Permission to sing your own praises

Spend a few moments reflecting on your achievements and what’s good in your career.

singyourpraisesHumility is a wonderful virtue, but for the next five minutes I invite you to trade it for pride and gratitude.

Take a pen and paper and make a list of all the things you’ve enjoyed and achieved over the last few months/6 months/year. What went well? What made you smile? What boosted your self-esteem?

Write down everything that comes to mind – things that made you feel proud, fulfilled, engaged, or happy. The times you solved a difficult problem, the compliments you received, the people you enjoyed working with, the moments you stepped outside your comfort zone. Don’t stop until you can’t think of anything else.

Now, read your list. Reflect on each moment. Allow yourself to fully enjoy your accomplishments.

Notice how you feel when you focus on the good. Do you feel calm, capable, self-assured?

This exercise isn’t about fuelling the ego or indulging in narcissism. It’s about switching from a scarcity mindset to one of possibility.

That feeling of ‘not enough’ – creeps up on all of us from time to time. It’s that nagging feeling that we need to do more, want more, have more, achieve more. It’s a good thing in small doses as it motivates us to strive for our goals. But it’s equally important to be grateful for everything you have right now, at this very moment.

 

What to do while you’re waiting

Sometimes you need to wait for what you really want. Here are some tips to help you get through those times.

rainSpring in New Zealand is beautiful. Buds on the trees and blossoms everywhere, tiny lambs and cute ducklings. And rain. This spring has arrived with more than the usual amount of rain.

It got me thinking about life’s ‘seasons’, the sunny and rainy times. The dull, grey times. The moments of calm and excitement.

Yet, unlike the seasons, in life it’s hard to predict whether sunshine or rain is around the corner. (To be fair, Auckland weather is pretty hard to predict too.)

Sometimes you’ll find yourself stuck in a season you’d rather escape. When this happens, it’s natural to long for sunnier times. You can spend weeks, months, or even years, waiting for change.

Despite your best intentions, sometimes it feels like you’re wading through mud – that life isn’t changing fast enough. That your dreams and aspirations keep eluding you. That you’re not getting the new job, the raise, the changes you want – no matter how hard you try.

You’re not alone. We all get stuck from time to time – it’s inevitable. So, the question should not be ‘how do I avoid the rainy season?’, but ‘how can I cope while I’m waiting for sunshine?’

I want to share several techniques I’ve learned over the years. Some require small shifts in perspective. Others require patience and time. Here is what I know.

Remember that “this too shall pass”

There is much wisdom in this old adage. Tough times won’t last forever – your situation will change. Try to cultivate patience and acceptance of the seasons of your life, while at the same time keeping your heart open to a brighter future.

Good times won’t last forever, either. Enjoy them while you have them. Relish in the special moments that will keep your spirits up when times are hard.

Use tough times as momentum for change

There is no personal growth without challenge. They go hand-in-hand. Use tough times as an opportunity to reflect, take stock, and regroup.

Tough times often help us make tough decisions. When life is mostly good, we sometimes overlook the small things that are niggling us, the quiet voice that says “something’s not right”.

When frustration or sadness is the more dominant emotion – when you can no longer say that “things are mostly okay” – it’s easier to take a clear, hard look at what’s not working in your life. Identify the things that demotivate or drain you, and use this clarity as momentum to try something different.

Do what you can with what you have

To (fully!) embrace this seasons cliché, sometimes you have to learn to dance in the rain’. If you can’t change your circumstance, then change your attitude. Sometimes your attitude is the only thing you can control.

All situations offer a chance to learn about yourself or others, to practice patience, to build resilience, and to try different paths. Often it is these very challenges that make the sunnier times so sweet.

Be ready

My last tip is to be ready for change – to create space for it in your life, so when the time comes, you will be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.

You may not be where you want to be yet, but you can start to prepare for future opportunities. For example, if you want to move into a different role, you could start researching it online, enrol in a course, or speak to others in the field. Immerse yourself in learning.

I’ve found that when you are learning about something new, it’s very hard to feel stuck – with knowledge comes momentum, no matter how slow.

And remember – it (whatever ‘it’ is for you), will be worth the wait.

What does your LinkedIn profile say about you?

Image - LinkedIn superheroYour LinkedIn profile is more than just a copy of your CV. Your LinkedIn profile is a networking and marketing tool. It can help you get a new job or emphasise an aspect of your skills or improve your work image.

  • It allows you to keep contact with past and current colleagues.
  • It lets you connect and keep in touch with other people in your industry.
  • It’s a way for employers to find you, or to research more about you.
  • It can help to improve your profile within your industry and within your company.

There are many articles online with suggestions on creating a good LinkedIn profile. Here’s one by entrepreneur Aaron Clayton-Dunn, and here’s another with excellent tips from the marvellous Liz Ryan.

The mistakes I see:

  1. Not supplying contact details.
    • If you’re looking for work or thinking of changing jobs then make it easy for people to contact you.
  2. Too many words.
    • Keep things short and punchy. You want the key details to stand out.
  3. A bad summary.
    • Write the summary in ‘CV style’ (brief, with bullet points) and be clear about your value and what you are looking for.
  4. An unprofessional photo (or no photo).
    • You don’t need a professional photographer, but you do need to choose a photo that looks professional.
    • If you’re not sure if your photo sets the right tone, ask yourself what impression it would give the CEO at your dream company.
  5. No recommendations, or too many.
    • There doesn’t seem to be consensus on a suitable number of recommendations but I’d say around 3 recommendations in total is a good number.
    • I don’t think colleague recommendations are especially useful. Try to get ones from people you reported to or from seniors at your company or on your project.
    • If you don’t have any recommendations, ask people, but help them by specifying the kinds of things you’d like to emphasise when describing their experience of working with you.
  6. If you are going to send someone a LinkedIn request, don’t use the generic message. Tailor it. The only generic requests that I accept are from people I already know.

Suggestions

Aside from the content on your own profile, there are other useful ways to use LinkedIn.

  1. Read Pulse articles (Pulse is LinkedIn’s ‘blog’ platform) and give people feedback by commenting on their Pulse articles, but always be thoughtful and respectful, especially if you disagree.
  2. Post links to work-related articles and/or add your comments to the post.
  3. Write posts on Pulse. This is an excellent way to put your thoughts out there so people can get an idea of what you care about.
  4. Did you know you can follow someone on LinkedIn? You don’t need to connect if all you really want to do is read their posts or see their LinkedIn activity.

Next Steps

  1. Set aside some time to assess your LinkedIn profile. [30-minute activity]
    • Look at the profiles of people with your role, or the one you’re hoping to get. Compare your profile to theirs. What do you like/dislike about their profile? And yours?
  2. Make changes to your profile. [30-minute activity]
    • If you don’t want people (such as your current employer) to know you’re making changes then set “Notify your network” to No. You’ll find that setting on the bottom right of the profile editing page.
  3. Find a Pulse article you like. Comment on it. [10-minute activity]
  4. Write a Pulse article. Search online for tips on how to write a blog or LinkedIn post. [2-hour activity]

I hope these tips have helped you create a LinkedIn profile that you are proud of and that accurately reflects your awesomeness!

(Check out this blog for CV tips).

Small steps to build your self-confidence

Do you sometimes feel anxiety, fear or low self-confidence in the workplace? I’ll let you in on a little secret: most people do.

We all have an inner voice of self-doubt that tells us we can’t do something, or that we might fail. It’s part of being human.

But that doesn’t mean we have to listen to it. Most of the time this voice is ruled by fear and should therefore be gently acknowledged, and then firmly ignored.

Self-confidence is about living beyond fear.

Think of some of the things that make you feel vulnerable or anxious at work. Some common examples include asking for a promotion or a pay rise, delivering a presentation or dealing with conflict.

Now think about the one thing all these challenges have in common: fear.

The best way to improve your self-confidence at work is to employ techniques to overcome your fears, so you can act with purpose and clarity as opposed to anxiety.

I’m not suggesting that this is easy, or that it will happen overnight, but remember: small steps can reap big rewards. I believe we can all overcome our fears if we are kind to ourselves along the way.

Try small things until you feel more confident.

Some people overcome their fear of heights by parachuting out of a plane. While this ‘quick fix’ has been known to work for some, I’d suggest a gentler, more long-term strategy for improving self-confidence in the workplace.

You don’t have to walk straight up to your boss and tell him you want a pay rise! Or deliver an impromptu presentation to a large group of people, just to test your fears.

Instead you can try small things each day or each week, and see what helps you personally to feel more confident and centred.

Here are some tried and tested strategies for success:

  • Be kind to others: Support and appreciate their work. This is great for your own soul and happiness, and your colleagues will notice you for all the right reasons.
  • Be kind to yourself: Listen out for compliments and record them in a notebook so you can refer back to them on tough days. Make note of your achievements and the things that make you feel proud of your work. Celebrating what you are good at is so important.
  • Be open: Talk to trusted colleagues about your own fears and ask them what areas they struggle with. You might be surprised – most people aren’t as confident as you think.
  • Be curious: Ask for feedback about your work and look for opportunities to learn. Show that you are willing to improve and grow. This will help you make a good impression as well as discover what people already appreciate about you.

These are just some of the ways you can make small adjustments to your confidence. Remember, self-confidence isn’t about being the loudest or the brightest; it’s about awakening your calm inner strength. It’s amazing how much we can flourish when we be kind to ourselves and others.

“But what I can do …” Words that don’t disappoint.

I said no

Early in my career I worked in the customer support department of an internet service provider. I supervised a team of young tech assistants who helped customers with everything to do with their internet connection. If a customer demanded that their call be escalated, it would be transferred to me.

The person on the other end of the phone was frustrated, often angry, and they wanted their problem fixed now. They didn’t want to hear that I might not be able to give them what they wanted.

At first, taking the “grumpy customer” calls was nerve-wracking but over time I discovered it was a perfect opportunity to give great service. I’ve taken what I learnt there into many other roles and situations where I need to say “no”.

Sometimes on those customer calls I was lucky and a quick fix resolved everything but mostly it wasn’t that easy. The issues that really frustrate people are a result of complexity, ambiguity, and miscommunication, and often don’t have easy solutions. Those kinds of problems need to be investigated, and resolving it might take time. Sometimes what customers want isn’t in our control and sometimes it isn’t possible at all.

Even when I couldn’t give those customers what they wanted, I managed to help them feel better. How?

  1. The first thing was I cared about them. I treated them with respect and empathy. We all know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of bad service … we just want someone to make things right.
  2. But I also discovered a technique that worked really well – I never said “no” or “we can’t do that” or “that’s not possible” without also saying what I could do.

“I’m sorry, I can’t  do that. But what I can do is …”.  

Being specific about what you can do helps when dealing with unhappy customers but is also useful in other situations, such as when you might need to disappoint someone at work. Maybe your workmate is asking for something that’s not possible, or your manager wants an answer you can’t give.

Here are a few examples of things you could say after “no …”.

– What I can do is set aside some time with you to talk through our options.
– What I can do is get the details for a proper investigation before I get back to you.
– What I can do is sit with you while you complete that task so I can help if you need it.
– What I can do is put you in touch with someone who will have the information you need.
– What I can do is make sure the Product team get your feedback.

We all have times when we don’t have the answers that people want, or we can’t do what they expect. By saying what you can do they’ll know that your intent is to help and they’ll be clear about next steps. Of course there are times that what you can do will seem insignificant, but offering even something small is going to be received better than just a “no”.

It works the other way around also – if someone is only telling you what isn’t possible then ask what can be done. Help them to focus on what is possible.

Try it the next time you need to say no … say what you can do, and notice how this changes the rest of the conversation.

Reclaim your commute!

For most people a daily commute to the office is unavoidable. We drive, carpool, catch public transport, or cycle/run/walk to work. Some people love their commute and others find it tedious and boring.

It was when I was spending almost 3 hours a day commuting (and almost as much time grumbling about it!) that a friend mentioned how much he loved that part of his day. Early every morning he’d set off on his bicycle for a 90-minute ride to work, and back again every evening. It didn’t sound appealing to me but he looked forward to it. He appreciated that he was able to exercise every day, he was getting fit and he felt happy and relaxed when he got to work and again when he arrived home in the evening.

