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Why is it so hard to put things in perspective until some major event shakes our lives? Why is it easy to be distracted by the “trees,” when we know we should be considering the “forest?” Why do we get so annoyed by small inconveniences?

I wish I had easy answers!

The best thing we can all do is simply pay attention.

Listen to your thoughts and emotions. Constantly ask yourself whether or not it’s productive to dwell on something or get upset. In short: put things in perspective.

In my own life, I have often caught myself focusing on things that simply don’t matter—a friend’s no-show at a gathering, someone’s difference of opinion, someone who under or over-dressed at a work event.

It’s human nature to get distracted by these small things. But, if we really let ourselves get bogged down by them, we miss out on the things that actually matter.

Think about it:

what matters in your life? Your family? Your career? Your health? Take time TODAY to appreciate and think about the things that matter. You never know when tragedy may strike and your situation may change.

In your personal life…

  • Practice being more forgiving
  • Be present
  • Share time and laughter with those you love
  • Tell others how you feel
  • Show gratitude

In your career…

  • Always give it your all and perform to the best of your ability
  • Have direct conversations with others
  • Have a big-picture plan
  • Set and focus on large goals
  • Delegate (if you can) items that are not in your sweet spot
  • Don’t avoid problems—face them head-on

There are many ways to pull yourself out of the weeds and start considering the bigger picture. No matter your approach, it’s important you at least try. When you find yourself distracted by the small things, remove yourself from the situation, take a step back, and reconsider. End pettiness TODAY.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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State Fair Food Life Lessons

To wrap up my series of Minnesota State Fair blog posts, I have to talk about fair food. MN State Fair food is a huge part of the attraction. I even know people who attend the fair solely for the food! There are crowd-pleasing favorites, such as turkey legs, buckets of chocolate chip cookies, and sno cones…but there are also inventive and daring concoctions that make you wonder, “Who would actually eat that?” This category includes everything from “hotdish on a stick” to deep fried spaghetti to BBQ alligator.

To say the least, state fair food is always a surprise. It may delight or disgust the senses, but no matter what you think of it, there are a few life lessons we can take away from fair food.

Here are my top six:

1. It doesn’t take itself too seriously

Italian meatloaf on a stick? Bacon donut sliders? Spam sushi?! This is food you won’t see at a Michelin star restaurant, but that’s kind of the point. State fair food doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s fun, creative, and over-the-top. We could all learn to laugh a little more at ourselves and not worry about obtaining perfection (perfection is subjective term, after all!).

2. It’s daring

When was the last time you took a risk in your workplace or personal life? You’ll never know if your gamble will pay off unless you do it. Vocalize your ideas; try new things; make bold decisions. State fair food isn’t shy and it’s time we emulated its audacity.

3. It’s adaptable

The state fair is proof that almost anything can be adapted to be on a stick. There’s macaroni and cheese on a stick, deep fried candy bars on a stick, and pizza on a stick. It’s portable, and fits the state fair palate. In the same way, we can all try to be a little more adaptable. It’s all about making the best of a situation, going with the flow, and creating new solutions.

4. It’s has range

From corn on the cob and whole fruits to deep fried mozzarella, state fair food runs the gambit between healthy and heart attack! Similarly, each person has the capacity to develop a range of skills and talents (including emotional range). If we challenge ourselves and dare to do things outside our comfort zones, we will grow our abilities and become more well-rounded.

5. It’s creative

It’s hard to deny the creativity of state fair food. Sometimes new ideas work, and sometimes they’re an utter flop. You never know unless you try. Workplaces that encourage creativity don’t always get things right, but at least they’re thinking outside the box and seeking inventive solutions. Remember that creativity isn’t always about arts and innovation—it could be as simple as coming up with a creative new way of gathering customer surveys or plotting out financial data.

6. It’s abundant

Everywhere you turn in the MN state fair, you’ll find food. There’s no shortage of sweet and savory treats. In our own lives, it’s great to live large and be bold. Life is too short to constantly hold back. Express your emotions, vocalize your ideas, and engage others in conversation (even if you have something difficult to discuss). If you’re facing difficulties and you don’t articulate how you’re feeling, chances are things will remain the same.

 

State fair food can teach us an extraordinary number of life lessons. What can you learn from your favorite state fair food? Feel free to comment below!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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At the end of the month, the event known as the “Great Minnesota Get-Together” will begin. The MN State Fair has been in existence since 1859, a year after Minnesota became a state. It’s one of the largest state fairs in the nation and in recent history it hosts almost 2 million people each year!

