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

Last week, I shared a little bit about the awesome Honor Flight that I was lucky to be a part of and what a great experience we had. It was literally a day of kindness… which was cool since that is one of the attributes that my great uncle is known for. He is also known for his compassion. 

Kindness and compassion aren’t necessarily celebrated as top leadership traits in the world of work and yet any one of us knows that working for or with someone kind and compassionate is a pretty great experience. 

What can we learn from this? 

  1. Live into your strengths, whatever they are
  2. Don’t worry if you lack the “traditional” qualities
  3. Actions leave a lasting impact, even seemingly ordinary ones

First and foremost, you need to identify and accept  your wonderful, weird strengths. Then use them wherever and whenever you can! If it’s compassion and kindness, like my great uncle, do that! If it’s strategy and planning, do that!

Second, the narrow definitions we see on what makes a great employee or leader often fail to take into account the first point. When we’re using our strengths, we will be most successful. That will look different for each of us, of course, but the fact remains. In the case of my great uncle, his approach was different than many educators of that time. Instead of focusing on discipline, he leaned into his strengths of kindness and compassion.

Third, our ordinary actions in our ordinary moments in any given ordinary day are often the things that are most vividly remembered later. I love the irony of this! My kids are frequent reminders to me because we always talk about our favorite part of the day before bedtime. 9 times out of 10, it’s the everyday activity that stands out for them: reading books together or playing a game or watching our favorite show as a family. No fancy trip to a theme park or over-the-top gift required! Just hanging out doing the stuff we were going to do anyway. Basically extra ordinary is all that’s required.

That brings me back to my great uncle. He’s spent his life displaying kindness and compassion, regardless of if it was in style or what “successful” leaders did. It wasn’t noteworthy or award-winning. It was weaved into his ordinary every day. And it was so memorable that many of his former 6th grade students felt the need to thank him for it nearly 50 years later. That’s pretty extraordinary to me!

#PositiveAction Think about the legacy you’re creating by using your strengths. How are you making your ordinary days extraordinary?

Photo created by me. 

 

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!

 

Contentment strengths work career coach
Content-mint!

*Ignoring my mint joke in the title… Contentment in American society today is even more difficult to find than a person who has actually achieved work-life balance! But when you’re content with what you have, whether food, clothes, or your unique strengths, you can not only be grateful for them and enjoy them but you can find creative ways to use them. 

So what’s that got to do with being weird

We talked last week about the importance of owning your weirdness, those things that make you unique. It’s hard sometimes, to appreciate the thing that’s made you weird your whole life. Quite likely, it’s been labeled as bad by someone else and it takes some mental and emotional work on our part to reclaim that same weird thing as awesome! 

That’s exactly the work we need to do, though. You can never fully appreciate your strengths as long as you’re comparing them to someone else’s. You’ll always be able to find someone using similar strengths in a way that you think is better. The internet is great in a lot of ways, but it also puts comparison in our face ALL. THE. TIME! Look at this person being awesome over here! *Feel a little worse about yourself* Look at that person being awesome over there! *Feel even worse*

We don’t have time for me to launch into my diatribe on limits on technology and a full tech detox (Cliffs Notes version: they’re both extremely necessary for each of us!), but I want to highlight the challenge that looking elsewhere creates for us truly appreciating our unique strengths. Theodore Roosevelt said it best, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” 

Basically, when we’re focused on the thing we don’t have, we can’t be content. And until we’re content and fully appreciate our own strengths, we won’t be able to fully use them. 

#PositiveAction Spend 5 minutes being grateful for the strengths you have. Write them down and think about how helpful they’ve been throughout your life.*

*Note, I love this exercise because you only have to spend a few minutes doing it, but you can refer back to it as often as you want!


Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay 

As I’ve shared before, I used to wish for different strengths. It’s so easy to look at someone who is using their strengths and lament how you can’t do it as good as they can. And you’re right! That’s not your strength and it’s not what you should spend your time doing.

I listened to a great Disrupt Yourself podcast recently about figuring out your strengths when you’re struggling to surface them. The tip that I loved: What is something that made you weird as a kid and how can you leverage that now? It’s a fun thing to think about… once you get past the shame and embarrassment of your bad haircut/clothing/personal style/etc. that accompany the memory!

It can be hard to identify your strengths, particularly if you’re new to the world of work. There are lots of different approaches you can use to help you come up with answers. Often, it’s more challenging to acknowledge and appreciate your strengths after you’ve identified them. 

