This week, I took a back-to-school photo of my three children- right there on the porch, next to the flowerpot, in front of our pink door, as we do every year. Only it isn’t September, it’s March. My kids are among the throngs of school children returning to school after nearly a year of learning on their computers in the kitchen. Returning to school was a big milestone! My sons shoved their belongings into their old backpacks. One resisted brushing his hair and the other tried to get away with a pair of mismatched socks. They were excited to walk into their school building but also understood that today was merely the day after the weekend which followed Friday- a string of ordinary days, halfway through the school year. My daughter took a much different approach from her brothers. She purchased a new set of colored pencils, straightened up her spiral notebooks, organized her binder, set out her clothes the night before and fussed over her lunch to ensure it seemed special. How different kids can be from each other, I thought to myself. But then I realized what was really happening: my daughter was creating a fresh start. Halfway through the year, during a transition, she saw an opportunity to begin again, jump start, rev up, reboot. It was brilliant, actually. Staging a reboot through mentoring We don’t need to wait around for new years’ or a job change. If we’re looking for a reboot, we can capitalize on a transition, the way my daughter did. Participating in a mentoring program, for example, presents an opportunity. Mentoring work expands our perspectives on our organizations and enhances our access within them. The middle of a mentoring program is a good spot to position a start line. Fresh start “buckets” Consider some of the major outputs of mentoring work such as professional development, enhanced networks, and technical skill-building. Think of them as buckets from which to pull a fresh start. Here are some strategies: Professional development- One of the first tasks upon joining a mentoring program is writing professional and career goals. Planning thoughtful progression toward meeting them does not need to end with the program activities. Let these goals be the launching pad for targeted discussions with your supervisor about the kinds of projects you want to work on and competencies you hope to gain. Put a standing date with your supervisor on the calendar to address your goals regularly. This will demonstrate your focused determination. Networking- You’ve been introduced to your mentoring partner and likely aim to make new professional contacts beyond. Setting and meeting networking goals in a mentoring program requires some advanced work. You need to articulate your experience and intentions quickly and efficiently. You also need to express your needs: “I want to learn more about…” “I hope to meet someone from this department because…” Once you put together this story, keep it close and continue to use it. Meet people in all directions, not just where you’re headed but where you’ve been. Whether encountering people in the halls or on zooms, keep using that advanced legwork to show your authenticity and drive. Continue to be an active networker. Remember: Look for opportunities to help others. Ask questions in meetings. Follow-up after meeting someone new. Be yourself. Technical skills- A diverse Mentoring Action Plan (MAP) should include at least a little bit of skill-building. Once the activities are complete, you might narrow in on one single skill such as time management or public speaking and commit to making that “your thing” this year. Say to yourself, “starting today, I will look for any opportunity to polish my public speaking skills.” Here are some ways to do that: Pick up the phone- at least once a day- instead of sending a text or email. Prepare comments ahead of meetings and spend extra time ensuring they are clear and concise. Use fewer words and be direct. Be mindful of posture and looking others in the eye. Minimize fidgeting. Put away your phone. When you hear a good public speaker, jot down a few notes on why they were effective. Practice what you plan to say. Rehearse the anecdotes and gestures you plan to use. Show charisma.