With such a long tradition—and with so many attendees—it makes sense that the fair has their system down to a science. In fact, it’s so well run that we all could learn a few leadership lessons from the fair. Here are my top 8:

1. Lighten up

The daily demands of leadership sometimes make it difficult for us to take a step back and have fun. We become so immersed in problem-solving, fielding issues, and navigating tough conversations that we sometimes forget the lighter side of things. Similarly, if you’re walking around the immense fairgrounds you’ll wear out quickly If you’re not having fun!

2. Understand your team

The state fair knows exactly what exhibits, rides, and food stands should be where. The cows belong in the livestock barn. The paintings and sculptures belong in the galleries. The food stands line the roads and rotundas. Your work team is similar. Everyone has their special areas of expertise, and it’s useful to capitalize on them (for more on balancing your work team see my recent blog post on this topic).

3. Be a logistics whiz

All those cars! All those people! Somehow the fair manages to shuffle everyone around smoothly and effectively. In your leadership, it’s helpful to think about logistics. Do you have smart systems in place? Would a new approach help your team work more efficiently or complete their tasks on time? When working with logistics, it’s a good idea to get as much input as possible from your team and gather feedback about what works and what does not.

4. Balance tried and true practices with creativity

Everyone loves cheese curds and cotton candy, but why not try teriyaki ostrich on a stick? Or a Cracker Jack caramel sundae? While it’s good to have tried and true methods, products, and processes, sometimes the system benefits from a little inventiveness. This forward-thinking mentality is what keeps companies like Apple and Google in the public eye (and keeps us doling out dollars for their latest gadget!)

5. Encourage free thinking, but provide guidance

I’m am an advocate of placing trust in your team. Give them the freedom to approach a problem in their own way and create their own path. At the state fair, you’re given road maps and schedules, but you’re free to choose your own route and find the best solution for you. In the same way, it’s a good idea to provide others with guidance, but to give them the freedom to work out their own solutions. Their ingenuity may surprise you!

6. Don’t do everything yourself

Although there is a “board of managers” that runs the state fair, they receive plenty of help with operations. It would be impossible for a board of 10 individuals to oversee every building, clean every bathroom, or set up every ride. This is where smart delegation comes into play. Develop a deep understanding of your team member’s strengths and utilize those strengths as best you can.

7. Reward/recognize good performance

Top performance deserves recognition! Just like an outstanding horseback rider or a talented sculptor deserves to be awarded a prize, so too do your top performers merit recognition. Be sure to commend team members for a range of performance-related achievements, from exceeding sales goals to practicing inclusivity.

8. Weather the ups and downs

We’re all familiar with the twists and turns of roller coasters. They take us for a wild ride until things level out and the ride is over. In the same way, excellent leaders practice resiliency. They take setbacks in stride, strategize, and plan for the future without dwelling on (or moaning about!) their obstacles. Great leaders know there will be bumps in the road and they face these challenges head-on, instead of ignoring them.

 

There is much we can learn from the state fair. When it comes to leadership lessons, the land of corndogs and Tilt-a-Whirls is filled to the brim with them. How else could it host hundreds of thousands of people each day and keep them (for the most part!) happy and entertained?

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it or leave a message in the comments!

 

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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Are you in a summertime slump

For those of you who live in cold climates like I do, you welcome summertime and everything it brings—picnics, swimming, strolls in the park, bike rides. During the chilly winter months, you envision spending time in the sunshine…and not having to don a down coat and pair of boots whenever you want to venture outside.

When summer comes, it has an energizing effect. Your mood lifts, you finally have enough vitamin D, you’re full of plans and expectations.

But what people often do not think about is their work. Even though summer has arrived, work does not simply end (unless you have a seasonal occupation). We still have to work through bright and sunny days; we still have to show up.

Even though we may feel energized outside of work, the opposite might occur during work. Your motivation might dwindle or your concentration might wander as you think of being outside, enjoying the weather.

Furthermore, many people go on vacation over the summer, so it’s sometimes difficult to complete team projects or use others as a resource. As Inc.com says, “Summer is nearly always a slow season. You, your team members and your customers are either breezing away on weeks-long vacations (or wish they were), and those who are in office are struggling to cover their teammates’ absences and keep up with demand.”

With low motivation, absent team members, and the constant desire to be outside, it’s easy to fall behind during the summer…which can make you feel even less enthusiastic to come to work.

