Archive for the ‘values’ Category

Just finished reading Brene´ Brown’s book “The Gifts of Imperfection“, a great book by the way. One thing that really resonated with me came near the end when she talks about being cool and always in control. This has been a theme in my life, and having lived in DC for the past 10 years hasn’t helped to change that. This town is generally about being on guard, conforming, and keeping your silly side under wraps. No freak flags are flown here, at least none that I’ve seen.

article-2287524-18686F27000005DC-646_634x436Being cool, in the context of the book, is not particularly a good thing. We’re too cool when we’re afraid of looking silly in front of others by doing things like laughing too loudly, singing off-key, or dancing around like a fool.  On the other hand, we’re uncool when we can fully embrace our vulnerability in situations like these, and let our authentic selves come out – and in the process, not caring what others may think.

Brown tells a funny story about how she and her daughter were dancing in the shoe department at Nordstrom’s to a catchy song that was playing in the background. Even though other shoppers were shooting them judgmental looks, that didn’t stop them from freely expressing themselves. She writes, “When we value being cool and in control over granting ourselves the freedom to unleash the passionate, goofy, heartfelt and soulful expressions of who we are, we betray ourselves. When we consistently betray ourselves, we can expect to do the same to the people we love.”

Like anything else, being uncool is a process…and for me, a really “cool” place to get to!


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I can’t stress enough how important it is to honor our values when deciding on a job offer. I also encourage job seekers to look beyond salary, which is too often the only factor considered. I’m not suggesting at all that salary be ignored. That would be foolish and impractical. I recommend that salary instead be one of many factors considered. But at the same time, I realize that everyone is different, with varying priorities. So it’s important to create a list of professional values and prioritize them. Just like house hunting where it’s difficult to satisfy every want and need in one house, it’s equally challenging to fulfill every want and need in a new job.

checklist (1)With that said, if we can separate those things we can compromise on, from those we aren’t willing to compromise on, this will help make the decision-making process a bit easier. For example, are we willing to compromise on salary if the job meets our “uncompromisable” values of advancement potential, a comprehensive benefits package and professional development opportunities? Or maybe we can compromise on having a short commute if the job meets our uncompromisable values, say perhaps a compatible boss, flexible work schedule and autonomy to implement ideas. It’s also a good idea to periodically revisit our values list as our lives often change and cause shifts in priorities. In the end, staying true to our “must-haves” will help set us up for career success and fulfillment.

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I just finished reading Andre Agassi’s best-selling book called Open. It’s one of those “hard-to-put-down” books which offers some valuable life lessons. One of the underlying themes is that life is full of contradictions. Agassi talks about how he was pushed into the sport of tennis by his father, and partly because of that, he resented the sport, and never really liked it to begin with anyway. As a kid, he was never permitted to explore any other interests because his father was laser-focused on him excelling at tennis.

Agassi as a kid: practicing vs.”the dragon,” a ball machine built by his father that fires balls at 110 mph.

But his tennis career gave him the opportunity to realize and fulfill some important life goals. He met fellow tennis pro and the love of his life, Steffi Graf early on in his career. He also was lucky enough to eventually realize his true passion in life, which is education. (His own education was cut short due to the demands of a professional tennis career.) He went on to open up his own charter school to serve and educate kids at risk. And even though he hated tennis, he continued in the sport into his mid 30’s because it provided the means to raise enough money to open up the school and start an education foundation, which is still thriving today. Hence, the contradiction: he spent a lot of years doing something he hated, but it opened up a whole new world where he could start living his passion.

As a career coach, I would have a hard time recommending someone do something they hated. But Agassi has provided the exception to this rule: if you have a solid plan that brings you to a fulfilling and personally meaningful career and transforms your life, then I can definitely see the value in that. This was (one of) Andre’s contradictions. What’s one of yours?

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Employee turnover is a very costly expense for organizations and something they generally want to avoid. One of the major causes of turnover is weak employer/employee relationships.

But what can organizations do to improve that? Research now shows the advantages of self-expression in the workplace, particularly for new employees. But the benefits apply to the organization as well. In the studies done, when new employees were allowed to express their individuality and use their unique strengths, instead of conforming solely to organizational  values and behavioral norms, both the organization and the employee benefitted – especially in terms of greater retention, higher quality work, greater engagement, increased job satisfaction and more positive job attitudes. This is a practice that organizations would be smart to consider.

Here’s the full report.

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On the dawn of the 10th anniversary of 9-11, I’m reminded of the tragic events of that day and how in many ways it seems like only yesterday.

