Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why wait for 2012? Do it now!

As a part time fitness instructor, I observe people who start attending my classes regularly in January and disappear by February. I often wonder: Why did they give up so quickly? I believe one reason they give up is because most have made resolutions that are not well thought out. While I don't make resolutions, I do refresh my life goals every year.

Life goals should be consistent with your personal brand. What three words represent who you are or what you want your legacy to be? How will you get there? Who do you need in your life to help you get there? These are just a few questions to ask yourself. It's never too early or late to start thinking about your life goals. I typically set no more than three major life goals each year. There is no real magic in the number, but research indicates that trying to focus on more than three things decreases your chance for follow-through. Each goal I set affects one broad area of my life. Once again, I have set specific goals in these broad areas: faith, fitness and career. You most likely already know what you want to improve or change, just make sure your goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timebound. Instead of saying: I will lose weight this year. Why not say: I will lose 10 pounds by March 28 by exercising five times per week. When stated and written that way, the goal passes the SMART test. Whether it’s your health or career, here a few things you can do now to set you on a path to acheive your goals for 2012:

#1 – Volunteer for a cause that matters to you. During the holidays, we focus on helping the homeless, hungry, needy, etc. But remember these conditions exist year round. Whether you are out of work or even if you work fulltime, it is refreshing to help others. Not just people you know, but strangers too. Do it without expecting anything in return. From serving as tutor, to serving in a soup kitchen the opportunities are endless to give of your time and talents everyday, not just during the holidays, not just going on a mission trip. It's good to see the faces of those you help in your own community. There are many needs close to home that we simply ignore everyday. You might even conduct a random act of kindness. Pay for the order of the person behind you in the drive-thru line. Even if it's a minivan filled with a large family! Take your mind off yourself for a while and watch what happens.

#2 – Become wiser about social media. Many of us have Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. Some of us even blog. Each of these tools can and should be used in different yet complimentary ways. Determine how you will use social media more effectively and strategically this year. Whether its for your business or your personal brand, what does your digital footprint say about you? How much time each week are you spending using social media and for what purpose? Social media should never replace face to face conversations with real human beings. Are you spending too much time online and not enough time with family, friends or networking? You'll be pleased when you spend less time tweeting or Facebook stalking and more time talking to people in your life. Use social media to educate, build community and learn. Just remember, that meaningful, lasting relationships are built in person.

#3 – Avoid toxic people(or being toxic). Be deliberate in decreasing contact and conversations with people who gossip, complain and constantly criticize others. I am disturbed by people have no depth to their conversation unless they are criticizing others or discouraging possibility thinking. Seek to avoid these conversations and those who initiate them. Seek to avoid being the person who starts these conversations. I try to encourage whenever possible, but I will more often than not deflect conversations when people gossip about others. No one wins in those conversations and its just wrong. I want to surround myself with nutritious people. Be green and growing, (YUM!) not ripe and rotting (BLEH!).

#4-Dig deeper spiritually. If you already have a strong faith, go deeper. As a Christian, I find wisdom in reading the Bible each day and peace in praying for others. If you go to church, try practicing some of the principles and concepts discussed by your pastor, preacher or spiritual leader. I find this especially important at work or while you are searching for work. These may be very basic things like: kindness, integrity, honesty, encouragement, forgiveness, etc. Go to a place where you can share in healthy fellowship  and grow spiritually. Don't focus on a religion, focus on your relationship with God.

#5-Move your body--intentionally and regularly. If you have been sedentary, don't start working out like a crazy person on January 1, 2012. Be consistent (4-5 times per week) with exercise. Often setting a goal to run a 5K, 10K, half-marathon or marathon by a certain date will help. You don't need to buy elaborate fitness equipment or cut out all carbs. Just be consistent. Watch your portions of food. I'm also learning that rest and finding simple joy in life is important too. Build in time to renew and relax as well. It matters.

You can start doing these things today, why do you think you have to wait for the New Year? Do it now. Try writing out three goals right now so you can be fit in body, career and spirit for an outstanding 2012! Blessings.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What's on your Christmas gift list?

Many of us are caught up in the hustle and bustle of last-minute holiday shopping. As we go about our busyness, my thoughts drift toward Christmas, work and life in general. What's really important to give or get? 

I have been joking with friends and family about material things I want, like a puppy or an espresso machine. But when I honestly reflect on Christmas, I have a much deeper list of what I'd really like to give and get. These gifts do not have a monetary value, so everyone can afford them. These gifts do not have a shelf life, so they may be used at anytime throughout the year. Here's what I want to give and get:

The gift of humor: Laughter draws people together. Whether at work or with family and friends, take a minute to laugh together. Avoid laughing at someone else's expense but laugh outloud. A hard, belly laugh. Research has proved laughter has positive side effects on health,longevity and long term relationships.

The gift of listening: At home or at work, listen carefully to what people say. The topics that are most important to them will often come up in casual, formal or professional conversations. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. You may not be able to solve the problem but a listening ear can ease the burden for another person. 

The gift of attention and time: We live in a world of instant gratification. There's never enough time to get everything done. Instead of doing three things at once, mentally slow down and be in the moment with your family,friends and co-workers. (Yes, I'm talking to myself on this one). Is there someone in your life telling you what's bothering or worrying them? Give them your full attention. It makes them feel valued and you'll understand them better. Life is too short not to make time to slow down, connect and forgive. 

The gift of thanks: Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Do you have a job? Even if you dislike the people and the work. Be thankful that you are employed. Take a moment to send a card or verbally thank those who helped you in some way this year. Make it a practice next to write down weekly or evenly monthly a few things(or people) you are thankful for. It's amazing to look back on the list after one year and be able to count your blessings.

The gift of prayer: Whatever your religious or denominational leanings, you can always pray for someone who is going through a struggle. You can also offer a celebratory prayer for someone experiencing good fortune. Either way, it takes your mind off of you and allows you to consider someone else. Pray for those who irritate you or those you find less than pleasant to be around. There may be something else deeper going on with that person. Don't allow petty differences to get in the way of your personal or professional relationships. Forgive them and move on.

My Christmas hopes for us all include:
May we celebrate our individual beliefs without apology.
May we seek solutions to disagreements by honestly communicating.
May we ask for support when we need it.
May we offer to support someone else when they need it.
May we surrender to the truth and forgive others when they wrong us.
May we avoid negative influences and the wagging tongues of gossip.
May we seek to grow, serve and be an example of the greatest gift of all! 

Merry Christmas! What's on your list that cannot be bought in a store or online?

Monday, November 28, 2011

10 Questions Hiring Managers Should Ask and What the Answers Reveal

Much is written for graduating college students and other job seekers about how to interview effectively. However, no matter how much the candidate practices, if the interviewer does not know how to conduct an interview or what questions to ask and answers to expect, all the practice in the world is wasted effort.  The problem stems from a lack of planning and direction for those who are in the interviewing role. That may be a problem, but remember, interviewing is still a two-way street. Let's start by cruising down Applicant Avenue. If you are the person applying for the job, and the interviewer talks 70-80% of the time, it's up to you to ask questions about job duties, the organization and mention what you have to offer. Don't just sit there nodding, smiling and wondering when you will get to speak. When the interviewer comes up for air, ask if he/she has any questions about your resume and qualifications. Even if the interviewer doesn't have questions, prepare and share a 30-second commercial of what makes you right for the job. And now a word for all you interviewers....

