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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Building Your Reputation. Stand Out to Get In.

Guest Post by: Jen Dalton for Brand Mirror

What is a personal brand, and why does it even matter? Put simply, your brand is your reputation. It’s the words that people think of to define you. It’s how relevant you are, and what conversations you are a part of. It’s how you stand out from others. If you don’t define your personal brand, others will define it for you, and this is why being in charge of your brand matters.

Brands create an emotional connection. When people think of Volvo, they often don’t just think car, they think safety. Apple is no longer just a fruit, but an innovative technology company. And you can’t think about Nike without thinking sports or speed. What emotional connection do people have when they think about you? There are actionable ways to control that, so let’s go over a few.

Understand Where You Are Today

First, we need to do some foundation building. To define your personal brand, we need to look at the Three D’s: Discover, Design, and Differentiate. Start with doing some self-reflection.

  • Ask yourself questions like: What do I want to do? What is the impact I want to have? What are my skills, strengths, and values? Where am I? Where am I going?
  • Think about 5 words that you think describe you, then go and ask your friends, family, even clients what their words for you would be. Compare the two, and think about how you might align them better.
  • Take a Digital Inventory. Google yourself and see what shows up. Ask a friend to search for yourself on LinkedIn by name, and then by role, and see where you show up. How hard is it for someone to find you?

It’s important to understand where others think you’re at because others’ perception of you is the reality of your personal brand.

What Do You Want People To Say About You When You Are Not in the Room?

Now, onto Design. Here we can look at some actionable steps to take towards designing your own brand. After you’ve figured out how people define you now, think about the ways you WANT people to define you. These are the words that will make up your Brand DNA. Think about how you want to show up, and start to design that brand. Be consistent. Does your work space, the way you dress, how you show up in meetings, and how you interact with others align with your Brand DNA? George Bernard Shaw said, “Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” Look at your LinkedIn page – is it telling a story about your brand, or is it just a copy of your resume?

If you’re having a hard time designing your Brand DNA, make your signature storyboard. Go through your history and find pictures that mean a lot to you emotionally, where you really liked the person you were at that moment. If you’re not visual, think of words or phrases where you really deliver in a powerful way. This can make up your storyboard, and this will help you define your brand promise. A brand is, essentially, a promise, so take time to create your Leadership Promise Statement. What can people expect when they work with you? How can you present this to people in, say, networking scenarios? When you introduce yourself, what do you say? Take this Promise of Value and make sure it’s consistent online. Show evidence of it everywhere. Prove it to everyone who looks.

Own What Makes You Unique and Different

Next, you need to Differentiate yourself from everyone else. What is your position? Look back over your storyboard and your Brand DNA and figure out what you have offered in the past that nobody else could’ve done. Figure out who your audience is. What companies do you want to be a part of that inspire you? What boards do you want to be on in your community? Taylor your brand to be approachable to your audience. Who are your competitors and who do you look up to and why? Spend some time researching them, how they got where they are, what exactly they’re doing. Figure out what their brand is.

Now you can start creating value and opportunities for yourself. Think about what you should be talking about. Should it be company related? Or perhaps about your passions, or your particular set of skills? Does what you have to say matter, and will people care? Is it relevant? Are the right people seeing you? How can you get them to care AND share what you talk about? Who are the leaders and influencers writing in the same space? These are the key elements that make up your Digital Brand. You can also create opportunities for yourself offline. You can join a board or volunteer in an organization. You can interview people in your same space and blog about it. You can network with others, and look for places to share your insights. You can look for speaking opportunities and webinars.

Plan Your Work, and Work Your Plan

Remember, timing is everything. Create an editorial or visibility calendar for your brand – where to be, when to write posts and blogs. You want to stay visible. In many cases, out of sight is out of mind. Make sure that your content is easy to share and re-purpose. Write about other people, companies, and organizations. Be sure to tag them when you post your content. This creates opportunities for others to share and help make you more visible. Write about others and help them be visible. Share helpful articles. Give shout outs on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. Write recommendations on LinkedIn for people and on Google+, and Facebook for businesses. Send thank you notes, and provide recognition. Be genuine. Don’t expect things in return. Contribute to your brand by giving to others. Above all, be authentic. Authenticity contributes greatly to your personal brand. It’s easy to tell when someone is being disingenuous, and that puts a big hit on their brand or the way we think about them. Although you may plan a lot of your communications, be spur of the moment too and share things real time.

Lastly, monitor yourself, and listen to what others are saying about you. Continue to search yourself on Google and LinkedIn. Ask people to describe your brand periodically to check up on yourself. Do your own self-reflection when you can. Keep control of your brand, the emotional connection people make to you, by monitoring yourself using the steps above. Remember, although you are not a product, you do have a reputation and people will decide to work with you and help you based on your brand.

“People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember you how made them feel.” Maya Angelou

Be a noisebreaker, not a noisemaker.

Jen

What We Are Reading

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Bridget Holmes, Senior Director, Career Initiatives:
A Year Without Pants: WordPress & The Future of Work
I’m just diving in to this newly released book and am already intrigued. Who can even fathom work without email? It may become a thing of the past, according to author Scott Belkum.  This book offers a behind-the-scenes look at the firm behind WordPress.com and the unique work culture that contributes to its success.  Stay tuned for my reactions!

Whitney Pezza, Associate Director, Alumni Career Services:
To Sell Is Human
Jason Levin (MBA’06) recommended Daniel Pink’s book, To Sell Is Human, after a branding workshop we did with him.  It’s a fascinating book in which Pink offers a glimpse into the new science of sales (long gone are the days of door-to-door selling) and offers the new best practices for moving others.  Pink explains that everyone works in sales; he even commissioned a study that shows that people spend about 40 percent of their work time persuading people.  No matter your industry, it’s a fantastic and very useful read!  

Sarah Hay, Assistant Director of Alumni Career Services:
Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking
I am in the middle of reading Susan Cain’s New York Times bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and find it fascinating.  As an extrovert, I thought it would be wise for me to read this book and gain a perspective on how “the other half lives.” So far it’s been eye opening to not only hear Cain compare the decision-making styles and behaviors  between the two traits, but show how the United States transformed in to a country that promotes extroversion in every facet of society – especially the workplace!  I’m excited to continue reading Cain’s analysis on how adopting introverted traits may not be the worst thing for our current and future leaders.

We want to know: what books are on your reading list?