We’ve all heard repeatedly how important “mentoring” is to our professional success, but if you scratch the surface and ask people what exactly they mean by “mentoring,” you will find a wide range of responses. Too many new people imagine that they will have a single guru-like “mentor” who will sense their needs, generously dispense wisdom, care deeply about their success, and gently guide them along the path to be promoted. Since it rarely happens like that, this week I’d like to focus on: Looking For A Single Guru-Mentor.
The problem with the idea that you will find one guru-mentor is that you will always have a wide variety of needs and it is not only impossible but also problematic for all of those needs to be met by one (and only one) person. For example, if you are fairly new to your position, you may have some combination of the following needs:
You are looking for help in learning how to manage time, resolve conflicts, administer projects, organize your office space, lead efficiently and make strategic decisions about service commitments.
If you are a new employee or newly promoted, you are in the midst of a significant identity and role transition. As a result, you may need support in dealing with the common stress and pressures of transitioning.
A Sense Of Community
You may find yourself seeking both an intellectual and/or social community where you feel a true sense of belonging.
The structure of your job likely provides the least accountability for the activity that is most valued (research, writing, and leadership). In order to avoid getting caught up in the daily chaos, the vast majority of people need some form of an accountability system.
You also need to cultivate relationships with people who are invested in your success at your job. By that, I mean senior members who are willing to use their power to advocate for your best interests behind closed doors.
Access To Networks
Because knowledge isn’t produced in isolation, it’s critical for you to connect with others to discuss potential collaborations, navigate the business landscape, and access opportunity structures that might not be immediately apparent to you.
You will also need to regularly communicate with people who can provide substantive comments on your ideas and/or presentations.
I’m saying this to illustrate the point that no one person could (or should) fulfill all of these different elements in your life! Expecting a single mentor to transition you will inevitably lead to disappointment, over-dependence on the advice of 1 person, and feelings of loneliness. All gurus are human; they make mistakes (just like you do!). Therefore, relying exclusively on 1 person can put you at unnecessary risk and leave you with many unmet needs.
This week, I want to encourage you to fundamentally rethink the idea of “mentoring” by asking yourself: What do I need, and what is the most strategic and efficient way to get it? Then, instead of looking for 1 all-knowing guru-mentor, you will start to realize that there are many different ways to get information, support, feedback, and advice. We can meet our professional development, emotional support, community, and accountability needs by connecting with professionals, peers, friends, books, and online communities. For example, it’s probably more effective to hire a professional house cleaner than to take an entire day to clean up yourself when you could’ve been using that time to do something else productive. That example doesn’t just work at home, but also at work – it might be easier to get someone to review or edit your work than for you to do it yourself, (especially because you might miss something). It also probably makes more sense to meet with friends for emotional support than to expect it from your co-workers. And, it’s far more meaningful to join a group for accountability purposes than to ask your mentor to call you every week and make sure you’re making progress on your goals.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some needs (ex: sponsorship, access to opportunities, project-specific feedback, etc.) that only senior people in your field and/or department can meet. The trick is to know the difference so that you focus the limited time you have with senior mentors on the things only they can provide for you while finding alternative ways to meet your other needs.
If There’s No Guru, Then What’s A Person To Do?
Instead of focusing on any 1 particular person, try to imagine an extensive web of support that you create by identifying your needs and proactively getting them met:
In a perfect world, your network would be organized in such a way as to welcome and support you during any professional transition you make. In reality, it will most likely be your responsibility to identify your needs and find ways & people to meet them. Along with that responsibility comes the realization that you have tremendous power (even if it doesn’t always feel like it). In other words, you don’t have to be dependent on a single guru-mentor because you have the power to create a network of support that is populated by people who are invested in your success. This collective approach will enable you to feel supported before, during, and after problems arise in your life. It will provide you with opportunities, connections, and reference groups that extend far beyond your current employment situation. And most importantly, it will serve as a buffer to decrease any alienation, loneliness, and stress that you may feel at your current job.
I hope this week brings you the energy to re-think your assumptions about mentoring, the clarity to identify what YOU need right now, and the energy to seek new and creative ways to get all of your needs met!
The beginning of a new month is a special time for most. For many, it’s when you can recharge and start all over again. To make matters worse, it’s also the time when money gets a little tight (the first of the month is always bill-paying time) and when everything resets. Times like this call for special coping strategies –
Try leaving the first week of the month blank so that you can catch up on writing, reading or phone calls that weren’t done the month prior. That way, when the calendar flips to the new month, you have an automatic cushion of time that lets you get stuff done.
2. Try The ‘Treat’ System
Who doesn’t like a nice treat?! Since each day can be packed with pressure, completing the most important task on your to-do list deserves a reward. If you fulfill your daily goals early on in the day, then you should reward yourself.
The buddy system is a great way to get through the difficult parts of the month. Asking someone to be your accountability partner during crunch time will not only help to keep you connected to your colleagues but will also help you to maintain your daily goals. It’s really simple: 1) ask a peer if they will be your partner for two weeks, 2) set up a time to talk for 5-10 minutes several times a week, 3) agree to truthfully report what your key priorities are and identifying any potential places you may get stuck, and 4) always provide a status report of your progress. Two weeks is a minimal commitment and these calls can serve as a built-in ritual to confirm and clarify your priorities for the week.
Instead of getting angry over the things that you cannot control, understand that the only thing you can control is your response. Get clear ahead of time about how and when you want to handle conflicts and then do it in a reasonable and pleasant manner so it doesn’t disturb your inner peace.
Most of the things that you find annoying at the beginning of each month can be alleviated with a little advanced planning. If you have too many commitments, then you can front-load your prep time or try an entirely different evaluation strategy. If you’re shocked to find yourself with time-intensive service commitments all piled up at the end of the month, then make yourself a note to consult your calendar before saying “yes” to anything the following month. These changes can reduce your stress in the long run.
I’m not suggesting that you should try all of these strategies at once! Instead, I’m suggesting that you pick one or two and experiment with them. If they work, great! If not, try a different strategy.
The idea is to recognize that you have your own special energy and unique time challenges that can best be managed by recognizing them and adjusting your approach in whatever ways make the most sense for you!
Have you ever heard the old saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat”?!
Well, this saying may seem ridiculous, but it makes total sense. There is always more than one way to do something, whether it pertains to relationships, cooking or even just different ways of doing business. Below are some ways to help you be more successful in your endeavors, whether it be at work or otherwise –
Many people respond to stress by taking shortcuts. Unfortunately, the shortcuts we frequently take are with those who are closest to us or our own bodily needs. So instead of unconsciously choosing to skip sleep or give up your exercise time, try consciously assessing what activities in your day can be eliminated or reduced with minimal consequences. For example, when I skimp on sleep, the consequence is physical exhaustion (which makes me look a little shabby too). That’s not really a good idea. However, if I stop checking Facebook for a week, turn my phone off, or re-schedule all of my social events for a while, the consequences are minimal and I open up time and space in my day for the things that really matter.
Even if you don’t normally exercise, stressful times require movement! If you can combine movement and relaxation (pilates, dancing, whatever…) that’s great! If all you can manage is to take the stairs instead of the elevator up to your office, that’s fine too! If that seems like too much, how about just playing some basic cleaning around the house (that which needs to get done anyhow)? Whatever you can do to get your body in motion is worth the time and effort.
Smoking, heavy drinking, overeating, procrastinating, withdrawing and/or glazing out in front of the TV are all too common coping strategies. Drinking a bottle of wine while binge-watching TV probably isn’t going to leave you feeling truly relaxed and rejuvenated. Instead, take a look at your regular stress-relieving behaviors and consider trying some healthier alternatives for next month. For example, calling a good friend, taking a hot bath, pausing for a cup of tea, playing with your dog/cat, getting a massage, journaling, reading for pleasure, or listening to some good music are all great options!
I believe the key to aligning your time with your priorities is to take 30 minutes to plan your week. But during crunch time, that becomes even more important! Your schedule changes, demands on your time increase, and it would be oh-so-easy to just hope everything will get done. The truth is that we still only have a finite amount of time, we have more tasks to do than time to do them in, and our human tendency is to focus on the seemingly urgent while neglecting the truly important. Unless we take the time before the week begins to make sure our priorities are appropriately placed in our schedule, they are very likely to get pushed out entirely or we are likely to end up working far more hours.
If all you can do during the next two weeks is regularly ask yourself: “What MUST get done between now and the end of the month?” and let the answer drive your daily behavior, you will be in good shape. Keep your tasks manageable, ask for help when you need it, and be willing to let some things go by developing the habit of consistently asking: does this matter? Just know that during those crunch times, there are many small details that can be released from your life.
This week stay focused on the most important priorities and give yourself permission to let the small stuff go. Let me know how it goes in the comments section below –
Maybe it’s just the change in season, but many people seem to be down in the dumps. With so much negativity in our work environments, this week I’d like to talk about Internalizing Rejection and Negativity.
Life is FULL of Rejection, Negativity, and Haters
One of the greatest difficulties of life is that there is a seemingly endless stream of negativity and devaluation, while positive feedback is few & far between. In any given week, you have probably received a wide range of negativity from colleagues, family members, so-called friends and maybe even some random haters. This is perfectly normal and, quite frankly, some of it is completely natural and even needed sometimes. But that doesn’t mean it feels good! While most of us can handle a certain amount of frustration, rejection, and disappointment, it’s the cumulative effect of this negativity that can lead to exhaustion, paralysis, and/or depression. The problem occurs when we internalize the negativity and allow rejection to impact our sense of our own intellectual capacity, self-worth, and enjoyment of our work.
Responding To Rejection And Negativity
There will always be some negativity in your environment, rejection of your resume, negative gossip from friends, bad breakups and/or haters on the scene trying to steal your joy. Given these factors, the real question is how you can objectively evaluate negativity while keeping it from disturbing your internal peace?
Ask Yourself: Does This Matter?
Many times the negativity in your environment doesn’t matter one bit to your professional success and happiness. I have developed a habit of constantly asking myself: Does this matter? Things that don’t matter include gossiping colleagues, eye-rolling acquaintances, small bureaucratic annoyances or irritating family members. Things that DO matter include rejection letters from those jobs you really wanted, getting dumped by that special someone, as well as substantive conflicts with close friends. For the things that don’t matter, you can consciously recognize them as trifling silliness that you have no control over and LET THEM GO.
If It Matters, Identify The Heart Of The Problem
If you must engage the negativity, then figure out where the problem is located. Is it your work, your behavior, or you as a person? Differentiating between these 3 things is critical to moving forward. For example, if you have a resume rejected, then the problem is located somewhere on that piece of paper, not (necessarily) in your experience. If you receive criticism from your supervisor for repeatedly coming in to work late, then the problem is your behavior and not you as a person. Clearly identifying the heart of the problem will help you keep the negativity externalized and pointed in the direction of the problem instead of internalizing it and allowing the negativity to attack your sense of self-worth.
Consider The Negative Input As Data
Once you have cut through the negativity (to deal only with what matters) and identified the core problem, just consider the negative information as data. I know it’s hard to receive rejection but pull out the relevant pieces of information of why you were rejected, plan your course to do better and move forward. And while none of us enjoy being confronted about our behavior, it’s better to know than to not know. That honest feedback provides an opportunity for a quick and easy behavioral adjustment and for everyone to move forward.
When Overwhelmed By Negativity, Reach Out For Support
If you are sensitive to criticism, consider reaching out for support. There are many ways to do so. If you are extraordinarily sensitive to criticism, consider giving your rejection letters to a friend for “translation.” They can read the letter for you and tell you what’s needed to be done going forward. That may help it seem more constructive, but helpful and exciting, especially coming from someone who knows you.
Pity The Haters
It’s hard enough to deal with the constant stream of negative information, but it’s even more difficult when you do succeed and colleagues try to diminish, dismiss, or devalue your accomplishments. There are some people in our professional lives who simply cannot bear to hear positive information about other people (because they interpret it as negative information about themselves). That means they will do their very best to subtly but persistently bring you down. You know who they are and the pitiful reasons they can’t be happy for you, so don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable to them. Try to imagine putting on an invisible protective shield before heading to meetings so that all of the petty and mean-spirited put-downs would bounce right off of you. On the occasions when the haters penetrated my armor, a loud blast of Jill Scott’s “Hate On Me“ could always put things back into perspective quickly.