The Intersection of Applicant Avenue and Employer Drive
As an employer in today's world of work, interviewing may be one small part of your job. The number of candidates applying for every one job opening is as high at 100. Yet finding the right candidate is a critical business process. Whether you are a small business owner or hiring manager for a large corporation, the way you structure the actual interview is important to selecting the right person. It's the interviewer's responsibility to create a good framework for two-way discussion and gain useful information needed to make a hiring decision. Every organization's business needs are different, but here are a few tasks to complete before inviting candidates into your selection process:
  • Prepare a well-written, job description--know what you're looking for and why. What business problem are you trying to solve? What process needs to be maintained or improved? What skills are necessary and what skills would be nice to have? Is the salary you're offering competitive in your market/industry? Are there cross-functional responsibilities?
  • Require a resume and conduct other screening before inviting candidates in for an in-person first interview. This can be via phone, Skype or simply conducting a Google and social media search of the candidate's name. 
  • Develop a minimum of five consistent, standard questions you will ask of every candidate ( see below). Formulate and ask more specific questions of each candidate during the interview but make sure you don't go off on tangents. Take notes during the interview-- jotting down key words or phrases alongside each candidates name. If you are seeing a lot of people you may forget who said what.  
  • Create a candidate rating system or sheet. Nothing elaborate but some way to compare overall impressions and desirability of each candidate. You may also choose to take your notes on this document before rating the candidate.
Preparing and planning how you will interview and what questions you will ask can make the experience better for both you and the candidate. I recently provided a leadership training workshop to a group of sales managers and small business owners. We discussed the typical first interview questions and how to evaluate the answers. Here's some of what I shared:

Question 1: Start the interview with introductions of your interview panel, names, titles and a general, non-threatening opening question. You may also set-up how the interview will proceed. The opening conversation should serve to calm down both you and the candidate. If you have allocated an hour to interview each candidate, you should spend at least the first two minutes trying to connect on a neutral topic or setting up the interview process. Let the candidate know upfront that you have a few structured questions and then signal that the interview is about to start. Help the person feel at ease and you're likely to gain better information—and more honest responses.
Option 1: How was your holiday/weekend/day/morning? How are you doing today?

Question 2: Tell me about yourself. This is really a general statement designed to see if a candidate knows what is appropriate to reveal without rambling. The candidate should not try to tell you every detail of their life, family or work history. Listen for information related to three points: education, transferable skills/experience and maybe one interesting personal item (i.e. community service, recent overseas trip, etc.). The personal items serves to show they are human, it may also help you remember something unique about them. The candidate should be able to keep the answer brief yet give you basic insight into general facts about who they are and why they are interviewing for your position (i.e their personal brand statement, perhaps?) The candidate should always highlight at least one or more past experience that points out relevant transferable skills that makes them right for the position.

Question 3: Describe a time when you had to overcome a major obstacle. This statement will help you get a clear picture of the candidate's past performance, self awareness and ability to choose an appropriate situation. The candidate should choose a work-related or academic example and not an overly personal one. Listen to see if the person plays the victim or the hero in the situation. The way the candidate recalls a situation gives you an indication of how they might solve simple to complex problems.
Option 1: Describe a time when you made a mistake, how did you handle it? Follow-up with: If you had to do that again, how would you do it differently?

Question 4: What interests you about this position?You should expect the candidate to talk about transferable skills already highlighted on their resume and to tell you what they know about your brand, customers, reputation, or any other key statistics found on your website. The answer may also be personal such as a connection to your customers or experience with your brand. Any of these answers (or a combination) are acceptable. A personal answer could indicate a sincere connection to the business and a sense of ownership in whatever role they might play in the organization.
Option 1: What do you know about this company or organization?
Option 2: What motivated you to apply for this job?

Question 5: Do you work better with a team or alone? Depending on the job, a candidate should be able to confidently choose one and explain why. However, it is acceptable for a candidate to say they can do both, depending on the tasks you expect them to perform. A good candidate should give more than a one word response. They should follow-up with a brief explanation of how and why they work well in either or both of the situations. You'll also want them to give an example of a team experience and the results of the team's work.
Option 1: Do you work better independently or with close supervision?
Option 2: Tell me about a time when you worked as part of a team. What was that experience like for you?

Question 6: If you were a tree what kind of tree would you be, and why? Go ahead, laugh! But this question can help you see how the candidate deals with surprises or obscure situations. This type of question helps break the cycle of well-rehearsed answers. As long as it's not a one word answer or too long, virtually any response is a good one. The key is to pay attention to attitude. Will the candidate play along? How much ease or difficulty did the person have in coming up with a response? The candidate who becomes too flustered or too serious, may indicate inflexibility. Beware of the candidate who avoids an answer altogether, this may indicate an inability to make basic decisions quickly.
Option 1: If you were a pencil would you be the lead (pronounced led) or the eraser?
Option 2: If you were an animal in the zoo, what kind of animal would you be,why?

Question 7: Describe a time when you encountered conflict with a co-worker (or boss)? How did you handle it? The purpose of this question is to learn more about the candidate's judgement and decision-making skills. This is an example of a situational question, but it also illuminates the candidate's thought process. You want to see whether the candidate deals with negative situations honestly yet diplomatically. They should be able to identify a specific example and talk about comfortably.
Option 1: What would you do if a co-worker got behind schedule on part of a project or task for which you were responsible?

Question 8: Why are you interested in this position? With this one you run the risk of hearing a phony, drawn-out answer about how great the company is, but listen carefully for whether or not the candidate truly understands what you expect based on what they know about your organization or the skills needed to perform the job. This question is also about getting a sense of values, motivations and how much of a keen understanding the candidate has of your needs. Concepts like values and culture can be subjective, but you should be looking for someone whose work ethic, motivations, skills and methods best match the company's.
Option 1: What keeps you coming to work besides the paycheck?

Question 9: What are your greatest strengths and what are your greatest weaknesses? Yes, this age old question still works. It helps you find out if the candidate is self-aware and comfortable talking about what they do well and what they need to improve. These should be asked as two separate questions. Watch for the ability to describe strengths in meaningful, work-related terms. “I’m a people-person” tells you nothing. Instead, “I connect easily when meeting new people.” With weaknesses, listen for the ability to describe traits or characteristics that are honest, not overly personal and demonstrate an attempt to improve or grow from a weakness. The typical, rehearsed answer is, “I’m a perfectionist,” ICK! it’s overused. You should look for an answer like, “I have high standards and get frustrated when others don’t do their best.” Good candidates will always be able to describe both their strengths and weaknesses with equal comfort.
Option 1: What would your colleagues say you do well? What would they say you need to improve?

