Careers, Family and Money

Finally Landed the Camp Job

by Karen Meister

“Do you think you will stay with this job?”  This is the young girl in the 9th grade Spanish class who stood up at Career Day.  Smack me in the forehead.  She changed my life.  I get bored when I work on the same project for too long.  I have so much energy, ideas, passions…  And I didn’t always have to earn “green ones” in order to survive.  Former spouse was the bread winner and frequent flyer mile millionaire.  I was mom, available and rather capable with tons of energy.

So I enjoyed going from adventure to adventure.  Right or wrong, I learned so much about career options, humans, the ability to morph.

I am a serial entrepreneur (hear Darth Vader in the background).

Job One:  Secretary

Had my MBA (me and three other women at UF) and graduated during the the worst unemployment period, comparable to what our “Occupy Wall Street” kids had to deal with.  Any job in advertising would be fine.  Just had to get started.  Briefcase in hand, I walked into the big NYC ad agency, ready to be the very best typist and coffee retriever EVER.  After one month, I asked to be included in the AE training program, without a pay raise, and was given the opportunity.   It was just okay but after 6 months, I was antsy.   Ran into a college friend in an elevator.  She was moving to London and needed to find someone to take her place.  Interviewed, gave notice, and off to the next adventure.

Job Two:  Special Events for American Express PLUS

I worked for a creative entrepreneurial woman, in her bedroom in Manhattan, and ran a major national special events campaign on 150 college campuses for Amex.  

Think Inside the Box

 by Ianna Raim

At the risk of dating myself, I admit that when I went to business school, the “in the know” vocabulary included fancy words like “synergistic” and “benchmarking”. Today, when I want to seem hip, besides rattling off acronyms like OMG and LOL just loud enough to embarrass my kids, I’ll comment on how “disruptive” an innovation seems. Indeed, if you listen carefully, you might even hear this onomatopoetically powerful word on Shark Tank. A disruptive innovation is an “innovation that helps create a new market in ways the existing market didn’t expect.”  (Think e-mail, iPhone etc.)

However, disruptive implies that innovation somehow has to be over the top and out there. Indeed, when we think of creative or geeky types who innovate, we immediately think offices with open floor plans and Frisbees flying everywhere.

I often hear clients say:  “I’m just not creative” because most of us think of creativity as radical thinking, defying the status quo or coming up with something brand new.  A best-selling book by Drew Boyd: Inside the Box: A proven system for creativity for breakthrough results, argues it just isn’t so. On the contrary, his premise is that “better and quicker innovation happens when you work inside your familiar world using templates…these templates regulate our thinking and channel the creative process in a way that makes us more—not less—creative.” The author cites Agatha Christie who wrote 66 unique books using the exact same template (now I’m really dating myself).

More specifically, the book outlines five “thinking inside the box” templates that are responsible for every innovative solution.

Subtraction: When something is removed (taking away the complicated buttons on the IPhone);

Task Unification: One item with multiple uses (the cell phone case that also holds credit cards);

Multiplication: A component that has been copied but changed in some way (adding training wheels to a bike);

Division: When a crucial component is separated out (a detachable keyboard for your tablet);

Attribute Dependency: When two attributes that seem unrelated are made dependent on each other (keyboard light goes on when the room gets darker).

Habits

by Ianna Raim

End of summer. Beginning of school. New Years. Start of the fiscal year. These and other clear-cut transitions are convenient and common points in time when we often decide to make a change…to adopt a new habit.   We vow to make a fresh start…we promise to adopt a new routine. Sounds good…but is it?

These hyped up dates may be a boon for marketers trying to sell us stuff, but when it comes to taking stock of who we are and who we want to be, they are as arbitrary as Play Doh Day (yes…it’s a real day…September 16th). The reason these days are so appealing to us is because we think that change occurs as some watershed moment when nothing is ever the same…when we kick a bad habit and develop a new one for life. While some people can recall a singular moment or a particular day that marked a turning point…for most of us, life is not a series of “lottery moments” but rather small incremental changes that morph into something that feels quite different.

Most of us have heard that if you can muster the willpower to do something for 21 days, a  new habit is formed and you’re home free. I did my own informal data research and found that lots of folks couldn’t agree or disagree on whether the 21 day habit was a myth or not…because they never made it to 21 days. And the people I asked weren’t slackers!

