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Confidence boost

How do I get women to have the courage to be bold, confident and work in their own power? It’s not by coincidence I’m asking because not only have I struggled in the past with this personally, and quite frankly, I still do in specific situations, but I manage a team of mostly women. I see women struggling with confidence and speaking their knowledge with authority. The one male on my team has no problem with confidence and speaking knowledge, yet I prefer he reigns it in at times (different post). Some goals I have for women are to be empowered to share their ideas with confidence, to stop second guessing, to step out of their comfort zone, and to speak with authority.

I propose the following strategies (in no particular order) to help women gain more confidence in the workplace and in life:

  • Do your homework- Educate yourself on the topic at hand. In my work environment, the core workforce are called subject matter experts (SMEs). SMEs learn everything there is to know about their particular program, including learning what other states do. I’ve found the more I learn about a topic, the more confident I become.
  • Practice – When I was in high school and college, I used to rehearse my presentations with other students, or solo by looking in the mirror and literally reciting my script out loud. In my line of work, these techniques haven’t gone away. I make lots of presentations and still need to rehearse, but not to the same degree as I did when I was a student. For group presentations with my team and/or others, we plan on who will say what. You might even record your voice and listen later to hear how you sound. You might want to rehearse asking for a promotion, for a job interview, and for delivering bad news.
  • Believe in yourself through positive self-talk – We all have the inner critic in our heads judging everything we do. Train your critic to be your cheerleader. It takes practice, but replace, “I can’t do this” with “I will”. I’ve trained my inner voice to be kind and it speaks to me as if I were a friend. That’s not to say the critic doesn’t come out every so often, but I work hard to make my cheerleader my main voice.
  • Make time to do things you enjoy – my love of exercise and Zumba fitness, on the surface doesn’t appear to impact my job, but the energy, calm, and joy I draw from these activities, spill into other areas of my life. In fact, becoming a Zumba fitness instructor, and the act of dancing in front of others has boosted my confidence in ways I couldn’t have imagined. That boldness has helped me in my current leadership role, which leads to the next strategy.
  • Set goals for yourself – As you accomplish your goals, you’ll develop more confidence. I had the goal of completing the training to be a Zumba fitness instructor for my 40th birthday. That was five years ago. I also had goals of earning advanced degrees, losing weight, spending more time with my family, etc. The more goals you accomplish, the more your confidence increases. Keep setting new goals.
  • Just do it – This Nike slogan has been one of my favorite mantras. Sometimes, you’ve just got to put yourself out there and “do the darn thing”. It won’t be perfect. It may not be as rehearsed as you would have liked, but put yourself out there. Take a chance. We only live once. I work in a fast-paced environment where we often sacrifice 100% quality for getting it done and out the door. If perfection is holding you back, let it go because nothing is perfect. I, myself, am a “recovering perfectionist”.
  • Channel all parts of you – I’m a parent, wife, daughter, sister, friend, aunt, cousin, niece, manager, mentor, exercise enthusiast, cook, reader, etc. As a parent, I’m used to raising my children, being nurturing/loving, setting boundaries, and teaching and directing them. Parenting is hard, but I’m confident that I’m raising my kids the best I can. I channel the parenting part of me in my role at work. I’m confident in my relationship with God and His purpose for my life, which I channel in my work. The confidence I’ve developed in the various parts of my life adds to my overall confidence bucket and greatly impacts how I demonstrate my confidence to the world.

My assumption in writing this post is that women are working in environments where they are expected to share ideas and contribute knowledge which will ultimately impact an agency’s bottom line. In my line of work, it’s getting citizens the help they need.

Please feel free to share your challenges and successes with building confidence.

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I’m a bad ass

Yesterday, I was reminded that I really am a bad ass. Listen, my normal stance is that of humility, grace, and gratefulness. However, sometimes, it’s healthy to stop and appreciate how awesome you actually are. Three things happened that made me pause. Here we go.