Question 10: Why did you leave your last job? The answer to this question can help you determine the candidate’s wisdom and diplomacy. The candidate should never criticize a former company, boss, or colleagues. A good candidate will focus his answer on how this new job will give him/her the opportunity to contribute more in a particular area or use a skill that is key to helping your organization become more successful. A good candidate might use this question as an opportunity to suggest ways to improve processes or services in their previous or current role.
Option 1: What did you dislike about your last job/boss/company?

It's always good to close the interview with: What questions do you have for me? Reversing roles communicates that you care about the candidate, and it will demonstrate how curious and knowledgeable a candidate is about your organization. If the candidate doesn't ask any questions about the job or the business, it's safe to assume they are just applying for any job. Listen for insightful questions that demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the job duties, long range vision or the competitive landscape of your industry. A good candidate will always have at least two questions. It is still wise to be concerned about the candidate who asks about vacation days or pay is during a first interview, it  might signal they are running from their current job and interested in your organization for the wrong reasons.

Besides these, be sure to ask questions customized to your specific industry and/or position. You'll want to leave the table knowing that person understands your business environment. Even if you need to fill a position quickly, take time to review your notes, compare answers and remember first impressions are lasting impressions-- sometimes you must listen to your gut. Give yourself at least 24 hours before making a decision or extending an offer no matter how overworked you are. If you have the time, conduct a second interview with your top two candidates only. Eliminate as much internal red tape as possible and move to the selection and hiring stage quickly.

Applicants: Have you ever had a bad interview? What happened?
Employers: What other questions do you ask candidates? What answers do you expect? What do the answers reveal? Leave your comments below.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

5P's to Avoid Back-to-School (or any) Burnout

It’s that time of year when the start of the school year forces even more activities upon many of us. Whether you are a parent, college student, professor, employer or employee this time of year can be stressful. I have used these five tips to  maintain a healthy mind, body, career and spirit this time of year.

1. Prioritize. Create a "to-do" list. Place your list in priority order. Try to focus on completing the top three to five things on your list each day. From studying to errands to exercise, list those things which must be done by or on a specific date to keep your life in order. Recent research indicates that concept of multitasking is a myth. The human brain focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time. Read the book, "Brain Rules," by John Medina, it will transform your thinking on multi-tasking. If you have more than twenty things on your priority list, face it you can only do so much each day--so at least fifteen of the items on your list may not get done. You are not a failure, you just have too many priorities. I have learned a new word: "No." I can say it graciously and without guilt. I can only be good to others when I am also good to myself. Keep reading...

2. Plan.  To stay organized, keep a calendar that supports your "to-do" list.  It can be paper or electronic, whatever works for you or your family. It will reduce your stress level when you can see what is coming up in your day, week or month. If you are trying to organize a group of people, make sure the calendar is centrally accessible. You and any others involved should be able to see upcoming events or big tasks that require you or them to make decisions or complete an assignment. Include events or activities that require your time or that of anyone else you need to make things happen. Make sure you communicate what is expected or ask what is expected of you-- if unclear. Set aside a time of day to check email Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin each day, place it on your calendar so you don't get lost in social media for hours on end. Include exercise and relaxation time on your calendar too. Update the calendar diligently. Based on your priorities, highlight those things you must do to keep your life in order versus things that are done out of guilt or obligation.

3. Purge.  At the end of each week remove or check off those items on your list that are completely done.  It helps to be able to physically see your accomplishments are completed if you draw a line through them or place a check mark next to them. If you did not complete all the items on your "to-do" list, carry them over and move them up the priority list. Get rid of stacks of mail, papers or clothes you no longer wear that clutter your physical space. A clean work or living environment lends itself to clear thinking. Politely avoid toxic conversations and people. It tends to drain you emotionally and physically. Don't waste time gossiping and talking negatively about others. My favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quote is,"Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people." What (or who) are the topics of most of your conversations? Let go of anger, backbiting and gossip. There so much more to life.

4. Play. Find what’s right and enjoyable for you by trying different physical activities. Then make exercise a part of your lifestyle not an occasional event. Before starting any fitness program, be sure to check with your physician. Move intentionally at least 5 times per week.  Be sure to include a combination of cardio, strength/weight training and stretching in your workouts. Cardio simply means that you elevate your heart rate by walking briskly (unable to talk on the cell phone), running, riding a bike or playing tennis. Strength training involves using free weights, machines or resistance bands to build muscle and prevent osteoporosis. Everyone reacts to exercise differently. Be consistent. While many of us don't have time to prepare fabulous home cooked meals every night, it's important to make wise food choices no matter how busy you are. Practically every fast food restaurant now has something on its menu that is considered low calorie. Avoid the super size mentality even if you eat poorly. Drink lots of water to fight fatigue and eat more foods that come from the earth. Take care of your body, it houses the mind and spirit.

5. Pray. Reflect on the items on your list and determine if you are doing things out of guilt, responsibility or because you actually have to do them. Does your list align with what you value? Does your list align with your goals? If not, learn to say no and give yourself only to things you are truly called to do. Set aside at least 30 minutes a day for prayer or thoughtful meditation. Listen to joyful music, read a devotion or motivational quote to start your day. Rest. Be still and know that it's okay to do nothing. Yes, you can find the time for nothingness...make it a priority, add it to your calendar if you must.

You are uniquely and wonderfully made. But we are not designed to do everything. As Dr. Phil would say, "How's that working for you?" If it's not working for you, Plan, Prioritize, Purge, Play and Pray to start this school year off intentionally, peacefully and with a lot less stress.
Thoughts? Leave your comments below...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Are you using these 6 Linkedin networking etiquette tips?

We all know networking is the best way to find a job or change careers. Along with in-person contact, networking using social media can open even more doors. All you have to do is create a Linkedin profile and send a few generic connection requests then the calls will start pouring in, right? Wrong. AND, tacky!

Career services professionals, resume writers and other career coaches are encouraging everyone to create Linkedin profiles. Right now, it is the place to see and be seen when networking, acquiring talent or seeking employment. Whether you are a recent grad, about to graduate from college or are a seasoned professional, it is important use Linkedin intentionally and understand the etiquette associated with it.

1) When using Linkedin, don’t ask for recommendations from those who do not truly know you or your work. This is equivalent to asking someone to serve as a reference when they have only met you in passing. It’s awkward when you send the generic recommendation or connection request. Be sure to customize the auto-generated message when asking for a connection or recommendation. Remind the person of what you’re looking for and what you have to offer. That way, they can write a specific, targeted, more impressive recommendation. Make sure the person writes in a way that actually conveys useful, credible information. Any recommendation that says, “Ryan is a great guy” or, ”I enjoyed working with Kathy,” adds no value or perspective to a future employer. Always ask your recommender to list specific skills, knowledge and abilities that you will bring to a prospective employer along with any other character comments or fluff and stuff. Professors, former employers, church staff, pastors, professional staff at colleges and those who manage any community service work you have done, are good sources for recommendations. As for a connection make sure you customized the request and indicate how you know the person or even why you want to know them.

2) Many recruiters tell me it is quite acceptable to add your Linkedin public address to your resume. Recruiters say they will check social media sources tied to your name anyway, so go ahead and make it easy for them. It also shows you have nothing to hide. Write your Linkedin profile in a manner that provides a snapshot of your accomplishments and key skills--not just a list of duties from previous employment. Hmm…sounds a lot like an even tighter version of a good resume, doesn’t it?

3) Join Linkedin groups where you can gain insight and participate in discussions about a career, topic or field of interest. If you have good advice to share from your life and career perspective, share it frequently. If you have a question, pose it professionally and intelligently to the group or an individual. Start by joining your college or university’s alumni group. Don't just stalk groups. Share expertise, ask questions and participate openly.

4) If you blog, add a link to your blog on your Linkedin profile. Be sure the blog content demonstrates your professional knowledge or expertise in an area along with your creativity and writing skills. Your mindless ramblings or even intelligent rants on political or religious matters can close doors--unless you have the luxury of waiting for a job to open up where only those with your exact political party or religious affiliation work. Don’t ever sacrifice or hide your beliefs, values and morals, but be wise in how they may come across to those who don’t know you or may be thinking of hiring you. Convey opinions and values wisely. This applies not only to  what you say on a blog, but also what you do when you think no one is watching!

5) If you are a recent grad or unemployed, avoid posting a Linkedin status or headline statement as: "Need a job!" It sounds desperate. No one will be as interested in helping Needy Nellie.  Also, if you have a job, be respectful of your current employer and keep your search confidential, avoid posting, “Looking for a new job.” You never know who in your organization is one connection away. Use the jobs tab and follow companies that you might be interested in. Many Human Resources professionals tell me Linkedin has replaced some of their traditional sources of advertising for open positions. 

6) Proofread your Linkedin profile just as you would a resume. A sloppy profile might mean a sloppy worker. Check your grammar, spelling and punctuation. I shouldn't have to say it, but don't use text language or incorrect grammar in your profile. Make sure your phone numbers and email addresses are up to date and professional. Your credibility, image and reputation is being conveyed in this moment. Make the moment matter. Revisit your profile from time to time and add any new experiences that will enhance your personal brand to potential employers.

Finally, as social media continues to grow among every population and age group, you should take a moment to Google your name. You might be surprised to find out what or who is associated with your name or someone with a similar name. If you ever created dicey web pages or humorous Facebook groups as a joke in college, it may come back to haunt you or send the wrong impression to a current or future employer. Check your digital dirt and if you can’t remove it, make sure you can provide an explanation if you are asked about it.

Now that you have linked in and up, step away from the computer! Pick up the phone and schedule a breakfast, lunch, coffee or other in-person appointment, with a targeted list of people who can provide timely, realistic career advice or informational interviews. Let them see your dazzling smile, hear your great enthusiasm, see your fabulous personality all backed up by a solid education, meaningful results, transferable skills and an eagerness to grow.

What tips have you found effective when using Linkedin? 

Leave comments below, I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Tour de France and your career

It's that time of year where I find myself glued to the outcome of the various stages of the Tour de France. The race is made up of 21 stages that cover a total distance of about 2,200 miles. These 21 stages include the following profiles: 10 flat stages, 7 mountain stages, 1 medium mountain stage, 2 individual time-trial stages, and 1 team time-trial stage.

The riders spend months and even years training for this event. At the same time, there are many factors beyond the riders control that can influence the outcome on the final day of the Tour de France. This includes the rain, heat, rocks in the road and the actions of other riders. If these professional cyclists focused on these external, uncontrollable factors, I’m certain they would want to just pack up and go home. But they continue because they believe in their preparation, planning and the possibility of winning or simply finishing well. A job search and healthy career requires similar endurance and stamina. Just like the profiles in the Tour de France, there are various stages in a job search or established career.

The flat stage in a job search or career, is where we simply keep the pace and roll along with the other riders. During this stage, we might ask ourselves, what is my purpose? Am I making a difference? Do I see myself here in a few years? Some may even ask--what is the minimal amount of work I have to do to stay with the pack? During the flat stages there are often more questions than answers but we just keep pedaling.

During the team stages, we ride with others and they encourage us when the race gets tough. During this stage we also need people around to provide a reality check and a little tough love when needed. They challenge us to keep going and take the lead when we are tired. Who is cycling alongside you in your career or job search? Who encourages or challenges you in a healthy way? Who understands your industry or situation and can provide wise counsel--not well-intentioned, outdated advice? Who lifts you up when everything seems to bring you down? Find a good team to ride with you.

Next, we have individual time trials. This is when we have to ride alone and try to finish strong knowing we have pushed ourselves and searched for the best way to remain strong during the ride. This stage allows you to grow stronger in mind, body and spirit because it's just you and the road. Sometimes it can be painful. Hopefully during this stage you learn how to better use your time and resources. You may even realize you are stronger than you thought. This stage requires focus and continuous movement toward your goals. If you are in an established career, do you have good mentors and people you can trust and talk to? Are you keeping up with the latest trends in your profession? If you're in a job search, do you keep track of your Linkedin connections, making networking calls and step away from the computer to have real life conversations? Do you try to accomplish one thing each week designed to get you closer to your new job?

The toughest stage is the mountains. This is where you develop the deepest levels of your faith, courage and endurance. The mountain stage requires the most intelligence and wisdom. The mountain demands you are consistent, determined and confident that you can reach the highest point of the climb. In the mountain stage, fatigue is often your greatest enemy. In your career, this is where you feel you've talked to everyone, tried everything and nothing is happening. No interviews, no rejections, no promotions...nothing. Often the mountains require us to trust in our training even when we do not understand the delays or immediately see the outcome. The mountains require great faith. Mental toughness matters in the mountains. You gain this toughness through a good support system and refreshing your approach. You gain this toughness through digging deep and relying on something greater than yourself. You gain this toughness by including those with opposing thoughts in your circle of influence. Do you listen to those who think differently or just those who will tell you what you want to hear? Do you make decisions based upon facts or fear? Do you allow yourself to be influenced by the opinions of others or just stop trying because it's just too difficult?

God is the best trainer, coach and team member we could have. The Hebrew word for “almighty” is "Shaddai" which indicates God’s sufficiency for ANY situation. The word “Lord” or “Yaweh” refers to His faithfulness. God really is sufficient and faithful no matter what we’re going through. Who do you rely on to help you through the stages of your career? I hope you will prepare, avoid discouragement and pray about your career decisions. Stop surrounding yourself with people who think small and have never even experienced the Tour de France in their own careers. Watch and experience the ride for yourself. Seek wisdom. Train well. Move out for the team and individual wins. Don't give up so easily the yellow jersey may be closer than you think. It's worth the work when you know God has a purpose and plan for it all.

