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Are you fitting the mold or making one?

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you needed to be someone else to be successful?  Perhaps it was in a job interview, where you uncomfortably had to “dress the part” or present yourself in a certain way to show you were “just like them”.  Maybe it was acting like you loved a product or service that you actually despised – just to try and “win the business.” Or, it could even have been while dating someone – making believe you liked to do the same things he/she liked, just to spend time together (even though you really didn’t enjoy the activity at all). 

People do this all the time. I know I have found myself tempted on many occasions, and have even done so more than once.  However, after a few such experiences, personal and professional, I have realized that trying to fit a mold that someone else has created is simply a recipe for disaster, either in the near or long term.  The more time you spend trying to “fit the mold,” the more time you take away from creating your own.

Every one of us in unique. We each offer unique skills, experiences, backgrounds and perspectives.  And, if we are not allowed to share our uniqueness, our value is immediately diminished. Trying to “fit the mold” can also have several other negative effects.

1.  It causes unnecessary stress. 
Life is stressful enough as it is.  Why add this to it?

2.  It sets the wrong expectations.
If people think you are something you are not, they will also expect things that you may not be able to deliver on.

3.  It limits open and creative thinking.
If you are uncomfortable with who you are, how will you be able to speak openly and share ideas that may not fit the mold either?

4.  It gets in the way of doing well. 
Every minute you spend trying to be something you’re not, is a minute taken away from improving who you are.It delays the inevitable:  failure

5.  At the end of the day, it just doesn’t work.  
The job won’t last.  The work won’t be great.  Or the connection will eventually fade and the relationship will end.

So, the next time you are in a position where you feel like you need to “fit the mold” of another individual, culture or company, think again.  Recognize when you are trying to be someone or something that you are not, and know when to move on.  Be yourself.  Be authentic.  People will appreciate you for exactly who you are.  And, if they don’t, it’s their loss.

Please share your thoughts or comments with me here.

Thanks for reading!
Jane

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What’s better than a paycheck?

As you can probably tell from my emails, I truly love what I do.  While some may think it’s a bit geeky, I love helping to navigate the ins and outs of the law to address business challenges.  And, of course, it’s nice to get paid for doing this.

But, I also love what my job lets me do.  The things that don’t come with a paycheck, but instead with a smile, a “thank you”, a “great job”, or simply the knowledge that I made a positive impact.  Some people call it “giving back.”  But, to me, it’s what you get back that is most rewarding.

If you are thinking about volunteering, donating, or joining a non-profit board, here are a few tips I’ve found helpful on how to get the most from giving back.

  1. Find an organization that shares your values. 
    If you are giving your time or money, it is much more fulfilling to give to an organization that shares your values and passions.  I was lucky enough to attend two amazing women’s educational institutions which gave me the building blocks to achieve professional and personal successes.  My core belief is that all who seek it should have access to the same education that I did.  Thus, I spend the majority of my philanthropic energy in service to my high school, Emma Willard, and Wellesley College.  By the way, through this philanthropy, the alumnae networks offer wonderful professional and business development opportunities as well as strong friendships.
  2. Give time.
    If your situation does not permit you to give financial support, many non-profits have roles for volunteers.  When I was a recent grad, paying back student loans and trying to pay my rent on what was left, I donated my time to help plan high school reunions and participate in phon-a-thons asking others to donate money to my beloved alma mater.  For many organizations, time is much more valuable than money.
  3. Go on a board.
    Many non-profits seek subject matter expertise in their board members.  There is a misconception that all non-profit board seats require substantial financial contribution.  While there generally is some expectation that a board member will contribute financially to the organization, there are some that would be thrilled to have a lawyer or accountant on board for their expertise.   This is also a great way to get board experience.
  4. Do your diligence.
    Going on a board, even a non-profit one, can bring potential liability.  As a board member, you will have fiduciary duties that you must fulfill.  Even donating money or time to a non-profit requires some degree of diligence to be sure that your contribution is being used appropriately.  Take the time to ask questions and learn as much as you can about the organization’s financial status and management before signing on.
  5. Give money.
    Every institution can use more money; I don’t know one that would say “No, thanks” to an unrestricted contribution.  However, if you truly want to do something impactful and feel good in the process, see 1-3 above.

