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Category Archives: Thrive at Work

working with a mentor

With any job, we all rely on guidance from our supervisors and peers to learn the ropes and develop new strategies for accomplishing tasks. These people serve as coaches and mentors, and can be a principle reason for creative and professional success.

A mentor’s experience is a resource as valuable as any skill in your personal toolbox, but finding the right person for the role can be challenging in a new environment. As you begin your search, you may find a few of these strategies useful:

1. Identify your process and values

As we grow, we try out and exchange work habits and strategies to make ourselves more effective. Finding a mentor who speaks to you starts with understanding yourself and how you work. What are the values that drive you? How do they translate to the type of work you do and which projects or responsibilities you’d like to take on?  What are the pain points and blind spots of your working style that others may need to accommodate for or address? These questions are important to ask and reflect upon when seeking a mentor. Knowing their answers to some degree will help when approaching others for help.

2. Look across disciplines

Everybody brings a unique mix of experience and ability to the table in an organization. A person’s job description doesn’t always tell you everything about the perspective they bring or their ability to teach. If you are worried or intimidated by reaching out to folks in your own department, making connections outside your usual circle and observing how people attack problems may shed a learning light you never considered before.

3. Establish rapport

Mentors are not always our closest friends, but a good mentor will be someone who respects your goals and spends time to observe and understand your learning process. Get to know folks who’ve joined the team before you and communicate your respect for their role and the work they’ve done. If you’re not familiar with these details, friendly chats over lunch or a drink can provide a way to accrue insight casually and over an extended period of time.

4. Develop yourself and network

Professional associations often offer conferences and seminars to learn the ropes of new skills or discuss innovation within a given industry. If you feel like your office lacks the means to provide the guidance you seek, attend trainings and make connections – either with fellow learners or the speakers. Handing out business cards and picking someone’s brain for 15 minutes may be all it takes to find a new teacher.

Finding a mentor isn’t always easy, but the returns for your efforts can be transformative. Keep an open mind, and be honest with yourself if you aren’t getting what you need on the first attempt. If you keep at it, often the right guidance is never too far away . Stay positive and get cracking.

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“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

It seems like everywhere I turn, people are trying to promote happiness.

“Buy this, and it will change your life!”

“Lose weight and feel good about yourself!”

“Enjoy a movie/shopping spree/vacation!”

While I’m certainly not against promoting happiness, I believe we have to think a little more long-term. “Happiness products” and mindsets only give us a temporary jolt of joy. We feel good after we’ve taken a nice, rejuvenating vacation. We may feel happy when we purchase a new piece of jewelry or pair of shoes. And that authentic Italian dinner? Oh yeah, you’d better believe that gives a shot of happiness!

Again, these things are not bad, but it’s a good idea to put them in context of the “bigger picture.” What life purpose do you want to serve? What do you want your everyday legacy to be? (For the difference between “Capital L Legacy” and “lowercase l legacy,” please see my blog post on the subject).

To start thinking big picture, start shifting your focus from happiness to usefulness.

When you’re useful, you create things. You help. You generate ideas. You work toward a larger goal.

When you’re useful, you not only feel productive, you are productive.

Instead of asking yourself, “How can I be happier?” start asking, “How can I be useful?” In my experience, happiness follows. When you’re productive, assisting others, helping your company grow, or creating things, you’ll inevitably feel the satisfaction that goes with accomplishment.

Your legacy is built on usefulness, not your personal happiness. Of course I want you to be happy, but sustainably happy. Instead of scratching every happiness itch, practice making a few intentional sacrifices for the sake of being useful. This is how you will leave a lasting impression on those around you.

So, get motivated! Make yourself useful! It’s fine to start small:

  • Volunteer for a project
  • Help a co-worker who is floundering
  • Grab coffee or lunch for someone who is short on time
  • Clean your workspace
  • Send a thank you card
  • Set intentional goals and work toward them
  • Be bold—speak up at meetings and share your ideas

Being useful feels good. Productivity begets productivity. Before you know it, usefulness will become a core part of who you are—part of your legacy.

What else can you do to make yourself useful this week? I’d love to hear from you!

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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It’s okay to be an odd duck!

Have you heard the phrase, “variety is the spice of life”? That’s true, of course, but it’s also the fuel of the workplace. It’s what drives innovation and creativity. Can you imagine what would happen if we all went quietly along with the status quo and no one ever dared to shake things up a bit? We would have never had the iPhone or the Tesla or the Mars Rover.

In my own life, I’ve dared to take some professional risks that ended up becoming much more successful than I had ever dreamed. For example, several years ago, I decided to advocate for the creation a new branch of my former company. Though I had been nervous to bring forth my idea, and even more nervous to execute it once the idea was approved, I forged ahead. Today, that branch of the company is worth several million, and is a thriving component of the company.

When you dare to contradict the status quo, propose a new idea, or create a bold new innovation, you are engaging the “big picture” side of your brain. Too often, we press ahead with our work, heads down, unable to see the forest for the trees. It pays to look up. Every once in a while, make a concerted effort to step back and question the current way of doing things.

Ask yourself the following big-picture questions and spend time contemplating the answers:

  • Do your goals or end points make sense?
  • Are you (or your company) serving the purpose you’re suppose to serve?
  • Are you working as efficiently or effectively as possible?
  • What changes would benefit the company as a whole?
  • What fresh ideas could be incorporated into your work or others’ work?
  • Have you considered the customer’s perspective and needs?

If you’ve identified areas that could be changed or improved, be BOLD and act! Dare to think differently. Dare to present your ideas to your superiors or co-workers. Your initiative could make an enormous impact.

When you’re preparing to make a bold new change, tap into your reserves of courage. Follow the 5 Ps of Courage (as outlined in my video), and build confidence in yourself and your idea. You can do this! Innovation is built by daring individuals with big 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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foster team's creativity

Creativity is a key resource in any successful team’s problem-solving toolbox. New projects bring together many different kinds of people, with a diverse array of perspectives and strengths. Creating an environment that fosters not only your own creativity but that of your team as a unit can be tricky and unintuitive at times. Small groups thrive when everyone is comfortable and participates. Here are some tips to facilitate that dynamic and get your team’s creative juices flowing.:

Brainstorming Sessions

Brainstorming sessions are a tried and true way of teasing out new ideas. Have your team gather in a comfortable, neutral space. If the office conference room doesn’t inspire, a change of venue like a neighborhood coffee shop can put people in a new headspace. Break problems down to their smallest components and encourage your team to share ideas as they come – even if it’s just popped into their head. An off-hand thought may transform into a fresh innovation.

Autonomy

Responsibility and control kindle confidence, and allow team members to put themselves more fully into a task or project. Break projects into portions that can be overseen by individual team members. If you have a gauge of your team’s individual strengths and talents, try pairing them with a role that will feed off the team members’ personal strengths. A developing designer should be given the opportunity to apply their knowledge to spatial or engagement issues. An engineer who loves puzzles can be asked to incorporate that strategic thinking with the task at hand.

Connection

A team that gets along can address problems more effectively. Find an activity or outing outside the confines of your assignment that will engage folks and keep them at ease while building up your relationship. This will change depending on the group and their interests. Maybe rec sports are the answer, or trivia night at a local pub. Whatever the outing, make sure it is something everybody would like to do. Take suggestions!

Get Inspired

Are there similar cases and problems that groups in your industry have faced? Creativity is often inspired by work that’s come before. Send your team digging for solutions and situations others have faced that are similar. Discerning others’ methods can provide a helpful opportunity to compare and contrast real-world solutions to your own project’s context and particular needs. Like Brainstorming, a gathered set of tangible ideas allows focus and connections to be drawn instead of working from scratch.

Creativity is an extension of ourselves. By giving your team the space and footing they need to put themselves into a project, and you’ll grow together and see colorful returns. Go forth and expand your palette.

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It’s easy to say yes. We naturally aim to please our co-workers and supervisors; we want to look good in the eyes of the company and get that raise or earn that promotion. But saying yes can be dangerous. If you say yes to everything—every assignment, every request, every invitation—you’ll end up stretching yourself too thin and you’ll possibly end up taking on work that isn’t in your sweet spot or doing things that go against your code of ethics.

