Tag Archive for professionalism

Assessing Your Professional Identity

Years ago a client asked me, “How will I know when I am SOMEBODY?” It was such a well-phrased and poignant question.  It emanated from a place of pain and struggle for her.  It was clear she was not alone, as many of my clients expressed similar dilemmas.  In fact, it is just part of the human condition.  You want to know that you matter.  If you think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow about human motivation, that quest is identified as Self-actualization.  If you are unfamiliar with Maslow’s work, check this out: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  It was such a compelling question that I created a workshop entitled “Kick Up Your Self-Esteem:  How Do You Know When You Are Somebody?” ™

My actual answer to my client was, “You won’t know if you are SOMEBODY unless you do two things: 1) Identify success for yourself and 2) Pay rapt attention to your progress.  What does being a professional mean to you?  Your definition of success will likely change over time.  Your goal as you entered the workforce will probably be quite different from your goal now if you have been in the workplace 5, 10, 20 plus years.  This is YOUR goal, not one that your boss or employer identifies for you.  If you are a business owner, it’s not necessarily what your professional association or industry considers successful.  This is all about YOU!  Plus, life is busy, your career is busy and you likely have made strides but they have gotten lost in the busy. 

For decades I have done a process at the beginning of every year to reevaluate the age old question, “Who am I?”  This is a process that I recommend to all of my clients.  This is a pause, a time for self-assessment, for reflection.  I do not have a gambling bone in my body but I’d still bet you will surprise yourself with this endeavor.  What you will be doing is writing, at the beginning of the year, a statement of who you are as a professional.  If you have never done this before it may seem daunting.  Take a deep breathe and relax, you will not be graded.  This is not about right or wrong.  You don’t have to show it to a darned soul.  This is an opportunity for you to acknowledge, celebrate, revise, and revamp.  It’s a great time to look at the gap.  Huh?  What gap?  Take an assessment of who you see yourself to be today and compare it to who you really want to be. 

Reinvention is possible!  I dedicate this article to my Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority Big Sister, Kathleen Clarkson Frey.  On February 20, 2020, after a brief stay in Hospice, she transitioned out of this life as we know it.  I watched Kathy reinvent herself as a young woman in an extraordinary way.  What a role model of possibility she was for me.  Can you reconfirm or reinvent yourself?  Yes you can!  Need more help?  Please read Kay’s Corner for some action steps.  If you would like some professional guidance, please call me at 513-561-4288 or email me at Kay@highheeledsuccess.com.  It just so happens, that’s what I do for a living.

Create a Different Filter for Workplace Interactions

If you’re someone who Is easily put-off, feels you’re being criticized, overwhelmed or picked-on at work, maybe it’s time for you to learn how to not take things so personally in the workplace.  To be blunt, it’s time to grow a thicker skin and grow up!  Put your big girl pants on!

I’ve seen this issue surface with coaching clients many times, and once you realize how to have a thicker skin, the benefits are huge.  When you can be pragmatic and less emotional, you will be seen as more of a professional, as someone who is tougher in the workplace and capable of playing with the big dogs.

A certain toughness will make you less vulnerable to the constant changes that can simply be part of everyday office politics and workplace changes.  For example, if you’re used to doing a project a certain way and parameters change, there’s less stress on you as the individual if you can roll with the changes.

Taking things too personally also takes a toll on your productivity.  For example, you are more creative and productive when you take things less personally.  The reality is, it takes mental and sometimes physical energy just to get through the day when you take things too personally.

And, the risks are too great, when you outwardly display your inability to put your big girl pants on.  When you respond to perceived slights and show that you’ve taken something personally, you’re seen as someone who is defensive at best and worst case, you’re perceived as a whiner.  Unfortunately, you can be seen as someone who is not willing and ready to grow in your professional development.

Bottom line, you live in intense fear and stress, maybe to the point of paranoia, when you take things personally in the workplace.  To help you learn how to deflect these unnecessary and sometimes harmful reactions in the workplace, remember some of these important realizations in your everyday dealings at work:

  • People want what they want and you may be an obstacle to what they want — this is not about you, you may simply be getting in the way
  • Workplace is the business of business and getting a good result — if you’re there to do a job and you’re not performing or producing, you’re obstructing business
  • It’s everywhere — you’re not going to move to a new position, a new job, a new state, a new country and find a place that’s different

When taking things personally, a common first instinct is to get a new job.  You need to manage that response and simply learn to own your behaviors and take things less personally.  I’m here to tell you this isn’t easy — we are who we are, flawed and growing all the time.

For example, I had a coaching client come to me, because she felt persecuted at work.  She reported crying about everything and left in tears every day.  One of the first things she said was, “I’m constantly being criticized by my boss.”  Her issues showed up right away in her interactions with me, making this criticism seem justified.