What to do?

1. Try working in shorter bursts.

Look at your clock and tell yourself, “Okay, I’m going to work for XX number of minutes without taking a break. Ready go!” Start small and gradually increase your work time.

2. Set goals

Write down three tangible things you’d like to accomplish today. If you’re working on a large project, what bite-sized item(s) can you accomplish that will help you complete it? (For more on effective goal-setting, visit this blog post.)

3. Move around

Making sure you get your blood pumping and your body moving is important to not only improving your health, but your concentration as well. And don’t forget to move from your desk during the day. Try working in a different location for a few hours and then return to your designated workspace.

4. Set challenges for others

If you’re in a leadership position, get your team motivated by setting up friendly challenges. It helps to focus on a short period of time (such as two or four weeks) so you can maintain enthusiasm for the competition. Consider giving rewards that people actually value, such as a half day (or two) of paid time off.

5. Bring summer to the workplace

Just because you’re in the office, doesn’t mean you have to pretend like summer isn’t happening! Have lunch on a patio, invite co-workers out to ice cream, or wear bright summery outfits. As a leader (or an HR manager), you could also plan company outings every once in a while that take advantage of the nice weather. Try going to a baseball game, having a company picnic, or doing some outdoor volunteer work together.

 

Carry some of your summertime energy into the workplace. It’s amazing what a small shift in attitude (and a little planning!) can do. Besides, while others are in their workplace slump, you can take advantage of the season and rise to the top. Your dedication will be noticed.

Contact me for other ideas on how to shake your summertime slump!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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Lessons from fireworks

Yesterday was Independence Day in the U.S. and fireworks lit up the night sky. It’s a holiday that equalizes and unites us—we can all gather and enjoy the same display, side by side.

What is it about fireworks that excites us? That makes us want to shoot them across the sky year after year? There is something about the very nature of a firework that is inspirational. Here are five reasons you should aim to be more like a firework:

1. Fireworks illuminate

When the mood is dark, be the light-bearer. When your team is feeling exhausted or overwhelmingly negative, be the one to lift others up and energize the room.

Remember, a single firework has the power to light up the night sky. In the same way, you can make a difference with a single kind act, a sentence of truth, or a positive statement.

2. Fireworks are bold

Pop! Boom! Flash! Fireworks are anything but shy. Take a page from their book and practice being bold. Stand up for your ideas and values; be a strong leader; bounce back from rejection. Even if you project confidence when you’re not feeling it, you’ll eventually start to believe in yourself and your capabilities.

3. Fireworks aim high

Dream big. We each only get a limited amount of time, so why not make the most of it? Your goals are worth pursuing.

4. Fireworks are colorful

There is value in every personality type. Whether you tend to be analytical, bubbly, empathetic, or take-charge, you are uniquely equipped to contribute to the workplace. Let your authentic self shine and show your true colors! (Find out more about getting in touch with your deeper self).

5. Fireworks unite us

If you’re in a leadership position, aim to bring people together for a common purpose. Celebrate diverse personalities, talents, and perspectives, instead of demanding that everyone be the same. Strive for unity, but respect differences.

If you’re part of a work team, focus on ways to be inclusive and welcoming. Make an effort to stand up for others and make sure everyone’s ideas and opinions are heard. Reject gossip, and be a positive force on your team.

 

We can learn a surprising number of lessons from fireworks! How will you sparkle this year? How will you live boldly and be a positive force?

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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confidence, the key to success

Think of someone who is wildly successful. You might picture Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Brené Brown, J.K. Rowling, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of your company…or any number of people who have made it big.

What do they all have in common? What traits could an author possibly share with a techie?

The answer is simple on the surface, but difficult in practice. All of these successful people have an underlying firm belief in themselves and what they do.

Much of success is a mind game. If you are confident in your beliefs and your actions and you exude that confidence, others will be confident in you. If you move forward boldly, you will be perceived as a leader and someone who can be trusted.

The power of confidence is real. It’s what drives entrepreneurs to create start-ups. It’s what helps people step up and lead a team. But can you really switch on your confidence? Aren’t some people naturally more confident than others?

While you may not feel naturally confident, you DO have the tools to boost your self-assurance and step into your leadership. As Margie Warrell of Forbes says, “Confidence is not a fixed attribute; it’s the outcome of the thoughts we think and the actions we take.”

