Friday, December 28, 2012

Here's Comes Another Year!

There's no doubt I am thankful to have made it through another year. I began doctoral studies, ran another marathon, watched family members struggle with illness, and tried to encourage and share wisdom with hundreds of college students. In 2012, I watched media reports of natural disasters, school violence, racial discord, and political turmoil. Sometimes the news causes my heart to break for the human condition and the future of America. Yet, I remain hopeful there is more good in the world than we see on the news. The real news starts in my corner of the world. It starts with me. So here comes another year, how will I develop what to write on the now blank pages of 2013?

I don't make New Year's resolutions. I typically take the time after Christmas and before New Year's Day to set three major life goals for the coming year. I try not to focus on more than three things because any more than that decreases my chance for follow-through. Before I set personal life goals, I review my principles of behavior at home, work, and in my community. The Hemingway quote above is one way I evaluate my intentions and past actions. I also reflect on implementing the following practices for the coming year:

1. Avoid toxic people. Be deliberate in avoiding conversations with people who gossip, constantly complain, and always criticize others. It takes courage to refuse to participate in conversations where others criticize those they don't relate to or discourage those who are trying to get things done. Avoid being the person who initiates these conversations. No one wins. I refuse to accept negativity and pettiness in the workplace, at church, or at home. I want to surround myself with positive, growing, intelligent, vibrant people. I will intentionally avoid all others, even if it means being alone. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best, "Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people." What's the greatest topic of your conversations? Ideas? events? people?

2. Develop broader circles closer to home.  I see young adults and church groups going on "mission" trips to Africa or even tourist destinations like Dubai and Paris for "mission" work. It all sounds so noble. There are many who adopt foreign babies yet do not have friendships with a person of another nationality within their own church. My heart yearns for society to focus less on external differences such as gender or race. There are many times we don't give others a chance if they simply look different. We may have a negative opinion simply because of past experiences with someone who may have similar external traits. That does not mean you have to like everyone or agree on everything. It takes courage and an expansive mind to initiate conversations or socialize with people outside your circle of comfort. I have healthy, diverse friendships in many places except the town where I currently reside. My mission field is here. My mission trip is all about going to work and church trying to unconditionally love and communicate honestly with those who are right here. Who knows if that local friendship, conversation, or volunteer effort might impact the city, the state, or church community for greater good. 

3. Stop assuming. Many of us have Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and LinkedIn accounts. Each of these tools have a place and purpose in today's world. Social media is highly visual and incite strong feelings. But the snapshot of someone's life on Facebook may cause you to think your life is not as perfect as theirs. Social media allows us to share only the positive highlights. Life outside the smartphone and computer screen  may be different. You don't really know anyone from their Facebook, Twitter, or Linkedin persona. You might be surprised by what you learn when you spend less time tweeting or Facebook stalking and more time talking to people. It's okay to use social media to a build community and learn more about the world. Just remember, meaningful, lasting relationships are always built in person. If you really want to know about a person, network, or gain true perspective, talk to them. Don't assume you know anything about them because of what you see of their life on Facebook. Stop assuming and return to asking.

4. Practice what is preached. Whatever your faith, denomination or spiritual affiliation, try to intentionally practice some of the loving principles and concepts discussed by your pastor, preacher or spiritual leader. I find this especially important at work and when participating in any type of team or group situation. Perhaps we should all be mindful about practicing basic tenets like: forgiveness, honesty, encouragement, grace, and mercy. Allow your faith principles to be evident in everything you do. How do you consistently apply your beliefs at work, home, school, and especially when nobody's watching?

I hope you'll consider some of these approaches in 2013. I know I will. During the cool winter months, I like to find a quiet place, grab a cup of tea and write out three goals or even three words that guide my intentions to contribute to a better world in 2013. I am always hopeful things will get better and people will be nicer when a new year rolls around. It starts with me...and you. In my little corner.

Monday, December 17, 2012

5 Things on my Gift List

Another Christmas season is upon us. And I have not even started shopping. This year I find my thoughts drifting toward how to choose meaningful gifts for the people on my list. Yet, when I honestly reflect on gifts I truly want to give or get, it's more complicated than just going to the mall or shopping online. Here's my perfect gift list:

1. The gift of time: There's never enough time to get everything done or spend with those who matter most. The best gift we can give ourselves is to stop doing things out of obligation or to get noticed. Learn to say no with grace and love. You can do anything, but you cannot do everything. Invest quality time with those who matter in your life. Fully engage and embrace the precious, small moments by being with those you love or reaching out to someone who may be lonely. Invite someone to share a cup of coffee or make that phone call, just to talk for awhile. 

2. 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 find reasons and situations that make you laugh out loud. Laugh at yourself. A hard, belly laugh. Research has proven laughter has positive side effects on health, longevity, and long term relationships.

3. The gift of attention: Stop checking your phone when at lunch or dinner with someone. Give them your undivided attention. Look into their eyes when they are talking. The topics that are most important to them will often come up in a casual way. Ask appropriate 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. Take time to notice what isn't said too. Just pay attention to others. Where ever you are, be there.

4. The gift of thanks: Gratitude can change the tone of your life. Do you have a job? Be thankful that you are employed. Does someone love you? Be thankful for love. Are you alive and breathing? Life may not be perfect, but be thankful for life. Has someone been kind to you? Thank them. Make it a practice to write down weekly or evenly monthly a few simple things (or people) you are thankful for. There is no gesture of gratitude that is too small. Send a handwritten thank you note or card to someone. Text the words,"Thank you for you," to a friend or family member. It just might make their day. 

5. The gift of prayer: Whatever your religious or denominational leanings, prayer is wonderful part of faith. You can always pray for someone else. You can offer a celebratory prayer for someone experiencing good fortune. You can pray for someone who is suffering a loss. You might even want to pray for those you find less than pleasant to be around. Prayer changes things. Most of all, it changes you.

