Career Development

Is Grad School In Your Future? Answer These Questions First

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I have not gone to graduate school.

Sure, I have taken a class here and there and workshops galore, but I do not have an advanced degree. A lot of people to whom I talk about my business and my career ask what kind of advanced degree I have. In fact, quite a few people presume that I must have one. But I do not. 

The rules have changed over the last ten years about the significance of graduate school degrees. I started hearing more buzz about it all the way back in the 2012-ish era. I grant that many careers required graduate school, rightfully so, such as those in medicine, law, and mental health care. My opinion as the individual I am with my own set of circumstances and goals is that I do not need graduate school. That is my situation, though. I work with a lot of people who are changing careers or entering careers and graduate school is often on the menu as a side option in conjunction with or even in place of the main job.

I also know a lot of people who have unfortunately attended graduate school because they did not get a certain job they wanted or with the sole purpose of avoiding the workforce altogether.

That is so much money and time put to something that may or may not have any return on the investment or career relevance.

My standpoint is not an emotional one. I will not emphatically proclaim that graduate school is pointless and nobody needs it. Instead, my standpoint has always been practical. As a case of need. As a logical means to an end. I have not needed graduate school thus far as a factor of what my career interests dictated. I have applied a couple of times to two different kinds of programs and thought about applying a couple of other times, but no matter what it was not about to make or break my career direction.

Several years ago, I was talking with my parents about the job I had at the time and one of them made a comment about "not waiting too long because you'll have to apply to grad school sometime soon". I had expressed interest in graduate school before, but I was alarmed by the urgency. Like it had to happen. That was before I started my business.

I am currently in Las Vegas for a Business Mastery program in which I will spend twelve hours a day for five days immersed in trainings for the sake of my personal evolution and entrepreneurship. Call it a doctorate in business administration.

A business coach friend of mine casually trained me in his company's model of supporting clients' career exploration one afternoon. Call it a masters degree in career coaching. 

He said it best when he stated "BOOM, you are certified."

Professional experience and specific trainings have been my graduate school thus far but, again, I am not opposed to the idea. There is a full masters program in which I am interested that would bolster my current skillset, but I do not feel the urgency of need quite yet.

Let us think practically. In addition to his own experience and personal opinions about graduate degrees, the author of a 2016 article bluntly titled "Millennials, Don't Waste Your Money On Graduate School" poses four questions to anyone considering graduate school in their professional timeline:

  1. Why do you want to go to grad school? --- plain and simple. Necessary for a job? Because you are bored? Because you are hungry to learn? Because you want to avoid a job?
  2. Will grad school actually help you achieve that goal? ---  the goal is not enough. How perfect is the program for that goal? What criteria need to be met for your goal to be fully satisfied?
  3. Are there alternative ways to achieve that goal? --- certifications? Seminars? E-books? Online courses?
  4. Can you afford it? --- seems obvious, but a lot of people do not stop and answer this by writing down their finances and budget and forecast them over the next two, three, or six years. What would you need to do to pay for it?

Many people only need to focus on one of those questions to determine whether graduate school is a proper and practical choice. Often it is the financial question, but I encourage people to always start with the Why (shocking, since that is what my whole blog is about). I know my Why is to augment my skillsets and add value to my clients, so my practical evaluation is about when and how to pay for it.

Either you or someone you know is considering graduate school. Encourage them to answer these questions for themselves. Make a game out of it and quiz each other. Just make sure it satisfies your true genuine outcome.

How To Direct Your Own Fulfillment, Part Two: PREPARATION

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Last week we spoke about the purpose behind starting a business, a certain job, or even a hobby. This week is about Preparation. The article to which I referred last week spoke to the fact that a lot of entrepreneurs who are lured in by the title of entrepreneur start their businesses without really comprehending what goes into running the business day to day and, as a result, the majority of small businesses fail. Their founders are blinded by the shiny diamond of business ownership and do not stop to wonder what kind of pressure that diamond has to endure to become shiny in real life.

This is why, as the article states, passion and a big idea is not everything. A lot of background knowledge and preparation are needed as well. 

Preparation comes in a lot of forms, though. I will not say that there is one absolute requirement, but there must be something. The article mentions how the allure of the Entrepreneur title also comes with the mindset of diving in, taking risks, and failing in order to succeed. Even though all three of those things occur in the life span of a business, starting off like that with no training wheels is a bigger risk than should be taken. And a rather arrogant one.

Think of it like going into a job interview without doing any research about the company or the position. The candidate is either arrogant or oblivious, neither of which bodes well for sustainable success. 

Preparation for starting a biz can be many things:

  • graduate school
  • undergraduate classes
  • a relevant workshop
  • relevant work experience
  • interviewing business owners you know
  • reading Entrepreneurship For Dummies
  • listening to a podcast
  • keeping your day job
  • waiting a few years
  • praying to God
  • moving back in with your parents
  • all of the above

The cool thing about this modern age is that graduate school is not required for so many jobs. The positive of this is that more opportunities are available and people can take more risks on their own, but the negative is that people think that they are qualified for the pursuit. Even worse, they think they are qualified and dive in to something like entrepreneurship equipped with nothing more than their self-righteous determination. 

I thankfully had numerous levels of preparation when I started my company:

  1. I kept my day job
  2. I had four years of relevant work experience
  3. I knew multiple people who had started businesses and had interviewed them
  4. I had wanted my own business for so many years that the idea could marinate 
  5. I had a support system for the business inception
  6. I had an exceptional level of common sense and adaptability

I did not need to go to graduate school, I did not need to move back home, and I did not read a single book on entrepreneurship or business.

That six part prep I had gave me enough of a foundation to comfortably start a business, but by far the most important tool in my toolbelt was years of relevant work experience. 

I knew it was time to start my business when I realized how my skills could be offered in a valuable way on their own. I was able to assign a monetary value to them at the outset and I was working with clients before I even had a website, company name, or email address. Having not gone to graduate school for a MBA or having not started the business with anyone but me, myself, and I, I have had to adapt A LOT over time and change so many things: my business model, my services, my prices, etc.

But I was able to adapt with confidence because I had a strong foundation of my own unique preparation.

As my business continues to evolve, so does the kind of preparation that I need. 

Now let us extrapolate for those of you who are starting a new job or new hobby:

  • What kind of background knowledge or preparation do you need for that new job?
    • What kind of research should you do for it?
    • What questions do you need to ask?
    • Who do you need to ask?
    • What are you personally interested in knowing?
  • For a hobby, what kind of supplies are needed?
    • What background knowledge do you need to know about the activity?
    • Who could you ask about it?
    • What does the activity entail?

Even though diving into something is thrilling and makes for a great, risk-taking story, it is still a risk. In a later post we will talk more explicitly about the challenges of entrepreneurship, but for now continue to consider these two questions:

What kind of preparation do you have for your current ambition?

What kind of preparation do you still need?

How To Direct Your Own Fulfillment, Part One: PURPOSE

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I read an article yesterday on Business Insider about the traps that people fall into when they choose to start a business, aptly named "Entrepreneur Porn". It comes down to the question of Why they are starting the business. I will discuss a few aspects here, but the full article can be found at: https://www.businessinsider.com/starting-business-entrepreneurship-hard-7

Side note: I love how the shortened link title above says STARTING-BUSINESS-ENTREPRENEURSHIP-HARD. No beating around the bush. ENTREPRENEURSHIP HARD. That is the gist before you even click the link and read the article.

As I said above and so many times before, it is all about the why. The article talks about several aspects of specifically entrepreneurship, but I would like to expand that a little bit for my readers. I do not only work with entrepreneurs and so I want to connect the points to 9-5 jobs or even hobbies and leisure activities in which people participate. The two main points that I am going to cover in two separate posts are:

PURPOSE and PREPARATION

Purpose

The article discusses the sexy allure of calling oneself an entrepreneur or adopting the liberating mindsets of "not having a boss anymore" or "freedom to make the schedule I want". Those are all attractive, for sure, but then what? Once you LLC your company and technically are granted those freedoms, what are you going to do with the business? What next?

This is where the WHY comes in. This is all about what truly drives you. Whether you are starting a business, you work 9-5, or you started a new hobby (or habit re: last week's post), why you are pursuing that thing is the most important predictor of your future and satisfaction. Hoping to call yourself an entrepreneur or hoping to have a steady job are good goals, but they can be achieved in little time. Once achieved, you are left then with a lot of subsequent responsibilities you had not considered because your only goal was achieved at the start. After starting a business, there is a lot that goes into maintaining a business. Once you get a job, you have to show up every day and perform. 

If you only thought about obtaining one or the other, you will be in for a shock about what comes next.

It is like the phenomenon of weight loss. If you set a goal to lose fifty pounds and you do it, what then? People often cop out and say "I'll just maintain it" when really they did not set a new next goal to proactively start pursuing such that a new success is defined. 

The "allure of entrepreneurship" is something I have thought a lot about. I wanted my own company all the way back in high school, but why did I want it?  Why do I want it now?  Upon reflection, I have realized that, even though I agree with the article about how sexy the Entrepreneur title can be, that was never why I went into entrepreneurship. The title feels good, yes, for sure, but I learned that it is secondary to what really fuels me: creative independence. 

There are a lot of things about business management that I am so aware that I am not interested in and the delegation of which I am slowly learning how to orchestrate. I am proud of the fact that I own something unique and authentic, but being the "owner" is not my reason to do it. It is not my why. When my business grows and there is more of a team involved, I am interested in being its leader but not its owner, i.e. not an authoritarian dictator at the top of some hierarchy that I imposed because I own the company. That does not excite me. That is only ego. Being part of a team that is serving a brand does excite me. 

My why for entrepreneurship is the independence of it.

Homework: 

  1. If you started a business or want to, why do you want to be an entrepreneur?
  2. If you are currently working a "9-5" job, what does that job do for you?
  3. If you are currently searching for a job, why do you care about having a job? What is the specific motivator?
  4. If you have just begun a new hobby or are continuing an old one, how does that hobby serve you?

The reasons are different for everyone, and your unique reasons dictate your satisfaction with that pursuit. Take a minute to answer a question for yourself.

Your future depends on it.

What Is Missing In Your Life? Your Skills, Values, And Ambition Assessment

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What do you care about? 

I should just end this post there with that question. A real punch to the stomach that would hopefully confuse you and then stress you out as you think about how to answer it. 

I work with a lot of people starting businesses but I also work with even more people who dislike where there career is and desperately want to make some kind of change. The wall they run into on their own is an incomplete awareness of what is needed to make that change. 

A common framework that helps put structure to this mental roadblock is the definition of a person's unique skills, values, and ambition. In my class, I teach the importance of not only defining them but aligning them so that one's self-concept is rock solid. I visualize it for students like an equilateral triangle and talk about it like Tony Stark's triangular arc reactor chest-piece that he makes in Iron Man 2. When the energy is flowing through it, the whole triangle lights up with epic power. That epic power is available to anyone who puts the time and energy in to aligning their skills, values, and ambition.

Now back to you. Answer me this:

- have you ever gotten so inspired about something you care about but then you do not even start it because you do not know how to do it?

- have you ever gotten so good at something in your job and you have goals for yourself within the company but you never make progress because you do not care about the company's mission?

Let us break it down into common sense: 

1. If you care about something and you have related skills but you do not have goals or ambition, you will not be satisfied.

2. If you have a goal and skills that can help you achieve it, but you do not care about anything specific, you will not fulfill that goal.

3. If you care a ton about something and you have all the ambition in the world to go after whatever that thing is but you do not have relevant skills, you will not make progress. 

Unfortunately you cannot just have 2 out of 3.

No ambition = progress will be like molasses.

No relevant skills = you will feel incompetent and frustrated.

No core value set = you will become apathetic and aloof.

Now what is there to do about it? Assess yourself. Of the three categories with clients, I often start with values because people often have a more accessible sense of what they care about in life than the other two categories. 

Values

Let us start with values. Here are some guiding questions.

  • what are some things in life that matter to you, in general?
  • what is important to you in your work or at your workplace?
  • what kinds of causes or societal issues pull at your heart strings or fire you up?
  • what do you care about having in a relationship or your friendships?

Skills

Skills are sometimes harder for people to reflect on, so be gentle with yourself when you are answering these questions.

  • what are some things that you consider yourself good at?
  • what is something you love doing?
  • what are your responsibilities at work? 
  • what do you do in your free time?
  • if you know specifics, what abilities are you confident in?

Ambition

Ambition can be big or small, future or present. Think about any goals at all that come to mind.

  • what is your goal for your career right now, overall?
  • what is your goal for your work right now, specifically?
  • what is a goal you have for your relationships or friendships?
  • what is your personal development goal for the future - aka what are things that you want to learn about yourself, where do you want to live, what do you hope to personally achieve, separate from work?

The important thing to keep in mind is that you do not have to be able to answer every single question. I often customize these questions into only one or two that are specific to my client's situation. For you the readers, I wrote longer lists in hopes that at least one of the questions is helpful to spark your reflection. Do not put pressure on yourself to answer every one and to make sure your answers are perfect. 

If an answer comes to mind, no matter how disorganized or basic, WRITE IT DOWN. It will be your perfect starting point. 

Now, step two is to look back at your responses and feel which category either garnered the least awareness or was more difficult to answer. If only one stands out, great. If two stand out, choose one that feels most relevant to focus on first.

If it is your values, think about it again. Everybody cares about something, even if that something is video games or not going to work. 

If it is your skills, are you able to identify what skills would be helpful? If not, ask someone what they think. If so, what is a first step you can take to acquiring those skills - who can you talk to, what can you read/research, what class can you take?

If it is your ambition, ask yourself why you are having trouble identifying a kind of goal - is it because you do not like where you are at in life? If so, what don't you like?  Do you wish you could identify a goal? If so, who could you talk to for help around thinking about and defining goals?

Whichever one is most relevant for you is that on which your career satisfaction or your personal fulfillment depends. 

Jefferson Dinner, Part Three: How To End An Event Without Ending The Fun

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Last week's post spoke to how the Jefferson Dinner created the opportunity for respect in the conversation so that every participant felt equally heard. This week, it is about when the conversation should end. Sometime soon I will talk about the conversation needing to end after it has been an unenjoyable interaction, but this week I am going to stick with the positive and focus on how an enjoyable situation can end without depressing those involved. 

At the Jefferson Dinner, after three DEEP questions were asked and discussed in their own turn, the Dinner host said

"I wanted to ask a last question but the conversation feels pretty full and I don't want to push it any further." 

I thought that was quite interesting because it was a strategic stop to a conversation and a powerful example of how a positive conversation can be cut off and still is appreciated. I felt equal parts agreement and disappointment when he said that because even though the mental effort needed for the conversation was rather tiring, it was still so interesting, engaging, and new thought-provoking for me. As minutes went on, I realized how profound stopping the conversation at that point had been. It allowed us to casually chat about whatever we wanted as we were cleaning up because we still had enough energy to do so, and it left us with the buzz of how enjoyable the overall conversation was, which promoted our continued thinking about the subjects long after the event. 

It often happens that we humans do not want an enjoyable experience to end. Duh, that is obvious. We want to promote enjoyment, in fact. However, there are times when a fun party becomes un-fun because it goes on too long, or a first date loses its luster because the couple got dessert after drinks and did not leave the positive energy for a second date (Okay, bad example: dessert doesn't harm anything...but you get the point).

Too much of a good thing is exactly that: Too much.

Just like pushing the limits of an amount of recreational drugs, you will not continue to get the same high. It will wane. It is also pretty human, though, to avoid ending the experience because of our natural sensitivity to loss. It feels absolute. Finite. As though it could never be experienced again. Emotional hangovers are real too after a super fun party. 

Do not fret. Here is what you do:

  • When an enjoyable interaction or situation is concluding, whether you or an external entity is concluding it, take the step in that moment to plant the seed to continue the enjoyable parts of that situation in the future. 

You cannot replicate the exact same situation because life and people move on, but following the following steps will help you feel like the enjoyment has not died forever:

  1. Identify what is so enjoyable about the situation. Is it:
    1. the subject of your conversation
    2. something about the individual with whom you are speaking
    3. something about the setting where you are
    4. something else?
  2. If your enjoyment is related to the individual before you or the conversation topic, plant the seed in whatever way is comfortable about continuing the conversation with them again, either over coffee or planning to meet up at an event again sometime in the future. If it is not comfortable to do so in that moment, reach out to them the next day and tell them how much you enjoyed the conversation and go from there. 
  3. If it is something about the setting or event, use that characteristic to focus your search for similar events or parties going forward. Doing so will help you weed out so many parties and events that may not invigorate you. 

Energy does not die, but gets transferred to a new system or setting. What was enjoyable about the Jefferson Dinner for me has lingered because of how and when the host ended the dinner. The exciting mental energy I felt during the dinner transferred from being passed around the table to inside my brain alone and I have continued to think about the subject in my head. Not only has it motivated me to write blog posts about it, but it is something that I am excited and comfortable to bring up with others and initiate discussions of my own. 

Because the party has to end does not mean that your enjoyment does.

Just transfer the energy.

Jefferson Dinner, Part One: How To Assess Fulfillment In Your Work

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Last night I participated in a "Jefferson Dinner" that a friend hosted in which ten people were brought together to eat and hold an orderly, respectful, and deep conversation. The host pitched a thought-provoking question and we participants could only speak one at a time, in order around the circle, so that we were forced to actively listen to the responses of everyone else. 

The subject of the event was The Future of Work and The Paradigm of Full Time. Our conceptions of "work", where the job economy is headed, statistics about freelancing and entrepreneurship, and how to continue focusing on personal fulfillment and career satisfaction were discussed.

The three total questions that we covered throughout the evening reflected on our past, present, and future ideas of work in our society. Even though our answers were all so unique and they started very differently about our pasts and how we entered the workforce, common themes emerged by the end when we discussed the future of work that we hope will be possible. 

To optimize survival, human beings seek both certainty and uncertainty.

The certainty we crave is familiarity. Reliable patterns of things that we can respond to with efficiency and fluidity because it becomes practiced. The uncertainty we crave is novelty. We all still want something new. Our brains need novel stimulation. Even though I resist the routined life of a 9-5 job and so lack a lot of the certainty that is common in the working world, I still have a lot of certainty on which I can rely, examples of which include shelter, electricity, and a support system. With regard to work, certainty is often interpreted as the security of a paycheck or the environmental security of an office in which work is undertaken. These certainties provide a foundation on top of which you can navigate your enjoyment of the work.

If things became too certain and predictable and efficient, though, humans would become bored. If machines automated my life and I rarely had to put effort in, I would not know what to do with myself because I would crave some kind of novelty to evolve. Novelty for a lot of people means materialistic possession, like buying the newest phone that comes out or the newest car. Novelty in work, however, can be found on a wide wide spectrum and is different for everyone.

Novelty is newness that implies opportunity. Opportunity implies choice. Choice implies freedom and agency. And finally, agency offers empowerment.

Once you are able to recognize choices within your work and the personal agency you have to make work what you want it to be, you have the opportunity for your work to be fulfilling. Even though I just described this so eloquently and simply, it is not often that simple in practice. Many variables affect your choices as well as your emotions around those choices. This is why walking the uphill path to fulfillment consists of stubbing your toe, someone tripping you, getting one foot stuck in quicksand, someone pulling your arm one way, and a strong wind gusting against you in some form every day. 

So what do we do about it? How do we even think about fulfillment in our work when there are so many variables involved?

Let us start by taking stock of your unique work situation right now. 

Security, Agency, and Fulfillment were the three themes that arose from the discussion last night, so let us use these as the frames through which we reflect on our work:

  1. Security:  what in your work provides you with a sense of security, reliability, and certainty right now? 
  2. Agency:   what about your work affects your independent agency? Do you have the freedom of choice in your role? Are you micromanaged? Are you asked for your input? What role does choice have in your job?
  3. Fulfillment:  what do you hope for, deep down? What do you wish was different in your current work? What do you fantasize about related to work?

Please answer these honestly as they pertain to you. Do not say that money provides you with security just because you think that should be the answer. Use the above questionnaire as a scorecard to shed light on your current mindset about work. After you answer those three, look at your answers and ask:

  • What sticks out to you?
  • Which question was hardest to answer?
  • Which answer feels heaviest to you?

You may find that one theme feels more stressful than the others. Highlight that one and reflect on why. That will be the starting point from which you begin working towards fulfillment. If you are fulfilled in your work, great! I want to know how you got there. What was the process for you?

If anything arose as the most important concept at dinner last night, it was that we humans are still seeking fulfillment, so why not work on it together

What Is In A Name? The Cost And Benefit Of Your Job Title

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Raise your hand if you have a job title. Okay, keep it up if you like your job title. Keep it up even longer if it happens to be the only thing keeping you in that job. Hopefully not too many hands are still in the air. Since I am sure there are some, we should talk.

Let us face it, job titles are seductive.

