What does Dolly Parton have to do with professional development?

Knowing who you are, and being that version unapologetically, is the cornerstone to being happier version of your best self.

After all, it is the inimitable Dolly Parton who said:

purpose

Knowing who we are is a life-long journey. After many years in HR, I get asked regularly for input on personal branding, self-assessments and professional development resources.

Below are my personal top 5* go-to recommendations for anyone trying to be more of themselves this year:

 

  1. VIA Character Strengths Assessment: Focusing on your strengths is a more fun – and sustainable – approach to personal development. This quick, 15-minute assessment will give you a lot of easily digestible information framed positively. Rather than focusing on strengths-at-work, the assessment focuses on helping you “discover the good in you”.

 

  1. Carla Harris’ Expect to Win, Proven Strategies from a Wall Street Vet: Imagine you had a trusted mentor in your pocket who was willing to share her hard-won experience and life-lessons. That’s what this easy to read, well-organized book is. I’ve quoted it at least once a month to someone since I read it almost 10 year ago. Carla’s practical wisdom holds up and is actionable.

 

  1. The Four Tendencies, by Gretchen Rubin. This is a two-fer: both a book and a quiz. Understanding how you respond to both external and internal expectations can be useful in understanding why you act…and why you don’t.

 

  1. Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest that Will Bring Purpose to Your Life: Ignore super lofty title – Chris writes about having a personal goal, big or small, can bring about a happier life. It could be finishing a quilt or traveling to every country in the world. Through interviews with questers, he’s uncovered stories about how it really is the journey that matters.

 

  1. Passion Planner: Studies have shown that writing something down – actually putting pen to paper – has an impact on our how we internalize information. I use this paper-based planner to both set goals and keep myself on track to making progress against those goals every week. I like this planner because there’s space for both work and personal goals and to-dos: it’s one place both integrate and balance the demands on my time.

 

Just for kicks, there is the Official Pottermore Hogwarts Sorting Hat quiz.

And, if Dolly doesn’t feel serious enough for you, turn to Aristotle instead, who tells us that “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”.

 

** These are my personal favorites. You know, the views and opinions expressed above are mine alone and do not reflect any official position … and so on.

The Power of A Word

Contemplating my word of the year is the only bit of planning for new year I do before Christmas. Full-blown reflection, intention-setting and list-making must wait until December 26th (the true beginning of the 12 Days of Christmas)! This is my way of trying to stay in the moment during the Christmas season and avoiding the post-Christmas crash by giving myself something to anticipate.

Persist was my word for 2018.

Inspired by Elizabeth Warren, my new-found commitment to political engagement and the fearless girl, I chose persist as a reminder that I would stand up for what I know is right and good, and commit myself to doing the hard work necessary to make the world better. The political is personal, for all of us, whether we’re “in to politics” or not. Persist reminded me that no matter what the year would bring – and 2018 certainly brought new lows in our country’s history – giving up or giving in would not be an option. After all,  it’s not an accident that the Oxford-English dictionary chose “toxic” as the 2018 word of the year. Merriam-Webster chose “justice” for a more optimistic approach.

My 2017 word was “activist”, inspired by my participation in the Women’s March on Washington, DC. Persist was my reminder that my activism is a privilege, and regardless of administration or current affairs, I wanted to commit myself to staying engaged. I was lucky enough to be selected to volunteer for the Americans of Conscience Checklist’s social media team, and am inspired by the small team of compassionate, thoughtful individuals across the country who see an opportunity to bring people closer together rather than continuing to further the division America is experiencing.

Here’s what I learned about what it takes to persist: It’s hard. It’s a grind. Grind could have been my 2018 word. To persist means that you continue forward in a direction in spite of obstacles, opposition or failure. You’re working against something, and no matter how aspirational, motivated or committed I am, to persist turned out to be exhausting.

As I reflect on my year, I find myself wondering if I invited in more obstacles and challenges in to my life? I did persist this year. Maybe not with the compassion, patience, or calm I would have liked, but I’m still here. And so, I want 2019 to feel lighter, to have more flow and less tension.

I haven’t decided on my word for 2019, yet I find myself being much more deliberate about what I might unintentionally focus on going forward.

If you choose a word to focus your intention for the new year,
how do you decide which word?

How I want to feel at the end of 2019.

12 Days of Working Your Happy

The 12 Days of Christmas (December 26th – January 6th) is my favorite time of year. I look forward to the post-holiday slow-down so I can reflect on closing out the current year and set intentions for the new year. And this year, I invite you to join me in planning a 2019 to make you happier.

I’ve created a mini-workbook to act as a self-guided course for anyone else interested in Working Your Happy. Designed to take less than 30 minutes a day (with one exception), my 12 Days of Working Your Happy is a personal workbook to guide your 2018 reflections and 2019 happiness.

Download the 12 Days of Christmas 2018 Workbook

Wishing you a joyful holiday season, and happiest of new years!

Turning Up the Volume

Tomorrow, I’ll sit at one of three or four tables in the warm and love-filled kitchen of my wife’s second family. The house will be filled with three generations, two turkeys,  and one amazing brie appetizer (thanks, Liz!). What started as four couples getting together for dinner in the early 80s expanded exponentially as each small family grew.

Today, this Thanksgiving “table” is a gathering of anywhere from 30 – 40 people! My wife has missed one year of celebrating Thanksgiving with this specific group in her entire life. It is her only non-negotiable during the holiday season, and after attending my first year, I understand why.

butterturkey
Doesn’t everyone have a hand-carved butter turkey at Thanksgiving?

There is just one down side of a Thanksgiving filled with this much tradition, so many pies and lot of people. It is next to impossible to get to have a deep conversation with everyone – especially now that we have a toddler that requires at least cursory supervision. On our drive home tomorrow night, my wife and I will exchange the stories of who we talked to, hoping that together, we were able to connect with everyone.

The stories we hear (How was the marathon that Liz and Tom ran? What was the best part of Taylor and Elizabeth’s trip to Hawaii? What amazing vacations did Erica and Jason go on this year?) are both never enough and also fill us up with gratitude and thankfulness. It’s the act of sharing stories which connect us.

What prompted this sentimental holiday post? Well, I came across Can blogs rebuild America? and began to think about how stressful the holidays can be when politics come to the table. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen at our Thanksgiving. Good or bad, we’re all more or less on the same page. Our personal stories bring us closer, year after year.

In a room with so many people, sometimes you have to force your way in to the conversation. Or pay attention when someone is trying to be heard and make space for them. And the same is true for the bigger conversations happening around us.

I’m thankful for the space and freedom to express myself in this tiny little space, to forge connections with others in a conversation that can feel overwhelming and encourage others to do the same. Sharing your story can feel like work, but being heard will bring a deep sense of contentment.

#netpositiveblog

Is your tech making you happier?

The Working Parents Group at my office showed a screening of Screenagers this week.  I’m so glad I saw this movie and am starting to think critically about the role of technology in my life before I have a teenager. While my son is only (almost) 3 years old, I’ve come to be both impressed and a little scared at how fast he picks up technology.

And kids are little experiments, aren’t they? I can see everything we read about play out in my son. We’ve noticed when he has more screen time, his behavior gets worse. It creeps me out that he can be in the same room with me and if he’s watching a show, he does not hear or notice anything else. And research shows that increased screen time changes brain chemistry – permanently. Social media can be socially isolating. 

What are we doing with all this screen time?

After seeing the movie, I’ve been thinking more about what example I’m setting at home and what I’m doing with the available technology.

Actions speak louder than words, and if my wife and I are on our phones all the time, we’re sending the message to our son that what’s happening on our phones is more important than what’s happening in the room. I’ve taken to telling my son what I am doing when I have my phone out in front of him. “I’m sending a note to Mum to see what time she’ll be home.” “I’m looking up what roads to take to get to the park.”…and so on. It may be a bit much, but you’d better believe I’ve never said “I’m posting a picture of my coffee for strangers to look at” even though I’ve done that, too.

In the film, what struck me the most was how the kids where sitting next to each other, but interacting with each other through their phones. Technology is changing all the time, and changing everything. I believe strong EQ and interpersonal skills are going continue to be differentiators in what makes someone successful.

What does this have to do with work?

Work is getting more digital, and technology allows us to be more connected to the office more than ever before. I believe large organizations need to examine the expectations being put on employees and understand the role company culture is playing in home life. Have you thought about your company’s digital culture and if it aligns with your values?

If staying in touch with the office is the excuse parents are using for being on their phones, the message we’re sending is that work is more important than what’s happening at home. It’s a complex issue: if we know we’re happier the less we’re on screens, and that happier people are those who feel more in control of what’s happening in their lives… well, we have to ask if our tech is making us happier?

Technology enables the happiness trap of overwork. If how our work, technology and home life are coming together isn’t making things better, it’s time to take individual accountability and change what’s not working. I’ve personally found that the boundaries I put in place with a newborn are still making me happy: no work emails while my son is awake and I’m home with him. Period.

One last thought… my wife is a high school coach, and the team hosted a baby shower  when we were expecting. As part of the party, we asked 20 high school girls for parenting advice. The two things they told us:.

1. Play with your kids as much as you can (Dads, they all loved the “monster game”: when their dads would hide and they’d find him, he’d chase them and then tickle them. Who knew?)

2. Take away my phone. They told us they might pretend it’s awful, but they liked being able to say “my parents won’t let me…” so they get a break from the pressure of being connected all the time.

Maybe to be happier we need to take away our own phones for a bit.
What do you think about screen time, being connect to work and feeling happier?

15 minutes happier: one day, some day

When to use: When you’re feeling as if everyone else has a claim on your time.

Supplies: The outdoors, a pen or pencil and paper.

Instructions:

  • Take a 10 minute walk – preferably outside. Leave your phone and music behind. The purpose for this quick walk is to be alone with your thoughts.
  • Ask yourself: What would I want to do if I had an entire day to myself?
  • Any thought is valid – you’re brainstorming as you move, so give yourself permission to entertain ideas that might feel crazy or impossible.
  • After 10 minutes (or longer, if you’ve found the time), note the ideas which excited you most. You can save this list to your smartphone, too.
  • Bonus: make a date with yourself to put some of your ideas into action. One day to yourself every three months will have transformative and restorative impact.

 

Why it works:

  • “Take a hike!” is compassionate advice: going outside is proven to have many benefits, including increasing your creativity, focus and connection to others.
  • Walking changes our brain chemistry, and helps us each do our best thinking.
  • Articulation is the foundation“: Clarifying what you want, and being able to verbalize your intentions is the foundation for setting yourself up for success. When  unexpected free day finds it’s way on to your calendar, you now are better positioned to make the most of it.

 

Inspiration: I started thinking about how I would spend a free day to myself after another working mom asked the same question in a discussion group. Over the summer, she was going to have a furlough day each week, and wanted to know what everyone would do with it. The answers ranged from cleaning the house alone to going to a spa to reading at the beach to visiting friends. There’s no right answer, just an answer that’s right for you.

Then I remember that Julia Cameron introduced the concept of an artist’s date in her seminal work The Artist’s Way. One full day as a commitment to your own creative priorities. An artist’s date need not be artistic, just inspiring and restorative. If you’re able to give yourself a day, and are willing to share how you spent it, let me know!

Owning Your Energy

Autumn is my favorite season, and yet September is my least favorite month. After all, going back-to-school is just as frenetic for teachers and their families as it is for parents. Being married to a teacher for going on 8 years now, I’ve figured out how to prepare for the overnight change of pace that comes after Labor Day. We have more pre-made dinners, Sunday night calendar check-in sessions and of course, extra coffee.

Even knowing September is coming, the day-to-day is still hard. Throw in a few colds (me and the toddler), restless nights (the 12 year old dog), a few big projects at work, some craziness in the daily news, and it’s so much more draining than the rest of the year. September is the time of year when it feels like our good days are the days when we kept all the important things moving along and don’t drop the ball on anything majorly important.

September is when I adjust down my definition of a good day. A good day is when I’ve owned my energy. I may feel a bit frayed and run down, yet I try to not let it show. Or, to be more specific, I try to not to get snarky with other people. My goal is to not do anything in September that damages relationships for the rest of the year.

Taking responsibility for how I show up can feel a bit like faking it – except it this faking it comes with the goal of creating a virtuous rather than vicious cycle. If I act as if I’m not tired, I feel less tired. If I act as if I’ve got things in control, it feels like things are more in control. This isn’t stuffing true feelings and emotions aside, it’s pushing myself to not let them get the best of me. My feelings are still there – I just don’t react to them in the moment.

I may not be the best version of myself, but I’m not the worst, either.

We all do this to varying degrees of success. It’s a huge aspect of being an adult, and I have to believe I’m not the only person who just wants to say “I don’t wanna!” when asked to do something and instead says “I can get to it next week” or even “Sure, no problem”.

So, today, I’m giving anyone else who needs it merit badge for the times you’ve owned your energy when it’s especially hard. Nice work, everyone!

And, I want to remind you … it’s finally October.