Three reasons why Type-A folks need to learn to pause

There’s something about achievement that feels really good.  Arriving at the right answer.  Finishing something.  Getting to the next level.  If you identify as Type-A, you have felt the drive to continue onward and upward.  As soon as you’ve finished something, you’re looking for the next thing.  As a result, Type-A folks have the ability to get a lot of stuff done.  But the dark side of the Type-A mentality is the tendency not to pause.

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What’s so great about pausing?  Well, as good as achievement feels, your go-go-go attitude is likely leaving you feeling less fulfilled and happy than you would feel if you took the time to pause.  Here’s why:

Pausing gives you a chance to re-evaluate whether you’re chasing the right goals.  In his book, The Quarterlife Breakthrough, Adam Poswolsky points out that many professionals suffer from  the “career ladder mindset.”  The career ladder mindset convinces people that the success is achieved by ascending the ranks within the field you’re in.  The problem is, “career ladders define success on someone else’s terms,” not your own.  As a result, you may find yourself at a crisis point when you realize that what you’re doing is not aligned with what you really want.  Taking periodic pauses in your career to define what success means for you will help you avoid wasting time on a path that isn’t a good fit.

Pausing gives you space to celebrate your accomplishments, without immediately burdening yourself with the next item on the to-do list.  I recently complimented a friend on hitting a major milestone on a project.  She replied that there was still so much work to do.  When you complete something, does your mind immediately go to what’s next?  When was the last time you gave yourself permission to fully celebrate a win?  Regularly taking time to reflect on what has gone well will make you a happier person.  Try instituting a daily celebration routine.  If you don’t take time to celebrate now, when will you?

Pausing gives you time to rest and recuperate, so you can dive into your next project energized.    As much as you may hate to admit it, you are human, and your human body needs rest in order to function at its best.  Whether it’s taking a moment of mindfulness to lower your stress level, or letting yourself sleep so that you can avoid damaging your brain, it’s important to take time off.  Don’t wait until your annual vacation (if you even take one!) to give yourself time to unplug.  Smaller increments of time spent off the hamster wheel, on a more frequent basis, will enable you to produce more high quality work than burning out will.  And as mentioned before, if you’re Type-A, producing high quality work feels good.

I am as guilty as any Type-A of forgetting to hit pause every once in a while.  Do you forget to take time to pause, too?  Here’s a tip from one Type-A to another: schedule it.  Block off time on your calendar, and make it a recurring appointment.  Choose to take time to reflect, celebrate, or be present.  It’s not a full-stop; it’s just a pause.  When you’re done, you can go back to your regularly scheduled achieving.

 

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The #1 mistake people make when networking to find a job

My colleague was lamenting how his networking efforts weren’t producing many job opportunities.  He was afraid that his network was “tapped out.”  I asked him how he was leveraging his network.  What were the exact words he used when reaching out to people?

“Well, I email them my resume, and I ask them to send opportunities my way.”

It’s no wonder why he wasn’t getting much of a response, I thought.  But my colleague, who went to top-tier schools for both his undergrad studies and his MBA, didn’t seem to realize what a big mistake he had made. 

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5 ways to survive a job you want to leave

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“I give up. I’m just going to stay here until I can save up enough to retire early.”

“How long will that take?”

“Seven more years. Given that I’ve decided to stop trying to move, do you have any advice for me?

She worked for a well-known company where she was handsomely compensated, so I could see why leaving the company wasn’t something she ever considered. However, her supervisor was moving the team toward work she wasn’t thrilled about doing, so she had been trying to find a different role within the company for the past year. Things didn’t pan out. She wasn’t happy, but she was throwing in the towel, for now.

“So, what I’m hearing is that you eventually want to leave this job and company entirely, but you don’t feel you can do it right now?”

“Yes.”

“Ok. If you’ve decided that you really want to leave eventually, maintain and protect your exit velocity.” Continue reading

5 questions to ask if you’re afraid of making the the wrong choice

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Yesterday my friend and I were trading stories about our mentoring and coaching experiences. One of his mentees is a senior at Stanford. His mentee has a job offer at a top consulting firm, but he’s trying to decide between that, working for a startup, or staying in school one more year to earn a master’s degree.

“My mentees often ask me, ‘What should I do?’ But I can’t tell them what to do. They have to make that choice on their own. But they seem terrified of making the wrong choice. What advice would you give them?”

It’s funny. The fears of those undergraduate students are not that different from the fears I see in the experienced professionals I coach. It’s not actually the fear of “What if I make the wrong choice?” (As I’ll explain in another post, there are methodologies you can adopt to avoid the regret of making the wrong choice.) Really, at the root of their fears is one super-scary question: “What happens if things don’t work out?”

This question is scary because the unknown is one big bad scary monster. Most people would rather stay in a situation they know is bad than walk away from that bad place and into the unknownUncertainty is scary. It’s like the fear of the monster under the bed. It’s scary, because you can’t see it.You don’t know where exactly it’s lurking or when it’ll come out to get you. It’s like fear of noises in the dark, which cause your imagination to run wild about whether it’s just a deer sneaking into your backyard, or a psycho serial killer from a movie.

The best way to mitigate the fear of the unknown is to bring some certainty into the situation. Shine a light into the darkness and see what’s there. To do that, think about the following 5 questions:

1) What is it that you fear? Often, people are afraid of “What will happen if things don’t work out.” Well, what does that mean? “Losing everything” is too vague, and that will feed your fear. Have you lost money? Friends? Time? Your reputation? How much? Be concrete about what it is you are afraid of.

2) What is the absolute worst that can happen? What is going on in that situation? Paint a vivid image of what life looks like in that worst case scenario. Ask yourself, how realistic is this scenario? What are the chances it could actually come to this?

3) What safety nets do you have to protect you from that worst case scenario? If you lose your job, what other jobs would you be willing to take? If you can’t pay rent, where could you stay? If you need support, who may be willing to help? Also, if you don’t feel you have enough of a safety net now, identify what can you do now to ensure you have more of a safety net in the future.

4) How will you know when things are not working out? It’s not that common for things to go from awesome to awful in one day. More often, things unfold over time. What are the signs that things aren’t working out? How can you proactively and periodically check in on how things are going?

5) What action will you take when you know things are not working out?Shift the question from “What will happen if things don’t work out” to “What will I do if things don’t work out.” Take control of your fear by taking control of your actions.

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This post originally appeared on Medium.com on February 19th, 2014.

 

A low-risk way to stop selling yourself short

For years, I refrained from disclosing details about my education unless asked directly.  I was always afraid someone would think I was “bragging” and wouldn’t like me if I mentioned that I have an engineering degree from Stanford and an MBA from UC Berkeley.

It wasn’t until I attended a conference in Lean Startup principles that I decided to do something different.

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I thought you were younger than you must be.”

It was the thousandth time I’ve heard that.  Over the course of the conversation it came out that I had earned my MBA four years ago, which would put me in my thirties, instead of the barely-drinking-age that I look.

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One key step to making your dream come true

my dream house

There’s a house in my neighborhood that I just love.  It reminds me of a cross between the house from the Cartoon Network show Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, the house from the Pixar movie Up, and my grandparents’ old house.

Every day I pass by it, I think about whether I could actually live in it someday.  That’s my dream.

What if I could make my dream come true?  Let’s suspend the current reality for a moment and fast forward to a future where my dream comes true: I live in that house.  At that moment in time, as I look back to the present day and everything that happened in between, what were the actions I took and the choices I made to make that dream happen?  Continue reading

Walking away from being unhealthy, unhappy, and fat

ImageMy neighbor: I was unhappy, unhealthy, and fat. But I still didn’t leave. I couldn’t.

My neighbor was telling me how she finally decided to take a sabbatical from her job.

My neighbor: I knew things were bad. Really bad. I was working crazy hours, I was stressed out all the time, I barely saw my partner or my kids, and when I did, I wasn’t really there with them. The stress of my job would follow me home. I dreamed of leaving my job, but I didn’t. How could I? I was C-level exec at a major pharmaceutical company. It wasn’t until my doctor told me that my job was slowly killing me, like literally, my health was at stake, that I decided I had to do something different. Continue reading

A Better New Year Resolution Strategy

Years ago I stopped making New Year Resolutions.  I was sick of feeling like a failure by the time February rolled around.  The cycle of shame looked something like this:

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Weeks 2 and 3 after New Year’s Day were always the most difficult.  Mostly because of what was going on in my mind.  That’s always how it’s been with me; often the biggest obstacle to success was the little voice in my head telling me how far off track I was and that I should just give up.

So, instead of New Year’s Resolutions, I have New Year’s Mantras.  Continue reading

5 Secrets to Getting Promoted

The goal of any university’s career counseling centers is simple: ensure that students find a job after graduation.  But what happens after students get that first job?  What do they need to do to next?

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Thank goodness the first company I worked for had a week-long orientation for new hires in order to help set us up for success once we started work.  Yet, despite the 40+ hours of training I sat through that week, the most valuable training I received came to me at the happy hour at the end of the week.  One of the managers gathered a handful of new hires around him to tell us exactly what we would need to do to move up in the company.

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How to find a mentor

Mentorship has been popping up in my life a lot lately.  In the past two weeks, I’ve attended the 10-year anniversary for Stanford’s alumni-student mentoring program, met with my own mentor of 16 years, had dinner with my mentee of 6 years, and volunteered to be a mentor at UC Berkeley’s Women Empowerment Day.

It was at that last event that one of the young women asked a great question:  In the absence of formal mentoring programs, how do I find a mentor?

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