Unfortunately, she was late for coaching calls and didn’t complete her assessments.  She would agree to everything I suggested, then she didn’t have it done.  These were the exact same things she was hearing from her boss.  She was always late, didn’t get work done, and always had an excuse.  Yes, she would always agree and say, “Yes, I can get that done.”

When we uncovered what was happening, I think it was one of the longest pregnant pauses I’ve ever experienced.  She said, “You’re right, I’m taking things personally because these are personal problems.”  So, if this is you or you have some growing up to do, you’re not a bad person, just put your big girl pants on and move on!

Look at everything from a very pragmatic, business perspective.  Ask yourself, what will it take to do this?  If you’re making errors, do you need to slow down?  Maybe you need more technical skills to sharpen your performance.  Maybe there are areas where you actually need to say, okay fine, take the next step and don’t think about it too much.  Sometimes, it simply is what it is.

If you are struggling to have a more professional focus at work and know you need to take challenges less personally, coaching may be your answer.  Call Kay at 513-561-4288 or email kay@highheeledsuccess.com.

Creating Laser Focus

March is Women’s History Month, and a good time to think about the historic imprint you will leave on those around you.  What kind of legacy are you leaving behind for the women in your life; daughters, nieces, co-workers, women whom you mentor, or manage?  Involvement in purposeful projects, events and missions that create positive, meaningful outcomes is a very effective way to make your personal mark on history.  Such a goal takes the discipline of moving along things that must get done (tasks, errands, routine work responsibilities), and creating room for these important things that will leave a lasting legacy.  It also requires thoughtful weekly planning, and the skill of executing your ideas and work with efficiency and focus. Let’s explore this further.

Is staying focused on the work in front of you a challenge?  Do you find yourself starting and restarting a task multiple times because of distractions, interruptions or because of your own sidetracking thoughts?  If so, you are not alone.  A study published in Psychology Today by Larry Rosen, PhD, observed the study habits of 300 middle school, high school and university students.  Rosen and his team were startled by the results which showed that, on average, students were only able to focus on their studying for three minutes at a time, with nearly all of their distractions coming from technology.  The researchers found similar results with computer programmers and medical students.  The biggest technology offenders were smartphones, and the very computers on which the research participants were either studying or working!

The truth is, we have too many inputs vying for our attention; ring tones, instant messaging, reminder alerts, buzzing email, text tones, and even Facebook and social media notifications!  Then there are meetings, phone calls, crisis situations and office chatter.  It’s endless, and those examples don’t even include our own distracting thoughts such as the errands to run, bills to pay, family schedules and more.  If we are not careful, interruptions can bounce us around like a ping pong ball all day long.  Are you letting distractions take your attention and keep you from being focused, or are you in the driver’s seat of your life?

If staying on task is challenging you, I offer you a double-pronged approach that will help create laser focus.  First is a commitment to weekly goal planning.  The second is mindfulness, but we will come back to that later.

I am convinced making a weekly plan with goals is the first step to successfully creating habits that lead to laser focus.  Most of us are familiar with the Covey method of project planning, or perhaps you’ve used other techniques, or your own version of task prioritization and organization.  The question to ask yourself is, do you use it consistently, without fail?  The weekly planning process needs to be a top priority if you want to drive your success in meaningful areas, versus being pulled along the path of uncertainty, and only accomplishing small tasks.

Weekly planning takes foresight and commitment.  When creating your plan, consider and identify these key elements before creating it:

1.  Top priorities for the week – what must absolutely get done?  Remember the following in this process:

You can’t:

  • Do it all – focus only on the impactful, meaningful and important
  • Please everyone
  • Always say yes
  • Have blurry boundaries

You can:

  • Get first things done first – leave or delegate small tasks for another time
  • Please yourself with a job well done
  • Say yes to top priorities
  • Set up respectable boundaries

2.  Top energy zones – when are you most productive?

  • Morning or afternoon?
  • Before or after a workout, lunch or break?
  • Alone or with others around?

These are the two key questions to ask yourself when planning and prioritizing for the week – what do you have to do, and when are you at your best to complete them? From this genesis, you can create your ideal schedule with attainable goals.  Don’t overschedule yourself, or spread yourself too thin.  Leave white space for emergencies, and margins for thinking and creativity.  Once you’ve successfully prioritized and scheduled your week’s goals, congratulate yourself, and make a date with yourself to do it again – same time, same place next week.  Use that smart phone wisely.  Set a reminder on Sunday to review the upcoming week and plan out your productivity!

With the first step of the approach to laser focus complete (planning), your stage is set for step two.  The second step to obtain laser focus on a daily basis is by practicing ‘mindfulness’.  Mindfulness is ‘a state of active, open attention on the present’.  With practice and patience you can actually ‘reprogram’ your brain to be in a state of mindfulness throughout the day.  To prepare yourself (your brain really) for a mindfulness approach to laser focus during the work day, it is important to begin your day with a deeper sense of mindfulness.

To be clear, I’m not pushing a brand of spirituality or religion, but rather a method by which you can clear your mind, obtain some peace, and get grounded for the day ahead of you.  To that end, I am proposing that prior to the start of your work day, you spend 10 minutes in a quiet, peaceful state in an attempt to empty your mind of thoughts and feelings by the process of recognizing them when they come into your brain, but then letting them go without reacting to them.  You can do this upon waking, before you leave for work, on the drive to work, at your desk, or in the car before you go into the office (especially if being completely still at your desk will have co-workers wondering if you are OK!)

The goal of practicing 10 minutes of deep mindfulness sets your brain into action, rather than leaving it vulnerable to reaction.  It prepares your brain for approaching work with basic mindfulness (the ‘a state of active, open attention on the present’), and ultimately a laser focus.  Practice and patience are essential to maintain basic mindfulness in order to achieve laser focus.  The technology distractions listed earlier are the biggest culprits of distraction, but there are others.  How many of the following do you identify with?

  • Conversations at your desk
  • Phone conversations that last too long (personal or professional)
  • Checking and responding to non-essential email and social media
  • Thoughts of personal/home issues
  • Multiple projects at once
  • Snacking, coffee or water run
  • Non-urgent tasks (cleaning email inbox, organizing files, making lists, etc.)

The first step in avoiding these distractions is to recognize them as just that.  It may be that you are not even aware that these activities are robbing you of your time, productivity and prohibiting you from laser focus on the task at hand.  Mentally go through a day at work, and write down everything that distracts you and places your brain in a reactive mode.  Then, pick the top three things to conquer first.  Now, make a plan for proactively responding to them when they occur.  Below are some examples:

Conversations at your desk Close your door, or put up a sign requesting no interruptions
Telephone interruptions Let it go to voicemail
Conversation getting too long Explain that you have a deadline
Checking email too much Designate two or three times a day to check email, responding only to those pertaining to your plan for the day, or minimally reply with a time and date you will get respond.
Multiple projects at once Put away other work project
Text messages Set your timer to work for 15 – 30 minutes solid, then take 3 or 5 minutes to check and respond to relevant text messages.  Non-urgent messages can wait.
Thoughts of personal/home issues Keep a list of things to address at a later time
Being diverted outside your workspace Don’t engage in miscellaneous interruptions from co-workers

 

While some of these responsive techniques may seem too radical, they are perfectly acceptable ways to create boundaries for yourself and create ‘a state of being active with open attention on the present’ (mindfulness) enabling you to laser focus.  The process of choosing to actively engage in the task at hand rather than react to stimuli takes discipline. While you won’t achieve laser focus on the first day, you will be surprised at how quickly practicing mindfulness will begin to yield laser focus and positive results.

Weekly planning sessions coupled with the daily mindfulness approaches I’ve described will do so much more for you than help you achieve laser focus.  It will empower you to be in complete control of your thoughts and actions.  It will also reward you with additional mental space and opportunities to produce creative, quality and meaningful work.  These opportunities are the foundation from which your lasting legacy can flow.  Keep a diary of your accomplishment and successes as a result of your new approach.  This will motivate you to continue your practice of laser focus, build self-confidence, and make your mark on history.  When you train your brain to use both states of mindfulness to the point where it becomes natural and exciting, you will have mastered the art being able to laser focus.

©Copyright 2015.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.

Building Self-Confidence

Are you lacking confidence in aspects of your professional life?  Does it seem impossible to imagine that you could ever have the confidence necessary to handle certain situations?  If it seems everywhere you look, confident people dominate the landscape, and you are the exception, take heart.  The truth is, babies are the most confident people on the planet, not adults.  Although it seems counter intuitive, self-confidence is a natural state of being.  It is the state of being completely comfortable with who and what you are, independent of what others think of you, or how you perceive them to think of you.

Think about it.  Infants will ‘tell’ you exactly what they need and when they need it.  No qualms about it.  They cry when they are hungry, tired, bored or hurt, and they don’t think twice about it. As they grow, they will try with all their effort and might to reach an object, sit up, crawl, verbalize and engage with you.  There is no hesitation in their actions, and they certainly don’t stop to think about how others are perceiving their efforts, or if another baby is doing it better.  They move forward with confidence.  Of course, babies receive a lot of positive reinforcement during these activities, which does help propel their progress forward.

However, when a baby becomes a toddler and begins to understand language and human response, they also learn ‘stop’ signals.  A ‘stop’ signal is a communication that goes against the natural state of being.  Such as, ‘No, don’t touch’; ‘do it this way, not that way’; or ‘that’s incorrect, try again.’  Of course, these directions are for safety and teaching, but they also interfere with the natural state of being confident.  This natural state is one that drives us forward to act, almost without regard of who we are, and definitely without regard to what others think.

