How often as women do we consider our own needs last? Forget about putting on our own oxygen mask. We are so busy taking care of others, both at home and at work, caring for ourselves is an afterthought. This is such a common theme for women that I dubbed this thinking the AFTER party!
I recently presented a workshop session for the Bloomington-Normal Chapter of the Association for Women in Communications where we explored this phenomenon in detail, “Stop Surviving and Start Thriving: 6 Steps for Creating Balance.” In the session we learned to apply my signature 6 step strategy to address the top communication challenges professional women face and explored resources resources to support the steps.
After I finish cooking dinner I will take a few minutes to relax. After I run the kids to soccer I will spend some time with my significant other. After I finish this last load of laundry I will put my feet up. After I help my kids with homework I will sit down and have a glass of wine. After I take my parents to their doctors’ appointments I will schedule my physical. After I get through this project I will ask for a raise. After I become VP I will finally be successful. After I finish my degree I will be have enough credibility to be an expert. The list goes on…
In the dark recesses of the night we finally take a few minutes to think about ourselves! By then we are so warn down that our afterthoughts turn to criticism and self-loathing — If only I took the time to work out today…if only I used different words when I talked to my kids…if only I spoke up in the meeting…if only! After I…and if only are so self-deprecating they should be forever banned from our vocabulary!
Sometimes we need to be as diligent in helping ourselves as we are in helping others. Constantly putting ourselves last can leave us in a very unhealthy place, wondering when it will be our turn, or worse yet, developing dis-ease like I experienced with thyroid cancer.
While jotting notes for my presentation I reflected on my own life and career. What blocked me from that illusive balance and created the cancer? How was I able to eventually step into a place of harmony and ease? What were the pieces that made it all possible? Then it came to me. Whether out of necessity or desperation I started thinking of M-Y-S-E-L-F first…and I never look back!
My life is full, satisfying and free of dis-ease — all because I passionately practice what I teach! I have the flexibility to create my own schedule, vacation 5-6 times throughout the year, make an honest living doing the things I love, spend time with friends and family, enjoy time for hobbies and connect with some very powerful women. In short, I am extremely blessed, living the life I always dreamed of and enjoying every minute! And, I am passionate about helping other women claim the lives they deserve! After all, my program is not Jackie-specific!
In my coaching practice I begin by helping my clients shift the way they think about self-care. It is so ingrained in our DNA that self-care equals selfishness. The first block we work through is to learn self-care is okay. That paradigm shift is essential in applying my 6 step program.
Each of the 6 M-Y-S-E-L-F steps can be easily customized to help clients stop surviving and start thriving no matter what blocks they are currently experiencing. The simple program works well, providing a roadmap to help clients achieve their personal goals and experience success.
For example, during the workshop session we talked about the 6 top communication challenges professional women face. According to Kathy Caprino’s article published at Forbes.com, professional women have difficulty:
- Obtaining sponsors who can influence growth
- Taking credit where credit is due
- Negotiating effectively for what they deserve
- Challenging those with power
- Taking things personally
- Projecting self-confidence and a powerful presence
Once again I turned to my signature program to see how I applied the steps in my own life to overcome these communication challenges. Here is what I observed.
Without realizing the payoff I found mentors who had the ability to sponsor me and support my growth both personally and professionally. Sometimes these mentors were professional coaches who partnered with me to make sustainable change.
In the book Seek to Keep: How to find the best mentors and keep them Noam Kostucki and Lujie Chen demystify the process for finding a mentor.
Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career by Sylvia Ann Hewlett takes mentorship one step further by advocating the need to find a sponsor, an individual who is at a higher level within the organization to advocate for you and support your growth and ascension – in short, an influencer. Sponsors know what it takes to advance. Consider creating your own personal board of directors to help you focus on you! Let your mentor/sponsor/board of directors to help you clearly define your yeses.
Y: Say Yes to the things that fill you and move you forward
I choose to spend my time doing things that empower others. I enjoy teaching, training, coaching, and cooking. Activities that allow me to connect with others fill me so I look for more of these opportunities. I stop to think about what I can do in the next 10 minutes that will affect me in the next 10 months and help me achieve my goals in the next 10 years. Things that detract from reaching these goals are the things I can turn down without guilt. In short I apply the ideas presented in the book 10-10-10: A Fast and Powerful Way to Get Unstuck in Love, at Work and with Your Family by Suzy Welch.
For me accepting opportunities that empower women and allow me to partner with them on a personal level reward me the most. In addition to being a certified professional coach I have expertise managing information technology projects — an area that is in high demand. I find more personal fulfillment presenting sessions that enhance soft skills so I often say no to project management consulting opportunities in favor of coaching.
I also recognize that accepting accolades has been challenging for me in the past. I often wondered what was the best way to say yes to accept the recognition and still remain humble? I generally prefer to use the term “we” to give credit to everyone involved and was hesitant to take credit for the things that I really did alone. At the same time I had no problem singling out a co-worker or employee for accomplishing a specific piece of the project. Why did I struggle to say yes to accept credit for hard work?
Learning to graciously say yes by accepting credit when credit is due is a skill to be practiced. Five simple concepts make this possible:
- Take inventory of your values. Is the credit a reflection of a value you work to express?
- Consider the accolades objectively. Are they true?
