Friday, May 29, 2009

I'm a Fan

I am in awe of Susan Boyle, the Britain’s Got Talent contestant and You Tube phenom. Her first appearance during the audition phase of the show offered vindication for everyone who’s ever been written off as not attractive enough, too old or who just didn’t fit the stereotype of what a ‘success’ should be.

Susan walked onstage to laughter, sighs and rolled eyes. Everyone, including the judges had made up their mind about her before she'd uttered one word. When asked why she was there she said, “I'd like to be a professional singer,” and everyone laughed and snickered.

It all changed though when she opened her mouth. Before the end of the first verse the audience and the judges were rapt. People were on the edge of their seats, listening intently to the sounds coming out of the mouth of this frumpy, 48-year old woman who admitted that she’d never even been kissed!

This woman who had lived her entire adult life caring for her mother and who now lived alone with her cat; this woman who'd been the brunt of jokes and teasing from the neighborhood kids; this woman an unemployed church volunteer was having her MOMENT. And what a moment it was!

What had started amidst laughter and ridicule ended with tears of joy and an eruption of applause. The smug judges were humbled and offered their sincerest apologies. News of this sensation spread and within a week, her video had been played millions of times on YouTube.

Since then, Susan Boyle's even been on Oprah.

Needless to say, she made it into the competition and when she performed again, singing Memory from Cats, she confirmed that she was no fluke. This unsuspecting modest woman has the world at her feet and all because she took a chance and auditioned.

She was made fun of and laughed at but she knew that she had talent. She had enough confidence in herself and belief in her abilities to face the naysayers and prove them wrong. It took a lot of courage to set foot on that stage but she took the change. Talk about losing the excuses!

Susan Boyle is an inspiration. Watch her first perfomance (if you haven't seen it already):

**UPDATE: Boyle came in second place to a British dance group called Diversity. But she's still number one in my book!**

Thursday, May 28, 2009

It Ain't Easy

Wouldn’t it be nice if there really was an Easy Button? The Staples commercials play into our desire to have easy at our fingertips. But in real life there is no magic button – yet we still try to find one. We desperately want easy. We want a pill to help us lose weight. We want a partner, a soul mate, who magically reads our minds and instinctively knows our deepest desires. We want to hit the lottery. We want an Easy Button!

The truth of the matter is most things worth having aren’t easy. Sure there are big lottery winners and that rare couple who fall in love at first site and finish each other sentences but the rest of us have to work for it. The work doesn’t have to be arduous or terrible but it does have to be work.

If you find a profession or a person that you are passionate about then the work should be worth the effort and your passion should help you carry it through the more difficult part. Passion and that dreaded D work: discipline.

That’s the part that makes us crave the Easy Button! When the passion ebbs, that’s when the discipline has to flow. As a dieter, I’ve had weeks where I’ve consistently lost weight but inevitably I’ve hit those plateaus where the scale doesn’t budge and in some instances has gone up … even when I’ve done everything right. At those times, my passion runs low and if I’m going to make it through, the discipline kicks it up a notch.

I stick with the grilled chicken, steamed veggies and sorbet when my frustration is crying out for a juicy cheeseburger, salty fries and a chocolate shake. When your relationship hits a rocky patch, it might seem easier to call it quits or reach for that third party (the romantic equivalent of the burger and fries!). It seems tempting to drop out of the graduate school program or up and quit the job (Okay, not in this economy but you get my point). But if the prize (or person) is worth it, then the discipline will pay off in the long run, and if you stick with it the passion will flow again.

Save the Easy Button for Staples.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Extreme Self-Care: Setting Boundaries

This is the first in a ten part series called, Extreme Self-Care: It’s Not Selfish!

“Good fences make good neighbors.” When it comes to neighbors, the fence se
ts up a boundary. The fence ensures privacy and makes the property line clear – each neighbor will know immediately if they have trespassed on their neighbors property. Fences make it easy to know and respect the other person’s property, privacy and space.

Too bad we don’t have personal fences around us. It’s difficult to know when we’ve crossed over into the other person’s space. It’s hard to know when we have gone too far and it’s even harder because most people won’t let you know immediately when you have crossed the line.

Often, we don’t make our own boundaries clear. We want to maintain positive relationships, so when someone does tread on us, by making too many demands, or not valuing our privacy, we grin and bear it. Grinning and bearing masks the mounting frustration we feel when the other person steps on us too much.

Not setting clear boundaries leave us feeling overworked, underappreciated and overextended. We say ‘yes’ when we should have said ‘no.’ We push things that we value off of our plates to accommodate the other person’s needs. As a result our needs take a back seat. In fact, often without clear boundaries, we run out of room and instead of occupying the backseat, we push our needs out of the car all together!

When our needs aren’t being met, we can’t be our best. Eventually, we snap at the spouse or significant other, we get impatient with the kids (or in traffic!), we lose our ability to focus at work, we don’t spend quality time with friends and family.

We are often reluctant to set boundaries because we don’t want a negative reaction or to cause conflict. I maintain that we are going to eventually get to a negative place once we’ve reached our limits. Besides, long before you blow up at someone else, you will have been feeling the effects of your lack of boundaries internally.

So, learn to say no with grace. Decline with a reason. Maybe you can’t do anything right now or maybe you can do something just not what is being asked. Be clear about what you can and cannot do. “I’m sorry funds are pretty tight right now and I cannot loan you the money.” “I would love to help you but with everything on my plate, I cannot coordinate the entire job fair, however, I would be glad to help you set things up the day of the fair and I could help you design a flier.”

By being clear about what you can and cannot do, you stay in control. You make your needs known. This can work, more often than not, with significant others, friends and even kids. Think about it, when you ask for something you know there is a risk that the person will say no. The person asking you for help knows that you might say no too.

Don’t feel guilty about stating your needs. If you get pushback at first, stand your ground and reiterate your point. You will not lose friends or family by standing your ground. Whatever inconvenience they feel will be short-lived. After you’ve done this a couple of times, they will get the point and get used to respecting your boundaries.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Danger! Danger! Falling Shoes!!!

I’ve had a bad habit of, when things are going well, waiting for the shoe to drop. And not just drop but plummet down on top of my head with such momentum and velocity and that I’m left unconscious and wake up wondering “What the H-E-Double Toothpicks just happened?”

This habit isn’t completely irrational because shoes have fallen in the past. I had a great job, things were going really well, then the ‘corporate restructuring’ happened and I ended up out of work. I thought I’d finally met ‘The One’ then he decided his ex-girlfriend was ‘The One’. He married her but really wanted to stay friends with me.

Yes, shoes have dropped and in ways that have taken my breath away; but I can’t expect them to drop every time. I can’t wait for the inevitable shoe to drop because it’s not inevitable. Every situation is different and just because something happened in the past doesn’t mean that it will happen again.

Waiting for the shoe to drop is a form of protection. It’s a preemptive measure designed to keep you from getting hurt. If you know something bad is coming then, you’ll be prepared when it happens. But living with an underlying sense of dread and staring up at the sky in hopes of getting a glimpse of that shoe as it begins its descent is no way to live.

Having your guard perpetually up, approaching everything and everyone with a skeptical and jaded eye, and expecting the worst will keep you from getting hurt, but it will also keep you from experiencing the full measure of happiness and hope and even love you, and I, deserve.

We can and should learn from every experience. The key is to be able to take away the lessons without taking the hurt, bitterness and trepidation.

One lesson I’ve learned is to appreciate the moment, the now. Living fully in the present prevents you from worrying about future events that might never happen. It also allows you to enjoy the here and now. If the shoe does drop, it drops. But, if it doesn’t … and it might not … you have saved yourself a lot of unnecessary uneasiness and anxiety.

Now, the only shoes I’m looking for are on sale.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Takin' Care of Business: Be Careful Out There

This is the tenth in a ten part series called, Takin’ Care of Business – Making Work Work for You.

The Internet is a whole lot of fun. It’s so easy to meet new friends and share some intimate details of your life on Facebook, MySpace or maybe on your blog: the drunken party you went to July 4th weekend, the Katy Perry-inspired kiss you shared with some random girl at a friend’s bachelorette party, and of course, exactly what you did to get all those beads during Mardi Gras.

It’s all in good fun right. And besides, this is America, and you have the right to do what you want. Sure, you do – but your actions have repercussions. And when those chickens come home to roost, you could end up in some hot water (or chicken broth, if you want to be specific).

Your friends have access to all the intimate details of your life but so do other people. Let’s say, you are looking for a job. You have a good interview. You are feeling positive. But, what you don’t realize is that the interviewer did a simple Google search and saw for himself all those party pictures and some of the sexy comments and stories that went with them. Weeks later, you are wondering why you didn’t get called back.

But, “Karyn,” you say, “I make all of my pages private.” Well, I’ll tell you the same thing that I tell any class I’ve taught on written communication and email etiquette. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. You no longer have control. Just like you can’t reliably retrieve an email (the recall feature in Outlook is not even close to being reliable), you can’t control what people who do have access to your information do with it.

What if a friend or co-worker, with an axe to grind, copied some photos and comments from your profile and circulated them? It happens and it happens more than you think.

Technology from blogging to Twittering to making friends on Facebook has repercussions. It can prevent you from getting a job and it can also cause you to lose your job.

Image isn’t everything; but it still accounts for a heck of a lot. Be very careful with the image you construct because it might come back to haunt you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

And then ... I cried.

As I write this, I am exhausted – mentally and emotionally exhausted. I’ve been on quite a roller coaster ride this past two weeks and it’s finally come to an end. I’m tired – physically tired.

Emotional stress can have quite an effect on your physical health. This week, I had difficulty sleeping. I experienced stomach problems. I had a hard time focusing. In general, I felt worn out and tired.

Exercise and diet helped a bit but I think it was also important to address emotional and mental health from the emotional and mental perspective.

This week for me that meant acceptance (mental) and emotional release.

I had set a very high bar for myself in terms of several things I wanted to accomplish. I tried and tried and did absolutely everything I could to get things to work out for me. Nothing worked. As the 11th hour approached, I realized that I had to make a very difficult decision. It was the best decision but it required me to give up (at least for now) something that was very important to me.

Mentally, I had to accept the reality of my situation. It was hard. It was painful. But, there really wasn’t anything else I could do. After spending weeks working on possible outcomes and running into dead ends and closed doors, I had to admit that there was nothing left for me to do. What I wanted was not going to work. I had to accept it.

And then, I cried.

I cried because I was tired. I cried because I was frustrated. I cried because I really, really, really wanted to find a way to make things work. I cried over my missed opportunity. But most of all, I cried because I needed to.

I suppose there is a time to be ‘strong’ or ‘stoic’ and keep that stiff upper lip. But for me, sometimes it’s better, even stronger, maybe even more courageous, to allow yourself to fully be present and feel the emotion. So I cried. I called a friend. I cried some more. Then I went to sleep knowing that tomorrow could be a better day.

The next morning, some of the disappointment from the previous day lingered. I was still tired; rarely can one night’s sleep make up for weeks of worry, stress and burning the candle at both ends. This day, I was tired but also a little relieved. The decision had been made. I might not have liked it but it was done and all there was to do know was to move on.

I was feeling better and that’s always a good place to begin.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Takin' Care of Business: Ending Interruptions

This is the ninth in a ten part series called, Takin’ Care of Business – Making Work Work for You.

If you don’t think interruptions are a big deal, think again.
  • When an interruption occurs, it takes 10 to 15 minutes to get back on track with train of thought afterwards. Therefore 4 interruptions in a day can mean the loss of an hour in concentration.
  • A manager on average spends 3 hours each day on interruptions.
  • The average person gets 1 interruption every 8 minutes, or approximately 7 an hour, or 50-60 per day. The average interruption takes 5 minutes, totaling about 50% of the average workday. 80% of those interruptions are typically rated as "little value" or "no value" creating approximately 3 hours of wasted time per day.
When it comes to interruptions, you are either the interruptee or the interrupter. If you are the one being interrupted there are a few things you can do to keep them short and to the point.

  • When someone asks if you have a minute, tell them exactly how many minutes you have and stick to it. If you have five minutes, when five minutes is up, offer an alternate time to continue the discussion. Or say ‘No’ and offer an alternate time.
  • Stand up. If you stand and act as if you are leaving, the other person will normally speed up.
  • If you have a chair in your office, keep it filled with books or magazines, and make it hard for someone to sit down.

Now, no one wants to admit this, but sometimes, you are the interrupter. If you are the interrupter, here are some things you can do to break that habit.

