The Concept of Self vs. Other Awareness and How We Interact

Everyone from psychology blogs to the Harvard Business Review and beyond are covering the topic of self awareness lately, and why shouldn’t they? Having a sense of self awareness can help us become healthier mentally and emotionally and also better communicators about what we want and need. It encompasses your character and helps us be knowledgeable about how we want to be, be seen, and interact with the world.

I see one important fact of life missing from the discussions on self awareness: awareness of others. It isn’t about you, or me, all the time.

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There is an altruistic spirit that some have, where these type of people always put others before themselves, and this isn’t what we are missing. While this is admiral behavior, it isn’t always healthy or productive for the person putting others before necessary personal needs.

Maybe the concept of awareness of others transcends self awareness, and we need to master one before the next. The journey certainly doesn’t end at self awareness, and we need to consider that. Inner searching and development of how we treat ourselves builds an important foundation, but it doesn’t encompass the building going on top, the parts that people see and know to come and (hopefully) love.

We should consider awareness of others in a couple ways. Communicating with others is a first example, because the power of communication is not about what is being said. What matters is how we are heard and the message that is heard. How many times have you said something that was misportrayed? Is that actually on the other person, or is that on us? We need to consider our words, our tone, and our style before speaking. It is a lot to think about at first, but like any habit, becomes easier over time.

Another interesting piece is that how we make others feel has a lasting impact on them. Author Maya Angelou is attributed with one of my favorite quotes, and it applies here: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When we put an emphasis on creating positive experiences and interactions for ourselves and others, it can create positive memories that last a lifetime and even influence other actions and later other people. Think of the possible domino effect!

One other way we should consider awareness of others is to stop taking things personally. It creates a dark cloud over our lives, and can ruin friendships and relationships in many environments. When we have awareness of others, we recognize that yes, it isn’t all about us, and that maybe someone has a lot going on in their lives. This attributes both a problem and blame where there may not be any, and that can be toxic. As much as friends and family who love each other try to offer support, sometimes they need to focus personally, no matter what you did or didn’t do. We all need breaks and the opportunity to take care of our business.

We should certainly continue to strive for self awareness. Self improvement over time helps us be better people and certainly kinder to ourselves and our reality. But since we all live in an interconnected world, developing and practicing an awareness of others can be impactful on both those we relate to and our relationships with them. We can accomplish more if we consider the perspective of others in communication, how we make them feel, and stop taking things personally (and removing blame).

How are you cultivating your self awareness and awareness of others? Do you think you need to master one before the next? Have you experienced the impact of this before, and what was it like?

 

Magazine Round Up: The Ideas that Shape and Inspire on the Printed Page

Though magazines aren’t as instant as social media, it is impossible to stay on top of every article posted at all hours of the day. Plus, who doesn’t love getting mail?! Each month, I save the magazines that come in for an empty weeknight or weekend morning. I enjoy having a few hours to pour through the pages and think about the ideas shared. Self-education and continuous learning are important, not just for the joy of reading or escaping boredom. Learning more allows us to think with more dimension and color, and make connections we previously couldn’t see. It allows us, as you’ll read below, to solve old problems in new ways and new problems in creative ways.

Here are some highlights of what I’ve read in two recent issues!

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From Inc., March/April 2018 issue.

  • Page 18: “The Future and the Farm” – One area identified by author Lauren Barack that was underhyped, but with related excitement about the area, was security. Digital security and physical security are both important because without them functioning well, there is fear amongst us normal folks and specialists alike. We have to be careful about the perception of security, and balance the need for privacy and safety with community and ease of use.
  • Page 26: “Rising and Grinding with Daymond John” – I love the approach to goal setting Daymond John has, and not just related to setting the action and timelines for the goals. He themes his goals around areas of life that are most important to him, and he reads them twice a day as a reminder, no matter how long range or immediate they might be. He understands the impact his goals have on other people, and this is probably one of the mindsets that has led to his success.
  • Page 36:  “Here’s a Crazy Idea for Startups: Profits” – This article focuses on the concepts of business sustainability, rather than how the founders exit and get paid. It seems like a smarter business ideal, smarter investment approach, and a better way to treat customers and employees.
  • Page 42: “Keeping Your Workers Well” – “…18 percent of American adults suffer from some form of mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.” This is a staggering statistic that shows we need to do a better job taking care of ourselves and helping others care for themselves also. Treating mental health issues before they hurt who they afflict can impact business productivity, but we have to remove the stigma.