What have you learned during your own Tour de France? What have been the toughest stages in a job search or career for you? Please leave a comment below.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

5 Things on Boss and Employee Wish Lists

The workplace is such a tapestry of attitudes, beliefs, cultures, generations and habits. Dump that into a cubicle or offices in close proximity and it's like sharing a room in a dorm or a bathroom with a teen sister or brother. Often, I wonder if we tried daily to put ourselves in the other person's shoes, would that change our responses to one another? In the interest of trying to see things from both sides, I asked some leader/managers and their employees what was on their workplace wish list. From a non-scientific sample of both bosses and employees, here's some of what they told me:

The Boss's Wish List for Employees
1. Be reliable. When I ask you to do something, do it promptly. If I do not give you clear instruction or a deadline, ask me about it. I'm busy and not perfect.We pay you to do this job.
2. Don't just tell me what you think I want to hear. Have the professional courage to honestly discuss your workload, any organizational unknowns and offer ideas to make things better. All of your ideas may not be implemented. Be mature about it.
3. If you make a mistake, own it. Don't laugh about it, avoid it, blame others or become defensive. Sincerely apologize, discuss it with me and learn from it. Everyone makes mistakes. It's how you respond that causes reactions of irritation or sympathy.
4. We will disagree. Try to understand my preferred work style, definition of work and I'll try to understand yours. Then we meet halfway. I am being measured and asked to deliver results. I don't make this stuff up just to terrorize you. It may be uncomfortable. Get over it.
5. Avoid being an expert at pointing out problems, come to me with thoughtful solutions and creative new ideas that help us reach our strategic goals. Sometimes the organization is not ready for your ideas. Don't bad-mouth me or my boss, but don't give up.

The Employee's Wish List for the Boss
1. Let me do my job. You hired me because I obviously have some intelligence and skills. My definition of work may be different from yours.
2. Celebrate success more. I need encouragement and a pat on the back for a job well done. Saying "thank you" for small things is nice too.
3. Invest in my professional development. I want to learn from others in my profession and more about my industry. It helps me to not feel so isolated.
4. Be a better listener. I need to know you will listen to my ideas without judgment. I may need to complain or  want to radically change things. I want to know you will support me.
5. Communicate with clarity. Tell me what you expect and how my job contributes to the big picture. Make time to clearly outline the goals and strategies of our area.

At the foundation of any healthy workplace relationship is the constant effort to try to see things from another person's point of view. So many people are looking for an excuse to judge and be negative about the boss or employee. Some people harbor unspoken, misdirected biases that have been deeply ingrained into them by what others have said or how they were raised. Others say, it's generational differences. Instead of viewing it that way, what if we asked smart questions of each other, respected differences and desired to intentionally make the workplace better than we found it? It takes maturity, open communication, trust and compromise from both the boss and the employee to enhance relationships and ultimately get the job done. There are no perfect bosses or employees. It is my hope that both bosses and employees think about these wishlists, then openly discuss or create their own lists without fear. We spend too much time at work to be miserable.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men...~Colossians 3:23

What's on your boss/employee wish list? What do you think? Leave comments below.

Is Career Planning a Myth?

As a career coach, I regularly see college students and other professionals in transition or turmoil seeking the secret formula to finding the perfect career or job. They ask, how do I find the perfect job? What is the plan I need to follow? There are no easy answers and many people are stuck because they are afraid to make a mistake or try new things. This can lead to spending a lifetime either miserable or job hopping because they think they have missed the secret. Here are some facts about career planning to keep in mind:

1) In a recent survey of professionals on Linkedin.com, only 20 percent of people said they had achieved career success by following a carefully thought out career plan. Those who were most satisfied, conducted career factfinding by asking people about the realities of the career they were interested in, they took risks to find what they liked, and more importantly, what they didn't like in a career. Often, by actually doing the job for a year or more.

2) 80 percent of professionals say a chance event significantly altered their career path.This may have been a positive or negative life event, but it made a lasting impression and became a catalyst for a change or action. Things happen that are beyond your control. Whatever it is can make you better or bitter. Use it to help you focus on what's important to you in life.

3) At a national college career adviser conference, a speaker asked for a show hands of those with a written career plan, less than 5 percent of the audience raised their hands. Hmmm...career coaches are you practicing what you preach? Did you read something about creating a career plan in a book and it sounded like good advice? Please stop that. Try it for yourself to see if it works. Then give advice on the possibilities and pitfalls.

4) In this economy, you may have to relocate and there are still no guarantees. All work is now global and interconnected. Yet most jobs are not for a lifetime. A decision made in Tokyo or Dubai may result in losing a job in Washington, D.C. or Wisconsin no matter your performance or potential. Most people will have between 6-7 jobs in their lifetime. That's not a goal, just a fact.

I'm not advocating job hopping or to avoid planning. Yet as a career coach I want to be realistic with students and clients about what career planning looks like. It's important to focus on communicating the complexities of finding a true calling or career path. There are not four easy steps.You may do many things. You may have a vocation and an avocation. You may need to relocate. You may need to use social media differently in an active job search. You may need to determine what you value most in life. You may need to stop accepting bad,outdated advice even from people who care about you (parents, professors, family, friends). You may need to create the job that you envision as an entrepreneur.You may need to move forward without fear. If you are a person of faith, you definitely need to pray for clarity and direction about your career.

Today's employment environment calls for new advice and new approaches. Networking, resumes and interview skills still matter. But the game changer is in the risk of trying something new and knowing your first job may not be your forever job. Be willing to start somewhere. Be willing to grow. Be willing to surrender your ideas of what the perfect career or workplace might be. Be willing to change (even in a tough economy). You won't know until you try.

So, is career planning a myth? I'd say no, it's not a myth, but let's not be so rigid about it. I love to hear from you! What do you think? Have you followed a career plan or not? How many jobs have you had, so far? Please leave your comments below.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

3C's of Professionalism

There are a variety of generations, expectations, personalities, values and ethics in today's complex workplace. Many people tend to focus on external characteristics when discussing the highly subjective topic of professionalism. Professionalism is so much more than the clothes you wear.

Whether you are a recent college graduate or a seasoned professional, there are three "C"s I believe employers across all industries and disciplines want to see for increased productivity, retention and harmony. From the CEO to the janitor, these basic skills can be practiced by everyone to raise the standard of professionalism in any work environment.

1) Communication
A true professional needs to be able to write and speak effectively. Demonstrating professionalism as it relates to communication has to do with the day to day spoken and written words we exchange. If your email takes more than one screen or six lines of text, you should probably call or try to speak to the person face to face. Always quickly read over what you have written before you send it. Eliminate unnecessary details. Make sure there is a call to action, if necessary. Try to anticipate the next question the reader might have after reading your message. Every written communication should include what, when, where, why and a summary of the next step or end with what you are asking the reader to do--that's your call to action. Don't use email or text  to avoid difficult conversations. Verbal communication can build or break relationships. But don't be afraid of it. True professionals think before they speak and are not afraid to engage in tough conversations. They answer and ask questions that are on-point--clearly and concisely. They anticipate potential questions that may arise from whatever point they make without worrying about being defensive. And finally, they ask intelligent questions then listen thoughtfully to the answers.  

2) Confidence
Many individuals desiring to be professional mistake having a harsh, hard attitude for confidence. Confidence does not mean you know it all or have the right to treat others harshly. Confidence means you listen as much as (or more than) you speak. Confidence is a silent strength that comforts as well as motivates.  It is the thoughtful courage to maintain integrity and make decisions that benefit the organization or situation even if it means being unpopular. Professional confidence involves a willingness to make a decision or move forward when no one else will. When properly used it may even push others outside their comfort zone. A confident professional knows when to confront, correct, encourage and when to be silent. Confident professionals take calculated risks. Confidence may frighten some people even when applied appropriately. Peter McIntyre said it best,"Confidence comes from not always being right, but not fearing to be wrong."

3) Consideration
Everyone has their reasons for behaving a certain way in the workplace. It is never acceptable to be rude or abusive to people no matter your title. Insecurities play out in different ways for leaders and employees. Some people may be overly sensitive to concise directives or correction and misinterpret direct communication. True professionals consider the fact that there are a variety of communication styles in the workplace. It is important to be able to adjust your style according to the situation or person but not lose who you are. Consideration does not involve tip-toeing around the unreasonable people or troublemakers in the workplace. True professionals do not seek to dominate a conversation in the office or in office related social settings. They know when to listen and how to ask questions to get others engaged in the decision or discussion. True professionals accept differences but rarely settle for differences as an excuse for mediocrity.

Whether you are a leader, employee or volunteer, try practicing these 3C's for one week in your shared environment. Let me know how it goes. Remember, time spent improving yourself cuts down on time wasted disapproving of others.  

What "C' would you add? Please leave your comment below. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Graduating from college in May? What you should have been told

It's that time of year when my calendar is filled with appointments of those preparing to graduate in May. I love working with college students and always try to find a way to encourage and help while offering a practical, realistic perspective. However, if a student is in my office for the very first time in April and he/she graduates in May, they might be a little late in the job search process. I'll still try to help but I'm no miracle worker. I am convinced there are a few reality checkpoints students, parents and professors miss along the academic journey. Here are a few tips for students and those who love them to use during each year of college:

Freshman: Discover your strengths. Even if you have decided on a career or major, take personality, skills and interests assessments that your university or college may offer. This may include: Myers-Briggs, Strengthsquest, VARK or FOCUS. Getting good grades matters along with involvement on campus or in your community. Participate in student government, clubs, non-profit events, academic organizations, church service or a sorority/fraternity to gain basic teamwork experiences and discover your passion. The interpersonal communication skills and self awareness you gain may help you rule out, decide on, or confirm a career choice. These activities also give you confidence to interact with new people(adults and peers) and are valuable in meeting potential contacts for networking later on.

Sophomore: Your grade point average is important but now is the time to gain further practical experience from internships, on-campus jobs, sororities/fraternities, clubs, pre-professional organizations, mission work, community service or any other part-time employment. This experience provides transferable skills valuable in any profession such as leadership, public speaking, writing, critical thinking, organizing, teamwork and customer service. Take an active role in learning about careers and networking. Get to know the career service professionals on your campus. I have to admit, the quality of career center professionals and the services they offer varies widely in higher education. So be wise about the advice and direction you accept. It may help to know if the person advising you has actually worked in the real world. Make sure those advising you know the latest trends with resumes, interviewing and social media by industry as well as specific professions. Politely ask specific, smart questions. Just please stop asking your room mate, friends or others who have little to no knowledge of current employment/hiring trends in recruiting, resumes or creating an effective job search plan.

Junior: Make sure you have a strong resume. I say ditch the job objective. No one reads them because they are often poorly written. Network with family, friends, professors. Ask questions. If someone tells you to email your resume to them...do it! Within 24 hours. Attach the e-mail as a PDF and the cover letter should be the body of the e-mail. Even if there are no openings, contacts may pass it along to a colleague or someone who will consider you for other opportunities. Re-take any personality, interests or skills assessments. You may have changed a bit since your Freshman year. Be self-aware. Enhance your interpersonal communication skills by texting less and talking to people more. Recruiters and CEO's continue to seek graduates who can articulate what they are looking for, are not socially awkward--will show some enthusiasm and can verbally make connections to transferable skills during a conversation or interview. Create a financial plan (aka budget). Living at home? Moving out? Medical? Dental benefits? Do you have a realistic view of your annual salary expectations and expenses?

Senior: Make sure you are netweaving. What's that? Remember the informational interviews you conducted? part-time job? community service work or talking to friends of your friends parents? Let them know you are graduating and tell them what you are looking for. Avoid relying solely on job boards. Use all resources available to you and do not just wait for someone to contact you. Netweaving (aka networking) remains the most effective way to find a job. Schedule lunches. Talk to people. Ask professionals in your network if you can send them your resume. Avoid focusing solely on what you want from an employer (i.e. experience). When you meet people talk about how you can add value or help solve a business problem. Identify companies you are interested in and ask people in your network for the name of someone who works there. Create a Linkedin account and use it. Go to Linkedin for grads for more information. And don't forget to thank everyone who helps you along the way. A verbal, email or other note of thanks makes you memorable and people more willing to help. As a senior the fear and questions may overwhelm you. If this causes you to do nothing, just remember, Abraham Lincoln said it best, "You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today."

If you are conducting an active job search as a new graduate it's necessary to: Be flexible. The more limitations you place on your job search the fewer options you have. Are you willing to relocate? In today's economy this is a must consideration. Be fearless. Talk to people and be willing learn new things and go to new places. Be faithful. Don't give up too soon, or get negative or blame the economy, just keep moving forward. If you are curious about the status of an application or interview call or email your contact. Be kind, courteous and make statements like: "just checking to see if you need anything else from me in this process." Hiring managers and others are just busy, it's not personal. Find out what you need to know.Call them but don't stalk them.

Today's reality is the entire approach and process of gaining professional employment has changed. It's taking anywhere from six months to a year to get an interview much less obtain an entry-level job--even longer in some states. Many universities and colleges are doing a huge dis-service to students by not having early, frequent and practical career conversations. You do realize you will eventually have do something with all of that academic excellence you've acquired...right? Resumes, interviews, salary levels and recruiting tactics have changed dramatically in the past five years, yet many in academia(even some campus career centers), parents and professors erroneously advise students to use outdated approaches on everything from resume layout/content to answering age old interview questions like: What is your greatest weakness? "I'm a perfectionist." BLEH!GAG! Those who advise college students must help reset the expectations of what a college degree is all about. A college degree is simply the price of admission to the professional working world. Having a degree still matters, but we are experiencing a highly unique, recovering job market, and it requires students (and those who advise them) to re-think their approach to career planning and the tools used to secure employment. Experience matters. Parents, professors, career services professionals and students need to initiate fresh, frequent and relevant discussions about careers and what can (or cannot) be done with a specific major/degree well before the senior year of college. While everything may not be tied up in a neat little bow by graduation, students--remember to do your part and don't give up. Have a plan A, B AND C. There's no easy path to a career but there's one out there for you. It's your calling. I'm counting on you to find it. It may take some work. I'll even help. I just hope you'll talk to me about it sooner rather than later.

What do you think? Leave a comment or check a box below...if you are a student let's talk, I'm here all summer.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Fish Out of Water

I recently spoke to a woman at church who mentioned that during her mission trip she became frustrated because she did not speak the language or enjoy the food in the country she was serving. She said no matter how hard she tried, she just could not connect with the people there. A co-worker told me how her son who is living in a foreign country (Russia, I think) stated he was tired of trying to communicate with his host family who spoke no English. She said he felt it was particularly unbearable when he became sick. He just wanted something familiar and comforting around him which they couldn't provide. As I reflected on these experiences, I realized you don't always have to visit a foreign country to be a fish out of water (FOOW).

