Mindfulness: How the Present is Always Perfect, Even When It’s Not

Guest Post by: Talane Meidener (F’87, MA’89)

On the topic of being present and mindfulness, I thought I’d explain a basic spiritual law that often confounds people: the present is perfect. I am sure you’ve probably heard of it before, but most people don’t really understand it. How can the present be perfect when you are sick or have a broken leg? How can the present be perfect when you have massive credit card debt? How can the present be perfect when your boyfriend just dumped you? It certainly doesn’t look or feel perfect in any of these situations. So if the spiritual principle doesn’t change, then how is this very imperfect stuff perfect?

A very wise coach once said that in order for a relationship to really work in the long term, you have to love your partner’s flaws and imperfections. Or at least, find them somewhat charming or amusing. Then it becomes true that you have a “perfect” husband or wife. They are perfect for you, flaws and all. The same works in life. You need to appreciate the perfection in the imperfections. When I was taking pottery classes in New York, I held up my rather wobbly, lopsided bowl and muttered something about it being highly flawed. My teacher, Michael, said, “If you want a perfect bowl, go to Pottery Barn and get one. The beauty lies in the flaws.” So, in that sense, my bowl was indeed perfect. Perhaps more perfect than the one at Pottery Barn, thanks to its flaws. Okay, now let’s take the more difficult leap of faith. How is a broken leg perfect? Or credit card debt? Or even worse, a deadly disease or war? This is much harder to see.

Years ago, my sister was becoming an avid runner when she went skiing for the first time and blew out her knee. After surgery, the doctors said she would never run again. She was in rehabilitation for months, started doing yoga and can now run again, though she has no cartilage left in that knee. If she runs, she is basically wearing down the bone. Not a good long-term strategy. While at first she was saying, “Why me?” and bemoaning her damaged knee, she later realized that she was going down a very athletic path in life and that her real destiny is more intellectual than physical. She later took up fiction writing and absolutely loves it! The universe stopped her in her tracks. So you could say the injured knee was perfect (not that I’d wish it on anyone) and helped her reorient her life around her true gifts and talents. She continued to do yoga and gentler activities like horse-back riding, which she enjoys even more than running.

What about credit card debt? When I was up to my ears in debt, I realized that I needed to learn how to manage my money better or, when the real riches rolled in, I would squander them. Getting more money is not the solution to most financial problems, even though most people think it is. I learned that my spending was driven by an unmet emotional need to be cherished. Until I learned how to fulfill my deeper needs, I would continue to overspend. Once I got my need to be cherished met, then the overspending stopped naturally. The debt was perfect because it forced me to face the facts about my spending habits and also my emotional needs. [Discover your own personal and emotional needs by taking the free Emotional Index Quiz. Now mind you, I still go shopping, but I don’t go into debt to do so—a world of difference.

What looks imperfect in your life? If you imagine yourself describing this event or situation in ten years, how would you describe it as perfect?

If you can realize that the present is perfect right now, you’ll be much calmer when dealing with the seemingly “bad” stuff of life. This is a mindful approach to the inevitable calamities of life.

And, sometimes the thing to do is change what you don’t like by perfecting the present. You can …

Be the Change You Want to See In the World

Some of my clients have asked what to do when they feel guilty for creating an ideal life when there is so much unhappiness in the world?

As Ghandi said, we must, “be the change we want to see in the world.” If you are worried about a current disease or world problem, donate some money to the cause. Being the change you want to see can be as simple as you make it. My hero is the philanthropic Taiwanese vegetable seller, Chen Shu-chu, who is doing exactly that: walking the walk and making huge changes by doing what she can, however small. Not only is she being the change, but by her actions, she is inspiring others to donate to charity as well. Listen to her story here and get inspired to be the change you wish to see in the world.

