How I Found Out I Had Grit

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For years I would tell people that I am typically not the smartest person in the room but I will almost always out work someone. I have had a successful career and received promotions and other achievements that supported my notion of being good. But I never attributed it to being smart.

After reading Angela Duckworth’s book “Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance” I now know one of the primary reasons I have been successful. I had – or rather have – grit. I.Am.Gritty. It may not be the most elegant of terms but it fits me. I remember reading one particular line from the book and saying “That’s it! That’s what I have been doing all these years!”

“Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them.”

Not only did I have a name for what I was, it was something real. In reading about being gritty I discovered that my tendency to be determined, to practice and, yes, to be optimistic, were characteristics of grit. It made me think back to high school. I know, most of us would rather forget high school, however, this story is grit personified; at least in my mind.

I was in the guidance counselor’s office picking out my freshman year classes with my Mother. When it came time to pick a language I chose Russian. My Mother was a bit surprised. She and my father both spoke a little conversational French and the school also offered Spanish. “Why not pick one of those?” she asked. I picked Russian because no one else around me spoke it. It was different. The guidance counselor said my English scores weren’t high enough and she worried that Russian would be too hard. (I was a bit miffed by her comment about my English scores but I let that slide.) What I heard was “You will fail.” So, of course, I picked it anyway. And I did study. And I did practice. And I was determined to succeed. I took four years of Russian. Now, I can’t say it has stuck – I can count to 10 and say Hello and Thank you – but that isn’t the point. The point is, grit is what helped me be successful.

Another aspect of grit that Ms. Duckworth talks about is that grittier people tend to be significantly more motivated than others to focus on serving others and finding meaning in what they do. She calls it an “other-centered life.” The book cites the parable of the bricklayers to illustrate this concept. There are many versions of the parable but here is Ms. Duckworth’s:

bricklayerThe Parable of the Bricklayers

Three bricklayers are asked: “What are you doing?” The first says, “I am laying bricks.” The second says, “I am building a church.” And the third says, “I am building the house of God.”

The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.

Chances are, if you are reading this, you have grit too. You are already fulfilling your calling or on your path to fulfilling it. Wherever you are on this journey, remember; practice, develop, and commit. You will get there.

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The Good Plan

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pictureI recently saw this quote by George S. Patton: “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” In my opinion, Gen. Patton, often regarded as one of the most successful United States field commanders of any war, knows what he is talking about.

Planning – sometimes embraced, sometimes feared – is typically top of mind for most of us as we start off another year. We start making lists of things to accomplish. Many of us think of these as New Year’s resolutions. Last January in my blog “Begin to Begin” I suggested a few ways to begin the New Year. Unfortunately I did mention organizing my basement in that blog a year ago and alas, it is still on my list!

From a career perspective, you might be in the planning mode too. Planning to change careers? Planning to relocate and need to find an opportunity you can sink into? Planning to finish a certification you have been working on? Are you putting it off because the plan wasn’t perfect? Whatever the plan is, it is important to remember that you will never have an absolute 100% fool-proof water-tight plan. So don’t wait for the “perfect plan” to start moving forward. Gen. Patton’s words about having a “good plan” versus the “perfect plan” should appear above our heads in an imaginary thought cloud each time we start to question if we have covered all the bases in our plan. I can almost guarantee we haven’t thought of everything. The plan is however, good enough to get started working against.

If you are changing careers, have you assessed the areas you are passionate about and that you like to do? Can you make a living at it? Have you researched companies that support the type of role you are searching for? If you are relocating, have you started identifying people that can help you in the new location? These are just some items on the “plan”.

For me, I like six month plans that are a bit more detailed within a five year overall horizon. I know I will tweak both the short term and long term plans. They are “good” plans, just not “perfect” plans. I don’t know every twist and turn life will take to make it a perfect plan. But I know it will get me going.

Please don’t forget the doing part. It isn’t only about planning. The plan get you moving in a direction towards your goals. You still need to execute. You still need to do something. Whatever it is, don’t just plan it – do it. (I am sure my brother would quote Yoda here! So here it is. Do. Or do not. There is no try.)

Looking forward to 2017, give yourself permission to have a “good plan”, not the “perfect plan” and you will make great strides towards you goals. Write out the plan, review it, update it, and acknowledge your progress and where you need to focus. Take it from The Old Man, don’t wait for perfection –you will be waiting a long time.

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What does intentionality mean when you are in career transition?