  • Don’t pop into your bosses office every time you have a question. If the question isn’t urgent, then keep a log of questions and ask for a short meeting to get them all addressed at once. You can also create an email and save it as a draft. Add the questions as they come to you and then send it once you have collected several questions.
  • Gossip and small talk can wait until breaks or lunch.
  • If you need to make a work-related interruption, keep it short and to the point. Once your question is answered, leave.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

In Defense of Only Children

I am an only child. Yes, my father remarried and I do have siblings in my blended family; but that didn’t happen until I was well into my 20’s and out of the house. I was raised an only child. I have no children. However, truth be told, I have never wanted more than one. There is nothing wrong with being an only child.

Maybe it’s a case of not missing what I never had but I have always been fine being an only child. Sure, I went through a phase where I wanted a little brother or sister, but I also went through phases where I wanted braces and a cast. I also, for a minute, wanted diabetes; but only because one of my classmates had it and he got to eat snacks (and I really wanted snacks).

I get so tired of people assuming that because I am an only child that I am some maladjusted, egocentric freak. There are a number of good things about being an only child.

  1. I never had to live in a sibling’s shadow and endure constant criticism and comparisons.

  2. I know how to be alone and enjoy my own company.

  3. Since I didn’t have ready-made playmates, I had to be outgoing enough to go out and make friends.

  4. I was never bullied or traumatized by older siblings.

  5. My communication skills were excellent from a very young age because I communicated so frequently with adults.

  6. Because I was around my parents a lot, I learned how to interact with adults and got to be more mature for my age which helped a lot when it came to school.

  7. I grew up independent, learning to do for myself. It made me more responsible.

  8. I never had sibling rivalry or had to compete for my parent’s love or attention or ever having feelings that they liked the other sibling more than me.

  9. I had good strong relationships with both of my parents.

  10. I was exposed to a lot more culturally because it was more affordable to do things with one child than it was to do them with three.

As far as the myths:

  • I know people with siblings who are selfish and egocentric. Only children don’t have a corner on that market. Not even a little bit!

  • Just because you have siblings doesn’t mean that you will have help when it comes time to care for your parents. I know plenty of people with siblings who shoulder that burden alone because the siblings are unavailable or unwilling to help.

  • I was not lonely. I always had friends. My parents would even let me take a friend with me on vacations. To be honest, I was sick of them by the time the trip was over!

Parenting makes all the difference. Whether you are the parent of an only or of several, the parent sets the tone for the household. As the parents, you make the decision to spoil or not spoil, to indulge or not indulge, to teach responsibility or allow irresponsibility and that doesn’t change no matter how many children you have.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Takin' Care of Business: Managing Your Manager

This is the eighth in a ten part series called, Takin’ Care of Business – Making Work Work for You.

Sure, you know who’s boss. And when I talk about managing your manager, I don’t mean secretly plotting to take her job or developing some sinister plan to make him look like an idiot. Managing your manager is the process of making your needs known and developing a relationship with him that will allow you to do your job more effectively.

At the heart of the matter, managers are people. As such, they have different personalities and styles. The first step in managing your manager is recognizing her style. Is she a micro-manager or more of a hands-off type? Once you have a handle on the style, then you can figure out how you want to communicate with them. And communication is key.

A micro-manager needs to have their hand in the pot at all times– even though you might be the one doing the stirring. Since you know they always need to know what’s going on, you will want to communicate with them regularly – probably more than you think is necessary. As progress is made and you hit your milestones, let your manager know – even before she asks. If decisions need to be made, clue him in on what you are doing. Sometimes it can be as simple as cc’ing him on an email thread.

For the hands-off manager, you still want to keep them in the loop too. A weekly email or touch base meeting is a good way to let them know what you are doing and how you are progressing with your work. It doesn’t have to be long and involved but just something to let them know what you’ve been up to.

Communication also becomes critical when your plate is getting particularly full. Often managers assign work without thinking about exactly how much work you already have or how much work it will take to complete the assignment. In this case, when your plate is full, it is perfectly fine to ask your manager, which project has the priority. Let them know what tasks you have in front of you and when you expect to have them done. Then, ask them which project needs to be completed first?

If you don’t ask, you are assuming and you know what happens when you assume. You don’t want to devote your time and energy to Project A only to find out Project B or Project C was more important.
Finally, make your needs known. If you need more information or if your boss needs to do something for you, then let them know exactly what is required of them and by when. If you cannot complete your work until your boss authorizes overtime or approves some additional expenses, then make your needs known.

Knowing your boss and communicating effectively with her can go a long way to alleviating your stress and making your job a lot easier.