When You Receive Positive Feedback, Celebrate!
Let’s be honest: positive affirmations of our hard work or volunteer service are rare. Never refuse a compliment, or positive feedback. If you do nothing else, let yourself enjoy positive feedback when it happens. Savor it and celebrate it!
Develop An Internal System Of Affirmation & Value
Most importantly, we must develop our own internal system of value, measures of quality, and definition of success. Unless you have a clear sense of your value, your criteria for “good work,” and your definition of success, you will gradually find yourself influenced by the inevitable negativity and one-upmanship in your environment.
I hope that this week brings you the energy to cut through the negativity in your environment, the compassion and clarity you need to deal with your haters, the wisdom to keep negative information externalized and focused on the problem at hand, and the absolute confidence that emerges from an internally-generated definition of success.
We’ve all heard that financial intelligence requires knowing how you spend your money. The problem with time is that unlike money, it is finite. We each have 24 hours in the day and must divide that precious time between personal, physical, professional, and familial commitments. We can’t borrow extra hours from a credit card or bank. We have to work with the 24 hours that we have. Everyone always complains that they never had enough time, that they were constantly running from one commitment to the next, and that their lack of time led to feelings of frustration, guilt, shame, and an overall sense of not moving forward at an adequate pace. But at the same time, they couldn’t answer the most basic questions about how they spent their time because they just don’t know where the hours go.
I’ve tracked my money before. At first, I believed it was a total waste of time because I thought that I already knew how I was spending it. But the first month I tracked every penny, I couldn’t believe the discrepancy between what I thought I spent and what I actually spent. Knowing where my money went enabled me to start gaining control over my finances and making conscious decisions that would allow me to meet my long-term goals, which continues to be a work in progress.
Likewise, the first time I tracked my time over a week, I was shocked by how much time I was spending on planning to get work done (yes, this includes just thinking about it) and how little I was spending on getting actual work done. Understanding how you spend your time each week (not in your imagination, but in reality) will help you to decide if you are investing in things that will pay off in the long run or spending it on things that offer immediate gratification but no long-term interest. And more importantly, you must know how you’re investing your time today in order to make conscious decisions about how you will spend it in the future.
Track Your Time
Keep track of how you spend your time this week. If you are feeling exhausted, frustrated, and I-don’t-even-know-how-I’m-gonna-make-it-to-Spring-Break tired, then try starting this week by simply tracking your time. Time tracking doesn’t have to be difficult or unpleasant, and it doesn’t require you to buy or do anything different. Just put a little scrap of paper on your desk and keep a running tab of your activities and the time you spend on them during each day this week. Include everything: e-mails, writing, dinner prep, talking on the phone, reading, out-of-work meetings, family time, exercising, day dreaming, running errands, worrying, eating, on Facebook, etc. (If you prefer to use apps to track your time, you can use Rescue Time).
Evaluate Your Data
Once you have a week’s worth of data, tally up how much time you spend on cleaning, working, sleeping, etc. when you sit down for your weekly self-planning meeting. That’s a great time to gently and patiently ask yourself:
If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then congratulations! But if you find that the answer is a resounding “NO!” then it’s time to make some changes. For example, if 50% of your evaluation criteria is based on establishing business relationships, but you are only spending 2 hours a week networking — there’s a problem. If travel is 25% percent of your evaluation criteria, but you are spending 30 hours a week on the road — there’s a problem. And if training is taking up more than a few hours per week — there’s definitely a problem. The good news is that these are problems that can be resolved by proactively adjusting your behavior.
Rethink Your Time Expenditures
Researchers have documented that the difference between successful people and those who struggle is how they spend their time. Successful people –
Only you can determine if you’re satisfied with how you are spending your time each day, but if you’re unhappy, exhausted, and feel like you’re not moving forward, then it’s time for a change. Becoming conscious of how you spend your time AND comparing it to the successful behaviors of others should give you some concrete ideas about how to climb out of your “time debt”.
I hope that this week brings each of you the patience to track your time, the wisdom to evaluate your current situation and pinpoint areas for change, and the sense of empowerment that results from making conscious decisions about how you spend your time each day.