leave your mark, by aliza licht

leave your markI am a fan of Aliza Licht’s alter ego, DKNY PR Girl or @DKNY on Twitter, as well as a follower of her personal success. Through social media, I have come to be a supporter, so I bought and read her book, Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job. Kill It In Your Career. Rock Social Media. In the midst of all of this, life happens and Saturday, sadly, Beau Biden passed away. He was only 46 years old. Prayers go out to his family.

Perspective can be a timely thing.

Licht’s book is an easy read, though it did take me a while to finish it. I am not just starting out in my career. And while I found the end of the book with social media tips and the anecdotal stories throughout the most interesting, I do think it’s geared towards those who are early on in their career. Here’s where I make the above connection in reference to Beau Biden… Life is short.

I did not know Beau Biden personally, but his passing at such a young age has truly made me think. I just finished Licht’s book, focused on how to have an amazing career and from what I’ve read, it seems like Licht really does, so she knows what she’s talking about. But the amount of time, effort, and energy she describes you need to invest in order to have an amazing career, is staggering. It leaves no time for anything else.

At one point in the book, she discusses the positive aspects of always checking work email, even while on vacation. It helps you stay connected and on top of your game even while you’re away. But I don’t want to stay connected and on top of my game while I’m on vacation. I want to have nonsensical conversations with my family about nothing. I want to browse in stores I will probably never be able to afford. I want to drink fruity drinks with umbrellas and ask the wait-staff how they managed to wind up in tropical paradise. To imply that you have to always be work ‘on’ is rather depressing to me and I think a bad message to send to those just starting out in their career.

I enjoy my day job. I would even argue that I’m quite successful as far as my career goes. But staying hyper focused on  your career to the neglect of other aspects of your life is not only sad but it’s wrong. I don’t know what the right work/life balance is. And maybe there are some who relish career first and everything else secondary. But while Licht’s book makes light of some of the situations she’s in, I would never want to be in a situation where I’m looking at a camp for my child but all I can focus on is what’s happening with work (actual book example). That’s called not being present.

We all get caught up in a busy work life. At times, we all bring it home and it’s hard to shake off the big project, the phone call, the meeting that happened that day. Speaking of work, the head of my group stated in no uncertain terms during a meeting last week that we all need to take vacation. Relax. Recharge. It makes you a better employee. It makes you more productive. It also makes you more well-rounded.

So much of Licht’s advice was sound and prudent and while she often states the obvious, there truly are some who may not know better–and for that, valuable lessons’ shared. However, I can’t imagine spending every waking moment focused on how my day-to-day routine and enjoyment of life will help get me where I want to be in my career. There has to be time for fun. There has to be time for naps. There has to be time to be present. Because whether you’re 46 like Beau Biden, or 106, life is short and personally, wishing I had spent more time working, even when it’s something I love, is not a regret I foresee having.

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Don’t Stay Where You’re Not Valued

your worthIt’s been a while since my last post because I have been working on a personal project that will come to fruition next week, and then I’ll be back . Truly, there are only so many hours in a day. So, while I have been diligently focusing my time elsewhere, my mind hasn’t been idle–just my blog. But there has been something weighing on my mind for a while and I just think it should be shared.

I may have mentioned this in the past–a friend of mine once told me, ‘Never stay some place where you’re not valued.’ It’s such a simple concept. Recently, I ran into a neighbor of mine. She had been at her company for the last 10 years and in her field for 19. She starts a new job on today. She said that she had been passed over for promotions–repeatedly–by less experienced candidates; she took on the tough and sometimes thankless assignments, including sometimes sacrificing her personal life. But at the end of the day, she realized she wasn’t valued and so she had to move on. While a difficult decision to make, she’s excited about the new endeavor that awaits her and anxious to get started. It’s outside of her trained field but will build upon her past experience. As I  listened to her story–we were each walking our dogs at the time–I couldn’t help but be inspired.

In this day and age, it’s not often you find people who stay with companies for more than 5 years, maybe 10 years tops. But I know people who have been with the same company for 15, 17, even 20 years who are not adequately compensated for the work they do and not receiving promotions–all because they work for a ‘good company.’

