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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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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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‘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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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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