I wasn’t keen on cycling to work! But it got me thinking if there might be other things I could do to stop viewing my commute as a waste of time. I asked a bunch of people how they viewed their commute and how they spent that time. Quite a few told me they enjoyed the “me time” – no kids, or coworkers or others to bother them. They could relax and do things that made them happy. Some said the commute home allowed them time to process their work day. I noticed a difference between those who begrudged that time and those who looked forward to it. Here are some of the things that made it more bearable, even enjoyable.

If you catch public transport.

This is one of the nicest ways to commute as you don’t need to keep your eyes on the road.

  • Call people you don’t get the chance to speak to often enough.
  • Read or listen to an audio book or listen to interesting podcasts. I love podcasts and have a long list of favourites – so many that I even use the Overcast app to get through them faster!
  • Use Duolingo to learn a language.
  • Look up”. Switch off. Put everything away and look up. See what’s going on around you, notice your surroundings … daydream.
  • Breathe. How you breathe has an impact on your stress levels and many other things. Here’s a good article with little-known but excellent advice “if in doubt, breathe out”.
  • Whether standing or sitting, practice good posture, engage your core muscles and tuck in your chin to avoid the dreaded “computer hunch”.
  • Improve your concentration and focus.
  • Using your time to practice mindfulness.
  • If your job involves sitting most of the day then your commute is a perfect time to stand. Standing engages more muscles than sitting, and there aremany associated health benefits.

Here’s a great blog from a freelancer in New York who now misses her train commute.

If you walk, run or cycle.

If you commute by using your own legs as transport then you are awesome! This is great for your health and mental outlook.

Quite a few people told me they use listen to loud music on their earphones but after a few near-misses they no longer feel safe doing that. If you are going to wear earphones then be vigilant about what’s going on around you. In addition to some of the public transport tips above, you could:

  • Develop good posture – engage your muscles and walk with intent. Turn your walk into a workout.
  • Practice feeling “actively relaxed” – focus on good posture and breathe evenly and try to feel calm.
  • I was told about a “walking meditation” where a friend notices colours, practices relaxing breathing or listens to the sounds around her.
  • Appreciate the outdoors. If you work at a desk all day then this is a good time to be out in the sun and breathing fresh air.

If you drive.

If you’re stuck in slow traffic here are some things you could do, provided you keep yourself and others safe.

If you can’t avoid commuting then doing these things can help to make it a positive part of your work day, even fun. And once you’ve reclaimed your commute then reclaim your job because that should be fun too!

Your attitude is infectious.

Infectious_attitudeIs there anyone at your company who you really like to work with? Anyone you’d want to avoid? What about your overall attitude at work, your manner and disposition … how do you approach people or give your opinion or disagree?

It’s obvious that no matter where we work we have no choice but to interact with other people to get things done. And while we’re getting things done we’re having an effect on each other whether we intend to or not. Sometimes it’s a positive effect, sometimes it isn’t.

There’s a well-known saying that “your reputation precedes you”. It’s important to be aware of how you might be “infecting” others with your attitude as it can have an impact on things like team productivity, individual’s job satisfaction, and your career prospects.

Are you aware of what others might think of you? You can never be 100% sure as opinions are influenced by people’s own values and life experiences, but it is possible to get a sense of their general feelings. Think of things you’re complimented on or feedback you’re consistently given.

  • Are you known for getting things done?
  • Are you proactive / approachable / self-motivated / sensible / trusted?
  • Do you take responsibility?
  • Can you be relied on?
  • Have people said they specifically want you on their team?
  • Do you encourage or help others to do well?
  • Are you open to new ideas or different approaches?
  • Is your opinion sought and/or respected?
  • Can you disagree without being disagreeable.

If you can say Yes to any of those then you can be fairly sure you are a positive influence at work. Sadly, it’s often the negative influencers who end up having the biggest impact.

