12 Days That Will Unknowingly Change You Forever

Anna Christina:

This article will take you on a walk down memory lane. These are some of the memories it generated for me:

  • My aunt passed away unexpectedly. I think about her at least a few times a week and am reminded of how much I loved her, miss her, and how fickle life can truly be.
  • I remember the day I was relaxing on my townhome couch, about a month after I bought it, and thought to myself, “On the balance sheet of my life, I now own this incredible asset… all by myself!”
  • I am making my 21 year-old self proud. The long hours at work, piles of homework, and mountain of student loans are paying off.
  • I have fantastic friends I’ve acquired over the years from various points in my life. I’ve purposefully stopped being friends with not-so-fantastic friends and it made me a better person.
  • I felt like I was in Sex & the City when I met Matt. It was exactly as described in this post – I decided to love myself more and ditch the jerks. A month later, I met my wonderful husband.

It’s worth a read (and maybe it will be the catalyst in #1 to change your life).

Originally posted on Thought Catalog:

1. One day, while you’re running on auto-pilot through your daily routine, worrying about whatever it is you deem worthy of concern, questioning the past and considering the future, evaluating yourself with judgment for every way you haven’t lived up to your ideals for the day, a striking thought will cross you. The future is today. This is the life you’ve spent years planning out and waiting for, but you’re not the person you pictured would be living it. It’s in this moment that people make a decision that defines the rest of their lives. They either sit in the remnants of who they could be or they realize that the only person they can accomplish being is who they are on that imperfect, ordinary day. The people who live the happiest lives are the latter.

2. The day you meet your first, not-out-of-convenience, real friend. I’m not talking about…

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Lean In: my takeaways

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Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg is the ‘It’ book for women right now. I like to think of myself as a hip person (which is obviously not true since I just used the word “hip”) so I had to read it. Ok, I actually read it because my curiosity was piqued by the range of reviews – it’s great, it’s bad, it blames women too much, it is too idealistic, etc, etc, etc.   

My high-level review of the book is that I would give it 5 stars as an introduction to a topic that requires more depth. Sandberg keeps it high level and shies away from getting more specific about how women can really “lean in”.  What I’m hoping is this book is just a starting point for a more detailed discussion about women in the workplace.  The two most important points of the book for me were that: you still have to pursue the opportunity and women are too hard on each other (this isn’t a new learning for me, but it is always a good reminder to work against this phenomenon).

 

Connections are important, but you still have to do the work and pursue the opportunity.

It is easy to dismiss Sandberg’s success and, therefore, her advice because 99.9% of women can’t relate to her life. She is COO of Facebook and probably makes more money in one year than the average reader makes in 10 years. (sidenote: I just looked it up – her salary + bonus is probably 10x, but her stock options are akin to winning the lottery)  She has ‘made it’ – and she did so with an Ivy League education and a lot of connections along the way (seriously, who works at the White House while they are still in High School?!).

The reality is these are not good reasons to dismiss her advice.  She is where she is today because she was willing to leverage those connections and, most importantly, to put in the hard work along the way. Her connections and education opened the doors, but she still had to come up with the ideas and do the work that made her successful.  Networking and connections are very important, which I talked about in my last post (way back in February — don’t judge, I’ve been busy!).  But, they are like a resume. They will get you an interview and maybe a job, but they won’t make you good at the job. That is up to you.

I think the more important point she makes in this part of the book is that women tend to make career decisions in anticipation of future events, rather than waiting to see how events unfold. You need to build a good, authentic network and work hard, but first you have to be willing to even pursue the new opportunities. Women have the tendency to go for roles they believe will fit better with married life or family life. She provides an example where one female was worried about this before she had even had a boyfriend! The point she makes is: don’t limit yourself based on assumptions of what it will be like, because you don’t actually know until you try. I’ve worked with some amazing women leaders who also balance a family. It is hard and requires a lot of support from their husbands and family, but they make it work.   

 

Women need to stop being so hard on each other.

This is so true. This topic is worthy of having its very own chapter in the book. Sandberg covers two main competitions between women: as rivals in the workplace and the mommy wars.