I’ve read a lot about forming new habits. “The power of habit” by Charles Duhigg is a New York Times  best seller. It explains the science behind habits and argues that if we understand how habits work, we can achieve success in making just about any change we want…whether it’s working out, eating better, not procrastinating…and the list goes on. 

Escaping to the Office: 5 Steps to De-stress Your Home Life

by Ianna Raim

It’s rare that I read something and decide instantly…”I’m writing about that this week. “ I’ve got a stack of social science articles and yellow sticky notes with ideas that I use for inspiration. But this time, I needed no muse.

The Wall Street Journal Article I’m alluding to is entitled: “The Daily Escape: Why So Many Like Spending Time at the Office”. Finally, finally, someone has scientifically proved (with cotton swabs inside cheeks or whatever they do to test cortisol levels) that in fact (and hormones don’t lie) it is more stressful to be home than at work.  Every working mom knows that. Now we can finally let go of the guilt…because the findings are true for men and women alike. The article sited a lot of obvious reasons. Housework is monotonous (you think?).  It feels good to be paid after working.  (Hell yeah).  When you do a good job, it’s quite possible you’ll be praised and rewarded (and who doesn’t like that…).  Yelling, crying and storming off are usually not tolerated (women crying at work is fodder for another blog altogether).  And lastly, you can be compassionate even empathetic… but the business and personal problems you help solve are not your own.

At work the conditions exist to set a goal and reach it… you can shut your door, put on your headphones and people just know that means you need time alone.  (My children and my dog have on occasion followed me to the bathroom!).  You decide when you need a coffee break or the need to walk around, clear your mind and stretch your legs break (I’m not sure why but my kids seem to need to eat every day…and at about the same time in the evening…just when I would love to catch the sunset and take a dip in the pool.)  And goals like meeting your numbers or making a deadline are not only clear but they also have an ending point.  

Inertia

by Ianna Raim

You could cancel that magazine subscription at any time or easily opt out of those annoying email communications (not this one of course!) There’s almost no work involved in making these changes. And yet the unread newspapers pile up and our email boxes become more and more polluted. Why? It’s the law of inertia. Remember your physics class? “An object in motion tends to stay in motion, while an object at rest tends to stay at rest”. In other words, once we settle into a routine or course of action, it becomes harder and harder to change it. By far, the greatest impediment to reaching your goals is not how intelligent you are, or how educated you are or how attractive you are.  It’s how stuck you are.

When you’re “in motion” with your career…when you’re building your resume, honing your skills, and meeting new clients and colleagues…it’s relatively easy to keep making progress. When your “at rest” however, “career wise”, it can be hard to move on even the smallest of projects. The inertia doesn’t only keep you still, it zaps your confidence and convinces you that you’ll forever remain still.

It is exceedingly rare in life to have “lottery” moments …moments where your life immediately and effortlessly takes a turn for the better. In reality, success happens when you make a series of smart grounded decisions. Those decisions aggregate to create positive momentum that moves you in a better direction.

Participating in my free teleclass “Why Smart Women get Get Stuck in career Ruts (and what to do about it)” can be the first of those small but smart decisions.

Whether you’re still at the “I have no idea what I want to do with my life” phase or you are already working, but dissatisfied with what you’re doing, you’ll get real value from this class.

Mindfulness

by Ianna Raim

When I failed to pay attention in 7th grade English, my teacher would accuse me of contemplating my navel…engaging in what he considered useless self-contemplation. Turns out not only did I decide to make a living of such folly…but that metaphorical navel gazing has some real benefits at work and in life.

Mindfulness, as it’s called today, is the process of actively noticing new things. Most of us are quite familiar with its opposite: mindlessness.  That’s when we arrive at our destination and we have no idea how our car transported us there!

Many of my clients who want to make a career transition express the need to feel “expert” in something before making a career move. They believe that doing things until it’s second nature will serve them by giving them more confidence and less stress. Actually it’s proven that thinking of things in new and different ways actually energizes us. Doing things by rote, on the other hand, can zap our energy and actually induce stress because we tend to worry that we’ll find problems and not be able to solve them. In other words, nothing stays the same so trying to hold things still actually makes us feel like we’re losing control.

Ok …some practical applications and fringe benefits of mindfulness.

 

  1. Routines, rules and goals should guide you, not dictate you.  The automatic pilot approach rarely produces better results than fresh and energetic engagement.  Mindfulness encourages better performance because it requires you to be present and attentive.  The most impressive artists, musicians, athletes or teachers got that way because they think out of the box.
  2. New opportunities come from being mindful.

Mother’s Day – Enough!

by Ianna Raim

This creative and impactful video (forwarded to me by a client) cleverly proves that no one in his or her right mind would willingly accept the job of mom. And yet we moms do all that we do because we do. Maybe we’re genetically disposed to masochism… who knows? Being a mom is certainly not for the faint of heart. No offense to the dads out there…but I’m certain you know exactly what I’m talking about. Yes, you care, you provide, you even help out but moms do all of that with an indescribable and unparalleled sense of responsibility and hope.

My own mom just celebrated her 85th birthday last weekend with a family brunch. When she was leaving she said:  ”Ianna, if I never have another birthday, this was everything I ever wanted.” We had nothing special (unless you consider my London Broil exceptionally delicious). At her age,  my mom wasn’t game for a bounce house and a piñata. After my initial knee-jerk response: “Mom, don’t be ridiculous”…I started to think about the message behind her words: Everything is always enough.

Giving birth to your kids. Dropping them off at school safely. Consoling them when they fail a test. Scolding them for lying. Celebrating a milestone. Arguing about being responsible. Worrying when they miss curfew. Sitting by their side in the emergency room.

Sure, we want more of the easy than the hard…more of the exciting and less of the perilous, but each small moment good or bad is part of a tapestry that we do not weave…we don’t choose the size, the colors or the design. Our only choice is to find beauty in it and or not.

Do people like you?

by Ianna Raim

I recently shot a video for my upcoming 5 week telecass on getting out of a career rut (stay tuned to my blog for more information…).  Speaking into a camera, I soon discovered, was actually quite challenging…even though I give in-person presentations and workshops for a living!

When I was finally able to pinpoint it, I realized that what was throwing me off was my inability to gauge my “likeability”. In other words, it’s important in my business for people to know, like and trust me…and without the “like” part, you can’t get anywhere with the “trust” part.

I did a little research and it turns out that likeability matters more than ever in everyone’s line of work! It’s not that work is becoming like high school all over again (although a recent Gallup poll listed having a best friend at work as one of the 12 most important things for people to feel satisfied on the job)…it’s that the ability to come across as likeable is increasingly determining how bosses and co-workers treat you. Getting hired, getting help at work, getting useful information from others, and having mistakes forgiven are all impacted by how well liked you are. Last year researchers at the University of Massachusetts studied 133 managers and found that if an auditor was liked, managers tended to comply with his suggestions even if they disagreed with those suggestions and the auditor lacked supporting evidence.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. After all, my biggest take-away from business school was “70% presentation, 30% content”. Nevertheless, it seems that in the age of social media, the significance of how many likes you have (literally and figuratively) is magnified.

To Brag or not to Brag…

by Ianna Raim

I once overheard a man complain to a colleague… “It’s incredible…she has the ego of a man…” as if this were some sort of DNA defect. This comment was made more than a year ago, but I’ve never forgotten it. I’m not proud to admit that when I hear a woman toot her own horn hard and often the way I’ve become accustomed to hearing men do, I squirm a little. Why? Because as women we were taught it isn’t ladylike to brag. Bragging …” to speak with excessive and exaggerated pride”…is one thing, but self promotion which need not be excessive nor exaggerated is quite another.

I coach dozens of women who simply cannot recognize their gifts or their accomplishments.   While they are quick to promote a friend, when it comes to themselves they underestimate their talents both to themselves and to others. This modesty norm may be socially polite but it may also be poisonous to your career and your self esteem. How can you overcome the bragging block?

  1. Cost to Stay Quiet:  Ask yourself what is it costing you to stay quiet? Has someone less qualified snagged a promotion because the boss knows how well he’s doing? Don’t expect your supervisor to remember your achievements for you. Chronicle your contributions, your training, and your projects. They are easy to forget especially when were not convinced they matter!
  2. Fitting Self Promotion: Find ways to self promote that fits your style. If you’re collaborative, also give credit to the team that you assembled to get the job done…be enthusiastic and authentic about their accomplishments under your leadership. For example, “I assembled a great team and under my leadership, we hit every target we set..”
  3. Be conscious of your conversation: Women tend to vent.

