Networking: It’s not a dirty word

5 Feb

ImageDoes your gag reflex kick in when you hear the word “networking?” Images of business-card shufflers, compulsive happy-hour hoppers and me-monsters flash before my eyes…

If your aim in networking is to befriend people with an angle and an agenda, then you likely are in a time of desperation in your life or you need to adjust your moral compass. Sadly, in Washington, or any city filled with Type-A overachievers, you encounter lots of these toxic networkers and social climbers.

Alas, it doesn’t have to be this way!

Before you start thinking that I’m all against networking, you should know that 50% of my 9-to-5 job is to network. My paycheck depends upon being decent at building strategic relationships. So, I’ve had to be intentional about how to build a meaningful network and not be slick and self-serving… because I just couldn’t live with myself otherwise.

Whether you like it or not, the old adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” rings true in most fields. It was true for me. My first big-city internship opportunity and first job came at the recommendation of one of my good friends and mentors in college.

I didn’t cultivate this relationship because I wanted to work her to land me my dream job. We just became friends because we shared the same passions, I had fun hanging out with her and thought she was awesome at what she did. And you know what? Three years later, I was able to return the favor and recommend her for a job.

There are so many relationships in my life that open doors that I wouldn’t have been able to pry loose myself, and I think this is what makes being a part of a vast, diverse community (or what some may call, “A Network”) amazing. Three cords braided together is stronger than one all by its lonesome.

I think there are two vital perspectives to have to be an excellent networker, or heck, just someone who is an active participant in the world around you:

Find people interesting: PEOPLE ARE AMAZING. We travel the globe, we make music, we run marathons, we cure diseases, we invent crazy technologies, we adopt children. How will you ever know these things about your neighbors, seatmates on a plane, the stranger next to you at happy hour, etc., unless you ask them? Make it your mission to find out what amazing stories people are hiding. Forget networking, this is just plain fun.

Be more of a giver than a taker: When I used to help coach middle school volleyball players, we would play a game called “Givers and Takers.” We would set up a scrimmage and plant an encouraging Giver and whiny Taker on each team. It became obvious real quick who you wanted on your team. In every relationship, think more about how you can help the person you are befriending rather than what you can take from them. This is a no-brainer and it feels silly to even write it out, but for some reason, the “Giver” mentality flies out the window when some people put their “Networking” pants on.

These two perspectives manifest themselves into some practical tips for networking:

  • Ask questions, listen intently (not just to words, but to body language also) and talk less.
  • Be a connector. If you can, think of whom you might introduce to the person you meet that may be of value.
  • Follow up. Did you mention a restaurant you love, an article you read, or some kind of help you offered? A nice follow up goes a long way.
  • You’re more likely to establish a connection with people who you find interesting. Go places where these people are.
  • See opportunity everywhere! I once got a job offer on a plane… I’ve also gotten a marriage proposal from a drunk Argentinian man. You win some, you lose some 😉

What are you best tips on building a meaningful network?


Speak Up and Overcome Self-Doubt

13 Dec

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Growing up, when my mom would take a wrong turn that I knew was a wrong turn from the passenger seat, I wouldn’t speak up and yell “TURN HERE.” But when I’d let her know that she missed the turn two minutes later, she would always ask me “Why didn’t you tell me?”

My fear of speaking up clearly started at a young age and is something I’ve had to wrestle with in the working world and in my personal relationships.

What if I make someone feel bad?

What if step on someone’s toes?

What if people think I’m pushy or demanding?

How will this make me look?

What if I’m wrong?

Yes, all of these ridiculous questions still run through my head even when I know I should speak up. While I’m a firm believer in thinking before you speak and using words wisely, this kind of paralyzing self-doubt is not life-giving in the workplace or in your relationships.

How about this change in perspective: What if the world needs you to speak up?CondiQuote

Condoleezza Rice, one of the most amazing women the political world has seen, tells the story of a time early in her career as National Security Adviser to President Bush. She rarely voiced her opinion in front of the President, but during a tense time of violence in the Middle East, she spoke up about a speech he was preparing that some thought had the potential to make a situation worse.

“[She told him], Mr. President, sometimes the only person who can make an impact is the President of the United States. You have to do this. I waited for his response, nervous that I had overstepped. Instead, he smiled and agreed. He gave the speech and it was a rousing success.” (Story from Condoleezza Rice: Learn to Speak Up)

I’ve learned that speaking up is a muscle that needs to be exercised. The more times you trust your gut, lean forward in confidence, and even embrace healthy conflict,  the stronger your backbone becomes.

If you’re struggling with speaking up like I was, I’d suggest trying these four things that work for me:

  1. Enlist the encouragement of mentors, supervisors or friends: This is probably the single-most important thing you can do. My boss pushes me to speak up, and I ask her for feedback on my progress during quarterly reviews. I also highly recommend finding a mentor or life coach who affirms your abilities and challenges you to grow.
  2. Set goals and envision how things would change if you met them: What situations or roles provide an environment to speak up (such as team meetings, your reviews, or even relational confrontation)? Now set goals to take opportunities to share your opinion and think about why it’s important for you to be an active participant.
  3. Banish negative self-talk: Write down the thoughts that hold you back from expressing your opinion. More than likely, when you see them physically written out you will see how foolish they are. This will help you banish those thoughts.

And don’t forget to give yourself some grace. Did you handle a situation poorly or not articulate your point of view as you had wanted to? We’ve all been there. Learn from it, forgive yourself, move forward and do better next time!

 “If you spend all of your time thinking about how you are viewed, you will lose your ability to be effective. Walk in, embrace your job and do what you’re supposed to do.” Condoleezza Rice

Making a Big Change: Interview with Samantha Reho

9 Dec


Making a big life change (moving to a new city! taking a new job! AH!) can be overwhelming. Not to get all Robert Frost on you, but when the road diverges and you have to decide which path to walk down, it feels both exhilarating and terrifying. Em recently wrote some advice about decision making for the blog, but we wanted to ask a friend who’s had to make some big decisions what her path looked like the first few years out of college.

Samantha Reho is one of our dear friends who lives the heck out of every day, has an awesome career at a young age, and is someone who we admire. Check out her story!

Age and Current Job: 
25, Communications Specialist at the Veterans Benefits Administration, Washington D.C. First job post college: Public Affairs Specialist with the United States Army at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas

What options were you considering after undergrad?

I knew I wanted to pursue a career encompassing my public relations and communications background.  Throughout college, I positioned myself in various leadership positions that broadened my depth of experience and would hopefully make me a successful entry level candidate in the public relations industry.  Additionally, I began expanding my networks of various contacts during my senior year of college of those located in the major markets for public relations – to include New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.  However, bottom-line, I knew I had to find a steady job that (fingers crossed) had health insurance and a 401K plan!  Those student loans weren’t going to pay themselves 🙂

What did you decide to do, and why?

Well, I had incredibly lofty plans of heading back to New York City where I completed the Harold Burson Summer Internship Program the summer before. However, the 2009 recession hit and all of my contacts I had made that summer and throughout my career were unable to help me get a job due to the poor state of the economy.  Right after graduation, I got an interview for a dream assignment, but didn’t make the second round.  When I called to ask for recommendations on my interview, they told me the only reason I didn’t get it was because I wasn’t in the location in the first place – since the recession hit everyone, they were looking for immediacy before budgets plummeted.

So then and there, I decided to make a bold decision and move to Washington, D.C., for six weeks – the time I gave myself to find a job.  Thankfully, I had very kind friends willing to host me on their couch during that time so I was able to focus on finding employment.  Every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. – I researched jobs, tailored resumes, wrote cover letters, made phone calls and when possible, jumped on the metro in my business suit to meet “wish list” companies for informational interviews.  That persistence and “in-person” presence helped solidify my first job with the United States Army.
Describe the decision-making process (did anyone tell you it was a bad idea? how did you make this choice? etc.):

I’m pretty sensible and rational when it comes to looking at career options – having health insurance, a 401K plan and with a steady organization were important factors for me to consider when researching options.  With each job I applied for, I made a pretty extensive Excel checklist with pros/cons, etc. that helped me ultimately differentiate all the many positions out there.

When the opportunity with the Department of the Army internship program opened up, I admit that I was incredibly hesitant in applying because I didn’t think I’d be “good at it.”  On a whim, I applied, got an interview a week later at the Pentagon and received an offer the following week!
When looking and weighing at all my options, I knew the Army provided me federal government employment (perhaps the only thing steady in the economy at that time) and an opportunity to work with our Nation’s best Soldiers!  Four weeks later, I was driving West to El Paso, Texas, to begin my new adventure!
What skills did you develop that you could use later in your career during this year?

The first year of employment is really all about discovery – figuring out what kind of employee you are, how you are motivated, what projects interest you the most, where your strengths and weaknesses naturally lie, etc.  Being flexible and having a willingness to take on assignments outside your comfort zone – both are skills that I still use to this day.  Some of my biggest career-defining moments have grown out of taking on a project that I was terrified of.  Be bold!

