The Accomplishments and Lessons Learned in 2017 and What’s Next in 2018

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Who doesn’t love the feeling of winning, or accomplishment, or satisfaction? I sure love those feelings, and I’m sure you do too! 2017 was a pretty incredible year for me both personally and professionally. It’s important to take time to recognize all the good in our lives. The end of the year is a great time to reflect on accomplishments, and daily gratitude and appreciation exercises increase happiness and can have impact on future successes. I use a Daily Greatness Journal to help with my gratitude exercises as well as planning my days and reflecting each night on what went well. These practices help me stay both grounded and hopeful. Even on days when I struggle with frustration, intense stress, or failure, there is something to end on a positive note, even if it is only that “tomorrow is another day,” according to Scarlett O’Hara. In this post, I’ll take a look at my accomplishments, the lessons I’ve learned that are worth sharing with you, and what I think is next in that area.

 

The “Accomplishment”: I walked down the aisle in a white dress and married my now husband! This was an exercise in project management, planning an expensive celebration of the love of my husband and I. It was an unforgettable day surrounded by amazing family and the best friends (and included a hoppin dance floor!).

Lessons Learned: Managing budgets, schedule, and vendors. And that managing family and personal expectations about events that are deeply emotional are extremely different from straight up project management.

What’s Next?: Hopefully decades upon decades of happiness! In a few weeks, on our one year anniversary, I’ll write a post on how I think marriage impacts our careers, based on my experience thus far. I’m sure this will change over time as life rewards us and challenges us in different ways.

 

The “Accomplishment”: This year I not only went to my first foreign country, but to TWO foreign countries. My honeymoon was in Costa Rica and my husband and I finally took a long-anticipated trip to Ireland in November.

Lessons Learned: The world is small, yes expansive. While we all have much in common, each corner of the world is special and unique. It is a privilege to travel, no matter where we get to go and how we get there. It is important to try new things, even if just to know they are not a good fit.

What’s Next?: I’m going to be lucky to spend some time in DC with my friends, celebrating the wedding of of one of my husband’s best friends in SoCal, visiting my sister in Indiana and my brother and sister-in-law in Baltimore, attend Alpha Gamma Delta convention in Texas, and maybe take a few days down on Cape Cod during the summer. There is much to explore in the US and the world – maybe I even make it up to Canada this year to see Lake Louise or Quebec City!

 

The “Accomplishment”: All of my projects at work have received a level of success during the year. The teams gelled and performed in amazing ways, always looking for continuous improvement and keeping the promises we make to residents. We’re meeting the goals we set out to achieve and having fun doing it! It wasn’t all fun, though. I had to learn to raise my hand and ask for help with managing the multiple projects when too much was happening at once. It was something I wish I did sooner and wish I was more open about the difficulties faced earlier in the process.

Lessons Learned: Nothing is worth achieving or has been achieved at a high level without significant collaboration. It takes a combination of experience and novice to see things in new ways. Managing difficult conversations is a key personal development opportunity. Speak up, be honest, ask for help, and learn to delegate better.

What’s Next?: More successes on more projects! 2018 is bringing a new set of opportunities, new teams to work with, and existing teams to smash new goals alongside. I’ll get to try new types of projects and learn new skills. And, I’ll be better set up in asking for what I need now that I know my limits.

 

The “Accomplishment”: In February 2017, I “opened the doors” to my official platform presence on the internet via this website and blog. It was a leap of faith and is constantly a work in progress.

Lessons Learned: Be more thoughtful about what I want to say, and how I say it. Putting myself out there and being more vulnerable publicly. Practice writing and thinking more about the intended audience than me. Connection is key.

What’s Next?: The goal next year is to write at least 50 blog posts – so you will start hearing from me on a more regular basis! I hope that you’ll take a part in sharing in the creation and discussion of what is interesting and worth sharing. I’d love to hear more from you.

 

There is much to be thankful for and much that remains to be accomplished. Hopefully you are inspired to look back at your own life. Find the victories that you gained along the way – it may not be something as monumental as getting married or starting a website, but maybe you started writing that book you’ve been meaning to, or organized a closet, or developed a new routine that has brought peace to your life. Break free of the winter blues, and reflect on your own talents and abilities and accomplishments. Celebrate all that makes you a better you this year!

What is it you are proud of or makes you happy that you did this year? What are the lessons you learned and where will you go next?

The Top Reads of 2017 in the Second Half

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Earlier this year I set myself a goal of reading 35 books. Given that I read only 11 in 2016, it seemed like an audacious goal, but attainable and worth striving for. Reading for me encompasses many needs and desires. In almost every situation, reading opens my mind in new ways, to new possibilities, no matter if fiction or nonfiction. I feel more creative, or develop skills, or end up laughing. All things I desire in life!

I not only met my goal of reading 35 books, I smashed it! The total as of today is 41, an increase of 17% over the goal! The goal was certainly helped by some books that were not only shorter than most, but also more of a booklet than you would consider a typical book.

Everything I read was on an e-reader (I use the Kindle, but ‘m sure you can find one you like!) and for me it made everything a million times easier because I knew it fit in every bag I use on a day to day basis. That made it easy to carry, and the sales on ebooks tend to result in a lower price, so it is more affordable and easier to buy more over the course of a year. Even if the average price was $5 for an ebook (and this feels high to me for what I actually spent), it compares to a typical $15 I might spend to purchase (non fiction) paperbacks and $25 that I might spend on hardcovers, which is rare. Over the total of all books, I spent $205 and saved $410 versus all paperback and $820 versus completely hardcover. Those savings are not small numbers! Of course, the library is cheaper than spending any money at all.

Since I shared my favorite books in the first half of the year, I thought I would share my best reads over the last six months. The books I read and found worth sharing are below, in no particular order.

Beyond the Label, by Maureen Chiquet: The former CEO of Chanel shared her career path and lessons learned in both the office and at home. She is a compelling storyteller and shares some good advice applicable to anyone. I’m not a lover of fashion and still found this book quite relevant. You feel like you are in the room during certain stories, because the people and situations are so well described. There were a few moments where I found myself wondering how she balanced everything going on, and Ms. Chiquet described several times when she was working through the imbalance of being not just an executive, but a person.

A Path Appears, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: This was part of the Alpha Gamma Delta book club and was perhaps the most insightful, eye-opening read in the past six months. The authors take a detailed look at what makes service, volunteerism, and most especially charitable giving work best. They encourage research and more attention to decision making, and highlight a number of causes that either haven’t worked well or have worked tremendously. While the authors stop short of promoting which specific charities you should support (they do highlight some high-performers), they note some objectives we should think through and work with what is most important to the individual donor. The important thing is to do what you are able to do to help! Anything is better than sitting back.

The Little Book of Hygge, by Meik Wiking: Knowing quite little about the Danish culture, this book was not only a great primer but a window into the lifestyle of what makes the Danes tick. I was enamored of the concept of Hygge (“hig-eh”) and would love to create a version of it in my own life – surround myself with good people, good lighting, good design, comfy clothes, and enjoy the outdoors when possible! This is a simplistic summary, as there are recipes and stories and details that make the “Danish secrets to happy living” meaningful to those of us outside Denmark.

How to be an Imperfectionist, by Stephen Guise: As a recovering perfectionist, this book was a great read because it captures everything I am missing about previous and current efforts, actively trying to not be perfect. The author stresses the importance of imperfection to anything, along the lines that any action yields us results that lead to success in some variation. Don’t let yourself be paralyzed by perfection – life is better when imperfect!

Multipliers, by Liz Wiseman: This book is notable because it forced me to confront the fact that I still have to learn about and improve upon my leadership style. Everyone who reads it wants to identify as a Multiplier, but there are aspects of the Diminisher and Accidental Diminisher that seem to haunt all of us in one way or another until we take action to correct over the long term. Being that uncomfortable from self reflection and taking the hit to the confidence is not something I necessarily aspire to, but I do aspire to be an impactful leader. This book encourages honest reflection and provides the insight needed to make the improvements.

The Crossroads of Should and Must, by Elle Luna: This was the shortest book I read all year, and did so in an entire sitting of waiting for a doctor’s appointment that was running behind. The illustrations were what really made the discussion of considering a “should” versus a “must” and which makes the most sense for your life and what you want for your personal outcome.

In Praise of Slowness, by Carl Honoré: This book impacted me so much I wrote a blog post earlier this year on it – check it out to see what it exposed me to and what my reactions and life benefits were!

The two books I was reading at the time of the posting of my mid year were put on hold so I could truly focus on them for a couple hours at a time. The Joanna Barsh book on Centered Leadership needs attention because of what look to be impactful introspective activities. That may be a good, low-key weekend activity and read.

I’ve already downloaded a half dozen books for next reading, and the genres are all over the map. Winter is a great time to cozy up with a tea or hot chocolate, maybe a soft blanket or a cuddly puppy, and a book or device that emulates a book, and escape reality. Maybe we learn ways to improve and gain inspiration for setting new goals, and perhaps we just gain a few minutes of peace. Whatever joy reading brings you, may you feel much of that joy this season in all areas of your life!

Why Fitness & Career are the Perfect Combination

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There are more factors that are within our own control affecting our careers than we realize. The more we can self-govern our actions and words, the better we can manage the perception of our ability to perform and the actual performance itself. Not everything can be controlled, but putting a best foot forward can contribute to increasing the odds of success in your favor. When you have the opportunity to influence your own situation, it is one that should be grabbed with immediate and meaningful action to follow.

One career-focused influence opportunity I’ve noticed is incorporating fitness and emphasizing health-based activities into life and the inadvertent impact that it has on how things go in the office. When I exercise, practice meal prep, sleep, and stay hydrated, I realize that I have more confidence, focus better, communicate better, and am in more control of my stress.  

In recent years, I let the worst of work get the best of my good habits. Instead of sticking to my routine of running or walking or the gym, I succumbed to the pressures of deadlines and the falsity that working longer means better results. I was (and am) smarter than that. With poor time management around work activities In combination with injuries, I went from running a half marathon to having to work my way back up to two slow miles. But I don’t have to stay stuck in that spot  – and neither do you, if you’re in the same trap.

It is disappointing to admit the reality of falling out of shape over the past six years. But along the way, I’ve become a mentally stronger person and have learned some tools and reincorporated practices that make fitness part of my routine and part of my career.  

Research shows that fit employees are paid more than their peers. It isn’t because of their athletic prowess is applicable to the workplace. Think instead about all of the personal improvement that comes from being dedicated to not just fitness, but any mission: commitment to a goal, dedication in the face of “adversity”, ability to push through when things get tough, and ability to prioritize what is most important. This is certainly an abridged list, and a list of admirable traits that directly translate over to the professional side of the table.

When I workout consistently, I find the following to be true:

  1. I focus better, and am able to be more productive
  2. I feel more confident in myself personally, inwardly and how I perceive my abilities
  3. I feel more confident in what I am able to accomplish, externally with others
  4. Sleep comes more easily, I am rested and ready to go
  5. I’m more energized consistently throughout the day – negating the need for the 2pm crash and coffee
  6. When I work out in the morning, I start the day with an accomplishment, setting the tone for the rest of the day.
  7. I’m happier, and that makes me a better wife, friend, daughter, colleague, and leader.

Knowing what the benefits of certain practices are always drive my willingness to adopt them. With full recognition of the advantages for my well being and potential impact on my career, what are the next steps for me?

  1. Build routine. This includes planning my days and weeks more intentionally.
  2. Find ways to up my game. In addition to a simple gym membership, I also have a rowing machine at home. This piece gives me the opportunity to change pace and work different muscles.
  3. Measure and track progress. I believe that what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done, so I need to create and stick to methods of tracking what I’m doing and how I’m getting better – in one place.
  4. Find goals. Doing this will make it easier for me to get motivated and get going each day. Whether it is losing weight or new distances or a milestone number of workouts, having goals drives my progress and success.
  5. Make it social. What activities can I join with other friends doing? This spring, a group of my college friends and I are going to another city for a race together. It becomes a girls’ weekend on top of a fitness event, so benefits abound!

These next steps are largely what it takes at work to succeed as well – again, the crossover effect of fitness and work is clear! You can still be successful without fitness, but why wouldn’t you want to benefit your mind and body and create an advantage for yourself? Many of my colleagues are former college athletes at both club and varsity levels. Not only do most still work out, but you can see the competitive drive still alive, striving for excellence. Those attitudes flow in both directions in all of us, to and from work and fitness. Fitness is a way to get relief from the stressors of work, to build relaxation, to focus, and to reset the mind to be ready for what is next.

Have you seen your fitness impacting your career? How does the cross section of the two worlds work for you? Look forward to hearing your comments below!

 

Experiencing the Joys of Vacation, and What is in it For You!

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“I can hear you smiling!” My VP laughed through the phone to me. It was my first day back from vacation last week, and I felt great. I was smiling, and I was eager to jump back into work. Energy and enthusiasm radiated from me. In my current role, I enjoy coming in to do my work every day, but coming back from a week in Ireland with my husband I was kinetic. A week spent exploring the entire country of Ireland left me feeling only physically exhausted and on an emotional high.

Passing through the countryside with the stone walls and fields filled with sheep, and into the towns with the Christmas decorations lighting up the quaint yet lively streets, we drove about 1,000 kilometers (or roughly 620 miles) on the left side of the road (okay, my husband did all the driving!). While we paid in Euros and snacked on Dairy Milk, we found the best seafood chowder (Cronin’s in Killarney) and best fish and chips (The Lemon Tree in Blarney, right across from the Castle). We discovered Galway Bay Brewery for the first time, that Guinness does taste different in Ireland (I found it slightly sweeter/less bitter), and that Jameson’s Irish whiskey triple distillation is what makes a difference in the flavor. The Cliffs of Moher are more majestic than any photo or video can document – the colors are more vivid, the wind is fresh in feel and smell, and the mist makes it an iconic Irish experience. Dublin reminded us of Boston at home, but much more old worldly in all of the best ways. Each night we were drained from our adventures, but we slept well and woke up refreshed and with anticipation of what fun was to come that day. We fit a lot into a small time frame, and will definitely be back.

Upon return, I didn’t expect this feeling of relaxation. In my entire career, I had only taken two other week-long-plus vacations – one to Cape Cod where I felt like I had to check in everyday via email, and the other was my honeymoon to Costa Rica. The first versus the last two was a drastically different experience. I was stressed, even as I was at the beach and feeling the ocean breeze. The emails I read through in the morning kept piling up and stayed in my mind as a reminder of all that I was missing and how far behind I would be when I came back. For Costa Rica and Ireland, I changed my behavior and was happy to have the support from work to truly separate.

If you have the means to travel, by all mean, get out and get away. Explore a different corner of your country or the world. If travel funds are tight or non-existent, try new corners of your town or a short drive to one you haven’t been to. Growing up, my dad and grandfather would pack my siblings and I into the car and take us out on adventures. It might have been the Quabbin Reservoir, touring a college campus, a free sporting event, a shopping trip to BJ’s, or visits to family in neighboring towns, and not only was it a chance to give my mom some “me time” after dealing with three wild children the whole week, but we all learned more about where we were from. The connections you make with people are even more important than the connections you make with the new places you visit. Take a friend or cousin or parent with you. Build stronger bonds, whether it is your hometown or a new town. Feeling connected with the ones you love makes you ready and more engaged for when you reconnect with work.

Being that ready and engaged meant eliminating work stress and creating a feeling of being refreshed. A successful vacation is one where you are relaxed and fulfilled. This takes intentional action, and there are some practices that can help make a difference.

  1. Completely ignoring work email – truly being out of office! Take the app off your phone if that helps you stay true.
  2. Setting up contacts for while I was out – this allowed work to continue in my absence since someone else could answer any questions.
  3. Plan activities that help you separate from what is normal – outdoors, dancing, at the beach, or the mountains. Use a different part of your brain.
  4. Get out and explore. Maybe you don’t plan every moment, but go on a journey (a walk across town, or a flight across the world) that not only separates, but opens your eyes to wonder and possibility.
  5. Connect with people you care about. I spent time with my husband, maybe you want to see your parents or an old college roommate or your best group of girl friends.

You might have heard the benefits of taking a vacation, and they bear repeating. Do not ignore these – take them to heart!

  1. Stress reduction
  2. Increased productivity
  3. Intentional connection with loved ones
  4. Feeling Happier

With the holidays and New Year upon us, the end of the year is a great time to use your vacation time. Here are some reasons why:

  1. Your vacation may not carry over until the next year.
  2. Your personal life is busy, and you need time to get all of the personal things done
  3. You need a mental health day, either just because, or because you’re hosting the whole family
  4. Your spouse or kids or friends or nieces/nephews are off of school for the week and it would be great to spend time with them
  5. Take time to reflect heading into the new year – set goals and decide where you want to take yourself moving forward
  6. You’ve worked hard and flat out deserve a break!
  7. Seemingly everyone is taking time off, so no one is answering their phones or emails, preventing you from making much progress.

Take time for you. Your work, your loved ones, and especially YOU will be better off for it. I highly recommend going to Ireland if you are interested and have the time and funds because it was majestic and pictures don’t do the experience justice. Go live life. The work will be there when you return. Take your vacation, and take all of it!

Why Now is the Time to Reflect: 3 Questions To Improve Your Mindset

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Thanksgiving is a good time to get our emotional mindset in check to finish out the year strong. “The Holidays” are a challenging time because of formal and informal commitments, the amount of money typically spent or not had in hand, stressful interactions with family, and seasonal affective disorder due to less sun and the bitter cold in many parts of the country.

With craziness swirling all around us, now becomes a great time to take a moment and reflect about where we are and how we feel. With five more weeks in the year, for many of us in the working world, it gives an opportunity to finish strong and leave a good impression as annual performance reviews approach. As a former athlete, the importance of finishing strong and competing until the whistle blew or buzzer sounded was a big theme to remain competitive and avoid let downs. It’s where the best separate themselves, or a lack of effort becomes apparent.

If you need a little inspiration for your reflections, try the three self reflections below. Whether you are in the positive or negative on these, your reaction to the question will tell you a lot about how you feel. You’ll feel a change within you immediately – and recognize if you need to make a change. Be truly honest with yourself – no one is judging you, and if you commit to bettering yourself and follow through on the execution of where you want to be, that is what matters more than the past.

Have you been giving your best effort? If you have been slacking, it is easy to get off track. Maybe it is due to burnout and overwhelm, or maybe you aren’t doing what you love. Think about how much energy you’ve been applying, and if it is the right kind of energy. Energy management will be important to effort. What is the best time for you to work? Maybe you can make a schedule adjustment to help with focus and productivity, to work smarter instead of longer. If things haven’t been going well, maybe think about why you haven’t been giving the best effort. What is your motivation, or lack of it? Find ways that you can incentivize yourself for little successes. Sometimes, giving your best effort doesn’t even get you to full success or happiness.  Even despite the best efforts, you may be in a bad situation or poor fit . My husband is a dedicated researcher working to cure cancer, and a recent job wasn’t the right fit. Even though the best effort went into everyday, the desired results weren’t being achieved, and it created stress instead of happiness. Finding a new role that better capitalized on his talents and knowledge has led to dissipation of stress and more eagerness to go into work everyday!

Are you doing the right things for the right reasons? Taking action is paramount. How you take the action is equally important. Reflect with this question about whether you are being true to you and your inspirations. This question backs up the question above about giving best efforts. If your focus is inspired, it is easier to give your all to whatever purpose you choose. This question explores the essence of what is most important to you. You’re unlikely to be motivated to give it your all to something in conflict with your values or doesn’t bring you joy. Are there causes close to your heart? A type of work that utilizes your skills and talents to the full extent? Thinking about this, maybe by exploring your Myers Briggs type or other personality test results, can help you be happier and work in a more satisfying way. I used the Myers Briggs (MBTI) to help focus my skills and interests into a new career in real estate – I knew what I loved, but needed something to pull it all together cohesively to help make a career transition. Work is now rewarding and I feel more successful and that further success is achievable and worthwhile.

Are you waiting for life to happen to you? If you sit back and accept, rather than adventure out to seek and give, you won’t get what you want. Sure, life is no guarantee, but you’re stuck with whatever is on the menu instead of making your own way. Making your own path can be a key to happiness. When you take control of what is possible to control, whether at work or home or personal relationships, happiness increases. The important key to remember is to separate what you can and can’t control – think about the Serenity Prayer if you need extra motivation in separation! It is useful not just for sacred purposes but also secular. Whenever I think about it, I feel calm come back into my life because of its reminder to let go what I can’t control. When I was growing up and even through college, I sat back and waited for people to call me with plans for time with friends. I often felt lonely and left out, but I discovered it was my own fault when I started taking more initiative to call and text and create plans and make invitations.  The happiness in and around me grew, and I always had something and was with someone fun to pass the time. Take the first step always, even if it becomes an imperfect balance. Not only are you increasing your own happiness, but you are positively affecting others also. Following on to the story about my husband above, achieving happiness at work was dependent on him taking initiative to, first, try to problem solve and, second, find a new job. A job was not going to fall into his lap – it was a result of thoughtful action and continued follow up.

You don’t have to be thankful for everything, but do take the time to appreciate your efforts in all areas of your life. Think about the good around you, whether it is people, a job, a home, or anything big or small! Life is in your hands, and the more you take control of what you can control (and let be what you can’t control), the more you have to be grateful and thankful for. If you find yourself struggling to be thankful, the above questions can help you identify how you can help yourself to reset the mindset to finish the year strong.

What was your reaction to the three questions above? Were you answers what you thought the might be?

Happy Thanksgiving! Thankful for you reading, and hope you will comment and share!