Top 5 to THRIVE: powerful and practical steps to a successful career and life
by Michelle “Mitch” Shepard
1) Know your Values
Whether you realize it or not, the things you value most are RUNNING YOUR LIFE. If you’re living true to your TOP values, you likely feel a sense of ease, peace of mind, happiness and confidence when making decisions. If you’ve strayed from your most cherished values, you may be feeling sad, guilty, overwhelmed, conflicted and/or unfulfilled. Can you see how there’s great power in knowing explicitly what your values are? The knowledge will allow you make sound decisions, live a life that’s meaningful, have less regret and guilt, and feel more at peace with your life and your next career move. Can you articulate the top 5 values that drive you? If so, write them down and figure out exactly what each one means to you. If you can’t, consider these questions:a) How do you spend your time?b) How do you spend your money?c) What do you complain about?d) What keeps you up at night?e) What do you feel most proud of? (Hint: It likely brings a tear to your eye!)Your answers will be HUGE clues as to what you value the MOST. My top values are: Family, Fun, Health, Adventure, and Helping Others. In our house, my husband and I have a giant corkboard on which we’ve posted our values (I know, old school!), and I cannot tell you how many times we’ve referred to it for guidance when making decisions about careers, vacations, schools, our kids, our families… Without fail, reminding ourselves of what’s most important gives us incredible clarity and points us towards the right choice.
2) USE your Emotions at the Door
Forget checking your emotions at the door! Instead, start asking yourself: What are these feelings telling me? WHY am I feeling worried, guilty, anxious, happy, proud, excited? Have Emotional Range. Be knowledgeable about your own feelings. STOP refuting their existence. They’re real! They’re relevant! And there’s scientific evidence to prove it! In studies of the human brain, functional MRI’s revealed that emotion is not only present in but is a critical component of every decision you make. It’s impossible to turn off your emotions; your awareness of them is the only thing in question. So, stop pretending you don’t have feelings and start using them as a powerful source of information. The next time you’re flooded with feelings, ask yourself:a) How am I feeling? (Mad? Sad? Angry? Afraid?)b) What assumptions have I made about what’s happening right now?c) What else might be true?d) What do I want and/or need right now?e) What should I do about it?The simple act of asking yourself these questions 1) has a calming effect (by lowering blood pressure and slowing down your heart rate) and 2) lights up the thinking center of your brain (a.k.a. the prefrontal cortex)—so you instantly feel better AND shift into a more constructive, choiceful mode. We women (I’m including myself here!) often worry about appearing “too emotional” and thereby complying with a much-derided societal stereotype. So, we swallow our emotions rather than acknowledge them—and they end up coming out sideways in the form of a high-pitched tone of voice or defensive body language that speaks volumes. My advice: don’t try to stuff yourself inside a pretty little unemotional package. Instead, become fluent in the language of your emotions and use it to your advantage. Don’t be the last one to know how you’re really feeling!
3) Speak your Truth
Truth-telling can be scary. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve thought, “Oh no, I have something to say that this person needs to hear but they’re not gonna like it.” Or, “How should I say this? Should I say this? I’m definitely gonna get fired if I say this.” Speaking up oftentimes means giving tough feedback. However, time and again I’ve proven to myself that speaking my mind is relationship building, trust building, respect building and credibility building. Think about it: Who are the truth tellers in your life? I bet you love and respect and trust them, even if you don’t always LOVE what they tell you, right? Like the rest of us, leaders are figuring it out as they go, but honest feedback is harder and harder to come by the higher they climb. There are many reasons for this: it may be that we assume our leaders have it all figured out and don’t need our feedback; it may be that we’re afraid of the repercussions of saying something “negative;” it may be that we suspect our feedback won’t make any difference. The reality is, your higher ups need to know what you appreciate, what helps you be successful, what motivates you, and yes, what concerns you. Having coached HUNDREDS of leaders over the years, I know for a fact that the people who make their inner circle are the ones who are bold enough, brave enough, smart enough, and articulate enough to speak their truth. I urge you to conduct a little experiment in truth telling. Ask yourself: “What would I say and to whom would I say it?” Will it be risky? Yes. But the odds are in your favor—I can confidently say that 90% of the time I “risk” telling my truth it turns out well. Actually, very well. In fact, I’ve found that it’s way more risky not to share. It starts with trusting yourself. When you KNOW that what you have to say is important—that’s when it’s time to speak up.
4) Put Courage before Confidence
One surefire way to build confidence is to succeed in a new challenge. Yet, a lack of confidence is often what stops us from stepping into new challenges. Most of us women tend to give ourselves a long runway, building in a big buffer to build competence and confidence before stepping into a new challenge. Yet, I I’ve stepped into MANY, MANY new opportunities before I felt ready. And guess what? Somehow, it seemed to work out. And, in most cases, it didn’t just work out—it was downright awesome and confidence building to realize what I was capable of! When I became a business owner, I didn’t feel ready—and now I have a thriving business. When I became a mother, I didn’t feel ready—and now I have a thriving family (and, based on the bond I have with my kids, I seem to be doing a pretty great job J). When I embarked on creating the WiRL summit, I didn’t feel ready—and here I am, yet again, making magic happen. When was the last time you demonstrated courage in taking on a new challenge or opportunity? What was the outcome? What impact did it have on your confidence? It was pretty potent, right? It’s a powerful cycle, this cycle of courage—confidence—courage—confidence, and I urge you to give it a WiRL! Ask yourself: “Do I really need that long of a runway? What would happen if I reached for that next “thing” before feeling completely ready?”
5) Be More of Yourself
One of my favorite quotes is this gem by Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Many of us try too hard to fit the style of our bosses, our teams, our organizations, our cultures, even our families. Clearly, there are times when fitting in helps smooth the path, but it becomes problematic when you lose sight of the unique value that you and you alone offer. I don’t know a single successful person who says they got where they are by playing small—or by playing someone else. Do you? By now you’re armed with a deeper level of self-knowledge, self-awareness, self-trust and self-confidence. Cement that by gathering feedback from your inner circle. Ask those who know you best (your colleagues, friends, loved ones, boss, etc) the following 2 questions:a) What am I best known for?b) What are my strongest talents and attributes?Let their answers ground you deeply in the realization of just how unique and valuable you are—and then go live it. Put forth your talents into the world—where ever and when ever possible! Show up as yourself. Stop holding back. Be big. Be bold. Be YOU. If you stopped being so careful, what would you do? What would you say? What impact might you have?
BONUS TIP: Be a Visionary and Follow your Heart
I have one more golden nugget I can’t resist sharing! In my experience, the most successful leaders do a combination of “career planning” and “heart-following.” At times, it’s important to set your sights high and go for it—set a long-term goal, make a plan, work the plan. At other times, it’s important to take the blinders off and follow what feels most right in that moment. You see, people get into trouble when they never plan and they also get into trouble when they over-plan. Never planning can result in getting pushed in a direction that others want you to go in, invariably one that’s not in alignment with your core values. Over-planning can result in rigidity—an inability to pay attention to new information (like, “Wow, I don’t actually like this job after all” or “I used to love this job that I worked so hard to get and now it no longer satisfies me”). Being a visionary means you have the ability to PLAN and BE FLEXIBLE and FOLLOW YOUR HEART.Michelle “Mitch” Shepard is the Founder & Creative Force behind WiRL Leadership Summit— an online event for professional women seeking career success and personal fulfillment. An executive coach, facilitator, and leader herself, Mitch knows firsthand what it takes to succeed to today’s business world, and is eager to help women accomplish their professional and personal goals. Mitch specializes in Emotional Intelligence and is known for her energy, humor and realism.