Eyes On Your Own Paper!

nun-with-rulerTaking the SAT was one of the most taxing events of my teenage life. It’s outcome seemed to be able to determine your entire future in a way that would be insurmountable if you made one wrong move and was more pressure than I wanted to be bear. Add the pressure cooker environment enforced by the test proctor and it became a powder keg of anxiety for me. The idea of messing up was like a guillotine hanging above my head for an excruciating three hours that day but also for weeks before taking the actual test. As the proctor strolled around the room, I remember thinking that this person must only have one job, “alert the CIA at any perceived sign of cheating”. No actual cheating need be proven, but a turned head (perhaps a little neck roll to relax the muscles) or a sigh of exasperation over the last multiple choice question, would be enough to warrant being dragged from the room screaming “I am not a cheater”. So maybe I had an overactive imagination at the time but her repeated circling around the room with a short but low, “Keep your eyes on your own paper”, was a lesson that I took with me.

Fast forward to my years as a cheer mom in the hyper competitive All Star world and I recall this being an important lesson to teach my daughter but one that many parents missed. When my daughter was struggling with a skill that someone had already mastered, I often told her to “keep your eyes on your own paper”.  I wished that I could teach the mommy’s in the crowd—and reminded myself of–the same lesson but it’s much harder for adults to learn.

I’ve even seen the roving eye concept play out in personal relationships.  The woman with a wonderful husband (or vice versa) that can see the forest for the trees because a co-worker is getting flowers everyday!  Don’t be the girl that’s whining…”you never send ME flowers” to a guy that brings you lunch, remembers your birthday and appreciates the awesomeness of your intellect (yes, I’m going all girly and using awesomeness in this one).  The same could be said for the guy that has a hard working wife who supports the household, still gets to PTA, and increases the overall productivity of the home, how could you mention the neighbor who “cooks a homemade meal every night”?

Professionally, staying focused on my own production or circumstance has been a successful method but still isn’t without its challenges. Let’s set the stage: You’re a salesperson in any environment. Your metrics, achievements and (unfortunately) occasional failures are displayed and often discussed among teammates. In a highly sales driven organization your accomplishments are often lauded via email. This can be great and actually keep you on your toes but with this level of visibility comes a lot of contrast and compare scenarios. Knowing what the other salesperson is doing if not checked can become a distraction. I recall an early career experience with a salesperson that was a natural born quota crusher.  My competitive drive helped me watch his behaviors to find tips, tricks of the trade based on his knowledge but I worked to keep the distraction of not feeling adequate based on his success at bay, so that I could find my own. It only took one event for me to realize that a bell ringing moment for a colleague would cause you to lose sight of your accomplishments and become sidetracked. This happens in a new sales environment also. After having the reputation as a “closer”, I gave myself very little praise for the small wins along the way until a more experienced colleague reminded me that baby steps bring reward as well.

While salespeople are often reminded to focus on their own production, especially since they are likely to be verbal about their perception of performance among their team, the concept is rarely discussed in a general work environment–you know customer service, operations, accounting, etc. So let’s think about that. My grandmother referred to this concept as “sweeping around your own backyard”. Basically, taking care of your own business before focusing on others. Ironically, if you spend all of your time taking care of your responsibilities or doing your part, you won’t have much time to focus on others.

“Colleague watching” has become a negative workplace past time as things have become more competitive, individuals feel overworked and under appreciated, or simply, when they are not managing their careers appropriately. Rather than appreciating the hard work of a colleague or complimenting someone, it becomes a routine of dissecting the non-essential items and making things personal. Office gossip largely results from these petty discussions based on feelings and incorrect assumptions, even general dislike for a peer. Instead of “Lucy really deserved that promotion, did you see the results of her last project?”, it becomes, “I don’t know how she got that promotion, she’s always late”. Even if that perception is reality, it’s not exactly relevant to you, and more than likely you have a particular behavior that you wouldn’t want a non-managerial employee putting a spotlight on (assuming that none of us have reached sainthood).

Once it was brought to my attention that a colleague was seeking to find my blog with the hopes that it would cast a negative light with my employers. Without ever having read any of my posts, the assumed personal feelings or perhaps negative attitude of this person led them to believe that I must be saying bad things about the company and this would be the “gotcha” moment. Initially I was offended but I got over it quickly because it helped me finish a draft that I had begun months before. I realized that it was important to point out what is missed when you’re seeking to find fault with others. So, in appreciation of my lovely Grandma who always said “sweep around your own backyard before you sweep around mine”…here goes.