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What’s at Stake, Up and Down

Guest Post by: Fred Jones, GUAA Coaching Partner

Most of the bosses you’ve had probably fall toward the middle of this contrast: between whether you felt they made it easier or harder to do your thing as a leader. If you’ve had enough bosses, as I’ve had, there’s also at least one on each extreme. Someone who wore you out and drove you crazy, and one who made you better and stronger than you thought possible.

Take a longer look and consider what each of those extreme bosses was doing. Add to that an assessment, from your perspective, how they were “being”–by which I mostly mean the degree to which they seemed at ease, at least in the roles they were playing, in their own skin. Do you sense a difference?

Without fail, we have a lot at stake in our boss. The same goes in reverse. The quality of the connection makes a difference in how information flows and how productively it is used in an organizational system. It also affects the climate–the mood, the weather–from day to day. Poor relationships up and down leave us carrying an extra weight as we move through what already may be complex and challenging. This quality also is visible to others, and it affects their confidence in what’s possible and what’s worth putting discretionary effort into.

From below, there are things you can do to work on the quality upward. You can get in tune on the kind of access you can provide each other, the range of authority you have, how you represent your own point of view even when it varies from your boss’s, and more. Even that sample of a much longer list may sound difficult. The key: making it discussible. This means making the functioning of the relationship itself the focus of attention, with candid sharing of what each of you need from the other. There’s a chance that if you are suffering in the relationship, so is your boss. They may want to make it better, but they never took the time to take your perspective on it.

You may be that boss with one or more of your direct reports. Not necessarily the extreme boss. But you may be in the middle, the one who hasn’t really paused to see what it really is like to report up to you. The boss who is responsible for some amount of lost productivity and personal suffering. You can open the way for them and make the relationship discussible–which means, of course, not making it all about you. If you engage to learn, you are likely to discover something important that may affect not just them but you and the quality of your life as a leader.

Frustrated? No One Cares

Guest Post by: Carrie Arnold, GUAA Coaching Partner

Frustration is the wallpaper of life. It is the ‘go-to’ emotional word we all tend to use when we feel less than positive or neutral about something. It encompasses everything. We are frustrated with the number on the scale, heavy traffic, too many emails, how our boss communicates, that one team member who does not contribute, the kids, the dog, the laundry, the neighbors, and then we are frustrated with our frustration.

According to Merriam-Webster, frustration is a deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs. Words like deep and chronic are pretty intense! Here lies the problem though – no one cares that we are frustrated anymore.

Frustration as our emotional buzzword has lost its impact, and it does not get a listener’s attention. Behind every frustration lies a targeted emotion that can be richly described and better heard. Are we frustrated with our kids or are we chagrined (which means embarrassed or humiliated) because all our good parenting doesn’t seem to stick? Are we frustrated with the traffic or perhaps we merely feel rushed? Are we frustrated with our boss or are we feeling thwarted (which means the feeling of someone preventing us from accomplishing a purpose)?

Behind the word ‘frustration’ is often a disappointing sorrow that some are reluctant to admit. Frustration is an acceptable label that does not make us feel vulnerable, but it is through vulnerability that we learn and grow.

If we want our words to be convincing – we have to start saying things in new ways. By shifting our language, we can get different reactions, different conversations, and maybe different results.

Try an exercise. Instead of saying the four words on the left – replace them with a deeper emotion you are feeling. Need help? Do an internet search for emotional words. There are hundreds available in your native tongue. You can do better than always using the same four words. Replace them with something more profound and notice new awareness, reactions, and results.

I am frustrated. I am too busy and overwhelmed. It is causing me to feel stress. I am ____________. I am too ___________ and _______________. It is causing me to feel _______________.

Tip: Try going all week without using the word Frustration.

How To Handle Difficult Conversations

Guest Post by: Christine Brown-Quinn, The Female Capitalist

Do you shy away from having those conversations that are truly uncomfortable, whether that be about a pay rise, performance or a particular conflict situation? Have you ever over-practiced the conversation in your head, and in the end hesitated to actually deliver the message as the timing no longer seemed ideal?