Scientific studies have been conducted on what happens to a fish when it is out of water for too long. The main effect being the gills dry up and the fish dies of suffocation. It is a slow death that's difficult to watch.

In some ways, I think I have become a FOOW. Don't worry, keep reading, this is not a pity party or judgement of the deep south--just an honest observation of an experience at this point in time. I am a positive person who wants to positively influence and relate to others. I share these observations because I want to grow and help others who might be experiencing the FOOW syndrome. What amazes me most, is the impact being a FOOW has on the FOOW's personality and joy. I call it the "FOOW Syndrome," where several things can happen:

1) You are unable to have meaningful, genuine conversations. Every conversation is guarded or defensive causing only surface interactions.

2) You don't have anyone to offer healthy challenge to you professionally, personally or spiritually, so you become out of touch because of #1.

3) You become acutely aware of nonverbal behaviors (i.e. people tense up, make strange facial expressions or stop talking when you walk into the room).

4) You become systematically excluded from professional and social events causing you to become lonely and even a bit angry---feeding further negative opinions of your attitude and behavior.

5) You exhibit the physical symptoms of stress such as weight gain, headaches, fatigue, and other illnesses.

6) Finally, and most unfortunate, you become irritable in response to being alienated, isolated and lonely. Sadly, this provides more ammunition to further exclude you. Your gills begin to dry up as you flop around all of this and the slow suffocation begins.

Today an EF3 tornado almost leveled the city where I live. My husband was out of town. After making it home safely, I realized that locally I had no one to call and no one called to check on me.*** I am a firm believer in "to gain a friend, you must be friend." As the storm was moving in, I called someone to see if they were okay and the conversation was awkward. I'm not sure the person even understood I was just concerned about them. Once again, guarded and weird conversations. I have even tried to stop wearing business suits to work thinking my attire might be causing the distance. I only wear suits because I own more of those than anything, due to my previous career. Reality and maturity remind me that not everyone connects or likes each other but this is the first time in my life I do not have genuine, deep, caring relationships in the place where I live and work. And that's unhealthy for someone who seeks a fit body, career and spirit. So I am praying about how to better connect and understand what God is doing in this situation.

I have asked myself intellectual and spiritual questions about being a FOOW. Is the lack of connection because the pull of sameness is just easier for most people? Is it because friends and family would judge us if we had a friend from a different background in our homes, churches or social circles? Perhaps it's because if a person does not fit the typical behaviors, speech patterns or social interests expected of a particular gender or race, then people don't want or know how to relate to you. Perhaps high standards of excellence and a strong work ethic cause people to become unnecessarily nervous and insecure. As I look to God for answers, I simply wonder what is the greater purpose of all of this? I am not angry or blaming anyone, I'm just hoping to figure out ways to swim back into freshwater and return to joy.

The good news is I still have healthy, strong, joyful relationships all over the country. These people lift me personally, professionally and spiritually. I can get to any of them via a plane ride, Twitter or Skype but they are not here daily to spontaneously encourage, embrace and show me love in person. That causes me to feel a slow suffocation most days. I long for the authentic support systems, belly laughs, intellectual debates and the caring conversations I have known in other places. I miss having someone ask me about me about my family, my day, care enough to celebrate a success or pat me on the back when things get rough. It reminds me of a great proverb that states, "Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave, and impossible to forget."

In a freshwater aquarium there are thousands of different species of fish available to the aquarist. The various types of fish found in the hobby today come from all over the world. These fish all have their own preferences for environment and social behaviour yet they share the water and learn to swim in the same direction. They all have similar basic needs: a comfortable water temperature, nourishment, kindness and to swim peacefully within the tank that they are forced to share. Sometimes we think only fish who are alike should be with each other. That's not always true. When a new fish is introduced into the tank, it requires the other fish to accept the new fish and avoid judging it based on the external appearance or what others have said about it.

As a species who often flops around outside of the aquarium at work, there are subtle ways other fish guard themselves. It causes the FOOW syndrome to manifest in me. So I focus inward and ask myself: Should I leave behind who I am and try to fit what makes others comfortable? Do I try to laugh along when a joke or comment reinforces a negative portrayal of another? Do I sacrifice my strong work ethic so others don't think I'm so intense or feel the need to be guarded or secretive?

After publishing these thoughts, I fully realize this may cause even further alienation, judgement, defensiveness or criticism. The unfortunate part is that I will most likely never have honest or intellectual discussions about it. Mainly because it is such hard work for us to invest in growing and building relationships. Alas, I am compelled to write about that which I know impacts my mind, body, career, and spirit. Simply put, I long to get back in an aquarium where we can all breathe and swim freely. I don't care if they are goldfish, bluefish or catfish. I just need kindfish, honestfish and determinedfish. Misery does not love company--joy loves company. I'm not miserable, I just want air, water and yes, joy in growing and building a life and leaving a legacy.

After reading this, would you comment or check a box below? If you comment, try to keep it constructive even if you disagree with me. Bring life giving water into this aquarium! I welcome your thoughts, observations and prayers to return to the freshwater aquarium of clarity, openess, friendship, peace and joy. I can breathe there. What about you?

Have you ever felt like a FOOW? When? Where? What did you do?

***On the day of the tornado, Bruce A. called and sent me a text, he just wanted to know if I was okay or needed help with anything, it brought me to tears.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

3 Life Lessons from Having No Voice

Thanks to WebMD, I self-diagnosed my case of laryngitis.** The human voice basically consists of sound made by using the vocal folds for talking, singing, laughing, crying or even screaming. When these folds become irritated, laryngitis may occur. In my case, the most likely cause is a combination of the secondhand smoke and car fumes I inhaled during my trip to Spain last week, straining my voice teaching fitness classes the day after I returned and breathing in the heavy pollen blanketing the south right now. Whatever the reason, I sound like a cross between Harvey Fierstein and a bad impression of a drag queen. Whenever something like this happens to me, I tend to lean toward finding greater meaning in it.

So what happens to a person when their voice is reduced to a raspy whisper or at times uncontrollable, random squeaks that should be words? For me, it has highlighted three life lessons:

Lesson #1: Find new ways to get routine things done.
While I look healthy on the outside, if I try to speak my voice is raspy and barely audible. When I tried to order a cup of Starbucks coffee at the drive-thru window this morning, the barista could not hear or understand me. As I whispered, "tall,non-fat, 5-pump, caramel latte" with all my might, the girl keep saying what? what? is this some kind of joke? It wasn't. So I had to park my car, get out of my car and go in to order my morning cuppa java. Flexibility in life is always key and two days of having no voice clearly reminds me that sometimes you have to move outside your comfort zone to get things done. That includes your job search, your workout and managing your career.