Top 5 for All Successful Women

by Ianna Raim

Everyone defines success differently…but for the sake of this brief blog, let’s say that success means having and moving consistently forward toward your goals. If that’s the case, I believe that successful women do all of these things.

  1. They don’t expect perfection of themselves or others. The proverbial answer to that annoying interview question, “What are your weaknesses?” is  “Well, I guess I’m a perfectionist” as if this were some hidden strength disguised as a weakness.   Actually it’s just a weakness…plain and simple . If nothing is perfect, being a perfectionist is actually a waste of time. The biggest mistake I see women make is falling victim to the “Cinderella syndrome” …looking for the perfect fitting slipper…be it the perfect job, the perfect mate or the perfect opportunity. Successful women know they can’t do everything well all the time and they don’t beat themselves up about it.  As the sayings go (and there are a lot of sayings around this perfection plague) “Perfection is the enemy of progress” and my favorite…”Done is better than perfect.”
  2. They take risks. A close cousin to not expecting perfection is taking risks. Successful women realize that while reckless decisions don’t serve them, they also know that inertia is a powerful force to be reckoned with. Staying in status quo breeds more status quo. Be it big or small, moving beyond your comfort zone is not only essential, it’s invigorating. I try to take  Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” When you do, slowly risks begin to feel more like opportunities.
  3. They know how important alone time is. Women who move forward with their own goals know they need time and space to think in order to step into their greatness.

Bossy or Bully? Slave Driver or Leader

by Ianna Raim

Bossy is defined as prone to ordering around or domineering. While singling out young girls and labeling them as bossy when in fact they may only be exercising nascent leadership skills is unfair at best and dangerous at worst according to Cheryl Sandberg, I think we need to look at some bigger picture issues that beg a conversation.

Bossy if not monitored for both girls and boys can lead to bullying. In fact I would argue that many bosses in corporate America are indeed domineering bullies. The results are clearly less than optimal with 80% of employees disengaged at work. One of the reasons may indeed be bossy bosses who have no idea how to lead. There are certainly better ways to lead than command-and-control. I think this is the bigger conversation we need to have so that we can develop our young people in ways that they can learn to inspire and motivate themselves and others without inflicting fear or pain.

Leading is subjective. Sandberg reports that although girls outperform boys academically, by middle school they are less interested in leading.  While I don’t disagree that the world could benefit from more women in high ranking corporate positions, I think that leadership shouldn’t  be narrowly defined as leading others in some public forum. It’s when we can’t lead ourselves well that we resort to being “bossy” or domineering. Self leadership requires an awareness of how we think and feel and the messages we broadcast to ourselves and to others. Girls, and later women, who can motivate themselves to affect change…whether that takes the form of negotiating a corporate buy-out or negotiating the purchase of a new car…are leading.

Would you rather be the underdog?

by Ianna Raim

Sometimes you read a book, and while you’re reading it, you think: “This one, I’m going to remember”. That’s how I felt when I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book David and Goliath. His basic premise is this: we may cheer for the underdog because we feel his win defies all odds…but in fact there are real advantages of having disadvantages — and true disadvantages of seeming advantages.

Or, as Gladwell puts it: “We have a definition in our heads of what an advantage is — and the definition isn’t right. And what happens as a result? It means that we make mistakes. It means that we misread battles between underdogs and giants.

In his great storytelling style, the author of two other popular social psychology books The Tipping Point and Outliers, Gladwell has some pretty unusual  theories.

He challenges long held beliefs that small classrooms are better, more money is advantageous and attendance at Ivy league schools is a natural choice over lower ranked universities.

“Desirable Difficulties” is how he describes the plight of certain people with dyslexia and argues the skills many of them develop to compensate for their condition can often lead to a life of extraordinary accomplishment. He cites David Boies the super-lawyer who represented IBM against the U.S. government, the U.S. government against Microsoft, and gay marriage against California’s Proposition 8, Gary Cohn, the president of Goldman Sachs, and Brian Grazer, the Hollywood megaproducer. Similarly and most unconventionally, he proposes that losing a parent early in life can actually be an advantage referring to the work of Marvin Eisenstadt, a psychologist who did a study showing that “of the 573 eminent people for whom Eisenstadt could find reliable biographical information, a quarter had lost at least one parent before the age of 10” — and 45 percent had lost a parent before the age of 20.