Happy Thanksgiving! It’s that time of year when we get together with friends and family and give thanks for our blessings and well-being. As I sat down to write this article, I wondered “what if” we were grateful or thankful all year round? Every night before dinner as a family we go around the table and say what we are grateful for --or- wait a minute-- are we saying what we’re grateful or thankful for? As I began to write I realized I wasn’t exactly sure if there was a difference between the two. According to Webster, giving thanks, is an expression of appreciation. “Thanks for holding the door,” or a friendly wave when another driver lets you cut into the turning lane. It’s a reaction. Gratitude, according to Psychology Today, is an emotion. Feeling gratitude is a two-step process: first recognize that you’ve been the recipient of something good and then acknowledge that there is an external source responsible for this outcome. They call gratitude, “an affirmation of goodness.” That feeling of appreciation can extend to broad categories such as life, health, relationships and work. I have realized I really want my children to go beyond “thanks” and feel grateful for the things they value in their lives. My six year old son almost every night says he is grateful for the roof over our head, and although I sometimes roll my eyes, I also look across my dinner table and see my father in-law who grew up in a house with a dirt floor and no running water and realize, yes, this is something we should indeed be grateful for. Here are some ideas for reflecting and feeling grateful all year round: Always be kind. I recently met someone from Seattle, Washington who knows one of my acquaintances. You always hear people say there are only six degrees of separation among people. So, just think- here we are living on opposite sides of the country in completely different walks of life, but we were still able to make this unbelievable connection. This was a good reminder: you never know who you may be talking to or corresponding with and always being your best will portray you in a positive light. It is a hard thing to do but studies have shown that when we focus on what is going right and what we are grateful for, it helps us to be kind to others. Pause. We are so busy day in the hurry of our everyday lives I think we often forget to stop and take the time to reflect. At the end of each day, I take a moment to think about and verbalize my gratitude. Without making space for this acknowledgement I would find myself in the trenches all day, never looking up to see what makes my life wonderful. Be present in all you do. I am not referring to being physically present, but mentally present. When we are not present, we cannot be grateful because we miss what is going on around us. It is important to not just go through the motions of something, but really be an active participant in all you do. If you find yourself not being present at an event or a meeting – take a deep breath and center yourself back in the moment. Spend time with family and friends. I wouldn’t be here today without the love and support of my family and friends. Gratitude strengthens relationships. Be sure to express your gratitude with the people you love – both big and small – for the impact they have had on everything you do. Reflect on the past. Sometimes people say don’t look back because you won’t be able to see where you are going, but I can’t tell you how many times a week, I think back to all the people who have come into my life who have left a mark. Some of my fondest relationships are with those who have gone on and, although the pain of losing them is great, the gratitude I have for the lessons and strength they have given me is one of remarkable gratitude. Science Supports Gratitude Greater Good Magazine at UC Berkeley uses science to uncover the meaning of life. A recent article examined the link between gratitude and employee satisfaction, health, and happiness in the workplace. As research about the benefits of mindfulness and gratitude is growing, CEOs of major corporations have started to take notice. Nationally-recognized brands like Campbell Soup and Southwest Airlines are making investments to change the culture of their companies. They might try a simple gesture such as top-down thank you notes where senior leaders show appreciation for their employees. Some have taken a training approach, hiring consultants to help employees sift through their circumstances in times of transition and uncertainty to pull out the “good things.” For many, the philosophy is that when gratitude emerges, other emotionally intelligent outputs tend to follow. For example, people who are grateful tend to be quicker to forgive. And those who feel appreciation for their work find it easier to show compassion toward those who don’t. Set up a Gratitude Routine at Work Be intentional about your gratitude practice at the office. But at first, it might feel awkward or out of place in the office. Pepper your schedule with acts of appreciation so that you are doing something at least once or twice a month. It won’t be long before “gratitude” becomes a natural part of your routine. Not only will it contribute to your happiness, but those around you will begin to recognize you as a positive, encouraging force in the workplace. 1. Thank your mentor, past and present. Stop in to visit them or pick up the phone and give them a call. Tell them what you’re working on that’s exciting. See how their family is doing. Explain to them the impact they’ve had on something you have accomplished. Give specific examples, such as “the article you suggested really had an impact on me completing that big project” or “I can’t explain to you how much the guidance you provided on the project I was working on helped get me to the finish line.” Oftentimes, mentorees forget to tell their mentors what an impression they left on them. Taking the time to give them that affirmation would mean a great deal to the mentor. 2. Acknowledge personal events of your colleagues. Send an eCard for their birthday, congratulate them on their work anniversaries, surprise them with coffee when their son gets his first college acceptance. We spend a lot of hours with our colleagues. Taking the time to show you care about their lives beyond busy meetings and project work will make them feel good and remind you how much you appreciate them. 3. Send thank you notes. Show appreciation to a manager who helped you overcome a challenge or to a key stakeholder who asked you to join a new project or team. Take time to express your gratitude to the front desk security guard for ensuring a safe work environment. A handwritten note can be the most genuine way to give appreciation for small acts of kindness. 4. Make a Difference. Community outreach is a straightforward approach to show gratitude and appreciation. Ask about the service opportunities in your organization. Sometimes we worry that we don’t have enough time to take on volunteer work- even if we wish we could. Finding initiatives that are sanctioned by organizational leaders might give you the confidence to sign up for something. There might be youth mentoring programs, donation drives or even local entertainment events where proceeds go to a good cause. Working to make a difference not only helps the community but also encourages a positive perspective in our own lives. ASK A MENTOR As you begin to think about what you are grateful for both personally and professionally, I would recommend talking to your mentor about the things they are grateful for, why and how they share that gratitude. Here are some questions to get you started: What are you grateful for professionally? Is it a time? Is it a person? What makes this significant? If it is a person have you told them? What are you grateful for personally? Is it a time? Is it a person? What makes this significant? If it is a person have you told them? How often do you reflect on what you are grateful for? Yearly, Monthly, Weekly, Daily? What things do you do to flex your gratitude muscles? Do you journal? Do you volunteer?
