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How to Inspire the Uninspired

April 10, 2012 3 comments

I used to collect quotes.  I had books and books of them, starting when I was 16 and going until about 23. What I loved about quotes was that no matter the mood I was in, I could always find a quote that “matched” my mood.  In other words, I had validation that what I was feeling was “okay” or “normal”.

I guess it was around age 23 that I realized I didn’t need validation because it didn’t matter what other people felt.  I don’t know if this was a good or bad thing as I vividly remember the last quote I wrote down was,

“23 and so tired of life…such a shame, to throw it all away.  The images grow darker still.  Could I have been anyone other than me?

DMB.  

At the time, I was sure that by age 23, I knew it all, had done it all, and life had nothing more to offer me….

Looking back, now I think this was a relatively normal feeling – sometimes dubbed as the “quarter life crisis”.  I started working and got out of my ‘funk’, met my husband, and rode off into the sunset….sort of….

I’m now 31 and while inherently fulfilled with amazing family, loving friends, my perfect husband, and in general – a pretty nice life; something is missing.  Or maybe, something WAS missing.  For the past two years, when I tried to think of a quote to described my life, I heard the repeat of Ani Difranco in my head,

“Somebody do something, anything, soon.  I can’t be the only whatever I am in the room.  Why am I so lonely?  Why am I so tired?  I need back up. I need company.  I need to be inspired”.

And in a way, looking at my life, this is ridiculous.  I’m 31 and back to feeling the way I did when I was 23?  How did that happen?  And my life was seemingly perfect…what was missing?

So I started to look for answers and engaged in activities that had inspired me previously.  I watched TED videos.  They lifted me up for about an hour post watching them, then I got over it.  I exercise and walked on the beach a few times a week, thinking the inherent beauty would spark something.  Nada.  I made a lot of money…maybe I could buy inspiration, right?  Nope.  I read a ton of books.  Perhaps I could get so lost in someone else’s world that I could forget about the perceived lack of purpose in my own world.  Good escape for short periods, but…at the end of the day, was still stuck with me.  I threw myself into work and family as these have always been the two most positive parts of my life; and again, great times when I was actually “working” and actually “with family”, but once alone again…no inspiration to be had.  I was stuck, and lost, and getting frustrated.

 

And then something interesting happened. Actually, a few interesting things happened at once. First, I decided I needed to go back to work full time for someone else. I knew I needed to get back to doing something mission driven, not just consulting for money. So the interviews began and I was at the top of my game. At the same time, I started working with my old boss again. He has always be an inspiration to me, but I never through about the WHY behind it – I just assumed it was “him”. I was back on a natural high. So I started thinking about WHY my boss had always inspired me and started thinking about the other people who had impacted my life and they all shared several commonalities:

1) They were smart – and not just “work” smart or “book” smart, but LIFE smart. Every lesson I learned from them was able to be applied to both business and personal life and served to enrich both.

2) They were driven by passion. None were driven solely by money or power, but by the mission of what they were trying to accomplish. Many things can be trained; feeling truly passionate and being able to communicate that passion is innate. I was mesmerized and fascinated by each of them.

3) They were all teachers. Not “teachers” in the occupational sense, but teachers in the sense that they understood the importance of a mentor / protege relationship; and knew the importance of being on both sides.

I could go on and on, but basically I realized what I needed to do. I needed to find something I was passionate about, working with people who fit the above description. So I did that. I found a killer job for an awesome company. I believed in the mission and I believed in the people…but…something was still off.

And it took me until a few weeks ago to realize what it was; I wasn’t building anyone.

I’m at my best when I can work with and better those around me. That is my natural high…finding what I term to be “wasted talent” and building those individuals into superstars. Or not even superstars, but building them to be whatever it is they choose to be. And 99% of the time, these individuals don’t know what they want to do or be…but they do realize that it’s the journey that matters, not the actual destination.

So I started engaging with a couple “kids”. Well, I call them “kids” now, but really – younger 20 somethings that I thought were “wasted talent”; I started really listening to them and trying to work on different ways to motivate and better THEM. And since then, this is the first time in two years, I’ve had the motivation to sit down and write a blog post. And it’s not a good post…it’s not like my old posts – but as with everything else, writing takes practice and I’m just getting back into the game. What’s important here is I recognized what it takes to “inspire” the uninspired….

It’s helping better someone else. At least for me, it is.