 

From Entrepreneur, April 2018 issue

I may not own a company, but I find the articles to be relevant to work and my interests and the intersection of both of those. Occasionally, we need to change our perspective and the way we think to implement new ways of doing things.

  • Page 22: “Always Serve Your Customer” – Having customers provides the ability for a business to exist, but the company has to pay attention for how they treat their customers! Investment in this area is crucial. Author Boyd Farrow quotes expert Maryli Karske on the fact that good service follows satisfied employees.
    • Personal note: my husband recently had a third-in-a-row bad experience as a newly opened sweetgreen near our home. We submitted a complaint about inventory and customer service. The customer rep responded in a way we couldn’t imagine (in under an hour to an online form!), explaining the actions the company would take to make sure this didn’t happen again. Not only were we heard and received a response, but I was given three options on how I would reward the employee for five-star service. How cool is that!
  • Page 30: “90 Meetings in 90 Days” – Stephanie Schomer highlights the efforts RubiconMD founders Gil Addo and Carlos Reines made to learn about the applicability of their idea to potential markets and customers. The results were surprising! This is a great indicator of the importance of socializing our ideas, asking questions, and understanding the problems that people may not be able to define, but need solved. It was a short but inspiring article reminding us that business is more personal than we let ourselves remember.
  • Page 42: “When Disaster Strikes, Can Entrepreneurship Save Us?” – Hurricane Maria left island nations and Puerto Rico in ruins, without communication or power. Entrepreneur Jesse Levin traveled to understand the biggest issues impacting those on the island. Simply communicating and asking questions led to executable solutions to help large groups of Puerto Ricans – a $33K investment led to $3M in grocery transactions to feed the hungry island residents. The article goes on to detail what is referred to as “expeditionary entrepreneurship” and the resolve and creativity of many Puerto Ricans, working together to build each other and their communities back up.
    • Personal note: The story notes that Levin hopes to focus on emergency preparedness, rather than disaster response. There is so much sex appeal around building new versus taking care of what we have. We NEED, as a society, to take care of what we build. Whether your home, the local school, the state bridge, or the federal highway. Infrastructure investment is essential and forgotten by our government officials, and even regulated and quasi public industries like utilities for water, wastewater, and power.

 

Which topics resonate the most with you? What new ideas are you thinking of after reading about what others are doing? Are any inspiring to you?

Taking Action and Making It Happen with Your Goals

About a year and a half ago, I came up with what I felt was a genius concept to write a book on the beneficial aspects of the sorority experience. I started conceptualizing and outlining and writing. I took breaks, lots of breaks. Work got crazy, I needed sleep more than I needed to write, I prioritized the blog over the book, I was sick, my husband and I got married, life was happening!

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But I’ve kept coming back to this goal, to write this book to help the nearly one million sorority women who are in college or within five years of graduation develop their sorority experience into a great career.

I’ve been inspired by this topic, one that I hope will help others. While twelve year old me was hopeful I would someday write the next great American novel, thirty year old me was hopeful to change lives and the perception of the impact of sorority life. These are certainly different outcomes of writing! But, I want to make myself proud. Maybe twelve year old Mary Kate would be disappointed that I never wrote the great American novel (though not an impossibility, it is an improbability). But today, when I look at the word count in Docs and my scribblings between the printed text, I’m amazed at myself.

Whatever it is you are working on, your version of a book, maybe your own book, be proud of you. Be proud of progress and action and that you are working to make your own dreams come true. Keep the efforts going. Congratulate yourself. Allow yourself an indulgent smile. Hug a loved one with the excitement of support from others in response to what you are doing. Celebrate each and every step.

And keep going. The power of action is important, but what is a book if it is unpublished and unread? Not all books can be best sellers, though we all have the highest of hopes. But there is no chance to attempt best seller status if you never press whatever version of “publish” exists for you and your goals.