What did you learn about yourself in this position?

You’re more capable than you think you are.  One of the more important things I did is kept a log of all the projects I worked on – at the end of the year its amazing to remember all the stuff you were able to accomplish that were completely brand new to you when you started the position.

Are you happy you decided to do this with a year of your life?

Absolutely – making the bold move to El Paso with the Army was not only a defining moment professionally but also personally.  I had the great luck of meeting fantastic people, experience the Southwest in a completely different way and work in an environment in which I found the best motivation each day (got to give it up for our amazing US Soldiers!)  Having that experience ultimately positioned me, experience-wise, to make the move back to the East Coast to work at the Pentagon for two years before beginning my current job with the Veterans Benefits Administration.

What advice would you give someone deciding whether or not to move to a new city and jump into a fast-paced career?
The advice I give to recent graduates is to make one important decision:  Is it more important for you to be in your exact industry/company or to be in your city of choice?  For me, it was more important to get into the industry wherever it may take me (hello El Paso!!) and continue working to position yourself to make it to a more ideal location (for me, DC).  Once you make that decision of what’s more important to you – go for it full force!
Moving to a new city (big or small) to begin your first job is incredibly empowering – take advantage of being young and transient!  Opportunities to make bold decisions with your career slowly diminish the older you become.  The time is now!

3 Steps to Making Decisions You Won’t Regret

1 Dec


I happen to be the Queen of Indecisiveness. The fear of making the wrong decision can paralyze me. What if I move to the wrong place? Head down the wrong career path? My head swims with endless Pro/Con lists, which often keep me up late at night and get me out of bed early in the morning. Yep- clearly I fit with the classic Type-A, slightly neurotic, oldest child stereotype 🙂

My analysis-paralysis syndrome became all consuming as I approached the spring semester of my senior year in college. I literally had NO idea about what to do with my life. After Plan-A failed, I was thrust into a tumultuous period that involved sleepless nights, lots of tears and incessant conversations with friends and family. Finally my future came down to a pivotal decision, with ramifications that would lead to drastically different life paths, including potentially moving far away from Florida, choosing between totally different careers, and uprooting relationships, familiarity, etc.

My options were:

1)   Go to grad school to become a teacher

2)    Do a summer internship with a PR firm in DC

Obviously we know how that decision turned out. Looking back, do I think I made the right choice? Definitely. But to play devil’s advocate, I don’t know that going to grad school would have been the wrong choice either.

All these “fretful” and “huge” decisions I’ve made throughout the years have slowly shown me that I spend WAY too much time worrying about making the wrong decision rather than concentrating on making whatever decision I make, RIGHT!

Maybe this outlook is obvious for many of you, but for you over-thinkers out there, I’m guessing you might be able to relate!An Harvard Business Review article helps to put difficult decisions in perspective and provides three helpful tips to consider when analysis paralysis begins to set in:

1. Pay close attention to the feelings and emotions that accompany the decision we’re facing,

2. Assess how motivated you are to work toward the success of any given option

3. Recognize that no matter what option we choose, our efforts to support its success will be more important than the initial guesswork that led to our choice

We are multi-faceted and resilient—choices and the following outcome are ALL what we make of them…And remember decisions often seem final, but most aren’t- there’s always room for change, growth and rebirth. I have to preach this to myself every day because I still do not always take this to heart-BUT the more my mindset changes, the more I believe it!

Why I Ran 26.2

3 Nov

Three years ago, I could not even fathom running farther than six miles. And whoa, the thought of running 13.1 miles was far beyond my universe of possibility.

But my boss, who’d run multiple halfs and even a full marathon, told me anyone could do it. The challenge was irresistible, so I decided to sign up for a race with her.

A month later, I chickened out. I told myself, “Surely I’ll embarrass myself if I’m too slow” and “I just don’t have a body built for long distance running.” Giving up really nagged me. Did I really want to be the type of person who put limits on myself and didn’t persevere?

So I signed up for another half marathon and put my all into training for it.

Crossing that first finish line was triumphant. I WAS A RUNNER. Words I never thought would cross my lips. I loved the challenge of pushing my body past its limits. OK, I didn’t love it in the midst of training, but the afterglow was exhilarating. I signed up for another one and just kept running.