And when I look at this blog post, I want to puke at the way it’s written. Everything in me is saying, “tighten it up; this is so long; the lessons are not clear”…that said, this post was not for my readers. It was for me.

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Get Yourself to the Greek – and Get Connected

May 10, 2011 4 comments

I was at my best friend’s wedding last weekend and when she made her speech she thanked her bridesmaids and laughed about how ironic it was that when we were in college (10 years ago) during sorority prefs, we used to always say, “I know these friends and sisters will be the bridesmaids at my wedding”; and there we were. So I started thinking about Greek Life and how different my college experience would have been without it. I realized that being in sorority had not only introduced me to the people I’m closest with today, but more importantly set me up for the successes I’d encountered in the future.

Like many people, I was defiantly “anti” sorority when I got into the University of Florida. I thought joining a sorority was for people who “had to buy their friends” or couldn’t network on their own. What I realized during my time in college was that the Greek system was actually a microcosm of the corporate world. Looking at statistics, it now makes sense to me that Of the nation’s 50 largest corporations, 43 are headed by fraternity or sorority members. I understand why Nationally, 71% of all fraternity and sorority member graduate, while only 50% of non-members graduate. And why 85% of the Fortune 500 key executives are fraternity or sorority members. It was not because they had bought friends; it’s because being part of the Greek System lends you an experience in networking that is unmatched anywhere else.

When I was at UF, there were about 50,000 students (on campus); but what I noticed over “Summer B” (everyone in FL schools goes to school over the summer) was that the people who were running things on campus – from Cicerones to politics – were all part of the Greek System. WHat I also noticed was that even when I went out; the businesses were run and managed by people all wearing Greek letters. I felt like I was surrounded by “Greeks”. So I listened to my mother and went through sorority rush. NOTHING could have prepared me better for going into an interview process in the job world. Day one and two consisted of interviewing with women; 8 houses / day for 40 minutes each / sometimes speaking with 3-5 women in each house. Each house had a different ‘mission’ (similar to a business’s mission) and I had to attempt to show how I would ‘bring value’ to a house as well as help grow their vision. Sound familiar? It was like an onslaught of group interviews. Cuts had been made after round 1 and it was clear I had been cut from the houses I had been most uncomfortable in. A similar process continues for rounds 2, 3, and 4 whereby houses ‘show off’ their philanthropies, their GPAs, and try to find if their house is a “good match” for you. Once again, similar to the interview process, the conversations get deeper with each round and by round four, I knew which house was for me.

After getting the house I wanted (GO AEPHI!), the learning experience was magnified. Similar to a large training class in a new company, I was not learning about the values, mission, and what was expected of me with 60 other women. I also had to learn very quickly how to get along with not only the 60 differing personalities in my pledge class, but the other 200 women in my sorority. Talk about learning patience, tolerance, and appreciation for people’s differences of opinions. Like any company, the sorority has an “exec board” (C level team). There is a President, VPs, and usually a total of 10 roles that keep the sorority running. Much like a company, there were decisions made on the executive level that were not in agreement with the house; I learned how to play politics quickly. I also learned that in order to have an impact on the larger ecosystem – the University of Florida – I would somehow have to maneuver my way onto that exec board.

Being on exec was an unmatched experience. Holding a leadership position for 200 + women was far harder than any management role I’ve held to date. It takes incredible discipline to walk the fine balance of putting the ‘sorority’ as a whole before the interests of your closest friends. But it taught me how to do what I do today; I can put the interests of a company before my own and before the relationships I have made in the office and sometimes out of the office. Similar to being part of a C level team in a company, you define the mission, execute on that mission, and ensure that the rest of the house is ‘on the same page’. It was part management and part sales; and looking across the members that were on my exec. board – ALL are now extremely successful, either owning their own businesses or making 6 figures in a legal or corporate career. I firmly believe our experience on the exec board aided in this process.

While many may disagree with me; they listen to the stories of the hazing and the ‘date rape’ drugs and all of the other outliers that do not define the Greek system, but are actually the opposite of what the system stands for (one offs), what one can’t disagree with is data. And data shows that being a part of the Greek system leads to higher graduation rates, higher GPA, a higher likelihood of getting a job, and a higher likelihood of holding a leadership role when older. My first recommendation to someone going to college: “Get in with the Greek”.