I may be using the example of the book for me, right now, but this applies to everything in life. Growing up, cleaning the family bathroom was a task that rotated amongst the children. As beautiful as the mirror and shower and floors might look, if we neglected the dust on the light fixture that managed to gather since last week or to re-load a three roll supply of toilet paper, the job was not done. We were beholden to keep going. And finish.

It is important to define that finish line both at the beginning and also along the way. Sometimes you may even need to re-define what that finish line is to take reality into account. The Olympic stage is for a select few; at some point in your life you need to realize that no matter your level of effort, you may never get there. For me, my career in sports ended when I stopped growing at 5’-4” and was clearly not the fastest in my class. It didn’t stop my hustle or hard work or the love of whatever I was playing, I just knew my sports career would be limited and not lucrative.

Changing the finish line can help erase the self doubt. I could have felt like a failure for not being able to follow my dreams in sports. In moments of reflection I certainly felt the disappointment. But I reset the finish lines and refocused on what I could do, like being healthy and a good teammate and focusing more on school and volunteering and leadership. This was a realistic reset that has helped me be a happier person.

Here is my current approach to going after what I want to accomplish. Do you see similarities to you and your approach? Maybe below is an asepct you hadn’t considered before. Maybe you can leave an aspect I hadn’t considered in the comments.

  1. Set a goal. Every book I read promotes a different strategy and quotes a different academic study for the “BEST goal setting method”. The only thing I know is true is that you must find a way to set goals that works for you. Looking back on when you’ve been successful, what kind of goals were you setting? Remember to reflect on failures and partial achievements to think about what was missing from previous efforts. Maybe you use SMART and maybe you use stretch goals, a combination, or none of the above. But set something that you want badly to achieve. Set a finish line. Dream.  
  2. Make a plan. Even if John Steinbeck wrote that “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” it is best to go into your goal efforts with a plan in place. Do you drive or walk somewhere new without first consulting GPS for directions? Same concept. Give yourself some direction in your plan to meet the goal. Without this, you are a fish flopping on the deck of a boat.
  3. Schedule into your day. I find this is often forgotten with making the plan. You have to make room in your life for goals! If you don’t make time for them, are they really that important to have? Think about your priorities. Maybe you need to adjust a timeline for your goal. I hoped that I would write a book in a few months, but it will take almost two years by the time I publish.
  4. Find support. My husband is amazing. My friends are amazing. My parents are amazing. Sometimes when my husband tells ME that I am amazing, it is all I need to keep going. I do know I am capable of amazing. Sometimes we all need reminders when the going gets tough. On occasion we need to be our own support. This is when I consult Pinterest for “positive motivation success” for a few moments as a break and then jump right back in.
  5. TAKE ACTION! Seriously, Nike has it right when they say to just do it. Think about your goal. Let it inspire you. And then, take that first step or jump or leap of faith or sign up.
  6. Use support as needed. Sometimes I will be typing away in the kitchen with unintentional poor posture, hunched over my computer. Just the other night, my husband walks in, smiles, and says, “you go, lady!” and walks out. That makes me smile and gives some extra energy and motivation to do a few more minutes or pages. Sometimes, I use Pinterest. That takes extra time and i have to sort through the pins that aren’t congruent with my approach to life. But in the end, there usually are one or two that provide the extra motivation I need. Sometimes I go to step 7 and text a friend.
  7. Take a break as needed. Sleep. Seriously, sleep can be wonderful. Not writing for a few days can be wonderful. A walk or workout can be wonderful. Breaks are ok, because we are humans. Hell, even machines need down time for maintenance and repairs.
  8. Repeat steps 5-7 until you reach your finish line. Just. Keep. Going. Drive to that finish line. Reset if you need. Break as often as you need to, change support methods if you need to. Keep the push going!
  9. Once you reach the finish, ship it. It may not involve putting something in an envelope with a stamp, but getting the finished product out into the world.
  10. Celebrate. Reflect. Give thanks. You made it!

I’m not quite at step 10. But I’m on my way there, continuing on step 8. I can’t wait until step 9. Actually, today is ship day for the draft of my book to a set of almost twenty five gracious readers who are willing to give me feedback! I am so thankful for the support of friends old and new who renew my faith in friendship and an myself. I’m proud of how far I’ve come and how close to the finish line I am getting. I know I will get there. 

What are the goals you are working on? Do you find yourself resetting the finish line, and how does that make you feel? What was your first “ship it” moment like?

 

The Choices We Can Make For Creating Success

Do you ever have moments where you realize that despite stress and pressure, everything is going to be okay? Last weekend I had the pleasure of being a panelist speaker at the Women of Isenberg Conference, held at UMass Amherst by the Women in Business club and the conference steering committee. And it wasn’t in my presentation, but sitting in the session following mine, that this clarity overcame me.

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In the past, I’ve reviewed some key takeaways by going through my notes from what other speakers shared. This year, my takeaway was more existential than any one piece of advice I heard. Listening to the experiences of others, I didn’t feel alone. I felt kinship and admiration that the women at the microphone had overcome obstacles I had also previously faced to achieve happiness and self-defined success in their lives and careers. I heard the stories of happy outcomes, and within them the hard work, the resilience, and the perseverance.

What I heard from the women on stage was that what was most important to remember is life is full of ups and downs. The quality of life with those ups and downs is highly impacted by how we react and who we surround ourselves with.

We have a choice to be positive. Or, complain and wallow.

We have a choice to take action. Or, sit back and do nothing.

We have a choice to be courageous. Or, decide any risk is too much risk.

Isn’t it clear where we need to be headed with our choices? And for those of us who are in and aspire to leadership roles, there is even more impact on those around us by how we make our choices and reactions.

As leaders, we need to force ourselves to be challenged, and be receptive of and advocates for those productive challenges. No idea is ever as great as it can be when first presented. A diversity in thought and experience adds to the initial benefits to improve what is possible. And a challenge doesn’t automatically mean no, but is a recognition of barriers that can be overcome.

As leaders, we need to lift up others around us in spirit, recognizing the power of appreciation. From a simple thank you to rewards and major recognitions, and everything in between, go to the very base human nature of needing to feel involved, engaged, and a part of the team. We’re better together than alone.

As leaders, we need to remember that we and our teams are humans, capable of yes, making the impossible happen, but also not infallible or perfect. Career isn’t everything, and family and home sometimes need to come first. Breaks in action or slowing down on the accelerator are perfect career opportunities. It doesn’t need to be nose to the grind every single moment. Breath and reset.

Lately, I felt like I had been struggling through life. I wondered if I was using my resources enough, burning both ends of the candle, giving too much when I didn’t have enough energy or time. I’ve been fortunate to receive some kind words recently, from my professional world, volunteer arenas, and personal life. Everything came together, and seeing the success of others at the Women of Isenberg Conference reminded me that nothing except a few points in a plane is truly linear (remember geometry?!). Success is an internal measurement, though society likes us to believe it measures externally for us. Onward doesn’t always mean upward, change isn’t always for the better, and we aren’t always right at first glance.

The important thing is to enjoy work, enjoy life, enjoy the people we love. Have fun every day with whatever you choose to pursue. It makes the efforts more tolerable and gives us the ability to savor sweetness of success, however we define it.

Remember that things will be okay. If you feel like you’re failing, it is because you care. It takes time and self love to learn we aren’t failing, we aren’t falling behind, and we aren’t imposters. Not everything is perfect, but we have choices in what we do with what life and career bring to us. Besides, a ladder is a lot of work to climb. Doesn’t a career jungle gym sound like more fun?

‘Tis the Season: Ask the Accountant

The days are getting brighter and longer and the doldrums of winter have a light at the end of the tunnel the closer we get to March and April – at least here in New England! February is a tough weather time for the northern parts of the world, but it also falls smack dab in the middle of a season you may not have defined before: tax season.

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In our family, tax season is a way of life for my brother Rich Toomey. My favorite (and only) brother, he is a Tax Supervisor with a CPA designation (Certified Public Accountant – the gold standard for being able to practice accounting) for a regional accounting firm in Baltimore, MD. This is his busiest time of year as April 15 looms large on the calendar. He is one person not afraid to dig into tax returns and contact the IRS!