Looking at this list, I suppose it's not complicated at all. All you need is a willing heart to give any of these gifts. As I think about the holidays, family, coworkers, and my life's's my prayer:

May we listen more than we speak.
May we ask for support when we need it.
May we offer support to someone else when they need it.
May we rest without fear.
May we surrender to the truth and forgive others when they wrong us.
May we avoid listening to negativity and the wagging tongues of gossip.
May we respect differences without judging one another or sacrificing our beliefs.
May we seek solutions by having courageous conversations. 
May we grow, serve, connect, and be thankful throughout the year. 
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

5 Life Lessons from Running 26.2 Miles

It is 37 degrees outside. A crisp cold day, but the warmth of the bright sun is soothing on my face. I am breathing deeply. Suddenly a pain in my right hip is shooting down my leg toward my knee. My knee stiffens. I began doing an odd combo of a run/limp now. I start to panic slightly and wonder, "is it happening again?" Hip fracture? Knee injury? The fear and doubt about what I am doing and why I am doing it, flood my mind.

I force my thoughts away from the pain and on the song my sister and I had just belted out at the top of our lungs at the starting line..."This girl is on fire, fi-ya, fi-yaaa..." Well, that was true, my feet were indeed "on fire" burning from the 20 miles of constant pounding I had forced upon them. I refocus on what's possible as a slight curve forms on my lips. What's that? A weak, half smile? (see photo) Yes. I can do this. I will finish strong and healthy. I will keep a song in my heart. I will run for those who cannot run. My hip relaxed and knee loosened with each moment I forced myself to practice possibility thinking and gratitude for good health.

On October 7, 2012 in the city I love and once lived, all I could do was keep moving forward. No time to take in the beautiful Chicago neighborhoods and fall colors along the way. Alas, this was no scenic tour. This was about finishing 26.2 miles of the 2012 Bank of America Chicago Marathon for the second time.

From the start of my training season to the marathon finish, this year would prove to be different on so many levels. I typically run and train alone. My rationale is that I find it more peaceful and do not want to be pushed by others to injury or slow others down in their efforts. Yet, for the first time in years, I felt compelled to step out of my personal comfort zone and complete a couple of training runs with a local group of runners. I still prefer to run alone when training, but at least I tried something different.

Another difference arrived when I started making travel arrangements. I rarely travel with or stay with family or friends to avoid too many distractions when I run in different cities. But once again, this year was different. I even stayed at my sister's condo in Chicago during marathon weekend. It was pure bliss. I felt so loved. She jokingly told people she was hosting an "elite athlete." 

On race day, my sister, brother-in-law, and dear friend Tracey, came out to support me along the course with signs and shouts that are a joy to see and hear. I ran with a sign on my back in honor of my brother-in-law who has been battling Multiple Myeloma since 2005. He is the real marathoner. Wow, so much was different. My sister, Connie and I often talk about the deeper meaning of the many events, emotions and reactions that define one's life. 

This marathon experience was different and provided too much wisdom to pass up. The day after the marathon my sister and I discussed these life lessons. She came up with the points, I expanded on them. So here's what we learned that might even apply to other things in life:

1. Everybody needs a ground crew. 
Who supports you? Who do you support?  My sister, brother-in-law and dear friends made me feel stronger along the course as they cheered me on. I refer to them as the "ground crew" for all they did to support me before, during and after the race. Their prayers, cheers and love provided a quiet joy and peace throughout the weekend and during the marathon. The things no one will ever see are what mattered most to me. My sister shared a great story behind the term "ground crew" based on this 1964 Nobel Prize acceptance speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.   I am forever grateful to my 2012 Chicago Marathon ground crew: Connie, John, and Tracey. 

2. Run your own race. 
I do not run to beat others or attempt some crazy speed, especially since I have a day job. It is a good idea to be able to walk when you return to work after a marathon or half marathon. I run to stay healthy and for the pure joy of setting a goal, inspiring myself to push past discomfort, accomplishing the goal and encouraging anyone I can along the way. I finished the 26.2 miles of the Chicago marathon for the second time in a row. That's all anyone needs to know. Don't ask me about my time so you can compare it to your definition of success. Ask me about the people I met. Ask me about the lessons I've learned.  God has a unique plan and purpose for you. Refuse the urge to compare. Run your own race for your own reasons.

3. Travel light. Take only what you need and use what you take.
I carried 4 packs of GU gel and some Sport Beans strapped around my waist. I stopped at the water stations to hydrate along the way. Anything more would have slowed me down. Simplify your life. Leave behind whatever is weighing you down. By the end of the marathon, I had used everything that was strapped to my body. I finished with a much lighter load. It felt good. Life is short and you can't take anything on this earth with you. Lighten your load whenever you can.

4. Pace yourself, for the journey is long.
No one saw me in the anonymity of preparation in the weeks and months of training. Waking up at 5 a.m. and putting one foot in front of the other for miles and miles before going to my "real" job. It was not easy, but to finish well I had to put in the time to determine the best pace for me. Nike sponsors pace teams to help people run the "splits" or various miles of the marathon consistently. They ask that you decide what time you expect to finish and run with a group led by an experienced runner who paces the group. Some of the teams use a run/walk combination to finish strong. Even when their legs are fresh and they could run faster, the pace teams start slowly and stay within the pace they have set. The worst thing to do when trying to finish any arduous journey is start too fast. You will have nothing left at the end. Choose wisely. Pace yourself. Be consistent. You will get there in your own time and in your own way.

5. Carry the music in your heart...just in case you forget your headphones. 
I usually run longer distances listening to music or speeches. This time, I forgot my headphones. I had to focus on my own heartbeat and the memories of music past to propel me forward. I enjoyed more of the sights and sounds along the course. At one point, we ran past a nursing home with lovely silver-haired people lined up in the windows and doors just to get a glimpse of the marathoners. They were waving and cheering like we were rock stars. I waved back and would have missed the moment if I had tuned out with headphones on. I thought of my father-in-law who had just passed away the week of the marathon. I thought of my mom fighting the difficulties of aging. I thought about my brother-in-law challenged by cancer, but is the most joyful person I know. I thought about the songs of all those who are facing tougher things in life than running a marathon. Guess the music was indeed inside of me, I didn't need those headphones after all.