The Benefit of Keeping Your Eyes On Your Own Paper

1. It makes you more aware of areas that YOU need to improve upon. I always like to triple read a post and run it through a grammar checker before publishing, simply because I prefer to find my own errors. Being cognizant of areas of improvement spare me the embarrassment of being called on basic misspellings, usually the result of typing as fast as I think.  Imagine how much better your results would be if you spent time reviewing your work instead of searching for the shortcomings of others (and in turn…)

2. You will develop professionally and find opportunity to develop others. Leaders are people who have generated trust within their organizations. If you are known for being the Negative Nancy in the group, it will be less likely that the development of others will be entrusted to you, especially since it’s proof that you may still need to develop.

3. You will build bridges among your peers. Everyone can be drawn to an encouraging spirit while few enjoy the presence of a naysayer. What’s your network like? You can often identify the perception that others have of you in your moment of greatest need. When I experienced a lay off, years ago, it was easy to reach out to others that would WANT to help me.

4. It’s an attitude enhancer. Looking for the flaws of others is a “bitter making undertaking” (a little Mary Poppins style poetry).

5. You will be happier with your own performance and position. As tough as it may be, the actual outcome is more pleasant when you review your results in light of your previous performance, not others. A win for me may not be a win for you.

6. The merits of your position will be amplified when you’re not comparing yourself to others. Comparing your day-to-day experience with someone in another department, role, etc. won’t help you appreciate the benefits of your daily experience.  I used to hear complaints about the amount of money that salespeople would make in comparison with other areas of the business (operations, accounting), these apples to oranges narratives didn’t make sense and created irrational levels of dissatisfaction.  (for the record, you may not want to be in a position that has no pay when you don’t meet metrics although you have shown up everyday!).

7. Your frame of mind will change. Consistently searching for the negative will crowd your thoughts with exactly that, however, focusing on the positive when you find your mind drifting will be the best measure toward mental fortitude in any situation.

8. How people perceive you will change. It’s easy to say that you don’t care what others think of you but when the perception begins to impact your professional experience it also changes your performance in many cases.

9. Your mistakes will be more accepted (and trust me you will need this benevolence at some point). People will give you the benefit of the doubt when you are known to do the same.

10. You won’t risk uncomfortable personal interchanges at work. Repeating things that you hear puts you in the place of being challenged over unprofessional behavior that can have far-reaching ramifications.

Can you recall a time that you were distracted by the performance or perception of others? How has focusing on your performance enhanced your professional experience?

Authority of Passion

Have you ever been in a love relationship with a person that treats you well, seems to get everything about you, and finishes your sentences but realized that you’re not “in love” with him/her? Everyone questions your reasoning in this scenario. How could you leave such an awesome guy? He’s so great! If you don’t want him, I’ll take him! Since no one seems to understand, you begin to question your own thought process and determine that something is wrong with you so you stick it out. The question is do you go all the way, putting your greatest effort in or do you muddle through?

The relationship that you have with your work, is very similar. Being happy in the workplace takes more than just having perks, the “right” culture, perfect working hours, and a great boss. As a matter of fact, none of those things will matter without passion. Think of a love life filled with flowers, candy, romantic cards, and Tiffany bracelets but no passion; some people will derive temporary satisfaction from the trinkets while others would be mired down by the lack of fulfillment. For my male readers, think of a $100 meal at an upscale restaurant with beautiful presentation but airline portions. A bowl of cereal would be more satisfying. Your career is the meal and you should leave the table everyday with a full belly, having gorged because you just couldn’t seem to get enough.

After writing my last article https://madsaleswoman.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/with-women-like-this-who-needs-men-emies/, I reviewed the many conversations that I have had with individuals who have expressed job dissatisfaction: the barista at the high end coffee shop, the new graduate interning, experienced professionals with industry tenure and realized that all of their unhappiness boiled down to the feeling of emptiness. It may sound like a hippy moment, all of this feeling and necessity to connect but it’s the truth. We all have missions and drivers and when we work outside of them it’s tougher to identify the purpose and remain productive. This could be in regard to your place of employment, career choice, or professional path.

