This is the time of year that some of us love and some of dread. Whether you’re scrambling to define or refine goals or are happily progressing on plans already well established, I hope you are keeping your focus where it belongs: on YOU. Ironically, sometimes our best efforts at self-improvement end up depleting our energy and hindering our growth.
Here are four tips to remain focused and positive as you wrap up your first month of 2015:
PUT MYSELF FIRST
You already know that as women we often struggle with this. After a season of giving to others, what better time could there be to tend to number one? If you are a pathological giver, remember the airline safety tip: you have to administer the oxygen mask to yourself in order to help those around you. But our goal isn’t just to survive; it’s to thrive. If you can fully surrender to a little self-indulgence, nothing feels better.
The way I’ve been doing it in 2015: Taking lavender baths, attending professional events, and reading—a lot!
IDENTIFY THE BENEFITS
Ever get caught up in doing something, stress out, and then pause to wonder why you’re even doing it? I have a few overachieving bones in my body (okay, maybe more than a few) and as a business owner I rarely have people pushing me to be strategic or efficient. But like you (I hope!) I want to be smart with how I spend my life. Being mindful and evaluating our behavior helps us invest our resources beneficially. Asking, “What ideal outcome do I want to achieve?” can help you keep your goals clear and make your actions meaningful.
The way I’ve been doing it in 2015: Reversing my no-New-Years-Eve-hosting stance because supporting friends in need became more rewarding than not entertaining, revising my social media approach to support my 2015 goals, investing time in my own development so I can be a effective coach and leader.
Oh, if only we could do it all. Alas, the only way to feel truly accomplished is to make sure we accomplish the right things at the right time. Making this a fluid process is key; life is unpredictable. In my case, a spinal problem followed by neck surgery and a long recovery has derailed my past three months of “priorities”. (Now napping is actually one of the most important things I can do.) An often forgotten aspect of setting priorities is resetting them when conditions change. We have to remember that strength is not as important as flexibility in many situations.
The way I’ve been doing it in 2015: Reserving my energy for client meetings, saying “no”, accepting that there will always be tasks undone and messes uncleaned.
CONNECT WITH OTHERS
One of the worst things we can do is isolate ourselves. Sure, we need time alone to produce results and recharge. But one of the most important characteristics of happy people is that they connect with other people. Of course we have to connect with the right people. Find groups and individuals that make more emotional deposits than withdrawals, and carve out time to be with them. If you find it hard to say, “I’ll be out tonight”, refer to the above three points.
The way I’ve been doing it in 2015: Joining a book club, launching a professional group, hosting girls’ night.
Best wishes for a year of thriving!
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.
Identify a cause or area that interests you and find an upcoming opportunity to volunteer.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Eight women sat around the conference room table, a near-perfect tapestry of races and generations. They had come to the leadership workshop out of requirement but had willingly engaged in meaningful self-examination and group sharing.
For several hours the colleagues discussed past challenges, new strategies and goals for improvement. They listened to and validated each other. A growth in understanding and motivation was already palpable when I introduced the concept of passion:
I had a good week: I met a new acquaintance for coffee and developed the beginning of a friendship. A school administrator pledged her support and helped create an opportunity for me to work with her students. I invited a financial planner friend to my house so I could begin to transfer investments to her oversight. She was immediately helpful. Continue reading
In Debora Spar’s recent Newsweek article “Why Women Should Stop Trying to Be Perfect”, she asserts, “No woman can have it all, and by using all as the standard of success, we are only condemning ourselves and our daughters to failure.” Her solution? “Resist the myth of solitary perfection.” In other words, cooperate with others and embrace our human limitations.
One way to evaluate leaders is to look at their followers. Take this extreme example: Holland Reynolds, a skinny high school runner who became a source of inspiration for the burly football players of the New York Giants. Two years after her amazing crawl across the finish line following a collapse a few yards away, she was featured this week on ESPN’s Sunday pre-game show as a cornerstone in the Giants’ current motto: finish—the same motivational phrase that helped prepare the team to win last year’s NFL championship. Continue reading