They are clean, they are concise, and they are a promise. An unwavering name tag for your abilities and prowess. They can be so powerful. When you ascend the corporate ladder, the rungs are labeled with every new job title you attain. When you get to that beautiful, shiny, glorious rung that says "Executive Vice President" (maybe for some), the heavens open up and welcome you to true success. There are many people in the world who seek the job only for the sake of the title (hint: a solid percentage of people in medical school...) whose self-worth relies on the confidence that the title "promises" and "automatically instills."

Job titles are also traps, though. They put blinders around our eyes. They lock you in to thinking that attaining that certain title means you have made it. That you are done. Of course it is an emblem of your personal progress within a company, but there is a huge difference between pride for the skills you have gained over the years and pride for simply being called a _____________.  A great reality check for people in this position is the consideration of what happens if the company goes bankrupt and you lose the job. What do you think will help you more in the new job search, the unique skills you developed over the years or the singular job title to which you eventually rose? 

People hide behind a job title as though it is a security blanket because it is the only thing that pumps up their self-worth and makes them feel successful.

A lot of them wear it like a cape and allow its aggrandizement distract them from the fact that they have even more real, tangible tasks for which they are responsible (For those of you reading this who are proud of your job title because of the work you put in to earn it, keep doing what you are doing because you are the ones who care about true personal evolution).

The greatest trap of all is when a new boss says "come up with your own job title". Ummmmmm okay, how about Supreme Lord Commander of the Universe? Chief Awesomeness Officer? For a side gig that I am currently undertaking, my new supervisor has given me the opportunity to choose my own job title due to the fact that I will be responsible for a myriad of things related to narrative and business operations. My creative brain immediately perked up and came up with some ridiculous titles that made me chuckle, but then my intellectual brain sauntered in and suggested we think practically about what would simultaneously represent my personality and the roles I will inhabit. 

Supreme Lord Commander of Narrative and Strategy.

Just kidding. Maybe...

It would take up two lines on my business card. Probably worth it.

Speaking of my own job title, I have held many titles over the course of my business' lifespan. Some are specific to my service, like:

  • narrative coach
  • personal branding consultant
  • communication coach
  • storytelling teacher
  • personal development strategist

while some are concise labels that attempt to categorize me into preexisting niches:

  • therapist
  • life coach
  • writer
  • entrepreneur
  • CEO

Someone once called me a Change Agent, which I really like, though no one would know what that means if I put it on my business card. The interesting thing about me and my job titles is that none of them truly convey my uniqueness. Each one attempts to encapsulate all of me into something someone might be able to digest. Because none of them 100% articulate what I do, none of them stick around for long.

The key is that I am not married to a job title, either, and I sure as heck do not own my company just for the title.

Sure, I think of one from time to time that I would enjoy but it is not yet a point where it would be appropriate. 

I know entrepreneurs who love seeing CEO or Founder on their LinkedIn page because it sounds grown up and powerful. It does not mean that their business is going anywhere, though. Sure, I am a CEO and a Founder, of which I am proud, but I am also the unpaid intern, the Human Resources director, the marketing associate, the sales department, and the brand spokesperson. Being the founder means nothing if I do not continue working on the business and evolving my skills and knowledge. 

So I ask you this:

  1. What is your job title?
  2. How do you feel about your job title?
  3. Why do you feel that way about your job title?

Getting real with these answers will tell you a whole lot about your career goals and it will save a whole lot of time on the path of your professional journey. 

How To Innovate, Evolve, And Do What You Want

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If you followed my gospel from last week, you have already begun to rephrase how you do things "right or wrong" into doing things that are healthy for you and things that you genuinely want to do. Now that the pressure is lifted, how do you evolve? By innovating. 

I feel like no word is safe anymore because innovation, though an old word, is now such a buzz word in the business world. Ever since that fruit company (Apple, is it?) got in the habit of pumping out multiple products in a calendar year, businesses took the importance of making new products more seriously instead of relaxing on those that have worked for years. 

Humans need progress to feel adequate. 

No matter how small, one new step makes a big psychological difference in someone's self-worth. The past two weeks' posts have revisited the concepts of Commitment and Resilience in practice. Following the sequence, this week is about Adaptability. Now that the pressure of doing things right or wrong is alleviated, you have the free mental space to innovate, pivot, adapt, or transition in order to evolve in your work.

WHAT TO DO

The cool part is that judging decisions and risks based on what is healthy / what you want is now your secret weapon that can be employed in your product innovation as well. Here is how. Innovation can occur in three ways:

  1. You design the new product and implement it yourself because you want to and it feels awesome. 
  2. You design the new product and delegate its implementation to someone else because you only enjoy the design aspect and implementing it is not a healthy use of your time.
  3. You know that you want to innovate something new but you do not enjoy designing the new product or implementing it, so you delegate the whole project to someone else and act as its supervisor to approve whether it aligns with your vision.

Notice how all three of those were about what you as the owner wants and finds to be a healthy use of your time and skills? Pretty awesome how that works. And easier than you thought, huh?

REAL TALK

Even though the pressure of doing it right or wrong or perfect is gone, of course there is pressure involved with innovation. Market research is important so that you know what customers need and so that you can innovate to those exact requirements instead of guessing and praying. Amongst the pressure, listening to your genuine interest barometer helps you prioritize what ideas to pursue. 

I started my business as a creative and had to balance it with the business logistics I committed myself to learning over time. As a creative, it should be no surprise that I have a surplus of ideas that I would enjoy creating for my business. Because I am the only member of my team at the moment, I prioritize the little things that I can add for clients right now to augment the experience of working with me. "Well sure, Taylor, that makes sense because you have to do that for clients in order to stay in business." Yes, but ONLY BECAUSE I WANT TO.

I repeat: because I want to.

I am facing the need to innovate in lots of ways right now, and I am doing the market research for it, but I consistently decide how to spend my energy based on what would be healthy for my goals to work on in this moment. 

WHAT IS NEXT

Hey all you non-entrepreneurs out there! This works for you as well. For those of you who work in a corporate job, what evolution do you currently seek? What is your ultimate goal in your current role? What innovative steps do you want to take to get there? This could be a conversation with a boss, collaborating with a colleague in a different department, or taking a weekend workshop to acquire a new skillset.

Let us break it down.

#1 Starting: Whether you are an entrepreneur innovating a new product or a corporate employee hoping to evolve within the company, start by thinking like a creative. Start listing out any bit of an idea that comes to mind and break it down a little more if you can. Map it out if you can. Draw a flow chart of what it would need to be born. If you do not identify as creative, then only list things out. Stick to words for now. Write down whatever comes to mind.

#2 Learning: Whoever your audience or community is, fire up the ole Google and research whether the ideas' keywords you wrote down relate to any current need in the market. If it does not, that is okay. It may down the road, so do not erase it. Move on to the next one. 

#3 Acting: If you found an idea that strikes in the market, ask yourself whether or not that is interesting for you personally to work on.

#3a  If it is not interesting for you to work on, is it still interesting to you to have in your business? If so, what kind of help do you need?

#3b If you do not know what kind of help you need for it, who is someone you know that you can ask: "hey, do you have advice on who I would ask to help with ________?" Simple as that. 

#3c If it is interesting for you personally to work on, how do you go about starting? Do you have the necessary knowledge or skills to do it? If not, with which requirement would you want to start?

You will feel pressure at every turn of your business or job. Your interest in your professional evolution gives you motivation. Your motivation faces up to the pressure in the moment. Asking yourself what action you want to take from there is the positive step forward. 

You Are Thinking About "Right and Wrong" All Wrong

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DO THE RIGHT THING.

YOU ARE DOING THIS WRONG.

IS THIS RIGHT?

WHERE DID I GO WRONG?

Do you ever ask these questions? Better yet, do these questions rule your life? Are you distracted by doing things "correctly"? "I want to do it right" is probably the most common problem I hear clients complain about when we discuss obstacles to their success. I hate this notion that there is a right or a wrong way to do things in life. That is right, I just said Hate. Oooo, strong word! It is the most unhealthy mindset because it puts so much pressure on you to be perfect. Look back at my post on making imperfect action a few weeks ago. So many people think that something has to be perfect for it to be put to market or submitted to a boss. 

WHAT TO THINK

Of course you want to complete something well and feel proud of it, like that science project you spent a week constructing in high school for the science fair, but using the words Right and Wrong puts more pressure on you than is already there for the task.

Example 1, Creating a logo: Holy cannoli people think this has to be perfect. The first pressure in getting a logo made is whether or not you as the business owner likes the logo. A mere emotional reaction. The second pressure is when the business owner worries whether or not it is perfect for their brand. Uh-oh, now there is a double stack of pressure and only one of them actually matters! 

Spoiler alert: the emotional response one has to the logo is the only answer you need. It determines how well suited the logo is for the brand. It is a beneficial double whammy. Which means you are left with the extra layer of pressure dangling off the side that relates more to how the world will perceive your brand, and not the logo itself. Which means you do not need that pressure while the logo is being made. Which means you need to chill out. There is no right or wrong. 

Example 2, Nobody likes your product: This is where right or wrong really hits home like a wrecking ball for people. When an owner gets feedback that their service was not effective or the customer did not enjoy the product, this must mean the entrepreneur is a failure. Better luck next time. 

NOPE. This means that you now have data to inform how to change your product...if you WANT to. That is the key. What do you WANT to do with the feedback? 

Feeling like a failure is a choice. You call yourself that. It is another story you tell. 

Do not worry, I am guilty of it too. I am guilty of thinking that there was a right way to progress in life. Originally I thought that the right way was to get good grades in high school so that I go to a good college, work hard there so I get a job, go to grad school so that I can become an "expert", and then settle into a career that makes money. A lot of people do this, and it is not wrong to do so. But thinking that there is one single right way to do this life thing is not true and it is not healthy. 

I thought it until I got a bad grade in a class and realized that it was not going to impact my work prospects after college. I thought it until I realized that my gut was not compelling me to go back to graduate school as I thought it "should" have over the past six years. It does not matter when you do something, because it is YOUR choice based on YOUR desire. It is nobody's business to tell you when you must do something. 

I know what some of you are thinking: "But Taylor, there is definitely right and wrong. I could lose my job if I do or say the wrong thing."  True, sure. There is a wrong answer to math problems (I would know, I struggled with math). There are inappropriate things to do at work that threaten your employment (I would not know because I am an angel). But I encourage you to think of the words differently.

WHAT TO DO

"Right" and "Wrong" have a heavy, sharp, pressured connotation to them. Even if you feel like you did something "right", you feel the pressure about it. I want you to change the words. I want you to try saying "Healthy" vs. "Unhealthy" for YOU instead of "Right" vs. "Wrong" based on someone else's expectations. Doing so alleviates the pressure and makes the outcome positive. Not only that, it taps what you feel good about.