While having difficult conversations may seem natural to others, it’s really a skill any of us can learn… and the sooner the better! Not taking action of course doesn’t resolve the issue. In fact it makes matters worse as we tend to internalise the stress, increasing our anxiety levels and decreasing our ability to successfully navigate the situation. And worse yet, that difficult issue just got bigger as we haven’t dealt with it on a timely basis.

Those conversations that we dread having are actually the ones that can change the trajectory of careers. That certainly was the case for me – my ability to embrace those tough talks defined me as a senior professional. The key is to adopt the right approach to get the outcome you’re looking for.

Here are my top tips for tough conversations:

1. Bring your best self – schedule those conversations at a time when you’re feeling the most rested, positive and calm. Also think about what might be the best timing for the person you’re going to have the conversation with. You want to have their full attention.

2. Capitalise on positivity – begin your conversation with a ‘power lead’ – think about something positive to say about the current situation. What’s working well? What are you feeling energised about?

3. Be curious about the other person –cultivate an attitude of discovery and curiosity. Have the intent to learn as much as possible from the conversation. While you do want to have the end goal in mind, remain open and flexible on how to get there.

4. Share the bigger picture – provide context and background to the issue you want to discuss. This shows respect for the other person and de-personalises the issue.

5. Build up your muscle – strengthen your abilities by doing. The more tough conversations you undertake, the easier it gets. While the issues or content of the conversation may be different, with practice your stress levels will decrease, and thus your ability to master the situation will increase.

As I built up the habit of having these tough conversations, I had much less anxiety about having the conversations, and was calmer when I did have them. Each conversation gets easier and you actually start to enjoy the possibility that these interactions can be game-changers, making our work place (as well as personal relationships) that much more fulfilling, enjoyable and fun!

 

Six Rules for Effective Networking

Guest Post by: Sandra Buteau, GUAA Coaching Partner

If you cringe as soon as you hear the word “networking,” you should know that you are not alone. Many of us in the world feel the same way. During the course of my professional career as a leadership and career coach, networking has been a recurring theme discussed in practically every single one of my coaching engagements. No matter where you are in your career, you need to embrace networking to expand your professional reach or move up to the next level.

Last month, as a guest Webinar speaker for the Georgetown Alumni community, I encouraged participants to view networking from a different perspective and consider it as a way of making connections, talking to people, seeking information, and building community by interacting with others. Think about it not only as a great opportunity to hear fresh ideas and open doors to help you progress in your career no matter your profession, but also to develop new friendships whether on a personal or professional level.

Some individuals have a natural talent for interacting with other people in professional and social settings while many others struggle and agonize at the thought of putting themselves out there. The good news is that networking is a skill that anyone can learn if you are committed to it and challenge yourself to go out of your comfort zone from time to time.

To help you navigate the process of making connections effectively, I present to you my 6 Rules for Effective Networking.

1. Bring your true and authentic self to any networking efforts. Do not pretend someone you are not.

2. Instead of being afraid of making connections with strangers, change your frame of mind to view networking as sharing, learning, connecting, having good conversations and interactions with others.

3. To be an effective networker you must first adopt the attitude of a giver. Give every person you meet your undivided attention. Listen carefully and ask open-ended questions seeking to learn as much as you can about the other person to support or offer your help with no expectation that something will be given to you in return.

4. As you are building and maintaining your personal network, focus on quality of the relationships. Networking is not a numbers game. If you are planning to attend an event, avoid committing yourself to meet everyone that you come across. Be prepared to devote time and energy to develop meaningful and long-lasting connections.

5. Think of networking as a two-way street. Effective networking requires “sharing.” Someone helps you out today and you help them out later.

6. Always be prepared to make connections. Be open to starting conversations and speaking to everyone around you. You will be surprised that when you ask someone to tell you their story, amazing connections can develop.

What do you commit to do today to move forward in your networking journey?