Warrell goes on to discuss research into brain plasticity and says that, “we can literally rewire our brains in ways that affect our thoughts and behavior at any age. Which means that no matter how timid or doubt-laden you’ve been up to now, building self-confidence is largely what psychologists called volitional. Or to use layman language: ‘By choice.’ With consistent effort, and the courage to take a risk, we can gradually expand our confidence, and with it, our capacity to build more of it!”

How can you start building your confidence and working toward success? Start with these four steps:

1. Have a clear mission.

What do you believe? What drives you? What is your vision for yourself and the future of your company? Create a roadmap of where you’d like to go and keep it at the forefront of you mind. Enlist the help of a career coach or counselor.

2. Fill your thoughts with positivity.

Practice building up your confidence every morning (or every time you’re feeling self-doubt) by telling yourself positive affirmations and actually believing them.

3. Stop limiting yourself.

Reach outside your comfort zone. The only way to achieve growth is to constantly stretch yourself.

4. Have courage.

Courage is one of the ten leadership attributes in my book, The Ten-Minute Leadership Challenge. Having courage means that you’re willing to stand up for your beliefs and defend others, if necessary. It means taking the occasional risk, even if you’re not feeling brave.

BONUS: 5. Start seeing setbacks as opportunities, rather than obstacles.

If your ideas are challenged, your project faces difficulties, or you’re told “no,” don’t give up! Instead, look at your setback as an opportunity to reframe your idea or your work. Author Stephen King was rejected dozens of time and told that “no one is interested in horror.” What did he do? He edited his work and kept on submitting it, standing firmly by his genre. It’s okay to rework your ideas, but stay steadfast to your core beliefs.

 

YOU have the power to be successful. Your internal monologue can either drive you toward success or make you shrink back into your comfort zone. Be bold, be confident, and above all BELIEVE in yourself, your capabilities, and your ideas.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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Don't let inexperience stand in your way

There you are, sifting through the LinkedIn ads, searching for the job of your dreams. You find that listing that speaks to you, and you get excited as you read through the list of responsibilities. You even start picturing yourself exceling at each task, getting promotion after promotion, becoming the next CEO…then, bam! You hit that long, seemingly endless list of requirements, including three unrealistically specific degrees, and one hundred years of experience – for an entry level position. You feel defeated. And maybe you shrug your shoulders and instead apply for a different job that only makes you feel “meh.”

I’m here to tell you that the magical person who has all those qualifications does not exist. Perhaps those mile-long job requirements come about due to inexperienced human resources workers who have never written a job description before. Or maybe some employers are hoping to find the best and brightest pool of talent to dip into later by listing a million requirements. Either way, don’t let it discourage you from applying, and here’s a couple reasons why:

  • Interviewers are human. This means you can use your sparkling personality to win them over. Be personable and be yourself. People want to work with people who seem easy to get along with and who are excited about the job.
  • Your qualifications do not have to be so literal. Maybe you have never managed a team before. But I bet you have coached a co-worker through a tough time, or managed a project. Think through scenarios that relate to each qualification in the job posting.

Of course, there will be times when more experience may be required. Huge career shifts may involve going back to school for an entire four-year (or longer) degree. But often there are more subtle ways to gain the experience to help you land the job:

  • Harness your network – Get to know the industry or the company you want to work for by asking your network for help. A friend may be able to land you some informational interviews at her friend’s company, or a former colleague may be working in your intended industry.
  • Volunteer or Intern – Look for opportunities to help in the area you want to work in. That could mean writing newsletters for a friend’s business if you are looking for a communications gig, or interning at a farm for the summer if you are looking at agriculture or horticulture.
  • Freelance – Have you thought about going solo? If you have knowledge in a particular field, like writing or graphic design, for example, and are finding it hard to land a traditional job, freelancing may be for you. According to Freelancer’s Union, there are over 53 million Americans working freelance, and it is continuing to grow as workers seek alternative ways to make money.
  • Take a class or two – There are so many ways to educate yourself without having to go back for a full degree. Sometimes you just need a refresher, or you want to expand your knowledge base. Most areas offer community education classes. And universities have continuing education programs and certifications. Even learning from home can take you far; there are so many classes and professionals offering training online.

 

Don’t give up hope when you see a lengthy job posting. Think through your options to make that dream job a reality. How can you translate your current experiences into the right requirements for the job? It doesn’t have to take a complete overhaul of your life to get the career you deserve.

I am happy to provide guidance along your journey to a fulfilling career. Contact me to learn more.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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