I want to hear from you. Leave comments below. What is the marathon in your life? Choosing a career? Changing a job? Getting a degree? What tips do you use to reach your finish line? Talk to me.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Are you Ready for Some Football and a Job Search?

Labor Day weekend signals the end of summer and the beginning of football...oops, I mean, Fall. In the South, football is almost its own religion. Some people can quote player stats. and team standings quicker than a Bible verse.
Both men and women stay abreast of college football, high school football and the NFL. Everyone has a favorite team. Life stops when the game starts.  Now, now... I'm not criticizing this, it simply fascinates me. Football fans across America often show support by wearing their team's colors. On game day, many come out in full team regalia. You will see people wearing team jerseys, caps, and more just to encourage their team.

Since I was born and raised in Wisconsin, I consider myself a Green Bay Packer fan. When I lived in Wisconsin, I even went to a game or two. The excitement and energy in historic Lambeau Field was contagious. Packer fans were over-the-top. Even during below-zero cold weather, some men would strip down to display "Go Pack Go" painted in green and gold on their beer-filled bellies. I even sported a cheesehead once. Thankfully there are no photos to prove it. As I observe football mania, it made me think, how could we apply the same energy and focus to a job search?

1) Get a cheering section. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you to stay in the game. I've heard people say, "There are no jobs out there," so they avoid trying. They listen only to family, friends and the news--then do nothing but complain. It is indeed a tough job market and you must be even more flexible and creative in your search. Few people work in a job that is the same exact major they chose while in college. The perfect job may not be your first job. Avoid taking advice from people who are not in the know about today's local and national job trends, recruiting methods or interview practices. If that ideal job does not come along, do you have an idea for a business? Get professional advice on how to write a business plan and start that business.

2) Show your team colors. Don't be afraid to target a few organizations. Use to find them. The majority of recruiters and companies are recruiting on Linkedin. Be sure to use the six Linkedin etiquette tips I've previously recommended. Make sure your marketing tools are consistent and compelling. Yes, you STILL need a good, clean, resume and a strong elevator pitch. Use the resume to help tell the story about your experiences. When networking, a resume is your "business card" and your elevator pitch is the concise, verbal introduction about what you bring to an employer and why you are interested.  If you are a college student, the career services office can help you refine your resume, develop a great elevator pitch, and it's usually a free service.

3) Practice your plays. If you get an interview, practice basic interview questions with a career services professional or other professional. Make sure it is someone who knows what employers or investors want in your industry or field. Make sure they will give you honest feedback on everything from your word choice to your energy level when answering.  The words you think you are saying don't always sound the same when you speak them aloud. Be sure to dress appropriately for the industry and organization. If you are unsure what to wear to your interview, ask someone.

4) Cheer for someone else. Finally, always give back. If someone refers you, interviews you or otherwise helps during your search, send them a thank you note or email within 24 hours. While you may focus solely on what you need during a job search, remember someone else might need something you already have. Help another person and expect nothing in return. It's the right thing to do and it feels good to take your mind off of yourself when helping someone else.

As the football season comes into full swing, I expect to see even more people wearing their team colors, cheering wildly, tailgating, and gathered around large t.v. screens. If you are searching for a job or starting a small business, make sure you have the right tools and use smart plays. Even if you have more losses than wins, don't give up. Just step away and rework your game plan. Get good coaching. Then get back in the game!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Six Things New Hires Should Do During the First 30 Days

This is a guest post by Jennifer King, HR Analyst for Software Advice. She blogs about trends, technology and best practices in HR and career development.

The first weeks on the job for any new hire can be overwhelming. There are plenty of orientation meetings to attend, training sessions to complete, and new hire paperwork to fill out. While these are all important, here are six things new hires should do on their own within their first 30 days to set themselves up for success.

1. Come up with your elevator pitch.
You only get one chance to make a first impression. So, before you start introducing yourself to everyone, figure out what you’re going to say when you meet them. 

2. Understand your role and how you will be evaluated.
The responsibilities of the job you were hired for could change by the time you start work. Reach out to your manager about what may have changed, and make sure you have a clear understanding of your current role, responsibilities, and authority before you take on any projects. 

3. Learn the business.
Before you can begin to contribute to an organization, you need to figure out how the company works. What are the business objectives? What’s the organizational makeup of the company? How does your company do business? 

4. Interview your boss.
The key to being a successful new employee is helping your boss be successful. Find out what keeps your boss up at night and come up with creative ways to alleviate those worries. 

5. Be ambitious, but have restraint.
You might be eager to start contributing right away and fixing everything wrong you see with the organization. That intention is good, but tread lightly. As a new hire, you won’t have the historical context about why a policy or process may or may not need fixing.

6. Be proactive about your onboarding.
One day of orientation and a meet and greet with your team may be the extent of your company’s onboarding program. If so, be proactive with your managers about their training plan and what you need to accomplish in your first three months on the job. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Life is Like the Tour De France

It's that time of year where I find myself mesmerized by the televised coverage of the Tour de France or, Le Tour. From June 30 to July 22, I am intrigued by the riders who push past their physical and mental limitations in search of an elusive yellow jersey. The Tour de France has 1 prologue and 20 stages of challenging road that covers a total distance of 3,497 kilometers (approximately 2,172 miles). 

The stages of Le Tour consist of 9 flat stages, 4 medium mountain stages (one with a summit finish), 5 mountain stages (two with a summit finish), 2 individual time trial stages, 1 prologue and 2 rest days. I watch not only for the sport and athleticism but because the Tour and it's stages teach many life lessons. 

Focus. Professional cyclists focus on what they can control and leave the rest alone. They train, plan and perform yet there are many uncontrollable factors that can determine or change the outcome of any stage of their race. One rock, one crash in front of them or downpour of rain can change the outcome of any stage of the Tour. Smart riders don't focus on the things they can't control. These riders have the right training and mental toughness. They keep pedaling in confidence knowing they have done all they can to prepare for this moment in time.

