Stand Up For Yourself (#5 of 6 – Lessons That Impact Life)

This is fifth in a series of six posts about lessons I learned from my grandfather that apply to career growth and development, in addition to just being generally good advice for life. This is in his memory and in honor of Father’s Day.

Who else was a shy kid growing up? It doesn’t make things easier to try and shift into the background when you want to be part of everything. Sometimes, to avoid other kids being mean, you do make that background shift and decide not to fight back. Though I didn’t always admire his methods, I did admire that my grandfather would stand up for himself. It was an example that helped me build some courage when I was younger, and that in turn helped me be a better self advocate and leader as I grew into a professional.

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For many years in our neighborhood, we would play games but have teams with odd numbers of players. We would come up with creative solutions to make basketball and wiffle ball and any other game work for us. Sometimes we dragged in unwilling sisters and brothers, or younger siblings tagging along who weren’t quite ready, but we needed to include them. We wanted to play, the weather was good, and we did what we felt we had to do.

One year, a new family moved in. The thought of more kids to even out our teams and play with was exciting, but we found out quickly the brother was not who we were hoping for and the sister had zero interest in playing with us. Despite being in the same age range, this brother had a strange “maturity” in his lack of kindness and the power he wanted to have over others. My grandfather was not a fan of the way he treated us, and was sure to let  “Nick” know about it.

Nick, of course, took exception to an old guy telling him how things were, so he began harassing my grandfather as well. Things unfortunately were a little violent from a distance at times, like when Nick and a friend threw soda cans at my grandfather’s house, exploding the brown, sugary insides all over the white vinyl siding. It created a mess and I could tell Pops was frustrated and a little in disbelief that someone would treat another person, never mind a person of his age, that way. He found some pipe cleaners to string together a couple exploded Coke cans and hung them on the oversize letter loop of the mailbox.

“Why did you do that?”, I asked Pops. His answer, while I forget the exact words, were to the tune of “I’m showing him who’s boss.” While I didn’t quite see how that was the case, I appreciated that he took care to make sure he stood up for himself. It made me feel badly that I didn’t do a better job of doing that for him as Nick was only a little younger than me.

From there on out, and from my own absence of action in defense of Pops, I realized that if you didn’t stick up for yourself, there was no guarantee that someone else would do it for you. I learned that I needed to be present and a part of things if I wanted to be a person of impact, that I had to speak up for what I wanted and ask for it. Sitting off to the side and letting others speak for me, even if it didn’t represent how I felt, wasn’t going to be a good way to go through life. This “Nick Soda Incident” and Pops’ reaction was powerful, because it made me rethink my entire approach to life – though I do acknowledge a lack of maturity on behalf of everyone involved. Pops in a way, decided not to really retaliate, but was able to show his dislike of the event by taking ownership of what was meant to scare him.

If that had not happened, and had I not asked Pops all about it, I might not be where I am in my career today. I forced myself to develop “daily courage”. It wasn’t meant to be anything spectacular like running into a burning building to save a life, but the courage to ask for what I wanted and the follow through to ensure higher odds of achieving it. I started running for class offices and student council. I was more vocal on the field and court in my athletic endeavors. I worked to stop worrying how uncool I would look by caring about learning and started asking questions in class. These little behaviors for a shy high school student weren’t changing the world, but they were changing me and setting the stage for me to have a chance later in life to do so.

This daily courage blossomed into having more leadership opportunities, building better relationships, and less stress –  I could just be me. I ended high school on a high note, and it gave me a bit of momentum to go into college and be the best version of me. The improvements and continued attempts of measured risk of putting myself out there helped me to get where I am today in my career, and I know have set the stage for my future, whatever that is. Today, I draw on the courage in professional settings all the time:

  • Deal directly with conflict, whether it is with me or two people on my team. I no longer let it linger, but found ways to address it head on where, when and with whom it matters.
  • I’ve been able to go after career changes that I wanted to pursue. On occasions where I wasn’t having the experience I hoped for, I could speak up for myself. I developed a tenacity in fighting for my opportunities, but keeping it professional.
  • Expressing disagreement on a topic with peers and superiors. I may not “win” most occasions, but by having the conversation I gain a greater understanding of purpose. This extends beyond ourselves to peers and superiors’ understanding of us, also.
  • Giving my opinion and making decisions has been made incredibly easier by having courage and conviction for standing up for what I believe in. There has also been a humility that I’ve developed in case I do end up being wrong, and also for when my strong opinion proved to be right. This helps with all kinds of relationships.
  • When I feel wronged or see it happen to someone else I know, I can say something now. That gives me peace to help myself and others. I hope for the best in people, but when this hope fails I know I can help change people and situations for the better.