As we grow, we begin to realize the world around us,  compare ourselves to others, and see the differences between our abilities versus others.  Perhaps we try to be something or someone we are not, and seek the approval of others.  This can sometimes result in self-doubt, self-criticism, and fear of failure.  These are the two basic elements of lacking self-confidence; doubt and fear.

Now for the good news!  It doesn’t have to be that way! Even if you have struggled with issues of confidence your entire life.  You are capable of overcoming it, and stepping into a new way of thinking and being.

Conquering lack of self-confidence begins with realizing that it is not all encompassing.  A common misconception of people with confidence issues is that they think that in order to be confident, it is necessary to go around feeling good about everything.  Not true!  Lack of self-confidence may exist in some areas of your life, but not in others.  Think about the things you can do well from the simple to the complicated – putting together a nice outfit, cooking a great meal, organizing, writing, project management, being strategic or visionary, playing an instrument, socializing or speaking a foreign language.  You may be very good at one or more of these things, but not in others.  It doesn’t mean that you don’t possess the ability to be confident, it’s just that in certain areas, you don’t feel as competent as you either need to be, of feel you ought to be.

The simple acknowledgement of recognizing your weaknesses and accepting that you need to improve in that area is the cornerstone of self-confidence.  With this acceptance, you give yourself the permission to step out of your comfort zone and make mistakes.  And you will make mistakes – and, so what?  It’s not the end of the world (unless you have a self-image that is obliterated by a mistake), it’s the beginning of gaining strength in that area by recognizing how you could do better the next time.

For example, say you lack confidence in the area of socializing in a large group setting.  You go into a networking event, business meeting or social setting with a roomful of successful, bright or seemingly perfect people and break out into a cold sweat.  Self-doubt, fear of saying something stupid, or not knowing what to say, just takes over.

First, accept it as both a weakness and challenge to improve upon. Take on the challenge by strategizing ways to conquer your fear.  The best way to do this is to visualize an upcoming situation, and imagine yourself having a successful encounter.  Pick three things and envision doing them successfully.  The first may be as simple as telling yourself that not every person in the room has it all figured out.  Second, think of conversation starters related to the event and imagine yourself engaging in a meaningful conversation.  Play the entire scenario out in your mind from beginning to end envisioning yourself entering with confidence, having a nice chat with many people in the room, and looking and feeling confident for the duration.  You will be surprised at how empowering the exercise can be, and how it will build faith in your abilities.  In fact, the word ‘confidence’ simply means ‘with faith’, coming from the Latin words con; meaning ‘with’, and fide meaning ‘faith’.  When you think about it, confidence is simply moving forward with faith in yourself that you will succeed, or do well in a situation.

The opposite of this behavior is over-thinking the situation as it approaches.  If you spend time considering every possible horrible scenario or feeling that might occur during the event, you’re setting yourself up for failure.  This type of thinking can lead to avoidance behavior, and make you skip the event, situation or activity all together.  Replace your ‘what happens if’ thinking with ‘I wonder what will happen’ thinking, and it will empower to go forth with faith in yourself.  Each time you try to overcome a situation where are fearful, you will build self-confidence by discovering that you can make progress in areas you never thought possible.  The most important part is to always remember to keep your sense of humor.  Even if something doesn’t go according to plan, try not to take yourself so seriously.  Recognize where you could have done better, laugh about it, and plan to do a little better next time – because you can do it!

©Copyright 2015.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.

Opting in? Opting out? Have a plan!

Perhaps you saw the recent segment on the Today Show where host Matt Lauer interviewed Lisa Belkin, author of “The Opt-Out Revolution,” and several women who, ten years ago, did just that.  These women chose to put their careers on hold to raise their children and they are now attempting to re-enter the workforce.  While none of these mothers regrets her decision to leave her job – and all three women interviewed attest to just how much work it is be a parent! – they encourage women who might be considering making the choice to stay home now to have a plan.

So whether you’re in their shoes and attempting to “opt back in” or you’re a young woman who has some tough choices ahead of her, I would encourage you to think about adding a few things to your plan.

  1. Keep up with your workplace connections. You will need them when you go back , and you’ll want the adult conversation when you’re home alone with children!
  2. Continue to participate in professional associations where you have high profile volunteer responsibilities and the opportunity to keep up with your industry and industry insiders.
  3. Do some kind of paid part-time work.
  4. Keep an accomplishment log of your successes, skill development, and activities.  You are very likely a potentially better employee now than you were then, as you have evolved and matured.
  5. Consistently keep your resume updated.  You might forget these accomplishments when you are interested in going back.

Never totally opt-out.  This is important not only for your future in your career, but also for your sanity, and for the example you will set for your children.

©Copyright 2013.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.