Flat but moving.The flat stage is where many riders set a pace, keep the pace or roll along with the other riders. If we are in a flat stage of life, we might ask ourselves, what is my purpose? Am I making a difference? Where do I see myself in a few years? Do I have right tools and training? 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 strong cyclists keep pedaling. During a flat stage even if the riders don't appear to be making progress they gaining miles, getting stronger and still moving forward. 

Ride with a Team. Whether at work, school or home we have to ride through life with others. During this stage we need people around us to encourage, support, provide a reality check and even a little tough love when necessary. Our team should challenge us to keep going and sometimes take the lead when we are tired. Who is riding alongside you in life? Who encourages or challenges you in a healthy way? Who lifts you up when everything seems to bring you down? Who changes your flat tires?  You'll often see the lead riders rely heavily on their coaches or team mates for advice and strategy during the race. Even the strongest riders have caring, strong team mates who know how to help. It's smart to have good mentors, strategists and team mates. 

Ride Alone. In the Tour, there are individual time trials. Time trials can be lonely but  the rider must move as quickly as possible to get through them.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 to pedal so hard and fast. Hopefully during this stage you learn how to best use your time and resources. This stage requires focus and continuous movement toward your goals. This stage requires trust, stamina and knowing where to place your hands on the handlebars. Ride alone sometimes, you can. It will work with the right attitude and approach.

Mountains. The mountains  are always challenging. This is where the deepest levels of strength, courage, faith and endurance are tested. Riders want to give up here. Especially when your hamstrings and quads are screaming for you to stop. The mountains demand consistency, determination and confidence before you reach the summit. In the mountain stage, fatigue is often the greatest enemy. In a job search or 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 just a tough climb. Mental toughness matters in the mountains. You gain this toughness by digging deep and relying on something greater than yourself. You also 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 do you stop trying because it's just too difficult? Stay strong. Build the muscles of wisdom, faith and endurance.

Rest. After ten days of racing, the Tour requires racers to rest from the physical and mental pressures. That's right, even these finely trained, highly fit and mentally tough athletes must rest. They take care of injuries and attempt to recover and retreat from the intensity of the race so they can continue on to the final stages. Do you take time to intentionally rest and renew? Never feel guilty about taking time away for yourself, it makes you a stronger rider. Get some's okay...she said, mainly to herself. 

Timing. The Tour de France rider often wins or loses the yellow jersey based on mere seconds. Are you stressing about timing? Ask yourself, will this matter in 10 minutes, 10 months or 10 years? It might help you to find a better rhythm of life. The riders always keep their pace but they plan it well. Elite cyclists know there is always another stage coming up, requiring another adjustment. They hold a steady pace when necessary, pull back, surge forward or even sprint based on everything else going on around them. Pay attention to life's timing.

Who or what do you rely on to help you through the stages of your life? I hope you will prepare, avoid discouragement, renew and keep riding in this crazy race we call life.  Move out with your team and sometimes it's okay to go it alone for those individual wins. Don't give up so easily, the yellow jersey may be closer than you think. I'll see you at the winner's podium! This is why I love Le Tour! It gives me hope.

Read more about the Tour de France , you'll see... it's a lot like life. Want to talk about this? Leave a comment below.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Three Points to Plans and Decisions

Whenever I talk to students, colleagues, clients, friends or family about presenting, decision-making or planning, I often suggest using the three-point approach. Whether you are preparing to introduce a new idea, product or service, interviewing for your first job, changing careers or improving your current career, you need to have a plan to move forward with some level of certainty. That means having to make choices and then act on whatever you decide. It can be overwhelming and frightening. The best way to communicate or act on a decision is to keep it simple and manageable. To get started on developing your three points for discovery, decisions and planning; here are some categories to consider and questions to ask:

1) Assess your tools and resources. Do I have the tools and resources I need? For a job search, these tools include: an updated, professional resume, an effective social media/online presence, authentic interview skills and good advisors who are current on recruiting trends and well networked in your industry. Do I have an active network of family, friends and professional colleagues that I am fully engaging in career conversations? Have I shared my hopes and goals with those in my network? Have I practiced articulating my personal brand statement? Do I communicate clearly and concisely? Hint: There are wise people who want to help you develop these tools and skills. Find them, talk to them, listen to them and follow-through. We all need a support system.

2) Set goals. Have you set broad goals in key areas of life? Key areas include, but are not limited to: Spiritual, Family, Relationships, Health and of course, Career. Ask yourself: What do I want to accomplish in each of these key areas of life? Remember, keep it to no more than three things! What's my timetable? Are my goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achieveable, Realistic and Timely? Create action items, set dates, adjust the plan when necessary and write out the details. Keep track of how you're doing in a journal or online notebook. Hint: Review your goals regularly and share them with an accountability partner who will challenge and encourage you. Celebrate your successful milestones.

3) Look inside. What are those internal messages that hinder you? What are you afraid of? What family or financial pressures prevent you from doing what you really want to do? When and how can you change the pressures upon you? Do you have a realistic view of your job market and your profession/industry? How hard are you pursuing your passions? Do you believe you can make a living by doing your passion? Do you exercise regularly to release stress and maintain your stamina? What are you doing to renew your spirit and be encouraged? Remember, your plans and decisions may impact other people. Don't be selfish but don't use that as an excuse to do nothing. Hint: Surround yourself with positive, honest people. Do not fear those who challenge or disagree with you. We often learn much about ourselves in those moments of difficulty.

See how that works? I just used three points with important questions under each of them to write this post. I'm convinced that in seeking answers to good questions you often discover purpose or awaken a desire to move forward. Three points. It can work for so many things in life. There is no magic in using this approach. I am fortunate that I in my life and work, I have had the opportunity to help people reach inside, grab three goals, create action steps and take responsibility for moving forward. It's worked. I think it could work for you too.

What do you think about using the three point approach? Has it worked for you? Why or why not? I'd like to hear what you think. Leave your comments below.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Facing your Fears: What's your Gecko?

