The boring, unglamorous steps help bring the dream to life!

In case you missed it last week, I wrote a book! And now I’m sharing a few of the lessons I learned through that process. You can see Lesson 1 here. 

Lesson 2 – The vision never included these steps, but they’re integral to the process.

Our biggest dreams are often very detailed. We dream with our 5 senses, experiencing the achievement long before it ever comes to fruition. When someone imagines themselves holding the academy award and giving their acceptance speech, they can hear the applause and cheers. They can feel the joy in that moment! 

No one imagines filming 50 takes in the pouring rain after putting on makeup for 6 hours, just to get the exact right emotion into the exact right sentence only to have it cut out of the film in final editing. But the 50 takes and the award go together; you need both.

Here’s a huge discovery I made that I’ll share in case there are any aspiring writers out there. The best way to write a book? It’s to actually start writing a book! Can you believe it? But for 20 years, I’d imagined seeing the book on a shelf (or in later years in an online bookstore). I didn’t necessarily dream about writing every day. And yet, that’s a key step in the process. 

Unfortunately, the process is often not glamorous or even fun. There are days when you don’t have time or you don’t feel like doing it or you have nothing to say or there’s no inspiration to be found anywhere. But without putting in the work, the dream doesn’t happen.

There are lots of people that have a dream job that is different than their current role. They can see the awesome job, company, and co-workers as part of it. They can feel the joy. But guess what’s needed to get there? Lots of unglamorous steps in the process. Updating their resume, gaining new skills, applying to jobs, and facing the rejection that applying to jobs inevitably brings. 

So what should we do? First, we need to recognize that the path to where we want to go is filled with distractions and unglamorous, though necessary steps. 

Then, we need to commit to making progress in the face of that knowledge. For me, it was committing to write regularly. In the case of the dream job, it’s committing to do the steps to take you there. Like any interesting journey, it’s not always fun, but it’s definitely worth it!

#PositiveAction What do you need to commit to doing to allow you to achieve a goal or dream? Take one small step today!

 

Image by fvoellmer from Pixabay

 

I’ve been sharing my becoming-a-published-author journey over the past few months and today it’s officially official! Change Authentically: A guide to transform your job and life through positive action is published! And confetti rains down Super Bowl style!! 

At least, it did in my head! And if you know me, you know I’d hate to have to sweep and vacuum up all that confetti, so it’s probably better it was imaginary. Let’s keep the celebration clean and orderly, shall we?

I’ve had a little time to reflect on the process of writing and self-publishing. It was a surprising, exciting, sometimes terrifying journey, a lot like anything new. There are things I would do differently next time (yes, there WILL be a next time!) now that I’ve been through the process. And there are some interesting lessons I wanted to share, since they apply to work.

Lesson 1 – A bunch of details that don’t really matter in the big scheme of things stand between you and the ONE THING that does matter

I’ve wanted to write a book for at least 20 years (you can read an excerpt here). There are lots of reasons and excuses as to why I didn’t up to this point. But I knew someday, I eventually would do it. The writing part was fun for me – it’s always been something I’ve enjoyed. The many details of the self-publishing process on the other hand, were not.

Did you know that you can pick between three different paper colors for your printed book? AND that each paper choice is a slightly different thickness? AND that slightly different thickness when stacked on top of each other in book format changes the width of the spine of the book? And by the way, the width of the spine then has implications for a whole bunch of other choices to be made!

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when faced with so many interconnected decisions. But the funny thing is, as much as they all impact the final product, they don’t really matter all that much. I’ve never chosen to read or not read a book based on the spine size. Or the color of paper. Or a whole bunch of other inconsequential details.

All those choices can become distractions if we let them. It’s easy to spend hours on the internet reading about which paper is the absolute best paper for a specific usage. To endlessly debate and agonize over each decision to be made. And it also could prevent me from moving toward the end goal of publishing a book, which was my big aspiration all along.

I needed to instead focus my attention on the minimums. Fill out the required fields and move on. Trust me, even this approach took WAY longer than I expected, and was not without its fair share of debating before deciding!