Gary Vaynerchuk Practices What He Preaches

April 15, 2011 3 comments

I originally interviewed and wrote this article for my FORBES blog, but wanted to ensure my readers received as well.

How many of you have ever reached out via email, Twitter or phone to an Internet superstar?

I have. Before writing this article, I gave Gary Vaynerchuk a test. I wanted to see if he really responded to all people, to see if he’s truly “engaged” and how much he “cares,” regardless of whether you’re a client or not.

He did and he does.

I emailed, asking him if I could ask him some questions about his New York Times bestselling book, Thank You Economy. Within 30 seconds, I had a response. “Phone number?”

While I was not able to get back to him at that exact moment, I responded back with my phone number later in the day and, again, received a personal response.

And finally on 3/30/2011, Gary called. He was on his way to an interview on CNN and he had put aside time for me. We connected and spoke.

And I found he is just as true to his concept as he said he was. He cares.

Thank you Economy was written for all of us. In typical Vaynerchuk fasion, the book was written from the heart, engaging us with a passionate intelligence surrounding business relationships and transactions. It’s for first-time entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 executives, and the first of its kind.

TYE demonstrates the ROI on social media. It outlines the dangers of “waiting” to see short term results and, most importantly, it clearly depicts what we are in the midst of – a humanistic revolution.

When I spoke with Gary, his thesis was so simple; yet he has proven to be the best at executing on it: “Be reactionary,” he said. “React to what the market wants. And the market wants one-on-one real time engagement. Now that we have the tools to engage, I’m going to continue fighting for the end user.”

TYE puts into words what we’ve all been trying to define since the onslaught of social media: what’s the best way to use it? According to Gary, we have the opportunity to regress back to the days before there was a Starbucks on every corner or a supermarket every five miles; using the same tactic we did when there was a locally-owned butcher or coffeehouse. Care about your consumer.

So simple, yet the U.S. economy has been so focused on “driving traffic” and mass media over the last 20 years, we forgot about our consumer. We looked at the numbers, and the efficiencies, but we stopped listening…Except for people like Gary.

When I first started the book, I admittedly thought it may be a bit elementary. The content of the introduction and first few chapters spoke of brands in a very similar fashion I had read of in college or other business books. There wasn’t any mind blowing differences in the actual content.

But as I continued reading, I found that Gary’s secret is not in the content. His secret is in inspiring and motivating others to act. In the book, he does this not only through passion, but also through specific examples and case studies showing the ROI of one-on-one engagement.

His reason for working IS the end user or the consumer. The consumer’s voice matters and we all need to not solely except that, but embrace it and use that first consumer to build our companies. We can all SCALE CARING.

And Gary certainly cares of everything in his life with the same fierce passion he does his consumer. When I asked him how he found the time to even write the book, his response, “We all have a different definition of work/life balance. Spending time writing this book was not remotely close to how happy I am when I’m with my daughter. But we need to cut out the fat.”

In the same conversation, he beeped over to take a call from his mom; but he did not beep over for business calls. What was cutting out the fat? “Stop doing things that waste time. Don’t replace time with your family or things that you NEED to do. I NEEDED to put together two fantasy teams this weekend because that’s something I enjoy, but did stop playing Nintendo Wii for hours on end.”

Gary has become a master author, a renown social media expert, the fighter for the end-user, and still remains a family man – able to see all the Jets games and do everything else he loves. How? By caring for the consumer.

And if you want to keep up and learn how to do this with your company, your personal brand, your product, and yourself; you’ll read his book too. Don’t pre-judge like I did at the beginning. Just read and be inspired. And then commit to Care.

Meeting in the Middle

April 11, 2011 4 comments

My brother and I could not be seemingly more different. I say, “seemingly”, because it’s only on the surface we appear to have different beliefs and lead different lives. Over the years, what I’ve realized is that we have all of the same beliefs and values – they just manifest differently and at different times.

What I’m learning and I hope to impart to my readers is don’t push someone to be what you want them to be. It sounds cliche, and I’m sure we’ve all heard it before – but I’m living it. My brother is fiercely passionate about what he believes in; as am I. Like me, his passion can be a good or bad thing – our best trait and our worst trait. While he is a bit more socialistic, optimistic, and lives in the NOW – I’m trying to be all of those things. I’m capitalistic, think about where I will be in 6 months, and sometimes cynical about his beliefs; he may need to pick up on a bit of those traits -we are a perfect match.