Lesson #2: Be patient for good results.
This is one of my greatest challenges whether I have laryngitis or not. I have Googled and researched every possible home remedy or quick fix for laryngitis. From singers to great orators, no one really has a quick fix . The best thing is to rest the voice, drink warm liquids, gargle with salt water, be silent and wait it out. Wow. That's hard for me. I like results and I like answers. Yesterday. But I with this one, I just have to do my part and wait. This patience thing with proper action also works for a few other things in life too. Just think about it, weight loss, career satisfaction or spiritual growth are never easy to acheive but always worth the wait when you do your part.SOmetimes your part is to be still.

Lesson #3: Know who you are.
When you have no voice, it affects your inner feelings and confidence too. Today for the first time, I spoke by phone to the person organizing an event for which I will serve as the keynote speaker. I kept apologizing and reassuring her that I was a capable, confident speaker despite the sound of my voice. Even though I had been highly referred by someone who heard me speak, having this new raspy, soft-spoken voice made me feel less than capable. Inwardly I was concerned she would think I would not be able to deliver an interesting, powerful, motivational speech. But I realized, it's not the loudness of your voice that matters, its the passion in your heart that counts. What are you passionate about? Is it reflected in your life without you having to say a word? Each day I pray that is the case for me. So I rest in knowing who I am.

While a simple case of laryngitis may be nothing to most people, it has been poetically meaningful to me. I am reminded to be thankful for every working part of my body and to always treat it with care. I am reminded how many times God uses a still, small voice to speak to our hearts in times of trouble or great joy. I am reminded that life lessons can pop up at any time and in any situation. Take inventory of your career, relationships, fitness and spiritual condition. The messages are there but may be quiet reminders from the least likely places. Find new ways to get routine things done, be patient (but not lazy) and know who you are. Yep. That's what laryngitis taught me.

Have you ever lost your voice literally or figuratively? How did it make you feel? Leave a comment or check a box below. Your voice matters to me.

**Since writing this post and upon the urging of my dear big sister in Chicago, I have actually visited a live medical doctor and been officially diagnosed: Allergy induced laryngitis and sinusitis.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What's a To-Stop List?

As we move further into March, I have to remember its only the third month of the year. That means it's time to review my 2011 goals and reset them if I need to. While I am always talking about setting goals, accountability, taking action and creating to-do lists, a Twitter friend whom I've never met, Daniel Foisy(@wisdomalacarte), recently tweeted about creating a "to-stop" list. This concept has been around in weight loss circles for a few years. The basic idea is to identify factors distracting you or holding you back from reaching your goals, write them down and then make a concious effort to STOP doing them! For some reason this caused me "to stop" in my tracks. It inspired me to think about my lists differently. As I thought about the idea of a "to-stop" list, I reflected on my own constant state of busyness.

There's great power in that idea for me because I am a person who has a high level of physical and mental stamina. This drives my desire to see things get done with a high degree of excellence, create, innovate and help others grow. This sometimes causes my "to-do" list to become longer than what can get "to-done" in a normal week or work day. I want to give more of my time and energy to those things that matter and make an eternal difference. Yet, I have to take responsbility for my actions, my preparation and the decisions I make. Besides reaching my goals, I want to respond to people and situations in a refreshing, sincere way. After thinking about that, I realize I need to stop doing some things. When I stop doing or even thinking about certain things it allows blessings to flow more freely and my peaceful mind to be sharp.

Whether you want to lose weight, find a job, grow spiritually or be a better parent, there are things in your life you need to stop doing. What are they for you? They may be large or small, but they are connected. Stop procrastinating. Stop worrying about things you can't control. Stop allowing clutter in your physical surroundings. Yep, it all matters. So join me today in creating your own specific "to-stop" list. In the interest of self-disclosure and accountability, here's my personal list of what I need to stop doing over the next three months:

Karen's To-Stop List:
1) Complaining about something but not being willing to step up and change it.
2) Being critical of my appearance and weight and not just thankful for good health.
3) Insulting God by worrying.
4) Trying to help people who won't even try to help themselves.
5) Constantly wondering if I am making difference in my work and with my team.
6) Fearing the outcome my upcoming marathon...it's not until October!
7) Avoiding tough workouts and long runs.
8) Allowing clean clothes to pile up in the laundry room.
9) Eating lunch alone at my desk.
10) Taking even the smallest blessing for granted.

If I just stop doing any five of these things listed, I am convinced I could get closer to greater joy. Besides, I can't do anything effectively when my mind and spirit are in a state of clutter, distraction or negativity. I always choose to have a longer term vision, no matter what the circumstance. I know that when I spend more time looking through a telescope rather than a microscope, I am a better person. God really does have a plan for each and every one of us. Sometimes our microscopic busyness and negativity gets in the way of His plan. Your life, your legacy and these lessons matter. Let's stop blaming others and take a look at ourselves. What's on your "to-stop" list? Share a few with me here. Big or small. Talk to me by checking a box below or leaving a comment...you matter to me!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Three Words

I smiled knowingly when I noticed the chatter on Twitter about Chris Brogan's three words for the New Year. Based on my previous posts, you will see that I too consistently adopt the three words, three points approach to life.

During interview coaching, students are often frustrated (then amazed--because it works) when I say, offer no more than three adjectives (with supporting examples)if asked by an interviewer to "tell me about yourself." Oh yeah, then stop talking. There's a hand gesture that goes along with the stop talking part.

My authentic leadership business clients always tell me they have so much more to say in their presentations, yet I gently encourage them to capsualize their topic into three main points so their professional staff can remember and then act on whatever is being presented.

There is sound theory and history for the three-points philosophy that took flight in the world of public speaking through Toastmaster's International and then in advertising, print and broadcast journalism, due to the time and space limitations of traditional media.

My three words are actually subsets of three broad life categories around which I have set specific, measurable goals for 2011: faith, fitness and career. So here we go, you've wanted to know...what three words support these goals?

1) Create
This involves spending my time on things that matter and make a difference in the lives of others. I need help to do this. I intend to create a personal board of directors by February and meet with them via Skype four times this year. These are the people who will support me emotionally, challenge me intellectually, offer direction and pray for me in my endeavors. Keith Ferrazzi expresses the importance of having a support system in his book,"Who's Got Your Back?" On a lighter note, I want to create a flash mob on the campus where I work. The song and dance steps to be determined...

2) Inspire
I seek to invest in authentic conversations, real exchanges and grow relationships that inspire. I am energized when I contribute to helping people find and use their God-given gifts and talents. I want to be around people who give me hope for the future. We must all avoid those Having Anger Towards Everyone Reaching Success also known as H.A.T.E.R.S. What would happen if just one day a week we all tried to give more than we receive? Starting with time, talent and truth.

3) Teach
I am naturally curious and enjoy sharing what I've learned, especially when someone can improve or grow from it. I hope to continue teaching fitness classes three times per week and am also teaching a college level business communications course during the spring semester. Whatever and whenever I'm teaching, I pray others discover their potential mentally, physically and spiritually. Interestingly, these three words also describe how I try to live my personal brand in body, career and spirit.

Did you notice how many times I'm doing things in threes or using three words? I like this "three" game, we can play it every month and not just at the start of the New Year. What are your three words? Share them below this post...