Dispelling The Myth of the Woman in the Dark Alley

alleyDuring the past month I meandered alone around two parts of the world that, until now, were foreign to me. I savor this type of solo travel but this is not an article as much about solo travel as it is about womanhood. It is a call to my fellow women to take journeys undeterred by your fears.

Women are inundated with warnings that over time begin to hold us captive. As I scroll through my social media feed each day I see image after image, message after message about violence and danger. I was raised to believe that women need protectors, that we are ever-vulnerable to dark alleys and lurking strangers.

The problem is that if we accept this line of thinking we risk leaving the wildest and most curious parts of ourselves abandoned. Of all of the saddening things in the world, the messages we inundate women with feel the most devastating to me.

The good news is that we have the ability to challenge ourselves. We can begin by asking ourselves this: What reaction does the image of a woman alone in a dark alley conjure for us? If it is immediate fear or doom that boils up within us it is time to challenge ourselves.

A few weeks ago, after tapas and bottles of wine with colleagues, I got lost walking in a remote area outside of Salou Spain. It was late and it was dark.

During an excursion to the Czech Republic I found myself wide awake and ambitious at 11pm. I ventured out on foot into the cold Eastern European night to check out a little bar tucked away in an alley.

In my twenties I ran through the streets of Hong Kong in the middle of the night lost, a little tipsy, and more concerned about missing an early morning flight home than being in any sort of danger.

In moments like these I have felt more alive, free, and capable than at any other time in my life. These moments have taught me that people are generally good and places are generally safe. And if a person or a place is bad or unsafe, I am smart and resourceful enough to distance myself.

My repertoire of stories like the ones above is abundant. Added to it are the stories of my girlfriends –The one who spends her time between Afghanistan, Jordan, and Dubai. Another who accepts rides from strangers, choosing to assume that people are good. These stories – These are the stories that should dominate the social media feeds of our sisters and daughters and friends.

To my fellow women – Take note of the adventures and journeys that call to you from just beyond the edge of your comfort zones. Answer to them. And share them as widely as you are able.

7 Strategies (In 140 Characters or Less) for Hearing Your Own Advice

solitude
Photo Credit http://bit.ly/2iJp4ZV

In my most recent post I wrote about the importance of tuning in to your inner guide, of being cautious in your consumption of external “how to” advice on success. My key take-away for you was this: I believe that to live your best life you must know and trust yourself deeply. You must learn to readily access the most sound and sacred place within yourself.

If this resonates with you but you’re not quite sure what to do next, I have put together some ideas for you to be playful with:

● Begin a daily meditation practice. Try starting with 10 minutes of meditation each morning. Meditation is a game changer folks.

● Work with a leadership coach who emphasizes values-based development and whose goal is for you to gain confidence in your inner guidance.

● If you identify as spiritual, pray for a strengthened connection with yourself and your life’s purpose. Pray for signs to help guide you.

● Reflect back on your childhood. What did you love to do? What did you sense you were really good at? These are fantastic clues.

● Pick up a good book on tuning in to yourself. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic or Deepak Chopra’s 7 Spiritual Laws of Success are a great start.

● Find a good therapist who’s keen to work with you on listening to yourself. The merits of this are well researched.

● Keep a daily journal of “in the zone” moments. What could you do for hours at a time with great focus? Where are your most positive impacts?

It has been my experience that when doing this work of tuning in to your inner voice, some truly magical things will begin to unfold around you. I believe that something out there (call it what you will) is keen on you knowing yourself and your true purpose. As you get closer and closer to this knowledge you will know you are on track. There will be clues. You will feel it.

So what are you waiting for? I look forward to hearing about your journey.

Want to Be Successful? Consider Where You’re Getting Advice.

industrial blueprint

Each time I open one of my social media accounts and see the deluge of “how to” and “what the best people do” articles I am reminded how quickly we forget that the only people qualified to tell us how to live our best lives are ourselves. Here is a secret: You have a glorious blueprint for your life. It is your own.

There were a good few years of my career spent in awe of powerful women in my field. I was a lot like a little kid shuffling along, more absorbed with the spectacle over my shoulder than putting one foot in front of the other.

To their credit, this particular tribe of women are wonderfully successful, ambitious, and kind. Plus they are smart – really, really smart. I mean the kind of smart that makes you feel like you should start a business, fill out a PhD application, and write The Book on womanhood.

So there I was wide eyed and mouth ajar, fumbling along until SMACK. I walked head first into a light pole, landed on my butt, and needed a moment to rub my eyes and regain my perspective. Somehow, somewhere on that journey toward trying to join the ranks of a tribe I got lost.

