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Help! I’ve Been Hijacked!

Have you ever had that feeling that you’ve been hijacked? No, not literally hijacked on an airplane bound for Boston, then suddenly headed to Havana. But maybe you’ve been hijacked by someone else’s agenda. Perhaps you know the feeling of moving forward resolutely toward your own goals and objectives when suddenly, you find yourself writing copy for someone else’s campaign or you’re volunteering for a cause just because you couldn’t say “no” to that persuasive friend. Everywhere we turn we’re faced with opportunities, decisions and invitations, most of them well-meaning but with the potential to distract us from our own powerful missions.

Recently I wrote, in dry-erase marker on my bathroom mirror, “Don’t get hijacked by someone else’s agenda.” This reminds me, daily, to consider the invitations that come my way. Do they support the mission I’m on, to create a world where people love what they do and do what they love? Are they part of my strategic marketing plan? Is the opportunity one that aligns with my commitments, passions and brand? Or am I just caught up in the moment, swept away by someone else’s (well-meaning) enthusiasm for their own project? The writing on my bathroom mirror cautions me to take the time to stop, think, and reflect before saying “yes.”

A while ago I read this quotation by Warren Buffett, the famous business magnate, investor and philanthropist:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

 

This quotation initially shocked me. For many years, I had lived by the credo, “Just say yes!” For someone who “smells” opportunity everywhere, I was convinced that staying open to the world, and saying “yes,” would move me closer to my goals. The wisdom of Warren Buffett turned my thinking upside down and made me very uncomfortable–it seemed so ungenerous! But after much reflection, I think I understand. Successful people stay committed to what they say they are committed to. Reluctantly, we can’t do everything. The “really successful people” maintain a laser-beam focus, resist being distracted and refuse to get hijacked by other people’s agendas. We can wish them well, and stay open to possibility. But in order to make a really big “dent in the universe,” as Steve Jobs famously said, we must maintain our own mission, purpose and direction. We have to practice discernment. When in doubt, refer to your strategic plan. If you don’t have a strategic plan, let’s talk.

Author, author!

 

Last month we launched Circles of Gold: Honoring Your Network for Business and Career Success, a book I’ve been working on for, oh, about 10 years in one form or another. I wrote this version of the manuscript nearly two-and-a-half years ago while a guest at a fabulous brownstone in Brooklyn, NY. I tied myself to a chair with a daily word count quota for a week while my hosts, Colleen & Dwight, were in California. I admit I took some strolls down those beautiful Brooklyn streets to clear my head and enjoy the energy of that chic New York borough. I felt like I was in an episode of “Sex and the City” (sans the sex), working at my laptop and peering out the window just like Carrie Bradshaw, enjoying the comings and goings of the neighborhood. That idyllic week was followed by months of editing (thank you, Jennifer Grant), design (thank you, Becky Lemna of Lloyd Lemna Design) and proofreading until my eyes fell out. There are many more people to acknowledge–you’ll have to read the book!

Circles of Gold is a culmination of my nearly twenty years of coaching, laying out a blueprint I designed for networking with joy and ease. The bottom line: start with the network you already have. That was probably the most surprising thing I’ve learned as a career coach: most people hate networking because they misunderstand the process. They ignore their real network and go straight to the Internet. Ugh. Keith Ferrazzi said it best in his best-seller, Never Eat Alone: “Cold calls are for suckers.”

Start with who you know, I urge my clients. Create a database of all the people you know, without making assumptions about whether or not they are “worthy” or qualified to help you with your campaign (and yes, it is a campaign). We often stay within the silo of our professional networks, the people we’ve worked with or who share our industry interests. What about all those other people you know, the people at your gym, the folks you worship with, your nail tech or barber? Those people have their own networks, and can make introductions once you’ve honored them with your interest and appreciation. They have their own “Circles of Gold(R).” And so do you.