I got on the subway, like every other morning, to make my way downtown to my office, which was located a block away from The World Trade Center. I came up from the subway right around 8:50 a.m. to see people running through the streets and covering their heads. I had no idea at this point what was happening, but as I looked straight up and saw a gaping hole in the North Tower, I knew at least that this would be like no other day. I soon found myself caught up in the wave of people and started to run and cover my head as well to protect myself from falling debris. I made it to my building, out of breath and confused. I saw my voicemail light flashing and listened to a message from my sister, asking if I was alright. I then ran into a couple of my co-workers who told me what had just happened. A few minutes later, at 9:03 a.m., we heard a terrible thud and felt the building shake as if an earthquake had just struck. We were evacuated soon after that, quickly making our way down from the 9th floor. In reality it took only a couple minutes to get to the ground floor, but felt like an eternity.

After about 20 minutes of watching and waiting out on the street, I suddenly felt that it was no longer safe to be even standing there, so walked up a few blocks and got on the last subway train back to my apartment, before the entire transit system shut down. I stayed glued to my TV the rest of the day and night, and as I awoke the next morning, my first thought was that this was all a bad dream, but was quickly snapped back into reality the moment I turned the TV back on. I spent the next few days in the city, which was a surreal experience in itself. Once the trains were running again, I was glad to escape for a few days at my parents house in New Jersey.

The company I was working for at the time had found temporary office space for us until we were allowed back into our building six weeks later. We were all given face masks and were advised to stay inside the building to avoid breathing the questionable air.

My company had lost a lot of business because of 9-11 and as a result I was downsized at the end of the year. This was a blessing in disguise. Coincidentally, I had just started my coaching certification program down in DC  that September, and knew that it was time anyway to explore another career. The line of work I was in was certainly my comfort zone, but it wasn’t doing anything else for me. So as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9-11, we’re reminded, of course, of the senseless loss of life, but also how fragile life is, and how important it is to love what we do and make the most out of every day. And if we’re not loving our jobs or careers, we need to do something about it…like finding something that we can be passionate about and make us happy. Do what you love. So I’ll leave you with one question. For those of you who are settling…is it worth it?

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So this is my second summer working with a group of student interns at a federal government agency here in DC. This year I led the group through a career workshop, and then moved into doing one-on-one career coaching with them, and wrapped up with a  Q&A/recap session.

It was interesting to see the recurring themes in the one-on-one coaching sessions, which mostly centered around networking. One that sort of surprised me was that very few of the interns had a LinkedIn profile. I guess I automatically think that undergrad and grad students are the authorities on social media (vs. older generations). But maybe that’s a more Facebook-focused thing.  But even Facebook is gradually becoming a good source of professional information and networking, like LinkedIn. And for the public sector, Govloop is gaining in popularity. Why not use all three sites in your networking strategy?

Another interesting thing was their reluctance to talk about their strengths, skills and talents while networking. This was due to not wanting to come off as boastful. A networking event is no place to be overly modest. You want to be sure to let people know what you can offer. Sure there’s a fine line between talking about our strengths and bragging, but a lot of it boils down to wording. If you start every sentence with, “I’m great at this” or “I’m wonderful at that” then it definitely could come across negatively. Try changing some of those sentences to, “I have a lot of experience in x, y and z.” Sounds a little more modest without being too modest, and it comes across as more objective.

Finally, it was nice to see that many of these interns were willing to see the big picture and consider other things besides salary  when it comes time to deciding on job offers. Things like benefits, growth potential, work environment, work-life balance, how the job and organization fits with their values, etc were taking a front seat along with salary.

Like I’ve said before, I really enjoy coaching students. They’re generally very enthusiastic, creative and open to  new approaches and ideas when it comes to their careers.

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A few days ago at Wimbledon, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played the longest ever professional tennis match, smashing all kinds of records. 11 hours over 3 days. 138 games played in the fifth set alone. 138. The two players were definitely hurting by the end, but you could tell they both wanted to win and neither was about to give in. A great example of determination, drive, tenacity and sheer will power.

Did you ever feel like giving up on something because it was  too time-consuming, too difficult, too tiring? A career goal, financial goal, or fitness or weight-loss goal maybe? I’m sure everyone has from time to time. I know I have. I bet Isner and Mahut felt like giving up due to both the physical and mental exhaustion. It would have been very easy to throw in the towel, but that never happened. So the next time you feel like giving up, think of these two tennis players battling it out for over 11 hours. I know I will.  Well there you go, a life lesson played out right on the tennis courts of Wimbledon! Read the full story of this incredible match.

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