Freelancing Won’t Help You to Build Wealth

Guest Post by Patrick J. McGinnis, a venture capitalist and private equity investor who founded Dirigo Advisors, after a decade on Wall Street, to provide strategic advice to investors, entrepreneurs, and fast-growing businesses. He is the author of the new book THE 10% ENTREPRENEUR: Live Your Startup Dream Without Quitting Your Day Job.

The gig economy is here, it’s real, and it’s global. As many as 53 percent of Americans can now be classified as freelancers. While that number includes your (hopefully) friendly Uber driver, it also encompasses a growing number of white collar workers as well, who offer legal, financial, accounting, or design services on demand. This is a direct result of recent instability in once-staid industries like law and finance that has pushed many professionals out of firm life and into consulting roles. As a result, software giant Intuit projects that temporary workers will represent 40 percent of the workforce by 2020. It seems that in the future, nearly half of workers – no matter the color of their collars – will be free agents.

While the rise of the “gig” economy, as the growing dominance of freelancing is often called, has been great for consumers and small business owners, it isn’t necessarily good news for the people providing all these services. Freelancing offers flexibility and a home for workers displaced by the changing labor market, but it also suffers from a fundamental flaw: When you’re a freelancer, there is no company stock plan. You get paid based on the hours you work and nothing more. You have no ownership in any of your projects and you don’t have the possibility of owning a share, even if it’s a small one, of something that can grow in value over time.

Given that reality, how can you make the most of your time as a freelancer in the gig economy?

 Think like an owner

When you’re a freelancer, you are also, in a fundamental sense, an entrepreneur. Over time, you will build a list of clients, expand your network, and assemble a track record of achievements that are your own. In that sense, freelancing can offer a path to building your own firm, so it’s never too early to establish credibility before the wider world. That means taking some time to create a brand, build a website, design a logo, and order slick business cards. Thanks to the sharing economy and inexpensive online platforms, you can accomplish most of these tasks by investing a few days and a couple of hundred dollars. You can also legally incorporate your company quickly and easily with a minimal investment of capital. Even if you’re not yet sure whether you plan to work for yourself over the long term, you’ll always have these resources if you want to moonlight on the side.

Be a 10% Entrepreneur and look for opportunities to earn sweat equity

Don’t restrict thinking like an owner to your own firm. You can also endeavor to own stakes in other people’s businesses as well. Specifically, you can become a 10% Entrepreneur, allocating at least 10% of your time and energy to offering your services in exchange for shares of a company – commonly known as earning sweat equity. This practice is relatively common because most startups have more to offer in the way of equity than they do in cash. As a result, there are many services, such as advising on a business plan or legal documents, making critical introductions, or creating a logo or website, that young businesses will consider as an in-kind capital contribution in exchange for stock.

While it it naturally riskier than simply walking away with a pocketful of cash, getting paid at least partly in equity can be surprisingly lucrative. Take the case of David Choe. Choe is the graffiti artist who took stock in Facebook as payment for murals he painted at their headquarters. Today, those shares are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

With freelancing here to stay, thinking like an owner, with respect to your business, as well as the businesses of others, can represent a powerful strategy to build long-term wealth. Not every company you work with is going to be the next Facebook, but as you gain experience, you will learn to spot the companies that are poised for growth. Not only will these companies become reliable clients, but if you earn sweat equity, they can also become long-term partners.

Creating a High Performance Organization Culture

Guest Post by: Susan Levine (I’89)

There is a strong correlation between highly engaged employees and high performance organizations. Our people are our assets, our engine and our lifeblood. And no one would dispute the fact that our long term success will be driven by our ability to attract, retain, motivate and develop the best team in the industry. But not every organization has a base of highly engaged employees. So how can you take the pulse on your employees? Ask them!

There are a variety of ways that you can ask employees for their views – pulse surveys targeting a few topics the leadership team would like to understand are becoming even more popular. Whether you outsource or insource, the most important thing is to regularly engage your employees. If you do, it will be the beginning of an ongoing change in the way your company conducts its business.