So what I found this weekend is that when we meet in the middle – we are unstoppable. Our core values / our core beliefs are what matters; and our values – family, love, doing what we love, and driving our lives with passion – is what ties us together. All that said, I’d like to introduce a new blog; one that is similar to mine in that it works to make one pensive, teaches lessons, and is derived from a myriad of unmatched experiences, but different in that it is written by my brother – a far more compassionate and professional psychologist.

I invite you to share in my “better half”s blog and take a journey with both of us; he, a professional psychologist and thinker – and me, the savvy and aggressive businesswomen – and see how our core values manifest themselves through different professions.

Please read his opening / introductory post – Changing the World Through Altruism on his blog – Awaken Yourself Today, Sleep When You’re Dead; Perspectives on Positivity: Finding Happiness within Divine Dichotomy

5 Ways to Show “thank you”, not say it

February 12, 2011 5 comments

Yes it’s cliche, but sometimes saying “thank you” is not enough. We all have people who have touched our lives and helped shape who we are along our journeys. I always look for ways to build upon relationships by showing how important someone is to me; taking the time to do something a little “more”. It doesn’t have to cost money, it just requires thoughtfulness. Taking the time to do something meaningful speaks far more than a simple “thank you”. Below are 5 ways I’ve shown people how much I appreciate them. Some cost and some didn’t, but they were all wildly received.

1. Write someone a story. It doesn’t have to be long, it just has to be targeted to them. Many times we forget to tell people all of the little things we remember and how they’ve made us feel. Post the story online. Public display of affection shows love and commitment in ANY relationship – not just romantic ones.

2. Artwork – this doesn’t have to be expensive. There’s a great artist named Brian Andreas and on his site – storypeople – he has thousands of framed prints that have ‘mini’ quotes / stories that speak to all different types of people. A great one that I’ve sent to people that inspire me is here – the quote story is “Don’t you hear it? she asked & I shook my head no & then she started to dance & suddenly there was music everywhere & it went on for a very long time & when I finally found words all I could say was thank you.”

3. Research something you know the person is interested in and get them something that is rare and they do not have. Example: My old boss was a golfer and talked about Bobby Jones as the best golfer of all time. After a day he had been particularly patient with me, I found a ticket autographed by him on ebay. I bought it and gave it to him. He was floored. He had only mentioned it a couple times, but showed him how much I was listening and how much I cared.

4. Books – instead of just sending someone a book; send them YOUR book – with your notes and thoughts in it.

5. Music – make someone a playlist. Again – show them that you listen to them. If they love TED videos – add a TED podcast and 3-4 different songs.

I could keep listing, but the unfortunate reality is many people “don’t believe in” gifts. Or perhaps they believe in them on birthdays and holidays only. I assure you, if you want to show true, thoughtful appreciation for someone – review the list above and act on it. If you don’t have anyone in your life you want to thank in such a way, it’s time to start building some more meaningful relationships.

“I do”

February 8, 2011 7 comments

I spent the weekend in NYC at my cousin’s wedding and while listening to the speeches at the party and the rabbi speak during the service, I thought, “hmmmm – that sounds exactly how I feel when I’m going through the interview process and decide I want to commit myself full time to a business”. Some of you may read that and think, “she’s nuts!” and certainly I’m not one to argue your opinion; but if you break it down as I will below, you’ll see the similarities. Granted, there will still be those of you who think I’m crazy – but in response I would preface with perhaps you’re mistaking “crazy” for “passion”.

So let’s break down a wedding speech. They typically start with the story of how the two have met; and how “they just knew” or “there was chemistry right away”. Any job I have taken, there has been a definitive chemistry felt during the interview process. I only work with / for people who “get it”, “get me”, and vice versa. If a common bond or understanding is not developed with at least one of the Executives in the interview process, I do not continue. This works for ME because I’m a quick rapport builder; if you know yourself and know how quickly you connect with people, use that as a ‘judge’, but in my experience if there is no connection – the job will likely not be for you.