Try it out: Instead of thinking that you did something wrong when your product receives criticism, ask yourself "what do I want to do about it now? What would be healthy for me to put effort into adjusting?" 

In the absence of extra pressure, there is more space to be inspired. 

WHAT WILL HAPPEN

Right vs. Wrong relates to following what we think of as rules and acceptable behavior, but what we do not think about is the fact that we humans made up the word "rules" and "morals" and defined "acceptable behavior". Now that I dropped that knowledge bomb on you, I am not telling you to go kill someone because morals do not exist. Instead I am telling you to take the pressure of perfectionism off of your task because no human has the power to tell you a one single right way to do things. 

By thinking about what is healthy for you or what you want to do instead of what you have to do or should do, you promote your own confidence and growth while connecting why your work is healthy for you and why your work is healthy for the world.

You are promoting healthy human evolution instead of addressing a single microscopic moment of pressure.  

I have a client right now who knows she must have a difficult conversation with her mother in order to move forward as a confident, independent adult. She began saying what she "needs" to do and why she "has to" do it, but over the course of a few conversations she has shifted the language and realized that she genuinely "wants" to have the conversation because she recognizes its beneficial outcome.

Her body language has changed, her motivation has changed, and now she wants to face the challenge because she sees it as an opportunity for growth. Not just popping a stress bubble that will come back in another form later on. 

This is the resilience I wrote about a few weeks ago. If you face challenges with the question of what next move would be healthiest for you, you will never experience setbacks as failure again. You will take a next step, and then another, and then another, because there is no right way to move through life. There is only the way that you want to. 

The 3 Crucial Personality Traits You Need To Start A Business, Part 3: ADAPTABILITY

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Let us check in. At this point, you have started a business (maybe) and we have covered how the first two important characteristics to possess in entrepreneurship are commitment and resilience. Dope. You are mentally focused with commitment. You are standing strong with resilience. Your beach house is sturdy.

But now what? What the heck do you do next?

Commitment and resilience are great but they are isolated to moments of preparation and reaction. What is missing is the action in between that moves your business forward in some way. 

This is why characteristic #3 is ADAPTABILITY

Adaptability creates movement. Commitment and resilience are the bookends. 

Tomorrow you will send an email. You will make a landing page. Test a prototype. Whatever is on your to-do list. Because you have committed to scaling your business, you will succeed in achieving the most important items on your to-do list, moving yourself that little bit forward. But that success does not remain. You will get tired. You will procrastinate. Your prototype will break. A client refuses to pay you. You committed, though, so how can you handle adversity that comes on a daily basis?

You adapt. The two types of adaptability are to pivot and to evolve.

1. Pivot = changing direction for a period of time in order to maintain movement.

 

This could look like temporarily switching to a different task or changing the entire focus of the company and starting in a totally new direction.

A few years ago, I became stuck with my business because I realized that my business' obstacle was marketing. I did not yet know what kind of marketing would be most effective for my business, but I did know that I had ZERO knowledge or training in marketing and ZERO interest in learning about marketing. That was the choice point. I could either pivot and temporarily focus on something else or I could evolve and learn about marketing. 

I chose to pivot because I did not desire to learn marketing enough at that moment to pursue it, even though I knew that I desired to learn it at some point. 

2. Evolve = advancing your skills and knowledge in the moment in order to overtake the adversity.

 

Examples of this include developing self-talk rituals in order to push through procrastination or enrolling in a graduate degree program to learn all new things that will serve your business.

I have evolved in many more ways than I have pivoted throughout the life of my business. For example, I recently took an online class on a personal development coaching method that is similar to what I already offer but fills in the blanks that I noticed in my current service. When I recognized a client's need that I could not meet, I chose to learn how to meet that need instead of pivot and change the direction of the client's goals at that time or adjusting my service offering.

Disclaimer 1. Let me be clear: pivoting does not mean ignoring.

Because you are changing direction does not mean that you are turning a blind eye to an obstacle that would benefit you to overcome. In my example, I knew that marketing was important and that I would have to learn it at some point. At that time, however, I did not have the desire to learn the skills or the resources to hire someone else for the task. 

Over the few years that followed, I learned not only what kind of marketing is appropriate for my business but I was also ready to devote time to learning how to enact it. I pivoted three years ago knowing full well that I would have to face marketing some day.

Disclaimer 2. The form that evolution takes is specifically different to every person.

For one entrepreneur, it may look like mental fortitude to get off the couch or pick up the phone. For another, it will look like formally enrolling in a class or hiring some kind of coach. Another still may sit down on their couch and teach themselves the new skill. If you read my post way back about learning styles, ask yourself how best you like to learn. Knowing that will help you plan for how to react when an obstacle comes your way. 

If you can learn to implement both, you are golden forever because you will always have new opportunities to practice. For now, start with what feels healthy for you. 

Reflection questions:

What obstacles have you faced so far? 

How did you respond to them?

What obstacles are you currently facing?

How will you adapt to them?

The Five Habits You Need To Build Resilience As An Entrepreneur

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My blog's earliest, most loyal follower and advisor gave me feedback on my previous post about Resilience and the Entrepreneurial Hurricane (which makes this post Part 2 of last week's Part 2...mind blowing...)

We discussed how entrepreneurs can create resilience for themselves beyond the reminders of Why they are in business in the first place. We came up with a cool Five Step Process to fortify your beach house:

1. BE OPEN TO FEEDBACK

Exhibit A: This post is being written because I am open to feedback. Without feedback, you do not know how the world is receiving you and what you offer. You might say "I don't care what the world thinks of me", which is noble and impressive and all, but you might want to care about what the world thinks of your business if you are trying to sell a product. 

The best part about feedback is that it comes in so many forms:

  • your mom after reading your blog
  • your dad asking about your financial situation
  • your friends who test your products
  • comments on your social media posts
  • total strangers at a networking event
  • customers after buying your product

You can walk up to a stranger at Starbucks, explain your business, and see what they say.

I have done that a lot, actually. I am so interested in people's responses after I describe what I do because their questions and comments inform how I am describing my service, from which I can adjust my wording. 

I won't go into the nerdy corollaries of how social feedback contributes to species evolution right now, but it suffices to say that you need feedback in order to grow anything, so start practicing openness to it.

 

2. CHOOSE WHO TO LISTEN TO

This one is a big one. If you are open to feedback, you are going to hear it from everyone and everything. The challenge is compartmentalizing what you hear and applying it to your future. As a result, you have to pick and choose what you listen to. 

This happens to me a lot. I mentioned last week that the biggest trap in which I get caught is that of unrealistic comparison to other entrepreneurs and business people. Over time, I have stopped listening to as many interviews by celebrity entrepreneurs and stopped reading as many blog posts about what I "should" be doing right now to succeed. Those people do not know me. Their words are not tailored to my business, so I must determine if I can apply any of their value to my current goals or push it away. 

If you get in the practice of taking some pieces of advice and avoiding others, you will realize who around you gives the most applicable feedback for your business. For me, it is my girlfriend, a handful of advisors, and my clients. I form such a deep connection with my clients and their stories that their feedback on my service is the most golden nugget of input that my business could need. 

For your business, to whose or what voice is most effective for you to listen?

 

3. MEDITATE

Yea, I know I am the billionth thing that has told you to go meditate in the past few years, but this is real. As I discussed in a past post, meditation is a very active practice and it is all about energy.

Meditation helps you slow down and channel energy toward what fuels you. If you can sit still for even five minutes with your eyes closed and watch your thoughts flow around while you are breathing, you will begin to see themes come up in your thoughts. Often times the common thoughts you sense are related to fears or anxieties but, relating to #2, you will also notice voices either from within you or people outside of you. 

Drawing awareness to these voices, even for just five minutes at a time, will help you acknowledge what voices are helpful to hear and which are harmful. 

That way, you can more comfortably deflect negative self-talk while working because you know from where the self-talk might be originating.

 

4. LOGICAL GOAL SETTING

Now that you can discern what to listen to and what not to, you can more clearly see what you want to accomplish today, this week, this month FOR YOURSELF.

I repeat: FOR YOURSELF. Stop thinking about other brands "like" yours, because there are no other brands like yours. No one performs my kind of consulting in the exact way that I do it. Based on the feedback that you have received about YOUR product, what is next on the to do list to keep things going? 

Edit your website?

Change your prices?

Start an email campaign?

This took me a while to understand for myself. I want to write books and create social media campaigns and give lectures and send email newsletters and make TQ coffee mugs and tee shirts and I have wanted to do all of those for years. Even though I am capable of doing all of those things, doing all of those things was not realistic at the time I thought about doing them. 

Similar to the famous line in Jurassic Park, just because I could do something does not mean that I should. 

I got down on myself because I was not accomplishing all of those cool things that a business might have, but then I realized that I was focusing most of my time on customer service and defining my product, which is far and beyond the most important. 

So I wrote all of those cool possible projects down in a list such that, over time, when it feels appropriate, I can look at it and choose one to try out.

It gives me the freedom to focus on what is important right now and still try new things going forward. 

Make the list for yourself of things you either think you "should" be doing or things that you would like to create. Then think about what you have been working on and ask: "what needs to be accomplished right now?"

 

5. PATIENCE, YOUNG GRASSHOPPER

Being a business owner, you can know everything about what going on with your business. This is positive for the sake of productivity, but it is also a challenge because you are the one who thinks most often about the big picture. 

The big picture can be torturous because we business owners want to get to that end goal NOW. We creative, ambitious types are so freaking impatient. It motivates us and tortures us. 

If you have completed Steps 1-4 at this point, then you have a sense of what goals to pursue today. If you actually meditated, you also know how to take a productive deep breath. 

Step #5 is a gentle reminder to be patient. You see the big picture goal. Even though you will not attain it today, the realistic goals you set for yourself today and pursue this week will continue to authentically serve your big picture. 

Take another deep breath. You are doing the work. And you rock.

Now fortify that beach house. You are going to live there for a while.

The 3 Crucial Personality Traits You Need To Start A Business: Part 2 - RESILIENCE

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Okay so you are starting a business. If you read last week's post, you have started to consider the kinds of things to which you must commit beyond the exhilarating fantasy of your product or service idea. It is okay if you do not want to commit to scaling your business and running it from there as an enterprise. There is no shame in that. Just as many entrepreneurs start their business and then decide to change it due to their true interests as those whose ideas do not succeed and the business flops. 

Lesson #1 about starting a business is that it is alllll yourssss. Yes, there is the pressure of succeeding with it on your own, but it simultaneously relieves the pressure of someone above you hounding you about deadlines and "the way it should be done." With that in mind, take a deep breath, look at your list of many many options of places to start, and remember that the choice is yours. 