Fast forward to this New Year’s Day, when I was dreaming up my goals that would define 2013. I decided to choose a personal theme for the year, which I would define as “do hard things.” A leader and businessman I admire, Kevan Kjar, coined a phrase I really love—in fact, I love it so much that it’s a bumper sticker on my Jeep now—“Do the hard thing now, or you’ll have to do the harder thing later.”

Do the hard thing

One of those super hard things that would come to occupy four months of my life was the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon. Three years ago I would have said, “Why on earth would anyone pay good money to run 26.2 miles?”

I registered with my friend, told everyone who cared about me that I was doing it and joined a fundraising team for the non-profit No Greater Sacrifice. There was no turning back now.

My training started during a week vacation in the mountains of the middle-of-nowhere Montana, where I had lots of time to do some soul searching on why I was crazy enough to tackle a marathon. I was also reading the story of Louie Zamperini, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption. His story inspired me to truly believe that human spirit is incredible.

A bombardier on a B-24 flying out of Hawaii in May 1943, the Army Air Corps lieutenant was one of only three members of an 11-man crew to survive a crash into a trackless expanse of ocean. For 47 days, Mr. Zamperini and pilot Russell Allen Phillips (tail gunner Francis McNamara died on day 33) huddled aboard a tiny, poorly provisioned raft, subsisting on little more than rain water and the blood of hapless birds they caught and killed bare-handed. All the while sharks circled, often rubbing their backs against the bottom of the raft. The sole aircraft that sighted them was Japanese. It made two strafing runs, missing its human targets both times. After drifting some 2,000 miles west, the bullet-riddled, badly patched raft washed ashore in the Marshall Islands, where Messrs. Zamperini and Phillips were taken prisoner by the Japanese. The war still had more than two years to go.

For 25 months in such infamous Japanese POW camps as Ofuna, Omori and Naoetsu, Mr. Zamperini was physically tortured and subjected to constant psychological abuse. He was beaten. He was starved. He was denied medical care for maladies that included beriberi and chronic bloody diarrhea… Mr. Zamperini was singled out by a sadistic guard named Mutsuhiro Watanabe, known to prisoners as “the Bird,” a handle picked because it had no negative connotations that might bring down his irrational wrath. The Bird intended to make an example of the famous Olympian. He regularly whipped him across the face with a belt buckle and forced him to perform demeaning acts, among them push-ups atop pits of human excrement. The Bird’s goal was to force Mr. Zamperini to broadcast anti-American propaganda over the radio. Mr. Zamperini refused.

During her exploration of Mr. Zamperini’s war years, [author Laura] Hillenbrand was most intrigued by his capacity to endure hardship. “One of the fascinating things about Louie,” she says, “is that he never allowed himself to be a passive participant in his ordeal. It’s why he survived. When he was being tortured, he wasn’t just lying there and getting hit. He was always figuring out ways to escape emotionally or physically.”

Excerpt from the Wall Street Journal

Now I’m in no way comparing running a marathon to anything near that challenges Louie Zamperini faced. I can’t begin to imagine what it took to survive nearly 40 days on a raft adrift in the Pacific or years as a prisoner of war in a brutal Japanese camp.

But running a marathon was the most I have ever physically challenged myself. What runners call “The Wall” is a very real thing, and miles 18 through 26.2 were probably the most miserable 90 minutes I’ve ever experienced (just ask my sweet friends who came to cheer me on how angry I looked). It didn’t help that I had the stomach flu a week earlier.

With every fiber of my aching hamstrings, turning stomach and blistered toes at mile 18, you better believe I wanted to let my self-doubt takeover and give in to the creeping voice that told me I couldn’t possibly keep running .

When my thoughts shifted to overcomers like Louie Zamperini, the families I was raising money for through No Greater Sacrifice, the Marines running alongside me with 25-pound rucksacks and the paraplegics wheeling through the race, my physical obstacles suddenly looked like little speed bumps along the way rather than a ginormous Wall.

I had signed up back in March to learn about doing hard things, but I gained so much more perspective in the process. Crossing the finish line was not the ultimate purpose of all that pain. The purpose was to build character and gain appreciation for the indomitable human spirit, both my own and others’, through the gritty process.

Maybe running a marathon isn’t your hard thing, but I encourage you to choose something crazy and tackle it! Here are my top three tips for tackling hard things:

  1. Gain some perspective: Watch documentaries, read books and articles, and talk to others who’ve finished. Seeing others overcome and accomplish is a huge motivator.
  2. Tell your people: I couldn’t have run a marathon without my community. The encouragement from my donors, running group, and friends was  crucial to crossing the finish line.
  3. Don’t let speed bumps get you down: You are going to fail. You are going to feel like a loser at some point. But you will get past it. Don’t quit!