Making a Great Day starts with turning your focus to your own personal well-being and how that plays out in your daily quest for (work/life) balance. When we challenge our balance by splitting ourselves in two or more directions, we tax our emotional and physical stability. With so many of us experiencing the high stress of life’s challenges and current events, it’s critical that we take time to make ourselves our first priority. Our personal health and careers depend on balance.When we experience balance, we find ourselves exclaiming, “What a great day!” But, on the other side is imbalance and you might notice that when you feel out of balance you state, “I am having a bad day.” There is a direct correlation between balance, feeling good, and being the best version of yourself. Balance is elusive. We often feel disappointed at our attempt to live a balanced life. But what I have come to know is that complete and constant balance is impossible to achieve. What is possible, however, is a balance on average, over time. Our lives are not steady, and work is constantly changing, so the reality is that some days will require you to focus more on work, and other days more on personal life. Fluctuations are to be expected. Having an awareness of where you are on the scales of balance will enable you to adjust.Through much trial and error, I have landed on six guiding principles (with accompanying exercises) to help you infuse balance into your life:1. Breathe: In times of stress, we can turn to our focusing on our breath for relief. It’s free, easy to access, and an effective antidote to the anxiety and physical symptoms of stress. Breathe control can be used when you feel stressed, upset at a co-worker, or wanting to hide under your desk. Exercise: Balloon Breathing: Raise your arms high from your sides up over your head as you take a deep breath. As you exhale, let all the air come out like a balloon as you drop your arms.Take a long breath in and as you exhale, say “ahhhh…”2. Challenge: Another helpful way to keep your work/life balance healthy is to handle issues as they come up instead of letting them simmer. For example, if you have a disagreement with a co-worker and don’t address it directly with them, chances are that you will take that frustration home and keep thinking about it. Exercise: 3 “P” Method for handling conflict: Step 1: Pause and notice your current emotions.Step 2: Pivot out of a negative spiral.Step 3: Consider positive possibilities. 3. Move: Movement is another way to care for your own well-being. When you are feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, stressed or just blocked, take a moment to physically move away from the situation. Movement will free up creative space where solutions flow.Exercise: Take a few minutes movement break every hour. Stretch at your desk, take the stairs, or go for a walk.4. Nourish: Healthy and balanced food choices support a healthy mental state.Exercise: Pause before making an unhealthy food choice. Instead of eating sugar to reduce stress, reach for a glass of water with fresh lemon.5. Communicate: One of the most vital aspects of success in our personal and professional relationships is communication—the thread that connects us together. Poor communication causes unneeded stress. Exercise: Practice focused listening by giving your full attention to the individual speaking to you without interrupting them or offering your advice. Just listen.6. Routine: A daily routine that includes space for personal well-being will allow you to flourish. Taking time for yourself should be part of your routine. When you do something that inspires you throughout your day, you will be inspired.Exercise: Put well-being time on your schedule. Make a list of activities you love to do and keep it on your desk for easy access.If you are working too much, you will not have the energy to do things when you are not at work. If you play too hard outside of work, you will not have the energy for your job. It might seem like having to pay attention to your work/life balance is just one more thing to add to the list, but I can promise you it is worth adding. When your life is balanced between work and other activities, you will be more satisfied, more motivated, happier, and healthier.