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Next level thinking

When you desire to go to the next level in life (work, relationship, growth), you don’t play around. You do what you need to do to make yourself better. That’s where I’m at now.  I put my pride in a timeout. I put my shortcomings in a timeout.  I’m doing things I’ve never done before or thought were options for me.   

I was in a sticky situation at work this week. Navigating relationships with professionals on different levels within an agency can be tricky sometimes.  I recognized that I needed ideas beyond my own to help me through the situation. I quickly enlisted the help of my mentor.  In the past, I’ve rationalized that I have a master’s degree, so if I have a problem with an agency, I can find another job. In graduate school, one of my professors actually told me when a job stops being fun, then it’s time to move on. At the time, her advise saved me because I was absolutely miserable at my current job. After about 7 years of employment, it hadn’t occurred to me to search for a new job. That evening, I applied for a couple of jobs, and by the next month, I was employed at a different agency.

I went through a honeymoon phase of about a year with the new agency until I noticed some problems unfolding.  After a few years, I sought employment elsewhere.  I was out of that new agency in 6 months.  My professor was right, when it’s no longer fun, look for another job. However, it may not be solving the problem.  There may be evidence that supports the days of employees working at jobs for 20-40 years are gone. In American society today, depending on the occupation and geographic location, it’s normal to switch jobs every few years, especially in the social work field. I believed this to be my destiny.

What I’ve learned is that every agency has its own unique culture, politics, and you’re thinking it…PROBLEMS.  However, another common denominator, if I’m moving through these different agencies every few years, is me. It just so happens the same theme does emerge.  I get frustrated with people who have strong personalities and/or exhibit unchecked, bad behavior.  I eventually give up.  I believe I’ve lost some opportunities because of quitting too soon. Some people won’t blame me for quitting.  I listened to an audio book this spring by John Acuff called Quitter. (When I figure out how to do it from my phone, I’ll paste the hyperlink to the book.)  I was attracted to this book because I was convinced my destiny was to become self-employed because I was no longer feeling the fire at work. At some point, I may become self-employed, but the point I want to make here is the author gave me a different perspective on how I view my job.  I gained a whole new appreciation for the opportunities that I could create for myself.  I was promoted a few months later. 

Imagine this: Today, I’m confronted with the same situation as I’ve had several times in years past. God is and has been telling me to deal with this issue. This is David and Goliath. This is a matter of me standing up for myself as the dynamic professional that I am.  This is a matter of me not walking away from what God has in store for me. This is a matter of me making a change, so that I can be the change.  And I will do it in a smart and strategic way, but not alone.

When you see a problem, enlist the help of people you trust to help you through it. Especially seek out people who know more than you and who have been there. Common themes in my posts are that it takes vulnerability and courage, but how badly do you want a different result? This is next level thinking.

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Weekend Warrior

There used to be a show on cable called Weekend Warriors where people would spend their whole weekend on an adventure to complete a major renovation project. The work was labor intensive (i.e., installing new landscaping, kitchen renovation, replacing floors), but the result was worth the blood, sweat and tears (often literally).  As I juggle being a wife, mom, employee, manager, sister, friend, etc., I realize that unlike Weekend Warriors, I spend my weekends trying to cram a MULTITUDE of projects into two days. Something has got to give, even though I get satisfaction from crossing projects off of my mental list.

There is a part of me that is deeply satisfied with a clean and organized home.  A couple of weekends ago, I had my husband take the big dining room light down, which he hates doing because it’s not easy to maneuver. I’ve been asking him for over a year. He doesn’t think it’s been that long. I think it’s more than likely been two years.  After he finally took it down, in about 10 minutes, I had that sucker sparkling like new.  One weekend, I completely organized the garage. Another, I cleaned all of my spice jars. Another weekend, I reorganized the freezers. This weekend, I dusted the walls in my bedroom (unbelievable how the dust piles up), did some major vacuuming, and folded all clothes that came out of the dryer (mostly my kids).

I see no problem with this if I didn’t have other things on my activity list such as exercising, hanging out with my friends, cooking, meal prepping, going to church, doing work from the office, and catching up on phone calls with family and friends. Sometimes, I am filled with anxiety due to my extensive Weekend Warrior “to do” list. It’s like I’m running a marathon to do all of my favorite self-care activities (work from the office is not one of my self-care activities).

I think deep down (probably not so deep) lies a woman within me that is holding her household together by shouldering most of the work, partly out of control, partly out of perceived necessity, and partly for my sanity.  I’ve worked the whole time I’ve had kids, but there is a part of me that regrets going back to work after I had my daughter.  My husband and I talked about how much we struggled with paying child care and all of our other bills, but we were both scared of the unknown – living off one paycheck. Looking back, we both agree that we should have taken the chance. However, had I stayed home for let’s say, some years, I would have delayed getting my master’s degree, being able to contribute significantly to our finances, and meeting colleagues I’ve grown fond of over the years.  Had I stayed home, my house would probably be as sanitary as a hospital room and I’m sure there would have been other pluses like more involvement in my kids’ schools and lives. Either way, I’m not mourning my decision. I believe I would’ve have gotten to where I am now eventually.

There’s a lot at play here.  I told my husband on more than one occasion that I am not a housewife. I’m literally a boss in the working world. I complained about coming home to shoulder most of the housework, yet a part of me enjoys it. Like most marriages, we tend to re-evaluate our roles every so often and the conclusion is that this isn’t the 1950’s. Still it can be difficult to totally relinquish those cultural expectations.

Here’s the thing. The ritual of cleaning is soothing to me.  I get great satisfaction out of living in a clean space. And I have relaxed my standards a great deal since having kids. They do have their assigned chores also. My husband does load the dishwasher, takes out the trash, mows the lawn, among other things.  We all contribute, but I have the gift of identifying the odd projects that no one else thinks about. After all, my husband could care less about the dust on the ceiling fan…until I show him how caked up it is.  I am a Weekend Warrior, but when I end the weekend exhausted from my escapades, then that’s a problem.

This weekend, I got to soak in the tub two days in a row, I gave myself a mani-pedi, and did my hair. It wasn’t all Weekend Warrior, but I’m so happy I dusted my walls.  I suppose that’s my balance.

Surely, someone else knows my struggle. If you do, I would love to hear how you handle it. Please share.

 

 

 

 

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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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I need a change

Do you ever feel like something needs to change in your life, but you don’t know what? I’m at that place. I’m not sure if it’s my job or my perspective, neither or both, but I’ve been searching for something lately. One minute, I think, “Just ride this wave…things are good and smooth!” Then another minute, I think, “I need something new in my life. I need to SHAKE things up!” I’ve been praying about it too. Whatever the case, I made a move today that may set the wheels in motion to shake things up. The truth is that it’s not like me to remain still.

I’ve been thinking about giving back to my social work community and becoming a field instructor after all these years (really only 5 since I got my license). That means that I would supervise a student (preferably graduate level) at my agency for the duration of their internship. I work at the macro level, meaning I work with organizations and systems rather than with individuals and families. When I worked in direct practice (micro level) in the mental health field, there was never a dull moment because clients kept it interesting. By working in program development/implementation and public policy, things can get boring and monotonous. However, I do not miss the thought of having a caseload. My ideal mix would be to work in administration, yet be close enough to clients to see progress. I get a little bit of that in my current role.

I read some information and sent a few emails, which perked me up (not that I was down). I also ended up committing myself to some extra work to the tune of developing a curriculum. We’ll see how that goes…if it goes at all…I have some questions out.

I’m curious to know how you manage those moments of wanting a change, but not being sure of what that entails? Feel free to drop a line. I’ll keep posted on my endeavors.

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Confidence, humility and ego

This week will go down in the record book as a memorable work week. I was debating a bit on the adjective that best describes it, and “good” didn’t quite cut it.  It was “memorable” because I received such a wonderful compliment on Wednesday that it had me floating through Friday.  I’m hesitant to type that my week was “fabulous” or “fantastic” because the work highs come far less often than the lows and I don’t want to let it blindside me. In my work environment, I often have to balance confidence, humility and ego.

In last week’s post,  I mentioned a presentation I made that went over fairly well at a meeting with some very important people from agencies that are very important to my agency.  What I didn’t know, but was told on Wednesday, was that during my presentation, one of the very important attendees, sent a text to my director (WHAT!) indicating how thrilled he was with the information I was presenting.  Another executive director told my director that she was so proud of me because I presented the information in a way that the stakeholders, who were not as familiar with the topic, could understand and get this…on top of that, she was so proud of me because I am a social worker like her.  I say, “What!” That tidbit about getting those stakeholders to understand is important because they are decision makers that have a lot of influence.  The other tidbit about being a social worker put a smile on my heart.  I could end this blog right here, but as you’ve guessed, I will continue.  My director came over and shook my hand after telling me this.  I was beaming from ear to ear.

Although I work in public policy and not in direct practice, I am fortunate to work in an environment where mostly (but not entirely) counselors, social workers, psychiatrists, and psychologists are leading the work of mental health public policy in my division. Creating systems change to ensure that resources are adequately and effectively delivered to citizens in entities such as state government is difficult, but we take a stab at it everyday.

I am privileged to work with some very smart, educated people who have no qualms about sharing their knowledge.  I’ve learned so much from them. However, on occasion, the “sharing” can feel downright, overbearing, self-righteous and egocentric. What I’ve learned is that I (you) can’t be intimidated when working with smart people (or perceived smart people or anybody else for that matter).  You have to use your voice.  I’ve definitely seen egos flying around the office, and let’s face it, we were hired because of our knowledge. Ironically for me, most of the staff, including myself, are identified as Subject Matter Experts (SMEs- yes, we have an acronym) and we are required to collaborate on a host of things to make decisions that affect citizens. However, having the type of negative attitude I noted above is off-putting and unproductive.  I believe there is a way to operate without resorting to that.

I sometimes find myself on this thin line of balancing confidence, humility and ego.  I lean towards the belief that the work (whether hard work or lack thereof) you do and the integrity you demonstrate will speak for itself.  I’ve since come to realize that in some environments, that is simply not enough. I value humility, have integrity, and don’t like to compete with people (only myself). However, sometimes, you do have to “toot your own horn” and give yourself credit, especially if you want to advance.  Despite what you think, directors, managers and/or your colleagues, may not even notice all that you’re doing.  Those who are in competition with you for advanced positions will usually not speak on your behalf.  What is at stake is higher pay and possibly more prestige, which most people want for themselves.

The reality of many agencies (I’ve worked at private, nonprofit and governmental agencies) is that higher positions are few and far between which causes workers to feel pressure to stand out, and possibly (and I’m not implying “likely”), do unethical things to advance.  When I describe work situations to my good friend who’s employed in the corporate world, she says it sounds pretty “cut throat”, and at times, she is right. I won’t even go into the politics either.  The professions that I mentioned above are all required to abide by a set of ethical standards, but they are not immune from this type of pressure. It’s the scarcity of resources factor that many learn about in social science classes like sociology that drives this behavior.  Whatever the case, I don’t think it’s an excuse to compromise integrity and behave badly.

I’ve managed to balance confidence and humility without compromise, while still being recognized for my work ethic.  At the end of the day, I had to hone in on using my voice to shine the spotlight on myself at times, so how did I do that?  I’ve spent some time thinking about my accomplishments, strengths, weaknesses, and goals. My “thinking” includes journaling, planning, and visualizing where I see myself. I ensure that I have a thorough understanding of what I’m expected to know, which means I do research and study.  I read all the time and when I’m not reading for work, I’m reading for personal growth or leisure.  I usually practice speaking about myself before interviews, presentations or other venues, but I find that the more comfortable and familiar I’ve become in my current role, that I don’t need to do that so much before presentations and other meetings.  I strive to be authentic, which makes it more comfortable.  To this day, it is not natural for me to go into a soliloquy (slight exaggeration) on the highlights of my resume upon first meeting someone, so I have to work at it.   I know I’m not alone in this.  There are cultural, social, psychological, and other factors that come into play as well.

At the end of the day, I do think it’s possible to be both confident and humble. On one hand, I don’t want to come off as a “know it all” (with the attitude), but I want people to know that I am adept at doing what I do. Truth be told, I don’t ever want to think too highly of myself that I stop learning.  I view the people I know, who do think they know it all, as very sad.  They become stagnant and I worry about becoming stagnant.  And as much as I love compliments because it serves as validation to a degree, I don’t want compliments to fuel my motivation or cloud my thinking.  I want to be clear and grounded so that I can keep producing quality work.

I’m thankful that I’m starting to see some fruits from my labor and that I received some recognition for it.  I admit it feels great, but it doesn’t end here.

I hope that this information encourages you to discover new things about yourself and use your voice.