Staring Rejection in the Face

26 Oct

If you’re in your 20s, you likely grew up in a culture where everyone is a winner and everyone is special. We all received little plastic trophies at the end of t-ball season, everyone got playing time on the soccer team, and elementary school teachers gave out A’s for effort.

There is even concern among educators that grading papers in red pen causes anxiety in students.

Are there negative side effects from this well-intentioned shelter from failure, anxiety and rejection? I think so. Many in my generation are unprepared to deal with life’s ups and downs and view the world (and ourselves) through rose-colored glasses.

So many sociologists call us the “Me Generation,” as made famous by the Time Magazine cover article that stated that “the incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that’s now 65 or older.”

To generalize, many of us start out believing we are greater than we maybe are—especially right out of the gate. On the positive side, we are dreamers and think we can truly change the world. We’re the innovators who start tech companies and social entrepreneurs who are finding ways to alleviate poverty around the world.

The ugly flip side of millennial self-aggrandizing comes out in those first few years after college during the job hunt and that first or second job.

The scenario: It’s the summer after college graduation and Sarah sends her resume off to 20 jobs—from the world-changing non-profits to the Fortune 500 firms. Don’t forget that we’re coming out of the tail end of the worst recession in nearly thirty years and the odds aren’t great for entry-level positions. Her parents and college advisor tell her that she’s intelligent, hard-working and ambitious—who wouldn’t want to hire her? After all, she had a 3.9 GPA (forget grade inflation… yikes)!

Reality hits for Sarah in the form of rejection e-mails. And when she finally receives an offer, it is for a position she thinks is lower than her skill level. But she takes it anyway because, let’s be honest, she’ll take anything at this point. She has her first quarter review, and her boss tells her she isn’t doing too bad, but has a lot to learn and has messed a few things up. Sarah begins to question how talented she actually is (or thinks that her boss has no clue).

This is where the feelings of rejection sink in, and for many millennials, it is for the first time.

Our lives will be scattered with mile-markers that are failures, I don’t care who you are. But it’s at those defining crossroads of rejection that we have a choice.

It’s our choice to learn from rejection and let it make us wiser and stronger. Alternatively, you can let failure paralyze you in fear of moving forward and messing up again. Even worse, you can choose to be a victim and blame rejection on your boss, your friends, your upbringing, your city, the weather, your haircut that day… Please, don’t choose to be a victim.

I’ll be the first to say that rejection is REALLY HARD. If you need some encouragement, check out Jia Jiang’s blog on 100 Days of Rejection Therapy and his Ted Talk below:

Creating Job Fulfillment

3 Jun

While some work environments are inherently difficult, if you’re consistently miserable it’s your fault. You owe it to yourself and your coworkers to either find a job that makes you happy or make the best of the job you’ve got. –via INC magazine

This article in INC is definitely worth the read:

I think for many of us, job fulfillment is a choice. I am thankful to enjoy my job overall, but the challenge is focusing on the positive aspects of work. The positive aspects depend on what motivates us, which might be what we excel at, where we feel like we are making a difference, or the lifestyle that our job affords us.

For me, I enjoy the interpersonal connections I form in the offices I call on. I appreciate being able to work autonomously, and have the variety of getting to go to different places each day. The thrill of converting an account or seeing my market share numbers go up motivates me.

Ultimately, we all have a choice. Are we going to focus on the positive or negative aspects of the job around us? I have a few add-ons for the list:

1. Determine what your life priorities are and make that a part of your job

For example, relationship building and feeling like I’m making a difference is important to me. Sales representatives can be characterized as being cutthroat and competitive, but by truly caring about my customers and their staff, helping out my teammates and mentoring new employees, I am able to incorporate this relational aspect into my daily work.

2. Set goals

Just like fitness goals, work goals hold us accountable and keep us motivated. When I feel like I’m stagnating, evaluating aspects I can improve on and making a plan always helps me get back on track.

3. Take account of skills you’ve gained

Each professional experience provides the opportunity for growth, especially in our 20s. In my current position I have gained professional confidence, learned from some excellent mentors and managers and had the opportunity to serve in various leadership capacities. Taking stock of skills I’ve learned gives me gratitude for where I am.

It is our choice to make decision that lead us to purpose and fulfillment both professionally and socially in life.  Self-awareness and ownership is key. What are your tips for enjoying your job?