So what are you up to, and how can we help? Start with your mission to make a difference in the world and I promise you, doors will fly open. Share about your interests and passions and your vision for how you could contribute, and then ask people for their IOR: Ideas, Opinions and Recommendations. You’d be surprised at how eager people are to be of service to you, if only they knew how to help. Let them know and then… ask questions, shut up and listen. Don’t forget to take notes.

For those of you who would like to order the book, I offer you this website link. And please, use my “Friends and Family Discount” (7746JSGG) which will be available through Nov. 24, Thanksgiving Day. That’s my way of saying thank you to all of you who have supported me through the years as I worked on this book. For those of you who already bought the book at full price, I can only say, “Thank you!” I owe you a lot–and a latte.

 

Photo credit: Joy Meredith

Pictured, my “Church Ladies,” L to R: Cathy Mousseau, Cindi Copeland, the author, Pam Keller, Shelley Kenyon and Renee Cogdell-Lewis

 

Yearning for Order

There’s something about the beginning of a new year that has us focus on order–organizing, purging, out with the old and in with the new. My dear friend and Yoga Diva Lesley gifted me last year with the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, a best-selling book that reached nearly cult status. While I was wary of some of her assertions, including her admonition not to roll our socks in a ball because they (the socks) need to rest and relax while in our sock drawers, I grudgingly concede to the charm of her message. We are all, it seems, drowning in stuff.

I’ve written of this before, the staggering dollars we invest in storing our stuff. According to an article in Forbes, “The Real Cost of Your Shopping Habits” by Emma Johnson, American spend $24 million each year to store their stuff in 2.3 billion square feet of storage units. Quoting from the Self Storage Association, Ms. Johnson writes that storage units comprise one of the fastest-growing segments of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades. Then there’s the $1 billion we now spend in professional organizers and the products required to stay organized, a number reported by the National Association of Professional Organizers.  I have invested some of my own hard-earned money on professional organizers (thank you, Linette George of Get Organized By George) and consider it some of the best money I ever spent.

What is it we’re really looking for when we get the urge to purge? “Focus, organization and productivity” are the promises of the professional organizer. The ability to breathe when we sit down to dinner, not haunted by the piles of paperwork that’s been sitting at the edge of the dining room table for months. The blessing of what graphic designers call “white space,” the absence of clutter or knick-knacks that dominate our vision and our imaginations. The peace that come with a place for everything and everything in its place.

A Paris apartment ad prior to curating

A Paris apartment ad prior to curating

I should talk. My home is a mélange of the interests of both my husband and me, a veritable assault on the senses. I mutter about his attachment to collections of musical instruments, bottles shaped like musical instruments, even the music itself, piling up on the dining room sideboard. No matter what system we (read: I) create, he morphs another one that spins out of control. He’s an artist: society gives him a pass. What about me?

My collection of vintage roosters, circa 1950s, grew alarmingly and I had to issue an edict to family and friends: NO MORE ROOSTERS. I thought they’d draw a fortune on eBay–wrong. I gave some away to a local restaurant, Egg Harbor, and now when I visit them I’m wistful and think about reclaiming them, even go so far as to reach over a startled diner to rearrange them, explaining without apology “This was mine, once.” I still have dozens of roosters tucked away in tissue in colorful hat boxes upstairs, a painful reminder of the money I didn’t invest in my 401K. “Wanted: a good home for antique roosters. Must appreciate irony.”

This week I broke a teacup from my teacup collection, bequeathed to me by my Aunt Marian. I remember sitting at her dining room table (the very dining room table from which I’m writing) and eyeing her teacups with a covetous glance. Now there they are, lined up and waiting for the occasional tea party which happens every decade or so. I think of my Aunt Marian and wish I had another luncheon with her instead. She used to invite me to lunch at her assisted living facility and I couldn’t bear the sight or smell of old people, so I made up a lame excuse and dashed off before the meal hour. This is what they mean by regret.