Now that you have realized there are things called bookkeeping, market research, and email campaigns and you have committed yourself to grinding through them because you care about your mission, you must begin to fortify your defenses when the storms arrive.

Personality trait number two is RESILIENCE

Resilience is defined as "the ability to recover quickly from difficulties" and as "toughness; elasticity". Enough said. 

Entrepreneurship is like building a beach house during hurricane season.

You take care to put every material into its functional spot and build the house such that its strength and efficiency increase its value for years to come. But you build the house in Florida and you can see far into the distance (Are you with me on the metaphor so far?). Then challenges come up:

  1. Early investment of your own money in the house = darkening skies 
  2. Prototyping your product = cloud layers
  3. People demean your idea = rain falls in the distance
  4. Feeling isolated = clouds start to swirl
  5. Self-doubt creeps in = rain clouds move toward you
  6. Vendors terminate a contract = bolt of lightning
  7. No one buys your product = the wind changes
  8. You pick up shifts as a barista to pay rent = the rain wall descends on the beach
  9. Society and the internet tell you a billion different things to do = the storm hits the mainland

Overwhelm ensues. What will you do? How much do you care about your idea? What have you put into the walls of your brand that will help it survive the maelstrom? Even if you have only built the first floor of your beach house, can you sit there amongst the raging winds and pelting rain and still take that next tiny step forward? 

  1. Early investment --> google how to raise money
  2. Prototyping --> who can you test it out on (friends and family are good ones)?
  3. Demeaning people --> that's fine, move on to the people who support you. 
  4. Feeling isolated --> positive self-care and reminders of the courage it takes to face the risk you have.

You see where I am going with this. There is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS a next step, however tiny, to take that still moves you forward but it is up to you to choose to take that step. This is critical to remember. Unless you choose to eliminate the business altogether (which is your choice), you always have another option. No matter how helpless, alone, lost, and foolish you feel. 

I know because I continue to face hurricanes myself. Fun fact about me: my longest standing insecurity is about confidence in competence, or being competent at anything. Even when I achieved great success playing soccer growing up, I felt much self-doubt and perceived incompetence.

You can imagine how a personality complex like that has played into my entrepreneurial life. There are times when my brain goes numb and I cannot recall what I even offer people, what value I bring to them, or why I thought I could be an entrepreneur. I have moved around the country three times in the four years of my business, needing to reconstruct a network and find new clients each time. There have been periods of time when I had 0 clients and 0 leads. There was a time when I did not feel motivated to seek out new leads. 

For me and my life long fragile sense of competence, though, the thing that has kept the hurricane swirling is the expectation that society puts on me as an entrepreneur. I have heard ENDLESS, COUNTLESS, RELENTLESS suggestions on how to run a business, "needing this or that or my business is doomed", from tv, internet, and social media. I have fallen into the trap oh so many times of comparing myself to other business owners and authors of other blogs (who are not in my industry and who may not actually be successful - who knows?). 

I am sensitive to the comparison trap because it feeds my self-doubt. 

Here is the thing, though. I would have never been in the position to compare myself to other entrepreneurs had I never started a business. Furthermore, why do we compare ourselves to others at all?

Because we care about something. 

We start businesses for a reason. There is always a Why that is uniquely yours. I have written a lot about the Why because it is your brand's narrative and conveys your value for the world. In the case of the hurricane, however, your Why is what will get you through. 

Every time I hit a lull or moved or felt overwhelmed or curled up and cried because I was not like X, Y, and Z founders of A, B, and C companies, I can always remember why I love what my business offers and what entrepreneurship offers me.

Do what you have to do to remember!

  • Post-it notes around your apartment
  • Accountability partners
  • Finding that perfect Spotify channel

I am not foolish enough to think that getting my beach house through one hurricane means there will never be another hurricane. In reality, there are rain storms every day that I must face, and the hurricanes will only get bigger as time goes on. 

But when that next storm comes for you, there is no greater brand management tool on the market than a good old fashioned deep breath and remembering your Why.

The 3 Crucial Personality Traits You Need To Start A Business: Part 1 - COMMITMENT

You meet commitment at the intersection of excitement and fear.

You meet commitment at the intersection of excitement and fear.

This week marks the start of three posts on the most crucial personality traits needed to start a business. Even though I will discuss it in the context of entrepreneurship, each of these themes can be applied to other jobs, workplaces, and career shifts. All are welcome. 

A lot of my clients and students fall into the classic creative trap of focusing so much on the idea of their business and the excitement that they feel that they do not step back and consider the logistics of its execution.

This is normal.

It is so exciting to come up with an idea for a business that you think will make millions and change the world. I have come up with dozens and dozens of ideas for businesses and collaborations that feel cool when I imagine them. When I think a second later about what would be required to execute them, I am not excited. Even with the companies I do have, there have been several points where I have had to pivot because the block I ran into was something about which I was not excited (often some kind of marketing, it did not feel authentic to me and I did not have the funds to hire out for it).

As a result, I tabled it and focused my energy on what was energizing. 

I am getting ahead of myself, though. LESSON #1 is on the COMMITMENT to your idea.

We are creative in our own ways and our values allow us to care about different things. When we come up with an idea for a business that aligns with our values, it is like a nuclear bomb of exhilaration in our circulatory systems and brains. We feverishly white board our ideas and diagram out our product options and design logos and taglines and what our office will look like and what color post-it notes we will buy, but we do not think about buying those post-it notes tomorrow, getting an accountant to track our expenses, then talking to people outside of our team to see if the product could be helpful.

Why? Because it is not exciting. It is not fun. It is not time spent in La-La-Land dancing with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone on sets only your imagination can create. The logistics are the hard, grey cinder blocks that keep you down here with the rest of the dirty world and which remind you to pay the bills and construct a real product. 

This is the difference between having something to say and committing to starting and running a business.

If you have a great idea, you want to share it with the world, but you do not care about scaling a business that becomes your career, that is fine. Own it. Write a blog, sell coffee mugs, give talks, and leave it there.

If you have an idea and want to make it a business, you must commit to exactly that. 

Act on the assumption that your business will grow. How does that demand make you feel? Are you excited about that opportunity for growth, or does the idea of keeping up with the growth repulse you?

This is the most important question to ask yourself as a beginning entrepreneur. You could be a rock star undergrad Entrepreneurship major prototyping an awesome product, but it will not go to market if you are not committed to the grind of networking and pitching. You could be a 30-something who just received huge funding for trials of a new miracle treatment, but you have to be committed to the long game of the trials and execution if you want to match value to that investment money. 

Entrepreneurship is hard. Much hustling is required. That is why taking a long awkward look at yourself in the mirror and asking "To what about my idea am I committed?" is the most important first step. 

I started desiring entrepreneurship back in high school, and not until I formulated my very first real true business idea in college did I stop and reflect on why I wanted to own a business. My first idea was cool and super creative, and had I pursued it I probably could have cornered the market and quickly done well with it, but it was not exciting to me at that moment. I was not interested in what was required of running that business at that time. 

So I waited.

Desire only grew, which is so cool, and the opportunity arrived right when I was ready to commit.

I still did not know what would go int to the day to day logistics, but the difference was that I was open to committing no matter the responsibility. 

In conclusion, whether you are a budding entrepreneur with an idea, you have started a business, or you have owned a business for years, check in with yourself. What is your commitment level? What do you care about now and how has that changed over time? To what about your idea can you commit yourself RIGHT NOW? What feels exciting to you within your brand?

How To Find Your Authentic Voice, Part 2: Start With The Raw Truth

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What are you keeping inside you right this second? What are you wishing you could tell someone? What do you wish that you had told someone and missed the opportunity?

Oh no, is this where Taylor lectures about regret and how to carpe our diems? Not really, but kinda sorta. Here is the deal: we all go through that pain of wishing we had said something different or just something at all in that moment that passed and will never come back around. Holy cannoli, I can think of numerous girls on whom I had a wild crush to whom I never took the opportunity to say anything because I was too scared and worse, I did not know how to say it. 

But that is not all true. I did not know how to say it effectively. We all know what we want to say - we rehearse it endlessly in our heads day in and day out - but never get around to saying it because we let fear set in of taking the risk and panic about the person's reaction, then we overthink the heck out of it to the point where every letter in every word sounds wrong because you cannot decide how you will possibly survive saying the words out loud in real life. I was the Lord Commander of Overanalyzing situations and conversations when I was in high school, I might as well have been paid for it. But when I think back, there is no question that I knew what I wanted to say. The overanalysis was my brain's attempt at controlling the situation that was causing me so much torturous anxiety before I even put myself into the situation. A constant preemptive fight or flight response.

Expressing your undying love for your crush in grade school is such a perfect example of this because 

  • A) hormones are RAGING
  • B) ALL the feels are happening
  • C) humans fear rejection
  • D) even good parents had not yet taught you how to handle risk and rejection
  • E) I had not yet started my company to help you develop authentic self-expression

Honorable mention: 

  • F) the terror of his/her friends being nearby, 
  • G) the subsequent gossip about the words you chose, and 
  • H) how little you focus on class work because you are thinking too much about seeing him/her by their locker between third and fourth period. 

Are you remembering how that feels? I sure remember it, and I am willingly subjecting myself to it as I write this. 

Fast forward to now. You are finally through puberty but instead of bearing your soul to a crush, the person to whom you want to express yourself is your boss and the acceptance you seek is from your coworkers. Similarly, you may be an entrepreneur who wants to pitch to investors or share your idea with potential teammates. Or maybe you have a job interview or a networking event in which you want to articulate your skills and value. 

It does not matter what the scenario is now because the fear and anxiety can be exactly the same as in high school. You are clear that you want to ask your boss for a raise or to fire Jack in cubicle 3 but you do not know how to articulate it appropriately in order to avoid sounding arrogant or whiney. You know what you want to pitch to investors but you do not know how to make the presentation structured and compelling. 

Overthinking is what we do. Our brains want to control situations, especially situations about which we are anxious we are anxious because it is perceived as a threat to our survival. 

NEWS FLASH: that is actually a good thing. The fact that you panic is a sign that you care! Otherwise, you would not spend so much time thinking about whatever it is! Boom, knowledge bomb. It is a genuine desire in which you place a lot of value. The only way that it becomes a bad thing is when you give into the fear, overthink the hypothetical conversation, and then never follow through with it. That is when I start my lecture about regret. 

So here is what you do: whatever your specific thing is that you want to say right, I want you to write it down in its rawest form. Even if it includes profanity, even if the words feel messy or silly, write it down. Do not manicure it or edit it in any way. Write down your first draft. That way, even if only a single sentence, it is out of your head and you bypassed the stress response. 