  • Don’t be the person who is a stuck record, always complaining or pointing out things you don’t like. Instead, use that energy to find ways to help. There’s nothing like a good vent every now and then but if that’s all you do you lose respect, and moaning doesn’t actually change anything. Offer to help fix the problems or ask for support from others to find solutions.
  • Don’t be known for being cynical, distrusting or disparaging. Just one person behaving this way can infect a whole team by making it seem okay to focus on the negatives. There are plenty of opportunities to feel disappointed or lose trust but you need to be willing to give people another chance. Standing on the sidelines pointing at others isn’t a good way to promote healthy relationships at work.
  • Don’t be an arrogant know-it-all. Remember how you felt when you were new at something. Have some empathy for people who don’t know what you do. When you’re feeling frustrated at other people’s lack of knowledge use that as an indicator that you could do more to help them understand.

People who display these negative traits have often started out with good intentions. Those who complain may be trying to prevent problems for their team, or improve poor work practices. People who are cynical may have placed trust others but had their trust betrayed. Being arrogant could be a protective measure in a high-blame environment.

Wherever these attitudes originated, they can quickly become a habit. We all have bad days and moments where we’re feeling frustrated and we can’t help but be negative, but to be respected and valued at work you should try to keep those occasions to a minimum. Be aware of the things that trigger a bout of bad attitude and practice different ways of responding. Think of how you impact people. Be someone that others see as a positive influence. Take every opportunity to infect people with your great attitude.

Something is better than anything.

be_specificWhen you tell someone you’re looking for a new job, you can expect that their next question is going to be something like “so what are you looking for?”. You’d be surprised how often I hear people answer with “anything”.

They say things like “I’m looking for anything in testing” or “anything in IT” or “anything to do with customer service”.

Imagine it’s your first appointment at a new hairdresser. As you sit down they ask what you want and you answer “anything”. How likely is it that you’ll be happy with the end result?

I can understand that when you’re looking for a new role you may not be sure what kind of roles are available. Or you may actually be willing to do a whole range of things. Or maybe you think by being specific you might not get some other role you’d be perfect for.

But here’s what it sounds like when you say “anything”:

  • It sounds like you haven’t put any thought into what you want, what you could contribute to a company or where you might be valuable.
  • Instead of making you seem open to a range of things it could make you seem desperate or unenthusiastic or vague or lazy. Employers tend to like enthusiasm and driven and focussed people.
  • It could make you look like you don’t care.
  • It’s hard for employers or recruiters or people you’re networking with to mentally match you to roles/companies they know about if they don’t have any idea what it is you want or would be suited to.

When people ask what you’re looking for, you need to help them to help you. Prepare for their questions by considering the items in the list below. You don’t need to have firm answers for all points below … just focus on the things that you feel strongest about.

  1. What do you want from your next role? To develop technical skills or leadership, to stretch yourself, to embed skills you already have?
  2. Do you have an idea of the role you want in the long-term? Is your next role a stepping stone to that or do you want something completely new?
  3. How senior a role do you want? Why? Do you want to be a leader and do you have experience in this? Would you prefer to work in a team or alone? How big a team would you prefer?
  4. What industries have you worked in before that would give you an edge, and what industry do you want next? Why?
  5. What type of company do you want to work for? A small start-up, a growing company, a large corporation?
  6. What type of work environment do you want? Fast-moving, flexible, traditional, innovative? Is the development methodology important to you? Do you want a team where roles are flexible and varied or do you prefer clearly-defined responsibilities?
  7. What salary/benefits would you want ideally and do you have a minimum in mind?
  8. Do you have any must-haves?
  9. What is most important to you? The role, company culture, salary, benefits, training, flexibility, industry, opportunities, location, or other things?

Let’s change those examples above to something a bit more helpful:
“I’m looking for a test lead role at a telco.”
“I want a Java developer role in a large corporate organisation.”
“I want to work part-time in a customer service role.”

Once you have some idea of what is important to you and what you want to aim for, then decide how specific or broad you want to be when telling others. You don’t need to disclose exactly what you want but it’s good to have your ‘first prize’ in mind.

So the next time someone asks what kind of role you’re looking for be ready to replace “anything” with something.