As one example, I remember going through an MBTI exercise early in my career and having the feeling of flunking the test! More accurately, I wasn’t yet comfortable with owning aspects of my personality like being an introvert. I incorrectly assumed that extraverts have more fun* and I was destined for an unfun career and life, complete with a BORING label stamped across my forehead. *Note: extravert fun is a different kind of fun that actually isn’t fun for me, but rest assured I’ve managed to have my fair share of introvert hijinks!

Being an introvert doesn’t make me weird, there are lots of introverts in the world. My enthusiasm isn’t weird either. Lots of people are psyched about things! Neither is my bent toward efficiency and order (though many will argue those traits are a little over the top!). It’s not my love of reading or cats or nature or TED Talks or thrift shops or anything else. But when you combine all those things that make me, me, you get something completely unique and original. 

And that’s true for Every. Single. Person. None of us can really be “normal”, since that doesn’t exist. This planet is filled with 7.5 billion unique, original, weird people and counting.  

If the “keep it weird” campaigns of many cities like Austin, Portland, and even Milwaukee will attest, weird is more about celebrating something unique. Weird is now a compliment. 

Interestingly, many of my clients struggle to talk confidently about their strengths and communicate the immense value that they bring. So we work together to make sure they are comfortable embracing their story in all its weirdness. This is absolutely crucial to your personal brand. Sharing your value helps other people to know what they get when they work with you. It creates clarity for others and gives you freedom to do your best work.

You can work authentically by owning your strengths, idiosyncrasies, and especially the stuff that makes you weird. That’s your unique blend of skills, perspectives, and talents that NO ONE else in the world can bring.

So whadya say? Let’s keep it weird, people!!

Image by Tracy Lundgren from Pixabay

 

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

There’s always the latest thing that you have to try, buy, wear, or be. Frankly, it can be exhausting to try to keep up. Here’s the good news: you don’t have to!

It turns out that the harder you try to imitate someone else’s style, work patterns, or speech, the less authentic it appears. You can probably think of someone you’ve met that seems like they’re trying too hard. At its worst, they go beyond seeming insincere and move into unbelievable. 

Most of us have been there at some point in life where we edit our personality and approach to try to fit in. Maybe it was to impress the cool kids in high school. Or maybe it’s at your current job because you don’t feel like you can be yourself there. 

It becomes a vicious cycle where you try hard to act the way you think you need to, but no one buys it because it’s not really you, so you dig deeper and try even harder. That’s a game no one can win.

So why do we put ourselves through the agony then? It often stems from the fact that we overvalue what others bring to the table, while selling our own strengths short. Because your strengths are inherently easy for you, you assume that they must be easy for everyone (which is not the case at all, btw!).

The first step toward authenticity, then, is to identify and understand your strengths. Some people have a clear idea of what these are, and some people, like myself, take years to discover and acknowledge them. Once you have that piece, you need to merge it with your personal brand (all the pieces of you that create the total experience of working with you). 

Think about someone you’ve worked with that seems to be doing exactly what they were designed to do. In addition to being great at it, they also are truly enjoying themselves, even (and especially!) when the work is challenging. That’s what you want to target for yourself: doing the work you were designed to do, in only the way you can, using all your unique strengths.

It turns out that when you Work Authentically, the next big thing will be YOU! 

Do you need help with identifying your strengths or building your personal brand? I’d love to chat with you!

 

Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

You’re staring into your full fridge and declare, “There’s nothing to eat!” You dig through your full drawers and lament, “I have nothing to wear.” 

It’s not that there’s really nothing to eat or nothing to wear. It’s that nothing appeals to us in that moment. We were hoping for something different and therefore feel disappointed because expectations don’t match reality.

Interestingly, this happens with intangibles as much as with physical objects. The person who makes sure every I is dotted and T is crossed sees someone with strategic thinking capabilities and says, “They’re so visionary and paint such a vivid picture of the future. I wish I could be more like that.” Or the strategic leader who says, “I’ll bet my top performing, detail-oriented team member never forgets their spouse’s birthday! I wish I could be more like that.” *Note – if you’ve forgotten your spouse’s birthday, stop reading here and take immediate corrective action!