I’m Not Sticking to the Plan

by Ianna Raim

We’ve all heard the expression…”Failing to plan is planning to fail.” That’s all fine and good…but what happens when our plans themselves fail? Try this philosophy on for size: ”If plan A doesn’t work, don’t worry…the alphabet has 25 other letters.”

Planning is good no doubt.  It helps us focus, assess and act. But it’s not a sure bet. And often we get discouraged because what we’re after is harder than we expected or the results aren’t what we hoped for.  Flexibility and focusing on the process rather than the outcome are equally as important as planning, and arguably more valuable in the long run.

I’ve seen many clients who would rather declare the goal impossible rather than pivot and try a different way. Whether it’s an exercise regimen or keeping to a work schedule, when things go awry, they feel awful. Stuff is always going to come up despite the best planning. You’re going to have lazy days, sick days, family days and free -wheeling days.  In fact, sticking to a plan and getting caught up in it (nose to the grindstone…whatever that means) sometimes works against us, because when we’re so focused we can miss real opportunities.

Most people fail, I’m convinced not because they lack dedication or determination, but rather because they lack the optimism that things will work out or the courage to try something new.  Plenty of people had failed plans before the big pay-off:

Stephen King’s first novel was rejected 30 times. Bill Gates’ first company, Traf-O-Data (a device which could read traffic tapes and process the data) went nowhere. Thomas Edison failed 1,000 times before creating the light bulb.

Sorry…but would you mind reading this…

by Ianna Raim

You probably don’t need me to cite hard evidence that women apologize more than men. It’s likely pretty obvious. I’m not talking about our naturally empathic  “I’m so sorry for you..that sounds awful…” I’m referring to the  The “ughhhhhh, your going to kill me “, the “please don’t hate me sorry” or the ” I’m sorry If I didn’t do the project exactly as you wanted…” These are the apologies that seem to be uniquely common to women.

It’s not that men don’t apologize. A recent study shows they do; they don’t apologize less than women because they think it will make them look weak ( which was my initial assumption…a lot of testosterone,  I figured.)  In fact, when they think they’ve  done something wrong, men apologize at the same rate as women. It’s just that they think they’ve done something wrong far less of the time.

I won’t argue the fact that women are biologically wired for harmony and nurturing. And many women apologize to keep the peace and avoid unnecessary conflict and confrontation. The problem is that sometimes confrontation, raising concerns and speaking out are exactly what’s needed.  Moreover, when women say “sorry” as automatically as we say “hello” and “goodbye,” apologizing for the smallest of things, we inadvertently undermine our own credibility and raise concerns about our contributions.

Our reflexive “sorry” may seem polite or humble but it can be quite damaging…especially in the work arena. Highlighting our inadequacies is simply counterproductive. Much of the time, our standards for our own work are so high; when we focus on the small thing that’s imperfect rather than all that’s darn good…we give permission for others to do the same.

Follow Through?!?

by Ianna Raim

The New Years naysayers who love to remind us that most won’t make it past six months before abandoning our goals, are still at it… almost two months after the Ball drop. I recently came across this hopeful article entitled: “5 Steps to Follow Through on Everything.” That promise is not much different from the diet claim: “Lose 20 pounds in 20 minutes” The thing is nobody ever believes those obviously phony get thin quick schemes. Yet follow-through and productivity is billed as something we ought be able to do.  Here’s my take: Not only do I think following through on everything is unrealistic; it’s not even desirable. I’m not suggesting that we be slackers…I’m simply suggesting that we allow for some slack. Things come up. We need to reassess; we need to pivot sometimes.

The steps:

  1. Be honest about what you want.
  2. Understand the sacrifice.
  3. Prepare for success.
  4. Give yourself deadlines.
  5. Incentivize yourself (arguably not a real word…a pet peeve of mine…the real word is motivate…) are not bad tips.

They’re just not foolproof. In fact, I think The New Year’s resolution conundrum is not so much a lack of discipline; it’s a crisis of optimism.

We abandon our goals because their achievement takes longer than we thought, or their execution is harder than we thought. Perhaps we don’t get the reward or outcome we were looking for. Maybe we declare defeat too soon.  Try with real intent the 5 steps…but if you should stumble (and you will), remember these 3 mind-altering tips to maintain your optimism:

  1. Know the going will likely get tough. If you accept these challenges as normal and you’re not surprised when they appear, you’ll be more likely to hang in there.

FAIL LOUDLY!!

By Ianna Raim

I used to be an Inc. magazine junkie…when I was younger. In fact, being featured on the cover was on my “bucket list”. However, dreams meander and finding meaning in the new path we choose or that is somehow chosen for us, is not only possible but also essential in finding happiness.

So for now, I’m content just to share some thoughts about an interesting article recently published in the magazine. It’s an article about re-invention…the joyous yet frightening process I take my clients through all the time.  The topic didn’t surprise me, of course, but the author’s identity did.  Kevin Daum’s one-time successful mortgage company that folded in 2008 was at one time an Inc. 500 company! In essence, he had made the Inc. cover and was now writing publicly about its failure…in the very same magazine that had revered him. “Failing loudly” it turns out was one of the lessons he learned.

I know people who have been in the same business for 30 and 40 years.  And indeed that’s an accomplishment worth touting.  But failure is also a badge of honor worth wearing. It sounds counter-intuitive, and for me personally, it doesn’t come naturally. Growing up I was taught never to flaunt my weaknesses…keep them secret. Sharing and even celebrating your failures not only reminds you that you are taking risks and moving forward but also allows you to hear valuable feedback to do better next time.

This entrepreneur who once had bragging rights as one of the 500 most successful small business owners didn’t learn all of this on his own. He sought out experts. He looked for help.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read

by Ianna Raim

At the beginning of last week, to ring in the new year, I received an email that read: “Amazingly, out of 300 people now reading this email, only one will reach their dream of creating a business or profession that supports them at the highest level and makes a difference.”

Like many, I’m sure, I didn’t even read past that proclamation…not because I was disheartened but rather because I was disappointed that so many “experts” still think doom and gloom is somehow motivational. I want to know about what works. I may not do all of it, but I’m more likely to give it a try if I know there’s hope.

Up there with losing weight and spending more time with family, getting a new job is one of the most ubiquitous New Year’s resolutions.  Here are some positive and not so formidable tips you can use whether you are re-launching in the workplace, in job transition or simply want to revive your current career. And since I firmly believe that character and career are intricately linked, these pointers also apply to almost any endeavor at all that involves change.

  1. Name your year. If you’ve ever chosen a baby name, you know the soul searching and second guessing involved. Why?  Because we are convinced (and some studies actually show) that a name can impact success. So why not extend that thinking to naming 2014? Each time you refer to 2014 as the “Year of career happiness” or the “Year of job decisions” you affirm that this year is different and you are more likely to take action to fulfill that prophecy.
  2. Determine your true worth.

How to make the New Year Really New

by Ianna Raim

We all like a clean slate. There is something about new beginnings that makes everything seem possible. And yet the most common resolutions…lose weight, quit smoking, save more money, and get organized…fail to materialize year after year. Why is that? I think there is a magnified focus on our “to do list” at this time of year when actually our efforts would be better spent focusing on our “to be list”. Usually our own attitudes and self -perceptions stifle our success. An uncomfortable truth. If we could just get out of our own way we would find that we don’t need an arbitrary date to motivate change. We can start right now.  Here are 5 attitudes that if adopted will most definitely affect who you are and what you’re capable of accomplishing.

 

  1. Stop the Jealousy. Happiness is not having what you want, but rather wanting what you have. We are likely unaware just how often we compare our lot to that of someone else. Her life is easier. Her husband is more successful, more compassionate, better looking. Her kids are perfect.  An easy fix is to think: “Well, at least I’m better off than so an so less fortunate or it could be worse…” The more transformational mindset is “I’ve got more than I deserve.” That’s not to say we shouldn’t strive or become complacent; it’s a mindset that reminds us that we are not owed anything. What we have–in its glorious imperfection–is truly a gift.
  2. Accept your own Approval as Enough. Being a people pleaser is hard work. Being an approval addict can be harmful to your health. Know your own values and live by them.

Go ahead. Dwell on the past!

by Ianna Raim

2014 is almost upon us and with its arrival, a year’s worth of people, places and experiences will be relegated to memory. When December rolls around, we are programmed to focus on the future contemplating our New Year’s goals and resolutions. And that’s a good thing! But what about looking back. Well, it turns out that’s a good thing too.

After a decade of research, scientists have determined that nostalgia is good for you…that it may actually make people more optimistic about the future.  That’s a far cry from when nostalgia was considered a disorder (from the Greek works nostos meaning a longing for home and algos meaning pain.) In fact, through the late 1800s, soldiers suffering from this “condition” were often pulled off duty in order to recover their sense of fighting purpose.

Recounting pleasant stories from the past or listening to music from days gone by  create feelings of social connection, increase self esteem and boost optimism. Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness and boredom.  Apparently, it makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer when they recall nostalgic memories, and advertisers of everything from toys to cars have long known the feel good effects of reminiscing.

Surely, nostalgia has its painful side too. It’s a bittersweet emotion. Memories aren’t always happy and even the joyful recollections are often mixed with a wistful sense of loss. On the whole, however, research holds that the net effect is feeling more inspired about the future. Maybe that’s why most people report experiencing nostalgia at least once a week and almost half feel it 3 or 4 times a week, and even though these walks down memory lane are often triggered by negative events, “nostalgizing” overall improves our sense of well being.

The Approval Addiction

by Ianna Raim

Everyone likes to be praised now and again. According to William James, an American psychologist and philosopher: “The deepest principle of human nature is a craving to be appreciated.” It’s no wonder that we have Teacher Appreciation Day, Secretary Appreciation Day, Boss Appreciation Day, in addition to the biggies like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. But when does the need for approval turn us into people pleasing addicts?

As women, we are especially pre-disposed to this addiction. Whether nature or nurture, women like to be liked. That’s why we have such a hard time saying “no” to our spouses, our kids, our colleagues and our bosses.  And during the holiday season, the longing for approval is especially enticing. Anticipating the cooing from relatives over your scrumptious holiday fare or acting like you’ve never received a more beautiful black and yellow striped sweater may seem harmless.  However, if you’ve been seeking approval all year round, the holiday season may seem particularly draining as your efforts to please become truly exhausting and the praise you receive feels less and less rewarding. What can you do differently this season to change that needy feeling into one of power and authenticity?

 

  1. Recognize the hold that getting approval has on you. Ironically, the more we need approval, the less it means when we get it. We may need to hear it more or with more descriptors or by more people or in more public places before we get that recognition “high”. In addition people begin to say what we want to hear because they know we need our fix. Doing the right thing as a leader, whether of your organization or of your family, gets tougher when you need everyone to like you.

Learning from Thanksgivukkah

by Ianna Raim

On Thursday, all of us will celebrate our first and last Thanksgivukkah. The holidays of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah won’t converge again for 70,000 years. I won’t be here…so I’ve given some serious thought to what the double whammy can teach us about gratitude.

The Pilgrims celebrated “Thanksgiving” after their first harvest in the New World in 1621. Over 200 years later, Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday proclaiming collective thanks for “fruitful fields…which cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”

Hanukkah celebrates spiritual rather than physical bounty. After a hard fought victory, the Jews in 2nd century BCE Syria were able to practice their faith rather than assimilate to the Greek culture. The word, Hanukkah, which means “dedication”, commemorates the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple to G-d, after it had been defiled by enemies.

In both cases, the protagonists expressed gratitude to something larger than themselves. Of course, the Pilgrims had to plant and the Maccabees had to fight, but the celebration recognizes a humble dependence on something other than self. When we’re grateful from the simple thank you (even in its most diluted form) to a heartfelt graciousness, we give credit to others for our success.

Nonetheless, this feeling of sincere gratitude to other people or higher powers has been proven by researchers to accrue some seriously selfish benefits. People who are more grateful enjoy better health, suffer less depression, and cultivate better relationships. And still, we forget to be grateful. After all, that’s why we have to celebrate Thanksgiving and Chanukah year after year…

In our hectic lives we have precious little time to slow down and truly appreciate the significance and value of things.

Steve Jobs was wrong

by Ianna Raim

Just because Steve Jobs said it doesn’t make it so. “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” I beg to differ.  As a career coach, “follow your passion” is an overused dictum that I have yet to tell a client.   I’m all for finding purpose and meaning in what we do…but buying into the pursuit of passion can make you crazy. How?

-For starters, “follow your passion” implies that you first identify your passion and then choose the job that fits your criteria. This means that if you’ve matched it up right, you’ll love your job from day one. That’s setting the bar pretty high. Moreover, passion isn’t found, it’s developed over time. When you work hard at something, you become good at it and you enjoy it more. The pay-offs for a job well done such as respect, impact, autonomy and self-confidence can indeed make you more passionate. By contrast, when something you do fails, your passion subsides. Seems logical. Passions aren’t static. They can come and go.

-Passions aren’t necessarily singular. I have clients who are so creative that they have dozens of ideas they want to pursue. It’s not the unique passion that determines success, but the efforts we put behind our choices.

-The money just might not follow.  We’ve all heard the saying: “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Really? I love to organize my closets, but that never helped me pay the bills.  Filtering your passion through business reality is neither good nor bad…it just is.

-The search for your passion can prevent you from living in the moment.

IS BUSY YOUR BADGE OF HONOR?

by Ianna Raim

I did an informal experiment. In the course of my week, I asked a handful of people, “How’s it going”. All but one person responded with some variation of “I’ve been busy….” Let’s face it. Many of us wear a busy “badge of honor”, as if our worthiness comes from continuous motion.  And when we’re not in motion, we feel lost or worse yet, guilty. So to avoid that awkward emptiness, we make ourselves more busy to the point that busy is normal. Sure, we fantasize about what it would be like to have days and days of endless down time with no meetings, no errands, no phone calls, and no appointments. But for many of us being busy has become part of our very identities, and to have quiet free time might mean we’re not important or needed or productive.

Actually, busy and productive are distant relatives at best. Among many others, one of Stephen Covey’s great legacies was his urging us to recognize the difference between “urgent” and “important”. The problem is that when we wear our busy-ness badge that shines so bright, we’re often blinded and the two become indistinguishable.

Although we may be moving a lot, being “busy” all of the time can actually prevent us from going forward. Here’s what we miss:

  1. Opportunities. When we run around in a hurry trying to get it all done, we’re often ironically unaware of opportunities that may be staring us in the face. We have little or no time to objectively think, reflect, create or experiment. And other people fail to bring us great opportunities because they don’t want to bother us…because they know we’re busy.

Why Happiness Can Make You Sick

by Ianna Raim

I’ve had another argument with my teenage daughter and I’m reminded of the study that reports people who choose not to have kids are happier than parents. As a life coach and public speaker, one of the topics I speak on is “Living a More Fulfilled Life”. I realize now that in my presentation, I freely use the words happy and meaningful interchangeably. Actually, they are very different and mostly at odds with one another.

Researcher Roy Baumeister explains that being happy is about feeling good and meaning comes from contributing to others. Happiness is about satisfying our desires and meaning is focused outwardly on others. Essentially we are happy when we get what we want.

But are we more satisfied? According to Baumeister “Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.”

Sounds pretty good to me. So what’s the big deal if someone chooses happiness over meaning? Who wants anxiety and worry when they can have unencumbered pleasure? Ironically, because happiness is an emotion that is felt in the here and now, it can easily fade away as all emotions do, so there is a need to be in constant pursuit of happiness. Meaning on the other hand is not pursued but derived over time.

In fact, Victor Frankl in his famous Man’s search for Meaning argues that happiness cannot be pursued at all; it must ensue. The very pursuit of happiness can thwart happiness. In a culture that puts so much emphasis on happiness and offers up thousands of self help books and sure fire happiness tips, why is it that so many people suffer from depression?

The Leadership Myth

Entrepreneur is a sexy word. Especially today when the idea of traditional employment  seems passé. Michael Gerber, in his best selling book that has been around for years, The E-myth, argues that entrepreneurs are not some special class of risk taking visionaries. Actually, most businesses are started by technicians who know their trade well, and who desperately want a better place to go to work. Some succeed and most fail.

I think there is a similar awe inspiring mysterious notion about leaders. “He’s a born leader” is a popular if trite phrase that sums up what most people believe…you’ve either got leadership qualities or you don’t. Qualities such as charisma, intelligence, creativity and a thirst for the limelight are personality traits that mean you innately know how to lead. Not so.

Leadership is about attitude not position or privileged DNA.

In fact, everyone is a leader. All the time.  It’s not a question of whether we are all leaders, but how well we lead. These are all examples of who leads every day:

  • A mother who wants to encourage her child to do better in school
  • A solopreneur who wants to convince people to use her consulting services.
  • A CEO who wants to inspire his employees
  • An individual who wants to motivate himself to take a new job or get out of a relationship.

If we are not born to lead but rather called upon without notice to inspire ourselves and others, how can we best assure that we are up for the task?

  • Realize that each moment describes who you are and gives you the opportunity to decide if that’s who you want to be.