 I originally posted this in 2010. Tonight, I encountered another gecko in my home. My reaction and results were much improved. Perhaps we CAN learn from our fears. Read more about my first reaction.

 Recently, while at home alone I encountered a gecko? a lizard? or salamander? All I know is that it was a pale, pinkish, tan color and slithered. While sitting in front of the television, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. You know the feeling when you think you just saw something move but you're not sure? I looked away then returned my glance to see this 4-inch long lizard-like creature perched atop a picture frame. Being a city girl, I don't take kindly to God's creatures coming indoors. My thought is: I don't mess with them and they won't mess with me. Little did I know, an epic battle was about to begin.

 As a person who typically springs into action during a crisis, I decided to take on this creature with a broom and a can of Raid Wasp and Hornet spray...don't laugh, this made sense in the moment. With my tools of combat firmly in hand, I slowly moved toward the creature perched atop the picture frame. I was already convinced the gecko was contemplating how to attack me while I was sleeping. I proceeded to spray the creature with a long full stream of Raid ( yes, Wasp and Hornet spray) and swat at it with the broom. This caused several framed prints to fall from the wall with the glass shattering as they crashed on the table directly beneath them. Now here's what I learned about chemicals and gecko-lizards.

Raid is like an energy drink to a gecko-lizard! Filled with the chemical, this creature moved up, down and across the wall in a random, quick, sporadic pace. This thing went wild scurrying behind a sofa then under the coffee table as I watched in shock and awe. In a perfectly timed response to its aimless dance, I began to swat frantically at where ever I thought this thing might consider going. I knocked over a lamp, a vase on the table, rolled up the area rug stomped on it, tossed pillows in the air and pulled furniture away from every wall spraying more Raid. After a few minutes of still not finding the gecko, I stood in the middle of the room in stunned silence observing my quickly created disaster. Streaks of Raid silently dripped down the walls, its quiet puddles bubbling on the wooden end tables. One table was on its side and shards of glass from the broken frames and the vase were scattered on a sofa and the carpet. The scent of chemicals in the Raid filled the air, stinging my nostrils. Yes, my home now looked like the crime scene without the yellow tape or a body. And still, I had not found the lizard. All of this in response to a little creature who was most likely lost and as afraid of me as I was of it.

The story could end here with me and the lizard finding a peaceful co-existence. But the next day, I left for a business trip. I slept fine in my hotel room. However, while I was away I dreamed the Geico gekco (you know the one from the commercials),was the deejay at a lizard house party in my home. He and his lizard friends were plotting on how they would attack me when I returned home. When I made it home, I could not sleep because I knew before I left I had never found the creature. I continued to fear its attack as it lurked in the dark corners of my home. Well, this week the saga continued.

After a Bible study with a few women from my church, I was walking the last guest to the door and there on the front door was the gecko-lizard creature! We both screamed like little school girls (her words) and once again I grabbed my broom in true Ninja warrior style. It scampered away into the darkness and my guest ran to her car. I decided I simply needed to get over this, because surely it was gone for good. Yet a few days later, after returning home from a relaxing dinner, I felt compelled to write about this incident as it related to life's fears and learning to trust God to handle our battles. Like a well-scripted actor taking his cue on stage, guess who shows up? I opened the front door and gecko-lizard falls from the top of the front door frame barely missing my shoulder. I ran into the kitchen and in another act of warrior bravery decided it was going to be me or him. I grabbed my trusty Ninja-broom-sword and ran to the front door. The lizard was still there. It slithered up and down the front door in confusion. I took the broom in both hands and drew it back to go in for the hit. WHACK! With all my force, I slammed it against the front door (thankfully the glass panes on the door did not shatter). I did not miss this time. The lizard fell to the floor, and I kept whacking until part of its tail broke off continuing to wriggle while the rest of the lizard lay lifeless on the hardwood floor.

Do I feel bad? Yes, a little, I never want to condone violence or harm God's creatures, but I really have been terrified of this thing. My lesson has been that sometimes God just wants us to face our fears and take action. Someone once said to me,"If He brings you to it, He will bring you through it." This had been my moment to step up or let fear dictate my every move in my home. What are you afraid of? Are you swatting frantically at life with no real plan? Are you using the right tools to address the fear? Are you afraid to take action? Whether it's starting a new job, leaving a bad relationship, committing to a fitness program, moving to a new city or sharing your faith. You too can face your gecko. How will you have the confidence to confront it? 1 Corinthians 2:3 says, "I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling." Whatever fear you face, remember: God is always with us. Faith makes one fine pillow.  Taking charge and making a decision to address my fear allows me to sleep soundly in a now gecko-free home.

Go now, face your gecko, uh, fear. Just remember to take your broom and a can of Raid.

What are your thoughts? Please click comment below and talk to me...I want to hear from you on how you face your fears in life.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Learning from Greg Smith and Goldman Sachs

On March 14, 2012, Greg Smith former Goldman Sachs executive director and head of the firm's United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, decided to publish his reasons for resigning from Goldman Sachs in the New York Times. Click here to see his comments. The stinging comments set off a firestorm in the media and among pundits.

As a career coach to college students and consultant to business leaders, this stirred questions in my mind about how to act upon your convictions. Not long ago we were discussing the Jet Blue flight attendant who had a melt down on a flight and decided to quit with great flourish. I blogged about it in my August 2010 post: Quitting your Job: First class or coach? And now we have Greg Smith.

Mr. Smith points out, "It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are." I agree with this statement. Personal ethics and values matter more than anything in today's world of work. It begins with trust.

Many successful organizations become legends in their own minds. As a consultant, I have observed some of the most astute leaders make ego driven-driven decisions. From CEOs to high-performing sales managers, there can be a general unwillingness and fear of change. Greed, fear and insecurity become the order of the day, rather than concern for the customer.