What kind of person loves tax, you wonder? Someone who is a die-hard New England sports fan, with a license plate of logos of the Pats, Bruins, Celtics, and Red Sox to prove it. Though playing baseball was his favorite, Rich is a former Zamboni driver. He is married for over a year to the love of his life Melissa, smart and talented in her own right, going after a PhD at Johns Hopkins. They have a sweet, curious cat and love exploring new restaurants. Rich has accounting degrees from Holy Cross (BA, 2012) and Northeastern (MA, 2013). And he is super willing to talk about what he does, which benefits all of us who are receiving the W-2s and 1099s and reporting self-employed income.

As we all prepare to file forms with all sorts of letters and numbers for names, Rich is happy enough to share some of his expertise to help us understand the basics.

MKD: What does a tax account do?

Rich: Tax accountants provide “compliance” or preparation services to individuals and businesses. In addition to this we act as advisers to our clients and help them plan for tax and non tax issues throughout the year.

MKD: What exactly does compliance mean?

Rich: Compliance as in to provide what is asked by the tax authorities

MKD: What does a tax accountant do outside of January to April 15?

Rich: A lot of people think that tax accountants have nothing to do outside of the typical tax season. This is far from the truth. A lot of clients have their returns extended for six months which can create a second busy season in September and October if you don’t keep busy during the summer. If a tax accountant plans their year correctly they should have a steady flow of work to do from April 16th to October 15th. Between 10/15 and the end of the year we keep ourselves busy with year-end tax planning and fiscal year end clients who have different deadlines than a typical year end client.

MKD: What kind of people or businesses have different deadlines?

Rich: Individuals have a regular deadline of 4/15 and an extended deadline of 10/15. This is not an extension to pay but an extension to file. You can file by 10/15 but all payments must be made by 4/15 or you will face late filing penalties and interest. Businesses have different deadlines depending on their structure. Pass-through entities such as partnerships or S Corporations have a deadline of 3/15 and an extended deadline of 9/15. The idea is that since the income from these entities pass through to individual owners their due date needs to be earlier than individuals. C Corporations pay tax at the entity level and share the same deadlines as individuals.

MKD: Why should someone hire a tax accountant for their taxes instead of doing it themselves?

Rich: For the majority of people filing a tax return should be very simple. A lot of the instructions are very straightforward and easy to understand. However, things can get very complicated very quickly. Maybe you bought a home or purchased a rental property. These can create tax issues that the average person may not know about. Basically the further you get from only having a W-2 and claiming the standard deduction you should consider using a tax preparation service. If it is in your budget I would recommend going to a CPA rather than a big national tax prep shop as they will be able to provide year-round service.

MKD: What are the advantages of using a tax professional year round?

Rich: Using a tax professional year round allows you to be more prepared for significant tax events throughout the year. For example let’s say an individual ends up selling some stock during the year. An average person won’t know what capital gain tax rates are or know that they might need to make estimated payments to cover the tax that will be due on the gain. Using a tax accountant year round will make sure that you are prepared for any event that might come up

MKD: Why did you get into tax accounting?

Rich: I was in my junior year of college and like a lot of accounting students I didn’t know what field of accounting I wanted to have a career in. My first semester I was taking an Auditing course and we had a visiting professor. On the first day of class he says “you probably aren’t going to use anything you learn in the class in the real world”, which was a great way to grab my attention. I knew right then that I probably didn’t want to go into auditing. The next semester I had my first tax course and on the first day we were already applying things that we had learned to real world scenarios. I was hooked. I knew that was what I wanted to do.

MKD: What do tax accountants want us regular people to know during tax season?

Rich: We know that your life is hectic, but please, please, please provide your accountant with all of your tax documents as soon as possible. The sooner we have it, the sooner we can prepare your return and hopefully it will result in you receiving a refund faster. The days leading up to April 15th are always hectic, and the client who waits until the last-minute usually isn’t our favorite client.

Thanks to Rich for sharing your experience! Hopefully this post opened up your eyes to what goes on during tax season and helps you think about the best way to approach your finances, whether personal or for your business.

Do you go confidently into tax season, or terrified to begin? Do you use a professional, software, or go old school with calculators, pencil and paper? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts and this post!