There is no pressure involved with the first draft. 

Maybe you hate your boss. Write down why or what you wish to ask for, anger and all.

Maybe you have a wedding toast to give. Write down your ideas in some order, no matter how cliche they sound.

Maybe you have a networking event. Write down the talking points you want to cover in conversation, no matter how boring.

Just get words out of your head and we will polish them later.

I had a client last year who was on the road to being fired, was angry about it, and wanted to go to HR to explain his side of the story. The problem was that he did not think he would be able to politely articulate his side without coming off as angry and whiny. 

The first thing I did with him? We wrote down what his anger would want to say about his manager - basically that he was an incompetent waste of space at the company. It felt goofy for my client to write it out as though he were venting in a diary, but it diffused his stress just enough to rationally take the next step, which was to discuss the true objective of talking to HR (to keep his job or only report his manager's behavior? Those are different things) and then strategically craft the wording in the most level and effective way for everyone involved. 

Overthinking is just that: thinking. So get the rough draft of whatever it is you want to express on to paper so that you get yourself ahead of your own brain and the fear. 

Your five-minute homework assignment: 

  1. Who do you want to speak to / what expressive task are you thinking a lot about right now?
  2. What do you want to say (uncensored and unpolished)?
  3. Write it down.
  4. Breathe a big sigh of relief.
  5. Kiss puberty panic goodbye. 

Want To Enjoy Your Job? Answer These Two Simple Questions

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I took an anthropology course in college for the sole purpose of satisfying a graduation requirement. It was on the concepts of heritage and cultural history in the middle east. I thought it would be an interesting choice because I like history and the middle east was a region about which I had not learned much. Let us just say that the professor loved talking about her own research and I did not understand most of the points that she tried to teach. I did know that I was a young science nerd sitting in a very humanities class among twenty history and anthropology majors. Lost at sea, was I. 

One particular evening, the class sat in a circle and discussed a photograph on the cover of a book we were reading for homework. As I recall, it was of an elderly gentleman standing at a railing in the inner atrium of some hotel or apartment building. It was an old photograph, black and white, probably taken sometime in the fifties. The man was somewhat far away in the photo too. At this point in the semester, I was already having a hard time tracking what the heck the professor was trying to teach in the course, so I somewhat bluntly offered the suggesting that it was objectively difficult (put politely) to have a conversation about what that man was doing or why he was there because there are infinite possibilities and perspectives. Starting with the twenty wildly different perspectives in that classroom. 

I said something similar in an ancient Greek history course the following year. 

What I tried to study for the final project in the middle east course (which the professor swiftly kabashed before commanding me to write something in which she was more interested) is how perspective plays a role in the objectivity of a scientific discipline and the question of how that discipline's research can ever be formally validated as a result. I was becoming vehement about it. What I did not know at the time was that this idea was the younger brother to the overall question of how history is written at all, who gets to write it, and how objective is it really?

In all my years of playing soccer, one of my strengths was spacial awareness and vision of the field during the run of play. Wherever this developed in childhood, it consistently enabled me to keep the big picture in sight. Soccer games were just individual games. Soccer was not the only thing to my life and my future. I loved studying neuroscience but I did not have to work in that field. This let me be more present years before I consciously tried to meditate and practice intentional presence. It was already a subconscious byproduct of a preexisting skill. 

Furthermore, one of my current clients is a young girl who psychs herself out in sports competition because of a random subconscious expectation in her head that she "should beat that particular opponent" or "should be better than that" or "should have gotten that point." The first step for her - if you recall the brand pillars I described in an earlier post - was drawing awareness to the big picture and to keep perspective.

She was able to tell me that the perspective she wants to keep is that "it's just one point. There are so many more opportunities. And if I lose this match, it's not the end of the world." Some would say that sounds cliche, but remember that she came up with those words herself, which means that that is the objective perspective that will work uniquely for her. Next we collaboratively found a way for her to start putting that into practice in other areas of her life so that it is second nature come game day. 

Cool, Taylor, thanks for venting about college and telling us about a random client, but what now?

We all have subjective perspectives on the objective things we do, and that is okay as long as they are either aligned or healthy or both.

Think about your job. Wherever you work, whatever you do, it is difficult to avoid getting stuck among the weeds and forget to look up at the beautiful forest. It is natural. We get a to-do list, we talk to coworkers about specific things, we fire up our productivity playlist on Spotify, and we plug away. Head down, plowing ahead.

If you are lucky, you might connect the dots of the task you completed earlier today to the big picture of what that task means in the long run when you are having happy hour drinks with coworkers or talking to your partner tonight, but often the big picture remains lost in Unconscious Land. Retail is a good example. Sales associates in a retail store change visuals and presentations and piles of products, but it is hard to remember the Why behind one product's new display (other than to sell it, of course). As a result, the day consists of moving things around and occasionally selling things and then rinse and repeat the next day on an unending wheel of transaction reports. 

Spoiler alert: this Big Picture Why ought to be the same Why that you chose to engage in that work in the beginning. And this is why learning your narrative is so important. Let us work backward:

If you can recognize the big picture perspective of your work, then you can remind yourself all day long that of which your work is in the service and you can feel more purposeful. Awesome.

If you are able to recognize that the reason why you are engaged in the work (so your own personal big picture) is aligned with the big picture of the job and the tasks you perform, then eureka! All is right and keep doing what you are doing.

If they are not aligned, why is that the case?

This is where narrative comes in. This is where you begin to reflect on why you are engaging in the work that you are. 

  1. What personal values of yours is the work satisfying?
  2. What personal interests do you maintain in the work, or do you maintain none and hate every second of the work day? 

It is often easier to think of negatives things, so ask these questions to yourself and see what comes up in your mind that is not working if you are able to come up with answers at all, and then translate those into their opposites that may be more positive. 

As an entrepreneur, my most common task is prioritizing into what new ideas or features it would be worth investing my energy to in the moment. The ideas may be things that I am curious about and interested in doing in a broad knowledge and development way, but I have to continually ask the two questions of myself:

  1. Is this something I would be genuinely interested in taking the time to learn, implement, and maintain right now?
  2. Is this something that fits the personal values that I maintain behind my company mission? 

If it is one or the other, I write it down and save it for another time. If it is both, then I strategize how to integrate it into what I am already doing. Being it that I am still a solopreneur, the list of ideas that I can prioritize and integrate is necessarily small. When the time comes that I hire employees or take on partners, however, the questions will not change. Each individual on the team must ask these questions of themselves and then we must ask them as a team.

Answering these two questions on a regular basis helps me maintain awareness of my own big picture every day. As a result, any setbacks or disappointments are understood much more quickly and put in perspective instead of taking all of the focus and sucking me down into a storm of defeat (hint: read last week's post) as though some little "failure" was the last straw on which my business was balancing. 

Try it for yourself. No matter where you are reading this, think about your current job or work. Does it satisfy both questions? Are you able to keep the big picture perspective in mind of why you do that work?  Spoiler alert #2: chances are good that most people's work does not satisfy both questions. That is often the way it is. That is okay. Do not panic. If you are able to answer Yes to just one of the questions, where does your work fall short? What is getting in the way of the second question being affirmed? 

Suddenly the big picture does not sound so daunting, does it? Just two simple questions. Start there, and you will take the first proactive step toward so much more satisfaction in your work and career. 

Peace From Peril: How To Turn "Defeat" Into An Advantage

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Last week we talked about achievement and this week we are talking about defeat, so here is a cute puppy to help.

Now that the Olympics are over, all of the athletes are probably meeting multiple times a week with their sport psychologists to talk about what they did wrong, what mindset they could have maintained instead, and how to deal with the regret of messing up that one turn on the course. In the Olympics and athletic world, "defeat" comes most explicitly in competition, which does not occur every day. In the real world for all of us common folk, even more factors impact our pursuit of success that the defeats can be much more frequent and of many magnitudes. A particularly rough day could include tons of little defeats, a few medium sized defeats, and one or two big ones, all even unrelated. And that is in the regular ole work force and corporate jungle. In entrepreneurship, it can feel like defeats are constant, as though the pressure you feel is a champion boxer sitting on your shoulders and swinging their arm down to punch you in the face every hour or two. But just like last week, defeat means different things to different people. 

As far as I can tell, I am human, which means that competition is hard wired into my DNA. I accept that, though I despise competition now. I grew up playing soccer and tennis and I downhill ski raced. I loved skiing but did not care or know how to take seriously the competitive element of the races. Maybe I was too focused on playing Game Boy at the time. Tennis I took seriously because of the skill involved and the finesse needed to get through a match, but soccer was my primary sport because I loved the stimulus of running around while I was simultaneously proficient at scoring goals. I held a high performance standard for myself throughout my soccer career. It was not until college, though, that I realized it was more about pressure on my self-concept as opposed to pressure related to the competition of the sport.

That was important. Certain experiences early on in college taught me to rethink what things in life warrant stress, worry, and concern, and this helped me realize that athletic competition is not one of them. I found much more pleasure in my sport from that moment on. Pressure was lifted. It did not matter.

Now I own two businesses on my own and feel pressure for...umm...let us see...survival?....all the time.  Of course success in business involves competition, but as an entrepreneur you get to choose against whom you want to compete. When I think about competition in the working world, I automatically picture the corporate landscape of sales quotas, red tape, and cubicle claustrophobia. A large corporation that looks like that would not be any competition of mine, so that stressful image is deleted. Sure, I have performed a lot of competitor research but, no matter what industry we are all in or if you are some kind of entrepreneur, your greatest competitor is your very own brain. 

Oh yeah, it can be a real bully. Because your skull is only so big, your self-concept hangs out with your self-talk, which then gossips its way over to your self-worth, and while they are spreading rumors, you feel more and more like crap and then spin the vicious cycle in such a way that the gossip only gets worse and affects every part of your day. 

Enter the "defeats". Once your self-worth is demoralized by your self-talk to the point where you think that one more second not getting an email response from a prospective client means you are a waste of space and organs, every little thing becomes a defeat and the entrepreneurial F-word (failure....) starts slinking in from the shadows to join the conversation. 

But who is telling you that you are a failure? You are.

Whose expectations have you failed to meet? Yours.

"But...but...but..." No no. It is your pressure. It is the value you place on the work. Sure, your boss or your dad tells you what the task is and how you need to perform, but he or she is operating under the assumption that you care enough about the work to get it done. Stressing about the task is simply your reaction to it. 

I have a long list of projects I have not finished and about which I sometimes keep myself up at night worrying, but that is because I have placed value on them. No one else told me that those things are important to finish and deliver. Just me.