An example from higher education involves the tension between changing traditional teaching methods (lecture) and embracing technology (beyond Powerpoint) in the classroom. Few are making the strategic connection of educational importance of actually preparing students for the real world. Parents and, students themselves, have publicly expressed concerns about students amassing a large amount of debt for a degree that does not result in employment. Employers often say recent grads do not have the critical thinking or interpersonal communication abilities needed to survive the world of work. Whose agenda is at play here? Perhaps the focus should be on the customer, uh, I mean, the student. A new generation needing to learn in technology savvy ways.

Sometimes we are called into chaos because we are the ones who are supposed to influence positive change. I believe it is important to express concerns and convictions honestly to those in leadership or authority. If that does not result in positive change, then it's time to go. I take away three main things from Mr. Smith's very public resignation:

1) Be willing to act upon your convictions and ethics. Take whatever comes with that. Good or bad.
2) Communicate clearly and honestly with those around you. 
Don't always expect to be liked for it. 
3) If you are in an organization or work for a boss who's unethical--leave, even if you need the money.

While I do not have any issues with Mr. Smith's questioning the ethics at Goldman Sachs, I do hope his motives for quitting so publicly are pure. In today's world of instant news and so-called "reality" celebrities, I wonder if we will see Mr. Smith somewhere else soon. If we do, I hope it's because he has started his own company where trust and morals are modeled and practiced.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Graduating in May?

Are you preparing to graduate from college in May? Have you started the job search process? I know it can be scary and confusing. But doing nothing will not make it go away. For many college seniors the fear and questions can be overwhelming. If this causes you to do nothing, Abraham Lincoln said it best, "You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today." If you have waited until your senior year to think about the future, here are four questions to consider immediately:

1) What do they want? Employers in all professions and organizations continue to seek graduates who can articulate what they have to offer, those who show enthusiasm and can verbally make connections to transferable skills acquired through part-time jobs, community service or other experiences. Think about how your experiences translate or transfer into the real world. Customer service (know how to treat people), verbal/written communication (know how to say what you mean), and critical thinking skills (know how to use freedom within fences). These are the hot commodities. Besides a decent grade point average, employers want people who ask smart questions and help them solve problems. Employers want people to get things done without being asked. Employers want people who can add value to their organization. Employers want people who have a good attitude.

2) What do I need to get started? Real life does not stop and wait for you to figure it out. Identify some ideal employment opportunities. Make sure you have a good resume (revisit #1 above), references and have practiced answering interview questions. Create a financial plan. Are you postponing a job search and going to grad school? What are your overall expenses? Living at home? Moving out? Rent? Medical/dental? Car? Credit cards? Getting married? Do you have a realistic view of the entry level annual salary possible in your field? Research it on the internet or visit your college's Career Services Office.  I have said it before, in our current economy, you might have to take a job simply to generate income. Just be wise and don't get stuck there. If the job is commission-only or too good to be true, keep looking. Your first job does not have to be your forever job. Oh yeah, that resume you created and got an "A" on in a college class? It may still need to be re-worked for the real world or a specific job opportunity. Resumes are rarely the only thing to get you hired, but they are a necessary requirement, along with good interview skills. From graduate schools to jobs in ministry, everyone is asking for a resume. Create a good one. Get noticed. Get started. Get relevant advice for today's job market.

3) What do I have to give? If you do not have extensive experience, your transferable skills from internships, part-time campus jobs, community service or even mission trips are your best selling points. Have you talked to people at your part-time job about getting a full-time position? Are you doing community service work or talking to friends or friend's parents about jobs or people they know? Are you asking professors who they may know to refer you? Avoid relying solely on job boards. Many of the best jobs are unadvertised. Netweaving (aka networking) remains the most effective way to find a job. Let people know you are graduating and looking for work. Schedule lunches. Talk to people. Ask professionals in your field of interest if you can send them your resume. Avoid focusing solely on what you want from an employer (i.e. experience). Talk about how you can add value or help solve a business problem. Create a Linkedin account and use it. Go to Linkedin for grads for more information. Finally, don't forget to thank everyone and anyone who helps you along the way. An email or other note of gratitude is still a nice touch and people want to help nice people. Give thanks. Give your best. Don't whine about how tough it is. 

4) Am I able to be flexible? The more limitations you place on your job search the fewer options you may have. Are you willing to relocate? In today's job market, this may have to be a consideration. You can always return after home after gaining experience. Be fearless. Talk to people and learn about new places where you can use your gifts and talents. Other parts of the country are not as bad and scary as you think. Be faithful. Don't give up too soon, get negative or blame "the man" if you are not employed immediately upon graduation.  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 busy, it's not personal. Don't fear being told you did not get the job. Call them, but don't stalk them. Find out what you need to know to move forward. Be fearless, faithful and flexible to increase your chances of securing employment. It matters.

Having a college degree still makes you more attractive to employers than those who don't have one, yet we are experiencing a slowly recovering job market, and it requires students (and those who advise them) to re-think expectations when searching for employment in 2012. Turn off the computer and meet some new people. Get focused. Get resume help and practice interviewing with your school's career services professionals. Experience matters. Get some. 

It may not be easy, but it's possible. Don't give up, get depressed and make a decision to do nothing because it's too difficult. I believe you can do this. Do you?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

8 Lessons from the Hunger Games

Many of my students, clients, colleagues and friends have asked my opinion about the Hunger Games books and now, the movie. In the interest of research and despite NOT being in the target demographic, I read two of the books in the trilogy and am starting the third. I have not seen the movie which made $155 million in domestic revenue in its opening debut. That's the third biggest opening in Hollywood history, even surpassing the Twilight movies. 

Entertainment critics, bloggers and religious leaders are debating the deeper moral issues, symbolism, violence and messages of governmental oppression conveyed by the Hunger Games. As of today, I have not come to any deep moral conclusions about the books or the movie. That could change as I observe the intensity with which teenagers, college students and colleagues (both young and old) embrace the Hunger Games trilogy. I believe we will be discussing this entertainment phenomenon for awhile. So for those who keep asking me for my observations, I have eight simple life lessons gained from reading the Hunger Games books:

1) Strong, independent women can also be vulnerable and conflicted.
2) The guy who loves you most may not be the one you notice first.
3) You will eat burnt bread and squirrels if you get hungry enough.
4) Everyone needs a relevant survival skill for everyday life. What's yours?
5) Even in the future, you need to be physically fit. 
6) We all know a few TrackerJackers and are thankful for the MockingJays.
7) Every woman needs a personal stylist like Cinna.
8) If Katniss can survive the Hunger Games twice, you can do anything. 

