they’re probably what kept me from embracing a lot of opportunities in the past, if the truth be known.

Ditching it for “I get to” …

So this year I made a conscious effort to view everything – and I mean everything – as an opportunity. A most extreme example is if I caught myself saying “I have to go into New York for a meeting tomorrow,” I would sometimes go so far as to correct myself to the other person: “Well, I don’t have to I am going to, because it’s a great opportunity to meet a new person.” Saying it out loud somehow strengthened my resolve to squeeze every bit of possibility out of the meeting.

There’s a professional organization holiday party I attend every year without fail. Regardless of what city I’m in, I go to that chapter’s event. Last year, I vaguely remember my week being upended due to an unexpected late-day meeting. And, true to habit I found myself grumbling in the car on the way to the event, after reciting to a friend my long litany of what I had to do” and then that “I had to attend” the party. Instead of “It’s great that I get to attend this party tonight as a break from the busy season.”

The problem with “have to” is that when we “have to” do something, it not only makes us feel burdened and makes it harder to show up enthusiastically, but our focus remains on ourselves and not others. (See last week’s post.)

This holiday season, I purposely took a few hours one day before Thanksgiving and registered for all the events I wanted to attend. And, I blocked off time to commute so I can be sure to be fresh, focused and ready for each.

Sure, things might come up in the meantime that either delay my arrival or shift my plans. But, so far, so good. With my thoughts firmly rooted in “I get to attend this” and “be interested, not just interesting” I’m off to a good start.

With that in mind, it’s still mid-holiday season. There’s time to shift your communication patterns too, if any of this resonates. Does it? Feel free to share your comments below.

Thanks for reading!

Interesting vs. Interested

I can’t believe the holiday season is almost upon us. Beginning next week (if not already) our inboxes will be flooded with invitations to work-related holiday events. If you’re like me, you belong to a few organizations and socialize with work friends, which adds up to a lot of events in just a few weeks. If you’re in a client-centered organization you may also be hosting one. I always enjoy these events to see familiar faces, reconnect with the business community and possibly meet some new friends in the process.

A few months ago I wrote a post about effective networking. Now is a good time to take a refresher (*wink*)

In addition to bingeing on personal and professional growth books this year I also dove into networking in new and different ways. I’ve attended events large and small, official chartered organizations and ad-hoc meetups. Not surprisingly, people show up with varying degrees of preparation and seeking a range of outcomes. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we show up to these events: “interesting” or “interested”.

Building a network seems to have taken on a very transactional quality the last few years. It used to take a much longer time to form a relationship: first meeting, then exchanging ideas and brainstorming, connecting with each other’s networks, and finally maybe doing business together at a later date. Or not; sometimes the connections were just connections to great people we then shared with others.

Today the process feels accelerated to the point that getting a business card is a tacit approval to do business together. I suspect this all has something to do with social media and technology and secretly I’m hoping we eventually land somewhere between cringe-worthy 1990’s business practices and today’s swipe right culture. (But I digress. More on that in a future post …)

Within this context of networking being a transactional exchange, let’s look at this idea of being interesting vs. being interested and which approach works. There are a lot of people out there with interesting things to say and they’re likely to be great conversationalists. We all tend to rev ourselves up to have that first conversation but after that, what’s next?

By definition:

Interesting: having something unusual to say, attention-grabbing, arousing interest, fascinating, enthralling

Interested: showing curiosity or concern, attentive, eager

Interesting is all about YOU. What you bring to the conversation. Interested is all about your conversation partner and what you do that brings THEM closer.

So what approach works? The answer is BOTH. We all need both of these qualities: to attract attention we need to be interesting, but to retain attention and ultimately form a relationship we need to be interested in something other than ourselves and our own gains. The interested part is what I don’t experience as much these days.

Being interesting can be many things and it’s very specific to you. Think about what makes you interesting: your unique focus area at work, your hobbies, your backstory, your previous career, the books you last read. It takes time to figure out your own elevator speech and I’m a big advocate of practicing it and updating it frequently as you gain new experiences and grow.

Being interested is even easier. It just requires you suspend your own expectations for a few moments and focus on the other person. Something as simple as walking up to a new person and asking whether they are enjoying the party can do it. Bonus points if you can ask a few more questions of that person without launching into your own pitch. It’s challenging because networking makes some people nervous and it’s easy to fill empty space with your own story but in the end, I think a big dose of “interested” will secure your spot in that person’s world much faster than if you’re just “interesting”.

Will you show up interested or interesting this season? Or both?