First, decide what it is you want to measure and take the pulse on – firm strategy, firm culture, professional development, career path and incentives, lifestyle. Organize a team to design the questions. Senior leadership on the team in critical. Skeptics on the team are invaluable to the process and will ultimately enhance credibility and buy-in to the process.

Write questions that are simple and direct. For example, “I am engaged and motivated by [my firm’s strategy]”; or “[My firm’s] culture fosters collaboration and teamwork.” Don’t hide or ignore questions about topics you know will be potentially controversial. Your employees will appreciate your asking the tough questions. Finally, make the survey totally anonymous. If you really want to get honest feedback, you will want people to feel there will be no repercussions for the feedback they may provide.

And the most important question, by far, is the “Net Promoter Score”: “I would recommend [my firm] as a place to work to a friend or relative.” The question is asked on a 10-point scale. Promoters are those who answer a ‘9’ or a ‘10’; those with a neutral response are those who answer a ‘7’ or ‘8’; and detractors answer a ‘1’ to a ‘6’. The net promoter score is the percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors.

Ultimately, asking employees about organizational topics and being ready to share the results is the first step in the journey to creating a more engaged workplace. But you have to be willing to commit the appropriate amount of time to tackle important issues highlighted in the results and communicate progress to the organization.

In the next topic, I can discuss what to do with survey results and how you can develop a prioritized set of actions coming out of your high performance organization efforts.

Interview with Halo Top President and COO Doug Bouton (COL ’07)

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

If I had to choose, I think the fact that we employee more than 100 people right now. It’s very rewarding to create great jobs for great people.

What do you wish you had done earlier in your career?

Unfortunately, my “career” has largely been Halo Top so not sure I would’ve done anything differently. I went to law school out of college and practiced law for a year or so before Halo Top. My legal background helped tremendously with the founding of and raising money for Halo Top so can’t say I even regret that aspect of my short career.

What trends do you see in your profession or industry?

There are plenty of trends in the food industry. When Halo Top started, it was in the middle of the healthy eating trend that continues to this day, which Greek yogurt largely spearheaded. In that sense, we’ve been fortunate to have the right product, right time – aligning with food/beverage trends like low-calorie, high-protein, and low-sugar. As far other trends, non-dairy/vegan is a big one that will last for a long time. I suspect things like gluten-free are more fad than trend and will pass but time will tell.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done professionally? 

The first few years of Halo Top were really tough, really stressful. I would’ve been easy for my business partner and me to give up. Persevering through those 3-4 years, in hindsight, was probably the hardest thing that I’ve done professionally. I’m also most proud of what we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished because I know personally just how hard and precarious it was. We could just as easily not be here today, Halo Top wouldn’t exist, and I would be personally bankrupt if we didn’t catch a bunch of lucky breaks and keep on keeping on.

What is the best career advice you have ever received? 

If you’re not happy, stop talking about it and make a change.

How has Georgetown shaped you?

Georgetown has shaped me in more ways than I can count. I think the two most important ways in which it shaped me are:

  1. critical thinking (especially as it relates to self-reflection)
  2. holistic education

Georgetown was the first time that I was really challenged to critically think about all of my beliefs and opinions, and the importance of critical thinking – in business and in life – cannot be understated in my opinion. Georgetown also emphasized the importance of a holistic education – focusing on activities, relationships, and social education beyond the classroom.

What was your favorite professor or class at Georgetown?

Professor McKeown – Problem of God

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?

House parties, Georgetown Day activities, 2007 Final 4 trip to Atlanta, pretty much all of my theology classes. Too many to count.

Who is a source of inspiration and strength to you in your life and why?

The easy answer is my parents. The values they taught me, the work ethic they instilled in me, and the love and support they have given me are the main reason why I am who I am and have accomplished what I have accomplished.

What is on your desk right now?

Papers, clutter, and more crap than I care to admit.

Who is your favorite author? 

Don’t really have one. I read anything – biographies and other non-fiction, fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. Literally anything.

What are your words to live by?

Pick just about any Drake lyric.