In the first part of the chapter, Sandberg discusses and gives examples of women who undercut each other because they think there is only room for one of them to move up the ladder. I can honestly say I haven’t experienced this kind of female rivalry in the workplace. This could be due to the fact that, up until last month, I worked in a very male dominated function or because I tend to seek out people who have a more positive attitude. I don’t want to dismiss her examples because I’m sure this is true in some environments, but I’d say the rivalry for promotions is not gender specific.  

In the second half of the chapter, Sandberg discusses the divide between mothers who work outside the home and mothers who work inside the home. Once a day, I can count on an article in my Facebook news feed making one of these points: I’m not a bad mom for working outside the home, working inside the home doesn’t mean I just sit on the couch all day, people without kids don’t understand my life as a parent, and people with kids judge my decision not to have kids and don’t take my life seriously. If there isn’t judgment being passed about work choices, then it’s parenting decisions. I’m quite frankly amazed that we don’t have more criminals among us because that is obviously what the wrong sleep strategy or food regimen will create.

I’ll add a third group to what Sandberg discusses: females who aren’t mothers. I don’t have kids, but I have experienced the mommy wars. These are some of the most memorable comments I’ve received personally – “you want someone else to raise your kids so you’ll send them to daycare”, “it’s a fact that kids with two working parents just don’t turn out to be good kids.”, “you will change your mind about your career when you have kids.” Keep in mind that I don’t even have kids and people already have opinions about my parenting decisions that I haven’t even made… because, like I said, I don’t actually have kids (but I do want kids, if that counts). I’m sure these people believe they’re somehow preparing me for parenthood or giving me a different perspective to consider (or they really are just preemptively calling me a bad parent… who knows). 

To tie my tangent back to Lean In, Sandberg concludes the chapter by suggesting that women take life decisions made by other women too personally. I know this well and I’m sure there are a lot more women out there nodding their heads in agreement now. If a woman decides to work at home, it isn’t a reflection of what she thinks about the mom who works outside the home (or vice-versa). If a woman is happy being really good at her job, rather than striving for a CEO position, that decision should be supported and appreciated. The general message is this: rather than finding fault with one another, why don’t we seek to learn from the strengths of one another?

 

In summary… 

I suggest this book to everyone. Although it is a women’s leadership book, it transcends business and women. The ideas of being present, not being afraid to contribute ideas, and working together to make each other stronger are not gender-specific or business-only lessons. It is a quick and light read, but it forces you to ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I holding myself back because I’m making too many assumptions about what will happen? (just try it and see what happens!)
  • Am I contributing my ideas?
  • Am I building constructive, rather than destructive, relationships in my career and life?

Networking 101: Because It Really Is Who You Know

Fair or not, personal connections matter. People like to help someone they know and they like to know the person they’re helping (especially if they’re going to stick their neck out for you). The last time I applied for a job posting I randomly found on the Internet was 10 years ago. It was a part-time job in college as a Customer Service Representative at Ecolab. Since then, all of my jobs have been obtained through personal connections.

I’m sure that makes me sound very lucky or like  someone who is a natural at networking, but the truth is there is nothing out of the ordinary about me. In fact, I don’t like chitchat and I get nervous when approaching people I don’t know. That is why I work in Operations and not Sales. But, you get creative really fast when you’re a college kid staring down $50k of student loans (and that is just from my undergraduate – what a lucky guy my husband is!). I started seeking out people for advice because I wanted to know one thing: How do I get a job after graduation so I can pay off my student loans? What I’ve discovered since then is networking is actually very easy and anyone can do it well if they just stick to the basics.

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Rule #1: One-on-one is the most effective way to build a strong network.

I’ve never had any luck at the large events where you wonder if it’s a networking event or cattle call; and you walk away with 15 business cards but no real connections. It is better to meet with someone one-on-one because it is more personal. You don’t have to worry about being interrupted by anyone else and you can pick the time and location. You will also feel more comfortable talking about your experience and asking questions, and they will feel more comfortable providing honest feedback and advice.

Rule #2: You need to ask for a meeting in order for it to happen.