I sure wish life came with a required fields indicator! It’s easy to get caught up in the details of the everyday, the things that seem so important in the moment. It’s much harder to sift through those things objectively to figure out what matters. Sometimes it’s only through the benefit of hindsight that we can see more clearly what did and didn’t help us in the process. 

Whether we figure it out in the moment or through the benefit of time, hopefully we’re taking those lessons forward with us so that the next time we’re faced with an endless sea of distractions, we can more easily move forward toward that one thing that matters most.

#PositiveAction What tiny distractions are keeping you from making real progress on your big goal? Set a deadline to figure them out and then commit to moving forward!

Book cover image by Erin Zastrow

One of the classic holiday tales (and song and TV special) is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. In the extremely unlikely case that you’re unfamiliar with it, Rudolph is a reindeer that is different than all the other reindeer. He has a bright red nose that lights up. Unfortunately for Rudolph, no one appreciates his distinctive strength (the thing he’s good at that no one else can do) and instead, he’s teased and excluded.

Think back to when you were a child. Did you have something that made you weird, like Rudolph? I definitely did! The key is to try to harness that weirdness as a strength. I was a “bookworm” and read all the time. I mean All. The. Time. It was definitely a source for being teased and excluded. On the other hand, it also gave me a distinct advantage when it came to schoolwork – I loved to read and do the assignments!

Being a bookworm also come in handy throughout my adult life. I have a wider breadth of knowledge on topics from all those books. I can make connections among seemingly unrelated topics because of that background. I love diving into research and reading to help me solve a problem. I can use all the books I’ve read to carry on meaningful conversations with people who have all sorts of different interests and hobbies. Basically, that thing that I got teased about as a kid is a huge asset to me. Just like Rudolph. 

What’s interesting about Rudolph’s story is that it took the keen eye of his boss (aka Santa), coupled with a new challenge they’d never had to solve for (some unusual weather conditions!) in order to recognize and value Rudolph’s distinctive strength. And once the boss shared how much he appreciated that strength, Rudolph was finally able to see it as a strength too. Then all the reindeer loved him and shouted with glee and whatnot!

Sometimes people recognize their own distinctive strengths. More often though, we end up feeling like Rudolph on the Island of Misfit Toys and we need some help (and maybe an annoyingly catchy song!) to figure it out. 

#PositiveAction Think back to a time when you were like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and find a way to leverage it as a distinctive strength! 

Inspiration for this post came from one of the most amazing, thoughtful, uniquely talented people I know. Thank you!

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

One of my favorite holiday movies, Elf, stars Will Farrell as Buddy the Elf. Buddy is adopted as a baby and raised by an elf at the North Pole. Through a series of events focused on identifying people’s strengths (which as a career coach, I love!), he is shocked to discover that he’s actually a human, rather than an elf, and sets out to find his birth father in New York City.

There are lots of delightful scenes and quotable lines in this movie, but the one I want to talk about today happens when Buddy is at work for the first time with his birth father. The office phone rings and Buddy dives over his father to answer it by saying, “Buddy the Elf. What’s your favorite color?” The business person on the other end of the phone line immediately hangs up, maybe because it seems like such a ridiculous question.

Watching the movie this year, it occurred to me that “What’s your favorite color?” isn’t a silly, unimportant question. It’s actually a critical way to get to know someone on a deeper level and it’s a question that my children ask almost everyone they meet. 

“What’s your favorite color?” is way to understand something that is important to another person. My kids use it to inform the art that they make when they create a drawing or a card for someone else. They use it when they are selecting a gift for a friend or family member. The favorite color becomes a way for them to show they care about something that is important to someone else.

When’s the last time you asked a meaningful question to someone at work? Are you using that information to show them that you care about whatever it is that’s important to them? One of the 12 questions in the Gallup survey used to assess global employee engagement is “Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?” If you’re not confident that your co-workers would respond yes, maybe you need to find out what their favorite color is!

In case you’re not sure where to start, here’s 25 questions to get the ball rolling. Not enough? Here’s 70 more questions! And you are welcome to read what engaged employees do differently and how you can help (spoiler alert, it’s asking good questions!).

#PositiveAction Ask a co-worker a meaningful question to get to know them better, listen to the answer, and then find a way to demonstrate you heard them. This type of small, kind gesture can be transformational in the workplace!