If you saw the movie or read the books, what life lessons would you add to this list? Serious or funny comments welcome below this post....Go!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

5 Factors of Running and Finding a Career Path

As a runner, I typically set a marathon time goal and test out the progress of my training by entering races throughout the year. Whether it's a 5K or the 13.1 miles of a half marathon, I run regularly, try various nutrition and hydration approaches and pace myself before a marathon. Sometimes, my training doesn't always yield the results I want. Sometimes I don't reach my finishing time goals but I usally know I was just having an "off" day or it was something in my eating, hydration or training plan that caused me to miss my target. For me,  finishing well means at the end of the race, I'm still walking upright and not puking. Nice visual, huh? I always end a race knowing I did my best at that moment. Training time is never wasted time even if I don't always hit my goal. As I prepare for my next full marathon in October, I realize how much running and my "day job" as a career and student success coach, converge. When it comes to conversations with college students seeking the perfect steps to finding the perfect career, I have a few thoughts:

1) Finding a job is a competitive endeavor. You must move quickly. Being competitive does not mean you have to crush or hurt others, just represent yourself well. You will need some basic tools like a well-crafted resume, work or volunteer experience (most important) and an engaging personality with a dose of courage for networking. Many students say there are so many things they like and want to do--that's great, choose one thing and put forth some time and effort to doing it. You have a lifetime to change your mind and try new things. Don't over-think it and miss any opportunity to learn and grow. Despite an apparent economic recovery, it may still take anywhere from six months to a year to get an interview and obtain an entry-level job--even longer in some states. Whenever and where ever I run, I get focused and train my mind and body for that race. Same deal. Get moving.

2)  "Do what you love." " You can do anything." "Follow your passion." I don't agree with this advice.  I say put time and training into doing something well. It may or may not be your passion. You don't have to be miserable either. Get to know yourself. Sometimes you may have to temporarily do something that you don't love to figure out what you do love or are ultimately called to do. Most people have a vocation and an avocation. The effort and time spent discovering your career calling is NEVER wasted time. Don't be afraid of it. Do something. Start now. Change it if you want.

3) A college degree simply makes you eligible to enter the professional working world. It does not guarantee a dream job. A degree still matters for a better quality of life. Research indicates that those with a college degree tend to ultimatley make higher annual salaries and have a chance for greater career satisfaction. During the sprint to get a degree, you must acquire critical thinking and interpersonal communication skills that will help you in the real marathon of life. Grades matter but not everyone is a 4.0 student. Do your best but don't freak out if you have an off-semester. Get academic help when you need it. Stop pretending you know what you're doing when you don't.

4)Your training plan must include more than your degree. Choose extra-curricular activities, internships and part-time jobs wisely. College should be fun (it was for me) but networking and gaining work experience is what matters most. Volunteer regularly and choose activities that will help you develop and use skills for the future. Avoid over-extending yourself with things that don't ultimately matter. You can still have fun just be sure to initiate fresh, frequent and relevant discussions about what can (or cannot) be done with a specific major/degree well before the April of May graduation. Don't speculate about a career, conduct your own research. Stop listening to your room-mate. Tune out some of the advice and do the work to know what's out there for you. Set some goals, Have some fun. Make mistakes. Recover. Find good, realistic coaches who have experienced life. While everything may not be tied up in a neat little bow by graduation or the year after. Do your part and don't run from reality. Discover you. Ask for help when you need it. Get experience. Stop trying to make it perfect. Move forward.

5) Just like running, don't compare where you are or what you are doing to anyone else. You are uniquely created for a specific purpose. Your 10K time might be someone else's half marathon time! Define the three factors of success for you. Stop letting others dictate your definition of accomplishment. You are not your room-mate or best friend. Your training may be different from theirs...and it should be. You are not a clone of your parents or siblings or...well... you get the picture. Each attempt along your path of life can get you closer to discovering the thing that will allow you to use your gifts and talents. Don't fret about it, just move forward. Stop depending on others to take care of all of your needs. Do it yourself. You might even make a mistake. You might even fail. I have been injured while training or even while running a race, but I always recover. You will too.

Notice the picture of me on this blog finishing a half marathon? I was unaware the photographer was taking the picture. As I finished the race,  I realized I did not make my targeted finish time of 2:30. I finished in 2:51...not fast at all...but notice my smile? There was pure joy in my heart. There was a great sense of accomplishment and relief knowing I had done all I could to finish well on that day. I put forth the effort and I was fine. I didn't puke or aggravate my hip injury. That made it successful for me. I defined my path to success. Please keep running. Train your mind, body and spirit. Finish well.

I want to hear from you...leave a comment below...what advice would you give a college student on finding a career path? What advice have you received that has not served you well?