Simple, right? Wrong. This is the part people seem to dread the most, but if you don’t ask it won’t happen. Sometimes people will say no, but most people will say yes because it’s flattering to be asked for advice.

How do you set up the meeting? You figure out if you want to target someone at a certain company, in a certain field, with a certain degree, etc. Then, you find someone to introduce you. That could be a friend, family member, old classmate, or even a Recruiter. Email introductions allow you to think about your wording when you introduce yourself so this is the method I usually prefer.

Rule #3: Don’t only network when you need it.

You should always strive to make personal connections for a few reasons: it’s a good way to learn about different areas in business, new people bring new perspectives to your life, and it makes it easier when you do need help. I’ve found new opportunities through old classmates, people I’ve met at trainings, and casual work acquaintances. I didn’t intend to meet these people because I thought they might be able to help me at some point. I met them because I was genuinely interested in learning about what they do and where they work. In most cases, they reached out to me when they learned about an opening they thought I’d like. If you only network when you need it, you risk missing out on bigger opportunities that might come up when you least expect it.

Rule #4: Stick to the purpose of the meeting and stay positive.

Meeting new people to learn about their job or company isn’t the time to trash your employer or boss. It isn’t even the right time to dwell on personal struggles too much. The purpose of your meeting should be to learn about the person you’re meeting with, share your story, and get advice. You want to give the impression that you have a good outlook on life, have turned your life challenges into motivation, and are easy to get along with.

Rule #5: Return the favor.

If someone wants to meet with you about your job or company, return the favor. It’s only polite.

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In addition to these basic rules, you should follow standard etiquette you’d follow with an interview: be on time, send a follow-up thank you email for their time, be prepared to talk about yourself, and ask good questions. Networking or informational interviews shouldn’t feel like an interview, but it is respectful to be prepared with questions and what you want to get out of the meeting.

On the flip side, networking is also a good way for you to see if a company culture, department or boss is someone you wouldn’t want to work with. When I was finishing my MBA, I met with a guy in Strategic Business Development at a large local company for coffee to learn about his job. The guy was 15 minutes late and had that slicked-back hair look about him. He referred to my experience as “back-office” and didn’t seem engaged in anything I had to say. I was so put off by him that I didn’t even apply for the job.

What have you found to be the most effective networking approach? Do you have an awkward networking story you’d like to share?

(Part 2) Direct Selling: Pros and Cons

It seems like more and more people are getting into direct selling. The stigma that they are all pyramid schemes is slowly falling by the wayside as people discover there are real benefits to working in the industry. In this post, I discuss what I perceive to be the pros and cons of the direct selling world. I don’t work as an Independent Rep in the direct selling industry (nor does it fit with my lifelong ambitions), so consider this my independent assessment of the opportunity.

Pros

  • Flexibility. You can choose when and where you work. I know stay-at-home moms, teachers, nurses, and retirees who use this to supplement their income. I even know a single mom who was able to completely replace her full-time income and now she gets to see her son on and off the bus every day. It can be a great opportunity for someone who needs extra money but doesn’t have consistent time for a typical part-time job.
  • You are your own boss. You can set your own goals and don’t have to sit through another grueling performance review because you didn’t adequately navigate corporate politics. Direct selling is a low-risk way to test the waters of entrepreneurship, but with the added benefit of having resources to develop sales tools and take care of the manufacturing and distribution.
  • It can be lucrative. If you treat it like a small business and are able to be successful, it can be lucrative. A statistic often quoted in the industry is that 6% of women make over $100k annually, and 80% of them work in direct sales.
  • No education or experience required. Success in this industry is based on effort level, not education or experience criteria. This makes it a good opportunity for someone looking to pay for their schooling or someone who is self-motivated but isn’t at a good point in life to pursue a degree.
  • It’s a form of buying local. I consider this a pro for the salesperson and the consumer. Even if the company isn’t local, 30-50% of the sale is going to the salesperson (and back into the community). It is unlikely that products purchased at retail stores generate that kind of income for people in your local community.

