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.

 

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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.