Thanks for reading! Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Bright-eyed & bushy-tailed

Recently I had some business in Washington, DC where I lived in my 20’s. Interestingly I met up with the rest of my team just blocks away from where I once lived. Of course memories flooded back and I thought about how new and exciting every day seemed when I lived there. Regardless of what I was doing or where I was going, everything was an adventure. My next thought was “When was the last time I let myself get that excited about something?”

I had to think about that for a good few minutes. Why didn’t I have that same spring in my step now? No one told me to stop it. So: what if I practiced being that enthusiastic now, and arrived at every interaction with the wisdom of my 40-something years plus the exuberance of being 20-something?” Wow, talk about a powerful combination!

Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash

When I think about all the people I admire professionally and personally, they usually share a few common traits: they are completely authentic, open, and importantly, enthusiastic regardless of how long they have been in their role or their profession. I always try to model those who walk into every situation with that type of energy and openness.

Enthusiastic people also command a room; inspire teams, motivate employees and build trust. Being around them is contagious. I like that they view every situation as an opportunity to meet a new person, gain a new insight or learn a new way of doing things. The meeting, event or conversation is never something to check off a list.

I think many of us deny ourselves the permission to be enthusiastic. Pack mentality sometimes encourages us to be unimpressed or blase.

When I was reading up on the body language of enthusiasm (queue up Amy Cuddy’s TED talk if you missed it in my earlier post) I also found this interesting post from a coach who notes that confidence is about ourselves; enthusiasm is about others. And naturally, we are always most drawn to people who are interested in us.

Next time I find myself defaulting to a “been there, done that” mindset I’m going to rewind and remember that the only way to be that person who inspires and builds trust is to bring some of that bright-eyed, bushy-tailed attitude from a couple decades ago to my present situation!

Who inspires you? Is enthusiasm part of their appeal? I’d be interested in your take!

 

Music to my ears

View from the Mindbody BOLD conference & expo

I had to include the above shot, even though it was grainy from my recently dropped phone. I can’t think of a better place from which to write a blog post! I was all prepared to share a post on resilience this week and then I heard Arianna Huffington’s keynote talk at this conference for entrepreneurs in the fitness and wellness industry. I knew I’d enjoy this event but when I heard the following line, I was hooked: “Now is the time for a wellness revolution. Corporate wellness is so focused on the downstream, addressing things we already have, what about upstream to focus on preventing it in the first place?”

That’s exactly the kind of thinking that led me to relaunch Gem Strategic Communications as a wellness-focused presentation skills offering. Hearing the opening remarks today I was reminded there’s so much more to this journey: it’s a bit of coaching, a bit of career advice, some community building and networking. Ultimately I want to bring similar content, thought leaders and methodologies I applied to my own work-life and wellness to you and others like you.

To that end, I’ll be organizing a few informal after-work gatherings to crowdsource ideas for Gem over the next few months in New York, Boston and Philadelphia and DC. If you’re interested please reach out!

I already have three pages of notes from BOLD for future blog posts ranging from how technology impacts communication (which I’ve covered here in a previous post), sleep, and the idea of an “entry interview” to set expectations on what kind of work-life management you need to be successful. That’s all from just this morning!

Before I switched up today’s focus I had planned to write a post on the topic of resilience which is a favorite of mine. I just finished reading Elise Mitchell’s Leading Through the Turn: How a Journey Mindset Can Help Leaders Find Success and Significance, and it really resonated with me for that reason.

I admire Elise’s business savvy, drive and vision. She’s a leader in the PR industry and among women entrepreneurs generally. She’s the kind of leader I aspire to be. In fact I’m pretty sure I Fan Girl-ed her at a conference to introduce myself and she proved to be gracious and generous with her time to a virtual stranger. We still keep in touch occasionally.

Her book details the building of her business and her eventual rise to the top of a global agency but more importantly her evolution from destination leader to a destination leader with a journey mindset. She presents the idea that you can still focus on the destination (the win, the outcome, the prize) while enjoying the journey, being present, and mindful. I believe that’s how you build resilience. The more things change, the more they … keep changing. Right? I’ve personally been through a ton of job changes and life changes in the last several years and I’m sure I’m not the only person. The less I focus on “Oh that’s not where I was supposed to be” and “Oh, let’s see where this goes!” the better I feel and the more prepared I am.

I can’t wait to keep up these posts over the next few months, there’s so much to share from this conference, Elise’s book and other topics. If you enjoyed today’s post please reach out or share.

Thanks for reading!