Career Yoga

I recently attended a panel hosted by a women's leadership group. The topic was stretch assignments and how to expand your skill set. Luckily, I've already got my next career assignment identified: A year in Germany! Starting in January, I will be working at our RnD site in Deutschland. I'm excited but my German is still really, really bad. Sehr schlecht!

Ich bin in Deutschland!

Ich bin in Deutschland!

While I'm not sure how successfully the panel stayed on topic, there are a few things I wanted to comment on and keep in mind for future motivations. For when I'm super excited and ready to 'lean in' or ready to give up and start looking into gold digging as a career.

One panelist: "As long as you're doing it." Her point being that failure is expected and perfection isn't going to happen, especially early in you career. But you aren't going to get any better if you hide in your cubicle or doodle on your note pad in meetings. Get out there. Do it.

Another woman was very blunt and forward about why she started her career - to earn money. She got the degree that she did because it earned more money. She started with the job that she did because of money. She made her first job change to get a pay increase. But that mentality didn't last long. Soon, helping people and providing meaningful work and learning new things, that took charge. But given that she was a panelist and her job title, she's probably not living in a cardboard box today. I can certainly empathize - part of the reason I got an engineering degree was because I knew it would end up in a decent-paying job and wouldn't require an extra decade of school. But now that I'm actually working and putting a huge chunk of my time and effort into this job, this career, money is less and less of a motivator. Sure, I need to be able to pay all my bills and I can't live off ramen. But I also need more out of my job and with each new challenge I'm learning more and more what job satisfaction looks like for me.

Another way to think of and ensure job satisfaction - think of the energy. Where is it going, where is it coming from? For me, I don't get energetic sitting in front of my laptop in my cube. I get excited about new ideas and discussions with team mates. That powers me to get work done at my desk. And where does my energy go? Where am I exhausted. The work should be energizing rather than draining. Sure, there's grunt work or busy work in any role but a career needs a balance.

Recently, Forbes released their 100 Most Powerful Women list. And once again, IBM's CEO, Ginni Rometty was high on it. During the panel a quote of hers came up: "Comfort and growth don't co exist." 

As new assignments and roles change your point of view, be cognizant of it - goals change. Find things to strengthen those competencies. There were three women on the panel, all in their forties or fifties. All leading full careers in impressive positions. And none of them predicted they would be anywhere near where they are today. So those people who have their whole life mapped out or demand to know where you are in ten years? Screw 'em. Understand your competencies and interests as they develop and follow them.

The panelists at one point mentioned the three C's but then threw out a bunch of words starting with C: clarity, competence, courage, communication, connections. I've found PIE to be much more useful - Performance, Image, Exposure. When ensuring you have a well-rounded career and are ready to move forward, these three things need to be addressed, whether it's in getting the next job or a promotion or even just taking on a new task in your current position. Performance is a gimme. You have to be able to do your job. Expect everyone else in your position can as well. Image. What is your reputation? What does your image project? This isn't just what you're wearing but any way you present yourself, from personal hygiene to communication styles. The biggie though is Exposure. Who knows your name? Who can you work with to make sure you have that opportunity for the stretch assignment or who could suggest you for that upcoming position? As you go from P to E, you have significantly less control over each element, so it's important to manage what you can and take advantage of those opportunities to interact with different people in the organization and take leadership roles.

From one panelist - Everyone fails - it's a learning opportunity! It's only failure if you don't use that as an opportunity to improve. Own the failure and learn from it. If someone faults you and rubs your nose in it, that's their problem, not yours. Your failure is manageable. You didn't cause global warming or kill the dinosaurs. It's just this one thing, this one instance. Not the whole universe.

More advice: Try to have an area where you don't measure your performance. Some place in your life that is calm and relaxing and fun and just is. To quote that Mel Gibson movie - just sports, not games. Like running. Or kitting or painting - I suck but I enjoy it. I'm never going to win a marathon or find my stuff in a museum, but it is relaxing. And the running necessary to balance out the wine. It's just fun.

Advice from one panel member: Think about who you want to be like. Find things to try on. Connect with those who resonate with you. It doesn't have to be someone above you. Peers or even people with less experience can still provide insight or a new perspective. I like the idea of trying new things as you go throughout your career. And I absolutely find myself doing it, whether it's something small, like a way to word a request in an email that I pick up from a colleague whose phrasing I found especially effective. Or picking up a way to control an unruly meeting from my manager or even a leadership style from my mentor. Sure, you may need to adapt it to fit you or disregard it completely if it's not a good fit, but there are ideas all around.

The panel was agreed and blunt about work life balance - it's bullshit. There are times when you really need to focus on work and others when you really need to focus on personal stuff. Overall there might be a balance, but mostly it ebbs and flows. According to Forbes, Millennials are focusing more on work life integration rather than work life balance. Here's another article on the death of work life balance and the birth of work life integration. Honestly, this might be a topic for another post, but my colleagues and I have been practicing work life integration more and more without realizing it. Two years ago, my company put a gym on campus. My colleagues and I now go there whenever - between meetings, lunch breaks. And work hours really have stopped meaning much. Sure, we need to be around for meetings, but even then, a good chunk of our meetings are online conferencing as the team is global, meaning you can be at your desk or at home. As I work more and more with my German colleagues, I find myself getting up at five for a meeting in my pajamas on my couch, then going back to bed for another hour. It's not uncommon for me to take an hour in the afternoon to do personal things, then get back to work after dinner. This makes sense for me; I've found I'm most productive in the morning and the evening. I don't have kids at home to bug me at night and my cat loves helping me work. It's not nine to five any more, especially when you're on a global team and time itself is almost irrelevant.

The Cat, helping me out at my home office, the Couch.

The Cat, helping me out at my home office, the Couch.

Periodically, self evaluate. Both at home and work - Is what you're doing useful, either to yourself or others. Is it bringing you joy? Sure, not everything is happy go lucky all the time. For work, is what I'm doing useful? Sure, I'm helping design medical devices that help people manage their disease! My specific role helps the design and development go smoothly and gains agreement from the team on device functionality. That's useful! Does it bring me joy? Honestly, yes. Of course I would rather stay at home and sleep or watch Friends all day. But I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a thing I helped build in development, knowing that it really is helping someone rather than just making some shareholders rich. I also enjoy (most of) the daily work - having important discussions on the future of our group, providing meaningful input and training to team members, leading my team through analysis and decisions. So I think I am safe to keep going down this path, career-wise. As for home, I knit, paint, read, and write this blog. I've been knitting for a few years and I honestly don't much any more unless it's making something for someone else. And right now family and friends have all the scarves and head bands they need. I've stopped painting for the same reason - my walls are full and the Etsy shop is closed. Reading, however, keeps me sane. I guess I learn something? And I love it. This blog though.... It's only been up for three weeks but it's definitely a stretch for me. I'm trying to keep these posts from veering into journals or stream of conscious stuff, which is what I usually write. I'm sharing something that I hope is useful to whoever reads it, even if that's just my mom and the few friends I've shared this site with. And I'm making something. I'm not wasting my time online entirely - I've got articles to show for it! I'm enjoying finding my voice, finding stuff I want to talk about.

So there it is - all the advice I picked up from a one hour panel from women in the healthcare industry. I don't know how all of it applies to stretch assignment, but still useful.