Pops, at least in person, never saw me graduate college and develop my career and into I am today. I hope he would be proud of what I’ve accomplished and the independence I’ve cultivated.

When he passed away, we did not have a wake or funeral, at his request. This was always one of the Pops-isms that made me smile a little because it was something that made him uniquely him. It wasn’t out of reducing burden or fear that no one would come, but rather making sure that someone else didn’t have the last laugh at his expense. I thought this was, albeit a little paranoid, a form of courage to make sure his life, including the celebration of his life after his death, would end on a high note. It was what he wanted, and we made sure he had it. But he only had it because he asked for it and stood up for his fears and wants. However that manifests itself for all of us, in life, at work, with family and friends, if we don’t stand up for what we want or for ourselves, who else can we guarantee will do that?

The last remaining post will be published in coming days. Please check back soon!

Best Books of 2018… So Far!

In the first six months of 2018, I was extremely fortunate to have picked some reads that left indelible marks on my life. As frequent readers of this blog know, I am a believer of continuous improvement and that reading can not only have incredible impact, but be life changing. In this post, I will share my top reads and recommendations. I hope you take as much joy and meaning from these books as I did!

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Most of my reading has been non-fiction, as I work to explore new ideas and get better at executing what I’m good at, and also where I need improvement. And sometimes you need a break from high quality research and data driven arguments, so a good fiction book or story can add some enjoyment to all of that learning and growth! Fun is important, too!

Overall, in the first six months of 2018, I have read 29 books. This puts me on pace to be ahead of my goal of 50 books to be read by the end of the year. I am a believer in rating books as it helps me to recall which are the most meaningful and where I might want to refer back to the digital highlights to refresh what I learned.

The chart below breaks out how I rated the books to date:

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Generally, my star break outs get defined as:

  1. Can’t get past the beginning. Skipping ahead provides no value. I’ve found flaws or disagree with the book from an ethics standpoint. ALWAYS a “did not finish” (DNF). This has happened perhaps twice in the past three years or so.
  2. I can get a few chapters in, but it is difficult to read. I question what the author is trying to convey and the methods used. This is rare and almost always a DNF.
  3. This was a decent book. I wouldn’t quite recommend, but there was value in either information or entertainment to keep plowing through as best I could.
  4. A “4 star” book is one that keeps me focused on the message, sometimes difficult to put down, and I would always recommend for the right reader. If I enjoy but it doesn’t blow me away, this is where I rate the book.
  5. A book with this rating is impossible to put down, keeping me mesmerized every page. For the days and weeks following, I am telling everyone I see about the book as a must read. It becomes a small obsession!

So what are those best books, you are wondering? I’ll describe some of my favorite four and five star books below.

Here is a list of my 4-star books that I would recommend:

  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote. It is easy to see why this is a classic! It was impossible to put down, and even what you might expect to be mundane was dramatic.
  • Authorpreneur, Jesse Tevelow. As one who is aspiring to be a published author (more later in post!), this book was brimming with practical advice for self-publishers.
  • How Will You Measure Your Life?, Clayton Christensen. Contrasting the “all in or else” expectation in business, this book presented a refreshing lifestyle approach.
  • Crucial Conversations, Kerry Patterson. I was riveted by the data, anecdotes, and actionable suggestions in this book to build relationships with all kinds of people.
  • Success Under Stress, Sharon Melnick. Instead of succumbing to unhealthy stress, the author provides opportunities for how we can use stress in our favor for success.
  • The Art of Everyday Assertiveness, Patrick King. Assertiveness is a personal goal and a form of self-respect. Everything offered spun a positive view on the topic.
  • What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith. This was a reminder that we need to grow, adjust, and remold ourselves as we grow and take on new roles.
  • You Are a Writer, Jeff Goins. The author presents a great case that what we see ourselves as if how we are and project to others. So why not be what we want to be?