Other collections: Indian art, anything with the theme of El Dia de los Muertos and Our Lady of Guadalupe, vintage pottery, books, books and more books, quilts and religious kitsch, especially anything that illuminates. Think Jesus nightlights. We aren’t hoarders, but the idea of slogging through all this stuff to lighten our loads first inspires, then exhausts. I’d rather read a book.

But this year, we are downsizing. There, I’ve said it. Not sure where, not sure how, but it’s a commitment, like a New Year’s Resolution that is now in print. We will “curate,” a trendy word for a function that my husband once did as a museum curator of exhibits. We will handle every thing with the tenderness recommended by Marie Kondo and evaluate whether it’s a keeper or it belongs in the recycling pile or, last resort, the trash. With the reminder that we are not our things, a compassionate heart for our children who should not be burdened with our stuff and a joyful eye toward the future of streamlined, purposeful living, we will lighten our load. Wherever we end up–a smaller home, an apartment, a townhome or condo, maybe even, as my husband likes to say, “a trailer down by the river”–we will create this new space, together, surrounded only by the things and the people we love.

Photo: Close-up of my 2015 hatbox collage 

What Would Dolly Do?

In a hotel room at the Sheraton-Nashville, I was surrounded by beautiful photos of musical instruments–Gibson guitars, mandolins, close-ups of frets, strings and Fender guitar picks–all reminders that Nashville is the home of country music. I’ve been in love with country music since I was a girl and I saw Dolly Parton on the “Porter Wagoner Show.” I’ll never forget being in the basement of our home in Bangor, Maine, watching our black-and-white TV and seeing the image of Dolly in rhinestone cowgirl attire, fringe swinging, her hair out to here, her bust not quite as prounounced as it would become later but still, she was a sight to behold. And that voice. So although I was brought up in a household filled with classical music and Broadway hits, I became a C&W fan thanks to Dolly.

What Would Dolly DoNow, decades later, I looked up above my bed in that hotel room in Nashville to a framed print that said, “What Would Dolly Do?” This was, of course, a parody of the popular “WWJD?” bracelets and paraphernalia popular in Christian circles, “What Would Jesus Do?” With no disrespect intended and without any hint of blasphemy, I nodded solemnly to myself. What would Dolly do, indeed? Continue reading “What Would Dolly Do?”

Let’s Go Window Shopping

On a recent trip to New York City I walked by Cartier, Louis Vuitton and other high-end shops with gorgeous window displays. I loved seeing the edgy fashions, the elegant accessories and the artful way in which they were featured. Even if the bling featured in the window was out of my price range, there was no harm in looking.

That’s exactly what I tell my coaching clients who are contemplating new careers. “Window shopping” is the first and perhaps one of the most important steps of a career transition. What is it that you want? What speaks to you? What makes your heart go pitter patter?

Continue reading “Let’s Go Window Shopping”

Rest, In Good Conscience

Thirteen years ago I quit my “day job” as vice president of marketing for a local hospital in order to launch my coaching practice full-time. During the first week I had a conversation with God. (Before you call me crazy, know the conversation was, or at the time seemed to me to be, one-sided.) I promised God that I would work as hard as I had to for six days a week in order to make my fledgling business successful. On the seventh day, though, I promised to”honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.”

I was reminded of my promise to keep that Commandment after reading an opinion piece by the renowned professor of neurology and author Oliver Sacks in the New York Times’ Sunday Review. The article, entitled “Sabbath: The seventh day of the week, the seventh day of life,” highlights Dr. Sacks’ own tradition in his Orthodox Jewish family of origin. During his childhood the Sabbath, or Shabbos, was a day during which no work was allowed, not even the use of the telephone, although his parents’ roles as physicians gave them special dispensation so they might be available to their patients. The day began around midday on Friday and the family gathered in the evening just before nightfall to light candles and say prayers. Saturday meant services at the synagogue, men seated downstairs and the women upstairs. The rest of the day was spent with his extended family.

In my faith tradition, the Sabbath is on Sunday. I can remember a time when most stores were closed on Sundays and commercial activity came to a screeching halt. “Blue laws” prohibited the sales of liquor on a Sunday. In our family, like Dr. Sacks’, we were expected to put work and play aside, attend services and spend family time together. We understood that this time was apart from the rest of the week and although we kids sometimes grumbled, there was something special about knowing that day was just for us.

Tiffany Schlain agrees. Ariel Schwartz, senior editor at Fast Company magazine, wrote about Ms. Schlain’s commitment to setting aside one day a week during which her young family unplugs from all digital devices. The article, entitled “Instead of a Digital Detox, Why Not Take a Weekly Tech Shabbat?” includes this link to a short film called “Technology Shabbat” from a series Ms. Schlain created called “The Future Starts Here.” Ms. Schlain, a self-described mother, film-maker and founder of the Webbie Awards, admits to being only “culturally Jewish,” not necessarily religious, but says she loves the rituals of the Jewish faith. So she and her family for the past three years have honored the Sabbath by refraining from using any technical devices from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. The result? Time to be a family, garden, rest, read and enjoy each other’s company. An added benefit, she says, is that when Shabbat ends, everyone comes back to their labors and their laptops, refreshed and renewed. “The Technology Shabbat has changed my life,” she said.

Dr. Sacks completed his memoir, “On the Move,” in December 2014, only to learn that he has metastatic cancer. Now weak and coming to the last days of his life, he wrote in his opinion piece in the New York Times that his thoughts focus “increasingly not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life,” he writes, “achieving a sense of peace within oneself.” He says his thoughts drift to the Sabbath, the day of rest, “the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well,” he writes, “when one can feel that one’s work is done and one may, in good conscience, rest.”

A day of rest. Unplugged, detached from technology, from the perpetual concerns about survival and commercial gain, focused on the things and people that renew the spirit. That’s what the Sabbath means to me. I organize my time, and my life, to make sure I leave that one day to honor the Creator. I carve out time to worship with people who share my faith, observe the rituals and devotions that sustain me. I take the day off because I figure, if God can create the world in six days and then take a day off, so can I.

Does This Plane Make My Butt Look Big?

Recently I’ve begun to travel more, thanks to a new contract with a consulting and training firm. This wonderful opportunity often requires me to get on a plane, meeting a colleague from the firm in another city where we then serve clients. I love it–serving the clients, that is. The travel is something else again.

Continue reading “Does This Plane Make My Butt Look Big?”

“No” is a Complete Sentence

If there’s a soundtrack to our lives, I favor Broadway hits. And one of the songs that I grew up singing was “I’m Just a Girl Who Cain’t Say No” from the musical “Oklahoma!” With its charming twang and its double entrendres, this is a song that seems to summarize the plight of us card-carrying people-pleasers. When we’re invited to volunteer, participate or contribute, our first instinct is to say, “Yes!” And before we know it we’re committed, which is a hop, skip and a jump to being over-committed. Continue reading ““No” is a Complete Sentence”

A Seat at the Table

Years ago I was a cub reporter for a daily newspaper in Oklahoma, covering the health care beat. As part of my responsibilities I attended the board meetings of the local United Way, a group comprised of business leaders from around town. These experienced and mature business folks would meet monthly in a large board room around a big, shiny table. As the reporter covering the meeting I would sit in a chair against the wall, taking notes.

One day during a meeting a question came up about another local business leader who had changed jobs. Where had he gone? someone asked, and there was some speculation about where he now worked. I knew the gentleman they were referring to so I blurted out the answer from my chair against the wall. The conversation stopped and heads swiveled toward me as if I suddenly appeared from the ether or uttered an expletive into the air. I blushed deeply and understood for the first time that as a reporter, I was there only to observe and not to participate.