In the “good ole days” people went to work, produced and went home. Work was merely a means of survival and support for most people and that tradition was often passed down through generations. Everyone punched a time clock (they still exist, I know) and reported for duty to their respective departments. Expectations of overwhelming joy or fulfillment were not the prevailing thought of the day. It was about getting the job done for the perceived greater good and if you were lucky, receiving a gold watch and pat on the back (but at least there were corporate pension plans at most levels).

As time moved on specific cultural changes impacted that vision. Increased industrialization transitioned the balance of the workforce from manual based positions and higher education became more accessible, changing the dreamscape. Enter a re-imagining of the work world and in marched the hippies, the yuppies, the wall street fund managers, and ultimately the Silicon Valley innovators with their brand new idea of culture and passion fulfillment. The passion of others continue to directly impact the corporate visions of today. Nick Swinmurn’s idea combined with Tony Hsieh’s leadership, innovation and passion led to the success of Zappos, a company that hires based on commitment, ideas and the energy that an employee can bring to the business at all levels (from customer service to the C-suite).

Yes, things have changed and those same things have crafted the rose colored expectations of today’s professionals, Gen-X and younger–self included. The bulk of the current workforce and those that will run the show over the next 30 years is composed of people who are taught to use education as a way to fulfill a dream and reach the highest level of potential, yet they are viewed as “job hoppers, ungrateful or even irresponsible” for seeking their passions rather than waiting on the gold watch (which I could factually argue no longer exists). This leads to the personal feelings of disappointment that so many professionals feel but can’t identify. My feelings?

There is no authority greater than passion. NONE. While you attempt to avoid the nagging feeling that you should be doing something else, it will hang in the background waiting for the exact moment to tap you on the shoulder. I picture unfulfilled passion as the “mayhem” character from the Allstate commercial, he’s patiently waiting for you to let your guard down . The more you attempt to avoid the understanding that you “should be doing something else”, the more pronounced the thought will become. Passion is an authoritative dictator. It will determine your level of success or failure, impact how people perceive you, and most importantly, Passion will dictate your level of success or failure.. Passion becomes the embodiment of your professional happiness. And it can do all of this without you realizing it!

How do you pay passion the respect it’s due?

     1) Re-evaluate your career often. Taking stock of your career options and opportunities is a required personal responsibility. When looking at your current position it’s important to understand how it plays into your future plans or goal. Reviewing the job you’re in doesn’t make you a disloyal employee it’s make you a competent professional and can actually enhance your performance in your current role. Failing to analyze your career can lead to missteps and prolonged dissatisfaction.

     2) Know the difference between contentment and fulfillment (satisfied/peaceful vs. realized (accomplished). Part of my mission is to have moments of contentment but periods of fulfillment. I can be content with a signed contract, a new prospect or a daily “win” but I refuse to rest on my laurels or languish in the moment. Instead I suggest consistently seeking new paths to travel and challenges to overcome, which will help you determine if you are in the right role/environment or need to make changes.

     3) Understand your brand/who you are. This step requires a unique level of honesty that will be tough but totally self preserving in the end. Be willing to assess where you fit, what you need to change to fit elsewhere, what your strengths are and what you are capable of in the moment. Do this early and often, as they say, and you won’t have to “prepare” an elevator pitch, you’ll always have one handy. Be careful with this step: Self awareness is the best marketing tool but it shouldn’t be the reason that you talk yourself out of following your passion.  It will help you determine what tools you have to get there and what others you’ll need to develop to start or get further.

     4) Be comfortable taking risks. The things that people typically consider their passion is also the thing that they perceive as most risky: starting a business, quitting their job to travel, writing a book, etc. The more time you have put into #3, the easier it will become to embrace chance. Most of us operate in the comfort zone without realizing that not taking a risk is risky in itself. Having prepared yourself will mitigate some of the potential impact and create the self-assured mindset necessary to “jump out there”.

These are just four steps to begin the recognition and pursuit of passion, I’m sure that many spiritualists, gurus and writers have other ideas and I wouldn’t say their wrong but I’ll sum it up with someone who has demonstrated an ability to pursue her mission and redefine herself consistently:  Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.Oprah Winfrey