The speeches then talk about “how the relationship has grown” and at my cousin’s wedding, they talked about their relationship growing because “they had the same values; family was of the utmost importance.” Similarly, when you are attempting to build business relationships, especially with your internal team or attempting to evaluate whether a company is the right fit for you, having similar values is important. If, for example, your top priority is ‘family’ and you are in a company culture that does not value family; there is likely going to be a rift at some point. If you value your religion and your company Executives are all agnostic or atheist, it is probably going to cause a problem if you are the one person who wants to take off for every holiday. Values are a hard thing to find out about as the topic can be one that is not “HR Friendly”, but you can usually develop an understanding of the company’s values by reading their mission statements, by asking open ended questions about how the company reacts when put in certain situations, and even by external clues like looking at what’s on the wall in someone’s office. If an Executive has 3 diplomas and all pictures of his family, he probably values education and family; ask about the diplomas and the pictures. Here is where you need to ‘dig’.

The speeches typically end with “how they got engaged” or “how he knew she was ‘the one'” and they tell the story of their engagement. If the couple is ecstatic and happy, you can see it when they tell the story – they are teary, emotional, animated, uncaring if they look ‘cool’ or not, and they have an unmatched excitement that even makes you a bit jealous. When you are given that job offer from the “one” or the “right company”, you feel the same way. Well, at least I do – unbridled emotion and excitement.

You can even take it one step further to the wedding vows. While you certainly can’t use ALL language, anyone who has built a business from scratch with other founders can likely attest to, “In sickness and in health” (work ALL the time), “good times and in bad” (usually there are more bad than good when starting a business), “support your goals” (company vision – enough said), “honor and respect”….I could go on and on.

So, if you are a crazy passionate business person; perhaps you can see the similarities above. Or, of course, it is possible that I’m just crazy, but in the words of Jack Kerouac, ““The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

On Being Opportunistic about Networking (Guest Post)

February 2, 2011 12 comments

Most often asked question, “How are you always successful?” My answer is always the same; 1) I’m not; but like any gambler, you only hear of the successes, not the failures 2) I never underestimate the power of a person; I seek out mentors, find people who are smarter than me; and I latch on! So it only made sense that my first guest post was written by Allison Cheston – Career Expert, Marketer, Mentor, and most importantly – authentically unique “Baby Boomer” who UNDERSTANDS Gen Y!

As a Boomer who spends a lot of time with Gen Y’s, I can attest to the value of connecting with all kinds of people to ask and answer questions, trade information and share expertise. It’s what I do, all day long. And judging by the number of people contributing on sites like Brazen Careerist, it’s a pretty popular activity.

Why is it popular? It’s the combination of the sense of community and the appeal of crowd sourcing. The idea that you can post a question such as “Do you know any branding firms in Chicago?”, and within several minutes to an hour, not only receive a list of firms but often, someone willing to connect you to someone at that firm. Without knowing you. That’s amazing.

The majority of Boomers don’t operate that way—most of them want to be able to check someone out before making a referral. All the books on networking, like Never Eat Lunch Alone and Love is the Killer App—they’re all directed at Boomers. Because Boomers always want to understand the purpose of networking, what is the end goal. Or they’re not interested.

It’s one of the great things Boomers can take from Gen Y’s. Of course there’s risk attached to it, but there can be great rewards.

Let me give you a direct example of the power of being opportunistic when it comes to networking. I’m writing a book: In the Driver’s Seat: Work-Life Navigation Skills for Young Adults. In the spring, I posted requests on Brazen Careerist.com, LinkedIn and Facebook, inviting Gen Y college grads to interview with me. Because these are Gen Y’s, they were responsive. They loved the idea of the book and they wanted to be part of it. Some of my Boomer friends asked if I was paying them. I was not.

One of the first people to respond and interview with me was Jamie Nacht Farrell. We hit it off, and she sent me a huge number of her friends to interview. And then she hired me to coach her. And then she became my #1 editor for the book. And now she is making deals for us to turn the book into a curriculum both for online use and as a companion product to a variety of career sites catering to young adults. And by the way, I live in New York City, Jamie lives in Dallas and there are 20 years between us.

This probably seems totally plausible to those of you reading this who happen to be Gen Y’s. But from where I sit, I can tell you it’s unusual. And that’s too bad.

The first two ingredients necessary: openness on both sides and a generosity of spirit. And Jamie has that in spades. Not to mention her genius for packaging and selling people and products. So we’re a great team.

The message: With risk come rewards. No matter what your stage of life, stay open to opportunities and network with people you might not cross paths with in your daily life. That’s the beauty of the Internet but you have to be ready to take advantage of it.

Allison Cheston
Career Advisor
Contact Me If You’d Like to be Interviewed for My Book!

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