- Step out of yourself and pretend that the praise is given to your best friend. What would you tell her?
- Reply simply with a “thank you.” There is no need for bragging or self-deprecation. Show appreciation and acknowledgment for the recognition.
- Serve as a model for others by embracing your own accolades. By graciously accepting credit, you show others that it is acceptable to take pride in their own contributions when the recognition is sincere and genuine.
In my mind accepting credit was an arrogant thing to do. After all women were humble, silent and invisible – what a distorted version of reality! When I shifted my thinking in a more objective way I understood that credit is an acknowledgment of hard work, something that I value greatly. The acknowledgment was a true observation, one that I would gladly encourage a friend to accept so a simply thank you allowed me to honor the person giving the acknowledgment. This way of reframing credit makes it possible for me to strategically step into the life I want to live.
S: Synergy and Strategy
Rarely do opportunities fall into our laps so learning to direct our own power to create the life of our dreams can mean the difference between success and failure. Through her book Softpower: How to Speak Up, Set Limits, and Say No Without Losing Your Lover, Your Job, or Your Friends Maria Arapakis helps women learn to embrace leadership, strategically set boundaries and synergistically determine what is important for each individual to live a happier life.
As a former people-pleaser I struggled with saying no for fear of disappointing someone else. I allowed energy vampires to feed on me, draining my power. Softpower is my garlic. It shields me from random overwhelm by putting me in charge of my own life.
Now I set personal and professional goals, reviewing them quarterly. If something does not align with those goals I work to set limits on the distractions. While my life has certainly become busier it is amazing how much more energy I have because I am not hemorrhaging my power. What I do excites me!
To paraphrase Carl Sagan, we are powerful beings; capable of greatness. Often we are intimidated by the power of those in authority because we somehow view ourselves as less than. Remember, we are each experts in our own right. One person’s strength is another’s weakness. Bringing a unique perspective is often appreciated. It can be energizing and move things in a fresh, positive direction when negativity or stagnation set in.
If you doubt your own expertise, take the Strengths Finder 2.0 inventory by Tom Rath. Learning to leverage your strengths and manage weaknesses by finding others who possess skills in your areas of weakness is the sign of a great leader. Taking your role as a team member seriously involves a willingness to respectfully challenge ideas, even ideas of those in authority when you have a different perspective. We are all both the teacher and the student.
When it comes to directing my energy one area of weakness for me is finding ways to sit back and laugh. Fortunately my husband Jay has an incredible sense of humor. He keeps things light and in perspective.
L: Leisure and Laughter
As a recovering type-A personality, I must remind myself that I don’t have to be serious all the time. In my work life I am drawn to team members that bring laughter to a project. I admire the ability to laugh at my own mistakes.
Criticism, even if given in the most constructive way, can cause me to feel defensive if I am taking life too seriously. Taking time to laugh, de-stress and focus on others things diffuses emotions and keeps me from taking things personally.
In the movie Patch Adams we are reminded of how laughter truly can be the best medicine. While considered irreverent by his teachers and peers, Patch helped his patients heal faster by joking with them.
Leisure time allows my mind to rest and refocus. For me, beading, reading, meditation or other solitary activities gives me time to reenergize so I can approach life fearlessly.
Clearly fearlessness is the most important step that encourages growth! Timidity has often been associated with women. Perhaps this occurs because men rarely have difficulty claiming “I” made this happen. Women tend to downplay their personal accomplishments by saying “we.” If we, as women, cannot fearlessly take credit for our own accomplishments, I guarantee no one else will.
In a past career I was hesitant to claim credit for the things I created for fear I would be considered cocky. Imagine my surprise when a former supervisor was willing to accept my accolades and earn my rewards! It only took a few times to realize that if I could not fearlessly take credit for my own accomplishments, someone else would be willing to take the credit for me.
I was motivated to reframe acknowledgment as a sign of self-confidence. I looked to Peggy Klaus’ book, Brag!: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It. Her humor allowed me to be comfortable with praise.
Objectively evaluating myself by supporting claims with real world examples helped me to look at my own career with fresh eyes. When writing self-evaluations I pretend I am evaluating a friend or co-worker. This helps me put on my objectivity lens and has resulted in evaluations that mirror comments noted by my supervisors even though our evaluations are not co-created.
For me accepting credit was difficult. For you it may be something completely different. I challenge you to choose one thing daily that stretches your comfort zone. It may mean sitting with someone you don’t know at a networking luncheon. It may mean volunteering to present at a workshop. Or, it could be something like taking a ride on a scary rollercoaster. That what is less important in developing self-confidence than practicing fearlessness.
During the workshop nearly 60 women took the 6 M-Y-S-E-L-F steps to another level. They shared additional ways to overcome the top 6 communication challenges professional women face. I encourage any of you that attended the workshop to share your favorite insights below. If you didn’t attend the workshop, I would love to hear your thoughts.
If you would like to stop going through life on autopilot, if you are ready to make time for the things you love, if you need help creating harmony in your life or if you are overwhelmed and stuck, I am happy to purposefully, passionately, powerfully, and presently partner with you to create the life of your dreams, just as I did, around the 4 dimensions of life: mental, physical, social and spiritual. Contact me today at http://www.myself4life.com!