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Giving to others makes them feel good. We know that. Many of us recognize that giving is fulfilling for ourselves too–whether it’s the act of helping another or the resulting recognition, we often receive an intrinsic or extrinsic reward.

 

But what about giving as a business strategy? Not disingenuous giveaways or quid pro quo offers, but good ole fashion, no-strings-attached helpfulness. Being a giver focused on others doesn’t make you a chump, it makes you savvy. And now there’s a compilation of research to prove it, thanks to Adam Grant’s Give and Take (see my review on the right sidebar).

 

Grant asserts—and backs up with data—that “when giving starts to occur, it becomes the norm, and people carry it forward in their interactions with other people.” Givers succeed and create a ripple effect that enhances the success of people around them.

 

I see so many of my clients struggle with how much to give. They worry about sacrificing their success with generosity. But imagine if more of us started to give freely. Everyone benefits when we take care of each other.

 

Personally I am drawn to giving. And I believe that has helped connect me with other givers. As I write this I am three weeks post-op from major neck surgery, so I have been much more of a taker in these past weeks. To the dozens of friends, family members and acquaintances who have reached out with food, support, visits and flowers, I want to give back. I look forward to returning the gift (though hopefully under less painful circumstances)

 

With the approach of Thanksgiving, we are encouraged—almost trained—to reflect in thankfulness. We may help give food or shelter to those in need, but our focus tends to accentuate the “thanks” part of Thanksgiving. I submit to you that focusing on the giving will yield that much more for which to be thankful.

You’d be surprised how much you can learn from a young woman guzzling beer from a muddy cleat. . . .

 

From the start, the post-game rugby social was remarkable. Co-eds filtered into a downtown bar carrying homemade dishes of pasta, beans, pulled pork and macaroni salad, creating a buffet that covered two pool tables. Hungry athletes and guests casually formed a line and chatted as they patiently waited for food.

 

The scene didn’t contradict the hard-playing, hard-partying image of rugby. Rather, it rendered the stereotype disingenuous. What I saw was a powerful set of shared values that can benefit us all:

 

Humor

Inextricably linked to energy, humor yields results—stuff gets done and people feel good. From songs, to games, to group announcements, humor kept everyone entertained and engaged.

 

Respect

Even in a crowded bar steaming with adrenaline and alcohol, respect prevailed. Requesting attention by raising party cup to forehead, or singing “me, me, me, meeeee” (to which others replied, “you, you, you, youuuuuu”), anyone who wanted the group’s attention could get it.

 

Equality

With women and men equally represented as both athletes and guests, gender (and other differentiators) seemed invisible. A rugby-guys-versus-rugby-gals game of “flip cup” quickly integrated because it was easier and didn’t seem to matter anyway.

 

Cooperation

All teammates contributed time and/or treasure to create an environment with enough food and drink for all. When the beer ran out, someone stepped forward to initiate a collection effort that quickly yielded enough contributions to tap another keg. When someone started a silly song, members took turns improvising verses. And when ideas ran out, a new tune was introduced.

 

I’m a latecomer to rugby, too breakable now to subject myself to the sport. But I may just pursue groupie status. Because this is the kind of team I want to be part of.

Thank you to Jill Bates and Robin Flannigan for simultaneously inviting me to participate in this blog hop about “why I write”. Part of my eager acceptance to join was the personal appeal of this topic.

 

Throughout my life, writing has served many purposes: creative outlet in my first grade construction paper projects, essential refuge from the insecurity of high school, professional growth as a young magazine editor, a sounding page for major milestones like marriage, parenthood and divorce.  Now, as a coach who works with women to help them realize—and thrive in—their potential, writing has become exponentially valuable. I use writing not just to express or develop myself, I use it as a tool to help others do the same.

 

In my blog at http://thrivepotential.com/blog/ I strive to share ideas that will inspire others. As @ThrivePotential I share succinct points and ideas about women, positive thinking and leadership. As an introvert (albeit, a slight one), I appreciate the opportunity to process my thoughts on screen or paper, so I incorporate writing into my workshops as a technique for self-reflection and empowerment.