What really intrigues me is why so many people stay in this type of environment. Are they simply too comfortable where they are so they’ve convinced themselves, it’s just not that bad? Are they afraid of trying something new? Do they think it’s easier to stay with the known then to venture into the unknown? Or, quite simply, have they given up?

It’s hard to believer that there isn’t something better out there for you. Yes, we were in a recession. Only, I knew several people who found new jobs while we were in the thick of it. Now, according the numbers, the recession is over. Jobs are hiring. Even the housing market is bouncing back. The energy it takes to psych yourself up to go to a job that does not challenge you, does not spark your creativity, and forces you to live paycheck to paycheck can and should be channeled into ultimately making a better life for yourself. So for those that aren’t independently wealthy, need to work, and feel stuck–here are some suggestions.

Update the ol’ Resume: No one likes to do this. It’s time-consuming and tedious, but it’s necessary. If you don’t want to do it, then pay someone to do it. You need one, you know it, so in the spirit of Nike–just do it.

Research, Research, Research: Find out how much people in your field–in and out of your industry–in your state earn. Find out if you need additional qualifications–degrees, certifications, etc.–in order to make a higher salary. Knowledge is power, know what you’re worth so you know not only what to ask for, but what not to settle for. Remember to take your current benefits, 401(k) matches, bonus, vacation, etc., into consideration. And keep in mind, if you’re switching fields completely, you may need to take a step back in pay to move forward long term. Look at the big picture.

Mine Your LinkedIn Connections: I heard a staggering statistic that 80% of jobs these days are found through networking. So network. Once your profile is set up, don’t just connect with people, set up time with them. Have coffee. Meet for lunch.

Set Up Job Searches: Gone are the days of looking through the newspaper classifieds trying to find a job. (Which, by the way, is how I found my 2nd job out of college.) It’s easy to set up searches so jobs come to you, how easy is that? LinkedIn, Indeed, CareerBuilder will send you jobs every day matching pre-set qualifications of your choosing.

Apply, Apply, Apply: It may take 6 months, it may take a year, but know that it will never happen if you don’t apply. Yes, it’s time-consuming and tedious, but it’s necessary. Think of interviews as practice, because eventually, you’ll wind up interviewing for the job you want. Prepare in advance, put your best foot forward, and always ask for feedback.

Hone Your Skills Outside the Office: If you build websites, build. If you write books, articles, white papers, write. Build your portfolio. Not only does it keep your skills sharp but it lets potential employers know that you’re not sitting idly and it provides you with an opportunity to showcase your talents on your terms.

Above all, stick with it and keep trying. This list isn’t exhaustive, certain steps don’t have to be done in order, and it’s not guaranteed, but it will certainly get you closer to achieving your potential and goals in leading the life you want than not doing anything at all. Quite often starting is the hardest part. I bought something with the greatest quote today, it says, ‘Begin Anywhere.’–John Cage

I think that says it all.

How to Manage Your Personal Brand

Personal Branding Social NetworkHave you ever worked for someone who wasn’t well-respected? They’re in a management position but they aren’t regarded well by their manager or their peers?  Have you ever wondered how this affects you? When you work for someone whom everyone respects, it’s normal to feel safe, secure, and with the right skills–to have a sense of confidence in climbing the corporate ladder. But what if no one gives your manager a second thought, or worse, what if that person falls out of favor in the eyes of higher-ups? Essentially, what does it mean when a shadow has been cast on you because your manager’s brand has gone south? And more importantly, what can you do about it?

First and foremost, it goes without saying–always do your job to the best of your abilities. Regardless of what’s happening with you, your manager, or your company, always maintain a strong work ethic and don’t just do your job–do your job well. Not only does this instill a sense of personal pride and help you get through the day knowing you’ve done the best you can do, it’s also a CYA measure so no one can come back and say you were slacking. Now, trust me, I know this can be difficult when you’re watching those around you being promoted, assigned  to special projects, and getting recognized by the higher-ups–all while you sit in a drab, windowless cube performing job functions you could do in your sleep. But doing your best work is a must, that’s the prerequisite and constant to everything else.

