INVEST IN YOURSELF
Welcome to the first article in my series on professional resilience. In this article, I'll be sharing with you my first pathway to professional resilience: Investing in Yourself.
I want you to think about investing in yourself as an act of hard work, of incredible faith in the future, of feeding your soul and the work you are meant to do in this world. It is a full-body-mind-soul-spirit experience.
I chose the photo above to illustrate this article because of the fact that the person planting the flowers is getting their hands dirty. Real growth comes from digging up your foundation, refreshing the soil and making room for new possibilities. This means we have to let things get a little messy. We might get uncomfortable and scared along the way, but it's the only way for us to sprout new growth.
Too often we think of investing in ourselves as a transaction like attending a seminar, upgrading our professional wardrobe or having virtual coffee with a long-lost colleague. I'm not talking about transactions. I'm talking about investing in yourself as a life practice, one that will foster your professional sustainability and resilience. I'm talking about getting messy, making mistakes, creating space and discomfort in service of your next incarnation.
Think of investing in yourself on multiple levels, on an ongoing basis, throughout your professional life. Here are some ways to break it down:
As a coach, I ask a lot of questions with a very specific purpose: to get my clients to go beyond what they already know. My questions are an invitation to the unknown. Here are some of my favorites:
Sometimes clients are totally stumped by a question and sit in silence for a few moments. Other times they are able to articulate a bit of an answer before reverting back to what they already know. It goes something like this:
“If I had a magic wand, I’d have a more flexible schedule, but my boss would never go for that.”
Or, “With full confidence I would go back to school to get my nursing degree. The problem is I’m too old.”
Or, “I’m yearning to work with kids. That’s not realistic, though. I can’t give up everything and just start over.”
What theme do you notice here?
I see a theme of stopping, of cutting off possibility before it can fully be expressed, of throwing cold water on a tiny spark before it can turn into a flame.
Here’s why that is such a big deal:
Not expressing your desire = not exploring it = not planning for it = not acting on it = it never ever happens.
Try this exercise:
I love my team. Swati is the creative lead and Pascal is on logistics. They work really well together but there are communication challenges I don’t know how to fix.
Madhu: Sounds like you have a lot of confidence in Swati and Pascal. What’s going on with communication?
Client: Communication with Pascal can be really hard. He has an awkward style and that can put people off. I’m scared to address it.
Madhu: What are you afraid of?
Client: I just don’t know how to talk about it without offending him. It’s delicate.
Madhu: What about it is delicate?
Client: I don’t want to alienate Pascal. We want to retain diverse staff and I’m afraid of saying something wrong.
Madhu: What do you mean by diverse staff?
Client: (silence and a nervous smile)
For very good reasons, we are often afraid to plainly name people’s cultural identities for fear of alienating them or at worst, giving them cause for discrimination complaints.
I understand this better than most. As a former HR professional, it’s been drilled into my very soul NOT to talk about legally protected personal characteristics. In the era of inclusion and belonging, it is essential that we learn how to engage with each other plainly and lovingly as whole people.
Focusing too much on the potential legal pitfalls of exploring identity has led to a terrible phenomenon: calling people “diverse” instead of saying who they really are. If we cannot name a person’s identities, how are diversity, equity and inclusion efforts supposed to work?
3 ideas for opening up culturally full conversations:
Leaders can often struggle with making a strong emotional connection. Making an emotional connection takes self-awareness and commitment. Without a real connection between leaders and their organizations, workplaces lose their meaning and everyone suffers.
How do you know if you’re being inauthentic? (After all, no leader consciously chooses to be that way!) Let’s imagine you’re about to launch a diversity and inclusion program in your workplace. Are you authentically behind this initiative? Here some quick check in points:
Do I feel truly, fully at ease?
Feeling at ease that means you aren’t distracted, stressed, impatient or time-crunched. You are able to listen with purpose, ask open-ended questions, build others’ self-confidence and allow others to their best work.
Am I fully committed to this? If so, why?
Don’t just go through the motions. People can sense disconnected action a mile away so please be sure you are fully committed to whatever you are launching. If you’re fully committed, you’ll be so excited that you’ll want to talk about the initiative all day long. It will be even more important that sales and budget meetings or technology roll-outs. Your commitment will make it safe for everyone else to get on board and bring the initiative to life.
Bouncing back from adversity is essential to success in any part of our lives. It's particularly true in the professional realm. If we fail to adapt and change, we die on the vine. So let's not! Let's learn to master professional resilience.
I've identified four pathways to professional resilience which I'm going to explore in a series of articles between now and the end of the year. They are:
But before we dive into the four pathways, let's look at this concept of professional resilience and see how it applies to you specifically. I invite you to try the following exercise:
This June I'll be doing something I've never done before. I'll be teaching Coaching for Transformation to a women's cohort at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies.
I've taught coaching before; I've done it at Omega before. That part is comfortable and fun.
The edgy, exciting part is going to be working with a cohort of people who identify as women to support them specifically to develop as leaders in their lives.
What risky things are you up to?
What elements of risk can you focus on even when doing something in your comfort zone?
Remember, embracing risk is how you grow.
If you're feeling stuck in any part of your life, chances are you are locked in to two assumptions:
As a coach and HR professional, I've watched careers flame out because people didn't ask for help. They stayed in their bubble, held themselves back and let their skills deteriorate. Eventually they found themselves in a deep hole, exhausted by the prospect of climbing out.
How To Ask For Help
1. Your Armor Works Both Ways
(If you're not reaching out, you're also not letting others reach in. Get comfortable sharing your truth so others (colleagues, bosses, loved ones, your dentist, anyone!) can help spark new opportunities. Many years ago, I told my truth to the very corporate and buttoned up Chief of Staff of my organization.
I said, "HR has been really good to me and I know it's time for me to leave it behind. I want to be certified as a coach and I'm looking a holistic program that embraces mind-spirit-body."
It was frightening to share my "touchy-feely" side with her but my mind was blown when she sent me a link to Coaching for Transformation. It was exactly what I was looking for and it eventually formed the foundation of my coaching career. And now I am on the faculty of that very program!
2. Vulnerability Is Strength
I can't say this any better than Brene Brown does so here's some of her wisdom. How can you be more vulnerable (and courageous) in asking for what you need?
3. Let Yourself Off the Hook
Here in the U.S. and particularly in my hometown of NYC, we drive hard to be self-sufficient and to not need help. We celebrate self-made people like Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates, but they will be the first ones to tell you they didn't do it alone.
In my South Asian culture there's a hierarchy that makes it deeply uncomfortable, even verboten, to ask for help. I grew up in a family where we simply did not share our struggles with others and certainly did not ask for support even when we desperately needed it.
I notice these dynamics operating in me all the time and they are powerful. I have to practice stepping out from behind the armor in service of real strength and the many possibilities that lie in front of me.
What will you ask for today?
I first met Jim in 1996 when he interviewed me for a Human Resources Manager position at the Associated Press, a job I desperately wanted. To work in Rockefeller Center, for the world's oldest and largest news-gathering organization would be a dream come true. As head of the HR department, Jim was the final interview in what had been a long process. I knew if I hit it off with Jim, the job would be mine. Luckily, I did.
That was the beginning of a decades-long professional bond and friendship that I have treasured every day. After I left the AP in 2000, we stayed in touch and Jim eventually hired me back for a year-long project that helped sustain MadhuCoach in its infancy. He then helped my business blossom with many generous coaching referrals and words of wisdom.
Jim helped me and many, many others grow professionally. My colleague Robert Naylor wrote after Jim's death, "Jim Donna was a mentor who approached me with the far-fetched idea that I should be an Associated Press bureau chief. He was a diversity champion. It was he who appointed me chairman of the AP Diversity Council. Above all else, he was a very decent man."
Jim often said, "I've got a lot of little boy in me." He showed us his playful side every day.
One project I worked on was a management training program for AP's domestic bureau chiefs. My colleagues and I came up with the idea for a "baseball game" to capture the learning of the two-day seminar. We'd have the managers take turns "at bat" while one of us workshop leaders would "pitch" them questions. Easy questions were singles and harder ones were doubles, triples or home runs.
We weren't sure how such a game would go over with a skeptical crowd, but Jim had no doubts. He cheered us on to great success in the program and set us up to become trusted partners to the bureau chiefs, some of whom remain my friends to this very day.
Shine from the Sidelines
Jim didn't need the spotlight; he knew how to make things happen from behind the scenes. He was a master influencer who used his keen intellect, winning smile and practicality to solve everyday problems while reshaping the entire AP.
Jim was the reason there was an HR job for me to interview for in the first place. He saw that AP needed to build its HR capacity and made the case to hire "outsiders", people who were trained in HR, to bring the department and the whole AP forward. Before Jim, HR was called "Humans" and was mostly staffed by journalists who had risen through the ranks. He helped us "outsiders" acclimate to AP's unique culture and paved the way for us to do our jobs well.
From Jim I learned that leadership doesn't mean being the loudest voice or having the highest title. He showed me how to shine from the sidelines.
In these three ways and many others, Jim redefined my ideas about leadership and power. He showed me that leading should be full of fun and in service of others. I learned that no matter what my role, I can and should make a difference.
In 2010 Mamta Prakash was unhappily in business with her husband, longing for freedom and new horizons.
She now has seven years of experience as a finance professional, advising non-profits on how to utilize financial information towards creating resilience and long-term sustainability. (Oh, and she is a really happy person.)
How did she do it?
Mamta's biggest lesson has nothing to do with networking or skill-building or going back to school. In fact, the thing that had the biggest impact on Mamta's success was a physical challenge: signing up for the NYC 5-boro Bike Ride.
"I completed the full ride. I was exhausted but thrilled. I felt if I could accomplish that I could do anything in the world. And that confidence was darn important at the lowest point in my life. I think back and that was the most important part of my transition."
"I would advise other people to take up a challenge unrelated to their main journey and make it happen. The courage and confidence will buoy them."
In order to train for this ride, Mamta did several key things that changed the trajectory of her entire life and allowed shifts to happen in her career.
You may not take on a physical challenge like Mamta did, but what will you do?
While navigating my own career change, I took improv classes. I found a support network of really fun friends, took risks in every single class, committed to performing in a few shows and got back up out of my chair even after totally freezing up.
It turns out that improv is what fueled my ability to be a really good coach. It taught me how to be in the moment and respond with curiosity to whatever my clients bring.
Take a moment now to brainstorm a list of 10 non-professional challenges you can take on within the next 90 days. And check in with the following questions: