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Creating Successful Leaders

Tag Archives: Lifelong Learning

life long learning while working full timeContinued growth and lifelong learning is a not-so-secret priority of many successful professionals.

It can be difficult to give self-improvement the attention it deserves—with daily distractions and to-do’s constantly vying for your attention.

Growth and its requirements can be intimidating, often tiring, and rarely convenient, but if you’re committed to your true aspirations—to honing your skills or establishing a new set completely—there are a few key options for building your expertise while working full-time.

Get a mentor.

Connect with people who have the job or knowledge you desire and who epitomize “success” to you. Networking is an incredibly powerful tool for a variety of reasons, but especially demonstrates its value for people seeking direction and advice. Attend an event, preferably one that attracts the kind of professional you’re looking for—niche meet-ups work great—and be honest with your intentions. Get ready to ask the right person, “Can you offer any advice?”

Volunteer.

Many priceless learning opportunities are hidden under the veil of pro-bono work. Volunteering your time will give you some schedule flexibility, hands-on experience, and valuable connections with people in the field.

Study.

There are numerous flexible and inexpensive options for professionals looking to learn. Read books, listen to podcasts, subscribe to blogs. Get in a daily routine of discovering something new every single day.

In addition to publications, consider enrolling in a class. Whether it’s online, through Community Education, offered in seminar form, or part-time through a college, education can be energizing, fun, and necessary for professional growth.

Stretch yourself.

One of the best (and only ways) to improve yourself is to test yourself. Only by opening up to new (and often intimidating) experiences can you realize what you’re capable of. Say “yes!” to new opportunities, and uncover any necessary bravery later.

 

Making a commitment to self-improvement not only gives you an edge in the professional word, but carries over to everyday enjoyment. Finding great people to look up to, devoting your time to projects that energize you, growing your mind, and pushing your boundaries sounds like living to me.

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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cheering photo

Copyright Margaret Smith, UXL: Creating Successful Leaders

One of the activities I often use in my career-based workshops is one that involves your personal highs and lows. It gets you thinking about your greatest moments and your worst moments, the times you felt like you were on Cloud 9 and the times when you felt like just throwing in the towel.

The reason I enjoy giving this activity is because it gives direction; it makes you realize what you like most about your career, what you like least, and what really, really needs to change. It also helps give you a voice–to ask for what you don’t currently have. Not finding the support you need at work? Seek it out. Not finding your optimal productivity? Think of when you were most productive and figure out how to recreate that environment.

This activity will give you a good starting point, but it may take some further detective work and guidance to truly figure out the next steps you need to take to be happy at work. I’m here to help with those next steps. In the meantime, take ten minutes out of your day to reflect and spend meaningful time on the following activity. Enjoy!

Grab a pen and paper and jot down a few sentences in response to the following prompts. Then, spend some time thinking about what your answers mean and write down an action plan to achieve your best self.

1a. Think of a time when you were the most productive. What were the circumstances and why do you think you were highly productive?

1b. Think of a time when you felt the least productive. What were the circumstances?

 

2a. Think of a time when you felt a strong sense of belonging or community. Write about it.

2b. Think of a time when you felt the least sense of belonging. Write about it.

 

3a. Think of a time when you were learning the most. What were you learning? How did that time feel?

3b. Think of a time when you were learning the least. What were the circumstances?

 

4a. Think of a time when you were having the most fun. Why do you think that was?

4b. Think of a time when you were having the least fun. Why?

 

It is important to give yourself time to reflect and think about these questions, but it is just as important to create an action plan after you’re done reflecting. What areas matter most to you? Do you care about productivity, but are not concerned with learning? Do you want to prioritize a sense of belonging in your life and career? List some ideas that will help you maximize your priority areas.

If you’d like to discuss this activity, or if you have any questions, please reach out and contact me at any time.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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white-flag

Our society goes on and on about the power of persistence. We’ve all heard the story of Thomas Edison trying thousands of times before finally getting the light bulb right, or of Martin Luther King Jr. bringing about social change against enormous odds. We idolize figures who strive against great obstacles and persevere, unwilling to give up.

To be sure, persistence and resilience in the face of hardship are admirable characteristics. But many blame themselves unfairly for not having success with something that might not be feasible. There are circumstances that no amount of will power can impact, and these are the times when the courageous thing to do, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, would be to let it go and move on.

But you may be wondering, how do you know when to let it go? Wouldn’t we still be using gas lamps if Edison had let go of his vision to invent the incandescent light bulb?

It is tough to know when to count your losses when you’re right in the thick of it, be it a project or goal or what-have-you. Making it harder still is that social stigma of being a perceived failure. However, there are a few key questions you can ask yourself that will help you know if you should let it go (for now!), and help yourself in the long run.

1. Is my goal feasible? Ways to determine this: Do I have a detailed game plan? What are the concrete steps to achieving my goal? Can I do it on my own? If not, who have I enlisted for support?

2. Am I making progress? If you’re heart is truly in it, you’ll see results, even if they are miniscule. But if you find yourself drifting away, it may be because deep down this project isn’t right for you at this time, and there’s absolutely no shame in acknowledging that.

3. Has the process thus far had an overall positive or negative effect on my life? There’s healthy stress that motivates us to keep going, and then there’s unhealthy stress, which crosses over into other parts of our lives and brings our general happiness down. If the goal feels like a burden you cannot handle, then it may be time to let it go.

4. Do I really, truly, deep down want this?

Consider these questions, and be okay with setting things aside if that’s what you feel is best for you. Acknowledging that you may need to let it go for a bit shows great maturity and self-awareness, and that’s something to be proud of! Remember: in the long run, you’re preparing yourself for even greater success.

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bookshelf_header

As you take your summer trip, lay out on the beach, or simply lounge in your backyard, a great book can really be the icing on the cake.

I’m often asked what I’m reading as it relates to business and leadership, so I thought I’d share a few of my personal favorites on the subject. Since it’s summer, I kept the textbooks off the list. But don’t be fooled: While they may be “light” reading, the insights they carry pack a punch.

1. Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown.

daringgreatly_final525-resized-600Brown shares an idea that at first seems counterintuitive: that we draw courage from being vulnerable. But in her engaging style, she soon demonstrates how this simple principle can transform the way we take risks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. The Art of Procrastination, by John Perry

the art of procrastinationThis book is short and sweet, but it tackles that challenge we all face. Namely, how do we battle that urge to put important things off? Perry suggests that we shouldn’t try to stop procrastinating all together, but that we can learn to use procrastination as a tool to our advantage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Love Leadership, by John Hope Bryant

love leadershipBryant elegantly lays out why leading with love is the most powerful way to lead. Packed with personal stories that really drive the message home, this book has had a great impact on me, as it has helped me grow into a compassionate leader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni

5dysfunctionsWritten as a fable about one terribly dysfunctional fictional company, Lencioni reveals his five dysfunctions–absence of trust; fear of conflict; lack of committment; avoidance of accountability; and inattention to results–with engrossing characters and stories. We learn how teams should operate by seeing a demonstration of all the wrong behaviors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy reading!

 

 

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better than yesterday

We show our true colors when things don’t go as planned. It’s easy to be kind, confident and happy when everything goes our way, but not so much when we encounter that unavoidable road block.

If you have a pulse, you’re going to hit road blocks. So how do you prepare yourself to deal with failures and letdowns with grace and character?

1.  Take a step back.

Think of all the times in your life when you thought it was the end of the world. How often did that turn out to be true? I’m guessing never, since the world is clearly still here. It’s easy to get trapped in doomsday thinking when you run into a real problem. The truth is, it’s almost never as bad as you think it is at that given moment. When you learn to reinforce this while you’re brain is in crisis mode, you’ll be able to take a step back and see the situation more clearly.

2. Don’t give up.

Your self-destructive voice in your head I like to call your saboteur will take every stumble as a chance to encourage you to throw in the towel. Don’t listen!

It takes thousands of hours of work to reach success and mastery, and nobody gets it the first time around. Be patient with yourself, and keep plugging away.

3. Reach out.

Letdowns, failures, and detours can be embarrassing. The last thing you may feel like doing is going to someone else for help and support. But just remember, there’s no shame in failure, only shame in not trying in the first place. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how happy your friends and family will be to get behind you. You need only be humble and honest about your situation.

4. Revise your plan of attack.

If you’re constantly failing at the same task or project, there’s a good chance you need to change your plan altogether. The definition of insanity, after all, is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Take hiccups as a chance to reassess your strategy. What’s not working? Why? How can you make it work? You may need to reign in your goals a bit, and this is okay. It’s better to make incremental steps forward than to have grand plans that you’re unable to reach.

