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.

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

Interview with the Co-Founder of Solemates Monica Ferguson (B’00)

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

There have been a lot of rewarding moments as an entrepreneur, but I think when Oprah Winfrey devoted a half page in her magazine and called my invention/product “genius”. It was great.

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

I wish I had learned basic HTML/CSS earlier in my career.

What trends do you see in your profession or industry?

As a retail brand, we are constantly navigating the changing face of brick and mortar retail (i.e., its decline), as well as how to strike the right balance in the digital space with the investment that goes into our branded website in a world dominated by Amazon.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done professionally? 

For sure it was the decision to leave Goldman (the second time) to start my company.

What is the best career advice you have ever received? 

Be comfortable being uncomfortable.

How has Georgetown shaped you?

Georgetown helped me understand what it was to have the courage of my convictions; and the importance of acting in accordance with my beliefs.

What was your favorite professor or class at Georgetown?

Advanced Financial Management (unlikely a common answer). It was the first class that showed me how numbers tell the story of a business. Accounting did not do that for me!

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?

Any memory that involves spending time with my friends; whether it was a class project, a dinner, or just sitting around our house. It was all so much fun.

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

My parents. They raised 4 children, have demanding careers, more friends than they can handle, and they have always made time for everyone and everything. I am inspired by their work ethics, sacrifice, and their energy.

What is on your desk right now?

An old fashion (paper) date book, an amazon Echo, a bottle of Smart Water, a to-do list, and a mess of sample products and packaging.

Who is your favorite author? 

Amor Towles, Jonathan Franzen, and Kristin Hannah

What is one part of your daily routine you couldn’t live without?

Coffee and exercise

What are your words to live by?

Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder (Gilbert K. Chesterton), but I erroneously attributed it to David Brooks for years.

 

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.

Follow Your Instincts to Find Passion

Guest Post by: Christy Steele (C’06)

What was your favorite activity as a child? What was easy for you? These might sound like frivolous questions, but consider for a moment what truly brought you joy. Was it finding frogs in the pond? Drawing with colored pencils? Banging on the drums in music class? Solving math problems? The answers to these questions can reveal valuable information that will help you build a meaningful and fulfilling career.

As an artist and producer in the media industry, I have taken many left turns and woven multiple interests and skills into my work. I pursued my love of photography after college and found a job working as a photographic coordinator at National Geographic Magazine. I worked with world-renowned photographers, learned from experienced photo editors, and discovered that I have a passion for visual storytelling. Since leaving National Geographic, I have directed photo shoots for Science Magazine, worked on documentaries and television series for Smithsonian Channel, Animal Planet and Travel Channel, created videos and websites for individuals and small businesses, completed a post-baccalaureate pre-medical program, and acted on stage and in films.

Each time I make a decision about leaving a job or working with a new company, I try to determine whether I will feel fulfilled and engaged if I take the opportunity. Here are four guiding principles that I use when making decisions.

Ask what brings you alive.

If you can’t remember what excited you as a child, simply list activities that you love doing. This can include caring for a pet, organizing dinner parties, traveling, baking, or watching movies. As you consider all of the activities that bring you joy and satisfaction, you will begin to see common threads. Steven Spielberg once said “the hardest thing to listen to, your instincts, your human personal intuition, always whispers, it never shouts. Every day of your life you have to be ready to hear what whispers in your ear.” When you start incorporating the activities into your life that bring you joy, your soul will begin “whisper” to you.

Have a mission!

When you choose to follow your instincts and pursue the things you love, it may not lead you down a straight path. When you encounter uncharted territory, your personal mission statement will become your guiding compass. As Tony Robbins suggests, “If you have a big enough why, you can figure out how to do anything.” If you have a strong enough reason for wanting to get a new job, move to a new country, or start your own company, it will be harder for obstacles and setbacks to stop you.

Ask lots of questions.

Talk to as many people as possible who share your passions. Also talk to people who are passionate about their work even if their work does not align with your interests. Passion is contagious, and these conversations will inspire you and give you ideas. People love to talk about what brings them alive, so let them! These conversations will help you put your own interests, skills, experiences and passions into a greater context. They will also help you make meaningful connections. Through my documentary film series, Uncovering Passion, I put this practice into action by talking to dozens of people who love their work. I created short documentary films with some of these people and published them at uncoveringpassion.com.

Create space for great insights!