 

Recently my own coach encouraged me to write more. My thoughts were getting muddy and clogged in mind. She knew that once the words started flowing, they would become clearer. And she was right.

 

A daily practice of writing requires more discipline than I have been willing to commit lately. I am busy building my business, parenting, enjoying life. But, like exercise, when I find the time to write, I feel more energized, focused and fulfilled. This written reflection has been a serendipitous reinforcement of my recent reminder about the healthiness of writing. (Does that mean I can skip the gym today?)

 

Be sure to check out next week’s bloggers:

 

Laura Erdman-Luntz  (http://www.LauraErdmanLuntz.com)

Experienced Yoga Educator, Author, inspiring Life Coach and Business Entrepreneur, Laura Erdman-Luntz has over 20 years experience in the fitness and wellness industries.  She uniquely blends her Life Coaching knowledge and vast experience with Yoga to create programs, classes and workshops that truly do bring mind and body together for positive change, inspiring people to live their most authentic life.  She incorporates New Thought ideas into classes and programs on positive living, manifesting and changing subconscious beliefs.

 

Vicki M. James (http://www.stand-out-results.com/blog)

Small Business Marketing Strategist and Branding Expert of Stand Out Results, Vicki M. James is an expert in internal and external branding, marketing and culture, working with local and national companies from family owned to corporations for over 20 years.  As the founder of Stand Out Results, her mission is to share her knowledge and help entrepreneurs become successful by exceeding their expectations by becoming the go to resource for marketing strategy, branding and customer experience.

 

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What’s the key to happiness? Is it possible that it could be something as uncomfortable as vulnerability? Vulnerability. Thinking of it tends to wipe rather than paint a smile on most faces. But let’s think of some opposites to being vulnerable: being guarded, hiding, masking our true feelings, avoiding realities that often need to be addressed. Those don’t sound so great either, do they?

 

Before I go any further and risk sounding like I have this whole vulnerability thing figured out, let me share a recent experience.

 

After a typical professional group meeting tinged with tension and tough talk, I left the business world to attend a “circle” event. This intimate gathering is based on openness, trust and letting go. In other words, vulnerability. It’s a beautiful thing to be part of. And I enjoyed every minute of listening to others’ challenges and offering my perspective and encouragement. But I skipped my turn to share my own challenge. And afterward one of my circle mates (and friends) called me on it. “Were you afraid to be vulnerable?” Ha! Not me! I’m a coach. And then I thought about it some more on the way home. And then I asked my husband if he thought I held back sometimes. We agreed I had some room for improvement.

 

Of course, vulnerability is relative and depends on the context, which makes it that much trickier. How much of ourselves we expose in a job interview is very different than what we show to a romantic partner (I hope!). But what about all of those in-between moments? Often we are influenced by those around us. We may protect ourselves if we sense that’s the norm. Or we may demonstrate our vulnerability with pride among more guarded companions, only to find ourselves needing to recalibrate when we change environments. What happened in the circle was that I was surrounded by extremely courageous women who have worked for years to get to the point of being able to surrender their “protective” layers and trust that good comes from letting go. Being surrounded by that much vulnerability helped me see that I still have some more barriers to remove.

 

So, now back to my point about vulnerability and happiness. The documentary Happy offers a 75-minute dose of profound joy and these universal keys to happiness:

 

  • Connecting with others
  • Caring about things bigger than ourselves
  • Having new experiences
  • Doing things that are meaningful

 

Think about the stuff that holds us back from each of these.  When we are guarded, we limit our ability to connect with another person. When we try to protect our own happiness, we find it difficult to embrace spiritual ideas like gratitude. When we don’t give ourselves the permission to fail, we avoid trying new experiences. And if we are tangled up in our own mess, it’s hard to direct positive energy toward others.

 

These are the links between vulnerability and happiness. Of course knowing this intellectually is a lot easier than actually doing something about it, right? So how do you get started?

 

Here are some ideas:

 

Pro the Cons

Make a list of everything that gets in the way of your happiness. Next to each item write something positive about it.

Get Informed and Inspired

Watch Happy (it’s streaming on Netflix). Or read Stumbling Onto Happiness (see review below). Notice the parts that resonate with you and give yourself a happiness assignment.

Go For It

Choose a skill you’ve wanted to learn or improve. Set a goal for your first steps—and find a process or person to hold you accountable.

Do Good

Identify a cause or area that interests you and find an upcoming opportunity to volunteer.

Nourish

Feed your spiritual self. Whether it’s through meditation, yoga, prayer, or a stroll in the woods, make time to connect with something more powerful than yourself.

 

For myself, I have committed to writing regularly. And I doubled up on my coaching sessions so I can break through those lingering barriers. I’m ready to let it all out and become even happier!

 

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You know about the jungle gym career metaphor, right? The one that twists a career ladder into a less predictable, non-linear series of steps (and swings, crawls, etc.). Jungle gyms are indisputably more fun than ladders. They offer us choices and adventures. According to Pattie Sellers, the Forbes editor credited with creating the jungle gym metaphor for professional women, we should, “Forget the ladder; climb the jungle gym.” Sellers challenges, “What good is a ladder when the world is changing so fast and unpredictably–and who knows what tomorrow’s ideal job will be? Think of your career as a jungle gym, sharpen your peripheral vision, and look for opportunities all around.”

 

Sounds like good advice. And, with creativity and risk taking having long been heralded as essential leadership skills, the jungle gym image fits well with executive storytelling. Perhaps someday soon, we will even see Brookstone launch a line of “jungle gym” accessories.

 

But let’s be honest, the jungle gym icon can also conjure up childhood vulnerabilities like fear of failure, being different, and the desire to be liked—fears that are nearly as relevant in our careers as they were at recess.

 

So how do we as leaders jump on the jungle gym and never look back? Consider these reassurances:

 

Any direction can be good. In contrast to a ladder, which offers upward progression or downward regression, jungle gyms are comprised of multiple paths from various perspectives. Choosing may be daunting, but there’s always a chance to change direction.

 

You don’t need a complete plan to achieve your long-term vision.

While decision-making is key to maneuvering on a jungle gym, your path can emerge as you progress. The lessons you learn will help you make decisions that are best for you. Exploring will reveal what areas you want to pursue and those you want to avoid.

 

Trust your gut but push yourself beyond what is comfortable

Remember that nauseating tickle that would seize your stomach as your swing hit its maximum height and then stopped before dropping down? Wasn’t that when you knew you were swinging as well as possible? Wasn’t that feeling of soaring the goal you were striving for? Challenging ourselves (without being reckless) pays off.

 

Options make recess (i.e., life) more fun.

Even for those who prefer minimal change, keeping your options open can be beneficial for professional success. According to Sheryl Sandberg, “The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours, and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfillment”.

 

I’ll see you on the playground!

 

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Some of the best moments in life come as unplanned surprises. Others arrive on schedule, carefully orchestrated in their every detail. The September 25 Summit Business Conference hosted by Rochester Women’s Network was one of the latter. With an eager and collegial audience, thoughtfully selected presenters, a motivational emcee, an array of exhibitors and a captivating keynote speaker, the event was designed to be robust and enriching.

 

As chair of the event I felt some pride. But mostly I felt fortunate to be interacting with such amazing people: women committed to each other’s success, men who attended the award ceremony to celebrate a daughter, a co-worker, a mom, a girlfriend; top-notch presenters from the worlds of academia, not-for-profit, technology, financial services, wellness, and performing arts.

 

It takes significant effort to plan, or even attend, such an event. It’s easy to use time and money as excuses to cut corners or opt out completely. The people at yesterday’s Summit gushed with positive feedback, buzzed as they made new connections, and hugged as they parted ways. Everyone who participated seemed happy to have made the event a priority.

 

Sometimes commitment and follow through will lead you right to some of life’s most meaningful moments.

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Perspective is a big part of leadership development: expanding perspective, shifting perspective, understand another’s perspective. Regardless of our age, behavioral style or level of emotional intelligence, we are limited by trying to see ourselves as we believe others do and seeing others as, well, we do.

Anyone who has engaged in a formal 360° review process knows the power of perspective. This quintessential leadership development tool helps individuals understand how they are perceived by the people who work for them, with them and above them. Everyone can benefit from this type of feedback, but we can also learn about ourselves through less formal processes. Helpful insight can be elicited from our circles of colleagues, friends, families—and even past acquaintances.

This summer I went to my 25th high school reunion. Consider it an intrapersonal dare. My adolescent years were fueled by low self-esteem and feelings of powerlessness. (That’s one of the reasons why I expanded my women’s leadership work to girls.) Now, as someone who has discovered her personal potential and thrives in it, I felt the need to return to that scene.

My former classmates taught me a lot that night. The way I remember feeling in high school was consistently contradicted as they described their memories of me and told their versions of past events. This perspective—shared a quarter of a century later—changed the way I see my younger self. It helped me recognize that my leadership power began to emerge much sooner than I have acknowledged.

We may know ourselves better than anyone else does but that doesn’t mean we clearly see every part of our tendencies and capabilities. We are the experts of us. And experts continue to learn, challenge assumptions and develop—even when it means reversing an attitude, direction or point-of-view.

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Whether heading back to school elicits enthusiasm, dread or mixed excitement, it also brings an undeniable sense of hope. Students, parents, educators and advocates all look to the year ahead and renew their goals for personal growth, friendships, academic performance and equality. Just this week my relatively small social network promoted girls’ education by raising money, planning activities and reinforcing personal capabilities.

Here is the mindset I hope all girls adopt as they to head high school or college:

School is an opportunity to take chances, grow and explore your potential. It is an important part of your journey and you get to navigate. Sure there are some rules you’re expected to follow and some crap you’ll probably have to deal with, but those too are chances to decide who you want to be.

As far as your education, you are the most important person on campus. Thrive!

For some more articulate words, consider reading the recently published letter by Smith College President Kathleen McCartney.

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Nearly a year ago I approached a woman in line at an elevator as we were exiting the local YWCA Empowering Women Luncheon. Like me, her commitment to helping grow female leaders brought her to the event. She was—and still is—the Chair of Women Helping Girls. I told her about Thrive Potential and the work I do. She gave me her card and invited me to contact her.

Now she’s my biggest client.

For the next year, I will serve as Program Facilitator for Women Helping Girls, a program of the Greater Rochester Area Branch of the American Association of University Women. The vision of this program is to help underserved girls enter young adulthood with the social, emotional, and academic skills needed to be successful in a diverse world. To accomplish this vision, Women Helping Girls provides emotional support, mentoring, and programs that foster female empowerment, leadership and independence, as well as an array of broadening experiences to select 6th-12th grade girls in the Rochester City School District.

Thrive Potential’s mission is to empower women and girls to lead. Now I have the privilege of dedicating 15 hours a week to support an organization that directly influences more than 60 girls each year–with plenty of time left to continue leadership coaching and workshops for other girls and women who want to thrive.

Sometimes all it takes to change a course or advance a goal is initiating one conversation. Put yourself “out there” and you’re likely to connect with someone who shares your passions—maybe even someone who can help you pursue them.

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I dumped my human size duffle bag and shoulder bag of sundries onto a bare mattress and surveyed the room. Two single beds–closer in size to cribs than twins–and three sets of bunk beds flanked the walls. I chose a bottom bunk in the corner for sleeping and tossed my bundled sheet and pillow onto it.
 
More than 30 years since I had last been to summer camp, I was reminded last week of the significance of this experience. Routines change, surroundings change, companions change. A different world welcomes you. It’s exciting and daunting—even for a visiting teacher.
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