Take comfort in the fact that setbacks are part of the process, and keep plugging away!

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travelingSome of my best memories come from the trips I’ve taken. Whether I’m remembering cozy summers with the family on the ocean, or adventurous backpacking endeavors in college, all my travels have left me with nostalgic, warm feelings.

And that’s great. But it’s not the complete picture, is it? I’m sure if I really tried, I could remember all the things that were stressful, exhausting, and uncomfortable; in other words, the inevitable parts of traveling we like to ignore.

So while I love the memories traveling provides me, it’s meant to do much more than simply create fuzzy feelings.

Traveling recalibrates our expectations and assumptions about life. When we stay in one routine for long periods of time, tunnel vision takes over. Without even realizing it, we begin to assume that all life has to offer is what’s right in front of us in our particular circumstance. Traveling wipes this clean when we see all the differences, big and small, between places and cultures. There are many ways of doing life. Traveling both inspires us to try new things and forces us to investigate our own lifestyles.

Traveling gives us the chance to test ourselves. This might mean a physical challenge such as a long hike, a mental challenge like learning a new language or familiarizing yourself with cultural customs, or the general challenge of relinquishing your sense of control as you navigate your way through new spaces and experiences. A family friend told me that after spending time in Colombia, she no longer found herself worrying as much about the trivial stresses of everyday life, because her experience abroad proved she was capable of handling all sorts of challenges. This is the kind of personal growth traveling provides.

Traveling forces us to prioritize. You can’t fit every trinket and comfort you own in a suitcase. You have to instead focus on what you really need to make your travels special for you. You’ll take this mindset home with you. How can you simplify your life at home to optimize your priorities?

Traveling doesn’t have to be long and grandiose to be meaningful. Take a train ride through the country, spend a weekend  biking or camping, or coordinate a roadtrip to historical sites in your area with friends and family. As long as it transports you to new experiences, your adventure can be almost anything.

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free-throw-distraction

More than a few people have told me that they marvel at my ability to speak in front of large groups of people with ease. Different versions of “how do you do it?” are the most common questions I get, as they can’t seem to wrap their heads around how a person can remain so calm and composed with all eyes on them.

The truth is, there is rarely a time when I don’t feel anxious leading up to a speaking engagement. I too get the staple sweaty palms, shortness of breath and a heart rate going a mile a minute. Getting nervous before taking the stage is an almost universal experience.

So how do I, or anyone else who does a lot of public speaking, appear composed even while anxious? As boring as it is, the answer is practice. I’ve done it over and over again, and I’ve paid attention to the mistakes I’ve made during past speaking events. Each talk becomes more manageable and less daunting, and usually once I get a couple minutes in, it’s off to the races.

But more generally, what we’re really talking about here is performance under pressure. Clearly, we all experience it and face it in our jobs and in other aspects of our lives, yet some of us seem more adept at handling and overcoming it, while others struggle with the tendency to “choke.”

To Choke Is No Joke

We’ve all seen a breakdown occur, whether it’s witnessing a public speaker fall apart once they hit the stage, sitting through a coworker stumble through a presentation, or simply watching an athlete buckle under the pressure in an overtime game on TV. Recently, the popular film director Michael Bay fell apart on stage at a Samsung press conference after an apparent teleprompter failure:

Case in point: these chokes are hard to watch. That’s because we can empathize with the dreaded feeling of drawing a blank at the exact moment we’re supposed to perform.

There Is Hope For The Choker

Buckling under pressure doesn’t mean you’re weak. It has nothing to do with your skills, talents, or your worth. What it does indicate is that you have the problem of over-thinking the situation at the moment it is happening. Chokers tend to over-worry and obsess over how they’re performing and appearing as they give a speech, a presentation or shoot a free throw. Clutch performers, on the other hand, are able to eliminate all the extra chatter in their heads and focus on the task.

Sports psychologists have found that those struggling with performing under pressure get help by focusing on other things while they perform the task in question. Golfers, for instance, might concentrate on their favorite song while they swing. This helps them find their flow, that point we hit our peak performance efficiency.

Quick takeaway:

1. Practice gives you the confidence to manage your nerves

2. Focusing on pleasant, calming thoughts can help minimize obsessive, distracting thoughts and increase “flow”

3. A little nerves serve as motivation! Take comfort in the fact that your nervousness is proof that you care

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