Of course, the pressure to complete tasks by a deadline is something different, but calling their incompletion a defeat is simply my own perception and label. Like the achievements I discussed last week, however, defeats are equally subjective. I see successes as moments of gratitude and I see defeats as opportunities to learn. After all, if I curled up and cried when I hit an adverse moment but did nothing about it to try something different in the future, I would never have made it past six months with a business, not to mention five service evolutions.

Let us be real, we all have curled up and cried about work before, but I am lucky that it did not keep me from wanting to try something different.  

Defeats are moments that stop you and give you a chance to say "Well, crap. I don't know XYZ" and learn something new if you  care enough about the work you are doing. If you do not care about your work and you go home knowing ahead of time that you are going to impulsively complain about the day, then it is time to reassess your goals and outlook on achievement. 

Think about that for a second...

 

Really think about it... 

 

Let it sink in...

Now that you have decided whether or not you care about evolving in your current work, do what you did last week for achievements but flip it to be about defeat:

  1. Create a working definition of defeat or failure for yourself. What comes to mind? How easily do you come to an answer?
  2. List out examples of "defeats" that you have experienced recently, and 
      1. note why you think they are defeats (external or internal? hate your job? consequences of the "failure"?)
      2. note what can be learned from that defeat

You will love the relief that comes with realizing you are not actually a failure at life. As usual, it is about perspective. It does not matter if you are a professional athlete, you work in a cubicle, you own your own business, or you are in medical school. Any stress of pressure and competition as well as any fear of failure is yours and yours alone.

Now that you really know if you care about your work or not, the choice is yours: want to curl up in a ball and cry and stay the same or do you want to curl up in a ball and cry and then evolve into a more authentic, aligned, and purposeful you?

How To Win Olympic Gold Every Day In Life And At Work

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Here is a fun fact about me: I cry every time I watch the Olympics. Yup, that is right. Huuuuuuuuuge sap right here. With a foundation of pride the athletes have in representing their country to how impressive they are in their individual skillsets, the Olympics get me EVERY. DAMN. TIME. Watching the competition can be so stressful, too, though (#Womensicehockey last night, anyone?) even though I am not competing and I have no personal stake in the outcome. I cry because no matter what the result, it is such a cool achievement to simply be there and compete in the sports about which they are all so clearly passionate. I am always fascinated, though, by the athletes' focus on winning medals as the ultimate emblem of their achievement when any athlete who has ever participated in the Olympics that did not earn a medal can still call him/herself an olympian and garner almost as much recognition for their athletic prowess than the medaling superstars. Obviously not the exposure and press conferences and sponsorships and book deals that come from winning medals and world cup championships all the time, but exposure nonetheless for the foundational reason that they are at the olympics: to compete in an athletic sport.

I have always had an odd relationship with competition and achievement. I have become more comfortable as an adult with certain forms of confrontation and in fact have become strong at conflict mediation in professional settings. My engagement in competition, however, ended after college. The subject of competition relates so much to narrative, both on the individual and cultural levels, that I will dedicate a whole post to it soon, but for now the Olympics has made me think a whole lot about the idea of achievement. 

When I watch Alpine Skiing in the Olympics (my favorite sport to watch), the cameras never stay on the competitors after the last run is skied for me to see how the athletes who did not make the podium or better yet who were pushed off the podium in the last run react to not getting a medal but still acknowledge that they did pretty darn well. Some athletes who get interviewed have trained themselves in the mindset that their effort is only worth it if they get a medal at the end. Some even focus only on gold and nothing else is acceptable. I am just an objective spectator who used to ski race (which means I know what the competitive aspect feels like even though I do not know what it is like to ski at 90mph down an ice rink in South Korea) but my personal mindset is if I ended up, say, in the top ten in an Olympic event, I would think that that is pretty darn cool! I would blast that all over social media. As a matter of fact, I may lose a medal somewhere or stress every night when I go to bed that it would get stolen. 

I have trophies from athletic exploits growing up but they are simply that: trophies. I would be disappointed if they were lost or stolen because I am an extremely sentimental person, but I would soon understand that they are simply representations of something I experienced and I do not need to hold on to the object in order to remember the achievement. Similarly, I gave away some shirts and sweaters a few days ago that I remember loving when I wore them and guess what? I am already over it. They are just fabric. 

I have thought in the past and currently think a lot about my sense of achievement with regard to starting and owning businesses like I have. I started wanting to own my own company way back in high school without a clue in the world a) how to start anything and b) what the heck it would be about. But that did not matter. I knew that was a goal. And the seed only grew.

So when I started The Tailored Quill in 2015 and I had multiple clients paying me for services before I even had a name, logo, or website, I of course saw it as an achievement. I had finally done it. I had created a business that I could call my own and I was immediately making profit. But what happened next? The same thing that happens after Shaun White wins a gold medal at the Olympics. New work begins. I had to provide what the clients asked for. I cannot rest on my laurels because then my enterprises will not survive. I can learn form my achievements just as I can learn from my failures and keep going. When I officially launched a crowdfunding campaign and blasted out announcement emails, I said "Okay, that is cool" because I achieved the learning experience of building those two campaigns, which I had never previously needed to know how to do. And that is the extent of that achievement because I then had to build the rest of the business. It is not like that automatically garnered me a hundred paying clients or meant that I could retire. On the contrary, that hardly caused a ripple. My brain made the mental note of the achievement but I knew I could not spend the rest of the day drinking champagne saying "that email campaign was so sexy. I have earned the day off."

Definitions of success have to be subjective but so many people and entrepreneurs listen to the objective societal definitions of it. You know, millions of dollars, big house, nice car, the latest clothes. 'merican Dream! I sort of fell prey to those ideals for a while until I realized that I have absolutely zero interest in living in a ginormous mansion. As soon as I was able to ground my goals and interests in contrast to those of society, new goals for myself and my companies were dramatically different. Achievement is no longer assigned to a monumental accomplishment but instead takes the form of teeny tiny things. 

For example, I bought a cardboard box and packaging tape at the post office this morning. There was no line (which is a miracle in itself), the box is the perfect size, and the tape does not get all bunched up and stuck on itself. The post office should get a gold medal for that because it started my day off so nicely and smoothly and it even got me stoked to tackle the other tedious items on my to-do list today. 

I have learned that achievement of the tiniest things make the biggest difference to me. I do not need to have a multi-billion dollar business on my own and I also do not want to deal with all of the staff members that a multi-billion dollar business would require. Instead, testing out a new social media strategy yesterday for the fun of it was a win. Feeling confident and comfortable expressing myself over this platform every week is a victory. Maintaining two businesses that have been profitable since both of their inceptions is my gold medal.

In reality, achievement is recognizing that for which you are grateful. I am grateful that my businesses are profitable but I am not bragging about it as though it means I have attained enlightenment over all other business people in the world. I am thankful that I was taught the new social media strategy and that it is something I can comfortably sit down and put into action. Gratitude moves you forward. 

There is an awesome scene in the military film Jarhead in which a couple soldiers are talking animatedly about the video game level that one of them is about to beat and another soldier flatly chimes in "You know what happens when you beat that game? Nothing. You start over." Humorous buzzkill but he has a point. I can be excited when I beat a level in Candy Crush but all that means is that I move on to the next level, the next challenge. I am grateful for the skills, knowledge, and strategy I used to beat that level, though. 

Achievement is what you make it, so here is your homework:

  1. Rewrite your to-do list, but this time double check to see if any tasks could be broken down to even smaller chunks that are more easily achieved. Make sure your goals are realistic for the time and resources you have available. 
  2. Define success for yourself. Whether a casual brainstorm or a formal statement, getting something down on paper that does not appease society or your mom or your overzealous business partner will feel oh so good. What is success to YOU? A bulleted list of long term goals is just as acceptable as a fantasy paragraph about where you want to live. You will not be graded.

Start thinking about what achievement looks like in your daily lives. That way, you can be like me and say "huh, that was cool" when you learn something new and cross your unique personally realistic goals off of your list every day. I am grateful to you for reading this post and I count that as an achievement. No medal necessary. 

Why We Do Not Actually Know Anything...And Why That Is Okay

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In high school, I participated in the French exchange program in which a student from our sister school in France came to Vermont for a couple of weeks and then we went to France for a couple of weeks. In a nutshell, my exchange student could not have cared less about the program or me, so I spent a lot of time eating Nutella on bread and getting to know his family.

Two thirds of the way through the trip there, I officially became fluent in French. Not only was I able to speak it so much more smoothly, I began to DREAM in French. That is right, my unconscious thoughts had been completely transcribed into another language. That was so cool but also so bonkers crazy to me as the young strapping lad that I was seeing the big world. The switch flipped in my brain. It had beat all the levels of learning syntax and grammar and now advanced to a totally new land of levels. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed bewildered after awakening from having dreamt in French the first time as though I had awoken on another planet with no recollection of how I had gotten there. Or maybe like Neo in The Matrix when skills were  downloaded into him as computer software and he suddenly knew kung fu. But where he could defy gravity, manipulate the fabric of existence, and fight a ton of bad guys at once, I could dream in French. Definitely the same level of cool. 

Prior to my trip, my favorite english teacher back home heard I was going to France and she dropped the bomb question on me of "who is the authority on translation between languages?" As in, "how do we know and who definitively says whether or not a word in one language actually means this other thing in another language?" Maybe there is a scientific answer to her questions but that rocked my world at the time. 

Within my studies of neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy in college, I became more and more fascinated with the concept of communication and what constituted "language" across species over the course of evolution (SPOILER ALERT: probably has something to do with how I went on to become a Narrative Coach years later...). In a neurobiology seminar, I led a lecture on how crickets communicate and a subsequent discussion on nonverbal language of other kinds of animals. These discussions taught just how wide the breadth of nonverbal language is and how "verbal language" is just plain sound that air makes moving across parts of our throat. No different than a swan singing or a wolf howling or a cricket rubbing its wings together to chirp. All language is simply an ordering and contextualizing of sound. So when someone does not know how to speak English, it means they have not learned how to form the air with their mouth, breath, and throat in the same patterns to which we grew accustomed.

History tells us how the spread of languages occurred in human evolution as the early homo sapiens began to travel up and out of Africa. The middle eastern languages (Ancient Egyptian, anyone?) and then the romance languages and boom, we have language all over the world. Despite understanding the sprawl and movement of language, I have never heard anyone answer my English teacher's question. I invite any language experts reading this who do know the answer to please help a brother out.

