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Advice for Interns: Invest Your Time Into Developing an Opinion

As an intern, your real job for the summer (other than to make people like you) is to develop a point of view. This is actually a more sustainable output than trying to insert our Corporate-branded jargon into your rehearsed interview answers.

Here’s why: when you are early in your career, there is a gap between your work and your ambition.

Your ambition is high, but the quality of your work is not.

This is why you’re given busy work. Managers do not have enough time in the day to delegate tasks to you and then to carefully manage their completion. It’s not a fun truth, but it’s ok because you have potential.

The encouraging part is, as a former intern myself, I can tell you that summers full of non-Instagrammable busy work isn’t necessarily a waste. Don’t quit. Instead, invest your energy into building a point a view.

First, convince your boss to empower you:
Later in your career, you’ll know this as “managing up”; but when you’re only at a job for 10 or 12 weeks, it means “demonstrate how quickly you can draw lessons from experiences”.

The key word is ‘demonstrate’. Many interns make the mistake of approaching an office environment the same way they would approach a classroom; always waiting on instruction. But the rhythm of an effective workplace is not the same as a classroom.  The most successful interns are proactive. They spot a pattern, apply what they already know, and then demonstrate what it means via a new idea, even if the timing is wrong for implementation of that idea.

As an intern, you should be full of ideas! They don’t have to be the right ideas, but when you can show that you are capable of thinking without your manager’s oversight, they will be more comfortable giving you opportunities for visibility and access.

Access to a diverse group of employees and roles is the secret ingredient that can super-charge your POV.

Then, ask sharp questions in order to increase your understanding:
The unwritten social rules around interning give you the freedom to ask questions judgement-free; uncertainty should never be a reason why you don’t establish a solid point of view.

But there is an element of gambling when it comes to asking questions to people you’re trying to impress – so when you don’t seek clarity on a business objective, what it really reveals is evidence of how you confront risk.

You have to learn how to use those odds and not be paralyzed by them. Start by asking questions that aren’t trying to prove a point, but rather to critically explore an idea that you already find interesting.

Here are 5 of them to get you started.
– “Do you think it’s true that #UnderlyingAssumptionOfPlan?”
– “How did #ThingThisYear compare to #ThingLastYear?”
– “Can you describe how #ThisAction impacts #ThatDataPoint?”
– “How will #ThatThingYoureWaitingOn be helpful to you?
– “What are you trying to understand about #ThatThingYouAskedThatPersonAbout?

(see how I used hashtags to give you a framework? I am applying ideas from my interns. You already know to replace the hashtags with topics that are trending at your company).

When you neutralize questions like that, you’re just trying to get to the essence of an answer instead of the hard truth of it. From there, you have wiggleroom to play around with the information and add your own spin. It’s the difference between digestion and regurgitation – and it’s foundational for developing your own POV.

Lastly, embrace the tension:
There are always going to be consequences to fast-paced dynamic people-interactions that can make or break POVs that were created without their consideration. In the workplace, these “consequences” may look like employees encountering problems that have no clear owner, teams working together with competing objectives, or even turnover.

If you skated through an internship without experiencing any of these kinds of conflicts, I will tell you that version of reality was not authentic.

If you were exposed, but found yourself uncomfortable in these situations, here is my advice. The only way to resolve tension around conflict is to embrace it as a natural part of work. Healthy conflict is not a bad thing. It is part of the process and should be your building blocks for creating a well-supported point of view.

The grander theme of all of this “advice” is that you should not spend any time in your internship hiding. A point of view is a reflection of you.

When you begin to create work that is a reflection of your point of view – your work will improve.

When you can create a career that reflects your point of view – your life will improve.

 

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Uncategorized

4 ways to leverage LinkedIn despite your non-linear career path

Here’s a not-so-little secret: people who have the most non-linear career paths, have the most interesting networks. Yet, I am always surprised when I meet young professionals who do not have a LinkedIn account. Typically, the reason is something along the lines of “my industry/field doesn’t require it” or “I’m not looking for a new job”. Both feel a bit narrow because they only deal in “I”. The first thing you should know about LinkedIn is the way over 200 million other professionals use it.

The goal of the site is simple: find the people you need, through the people you trust. The beauty of the networked economy is that someone is always looking and someone is always finding. And in a world where I hear young people constantly complaining about being underemployed or underutilized, there is always a need to connect with people who can help you. LinkedIn is a great place to find them…or for them to find you.

But I get the hesitation. LinkedIn, like a resume, is biased towards linearity – it prompts you to add positions, one at a time, by job title and then you have to assign time periods. The template can be intimidating for those who don’t have straight-line careers. Don’t let your intimidation stop you from playing in this space. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

1. Realize you’re not that unique.

Listen, the economy has left a trail of unconventional career paths and there is nothing wrong with that. Even though the LinkedIn profile tool is biased to a linear progression, there are multiple places where you can summarize your jobs into a cohesive story. For instance, you could use the Summary section to write a spiel about your diverse background and explain any job gaps or career switches. The Headline field is another option – even Reid Hoffman is surprised by how many people waste precious Headline space by filling it with their job title.

There are other places within your profile where you could insert compelling career content like photos and video, but before you take advantage of those spaces, you have to be open to changing the way you see yourself. There’s a self-perception theory that says we are both observers and narrators of own experience. LinkedIn is a platform where you get to be a narrator of your experience, not an observer.

2. As a narrator, your goal is not to present a carefully manicured path; your goal is to help others understand where you fit.

This is the part where you have to believe that switching jobs a few times is actually a tremendous asset. You get to talk about how different companies approach similar problems, like the way Chipotle woos Millennials is totally different than the way Taco Bell does it.

However, if your work experience is not set in the proper context, it can look unfocused. You have to find a way to provide context – what did you learn? what were you looking for, or in some cases, what were you running from? Think about context as a safety net that you have to build in.

Remember this picture of the Duke basketball team holding assault weapons? “If you take the image by itself […] it could be seen as are we somehow glamorizing gun violence or something like that,” the Athletic Director says. Well, we now know that the guns were fake, and that the boys were visiting a military academy. With the proper context, the only thing that makes the picture bad is that there is no safety net within the image.

3. Be crystal clear.  

The text that you include in your LinkedIn profile is searchable, so make sure you include key words within your profile. Try and limit your company’s internal jargon. As Steven Sinofsky says, “don’t ship the org chart”.

If you are a server, talk about the specific customer-service behaviors you exhibited while on the job. If you are a makeup artist, write about the specific kinds of makeup you specialize in. If you are student, highlight relevant coursework and any additional MOOC courses completed.

Stick to key terms and metrics that can be understood by everyone the same way. If you’re not sure which words to use, spend some time looking at how other professionals use the platform and copy that.

4. Get noticed for the work you do. 

Contributing in LinkedIn Groups is a great way to showcase the way you think. It not only diverts eyes to your page, it also allows you the chance to engage in some meaningful dialogue. If you’re feeling wary about putting something “dumb” out there, don’t worry. Just spend some time answering questions like this one from my Business Development group: “what’s more important: product knowledge or the ability to sell yourself?“.

There is no such thing as a dumb answer to an unanswerable question.

LinkedIn Groups also offer the ability to find people whose point of view you respect. Peruse through the forums and pick someone you want to be like. Click around their profile and then deconstruct their career. Maybe you’ll see a path you had not thought of before. Or maybe you’ll see an interesting company you had not previously considered – follow it!

The thing is, if you do this enough, you’ll see patterns. Patterns lead to connections and that’s the whole point of the site.

Regardless of how zig-zagged your job history is or how off-the-path your career is, everyone has the ability to connect.

 

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Uncategorized

‘Help, Thanks, Wow’ – my 2013 recap

I read over 50 books every year, so I feel like I have some sort of authority on what’s good and what isn’t.  So I’m going to share with you that one of my favorites from 2013 was this one: ‘Help, Thanks, Wow’: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott. Because I started 2013 looking to simplify. My mantra was two simple steps: identify the essential, eliminate the rest.

I prayed daily for a sign and some guidance and some patience and a pinch of all of the other virtues as well.

Soon I got an answer and I started by moving. I left my cushy midtown apartment and moved to a building in the ‘burbs that was much closer to my office, and much smaller.

Somewhere along the way I picked up Anne Lamott’s book and she told me that I could be big in prayer. That helped.

Anne says that there are only 3 essential prayers; ones where you ask for help, others where you are saying thanks, and lastly those where you are in awe.

It’s like a spiritual matryoshka — you know, a MATRYOSHKA, those Russian nesting dolls?

After I moved, I consoled my best friend as she said her goodbye to her father. This is something I’ve done before and it really just does not get any easier. There are no words to say to some one whose heart is breaking in front of you. All you can do is rely on your thereness and the belief that time heals all things.

But still, in the quiet times, I asked God wtf was He thinking putting me in this situation; and Lord, please just help me respond. Even if it’s with something terrible like, “dawg, you gave the shit out of that eulogy.”

“oh! and your hair looked fantastic projected on the jumbotron.”

I started to think that’s no way to talk to God. Anne disagrees. She says “God can handle honesty and prayer begins an honest conversation.”

Right. Most things do. Especially relationships…so 2013 was the year that my boyfriend and I had several of those – about family, about children, about goals and yes, about money. I realized that it’s hard not to be haunted by past choices when you are still paying for them. I remember crying at his kitchen table about my credit card debt. I was so embarrassed. It was like a scene from a bad informercial. My cards were literally cut up on the table and the scrap paper we were drawing equations on was tear-stained.

I remember him hugging me tightly and saying, “one day, you are going to look back and laugh at the fact that you were crying over such an insignificant amount of money.”

He was right. It was an insignificant amount in the grand scheme of things, and I do get a good chuckle about how I sat there with crocodile tears feeling defeated.

But it made me realize that I am so grateful that in my world, it’s not an anomaly to see good men being good men. Good boyfriends, good husbands, good sons, good brothers, good fathers, good friends, good employers and good employees. There is something so incredibly special about this kind of support. I’m so thankful for God’s grace.

“Grace,” Anne says, “can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on.”

I needed that stamina as I traveled throughout the year from Salt Lake City, to Los Angeles, to Buenos Aires, to Mexico, to Thailand and many more places in between. I saw over and over that the world is so big and so beautiful and I am such a small but significant part of it.

The parallels between my life and the majestic structures were astonishing. As I stared at the temples in Bangkok and climbed the Uxmal pyramids outside of Mérida, I felt this sense of reverence for the way that ancient civilizations honored their miracles. Nothing beats travel’s capacity to inspire.

Naturally, I started asking myself, what are the African-American versions of this? Where are our “pyramids” here in the United States? And then I looked in the mirror and answered my own question: I am my parents’ pyramid. I am my ancestors’ temple. I stand on the shoulders of giants.

Anne says that “gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior”. It is with this acknowledgment that I enter into 2014 – ready for the challenges, ready to launch a new business, and ready to be a better me.

Happy New Year.

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Uncategorized

5 Things Your Life Coach Can’t Teach You Because Only Life Can

1. Smart people don’t live for other people.

Somewhere hidden between the lines of a Kanye West rant is his frustration that we live in a world that requires permission. Where our “reality” was handily crafted in the images of big entities who benefit from our being obedient to their rules. Yeezy refuses to abide and most days, I agree with him. Smart people don’t live for other people.

Beyonce agrees too. She released a secret album on Friday the 13th.

But when you buck the system, there’s bound to be some conflicts of interests.

I think my favorite part of Beyonce’s album release week was watching PR professionals try and grapple with the idea that she didn’t go the traditional route. It makes sense that they were baffled because at it’s core – PR is founded on the implication that you need a middle man. That you need someone else to strategically craft your story to impact what people say/think/feel about you.

But smart people don’t live for other people.

Big retailers were also aghast. In response to her insubordination, they refused to sell her album on their shelves. Of course, none of this really affected Bey.

She broke all the rules and still sold 1,000,000 copies in under 2 weeks.

2. Rules are not a substitute for relationships

This was only possible because Beyonce has done the difficult work of growing with her fans. It required ending a professional relationship with her father and showing us a more authentic version of her art; a modern woman and talking about modern woman problems. She’s spent the last 2 years “sharing” in an effort to connect.
But public corporations cannot be that vulnerable, they have to protect themselves in order to be profitable. So they create rules like “I’m not going to sell your work if you pursue a partnership that doesn’t also benefit me”. While their blacklist doesn’t harm Beyonce, it does send a warning shot to other artists who do need a distribution channel like a Big Box Retailer.
Leveraging your business model to squash provocative ideas is nothing new, but it is something we’re hearing more about thanks to the democracy of the internet.
Any way, Beyonce’s success just suggests that most ‘rules’ are just hurdles set up to protect the rule-maker.
3. Breaking a promise to yourself is destructive 

Rules are just magical boundaries. Non-existent. Beyonce once had a rule that required her to keep her private life ultra-private. When she started a tumblr and began posting personal pictures as a way to connect with her fans, she realized the truth.

The truth is that real boundaries are learned in relationships, not in requirements.

When I started this blog, I gave myself a rule: never post about someone without them reading it first (broke that rule here…also here). But you know what?  It seems like every black women I know is creating new rules, and almost every black woman I know is also having a really hard time following them. Even Beyonce!

Maybe, we are all creating rules in vain – as a substitute for building a relationship with ourselves.

Maybe, we stop restraining ourselves with stupid rules and start making limitless promises. Except, I did that too, when I promised myself that I would share my story by posting here 3 times a week.

When you break a promise to yourself, your initial instinct is to cover up the consequences.

4. Excuses are really just lies and circular reasoning

So I started telling myself that I wasn’t posting because I was too busy traveling. Then I started lying to myself and saying that I wasn’t posting because I would do it tomorrow. I lied enough that I ultimately convinced myself that the platform was at fault. Because, see, blogging under my real name requires an editing process SO intense that it is okay if I break promises to myself in the name of good content.

Because, obviously, I need to that ensure people see good content when they google stalk me.

Do you know what circular reasoning is? It’s when the reasoner begins with what they’re trying to end up with. Lots of people use circular logic when they’re trying to get out of something that is uncomfortable. I know this because when I was creating a budget earlier this year, to rid myself of consumer debt by 2014, I would say things like, “I can start tracking my spending on Mint, as soon as I buy a new phone.”

“…because of the push notifications and what not.”

5. Nothing has meaning except for the meaning you give to it

Life has taught me that lying to myself is the number one indicator that I am scared. And in many areas of my life, fear has traditionally been a barrier, not a compass.

I spent the bulk of 2013 working really hard to understand what fear means, what it looks like in my life, and how to manage it appropriately. Yesterday I got two little tweets encouraging me to share my learnings from 2013. And I will, right here, tomorrow (promise!).

But first, I had to be honest.

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Office Politics

how to defend yourself without being defensive.

Succeeding in adulthood relies on two things: the ability to manage fear and learning how to make healthy trade-offs. When you’re young, being wrong is disruptive because you get much-needed validation from people agreeing with you. But when you become an adult, you begin to attract relationships that are not one-sided. When you become an enlightened adult, you realize that being right is actually meaningless and that it is an acceptable trade-off for being happy.

Succeeding in the 21st century workplace also relies on two things: your ability to find jobs that cater to your strengths and learning how to build a network. When you first start working, you assume that ‘playing politics’ is about being liked. As you grow in experience, you realize that being supported has way more value than being liked. When you become an enlightened employee, you realize that ‘support’ requires a vast network, and the most authentic way to build your network is through conversation.

Now, don’t be so naive to think that every workplace conversation is going to be predictable and positive. In fact, I think one of the most underutilized retention strategies is highlighting how often employees abandon scripts and take real conversational risks.

Managing the ebbs and flows of uncomfortable conversations is an important skill. Here are 3 tips to help you defend your point of view without being defensive.

1. Practice articulating you need to practice articulating (not explaining) positions you disagree with. But before you start practicing, you first need to figure out what you call things you disagree with. Seth says once we name something, we know what it is and then we make decisions on how to deal with it. Want to see how the power of naming things plays out in real life? ask people which plan they support: ‘Obamacare’ or the ‘Affordable Care Act’.

The bottom line is, if you call everything you disagree with “wrong” or “stupid”, the decision you’re making is to disregard. Within that context, you’re never going to be able to articulate your position in way that encourages dialogue. You’re cheating yourself of understanding. And smart people understand why other smart people may disagree.

2. Create a positive presence – There is an old CEO adage that says you can’t talk your way out of something you behaved your way into. And because people are always taking notes on your behavior, there is no real way to isolate whether someone’s opinion of you is a result of something you said, or something you did. But understanding the influence of language on the brain allows you to use it deliberately. Even though body language is nonverbal, you can still adjust for impact. For instance, did you know that behavior is perceived differently in different locations? In a formal setting like an office, you have to be even more obvious, always sending cues.

But, really, walking around with a grin on your face is exhausting, and most co-workers are not swayed by such ridiculous theatrics. So here are two easier tips you can implement: change your walk and change your wardrobe.

3. Find the humor and reveal the lesson – Believe it or not, confrontational situations are actually ripe for humor. Steve Martin talks about the importance of tension in comedy. He says you can build the kind of joke where the tension is released in the form of a punchline, or you can just leave it lingering and let the audience choose their own release point. Regardless of the technique, laughter is a reward for tension being treated a certain way.

This is important to know as you frame your story, because ill-timed humor can be career limiting behavior. One way to mitigate the risk of not being taken seriously is to demonstrate that you have learned something. Whether you frame the “release” around the lesson or you let the lesson reveal itself, making someone laugh means you are adding value in ways they weren’t expecting.

And being able to surprise and delight is way more impressive than being right.

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Education

the “well-rounded” myth and how you’re missing the point.

Yesterday, one of my favorite friends summarized my college experience as “my refusal to be put in anybody’s box.” I loved this for two reasons. One, because I had never thought of it that way (and great compliments have a way of making you see yourself in a new light). Two, because I love when complex experiences can be summed up so neatly.

For me, learning how to filter labels that were created outside of me was a life skill. For others, it’s a survival skill. But given perfectly benign circumstances, the logic still stands true.

Vincent Horn does a great job of explaining why. He says, “attachment to any idea, point of view, or identity is going to cause an unnecessary impedance to the flow of reality. In Buddhist parlance, the result is often called suffering. The thing is, reality doesn’t give a shit about our identities. It keeps changing anyway.”

Which is why I want to talk about being well-rounded.  You know, “well-rounded”. It’s the word you earn from employers or admissions offices after spreading your time around various activities and depositing your energy into developing multiple skills. It’s all a bunch of hooey. Which is not to say that those things don’t count; but being well-rounded lies somewhere in the cerebral aspect of completing checklists like this and this, not the physical one.

I know I am onto something because an admissions officer admitted that the real challenge for students who get accepted to selective schools like Harvard is not the demanding schedule. It’s finding the ability to have self-esteem in such a competitive environment.

A healthy balance of learning, doing and creating are the keys to being well-rounded.

On Learning:

Here, a math teacher explores how memorization gets in the way of learning. He says of his students, “To them, math wasn’t a process of logical discovery and thoughtful exploration. It was a call-and-response game.”

I work with teenagers on a regular basis, and I know the implications of this behavior are not limited to the four walls of a math classroom.

But if memorization is a way of knowing without learning, then what do we call learning without doing? Are we creating a whole generation of ‘savants’ who we can’t learn anything from that isn’t already available in a book? Or a fresh group of start ups that only want to monetize an existing culture instead of adding value to it?

On Doing:

I started my career in Operations at a big box retail store. It was a hands-on gig where sales and marketing were happening in real-time. But in every job I’ve had since then, I walked around thinking the result of ‘doing’ was an immediate and tangible output. I credit my current bosses for showing me that output comes in different forms.

Sometimes doing leads to shaping, and the eventual output of shaping is legacy. Neither are immediate, neither are tangible.

Which is funny because I hear so many people who are stuck and talking in circles about not knowing what they want to “do” next.  Many don’t realize they have already chosen what to do: nothing.

On Creating:

One of my favorite things in the world is watching people create things. It’s almost like a guilty pleasure getting a sneak peak into their process and glimpse into their genius. Inspiration is contagious.

Facebook agrees with me, they spent a billion dollars on their art collection.

And look at Apple, they crushed records by selling 9 million smartphones this weekend, marketing the $99 iPhone 5C to “lovers of color”. It’s hard to ignore the economic impact of selling the ‘unapologetically plastic’ phones to an economic class who previously could not afford access to the same technology or the 1 million potential customers per day.

First art imitates life, and then life imitates art.

So really, if you want to be well-rounded, do the following: underindex on everything you’ve learned and overindex on everything you’ve lived.

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Self-knowledge

food, romance and creating things you’re proud of.

Between attending culinary school and working in high-end restaurants and hotels to put himself through college, my beau has clocked well over 10,000 hours in the kitchen. I, on the other hand, have not. Since most of my “culinary experience” (also known as episodes of Chopped and re-runs of Anthony Bourdain) lives in my DVR, he does the majority of the cooking for both of us.  But this Friday, it is my turn.

You should know that we have tried this before. It was so stressful and I had a broth incident that I can only describe as “too much, too soon”. My sauteed shrimp pasta spinach thing was not good and I became a total buzzkill. Very few things irritate me more than creating something that I am not proud of.

You should also know that I have no anxiety cooking for myself; the anxiety only comes with an audience of this magnitude. I love that people are beginning to publicly acknowledge the prickly relationship between food and romance.

While you are knowing things, you should know that I am an ENFJ, which makes me a potent combination of committed and ambitious. Committed because I am pre-wired to want to practice 10,000 hours to begin with, and ambitious because I often I attempt things out of order. Like when I started going to college when I was a senior in highschool.

These traits serve me well in the workplace. The kitchen is more humbling. (sidebar: here is the link if you would like to take the test yourself. Trust me, understanding your personality’s limitations makes navigating new environments more approachable)

Anyway, all week I have been coming home from work and practicing pieces of the meal that I am planning on serving Friday. Yesterday was sauce day. Sauces are especially difficult for me because the order is very rigid and there’s no room for my ambitious skipping.

First, I add the shallots and let them sizzle. Then I add the garlic but the pan is too hot and it scorches. I press forward by carefully adding the broth and then fishing the really burnt bits out. Then comes the flour and the cream.

Then comes the chemistry…

I forgot to mention that it is 9:30pm and I am on the phone with the Mister. I am asking about his day (and trying to whisk lumps out of my roux at the same time) when he complains that the scraping sounds like a train is passing through his earbuds.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“practicing a sauce!!”

“Do you want to just call me back when you’re done?”

See that rhetorical question right there? He is great a subtly advocating focus in my life. ENFJ’s need that.

I comply and hang up, gaining the headspace I need to make the practice more perfect. It doesn’t help at all because the sauce still ended up being a fail.

Here is what I realized: the cornerstone to creating things that you’re proud of is not perfection, it’s honesty.

The truth is, even with 10,000 hours of practice, we cannot be good at everything. It’s a vain hope. Your genes don’t fit. Understanding your personality’s limitations makes navigating complex tasks more approachable. Having the wherewithal to figure out how to work through challenges in a way that caters to your strengths is empowering.

I call him back with intentions to bait his expectations so that I can temper them accordingly.  As we are talking, he is lamenting about some of the poor food choices he’s making while he is traveling for business. I decide the scrap the sauce, add a veggie instead, and I begin to tell myself a new truth that I am proud of.

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