Monday, February 27, 2012

13.1 Fitness Tips

Next weekend I will run my fourth half marathon. Yep 13.1 miles. As I prepared for this race over the past several months, I found myself asking how are others doing with fitness goals they set at the beginning of the year? They may have even called them... resolutions? As a part-time fitness instructor, people always ask me for fitness tips. So inspired by an article I read in the Wall Street Journal written by Jason Gay, and, in honor of my upcoming half marathon, I offer 13.1 things to remember about fitness:
1. Commit to a regular exercise schedule. Try to go at least 4-5 times a week. Include a mix of strength training and cardiovascular conditioning. Some days will be tougher, others will be easier. Do it anyway.
2. No one in the history of fitness has ever lost a pound while walking on a treadmill at a speed of 3.0 talking on a cell phone or while reading a magazine on a recumbent bicycle. 
3. Stop it with the fad diets. The only tried-and-true method to lose 10 pounds in 48 hours is food poisoning. Eat foods from the earth and drink water. 
4. Practice good gym etiquette. There are two types of members: those who wipe down the equipment after using it, and those who are the most disgusting, rude people in the world.
5. Avoid the male or female gym rat who knows everything there is to know about fitness yet has never been trained, certified or accomplished any real fitness goals personally. Please ask them to stop creeping around machines and start working out.
6. You cannot out-train poor eating habits. Take 10 Minute Abs or 30 Day Abs. Flat abs are made in the kitchen. It makes me sad too that Nutella is not a health food.
7. There's a spinning instructor everyone loves, and the one everyone hates. Find out why. If the class is effective, it's hard, you will sweat. If you're relaxed and chatting with friends, you're at brunch on a bike. 
8. You don't need to buy expensive running shoes or muscle shirts to get fit. Running shoes are for runners. They only work if you run in them. Muscle shirts are for people with muscles and, members of rock bands.
9. If you are just thinking about going to the gym--- that burns anywhere between 0 and 0 calories. Get up and go whenever it fits your schedule. Just go.
10. Rest, recover and stretch. It matters in your overall performance. 
11.  P90X, Crossfit, Spin, Zumba, whatever you do... move intentionally, intensely and then try something new every 4-6 weeks. Muscle confusion can bust a plateau...or confusion in general!

12. Don't compare your flexibility, speed or endurance with anyone else. Know your body, its limitations according to age/fitness level and push it to a point just outside your comfort zone. Weekly.

13. Exercise regularly, eat clean, drink water and eat less of everything.
.1 The secret is...there is no secret.. Sorry. The end.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

7 Agreements of a Team

I have been fortunate enough to hire many people over the course of my corporate career. I typically have and maintain great relationships with my staff because what you see is what you get. I work well with people who ask direct questions, care about the quality of their work, challenge status-quo, focus on continuous improvement, like to laugh and are passionate about delivering the best . I accept that not everyone has the ability or personality to work that way. I try to be sensitive and understanding of those who need a more delicate environment without tiptoeing around outrageous, unkind or dishonest behaviors.

After some recent turnover on my team, I find myself wondering if my " 7 Team Agreements" are useful concepts to share with newly hired staff. I suppose it makes me "old school" when it comes to communication in the workplace because I actually think teams should talk face-to-face and try to resolve issues like adults rather than whine and badmouth others. I even tend to think its acceptable for a leader to ask about progress on assignments, give input and manage the reputation of the brand over areas which he/she is held accountable. But then that makes me a micro-manager. I even believe it's helpful to have a roadmap to conduct crucial conversations and good leaders should design the basic framework through shared agreements. Finally, as the evil boss lady, I am very open to the team recreating, adding to or changing the agreements. The workplace can be fun and productive. So I turn to the blogosphere for honest, unbiased, even anonymous feedback. As a new hire, how would you feel if your boss shared these with you?

1. Integrity
This involves being true to principled behavior and honesty even when no one is watching. This means you are supportive and loyal to your team even when they or are not around and especially in front of customers or clients. Agree to show up on time and be where you have been asked to be. Don't be sneaky. Integrity requires a high level of maturity and even sometimes self-sacrifice. If we make mistakes, (and we all will) let's own it, live with consequences, forgive and move on.

2. Communication
Verbal and written communication skills are critical to being an effective team and serving customers or clients. Never rely solely on e-mail, pick up the phone and talk to people. If necessary, go visit the person. Have lots of face-to-face conversations. Communication also involves listening and asking good questions. When you are unsure of a task or directive, ask! Sometimes a leader will have to make decisions that you do not agree with, be mature and professional about it. If you have issues, address directly with your leader first. Good leaders will always honestly discuss it with you.

3. Service
Be a host, not a guest at events. Serving others is a noble purpose greater than just doing the work. Seek to help people. Talk to people and find out about their needs, wants and how we might help them. Don't ever clump in a corner at an event. Be out and among the people we are there to serve or taking care of volunteers who are helping us. Let's be kind to each other even if one of us is having a bad day. If you have a problem with the leader or one another, find time discuss it. Honestly and maturely. Gossiping is a weak, spectator sport. It's never healthy or fun for anyone. You can even hurt people with your negative words. Don't. Let's be of better service than that to one another.

4. Confidence
Demonstrate confidence in your area of expertise. This involves your ability to respond and react in uncertain situations with a level of certainty. No one has all the answers, but you are in your role because you have been selected to be effective. While professional development is important, no course or workshop can give you confidence, practice it first in the smallest things. If someone corrects you, don't take it personally. It does not mean you are inferior or they are better, it's just that sometimes others can see things you might not see. Be confident enough to take constructive criticism.

5. Innovation
Always look for ways to improve existing systems and processes. Never get stuck in doing things the same way over and over again. If you have conducted an event or task once, look for a way to make it better the second time around. Do not be afraid to suggest a better way to do our work. If something you want or need in your work does not exist, create it and share it with the team. We might even have fun doing things in a new way!

6. Consistency
The power of our brand, external reputation and credibility lies in us being consistent in the delivery of our services. Without losing our individuality, let's find and agree on general approaches to deliver our consultations consistently. If each of us uses a different philosophy, we risk losing credibility and any value we might bring singularly or collectively. If you disagree with anything we're doing or our approaches become outdated, propose a new philosophy, process or system so we can all improve.

7. Timely Follow-Through
If you are given a task complete it or get answers in a timely manner. If you find yourself unsure of the definition of timely or what to do next: ASK. No one expects you to know everything. If you have too many assignments or priorities let your boss know. If you need other resources to complete your task, let your boss know. Avoid always coming to the table with a problem, come with a recommended solution on how we can make it better. Never dump and run when things get tough or you are uncertain about how to handle a situation. Ask for help, we're in this together. 

Are these reasonable? Overwhelming? Do you agree or disagree with any of these? Why? What would you add? I need to hear from you, leave your comments below...