This was a long, head-down season of life. I read every advice article and blog I could get my hands on. I attended every talk and got on every networking call I could join. I maneuvered between Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn profiles. I met my now husband and told him to f-word off (we would not talk again until six months later.) I was on a mission and I could not be bothered, especially not with myself.

It took a failed keynote speech, a cancer diagnosis, and quitting not just a job but a field before I would begin to walk on my own purposeful path. While this is painful for me to admit, shifting my attention fully inward is something I am now just getting good at. I spent an awful lot of time with my nose buried in the “how to be” manuals of other people.

If you have not yet spent time gaining clarity on your own blueprint for life I caution you to limit your consumption of other people’s. Sure you can learn from their journeys but you do the world a disservice when you fail to carve out your own. We each desire to know, we ache to know, who we are meant to be. We don’t get pulled into the vortex of someone else’s journey because we ache to know who they are meant to be. We are drawn to other people’s stories often because we recognize a lost piece of ourselves somewhere in them.

It is my hope for you that in the daily cascade of advice and encounters with admirable fellow humans you apply a filter. I hope you seek out and really listen for those pieces that teach you how to return again and again with trust and love to your most reliable source of true success: Yourself.

In the Wake of a Great Divide

“The world ‘out there’ won’t change until the world ‘in here’ does.” Deepak Chopra

A colleague explained a concept to me a few months ago that stuck. She posited that, especially here in the U.S., we get ourselves into  dark, swirling waters when we assume a dualistic approach. What she meant by dualistic was “either or,” “black or white,” “is or is not,” “us or them.” It means ignoring the possibility that maybe there’s a gray area in all of the complexities of our lives. This election is no exception.loveUs liberals have grown sanctimonious, alienating ourselves from anyone who disagrees with us; Considering anyone with persistent conflicting opinions a lost cause, disgraced, other than. We advertise our dismay and exhaustion on social media over having to defend our views. We know in the deepest caverns of our souls that we are right and they are wrong. We ask ourselves: How did they get it so awfully wrong?

Us conservatives scoff at the pleas and complaints of those who look and live differently than we do, considering them illogical and unwarranted, viewing them as attacks on us and the pride we have in our country. We are disgusted with those who hold different beliefs, having no patience for their ignorance. We know in the deepest caverns of our souls that we are right and they are wrong. We ask ourselves: How did they get it so awfully wrong?

Us who don’t identify with the sentiments above are perhaps apathetic, tired, or trying our hardest to find something that elevates us above it all. We know in the deepest caverns of our souls that we have it right, everyone else is senseless. Many of us ask ourselves: How did they get it so awfully wrong?

As I write this it’s important to me that you, my reader, don’t know which way I voted in this year’s election. I don’t want you to know how I feel about the outcome, whether I’m celebrating, relieved, or frightened. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is that we are all responsible for the outcome of this election. You and me and our families and neighbors and friends – We are all responsible. When we woke up this morning seeking affirmation for our rightness and renouncing others’ wrongness we all helped to drive the stake of divisiveness into the ground. Believing that we’re right does not make us right. In fact, I’d argue that this is what makes us each wrong.

I want you to know today that I accept your vote or lack thereof. I accept your reaction to the election outcome. I accept you, fellow human. In fact I feel a lot of love and compassion for you today, for all of us. I also feel a deep sense of responsibility for where we stand.  I humbly ask you to also accept responsibility. I challenge you to see yourself as us and as them; To consider that there’s a gray area in between beliefs and opinions that is yet to be explored, an area that might be the savior no political candidate can.

An Ode to a Suitcase

suitcaseHave you ever felt sentimental about an inanimate object? I’m finding that it’s hard to throw away my old brown suitcase. She’s like an old friend.

Suitcases deserve more credit than they get. They tag along behind us faithfully, allowing us to take our lives on the road. They get beat up, tossed around, tipped over, left on floors, and shoved into cramped spaces. They keep prized possessions tucked away safely among the folds of our sweaters. They bare witness to our greatest adventures and some of our most intimate moments.

My old brown suitcase with its missing zipper heads, fraying edges, and stains.

I remember the day my mom gave it to me as a gift. It was 2011. It was just after I got my first passport.

Remember that feeling?

For me it was like my first solo drive at 16 – Freedom. The sense that doors are opening for the first time. The world is your oyster. Mom knew that my purple Nike duffle bag wouldn’t cut it anymore – I needed a sturdier sidekick. My then-new brown suitcase was stylish and just the right size. When I saw her I knew it was the start of an adventure.

Her maiden voyage was a flight from Chicago to Hong Kong. We traveled from Hong Kong to Thailand and then on to Cambodia. With time we became an efficient duo. I got better at tucking what I needed for adventures into her frame. She suggested that I start using her as a footrest during long waits at the airport and we never looked back.