Happy philanthropy!  I hope that your contributions to non-profits are as rewarding as mine have been.  Thanks for reading!

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Turning a negative into a positive

How many times have you been in a position where you have had to deliver feedback that was negative – or constructive (the new negative)?  Perhaps you managed a team that included one or two members that underperformed.  Perhaps you needed to address something that went off the rails in a project.  Perhaps, in a volunteer role, you needed to offer advice or direction to a group or person who was unreceptive, indifferent or, even worse, belligerent.  Even as a board member, you may have needed to speak up about a touchy topic.  And anyone who has a family of any kind – be it kids, parents, sibs or just a close friend – knows that we’ve all needed to speak our minds about some topic or action that has rubbed us the wrong way.

Having been in many of the above situations myself as the giver (and perhaps even more often as the recipient) of negative feedback, I’ve gleaned a few tricks to turn negatives into positives.  I hope these help you in your day to day activities the way they now help me.

  1. Always start the conversation with something positive. 
    No matter how awful the conduct, or incompetent the work product, there is always some nugget of good that you can pull out.  Assume the best.  Most folks are well intentioned, put in the requisite effort and want a positive outcome.  Focusing on the positive as you enter the conversation can set the tone for a much more productive exchange about the things that do need improvement.
  2. Use the situation as a teaching moment.
    As they say, you learn from your mistakes.  Help others do the same by helping them not only understand what they may have done wrong but, more importantly, how they could have done better or acted differently.
  3. Share other perspectives.
    People often better understand the impact of their actions by seeing it from the perspective of others.  Take the time to demonstrate how others may be affected.
  4. Empathize. 
    We’ve all been in that place where we were on the receiving end of constructive guidance.  It is important to remember how it feels to be on the receiving end.  Empathize if possible, or at the very least, be compassionate.
  5. Don’t get frustrated by excuses.
    With criticism often comes excuses.  It is human nature to defend one’s actions.  Don’t get frustrated when the excuses come out. Accept the other person’s perspective – but be sure that yours is understood as well.

I hope you find these tips useful the next time you have to have one of those difficult conversations.

Thanks for reading!

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Are you a Forum Shopper?

“Forum Shopping.”  I love this expression.  Not just because I love shopping – more importantly, because I am fascinated by the lengths people will go to get the answer they want.  In the legal profession, we call that “forum shopping” – asking multiple people for an opinion in a quest to get the opinion you are looking for.

At home, my kids use the technique often.  If my daughter comes to me first and doesn’t get the desired response or result, she will quickly go to my husband, ask the same question, and conveniently omit to mention the conversation she just had with me on the same topic. (In many cases, she gets what she wants from my husband, but is punished later for the approach.)

Admittedly, I have also gone “forum shopping” on occasion. For example, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I found it very difficult to cut back on caffeine – even though most doctors advised to do so.  But, after extensive research, I found a web site (most likely sponsored by the Coffee Growers’ Association) that posited that drinking three cups of caffeinated coffee per day was not hazardous.  I copied that link and shared it with all who dared to challenge me.

Fortunately, my kids turned out OK (although my five year-old son somehow enjoys coffee.)  But forum shopping can be risky – especially when used for business.  Here are four reasons why:

  1. If you have to search hard to get the answer you want, it is likely not the best answer
    If you truly want or need a professional opinion, you should heed the advice provided.  You can always find someone to take your side and agree with you – but that doesn’t make it the right answer.
  2. When you reject the opinions of others, you may alienate them as well
    While you may have found one person to give you the answer you want, you are in turn rejecting the opinions and advice of all those who told you otherwise.  If you want or need their trust and support to move forward, this is not a good way to earn it.
  3. Going around the process shows disrespect for it
    Organizations work hard to build processes that ensure good decision-making.  Forum shopping exposes a loophole in many of those processes.  If others catch on (and they will), standard process will become irrelevant and bad decisions can follow.
  4. Diverse perspectives are only valuable when they are all truly considered
    When forum shopping, you are asking for multiple perspectives – but only to get the one you are looking for.  This is not truly getting a diverse opinion.

Of course, there are times when forum shopping can have a positive result (refer to my coffee example earlier).  But, I recommend proceeding with caution.

Please share your thoughts or comments below.

Jane