 

Image by Bruce Emmerling from Pixabay

This post is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-published book. If you’d like to be one of the first to know when it’s available, jump the line and sign up for my newsletter!

There are times in everyone’s life where we need someone to coach us through small (and sometimes big!) moments. Here’s an example. I’ve struggled for most of my adult life with consistently flossing my teeth. I was a sometimes-flosser, not a daily-flosser. *Gasp!* I know. I was familiar with the lecture from the dental folks that I only had to see twice a year on how it’s important and healthy and blah-blah-blah. I knew the right thing to do. I was lacking in the action department.

When you see dental floss commercials, they always show someone flossing as they get ready for bed. Same on TV sitcoms. I naturally assumed that the only time of day to floss was right before bedtime, since that’s what I’d seen. Here’s the issue. I’m a morning person. I do my best work and have my highest energy in the morning. At night I’m tired (and sometimes grumpy!) and have no interest in expending effort on… well, anything… but especially flossing!

Enter the dental hygienist who successfully coached me through the issue. I shared with her that I was a morning person and was too tired at night to floss every night (a lame, but very true excuse). Instead of telling me I should try harder or that it’s important and healthy, she gave me an easy positive action to take. Floss at the time of day that works best for me. 

Wait. What? Do it when it’s convenient for me? Like pretty much everyone else in the world, I LOVE things that are convenient for me! How has this idea never been mentioned before?!?!

Pretty simple (and obvious) right? But it had never occurred to me because I believed flossing was part of a bedtime routine. That simple insight to get me unstuck completely changed when and how often I floss.

Unless you’re in the tooth cleaning industry, this probably sounds insignificant. It’s just a little more minty freshness in the world. No big deal. But it was the exact insight I needed to finally take positive action to do something different to get a different result.

The same is true for a coach in any other aspect of your life. They will ask the hard questions and point out the sometimes obvious insights to help you get unstuck. It’s one of my favorite parts of working with clients when I can help them move past an issue that’s been holding them back. Remember, coaches come in all different forms, sometimes with an official title, but more often in the form of a friend or co-worker or dental hygienist willing to point out an alternative course of action for you to try.

#PositiveAction What’s that small thing you’ve avoided changing, even though you probably know what to do? Find a way to reframe by asking a friend for ideas to get unstuck.  

 

 Image by 2396521 from Pixabay

Throw kindness around like confetti
The lesson: You can never have too much kindness

I had the privilege to fly with my great uncle, a WWII Navy veteran, on the Honor Flight last weekend. It was an action-packed, whirlwind of a day (starting at 3am and ending around 11pm!) and it took me a several days to collect my thoughts around it. 

For those that don’t know, the Honor Flight takes veterans on a trip to Washington D.C. to visit the monuments and memorials and creates a day that is all about thanking them for their service to our country. 

As part of the flight, families collect letters from friends and family members to give to the veteran to show our love and appreciation for them. Several of the letters we collected were from former students that my uncle taught in the 1960’s. Back then, he was teaching 6th grade and it was interesting to see multiple letters come from students in those classes.

One of his former students happens to live in the Washington D.C. area and asked if she could meet up with us during the day. We had the opportunity to meet at the National Mall at the WWII memorial. She showed up with a welcome sign and greeted our bus.

After my uncle’s surprise of seeing a student and some catching up, along with many photos taken, I asked her the question that had been on my mind since the letters had arrived weeks before. What was it that was so memorable about her 6th grade teacher that she would be willing to go out of her way on a gorgeous fall Saturday and meet up with us?

Her answer: Kindness.

She remembered the kindness he showed her in 6th grade, whether teaching or helping her with a problem, like the time she forgot her swimming suit for Friday swim. It was the kindness she remembered vividly all these years later.

And she wasn’t the only one! So many of the 30+ letters we got mentioned kindness and how much of a difference that made in people’s lives. 

What’s interesting is that I had noticed kindness from others all day as we participated in the Honor Flight. Flight team members, bus captains, volunteers, even total strangers all showered us with kindness throughout the day and that huge amount of kindness made it  truly memorable. I’ve never been part of a day-long celebration of kindness before and it was remarkable! 