Here are my 5-star books and why they were worth reading (in no order):

  • The Art of Power, Thich Nhat Hanh. What a book to start the year with! It was a great re-framing of what power actually is and means and how we can take better control of our lives, ourselves, and our relationships.
  • Necessary Dreams, Anna Fels. Even before I finished this book, I was talking about it to almost everyone I came in contact with. The author stated the issues faced with incredible depth and in a fresh way – I felt like I wasn’t alone, and loved the focus on being active in all areas of life like marriage, social environments, and civic engagement.
  • Own It, Sallie Krawcheck. Though skeptical coming into reading this book, I quickly bought in to all it offered. I loved the practical advice that didn’t encourage me to change who I was, but to be more of me with actionable skill development.
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz. The title is a perfect reminder that nothing great worth doing is without effort. The stories were magnetizing and the forward commentary was captivating, a look into the real life of technology startups without the glamour we expected.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood. It was a wake up call for me to take more action in advocating for what is right – and since then I have been more civically active in standing up for what I believe. Because if I don’t and you don’t, this dystopian fiction could become reality.
  • I’m Not For Everyone. Neither Are You., David Leddick. This book reminded me of the importance of individualism and, though this phrase is everywhere, authenticity. We are who we are for a reason. I was uplifted for days after reading this book..
  • The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko. While the stats might be out of date, but the concepts are magnetizing. How simple personal finance blogs and authors make things seem, but often without the social science or scientific background as to why certain exercises are indicators of wealth. The conspicuous consumption can be an illusion of wealth.
  • Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert. This book found me more than I found it. The concepts of courage and curiosity when it comes to creativity caught my attention and kept me engaged the whole way through. The concept of being ready for the creativity that finds us was interesting to me because I often have ideas that linger without action, and a year or two later I see MY idea in execution by others.
  • Grit, Angela Duckworth. I loved the sense of what could be if we put into practice what had been successfully researched. The approach to having a philosophy and a driving goal as part of what we were doing on a daily and long-term basis was inspiring to me. The book was not just research and anecdotes, but instructional and actionable on how we, too, can develop grit and help others (namely, our children) develop it also.

Rating all of these books and understanding the impacts they each had on me makes me excited for my own book coming out this fall! The reason I’m excited is not only to achieve a lifelong goal of becoming a published author, but to help fill a needed gap in the sorority experience that connects it with creating career success.

My enthusiasm for this purpose and passion project has been supported by positive feedback from women who have read early editions of the book. I sent copies to 22 sorority women across the USA in eight different National Panhellenic Conference organizations. Everyone believed it hit a sweet spot of what is missing in our mutual sorority experiences, helps explain how to differentiate our valuable experience, and creates an opportunity for positive conversation not just in recruitment, but as alums and women who want to achieve success in our careers. More info to come!

What are the books you are reading? What have been your favorites? Is your rating system similar, or how do you rate differently? I am curious to hear your recommendations as well!

Check out some of my other book recommendations!

2017 First Half

2017 Second Half

How a Simple Bus Ride Helped Me be Successful (#4 of 6 – Lessons That Impact Life)

This is fourth in a series of six posts about lessons I learned from my grandfather that apply to career growth and development, in addition to just being generally good advice for life. This is in his memory and in honor of Father’s Day.

In the first post of the series, I wrote about the power of reading that my grandfather taught me. The books and reading were only the first aspects in his approach to never stop learning. This is one lesson that has stayed with me to this day. Constant learning is definitely already in my nature, but Pops certainly encouraged this in my siblings and me. Part of this ever present desire to learn he encouraged was also to explore and observe the world around us.

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Many nights, once dinner was done and dishes were cleared from the table, I’d hop next door to my grandfather’s house and we would watch Jeopardy! together. One day I commented how impressed I was with the frequency of right responses that he came up with. Pops laughed at me and exclaimed, “Of course I know the answers. I lived through most of it!” I was a little embarrassed at how obvious the answer was, but it was a funny moment. It was obvious that Pops had, his whole life, had a keen sense of what was going on around him, watching, even if he wasn’t talking. The correct answers didn’t explain how he knew Revolutionary-era American literature or obscure elements on the Periodic Table. There are only so many times that a question might repeat on the show, and it must have been that he was picking up bits (or large chunks!) of knowledge everywhere he went.