I held an interview for one of my vacant positions, and the applicant, a doctoral student, went above and beyond in selling herself. At one point, she revealed that she did research on us, the interviewers, and was shocked to learn she’d be interviewed by two black women. Not to mention, my colleague has a PHd and I’m a licensed social worker. Come to think of it, I hadn’t had the experience either. To blow her mind further, we pointed out two of our key executive leadership positions were also held by black women. This is not typical. It is a blessing to have these women as role models. To think, I am a member of our leadership structure is amazing and humbles me.

The 2nd time I was reminded that I’m a badass was when I was chatting with my team member and shared my story of being a whistleblower at two different organizations. These cases involved how staff were being mistreated and disenfranchised. Early on in my pursuit of social work, I felt strongly that I was an agent of change, which is what social workers prescribe to: we are CHANGE AGENTS. I won’t go into detail about those situations, but it does take a lot of courage to do what I did. I was reminded I take being an advocate for whoever the population (mental health clients, homeless, coworkers, agency staff, my husband, my kids, myself) very seriously and I’ve witnessed positive results in most cases.

The 3rd reminder of my bad ass-ness occurred when I ended the day with notifying my team member I was promoting her. She interviewed well and demonstrated she has the “chops”. She deserved this news on a Friday afternoon, so she could smile about it all weekend. She was so excited, though, she tried to play it calm. I was excited for her. I told her she could let me know by Monday, or sooner. First, she said she’ll think about it. Then, she said she was likely going to say “yes”, but wanted to think about it over the weekend. Within the hour of her leaving the office, she texted me “yes”.

I suppose this last example is more about someone getting rewarded for their bad ass-ness, but I certainly felt bad ass by being in the position to offer the opportunity.

The “light” lesson for the weekend is to appreciate and OWN your bad ass-ness. Live in your element, in your authentic way, and you will sparkle and shine as only you can.

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Work-Life

This week was rough physically, mentally, financially, and emotionally. It was full of obstacles, temptations, stress, productivity, high points, low points and everything in between. I suppose it’s called my LIFE.

On Tuesday, I was running late for a meeting offsite and had a bad fall in the parking garage that resulted in huge knots on my foot and elbow. It was an interesting fall because I missed the final step going down the stairs. The way I landed…almost in a yoga, cross legged pose, made it difficult for me to get up and caused me to twist my foot. Everything is still sore including my hips and knees. I had a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon, but it was with my oncologist. He doesn’t treat falls, but did tell me I’m healthy. And you know what…they didn’t even ask me to speak at that meeting. Really?

I’ve been attempting to embark on a weight loss journey (10 pounds), but there were food temptations this week such as the ice cream social we held on Wednesday in honor of our administrative professional staff. I did partake of ice cream because I don’t believe in being overly restrictive, but me and sugar have a love thing going on. I do want to limit my sugar intake, particularly as part of my cancer recovery. We have a lot of ice cream remaining, so…well, I also partook on Thursday and Friday. I didn’t know Blue Bell has a “banana pudding” flavor. Additionally, my general work stress and busyness from a week jam packed with meetings and interviews didn’t allow me time to log my food at all and I had been doing so well with this new habit. I did bring my healthy breakfast and lunch daily. A few of us also signed up for our agency’s weight loss challenge, which starts on May 4.

I wore my social work advocacy hat to address some issues I observed with my husband’s clinical team. I politely gave them a piece of my mind. They were very responsive and addressed my concerns. I also participated in my husband’s intake for his neuropsyche exam. It was emotional for him. Unlike other weeks, dealing with his medical stuff was interwoven in my schedule daily. It did add a bit of extra stress.

We’re on one income (mine), for the time being, and I get paid once a month. Despite my good salary, money is tight, but all bills are paid. For the first time in my life, I actually bought generic maxi pads because, you know, I need them. And you know what…I didn’t have an accident. The world didn’t end. I don’t know why I even made a big deal about it. The decision was actually easy when I considered my funds.

My son was sick a couple of days. There’s pressure because he’s behind on a couple of classes. We need him to pass his classes for obvious reasons. It’s a chore getting that boy to see the benefit of education. Perhaps the mission trip we’re planning to Haiti will open his eyes.

All in all, it was another productive week for the history books. I’m glad to be in recovery mode. I will spend the weekend resting and recharging, which is what I encourage my team to do. I’m also about to get my exercise on. Work-life balance. You’ve got to work on it.

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Hospital chronicles

This is Day 6 of visiting my hubby, Bryan, in the hospital. In his hand is a thermos of homemade chicken tortilla soup prepared by yours truly…me. If God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, He must think awefully high of me.  Not to mention, my son has been battling some kind of illness that I’m diagnosing as a combination of asthma, allergies, and a cold. I thought I was going to have a stress-free, cozy Christmas break with my family and add in some time to myself to think about my mom. Nope.

It turns out that Bryan needs inpatient physical, occupational, and cognitive therapy and will likely be here for another 2 weeks.  I’ve accepted it because it’s not in my control. However, I’m frustrated because I have been communicating my obervations to his doctor for months now. As a social worker, I understand how the system works, so I am thankful that I can advocate on his behalf. The hospital believes he needs to be here and I can see he does too. I want him to be safe and as close to his optimal level of functioning as he can be prior to discharge.  Naturally, Bryan wants to come home.

I don’t want this experience to dampen my outlook on 2018, but I’m not going to lie, I’m in a funk.  Bryan wants to be home. I want him to be home. Our kids miss him and he misses them. I miss him in our bed. He wants to sleep in his bed. It sucks to drive out here everyday. I’m exhausted spending half my day at the hospital, then going home to attend to the kids. I feel bad that my son has been sick. I feel bad because I’m spending so much time away, but I also feel bad about how lonely it must feel for Bryan to be in a hospital over the holidays. I feel bad that my kids have spent part of their holiday in a hospital. I feel bad about Bryan’s condition. He has a long road of recovery ahead.

Despite my moaning, there have been some bright spots and moments of grace throughout this ordeal.

  1. As the paramedics transferred Bryan from the chair to the gurnee while outside our home, a lady from my old church passed by, stopped and said a prayer for Bryan.
  2. We have health insurance. 
  3. The hospital ER neurosurgeon told me that Bryan’s doctor should have listened to me. 
  4. The hospital staff have been attentive and professional. 
  5. I didn’t get a speeding ticket after being pulled over on Day 3. I told the officer why I was speeding and he gave me a warning instead of a ticket.
  6. My prayer warriors have been praying for us.
  7. My friend treated my daughter and I to some pampering with a mani/pedi.
  8. Traffic has been light due to most people being off work for the holiday break, so the commute hasn’t been so bad despite the distance.
  9. My leadership at work have been understanding.
  10. WE HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE.

I’ve gotten a lot of calls and I’m not in the mood to talk. I haven’t been in the mood to write either, but I can’t stay away from what comes natural. Writing is therapeutic. I do have faith things will get better.  My current strategy is to take things day by day.


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Mom Chronicles

I’ve had some busy days at work lately. Thank God for my husband who has always helped with the kids. However, as a working mom, I feel like I’m constantly juggling two worlds – work and family. My busy life doesn’t stop me from enjoying the little ironies that pop up and give me a good chuckle every now and then. I hope to capture these moments in my “mom chronicles” series.

A couple of weeks ago, towards the end of a stressful day at work, I received a text at 5:05 pm on a Thursday from my teenage son with an unexpected request. He asked me to pick up some…underwear. Huh? He proceeded to type he needed baby powder because his current underwear caused chaffing and he thinks the dryer shrunk all of his underwear. Son, you don’t have not one pair that’ll get you through tomorrow…Friday? The backstory of the dryer is it’s so old it takes forever to dry. Not only that, it makes loud noises when it’s on and it stops intermittently on its own during the cycle – could be up to 10 times or more.  We purchased it brand new, but damaged from Sam’s Club about 10 years ago. It only made a slight noise at the time, but now it’s on its last leg and the noise sounds like we have our very own train depot in the house. A new dryer has been on our list for over a month, but with my husband’s new work schedule, we haven’t made it to shopping around.

I returned a call to one of my colleagues on my way to the department store that evening and received some disappointing news I would have to address with a member on my team.  We talked for a little while I sat parked in front of the store. The conversation was tense. It was dark outside by then. I ended the call telling her about the text from my son and how my daughter wanted me to also search for “suspenders” for her Halloween costume (a nerd) since I would be buying my son’s underwear anyway. We both had a good laugh. 

Here’s the thing: I’m thankful I had that story to tell. I’m thankful my kids balance me and put things in perspective. I’m thankful I have kids to shop for.  I’m thankful my kids add to my character. I even believe they give me an extra edge. They make me do what I do even better. So for all the frustrations and disappointments we experience in life, don’t lose sight of what’s important.

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Who’s your mentor?

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post simply because a lot has been going on in my life lately. As my primary care doctor said Friday while wrapping up my appointment, “You’ve experienced a lot this past year.” There was a pronounced pause, and as I contemplated what she said, my eyes welled up and I felt my lips curve sideways slightly…Yup, I sure have. That conversation is material for a different blog post, but for this one, I want to write about mentorship as I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while.  I’m at a point in my career where I have mentors and the experience has proven to be invaluable.

A few months back, I wrote that I received a promotion which was a big deal. With that promotion, I was assigned a mentor, who was on the interview panel.  Before I knew that he would be my mentor, we chatted briefly prior to the interview and I got a good vibe from him instantly.  Since then, we’ve been meeting for lunch and phone and connect through email.  I’ve been determined to absorb as much as I can, which is why I think I’ve been open to the mentoring experience.

I also have mentors outside of my agency and of different disciplines, backgrounds, ages, sex and race. I think it’s important to get different perspectives.  However, I will write a different blog post on how to handle it if one of your mentors provides advice you perceive to be off base (stay tuned) . As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more comfortable with being vulnerable and there are few things more vulnerable than admitting that you don’t know something. I’ve learned the temporary discomfort of vulnerability leads to growth. Therefore, I’m more willing to reach out for help and use my resources.  I’m willing to hear constructive feedback and use it to make myself better.

From my experience, there are many benefits to working with a mentor such as knowing that someone supports me, having someone to listen to my concerns and answers my questions without judgement, and having someone to provide guidance.

Support

Knowing that I have another person in my corner is a great feeling.   I’ve always had people who have supported me, but this is different. A mentor is devoting their time because they want me to succeed. Depending on the work climate, people may support you until it conflicts with their own interests. Because my mentor does not work in my area, I don’t think he has anything to lose by supporting me.  I also have a mentor who is retired and I regard one of my dear friends as a mentor.  Again, neither have any dealings with my agency, so their support is unconditional.

I make it a point to keep in communication with my mentors as often as I can, especially when I’m not feeling confident.  When you have support resources available to you, use them.

Listen to Concerns and Answer Questions

It’s important for me to be able to share my concerns with someone who will not judge me.  I already have issues with trust in the workplace based on plenty of hard lessons learned.  Trusting my mentors will not judge me is an act of vulnerability.  I focus on the benefit of me sharing the information and I trust my judgement that they are trustworthy. 

If trust is an issue for you, it is a good idea to assess if the person you want to mentor you is a good fit for you. Do you trust their judgment? Will they support you? Are they interested in your success? How are they perceived by others (i.e., what is their reputation)? 

I’ve gotten some valuable feedback and ideas that I haven’t thought of myself by sharing my concerns with mentors I trust.  It has also been game changing for me to be able to ask specific questions without worrying I’ll be judged for not knowing something.

Guidance

In order to accept guidance, you need to be willing to hear constructive feedback and be open to incorporate different perspectives into your life.  I have to leave my ego at the door for this.  Since I’m focused on advancing in my career, I am open to following the guidance offered by my mentors.  For complex situations, which I have a few, I listen to the different perspectives of my mentors and then make a decision. This has not always been easy, however, they’ve provided me with great guidance.

I can’t write enough about how life changing it has been to work with mentors. For career growth (or any other areas of growth), it is definitely worth it to reach out to people who are where you want to be. It doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement, although some agencies do have these. It starts with developing relationships and expressing interest in others.  Striking conversations about non-work related activities, inviting them out to lunch or coffee/tea, asking questions about their area of expertise…these are a few ways to start building relationships to get you closer to your mentor.

 

 

 

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A week in the life

It’s been a week! It started last Sunday with me at the airport for my monthly business trip and ended on Saturday (yesterday) with an unexpected job opportunity that stirred up lingering insecurities that are difficult to shake. Confidence and doubt. Courage and fear. Bold and reticent. Extrovert and introvert. It is possible to live with conflicting traits. I’m a living testimony. At the end of the day, I have nothing to lose…or do I? There is a beginning, middle and end to my story, but I’ll stick with 2 out of 3 since it’s Sunday and I’m a little tired. Here it goes.

The Beginning

Towards the end to my flight to Lubbock, Texas last Sunday, there was a ridiculous amount of turbulence. Turbulence to the point where I didn’t know if I needed the barf bag or a toilet because my stomach was doing somersaults.

This is bad. As a side note, I had actually typed “summer saults”, then changed it to “summer salts” because I forgot how to spell the word “somersault”. I knew it was wrong, but couldn’t remember so I looked it up. I’ve had recent conversations with people about the phenomenon of losing our ability to spell. I blame the constant reliance computers. Are we the only ones?

I occasionally glanced at my neighbor and we made exchanges about the turbulence, but then after a while, I noticed that she was staring at me rather intently…too intently for my comfort. She asked me if I lived in Lubbock, and before I knew it, I learned that she was a clinical social work therapist in private practice, working with the elderly and that she was returning from visiting one of her 7 kids in Austin. I’m usually hesitant about telling strangers my state business in Lubbock. However, as a fellow social worker, I gave her a vague snippet. I won’t talk about it here either, but for the record, it’s official state business and it’s not really in Lubbock. Lubbock is just the biggest city to fly in.

That Sunday, I wasn’t in the mood for small talk because I was somewhat sad about leaving my family on a Sunday and was prepping my mind for Monday’s meeting. However, I usually end up caught in random conversations because I’ve accepted the fact that folks in Texas are chatty and I think I have one of those faces that say, “You can tell me anything…I’ll listen”. She might have noticed that I was reading a book about difficult conversations. If I remember, I will come back to cite it later, but I believe the author’s name is Harrier Lerner, a psychotherapist, and it’s one of the “Dance with…” books. (UPDATE: Harriet Lerner, PhD, The Dance of Connection). Her first one was called the “The Dance of Anger”. I have that one too. I learned about her through social worker and researcher Brene Brown’s references.

My flight neighbor and I had a nice conversation, exchanged business cards, and despite her offer to call me whenever I’m in town, I knew that was the end of that exchange. Unless, I see her next month. I’m from Chicago, I come from a long line of suspicious people, so I’ll leave that at that. But seriously, I’ll keep her card just in case.

I spent part of Sunday night shopping for some healthy snacks/foods while away from home and prepping for my Monday meeting. The visit went well. I always feel better when I prepare. I pray that I am relaxed, professional, and myself. I channel my higher self and then everything else goes smoothly. I’m sharing this because on these trips, I’m sure that it would be preferred that I not be there. However, I am there representing the state, the agency that allocated funds to this entity to provide a service, so my hosts tend to be attentive and on their best behavior.

The End (of the week)

Yesterday, I was presented with an opportunity that I had not expected. It would mean a great amount of responsibility at work and I know that there are people who have their doubts about me. However, there are also people in high places that think highly of me. My insecurities bubbled up. Never mind, what they think of me…do I think I can do it? This is what I’m faced with. I can’t go into detail now, but I decided that now is as best a time as ever to have faith in myself. I’ve been making moves already. I simply need to decide. I activated my personal prayer warriors…people who I know will pray for me and I asked them to pray for me about this particular thing. I really want to and need to hear God on this. It’s not about the money although that definitely helps. If I am still in consideration for this opportunity, I’m going to give it my best shot. I deserve to do this for myself. Confidence and doubt. Courage and Fear. Bold and reticent. Extrovert and introvert. I have all of these traits. Some of them can be euphoric, and others downright painful, but I still move forward. It’s about growth.