In order to identify what brings you alive and hear the “whispers,” you must cultivate a sense of peace and quiet in your body and mind. The best way to start doing this is to simply focus on your breath for a few moments every day. There are simple and powerful energy and breathing techniques like Emotional Freedom Techniques (also called “tapping”) and Presence Process that can help you reduce stress in your body and deal with negative emotions. But any activity like taking a walk, doing yoga, or putting your bare feet on the earth is a great start.

Follow your instincts and trust yourself. While your passions may not instantly translate into a successful job or career, following these principles will open doors and make life more fulfilling.

From Surviving to Thriving

Guest Post by: Linda Hardenstein

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, but I do know this isn’t it.”

It’s frustrating to be unsure about your career path, or to be unhappy at work. Especially when you have talent, knowledge, skills, and abilities to contribute.

“Making it Work” Doesn’t Work

Being miserable in your career causes stress and burn out. It can have a profound, negative effect on your health, your relationships, and your wellbeing.  I found that out the hard way when exhausted, overworked, and burned out, I fell down a flight of stairs on the way to a business meeting. I heard my neck crack and wondered if I’d ever walk again. The emergency room brought a stark reality into focus – I was miserable. I had no life. It was time to stop tolerating unhappiness and start living!

How did I go from just surviving to thriving in my career? Here’s 5 steps I took, and you can too:

  1. Decide. There is great power in letting go of what is no longer benefitting you. Deciding to release what’s in your way opens the door for what’s next to show up.

“Everyone has been called for some particular work and the desire for that work has been put in his or her heart.” – Rumi

  1. Find Your Purpose. Each of us is born with a distinct set of talents and gifts with a special role to play and a unique contribution to make. Knowing your purpose shows where you fit. It helps you understand where you don’t. One of the quickest and easiest ways to discover your purpose is with the unbiased guidance and support of a career coach.
  2. Align With What You Were Born to Do. You can’t help but live out your unique design. The problem arises when you’re doing what you are designed to do in a job, or a place, that doesn’t resonate with who you are. If you’re at odds with something — a boss, a co-worker, your company’s mission, work that takes away from living the life you really want, or a lack of recognition for what you contribute — you’re out of alignment with who you are. Doing work that is in alignment with who you are, brings ease, joy, a sense of meaning and accomplishment.
  3. Be Open. Giving up what you think you “should do,” or going against what a well-meaning parent or teacher told you to do, isn’t easy. For fulfillment, meaning, and motivation, let go of who you thought you should be. Be who you are.
  4. Take Action. Once you’re clear that it’s time to find the right job, synergies and opportunities will line up to support your intention to fulfill your purpose. Inspired action will lead you to the next step and the next one. Before you know it, you’ll be thriving in your job and life because you’re doing what you were born to do.

Linda Hardenstein, MPA, PCC, coaches professionals to find their purpose and authentic careers to have more meaningful lives. Contact her at linda@lindahardenstein.com.

© Linda Hardenstein, 2018

Procrastination

Guest Post by: Yolanda Gruendel, GUAA Coaching Partner

Every so often, my eye catches the paperweight on my desk.  It reads, “you can do anything but not everything.” It was given to me by a friend and fellow graduate of the Law Center a few years ago.  When she gave it to me, she confided that she had purchased one for herself. We laughed. Two peas.

On one level, we know we cannot do everything.  We simply do not have the time. And yet, we behave as if we could.  We gauge success by whether we are able to cram everything into our days and feel overwhelmed when we can’t.

Not being able to get to everything necessarily means that on any given day, we are procrastinating.  To focus on some things, we delay or delete others. It is not a matter of whether we procrastinate. The only question is whether we procrastinate absentmindedly or deliberately.  Those of us who procrastinate absentmindedly tend to value all activities equally and focus on the immediate. Whatever event or distraction captures our attention hijacks our time and energy as well.  When that activity is over, we dedicate the time we have left to our remaining commitments or never bother to circle back to them.

Other people procrastinate more deliberately.  They know the to-do list never ends so they sequence activities based on their relative importance.  They resist getting carried away by unexpected events. They keep their focus on the vitally few important activities that matter most, and they put off, outsource, delegate, or eliminate altogether the other tasks.

It is a relief when you finally accept that you cannot do everything.  I always knew it, but at the moment of choice, often opted to take on more.  I wasn’t trying to do everything, just this one additional thing. My commitments mushroomed.   The realization that something needed to change forced a critical internal conversation about what mattered most to me and which activities contributed or detracted from these priorities.  I try to maintain my attention and energy these days where it matters most and measure each activity or commitment accordingly. As for the rest, well, I’ll get to it later.