It’s so easy to get caught up in comparison or get lost wishing things were different. In the case of the full fridge, there’s a chance that there’s one or two rotten things in the very back, but for the most part, it’s food waiting to be turned into a nutritious meal. Same goes for the drawers. Maybe a few items don’t fit, but for the most part they do. The same is true of our strengths – we can find ways to use all of them in our careers and lives if we’re willing to try.

I spent the early years in my career overvaluing other people’s strengths while dismissing my own. Wishing I could be better at the things at which I will never be a superstar. It took more years than I’d like to admit before I finally recognized the value in my own unique strengths (thanks in part to a patient mentor!) and started to seek out opportunities that would leverage them.

And I know I’m not alone. These days, I spend time with each of my clients making sure that they can recognize their strengths and are comfortable talking about them with others so they can highlight the value they bring to an organization. It’s always rewarding to work with someone when they have that a-ha moment around their amazing, completely unique-to-them strengths.

Next time you’re staring at your fridge wondering what to eat, appreciate it for what it is. A storage unit filled with life-sustaining nutrients.  Don’t know what to wear? Be glad you have a choice of clothes that fit. Those strengths that sound boring to you? There’s someone out there looking for exactly what you have to offer!

I used to dread making dinner the night before we went grocery shopping. It always felt like there was nothing left in the fridge! Now, I enjoy the fact that there is a unique combination of ingredients waiting to be discovered and turned into dinner. Similarly, no one else approaches work exactly the same way as you, so find a way to leverage your authentic, inimitable strengths to deliver amazing results!

The principal at my kids’ school holds an all-school assembly each week where they celebrate the positive behaviors they want to encourage the students to have. At a recent assembly, they talked about the idea of a superpower; basically helping the kids to think about what their strengths are.

My kids were excited to share the concept with me and it sparked some pretty awesome (and sometimes deep!) conversation in our house over the course of a week. I believe in the power of language and sometimes the hardest thing about being a kid (besides not being able to reach the cookie jar on the top shelf!) is you don’t always have the words to describe what you’re thinking or feeling in a way that you can help others understand.

The same can be true in the workplace. Sometimes, we don’t effectively communicate our value to those who most need to understand it. If you’ve ever been surprised in a performance review, you know what I’m talking about! 

Everyone benefits when you get clear on what your superpowers are. If you’re not sure, take some assessments. One that I’ve used is the Clifton Strengths, but there are many options available if you do a quick internet search.

A word of advice on determining your strengths. There are no good or bad superpowers – each is useful in various situations, so don’t spend time wishing you had different strengths. Embrace the ones you have! The key is to figure out how to use your superpowers for good as often as you can, both in the workplace and in the world.

When you know your superpowers, it’s much easier to talk about them to other people and when other people are clear on what you bring to the table, it’s more likely that they’ll reach out to you when they have a need for your particular skill set. It’s a win-win situation.

In my house, my kids have enjoyed not just talking about their superpowers, but also sharing how they have been able to use them each day. We took it a step further and talked about the superpowers of everyone in our family, so they have a better understanding and appreciation of what we all bring to the table and how we’re all unique.

My superpowers are building productive relationships, applying efficiency to all that I do, anticipating obstacles, solving problems, creating order from chaos, and having great taste in music*.  What are yours?

*Note: This last one may border more on opinion than fact.

Hi! I’m Allyson. Most of my friends call me Ally. Welcome to the Authentic Ally (see what I did there?) blog where I share my thoughts on careers and life, partly because I’m interested in those topics and partly because we spend so much of our time physically at our careers (as well as worrying about them when we’re not there!) that it’s hard to separate them from our lives.

One of my favorite quotes on work comes from the comedian Drew Carey:

 “Oh you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called everybody, and they meet at the bar.”

It’s intended to be funny, but there’s a large kernel of truth in it. More than 70% of American workers range from unhappy to downright miserable in their jobs. There are a lot of reasons for the disengaged feelings so many people experience and we’ll explore a lot of those reasons here on this blog, but first let’s all agree that the embarrassingly high number of unhappy workers is not ok. It’s bad for people and it’s bad for companies. 

So I’m here to change that. I want to increase the number of happy workers because happier people are healthier people. They’re better partners, parents, co-workers, friends, leaders, and volunteers. And just imagine how our world changes when the majority of people are doing work that they love, that excites them, and that brings about high levels of creativity!  

Who’s with me? *Collective cheer rises up… or at least a nodding of heads in agreement* Great! Let’s get started.