A major topic in philosophy of mind that was presented by Descartes in the 1600s is the concept of "privileged access" that describes how we conscious beings have our own unique self-knowledge. In other words, the way that I observe and interact with stimuli in my surroundings and perceive colors and shapes is theoretically unique to me because no one else can possibly view the world in the exact way that my eyes and brain do. Furthermore, I cannot know how someone else sees a situation even if I am standing right next to them. They may see things and observe them totally differently.

If you are ever bored, think about the question: Does that person see the color Red the same way that I do? and then clean up your brain off the ground. 

I believe the theory of privileged access extends to language. When was the last time that you said "You know what I mean?" after trying to explain something? NEWS FLASH: NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU MEAN. If you are lucky, they will recognize what you are talking about and identify that you use the same descriptive words as they might to describe an experience. Even people with complex vocabularies cannot 100% perfectly describe their perceptual experiences because it is possibly always going to be different than the way their audience may see it, regardless of how detailed an explanation they provide. 

So why do we teach? Why do we explain things at all if no one fully understands what is being said? I believe it is to connect. We want to relate. We want to understand each other. We want to know that we are not alone in the world and that our experiences are not somehow incorrect. History itself is storytelling in order to provide another generation context for why they live where they do and how they might want to live in that culture. Tales told around the campfire throughout the millennia are the experiences of the teller to which the listeners try to relate or which they try to remember in the course of their own lives. At least teaching can be effective when it is taught in an appropriate way for students to comprehend the information. 

At the end of the day, even if students comprehend something that is being taught and a friend's story at a bar makes somewhat sense to me, we may still not actually know what the person means. But that has to be okay because chances are we never will. We cannot know what the story they are describing actually looked like to them when they witnessed it. All of the colors and objects and perspective and emotions. 

Perhaps we do not know anything about what is said to us. Perhaps all we need is to be able to feel what we think we understand of the story. What rings true to us and what relates to our life and values. 

Perhaps there is no correct translation between languages at all. Maybe there never has been or will be. But also maybe they are translated just enough for us to be able to connect to each other. Better yet, maybe just enough to help us accept that we all have our very own experience of life in the movie theater of our minds and that that is okay because we are experiencing life differently together. 

My vacation a couple weeks ago took place in multiple French-speaking countries. My French came back quite strongly by the end of the trip and, even though I would not say I was necessarily fluent again as I was in high school, the locals seemed to understand what I was saying. I received the correct orders at restaurants and directions in the mountains, and I even held a whole conversation about a certain kind of popcorn with a local woman in a supermarket.

Maybe we are not as far off as we think. 

How Working With Me Is Like The Best Cave Diving Trip You Will Ever Take

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When I tell people that my career has been in mental health and that my business helps individuals with self awareness around their self-talk, ambition, and authentic expression through writing, speaking, and communication, I am often asked if meditation is involved. If you read my post last week about how active an activity (redundant again. You are welcome) meditation is, I find it interesting that meditation is so front of mind when topics of mental health and introspection are discussed. Those same interactions proceed into a discussion of how the persons are "not good at meditation" or "cannot meditate" or are "scared of introspection." I get that. Let us be honest, meditation takes time, introspection is scary, and deep internal personal change is like pushing a boulder up a hill forever (google search: Sysiphus).

But I am going to zoom out a bit. People get nervous about mindfulness as a discipline because they think there is a right or wrong way to "do it", when really the only wrong way to do it is to not practice mindfulness at all. But yes, that is when it gets super scary because it is like "Umm, where do I start and how do I stop?" People may start with meditating, then devote a couple hours a week to journaling, then over time become comfortable turning inwards at will. The problem is: the moment when you open the hatch too far and tumble down into your self and cannot find the way out of the caverns of your inner world, you straight up panic and thrash around in the previously tranquil pools of your consciousness. People freak out, climb out of the hatch, and lock it up tightly because it was too scary. No more introspection. No more journaling. No more deep breathing. Just shallow breathing and surface level thoughts from now on.

That is where people get stuck and they settle for handling life on their own without mindfulness. That only lets new panic take the place of the other panic. You will become unhappy at work, irritable at home, and antisocial with friends because you feel all the tension build up inside of you while the hatch behind your heart remains triple locked. And THAT is where I come in.

Mindfulness is scary because it requires vulnerability and no one else can be mindful for you, but that does not mean you have to do it alone. Why do we get the most out of yoga at a yoga class? How do we come to write our thesis papers in college? How do we learn to chill out the hormones and comfortably speak to a crush in middle school? We benefit from the support of a teacher, advisor, or caregiver. Yes, it provides accountability and accountability is a good motivator, but more importantly having someone there to support your introspection reassures you that you will be safe and cared for no matter how scary it gets. As soon as I begin working with a client, it is deeply collaborative. I meet them on their level and we journey into the abyss together. Sounds daunting? Duh, but that is the point of every exploration. Exploration inherently involves the unknown and tackling the unknown is so much more fun when you have a teammate committed to the exact same journey with you.

Here is what happens:

  1. We open up the hatch together.
  2. I help you dive into the pool of your inner consciousness (I do not push you off the diving board, I promise)
  3. I will hold your cell phone so it does not get wet
  4. I will hand you a big inflatable donut so that you do not drown
  5. We bob there, letting the current of the water gently bounce us along the path of your narrative goals
  6. You feel more comfortable in the water as your awareness becomes more grounded
  7. You hand me the donut floatie while you dip your head into your new empowering self-beliefs
  8. You start swimming freestyle further and further toward new communication styles and authentic expression. 
  9. You exit the hatch, rejuvenated like after a long swim in a calm lake instead of a frantic flail in the shark tank at Seaworld.
  10. Repeat.

You want to get to know yourself better? Want to improve your communication with friends or coworkers? Want to stop beating yourself up about your ideas and ambitions? All you have to do is take the plunge.

FEEL THE BURN! How Personal Branding And Corporate Branding Are Not That Different

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A dear friend of mine and the owner of Sweat Concierge, which provides all the fitness hot spot recommendations you would ever need (and the beats to listen to while you are there - check it out), got me into a stimulating conversation about what "branding" is. You readers should know by now that that is probably one of my top topics to nerd out on. After all, I teach a class on it (message me for more info about that).  

When I teach a class on personal branding, I always ask the audience how often they hear the word "branding" these days and it is pretty common to hear that the word is all over the place. I talk about personal branding a lot because that is what I help individuals with and several of my mentors' careers have been devoted to broader brand design and strategy.

When discussing it the other day, my friend was confused that I was talking about so much emotion and psychology in my blog when she always associated "branding" with the larger corporate world. She is not wrong, but branding is talked about so much more in the startup and millennial world as well. In fact, it is everywhere. I told her that the distinction between what I do and the commonly known business branding is not a matter of definition but a matter of magnitude / scale. Let me explain: 

In personal branding, I help individuals align their interests, core values, and personal goals toward personal contentment. In corporate branding, it can be said that the same categories are addressed but for a larger institution instead of a single person all in service of the company's productivity and success. The two kinds of branding are very similar, but different by scale.

Let us explore further:

The origin of the word branding, as many probably know, is the use of a hot iron to mark something - or someone - to show ownership or simply to label it as belonging to something, some place, or some group. The word comes from old German in which it means burning and transitioned into a verb in Middle English as in to leave a permanent mark and subsequently began to imply ownership in the 1600s. Branding was most commonly used on livestock to show which was owned by whom, but unfortunately the practice extended to slaves and criminals. Despite the intended target, branding denotes belonging. 

These days, tattoos denote gang affiliation. In the American Indian world, perhaps hair styles and jewelry were relatively similar but garments of clothing and artwork distinguished tribes from each other around the country. Think about right now. You can often tell who belongs to the class of superwealthy by the clothes they wear or the cars they drive or what google says their net worth is. No matter what, branding is everywhere whether you like it or not. Even if you reject the idea of branding and walk around the world naked all day long, that is still your brand! That is still showing others - graphically - how you enact your place in the world.

Branding is about the story that is expressed to the world. I believe that brand strategy for large businesses and corporate departments is interesting but I more strongly believe that if the individuals within those companies do not understand their own personal brand that they bring to that company and those around them, the company's brand will never be quite complete.

Now here is where it gets hairy: sure, you could argue that a company could hire a brand strategist who designs a campaign that makes the company enormous success without talking with the employees about their ambitions, interests, and core values. Absolutely. Because brands are everywhere and we all have our own, there is no one singular brand to rule the world (cue the audience member who yells out "Amazon!"). There are successful brands and less successful brands, but that is relative to intention and is boiled down to understanding. My clients understand themselves so much better - their emotional patterns, communication styles, goals, interests, and values - and can more confidently express each of those in daily life to improve their communication, interactions, relationships, and work satisfaction. This is only possible because they were open to a new understanding. One of my mentors was once hired by a large company and worked them through his whole process of narrative and brand design only to be met with a lot of "but why though? I don't get it." It was not my mentor's inability to describe new story channels for the company, but the company leader's inflexibility to understand and accept the new brand identity. 

My clients come to me when they are feeling the need for some kind of change either in their work, career, or relationships. They notice something is not working and there is a tension inside of them that burns into restlessness. So many people never respond to the restlessness except with anger. They stay stuck, go home and vent or drink it away, then get up and repeat. Those who want to make that change, though, look outward for guidance and take action. The catch is that, even though they recognize their ambition to make a change, there is a whole lot of fear pulling them back toward their familiar, un-risky daily life.

Being stuck in the middle of fear and ambition creates even more tension within someone and confusion within their mind. People lose sight of their interests, they think that their goals are somehow misguided, and very often resort to judging themselves in the sense of doing things in a right or wrong way. Does this sound familiar to you? It sure rings a bell for me and my evolving personal brand (not my company, but me as a person). A few years ago I learned that there truly is no such thing as right or wrong with regard to your "path." It is simply a matter of what is healthiest for you as an individual. If you are restless, stressed, and angry from unenjoyable work, your body and mind will have a hard time maintaining a healthy condition. If you respond to tension by talking it out with a colleague or partner and strategize how to productively ameliorate the tension, you will feel healthier in your body and your mind will feel clearer. A matter of acting forward instead of covering up. 

I knew as early as high school that I wanted to start my own business at some point, which is why - ESPECIALLY now - I feel in my gut that a lot of jobs in an office of some kind working for someone else would cause tension and restlessness in me. I help people navigate that murky, dark, scary place between fear and ambition, and what can be discovered there is a new understanding of unique story that is powerful whether for an individual or a large company.  

So whether it is you stressed at work in the cubicle farm, crushing a PR at the gym, feeling awkward at a Christmas party, or telling someone you love them, understanding the why of your experience continues to define the brand story you express to the world every day. Like the hot brand that indicates the farm to which a cow belongs, show the world how you are a part of it.