We’ve been to Washington DC, New Orleans, San Francisco, New York City, Las Vegas, Miami, and Seattle. We’ve been to Omaha and St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Amelia Island, Fort Hays and Ann Arbor, Dallas and Minneapolis. We’ve traveled from Paris to Tuscany, then on to Rome and the Amalfi Coast. We’ve been to Vancouver and Mexico City and Chicago. Chicago should go without saying – That’s our favorite city.

She was in the next room when Steve and I got engaged and she moved us into our first apartment. She was in the recovery room with us after cancer treatments. She moved again with us when we made the leap from Indiana to Wisconsin. And she sits faithfully in the back seat of my Prius during my long, boring drives back to Indiana for school.

It feels counterintuitive to toss her out. But she is so beat up.

When I finally went to Macy’s this weekend to pick out a new suitcase, I circled around and around the shelves of options. I had to touch their fabric and lift them up, wheel them around, and stare at them for a while. I finally landed on a little purple guy. I picked him out because he was the closest thing I could find to my old brown suitcase.

My new suitcase and I will take off for Scotland on Thursday. From there we’ll head to London and then on to Seville Spain. In another few weeks we’ll be taking off again for India. Meanwhile my old brown suitcase will stay tucked into her corner of our closet because I can’t bring myself to throw her away. What an adventure we’ve had, as the adventures of suitcases and their companions go.

Thank You Notes and Other Event Tips, Tricks, and Lessons Learned

Once upon a time at a large national conference a young, inexperienced but eager professional got dressed up, put on her “foo” (see Appendix A,) and marched up to a seasoned power house of a professional to introduce herself. With stars in her eyes she shook hands with this very kind individual and then proceeded to talk about the most important topic she could muster – the weather. (Can you hear the “womp womp” playing in the background?) An experience she was certain would be a game-changer ended up putt-putting to an anticlimactic fizzle.

Of course that 20-something professional was someone else me. Fortunately for those curious to learn – I spent quite a bit of my 20s learning the run-head-first-into-a-wall way so that (perhaps) you won’t have to. As we gear up for our National Sales Kickoff next week, I decided to share six key lessons I’ve learned about attending professional events. If you’re looking for some quick pointers, read on:

1. Set goals for your time in Chicago. Seem over-ambitious? It’s not. Goal-setting is an easy way to set yourself up for success and it can take as little as 10 minutes. Use your bus or plane ride to jot down your goals for the week. Better yet – Keep a copy tucked into your bathroom mirror at the Sheraton. What do you want to accomplish during the week? What experiences would you be disappointed to leave Chicago without? One of my goals is to capitalize on as many interactions as I can to spread information about what my team will be up to in 2016. I also have a short list of people I know I want to connect with, which brings me to the next pointer:

2. Remember that awkward introduction I referenced at the beginning of this post? Avoid that by doing some homework. Is there a person you know you’d like to network with at NSK? (Have you met Kentaro Kawamori? If you’d like to drink the equivalent of a professional Red Bull, you should! How about Quincy Johnson, Kim Epperly, or Scott Powers? Our Dallas team is one of the best and they’d be happy to talk with you about it. Or what about Stephen Gow and Katie Hill? They’re up-and-coming young professionals rocking it out on our inside sales team.) I could list 100 more people here! We have some of the best professionals I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on our team at SoftwareONE. Go out and meet them.

If you know there’s someone specific you’re excited to meet, hop on LinkedIn and breeze over their information. Find something about them that stands out to you and ask them about it. I promise that they’ll be grateful (and likely flattered) that you took the time to learn about their journey. Keep the conversation memorable by making it brief and poignant. If you’re hoping to continue the conversation, ask if it would be okay to put time on their calendar to re-connect.

And finally, know your worth. Go into these conversations knowing what you have to offer. Sometimes, especially as a young professional, it can be tough to think of yourself as a potential resource for someone who’s further along in their career than you are; But you’d be surprised! Maybe you have inside sales insight that a field sales person is keen on learning about. Or maybe you have a library of awesome business books that you’d be happy to lend out. Either way, I make it a point to always end my networking conversations by asking – “What can I do to be helpful to you and your team?” You’ll likely get a “nothing at the moment” in response but our SWO culture has cultivated an amazing, humble team of leaders who will be happy that you offered.

3. You’ve likely heard the acronym CLM (Career Limiting Move.) I promised you can learn from my experiences – While I thankfully haven’t made a CLM involving alcohol, I’ve certainly made my most hilarious humiliating decisions under the influence (cue the reel from the time I took the microphone from an old boyfriend at his sister’s wedding and gave a terrible toast with the highlight being a failed joke.) Point being: If you know your limits, stay within them. If you don’t, NSK isn’t the time to test those.

4. A simple, yet very effective way to show that you’re invested in making the most out of NSK is to put away your phone. As a general rule of thumb: When someone’s presenting, put your phone in a pocket or purse where it won’t be a distraction. I’m committing to doing this at NSK – Will you join me?

5. Take thank you cards with you. You can find great packs of cards for $5-$10 at Target or WalMart. If you’re in the Waukesha office, you can always find a few extras in my top right desk drawer – Help yourself to them. When a great conversation with a colleague sparks a new idea, provides you with sage advice, or is generally inspirational – As soon as you get back to your hotel room, write out a nice note and make sure it’s passed along to that person before you leave NSK. This is one of the most under-utilized yet classy ways to convey your respect and gratitude to a fellow professional. (And no, an email doesn’t have the same impact.) While we’re riding the gratitude wave, check out my last tip which may be the most important:

6. Remember that we stand on the shoulders of giants – We need to acknowledge those shoulders. What do I mean by that? Take some time to think about how you got to NSK. It is a privilege to be in (in my opinion) the best city in the country for a week at no expense to us. What an opportunity! Take some time to say thank you to the people who were pivotal to your experience. The team that comes to the forefront of my mind is our marketing team. They have put in countless hours planning this event (and you can rest assured they will be running around furiously behind the scenes throughout the week so that we can enjoy a seamless experience.) I’m sure they enjoy Starbucks but I’m also sure that a simple thank you will go just as far with this incredible group of people.

So what are your goals? Who will you be networking with? Who do you want to make sure to thank? How are you setting yourself up for success? I’d love to hear your strategies and ideas!

Let’s talk next week in Chicago.

Appendix A:

“Foo” is the awkward introvert’s version of the Gallup StrengthsFinder strength “Woo.” Can be found alongside things like spirit fingers and gigantic smiles.

Better Supervision in the New Year

On this -10 degree evening in central Indiana and on the heels of a typical day like this (post-frozen pipe burst in a residence hall) I am slowly thawing out. As I ate my homemade chicken pot pie, texted with a fabulous professional who used to work for me, and partook in my $5.99 CVS-special pinot grigio I had a “eureka” moment.

What if we supervised our direct reports as if they will be the next person we will be working for? A SA pro who I love is Teri Bump. If you know Teri you have heard her say humbly “I will work for (insert name here) someday.” There is so much merit in this sentiment.

Here is the thing: I am crazy about the people who I have supervised. I have more faith in their futures than I do my own. These are people who have taught me more than I could have ever hoped to teach them (I’m looking at you Sean Eddington, Terrance Smith, Liz O’Connor, Alvin Ang, Vay Van, Amy Quick, and so on.) I am indebted to them and if I am lucky one day I WILL get to work for them.

What’s the take away here? For a recent grad school paper I was asked to critique my leadership against best practices. I wrote a humbling, semi-apologetic, and highly reflective paper that was essentially a letter to my previous supervisees and myself. I’ll save that specific paper for the individuals it was written to. What is important for you to know is that if you are a supervisor you can ALWAYS do better.

I am a believer in the gospel according to the Gallup Organization. In subscribing to the Gallup philosophy I also believe that most of us are not naturally gifted at supervision (and that is perfectly okay by the way.) Last year I attended Gallup’s Spring Summit geared toward organizations that just “get it” (i.e. their people love working for them and their customers love investing in them.) At that summit we explored what the 5 traits of great managers are. I apply Gallup’s term “manager” to supervisors as well. I won’t rattle these traits off but I encourage you to look them up here –>  http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/167975/why-great-managers-rare.aspx

When I looked at those 5 elements I thought “well crap… But I kind of knew this deep down all along.”  I wonder if your reaction might be similar. I build solid relationships with my supervisees but that simply does not cut it. In the world of residential life where relationships are a staple I worry that we too often mistake great relationships for great supervision. Oops.

If you delve further into Gallup’s research you can learn much about the deep impact that management and supervision has on direct reports (hint: If you’re supervising you are taking part in people’s health, happiness, and workplace retention among other things.) My advice is: Study up. I’ve heard the complaint more than once that “we don’t give people manuals on supervision.” That is correct, we don’t. So it is on us to do our homework: What makes the best supervisors? Where do we fall short? Where can we excel?

It boils down to this – If you’re looking for a simple guiding light consider that you may very well someday work for the individuals who are currently working for you. Chances are you know in your heart of hearts what you can do better. Reflect and renew your commitment to those whose professional journeys are so intertwined with yours.