Cons

  • Sales is a hard job. Very hard. That is why it’s a lucrative position in any industry. You need to be comfortable asking people to buy things, you need good product knowledge, and you need to be highly self-motivated… and that is just want it takes to pitch the sale. You also need to be comfortable with rejection. People will say no and sometimes they’ll be condescending about your new venture; that can be hard to take.
  • You are tied to the company. In the corporate world, it’s easier to transfer your skills to a different company or department. In this kind of position, you are tied to the company unless you’re willing to start over with a different brand. This won’t matter too much if you pick a good company that has a low risk of failure or scandal (like the recent Herbalife scandal), but it’s still a possibility.
  • You are your own boss. It’s can sound glamorous and fun, until you realize it’s not quite as stable and predictable as a steady paycheck. You’ll need to be good at budgeting for the ups and downs of the sales cycles and you’ll need to figure out your own taxes.

Overall, I think direct selling is a good business opportunity – especially for someone who needs extra cash but doesn’t have consistent availability for a part-time job. It is also great for the younger generation that wants flexibility and work/life balance that a lot of corporations can’t guarantee. Some days, I dream about a job where I work a few hours at home in the morning, hit a 10am yoga class, run some errands, and go back home to finish work (but then I remember it doesn’t fit my skills and interests, which is important to consider when evaluating if this type of work is for you).

If it’s such a good opportunity, why do so many people fail? They underestimate the self-motivation and hard work required to be successful, or they don’t have the necessary sales skills and don’t know how to get those skills. It takes a high level of personal commitment to stick with it for the first few months, when there might be a lot of leads generated but not a lot of money made. Even if someone is able to stick it out, they might not have the ability to close the sales. If this is the case, they need a mentor, self-awareness, and some really good sales books to help them shape those skills. It isn’t impossible to become good at sales; it just takes some confidence and self-awareness to develop the skills if they aren’t natural to a person.

Have you considered direct selling? What is your opinion of the pros and/or cons?

(Part 1) Direct Selling vs. Pyramid Scheme: What’s the Difference?

Norwex, Mary Kay, Lia Sophia, Scentsy – most likely, we all know someone involved in direct selling.  Personally, I’m addicted to Arbonne’s vanilla protein powder (it’s vegan!), Scentsy warmers (they’re wickless!), and Pampered Chef whisks (they’re just so nice!). There are some really good products available through direct selling.

Even though the industry is building credibility, there are still perceptions that direct selling is a pyramid scheme. (I bet the word Amway just popped into your head.) These perceptions could stem from a bad experience with a pushy Independent Rep or misperceptions about pyramid schemes in general. However, there is a clear difference between pyramid schemes and direct selling. The FTC even has an entire page dedicated to explaining the difference.

What is a Pyramid Scheme?

Pyramid schemes make almost all profits from new recruits. It is mathematically impossible for everyone in a pyramid scheme to make money because, eventually, there is no one left to recruit. When a pyramid company sells a product, it is usually for slim profit margins to drive more incentive for recruiting than selling.

Pyramid Schemes don't limit the levels that can receive commission so they quickly become unsustainable.

Pyramid Schemes don’t limit the levels that can receive commission so they quickly become unsustainable.

What is Direct Selling?

Direct selling is the marketing and selling of products by Independent Representatives directly to consumers.  Commissions are earned from retail sales made by the Independent Rep and people recruited by the Rep. The commissions are higher for the products sold by the Rep, which drives a higher incentive to sell the product than to recruit. Other terms for direct selling are network marketing and multi-level marketing.

Aren’t they all Pyramid Schemes?

No. The difference between direct selling and a pyramid scheme is the compensation plan. A pyramid scheme places most of the emphasis on recruiting people and little or no commission is given for selling products.   Direct Selling compensation structures reward more for selling products, with a smaller percentage given for sales made by their recruits (and no commission is usually given beyond five levels).

I’ve encountered the pushy Independent Rep who won’t take no for an answer (in fact, there is a Mary Kay lady I can’t get to stop calling me!). These are the people who give the industry a bad name. I’ve also encountered very nice Independent Reps who were patient in their recruiting process and successfully convinced me to join as a Consultant. It’s important to evaluate both the company and the person recruiting you if you are thinking about joining a company; you will be tied to both. You should also consider the following:

  • Investigate the company. Have they demonstrated positive results and do they sell a quality product?
  • Learn about the product. Would you use it? Is it competitively priced? One of the first signs of a pyramid scheme based on products is the products are very expensive compared to products with similar quality.
  • Understand any restrictions.
  • Talk to other distributors. How long have they been selling? What do they like most and least about the company?
  • Take your time. A good company and potential business partner will understand that you need time to determine if this is the right opportunity.
  • Think about whether this plan suits your talents or goals. Like any job, there will be some people who love it and some people who hate it. Write down what skills you like to use and compare them to the skills required to be successful in a direct selling environment to see if it is a fit.

I do not actively sell any products, mostly because of the final point. The skills I like to use in my work life are: problem-solving, analysis, coaching and development, and investment decisions. I don’t think a sales role would fulfill the analytical side of my personality. It’s important to evaluate if you have the desire to be in sales. It isn’t necessary to be a natural salesperson, but it is necessary to have the drive to learn and practice what it takes to be a successful salesperson.

Much to my own surprise, I have a lot to say about this topic so I decided to split my thoughts into two posts. In my next post, I will discuss the pros and cons of Direct Selling (i.e., is it a viable opportunity?).

Are you currently or have you ever been an Independent Rep for a company that uses a direct selling model?

Hey Smart People – Solve These Problems For Me!

I am not a Research & Developer. I wish I were because then I could work on eliminating small life annoyances, like these:

I want to use one phone for multiple numbers.  I’m sure anyone who knows me is rolling their eyes because I say this all the time. I have a work phone and a personal phone. I like to keep work and personal separate, but I don’t want two separate phones. Someone needs to figure out how I can have two phone numbers associated to one phone so I could choose which number to use (similar to how you can have multiple emails linked to one phone).

I want to talk to my text or email via bluetooth so I can respond in the car. Yes, I know this is similar to picking up the phone and calling; but, I’m on the cusp of Gen Y/Millennials so I prefer written word most of the time.  I am pretty sure there is something out there like this, but I want it to be easily accessible to me and usable with bluetooth.

I want to put my MacBook in a docking station so I can easily hook it up to an external monitor and keyboard (and, voilà, it becomes a desktop). I am looking at you, Apple. I can hook up my MacBook to a PC Monitor but it’s not as clean as using a docking station. It also sounds like a hassle to find a monitor that works well with the MacBook (based on what I’ve read online). While you’re at it, you should look at offering an ergonomic keyboard; I can only find a Microsoft one that is compatible with Mac. Yes, I realize this whole paragraph makes me sound like a geriatric hipster.

I want to use a computer keyboard to search my DVR and Samsung Smart Hub.  Using the remote arrows to type on the tv’s keyboard makes me feel like it’s 1998 and I’m waiting 20 minutes for my AOL internet to connect. There should be a universal keyboard to search so I can find Netflix movies in less than 3 minutes. I am fairly certain this problem is already solved and I just don’t have the newest technology to take advantage of it.   If that’s the case, I need an adapter so it does work with my old school technology.

These are a few small life annoyances that I need someone really smart to step in and solve for me. My husband is really smart and techie, but he can’t do everything for me. I’m putting this karma out into the world and see if Apple responds with some new (and affordable) products in the next 1-2 years. I’d even settle for Lenovo or Samsung.

Vocab Builder: mawkish

mawkish ( môkĭsh)

adjective

1. Excessively and objectionally sentimental. 
2. Nauseating or insipid in taste.

How to use it in a sentence:

It is tough to trust whether the affection is genuine when it comes from a mawkish person.

“Honesty is the best policy” turns out to be a wise maxim rather than a mawkish platitude, but only if others follow the same principle. Social trust is a valuable community asset if – but only if – it is warranted. – Robert D Putnam

One night in college that involved too many Seagram’s & 7-UP drinks causes me to cringe when I think of the mawkish drink.