I know that I’ll remember the kindness that surrounded us for a long time (maybe as long as those 6th grade students have!). It was a great reminder for me on how I want to show up in life and at work.

#PositiveAction How can you throw kindness around like confetti today? 

Photo by me, of my starting-to-get-worn notebook that is on pace to run out of empty pages by year’s end. 

 

We talked already about owning your weirdness and being content with the strengths you have, but there’s an often overlooked question within there. How in the world do you do it?

As someone who needed more help than the average bear in this regard, here’s the best advice I have (so far!):

  1. Keep Learning
  2. Keep Experimenting

There is a joy to getting clarity… to finally feeling like you have the answer to a question you weren’t even sure you were asking. The thing is, we’re not taking a test where there’s a single right answer. It’s more like a life-long essay question that we keep adding to over the years. There’s always more to learn, if you’re open to learning. 

I am still getting new insights on my own strengths. I ask questions of my clients to help them do the same. Sometimes, things become so familiar that we think we know the answer without actually asking ourselves the question. But as humans, we’re always changing. In the same way that the seasons are always changing from one into the next. They don’t change in one day, but rather incrementally until all of a sudden we finally NOTICE the change. The key is to notice what you’re learning (and adjust as necessary)!

The other piece is around experimenting. There are lots of ways for each of us to be successful at work. Just because you have a specific skill set doesn’t mean you’re stuck in exactly the same job for the rest of your life. If you’re enjoying the work, that’s fine, but for many Americans, that simply isn’t the case. So start to think about ways that you can use your exact same strengths slightly differently. 

Here’s an example. One of my favorite things to do over the course of my technology career was to help people use technology to be more efficient and effective. Sometimes, that was simply sharing tips and tricks I’ve learned with someone over lunch; sometimes that was conducting department-wide education sessions. Both of those are examples of teaching. I’ve taken that strength and applied it in a new way to the work that I do now: I teach people how to identify and tell their best story so they can work authentically. 

You may already be experiencing success by leveraging your strengths. But you may also discover that when you experiment, you start working at a level of success you’ve never seen before!

#PositiveAction Pick a strength to experiment differently with this week and notice what changes!

 

Photo by me. In a Target parking lot. Proof that inspiration really is all around us if we’re willing to look!

 

I walk regularly through my neighborhood. Not daily. Not at exactly the same time. Not the same route every time, but regularly enough where I find I need to shake up my routine.

Walking is one of those things that our bodies have made so automatic that we don’t usually have to think about it. Since I don’t have to use my brain for walking (hooray!), I typically use my walking time to think or listen to music or a podcast. But I also make it a point to change it up sometimes. 

I’m a naturally fast walker, so sometimes I purposely try to walk slowly. I intentionally notice and appreciate new things on my slow strolls. Sometimes, I try to walk faster than normal, which gets me more focused on how I’m moving and using my muscles. Sometimes I focus on my posture and I am usually surprised to discover that I’ve been spending my day a bit slouchy (I blame it on my abs-of-less-than-steel! Probably not a best seller in the fitness video genre… Moving on!).

All the different approaches to the same task of walking help me learn new things about myself. I can appreciate that my natural style (fast, efficient walking) sometimes needs to be adjusted, like when I walk with my 94-year-old uncle. He’s actually pretty spry for his age and I’ll admit I had a higher than average step count the last time he visited us! I also need to change up my natural style when I walk with my kids because they are infinitely curious and constantly stopping to investigate things. Just as I change it up when I’m chatting with a friend on a walk, where the discussion is more the point than the physical activity.

The same is true in our work. Each of us completes many tasks each day without thinking too hard about them. What routine tasks do you need to try with a new approach? If you normally spend hours crafting the perfect email, try setting a timer on your phone for 10 minutes and click send when it goes off. If you normally lead discussion or are the largest contributor in meetings, try listening for an hour (which will feel roughly like eternity!) instead and see what you learn.

The first time you shake up your routine, it’s going to feel strange and challenging and possibly uncomfortable. Pay attention to those feelings and then reflect on why that might be the case.