But going beyond Jeopardy!, and going beyond books and newspapers, Pops always was ACTIVELY encouraging exploring through doing and observing. One of the biggest ways I always saw him encouraging that principle was through watching everything that went by in the neighborhood. Pops learned about the function and routine of people and animals on our little collection of streets. He knew every time a bus went by, who got on, and where it was headed. He sat in a green plastic chair on his porch, sometimes had conversations with passerby, and it always felt that, with his house the last on that side of the street, which had a slightly higher elevation at his end of it, he was a little bit a king of the neighborhood.

One of my favorite lessons from Pops about exploring had me the most nervous the summer before middle school. Knowing that I would be interested in after school activities and with a potential risk that my parents may not always be available to pick me up after school across the city, he felt I should learn to take the bus home. I had at that point never taken a city bus, and why should I ever need to if Mom and Dad would come get me? It was concerning thinking about the prospect of being unintentionally left alone, so taking the city bus represented some deep feelings and uncertain scenarios about why I might be left alone after school. Now, at this point in history, we had a city bus that ran down our side street right past our houses. He showed me the schedule that was stored on the fridge and we made a plan one summer day to explore taking the bus to and from school.

Pops taught me where to transfer, how to know where to catch the next bus, what to look for in catching the bus, and that if I had any questions to just ask a bus driver. He even brought me to the little convenience store and introduced me to the cashier so I knew where to buy my tickets. Pops even bought my my first multi-pack book of bus passes. We grabbed the next bus back home and had a nice day exploring the 5 Route on the WRTA.

A few years later, all of this came in handy because my parents were inexplicably held up after we were finished with some after school activities, and therefore our daily school bus was not an option. We could have visited some friends instead, but my younger sister and I were eager to go home. By some miracle, I still had the passes and they were surprisingly valid. We hopped on the bus and headed our way home. I was grateful to have known what to do and had the resources in hand to execute. Upon returning home, we went straight to Pops to tell him about our successful adventure, and of course he was pleased that his training had helped us out.

Even though Pops went through every detail, this was one of my first major lessons in planning and learning how to get myself around public transportation in much larger cities (first Boston, and occasionally New York). While Google and smartphones are certainly a convenience we have to help now, I was more comfortable with understanding transportation systems, and in the grander scheme, figuring things out in unfamiliar environments. I can evaluate the alternatives, know when I need to ask a question, and figure out what it will take to get where I need to go or what I need to do. It is amazing that a small bus trip some summer morning had such lasting impacts, but it provided immense confidence and a sense of self-reliance and independence.

Even further down the line, I realized that this exploration and adventure led to development of behaviors that help me be successful even today. A few key areas in my career I realized this lesson and adventure exploring the WRTA bus system taught me include:

  • The ability to grasp all of the options available to me, and to think that there might be other options than what is in front of me
  • A greater sense of independence and less reliance on others, and this extends to thinking critically about the best solutions without someone having to explicitly tell me
  • That it is important to have a contingency plan in place for occasions when the original plan may not work out
  • It is always okay to ask for help or guidance when you need direction, whether geographically or instructional
  • Practice can make perfect, as taking that test run resulted in a flawless and fearless ride and transfer home for my sister and me

It is amazing how one little exploration of something new to me, though I was fortunate to have a seasoned guide, could open up my world, my eyes, and my way of thinking for decades. Only one morning with my grandfather set the stage for so much other skill development, and that too is a powerful lesson. Sometimes what we need to learn is beyond the scope of what we are being taught. It might be days or years before it sinks in, but if we open ourselves to adventure and experimentation, a little risk can pay off in unexpected ways. Thinking about what we have learned can help us continue to learn, whether we choose to capitalize on past experience or open up with exploration of new experiences.

My husband is now my Jeopardy! Partner, and I realize that we’re better now than when we started dating. We’ve lived more life, explored more of what interests us and each other, and are able to successfully buzz in from home more often as the years go on. A sense to keep exploring, whether it results in obscure trivia knowledge or a valuable skill like navigating major transit systems, helps us to constantly grow and develop personally and professionally.

What have been some of your most fruitful explorations and adventures? What were the lessons that you learned?


The remaining two posts will be published in coming days. Please check back soon!