Set yourself apart from your manager. Diplomatically, make your manager aware of what your interests are, or ask about other areas of the firm where you could ‘shadow’ someone to gain exposure and build your skill set. Any decent manager is going to want their team members to thrive and grow, so from a professional development standpoint–they should support this. It also provides you with the opportunity to talk to other people without offending or upsetting your manager. Besides, if you look good, they look good. But when you look good, you look good.

Find a well-respected mentor, whether it’s formally or informally. Quite often, firms have formal mentoring programs, and if yours does and you can get in it, do it. However, most of the time it’s not that easy–especially if you’re in the aforementioned ‘no one respects my manager’ group. So appoint one for yourself. If there is someone whom you respect and admire–ask if they would be willing to work with you. Most anyone can find 30-minutes every other month for coffee, or a 1-hour block for lunch every quarter. Present challenges to them and ask advice, find out how they’ve navigated their career both inside and outside the company, and take advantage of what they’ve learned along the way and use their experiences for your good.

Network. I know, everyone says network, network, network; but it’s important and it’s true. People shift jobs and firms all the time and you never know where someone is going to land and they just might be your ticket when it’s time for you to transition. Coffee, lunch,  information gathering sessions, and even happy hours are ideal when you know a department or individual you want to get in front of. And make sure you’re doing this not only inside your own department, but outside of it too. Externally: Conferences and seminars are prime opportunities to expand your personal and professional network and they don’t have to be approached as having to make a forced connection. Compliment someone on a piece of jewelry or article of clothing. Ask a question about one of the speakers. Share an arbitrary insight you’ve learned from one of the conference sessions. Or, comment on the facility, weather, or the food. Networking is really no more than striking up a conversation with someone you don’t know, yet. Just make sure you’re open to being approached and not hiding under a potted plant waiting for the event to end. (Yes, I’ve seen this happen.)

Build your portfolio. You may be thinking that you’re not an artist, writer, or creative type–don’t be so literal, it doesn’t have to be a tangible portfolio. Maybe you’re a runner–then run. Do races for causes (also a great opportunity to network). Volunteer for your local animal shelter. Embrace your interests outside of work. Doing things that bring you personal satisfaction is not only a great way to stay fulfilled, it shows companies that you’re not one-dimensional. Remember all that talk about being well-rounded? Well it’s true. In this day and age, people have to work harder than ever to differentiate themselves from the crowd. Not everyone can do a 5k, draw, create a website, write a children’s book, whatever. Embrace your talents and let people know about them at the proverbial water cooler when they ask what you did over the weekend. Share that you read your latest short story to the kids at the library over the weekend. Things like that get around, in a good way.

Like anything worth having and keeping, building your personal brand takes dedication and work, but in the end it’s very rewarding. Not only will you feel good about your career, you’ll feel good about yourself. Plus, the intangible perks that arise are invaluable, like: you find out about an awesome babysitting service, a well-kept secret boutique that always has designer handbags on sale, where to get cheap tickets for the best seats to sporting events, or an awesome local band to go see on a Sat. night. At the end of the day, your career is your responsibility, manage it well.

The Importance of Staying Relevant

Stay Relevant with Vehicle Wraps and Graphics-resized-600Have you ever noticed that some of the most entertaining commercials on tv are for things we don’t really need to buy every day? I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but some of the most memorable commercials–good or bad–are those about insurance. Not cookies, not furniture, not some other product, but–insurance.

Farmers Insurance has done a fabulous job of staying relevant and top of mind. They run commercials on how to put out grease fires, the time of year when cars are most often broken into, how trampolines may increase your premiums–who would’ve thought that insurance would be something you would think about after you’ve committed to a company, paid your premium, and moved on to the activities of everyday life. Not to mention, the commercials have a great sense of humor.

Progressive Insurance. Does anyone even remember life before Flo? And I have to admit, most of the time I find her hokey and annoying, but still–I know who she is and which company she represents. My 81-year-old father knows who she is! And for the record, Progressive Insurance has been around since 1937, clearly long before Flo.

And do I even need to go into the king of all insurance company commercials–Gecko, I mean, Geico. Downloadable ringtones, YouTube videos…all for an insurance company.

I once heard that Ashton Kutcher said part of the way to stay relevant is to entertain. Not exactly profound wisdom, but true. If insurance companies are heeding this advice–and it’s working–what does that say about companies that are selling tangible products and services that are used every day?

I think it means companies have to work that much harder–myself included. Finding your niche, angle, point-of-entry, whatever it may be, to differentiate you from your competitors has become critical. We all know that today, consumers have less trust in advertising than ever. But be encouraged, if insurance companies can stay relevant and on the cutting edge, with some effort, imagine what your products and services can achieve.

Create Your Ideal Work Space

Home OfficeI’ve been a bit of a vagabond today. I have a lot of irons in the fire and I needed to be in an environment where I could:

  • focus
  • be free of distractions
  • have open space so I could spread out if I needed to (I come with a lot of devices: iPad, MacBook, paper planner, bottle of water, etc.–hence why my new Kate Spade green super tote always weighs 800lbs., but I digress…)
  • have lots of light
  • free WiFi
  • plug-in

In short, I couldn’t be home. There, I would play with Sarge. I’d be tempted to catch up on Scandal or my many cooking shows. I’d start to focus on the many home projects that needed to be done–thus making me depressed. The interesting thing is, I don’t feel guilty about leaving. I don’t love my home–I love that I have a home–but my house and I have a serious love/hate relationship–that’s a post for another day. So, I set out to find a place that had the aforementioned characteristics so I could really thrive and get things done.

First attempt, Starbucks inside Barnes&Noble. I got a stuffed pretzel–delish–and a bottle of water, and then the search began… I looked high and low for an outlet to plug-in because my laptop battery was in the red zone at 18% and needed some juice. No such luck. I’m still baffled by this. I simply don’t understand. Are outlets at a premium these days? Isn’t there some kind of building law that all walls need an outlet, twice as many in Starbucks??? (Ok, maybe that last part is a bit of a reach.) I realize I was technically in a book store, but come on, this was Starbucks in a book store. People go there to be surrounded by books, activity, people, coffee, snacks, white noise, and music you love to hate. When I began to fear that my laptop would give out, I packed up and moved on to my next location…

The new Owings Mills library at the Metro Station. Now, I, personally, am still trying to truly see the vision that’s unfolding for the future of the Metro Station, but whatever. The library is AWESOME!!! And it’s not just the newness, though I can’t lie, it’s like new car smell–very exciting, you get a rush. It’s 3 floors of books, rooms, computers, people–and in the 3rd floor quiet room–LIGHT! Tons and tons of windows to enjoy the natural light and see the outside world. Not to mention table top outlets every 3 feet. Perfection!

Emails have been answered. A project planning worksheet has been created. This blog post is being written. Does it get any better than this?!?!?

And then, my stomach growled. The stuffed pretzel has apparently worn off. The 2nd bottle of water is not keeping the hunger pangs at bay. Sadly, I must leave my new-found place of solace and all things wonderful and go in search of food–and an outlet. So the quest continues… But before I go in search of my next electrical adventure, I leave you with this…

I remember a friend of mine decided to spiffy up her work space, before she left the company we worked for and went out on her own. I thought it was the coolest thing that the plant she had sitting on her desk, in her cube, had a gold fish in it. She actually had a fish on her desk! And why not? We spend a lot of time at work, why not make your surroundings as enjoyable as possible. The same should be said of your work space at home or wherever you are. If it means real flowers, fake flowers, or a gold fish on your desk, so be it. And sometimes, that means going outside the home. Personally, I need light. Lots and lots of light (I guess this makes me somewhat plant like…) and a lot of open space (this is why my cousin thinks I don’t like furniture–just call me a minimalist). I can handle almost all other specifications not being met (with maybe the exception of the outlet) as long as I have light and space. Find the space that lets you thrive–even if you have to create it. Now, I’m going to find something to eat.