Something in me shifted–you could even say, crackled. I knew in that moment that this job as a reporter was a bad fit for me. I needed to be in a job where I had an active, vital role, where my voice could be heard, valued and acknowledged. In short, I needed a seat at the table.

I just finished reading a book called The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance–What Women Should Know by New York Times bestselling authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. [Full disclosure: I “read” the book while driving, listening to the audio version on CD.] This book contains startling details about our gender’s collective lack of confidence, some genetic, some learned, along with amazing insights from high-level business women as impressive as Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as basketball stars from the WNBA. Propped up by the results of studies from social scientists, deep research and a broad range of interviews, the book provides guidelines for women to actively exercise their confidence skills. Somewhere in the book they admonish us as women to take our seats at the table, to participate and be heard.

While The Confidence Code is written for women, it’s a good reminder to all of us–women and men–that in order to make a difference we have to communicate our point-of-view. I learned that lesson long ago in that boardroom in Lawton, OK. Before long I quit my job as a reporter and jumped into the business world as a communications professional, moving from spectator to an on-the-court participant. Now I’m thrilled to be in a role where I can express myself and influence others through the written and spoken word. I’ve not only found my seat at the table but in my role as a board member I’ve even found myself at the head of the table!

Where are you? Are you seated against the wall, observing, or have you taken your rightful place at the table?

[Photo: Boardroom table at OfficeLinks, my Chicago office in the Willis (Formerly-Known-as-Sears) Tower]

What Shapes Us

Recently I attended a Wheaton Chamber of Commerce luncheon that featured my good friend and client Rob O’Dell from Wheaton Wealth Partners. Rob shared his presentation, “Bridging the Generational Gap,” emphasizing the nuances of communicating with–and selling to–people of different generations. Using his firm’s innovative Mind-Mapping visuals, Rob shared the profile and values of the four generations: “Matures,” “Baby Boomers,” “Generation X” and “Millennials.” As a card-carrying Boomer (that’s an AARP card), I listened with keen interest, not only for hints on how I can be more effective in my own communications but because Rob’s descriptions really hit me as a guide for what shapes us.

For Baby Boomers, one of the most sentinel events of our lives was the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a milestone that shaped our generation in a way that still resonates today. Until I heard Rob’s presentation, I hadn’t thought about how as a generation, we are “optimistic and driven.” One would think that the losses we experienced, including the loss of our heroes and an unpopular war, would have soured our outlook. But instead, Rob described this generation as idealistic, hard-working and driven. We thrive on story, including credentials, performance, history and tenure in the marketplace.

The GenX folks, in contrast, are described as cynical, skeptical and distrusting. The resignation of Richard Nixon, the space shuttle disaster and the effects of divorce taught this generation that things don’t go according to plan. Many of them were brought up as latch-key kids who now, in the workplace, savor and require independence. They don’t want to be wined and dined: they want to do their work and go home. Also, this is the first generation to have access to the Internet, allowing them to research online. A GenX customer looking for a car may show up at the car lot having logged 16 hours on the Internet and knowing more about the inventory than the sales person. They crave information and transparency.

Millennials are known as the “Whatever” generation with “huge goals and no specific plans,” according to Rob. They aren’t dependent on superiors in the workplace for knowledge. And, like Boomers, they are idealistic and cause-driven. Texting is their preferred method of communication and reaching them requires a presence on social media. Millennials are being followed by the “iGeneration,” which says it all (Steve Jobs would be proud).

Rob’s presentation, which you can see in full by clicking here, gave me new insights about what shapes us. His descriptions remind me that everyone comes to the work world–and life–with his or her own perceptions of how things are and how they “should” be. The profiles of each generation give me new guidelines for connecting with the people around me. And they remind me never to assume that what shaped me, shaped them.

 

Masthead photo: “Jackie Frieze, 1964” silk screen on linen, by Andy Warhol, Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago