What Is the Biggest Problem You’re Trying to Solve?
Having to make decisions isn’t a burden. Getting to make decisions is a blessing. Try to reframe your thinking into what a gift it is to live in a free country where you have so many choices to make. What many women around the world would give to be in our position—lots of them have decisions made for them. Imagine living that way.
And a choice you get to make is how do you want to live? With intention and purpose? With joy? With determination? With love? Maybe you have big dreams and know exactly what you want to do. Or perhaps you are just not at all sure what you’re good at or should be doing. You may be pressured to follow one path when your heart wants to go in a different direction.
Now is a great time to take stock of your life, of where you are, and to think about where you want to go and what it will take to get there. And to enjoy the journey along the way.
Take a moment here to create your own “Whiteboard Incident” to assess where you are right now. Here’s a starter kit:
- Get a whiteboard (ha).
- Make two lists:
- What responsibilities do you have in your current job that you really don’t want to do?
- What do you really want to do in a job?
- Assign negative points to the answers in the first question and positive points to the second. Weigh the things you don’t want to do in a job against those you do want to do. Then use those to balance your current job or career choice against a direction you’d like to take.
If the negative points far outweigh the positive ones, it’s obvious a change is needed. Either it’s finding a different role within your company, looking to move on to another organization, starting your own business, or taking a class to learn new skills that would help you get the job you want.
- Make one more list of jobs that you think you might like to have that would give you the opportunity to start doing the things you’d like to do. Start researching companies and reaching out to friends, alumni, and those willing to engage on platforms like LinkedIn to find out more.
Bottom line—if your score on your Whiteboard Incident adds up to you needing to make a change, then you have to take matters into your own hands and get going.
The Whiteboard Incident can be used again and again—even to evaluate personal relationships, or where you might want to live. Assess, reassess, take some time to think about it, and then act. Repeat.
The answers to these questions take time to find. Finding a mentor or a mentoring circle and starting the process is a great first step. The second? Finding someone you admire and learning how to be more like them. Role models—that’s next.
How Do You Find a Role Model?
whatever problem you’re trying to solve, you have the power to try and the will to succeed. You can choose to finally address this problem or you can make excuses. It’s up to you. You make the choice.
How badly do you want to solve it?
I can push you, pull you, even inspire you. But you have to do the work.
And while you think about your career and your personal life, consider adding a plan for service to others—it will open your heart and give you that perspective that keeps you grounded and grateful, as well as introduce you to a whole new set of friends.
- Make a list of some people you admire and consider role models, and ask friends who they admire.
- Write down your role model’s key characteristics—what of those can you emulate?
- Read or watch what they do—this is especially important should you ever get the chance to meet them. People respond better if they know you’ve invested time in their work.
- Send a note of compliment to their social media—you’ll be surprised how many people manage their own accounts. And compliments are much more likely to get a response than trolls!
- Keep a running list of questions that you’d love to ask them. Imagine that by chance you end up in an elevator with them—what would you want to ask to ensure you use that time wisely?
Now that you’ve assessed your career and considered your role models, you’re ready to dive into some practical advice for improving your work product
How Can You Improve Your Workday?
#1: It’s go time
Harness the power of intention. Consistency gets results; your foundation for success is built upon good habits.
As an adult, Dana still makes lists, but I’ve learned to pare it down. A long list with everything you could possibly need to do isn’t useful.
Instead, Dana recommends having a daily to-do list of just three to five tasks, rather than a list of twenty-five or more. The reason is that you will realistically only get through about five tasks in any one day. It keeps you more honest, and it stops you from feeling overwhelmed.
If time management is a real challenge for you, Dana suggests you track how you use your time for a couple of weeks (like tracking calories). You can’t fix what you don’t measure. What you find may surprise you. Who knew it took that long to figure out what you were going to wear that day or how much time you were wasting scrolling through Twitter? For all of us, there is something we could adjust to make time work better for us. Take control of the clock so that it doesn’t control you.
#2: The power of attitude
You control your own destiny.
When you’re new to working full-time for a company, it takes a while to get used to being the low person on the totem pole. And while you know that, over the years, you’re going to climb up to the top, it can sometimes be discouraging or disappointing when you’re not invited to certain meetings, fancy dinners, or big events at neat places that you’ve always wanted to go to.
Even so, at all times resist the urge to tell your boss, “You’re so lucky!” even if you’re genuinely excited for them. You’ll hear this phrase a lot over the years: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”
And even if you still think your boss is lucky, just don’t say it. Instead, ask her if there’s anything you can do to make sure she has what she needs to make the event a success. Offer to make a packet of information about the hosts or the table guests so that she can get familiar with them before she arrives. When the event is over, ask your boss what the most memorable moment was, or who she was most interested in following up with after the dinner. There are ways for you to participate even if you aren’t there. And don’t worry—you’ll be invited soon enough.
#3: Commit to excellence
Start with a dream, set your goals, and relentlessly try to reach them.
Any step change in your career is going to come after you’ve proven you can handle a task, a management challenge, a troublesome client, or a difficult assignment. Instead of being scared of all the “firsts,” try to do what Dana’s college speech coach suggested: “It’s okay to have butterflies in your stomach, as long as you make them fly in formation.”
And if that doesn’t work, follow the advice of former secretary of education Margaret Spellings, who called Dana on the morning of her first White House press briefing. Dana told her she was nervous. She said, “Well, put your big-girl panties on and deal with it.”
First-time nerves are normal. Not letting them get the best of you is the challenge.
And you’ll make some mistakes—or prove that you’re just learning along the way. That’s okay!
#4: Learn to love yourself (Justin Bieber taught us this)
Carry yourself with confidence.
Part of being a good leader is surrounding yourself with good people, especially when you’re in a position to hire those people. Find the most talented, most knowledgeable, and strongest people possible and add them to your team. Make sure to hire people who know more than you do. You don’t want to always be the smartest woman in the room—you want to be the woman who gathers the smartest people together. And then listen to your team. Truly give them your undivided attention. Give them room to run. Show that you trust their judgment. Don’t hog all the time with the top executives. Provide the opportunities to keep them interested and to assure them they are valued. Explain gently if you disagree with them, so that you don’t chill a conversation or make someone feel they can’t come to you with suggestions that you may not like but really need to hear. It’s up to you to create that environment, and if you do all those things, you’ll be a very good leader.
#5: Be proud of your cyber self
Sent from my iPhone—quick tips for email etiquette and clear communication online.
A few suggestions:
- Find out how your boss likes to communicate. Is it email or text? A mix of both? When does she prefer a text over an email? Or do you need to send a text to make sure she looks at her email? Ask her how she wants to share information to ensure a smoother experience and prevent frustration.
- Always use a clear subject line for each email. Do not add a new topic in an email chain that is under a completely different subject head. For example, if you have an email chain going about some travel plans to a conference in two weeks, and then you ask, “By the way, do you want me to cancel this afternoon’s interview since you are now wanted in the boardroom at 3:00 p.m.?” your boss would have a right to be irritated… plus, chances are she may miss that email altogether. And saying, “But I emailed you earlier,” is not going to cut it when she realizes she’s double booked. Don’t let things get lost in the shuffle.
- Never reply in anger or sarcasm (no matter how good the zinger might be). If you are hot under the collar, draft the note, then take a few breaths or go for a coffee. Come back and delete the message and start over. Don’t let your temper cause you unnecessary problems. Besides, when you think about it for a while, you’ll come up with a better response than if you punch back before you’ve thought it through.
- Only reply to all when it’s necessary to have clear communication. Avoid the frivolous thread-adding to a large group.
- Never reply to an email and add someone with a note that says “looping in James” without first finding out whether the original sender is okay with that. There may be a good reason that that person was left off the email in the first place. No need to cause a problem by rushing to loop someone in.
#6: Friendship is a two-way street
What goes around comes around.
Dana advocates being friends with as many people as possible in your life. At least be friendly to everyone. What you give is what you get—you want people to be nice to you, too. That doesn’t mean everyone is going to be your best friend—but a little bit of effort to be kind to people at the office will help you gain a reputation as a good person to work with.
One complication to this is if you’re hanging around with someone who is very negative at work or the purveyor of office gossip. That’s not good for your daily work life, and it could hurt you when it comes to promotions. The bosses notice everything, or, if they don’t see it, they hear about everything.
Bosses are like parents—they have eyes in the back of their heads. If they see you causing problems, riling people up, or spreading rumors, they will cross you off their mental list for promotions, travel opportunities, or new challenges. And even if your work product is perfect, this can hurt you when it comes to your review.
If you think that you have made a bad choice in befriending someone who you didn’t realize is a problem around the office, find a way to remove yourself gently from the situation. Come up with reasons to sidestep going to coffee and avoid hanging out at the cafeteria at the same time. Maybe you’ll have to start eating lunch at your desk for a while. Pretend you’re on the phone when they stop by to gossip or take on extra work until you can get out of that negative loop. Sometimes you make a bad call when it comes to judging someone’s character. It happens. There are ways to get that behind you, and every experience like this helps you make better decisions in the future.