Though I’m a proponent of trying new things and being agreeable, there are times when it is in your best interest to give a firm N-O. Here are three scenarios where saying “No” is the best course of action (accompanied by three strategies to pull it off):

1. You have too much on your plate.

If you feel your workload growing out of control and can tell the quality of your work is sharply declining, it’s time to say no. How to do it? The next time your project leader tries to assign you something new, do not immediately say yes. Arrange to meet one-on-one (it is much easier to reason with someone one-on-one than in a group) and lay out your reasons for not wanting to take on the project.

Be prepared. Make a spreadsheet that clearly displays the projects you are currently tackling and how much time you spend each day on each project. Also, come into the meeting with a counter-proposal in mind. If you know of someone else who might have the capacity (and desire) to take on the project, suggest that person to your project leader (be sure to get that individual’s approval ahead of time).

Alternatively, you could suggest a future date that would work for you to start the project (i.e. “I’m busy from now until the end of the May, but I could start working on this project in June.”)

2. You are being given work that is not in your “sweet spot.”

This is a tough one, but ultimately, if you are constantly handed work that does not align with your areas of expertise, you are doing both your company and yourself a disservice. Your company won’t receive the best possible work and you’ll be straying from your career goals.

So, how to say no? Again, a one-on-one meeting with your supervisor is helpful in this situation. Explain to her what your ultimate goals are and what kind of projects you prefer. One of the best things you can do in this situation is approach it with confidence and decisiveness. Know where you’d like to be heading and explain, confidently, how you’d like to get there.

Ultimately, if your company is not supportive of your career goals (or if you find that the type of work you do consistently does not align with your sweet spot), it is time to start searching for something new, either inside or outside your current company.

3. Saying yes compromises your values.

There are times when it just does not feel good to say yes. Perhaps you agree to attend a late-night strategy session, knowing that your daughter has a piano recital that night. Or perhaps a co-worker dumps several assignments on your lap that are really her responsibility, not yours. Or maybe you’ve had to sacrifice your health or nightly down-time because of all the projects you’ve agreed to do. Whatever the case, sometimes saying yes is simply not the right decision.

How to say no? First of all, know your priorities. Does your family come first? Your health? Your mental wellbeing? When one of the things that’s important in your life becomes compromised, it’s time to say no. Keep an open line of communication with your boss and let him know when you feel like work is tipping the scales of your work-life balance.

And another thing: think before you say yes. Always take a moment to pause, assess the situation, and make a deliberate decision. If that means waiting a day or two to mull over the pros and cons, so be it. Ultimately, you need to feel good about agreeing to do something before you say “yes.”

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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It’s that time of year—the time when illness is rampant and, at any given time, two or three of your team members are home sick. If you’re like most people, you’re exposed to dozens of different opportunities every day to pick up germs—in the conference room, at the grocery store, at your kids’ daycare or in the bleachers of their sports games, at your hair salon, in the gym…the list goes on and on!

How can you possibly avoid germs and stay healthy without having to stop and slather on the hand sanitizer? Try these 7 quick tips:

Be aware

This is probably the most basic and important tip of all. Pay attention to your surroundings. Notice where you sit and what you touch during the day. Have other people touched that door handle before you? Have other people handled the grapefruit at the grocery store? Your awareness can lead to better health hygiene.

Keep active

Though it may seem like the gym is swarming with germs (and it probably is!), staying active is a great way to give your immune system a boost and help everything from your circulation to your mood. Just don’t forget to wipe down your machine before and after you use it.

Pack your lunch

Packing your lunch for work is a great practice in general (it saves you money and helps you make conscious, healthy choices), but it’s an especially good idea during cold and flu season. You won’t expose yourself to potential germs when dining out or eating in the company cafeteria, and you can throw in some vitamin C-rich foods, like clementines or leafy greens.

Slow down

If you’re like me, this is the hardest piece of advice on the list. However, it is vital to your health to slow down every once in a while, breathe, and clear your mind. If you don’t have the patience for meditation, try practicing yoga or nightly journaling.

Drink plenty of water

I know you’ve heard this one, but it is SO important. Most people don’t drink as much water as they should, and that can affect your entire system. As the Mayo Clinic says, “Every cell, tissue and organ in your body needs water to work properly.”

Avoid caffeine and soda

On the flip side of drinking more water is avoiding certain beverages. Though you may love your coffee or sugary drinks, they can cause unhealthy highs and lows that can potentially stress your system. Try switching to herbal or green tea for a while—it’s rich in catechins, antioxidants and a range of other beneficial nutrients (according to PushDoctor.com)

Recognize when you ARE getting sick

Health expert Pilar Gerasimo recommends that we look at illness symptoms as “signals for change.” If you don’t want that sore throat to become a full-blown cold, start getting more rest, cutting back on activities, pumping yourself full of vitamins, and catching up on sleep. Your preventive measures could nip illness in the bud before it fully blooms.

A final note: Your health is vital to your happiness, productivity, and mental wellbeing. If you find yourself over-worked or stressed, take a step back, take a break, and start saying NO to certain projects (click here for strategies to effectively say no). It will be worth it in the long run.

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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slow down amid holiday craziness

Tis the season…of a thousand little tasks! Between holiday get-togethers, cooking, decorating, and shopping for presents, it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed by the holiday busyness. It’s too bad that the season of joy, family, and camaraderie can also be the season of stress, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

In between the hustle and bustle, you can find small ways to slow down and relax if you know how. These tiny breaks are necessary for your emotional and physical wellbeing, your relationships (personal and professional), and your mental clarity. Slowing down can help defuse stressful situations or allow you to step back and have a greater presence of mind when you’re faced with a problem.

Here are 8 ways to slow down amid holiday craziness:

1. Pause, breathe, re-center

You’ve probably heard this before, but allowing yourself time and space to just breathe can reduce stress and help you see the bigger picture. Try different “quick relaxation” techniques like counting to ten, focusing on your breath, or taking a short walk.

2. Stay active

When you’re busy running errands and rushing to get work done before your holiday commitments, you may feel too exhausted to hit the treadmill or attend that yoga class. The truth is, physical activity won’t deplete you, but will help energize you and keep you healthier and happier in the long-term. Don’t neglect your fitness, even if it means buying a pre-packaged dessert for the potluck instead of making one from scratch. Your health comes first!

3. Read for pleasure

Instead of zoning out in front of the TV after a long day, try stimulating your brain in a different way by reading or listening to a book. It’s a great way to relax and spend a little time away from the ever-present screen.

4. Take a walk

When was the last time you simply went for a walk without any destination or distraction? I challenge you to leave your cell phone at home, bundle up, and start walking. Let your mind wander wherever it wants to go, breathe easy, and let yourself relax. You maybe surprised by how energized you feel afterward.

5. Enjoy time with friends

Pick a no-stress activity and enjoy it with friends! Your friends deserve a break from holiday headaches just as much as you do, so why not unwind together? Hit up a coffee shop or a happy hour, wander around a conservatory, or park yourselves at a local library and read books side-by-side. No need to do anything too elaborate—in fact, the simpler the better.

6. Cherish mealtime

How many times have you scarfed down lunch at your desk? Or eaten dinner in your car? How many times have you cleaned your plate without truly thinking about what was on it?

In our modern world, we have gotten away from making meals the center of our lives. Cheryl Johnson, founder of Box Lunch Lifestyle, challenges us to spend just fifteen minutes each day doing nothing but eating our lunch, appreciating it, and sitting quietly (followed by 15 minutes of “you time”). This time allows us to decompress and be mindful of the food that is nourishing our bodies.

7. Don’t worry about perfection

Though it’s easier said than done, one way to slow down the constant thrumming in our heads is to realize that you don’t have to always achieve perfection. You don’t need the perfect tree; you don’t need to make the perfect holiday meal; you don’t need to buy the perfect gift. Cut yourself some slack and don’t stress if you fall short of perfection. Your honest effort is enough.

8. Ask for help (and accept it)

The entire holiday season does not rest on your shoulders. If you need help, ask for it! Host a potluck, for instance, instead of cooking an entire meal on your own. Hire a cleaning crew instead of stressing about tidying up your house. ASK what others want as gifts (or ask for their Amazon wish list!) instead of trying to guess. Delegation and assistance do not make you any less of a holiday warrior—just an efficient one.

 

My sincere wish for you is that you will enjoy this holiday season instead of stressing about it. Take some time for yourself amid all the hustle and bustle. Pencil it into your schedule if you need to. You shouldn’t have to survive the holidays…you should enjoy and savor them like a cup of gourmet hot cocoa.

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