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Being intentional in your career transition is, in my mind, the most overlooked “step” in successfully going from A to B. If you Google “intentional career transition” what do you get back? (Because face it, everything these days starts with a Google search, right?) I found a few websites for services to help with career transitions, however, the number of references were fewer than I expected. When I Googled “steps for a career transition” I hit the jackpot. On the first page alone there were sites or articles that listed as few as five steps or up to 10. Most of the steps are very tactical. “Put together a resume” or “Update your LinkedIn profile”. All good advice. But I am going to talk about a more strategic step.

Intentional and Accidental directions.  Opposite traffic sign.I believe the first step is to be intentional. Being intentional when you decide to venture into something new is along the same lines as putting together a solid project plan when you are about to implement new software or develop a new marketing campaign. The project plan documents your intentions. Documenting your intentions in your career is not really all that different.


 

When documenting your intentions, or your plan, you need to specify the five w’s – why, what, when, where, and who.

  1. Why: You need to articulate why this change is occurring; perhaps even necessary at this time. Being very clear with why helps to make sure your plan is focused and leading to your desired end state. Without a clear understanding for why then you may easily veer off into something interesting but not necessarily relevant. Ask yourself: Why now? Why something different?
  2. What: This is the big Kahuna of intentionality. This is where you get down to brass tacks on what exactly is the plan going to achieve? What is it that you are looking for in your next career or job? Can you define the characteristics, objectives, outcomes?
  3. When: Depending on when you are looking for a change, the actions you take to get there may be different. Timing is also partially dependent on what it is you are looking for in the future. If you are thinking the change should happen in six months there may be one set of actions to get there. If it is a longer-term plan (say 3 years) there is a totally different set of actions.
  4. Where: We are taking simple geography here. If you need to – or want to – only look in a particular part of the world then you need to be clear on that. Don’t waste your time looking in say, Australia, if that is simply not realistic. Whlie the job down under sounds fun and exciting, if it really isn’t in the cards don’t put it in the plan. Being distracted during your intentional search will derail your progress.
  5. Who: This is where your network comes into play. You have a network, right? If not, you need one. (I feel another blog topic coming on!) By being intentional with who you want to connect with about your new career / job search will allow those connections to be meaningful and sincere. Again, it is about intentionality, the foundation for focus. Additionally you don’t want to abuse your connections and if you simply randomly tap into your network you could wind up alienating them and doing more harm than good.

Being intentional is hard. I know – I have been there myself. Determing the 5 W’s for my own career transitions laid the foundation for all the changes I made. Some of my transitions were made in six months, some in three years. Whatever my time frame was, I approached it intentionally. I can help you do the same.

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When you are in the job market, every, and I mean EVERY, meeting is an interview.

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Every day we meet people. Some meetings are fleeting and are for simple, daily activities and tasks. We meet people at the grocery store, at the local coffee shop, at the gym. Other meetings create real connections. You will also meet people at your kid’s school, during volunteer activities, at charitable events, or through professional organizations. If your parents were like mine, you may have been taught to treat everyone with respect and to be kind. In other words, practicing The Golden Rule .

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When you are in the job market you need to take the Golden Rule one step further. You need to treat every meeting as an interview. One definition of an interview is a “formal meeting in which one or more persons question, consult, or evaluate another person”. What I am suggesting is that the meeting need not be formal, however, the concept of questioning, consulting, and evaluating happens all the time whether the title of the meeting on your calendar is “interview” or you are sharing a cup of coffee at a volunteer event. I am a huge believer of networking to help you in your career search and transitions. Networking is a great way to learn and develop a viable plan for the transition. Keep in mind, however, there is a gray line between a “networking meeting” and an “interview”.

 

Consider the following scenario. A friend is currently looking to shift his career direction and has started looking to join a company with a strong sustainability mission. Your friend has decided to volunteer with a local non-profit organization that is helping companies develop various sustainability programs and decided to attend a monthly meeting of the non-profit group. While in line for a cup of coffee the woman behind your friend makes small talk. She asks your friend why he is attending the meeting. He says he has an interest in sustainability and then goes to find a seat.

 

Hopefully as you read this you cringed. You know the error of your friend’s ways. What should he have done differently if he was thinking of this interaction as an interview? Follow these simple steps to turn small talk into a real connection.

  1. Introduce yourself at the start of your answer and provide a simple but direct statement of your current situation, your focus areas, and what you believe. “Hi, I’m Tom Golden. I’ve been passionate about the area of sustainability and believe this organization has the most comprehensive methodology to help companies design viable solutions. I’m also in the process of transitioning from my current VP of Finance role into something that will allow me to use my skills in the sustainability area. What is your name and what brings you to this event?”
  2. Asks questions of the other person to show interest and to allow both of you to assess commonalities and connections. “Your are the COO for Sustainability Best Practice Consulting Inc.? I recently read about the type of work you did for Big Oil Co. and the impact your group had.”
  3. Showcase your background to establish your credibility. “In my role as the VP of Finance I have been able to help my company establish a viable sustainability program while establishing a strong ROI.”
  4. Ask for time to meet and discuss further your common interests. “Would you be open to meeting and discussing how you moved into your role and how you view the sustainability issues facing businesses today?”

In addition to being able to converse about your background, your passions, your desires, don’t forget the non-verbal questioning and evaluating that happens in every meeting. Be very conscious of your body language, eye contact, and use of purposeful pauses. It goes without saying that you are dressed professionally. If, in the above scenario, your friend were wearing shorts and a ball cap the COO would make a note. While it is easy to say “it shouldn’t be about how I am dressed”, why even make it something that has to be considered?

 

During a job search or career transition most of the attention is on crafting the best resume, responding to job postings, and setting up formal interviews. Studies have been done that say most jobs are found via networking. Networking, whether formally initiated or happens informally, looks a lot like an interview and should be treated as such. Just remember, if it feels like an interview, and even if it doesn’t, it probably is in some way, shape or form.

 

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I’ve gotten the internship – now what?

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You thought once you had the internship you would stop worrying. The truth is, you are now more worried than before.  You have a ton of questions: “What will I be doing? How do I get the most out of the summer?  What should I do to differentiate myself? Will they like me?” Okay, maybe that last question isn’t going through your mind. It should though, and I will tell you why a little later

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Let’s take the other questions first.

“What will I be doing?”

Well, hopefully, from a functional role and responsibilities standpoint you were able to get a sense of this during the interview process. If not, you do need to get those basic questions answered. There is still time to ask the recruiter or someone you have connected with at the company to get a better idea. You should ask for specifics if possible. Try to understand if you will be responsible for a defined set of tasks or outcomes. Will you be working in a team or fairly independently?  Will you be able to have exposure to numerous business areas? Be prepared with questions that will help you gain the understanding you need to be as effective and successful as possible during your internship.

“How do I differentiate myself from other interns?”

A goal for most from their internship is to receive a full time offer at the end of the summer. To do this you not only have to do a stellar job but you also need to differentiate yourself from the others. To help understand what this takes; ask. Ask the recruiter; ask a mentor (which you should seek out immediately!); ask your supervisor. By asking multiple people you will get different perspectives which will all be helpful. Once you have their guidance you can go into action making sure you deliver against it. During the course of your internship you need to ask how you are performing. You need to assess your progress and your contributions several times over the course of the internship. Don’t wait to the end to potentially find out you missed something. There is no chance to course correct then. If you ask throughout the summer you can work to improve or strengthen certain areas. And ask at the end. Know where you stand before you pack up and head back to school.

“How do I get the most out of my experience over the summer?”

This is not only up to your employer but also you. You need to have a sense for what you need to learn, be exposed to, and walk away knowing more about. You need to think about how you will define success. Helping to define that can steer you to the actions you should take to make sure you can check on your “must haves”. Sure, your employer has expectations you need to meet. That is a given and you should never lose sight of that. However, you should have expectations too.

To get the most out of your experience, first and foremost, you need to be in the thick of things. You need to SHOW UP. And I don’t mean just physically come in on time and be in the right place. There is more to this than the status quo.

Are you trying to understand the company culture and how they treat their employees, their customers, their vendors? Then SHOW UP to every outing you can physically (and appropriately) attend. Go out for the company after hours get togethers. ASK for an invitation to a customer event or a vendor event. Treat it like you are “auditing the course”. If you are hoping to see how corporate decisions are made at a C level, talk to your supervisor or mentor and ASK if you might be able to attend a C level meeting. Granted this may be a little tricky, but asking with a clear description of why might just do the trick. Are you hoping to develop strong analytical skills then STEP FORWARD and ASK to take on a part of a project or shadow another project team member that has those responsibilities. Look for opportunities to do more and separate yourself from the pack.

You may be seeing a theme here. To really get the most out of your summer you need to show up, step forward, and ask.

And now the last question – “Will they like me?”

We don’t want to necessarily admit it but that is in our heads. Always. It is like the first day of school. You want to be liked. For your internship this is part of it as well. Companies will make offers to people they see themselves working with, that they like. There, I said it – don’t send the hate mail. In internships and in real life the secret here is the same. Building a broad network over the summer will help you be known by people at all levels and in many areas of the company. The more people that can speak to who you are (and not just your supervisor) and how you “fit” with the company will be helpful. Seek out people to connect with over lunches, coffee, or whatever works with your job. Be professional, do your job at the highest level, be helpful, be a team player, be respectful. It is the basics. Be someone you would want to hire and work with. It really is that simple.

Fast forward, you made it to the end of the summer and everything feels great. You think it was a successful foray into the business world and your supervisor and the company echo that with a full time offer.  Congratulations!  

You have the job (if you want it). Now what?  More on that later.

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Begin to Begin

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 First Happy 2016!  May it be a productive and blessed year!

I admit to being one of those people that hates to START anything on January 1st. We’ve all done that. How many diets and exercise plans have I started on January 1st only to revert on January 2nd? Way too many to count. It just feels doomed to fail or it has the potential to not live up to expectations because it has the New Year vibe attached to it. Even starting something on January 2nd seems more realistic, more attainable, and more actionable. Regardless of when you start something the key is that you STARTED!  That is what it is all about. Starting. Begin to begin.

At the beginning of the year people often assess what they accomplished the year before, what they wished they had been able to accomplish and what is still important enough to accomplish. Face it, some things need to fall off the list and some things need to stay on it. (Alas, I need to organize the basement! That has to stay on the list.)

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 10.13.17 PMAn item that frequently ends up on our list is assessing our careers, our jobs, what we REALLY want to do with our time, our energy, our brain power. I bet for most people, the career landscape looks a little different than what we have right now. In some cases it may feel like wholesale changes; maybe giving up a C-suite position to teach in a foreign country? But for most of us it is more likely minor tweaks.  Maybe a slightly different role using our core capabilities or moving to a new company that is building a new business that matches your goals. Whatever the change is it will take focus and attention to make it happen.

I suggest you start with something that isn’t pressure filled liked responding to a plethora of job postings. Start with identifying what it is you want to be spending your energy on. On my website I called it “Identify your passion”. Write down where you see yourself adding value, how you want to be regarded in the work place, what makes you feel like you are contributing.  Start there. Then you can start to think about next steps like reaching out to your network, updating your resume, beginning to research potential ways to write your next professional chapter.

Beginning to assess your situation and where you want to go is creative and energizing. It is all about imagining your next move and starting to put your plan together. A new year; a new direction. Begin to begin.

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What makes you credible?

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tmI once met with a client and we talked about what she was hoping to focus her career direction towards. She mentioned helping companies create strategic business plans and specifically wanted to focus on small businesses starting out. I was impressed. I liked her clear perspectives and direction. When I asked what her experience was she said “I like talking to people about this and I am very good at providing advice.” I asked again what her specific experience was so we could establish her credibility in her resume. What floored me was that she said she didn’t have any “real” experience but that people should just trust her given her education and passion. I kindly told her that it just doesn’t work that way.

I do understand that sometimes your current or past job title or position may not 100% align to the direction you want to take. I’ve been there. I get it. You want to take your skills and capabilities and utilize them in a different, perhaps more fulfilling manner. There are ways to showcase your talents and establish credibility for future and different opportunities. You need to help future employers see you in the role you want even if it may not jump out from a title or a specific role you had in an organization. However, you must also take action to fill gaps in experience where they exist. Be honest with yourself. Can you step into your “dream” role without honing any additional skills or gaining additional experience? You owe it to yourself and to your potential employer to gain the requisite experience in the areas you want to develop and work in. You have to establish your credibility, it is that simple.

How do you establish your credibility?

There are a number of ways and it does involve having a plan and making an investment. By investment I don’t only mean money. Investment could be time. I know, I know. You are saying “I have no more time in my schedule to devote to this! Why can’t I just write my resume so it sounds like I can do it?” Again, it just doesn’t work that way.

 

First, the plan. Understanding what you want to do is the first step. Say for instance you know this – you have been doing content development for an on-line retailer and now you want to move into managing strategic projects for a brick and mortar retailer. What skills do you think you need to move to this new opportunity? If you aren’t sure you should take the time to do a bit of research. Check out job descriptions for the role you want. Find people on LinkedIn that have your “dream” job. What certifications do they have? What types of roles did they have getting to where they are now? Are there any professional organizations you could join to start to network and interact with people in the area you want to move to? How about volunteering in a way that uses the skills you are looking to strengthen? Could you run a project for a non-profit that involves an auction or some other type of retail aspect? These are just some ideas. I am sure you can think of a few yourself.

What makes you credible?

Now, the second step, the investment. This is where you, based on the plan you developed in step one, sign up and show up. It may, unfortunately, also involve paying up. Maybe one of your items is to receive a project management certification of some sort. This will probably cost some money but in the long run would be worth it. This is the step that is all about doing – doing whatever you think is necessary to gain the experience in the area you want to focus on.

Once you have taken the steps necessary to demonstrate your skills and capabilities, then and only then, can you begin to establish your credibility in your resume.

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Thank you. Two little words that can make or break you.

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When I was young, and still to this day, I write thank you notes when someone has given me their time, attention, advice. My initial Thank You is not an email, definitely not a text, but an honest-to-goodness, real life handwritten note on stationery. Oh and, I write them in cursive. (I think if I used the word cursive with anyone under the age of 30 they would look at me like I was speaking a foreign language!) When I was young I would roll my eyes when my parents put the pencil or pen in front of me with a stack of thank you cards. Now I appreciate the time they took to teach us the art of saying “thank you”. I appreciate it when I receive thank you notes as well. Just knowing someone took the time to sit down, articulate his or her gratitude unique to our interaction makes me more invested in that relationship.

Do you feel the same thing when you see that personal note hit your desk?

thankyou

In the world of career transitions, informational interviews and job search, I find the simple act of professionally and formally saying thank you is hit or miss. Some take the time, others do it informally, and others, alas, don’t do it at all. Here is the bottom line. Not doing it at all is the big mistake. Doing it informally is border line, but doing it sincerely, thoughtfully, timely and formally is a MUST. And here is the real secret – it isn’t hard!

Why take the time to write a thank you? Simply, it is respectful and it shows prospective employers, career mentors, colleagues providing insights through informational interviews – frankly anyone helping you get what you want, that you respect them and their time. It shows character. That character is part of the fabric of who you are and what you will bring to your new position; new company; new team. It is about building upon the relationship that you started in the meeting.

In crafting the thank you note it should not be a “form” letter that you’ve downloaded from the Internet and changed the names, dates etc. It should be a personal note with specifics about your meeting and what you learned. It should include both your interest in, and request for, continued contact and dialogue. Additionally, you should indicate your plan to follow up in a specific time frame. If you have talked with more than one person, each person gets his/her own note. And each of them should be unique to that dialogue.

Emailing your thanks and appreciation should only happen once you have established a relationship and have a continued dialogue either in person or via email. Email is pervasive in our personal and professional dealings and is acceptable after the initial thank you has been extended. Never, and I do mean NEVER, text your thank you response.

Wouldn’t it be unfortunate and disappointing to miss out on the success you are working so hard for because of omitting this easy but so important step? The act of saying “Thank You” may be a unique way to differentiate yourself and separate you from the pack.

So, on that note, thank you for your time in learning a bit more about my perspectives on what is important in building relationships.

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Can YOU Picture Yourself In Your New Position? New Career? & Why Does It Matter Anyway?

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I don’t mean just what suit you would wear, what pictures you might have on your desk (if you have a desk), what your signature block might look like on emails? These things come in time.


 

What I do mean is how you bring VALUE to a prospective employer. It is about how you will bring your skills, capabilities and expertise to the table. How you will communicate one-on-one with your colleagues or in group settings. What people will be saying about your work and your contribution. It is about how you see yourself.

When you picture yourself in a new position or role it should be outcome based. Not superficially connected to “stuff”. What outcomes are you delivering or driving? This provides the right foundation for clearly seeing what you do really, really well each and every time and being known for that contribution. Outcomes are what matters; what you are paid for in most cases.

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So you may be asking, why does picturing myself in the role or position matter?  Why does it matter when I am writing or updating my resume and sending out cover letters to prospective employers?

Don’t I just need to know enough about the company and the role I am applying for to capture that essence in the communications?  Based on my own experiences looking for new opportunities and in working with people on that journey I believe there is more to landing the position you desire than just knowing how to put your contributions in words. It is about finding and using the right words.

Taking the time to imagine how you will add value and excel gives you the right words (both written and verbal) to communicate to prospective employers how you will contribute to their organizations success. That is the name of the game – telling the story of how you will contribute. Don’t expect the employer to do the work to picture that. You need to paint that picture for them in some cases.

Take a few moments to do this very tangible exercise. Sit down at your computer or do it the old-fashioned way (remember the pen and paper?) and start writing your story. Picture yourself coming to work, working with a team on a project or researching a new trend – whatever the position is about. Think about how you capture new ideas, create documents for communicating business cases, craft emails that will be compelling and action-oriented. Imagine your conversations with prospective customers. Picture how an accomplishment feels to your team, your boss – you. See how you react in a difficult personnel manner or when making a controversial or risky decision.

With those observations in hand, review your resume. Does it convey who you are?


Would a prospective employer see you in that resume they way you see yourself? You should be able to convey your value through your words.  If you can’t picture yourself in that role, how do you expect someone else to?

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