There are so many dimensions that make up our authentic selves and many of them we don’t think about because they are innate. Deliberately doing something differently can help you understand yourself more, learn a better approach, gain empathy for other’s perspectives, and open your eyes to a world around you that you’ve been missing.

You may not choose to keep the change long-term and that’s OK. It’s about learning and growing while expanding the edges of your comfort zone. What routine thing can you shake up this week?

Image by Chiemsee2016 from Pixabay

Are you feeling bored at work? Stuck doing the same tasks over and over without feeling like you’re making progress? Mindlessly following the same dull routines? It’s time to try something new. 

I’m not saying you need to start looking for a new job – there’s a lot of factors that go into that decision – but you absolutely need to get out of the rut you’re in. And here’s the great news if you’re not enjoying your job: the something new should be something completely unrelated to your day job.

In fact, the more unrelated it is to something you already know, the better!

That’s because our brains are infinitely complex. Science has only started to scratch the surface on understanding that complexity, but here’s the rationale: the new thing you try wakes your brain up by creating new neural pathways. So learning something new literally creates new connections in your brain, activating it in a way it hasn’t been before. Regardless of age, humans have the capacity to grow more pathways. How fantastic is that? New and improved go hand in hand!

In my own life, I work to keep learning a priority. This year, I made a commitment to try one new thing a month. It doesn’t take a ton of time, but it does take a little planning to make sure that a month doesn’t go by without scheduling something! I know that everyone is already overscheduled and overworked, which is why it’s especially important to have something on the calendar you actually WANT to do vs. all those have-to-do items.

Try to pick something that sounds interesting to you, or is on your bucket list of things to try “someday”. I don’t typically have a plan before the month starts on what type of activity I’m going to try. It depends on what’s being offered, what my schedule looks like, and how much time I can carve out. Sometimes, it’s an excursion to a museum sans my interrupting cows… aka alone. Sometimes it’s a free or low cost class. 

This month I tried a painting class at a library where the supplies were provided so all I had to do was show up. One month I watched a documentary and participated in a group discussion afterwards. Another month I went on a naturalist-led hike. There are endless possibilities to choose from, but know that you can’t choose incorrectly. Anything new will work. You don’t have to fall in love with a new hobby in order to reap the benefits from creating new neural pathways in your brain.

Here’s what I love about trying something new. When my brain wakes up, all of me wakes up. I end up living life more fully and authentically because I’m not on autopilot. It also helps jumpstart my creativity. Taking a break to try the unrelated new things often leads to breakthrough ideas of how to solve some of my tough work problems. Most importantly, trying something new is fun (once you get past the fear getting outside your comfort zone). I’ve met cool people, learned fascinating things, and said yes to a wide variety of activities as a result. And if we’re being honest, most of us need a little more fun in our lives!

If you’re looking for a way to make your current job more interesting and exciting, trying something new is a great way to get unstuck. Pick one thing and get started!

 

I have a friend whose superpower is to state the obvious in a way that makes people suddenly realize the truth that has been staring them in the face and they take action. It’s truly a magical thing to watch unfold. So I’m going to do my best to channel that power for this post.

There was a wonderful article published in Fast Company this week about relationship currency. The idea is basically that doing good work is not enough in the work world; you also need to cultivate productive relationships.

My knee-jerk reaction to the article was, “Duh.” But in the same way that common sense isn’t all that common these days, common courtesy is arguably on the decline as well. There are many reasons for this. The corporate world has changed from a 9-5 to a 24/7 always-on environment. Workers are stressed and that stress often causes people to behave badly. My advice is to inject some kindness into whatever you do at work – people need it more than you know!

More times than I can count over the past 20 years, the best things happened at work because I took the time to build productive relationships. Not because I hoped to one day get something out of it, but simply because I believe in treating everyone as a human who deserves kindness. Interestingly, whenever I needed help with something at work, help appeared in the form of the many relationships I had developed. 

Even now, as I work to grow my own business, my relationships are here with me, helping me and cheering me on. I honestly can’t imagine how anyone could expect to be truly successful without having the advantage of relationship currency.

So in the age of automation, don’t let someone’s interaction with a chatbot be the nicest thing they hear today. Instead, be the uncommon courtesy your workplace is missing. People will respond in kind.