Sunday, February 26, 2012

How to be more confident at work

A colleague recently complimented me on how confident I currently am compared to when she first met me over 15 years ago. She attributes this gain in confidence to my marriage; I was single when we were first introduced. I was a little taken aback by her comment. She gives my husband, though a tremendous support, more credit for my confidence than 15 years of hard work and additional experience. In response, I’d like to share my thoughts as to what I believe attributed to my increase in confidence.

Inspiration from Mary Matalin:
Around the time I met my above colleague, I jotted the down the following advice from Mary Matalin:
My father used to remind me constantly that only one thing separates successful and unsuccessful people. It isn’t money or brains. It’s confidence. What creates confidence?
1. Being prepared
2. Having experience
3. Never giving up
Over the years I have referred to this advice often, especially when going through a rough patch. Here are examples of how I applied Matalin’s father’s advice to my work:

I put in long days learning my job:
While working for the engineering company, one of the company's managers talked favorably about his energetic new hire. He was impressed with the young engineer’s habit of spending a couple of hours at the end of the work day learning everything he could about his job, even reviewing engineering textbooks. The manager felt this engineer was going to go far. After accepting my current position, I was overwhelmed with piles of paper and strict deadlines. I couldn’t help but think of that young engineer as I too spent many long days learning everything I could to prepare myself for my new position.

I gained experience by taking advantage of leadership opportunities:
I joined and became involved in a professional organization. Over my 14 year membership, I’ve held almost every board position including President. I placed cold calls, spoke in public, made decisions and received feedback that would not have been available to me in my job. By volunteering for these positions I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone and had the opportunity to develop leadership skills in a safe environment.

I didn’t give up when I initially did not pass the CPA exam:
Studying for and passing the CPA exam is probably the hardest, yet most important, thing I have ever done. When I did not pass the exam the first or second time I sat for it, it would have been easy to just give up. I was under quite a bit of pressure to pass though. I was still at the engineering company and many of the engineers had their P.E.’s plus my predecessor had been a CPA. So I persevered until I finally passed all four parts. Having earned that little piece of paper and those initials behind my name has given me more credibility, respect and confidence than anything else I’ve ever done.

Anyone who has ever been though a failed relationship can certainly appreciate the positive frame of mind that comes from being in a supportive relationship and can attest to a loss of confidence that comes from a relationship that does not work out. I firmly believe though my increase in confidence came more from being prepared, additional experience and not giving up than from being married.

Susan Marshall says it best when she wrote:
Increased confidence comes from true learning – getting the wrong answer and having someone who knows the right one explain it to you. Sharpening a skill creates energy and a desire to do more. Naturally, this requires commitment, patience, a great deal of practice and a willingness to persist when you encounter setbacks.

For more information on how to be more confident in your work please see this post on Alison Green’s blog Ask a Manager. Also, be sure to read the comments which include additional suggestions and a recommendation to read Larina Kase's book Anxious 9 to 5: How to Beat Worry, Stop Second-Guessing Yourself, and Work with Confidence.

Have you become more confident at work? If so, what has worked for you?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Getting Control Over Your Life

I hadn’t planned on reading Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.  I had previously read Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment by Tal-Ben Shahar and Eric Weiner’s book The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World and had thought two books about happiness were more than enough for me. Plus, there is Penelope Trunk's post where Penelope writes she wasn't a huge fan of the book and that:
Gretchen writes about her life and Gretchen's life is not all that interesting.
What changed my mind?
I read "The key to happiness is to know yourself" a post on Gretchen Rubin’s blog also called The Happiness Project. Since self-knowledge is one of my goals for 2012, I decided perhaps reading the book would offer suggestions on how to attain more self-knowledge.

What is The Happiness Project about?
One day while riding a city bus Gretchen, a married mother of two, realizes, "Time is passing, and she is not focusing on the things that really matter." Instead she is suffering from midlife malaise – a recurrent sense of discontent and almost a feeling of disbelief “Can this be me?” She also realizes she needs to work on happiness now while things are good because one day that phone call will come. Her husband suffers from Hepatitis C, a potentially fatal disease that attacks the liver. Eventually, he will develop cirrhosis and need a kidney transplant.

This moment evolved into The Happiness Project. Inspired by Ben Franklin's resolution chart Gretchen selects 12 different happiness resolutions, focusing on a different subject each month. The book chronicles this project; what she tried, what she learned, what worked and what didn’t.

My Thoughts:
Since I’ve been reading Gretchen's blog for some time, I felt the book didn't offer anything new especially in the area of self-knowledge. Plus Penelope was right; at times Gretchen’s story wasn’t very interesting. Then in the midst of reading, I received my own phone call bearing bad news. No longer able to concentrate on the book I had an epiphany. More happiness isn't what I needed, or even what I wanted. What I need to work on is confidence and strength, so when the next phone call arrives I can carry on without falling apart. On further review, I realized this was Gretchen's goal as well:
One of my main goals for my happiness project was to prepare myself for adversity, to develop the self-discipline and the habits to deal with a bad thing when it happened. (Pg. 136)
Gretchen's research revealed that change and novelty are key elements to happiness which are also the elements needed to attain self-confidence. Gretchen's husband offered his thoughts on the project:
I think this happiness project is all about trying to get more control over your life. (Pg. 289)
Was that true? Gretchen responds with:
Perhaps. The feeling of control is an essential element of happiness-a better predictor of happiness than, say, income.  Having a feeling of autonomy of being able to choose what happens in your life of how you spend your time is crucial.  Identifying and following my resolutions had made me feel far more in control of my time, my body, my actions, my surroundings, and even my thoughts.  Getting control of my life was definitely an aspect of my happiness project, and a greater feeling of control gave me a major boost in happiness. (Page 289.)
Bottom Line:
The book though not perfect isn't a complete waste of time.  If you are interested in getting more control over your life, reading the book could give you the incentive to start your own project.  If nothing else you may glean a couple of little nuggets like if you want more sleep it is best not to go to bed wearing socks and that the amount of time you smile during a conversation has a direct effect on how friendly you are perceived to be.

Is there a happiness project in my future?
Gretchen had her epiphany in April. She completed her resolution chart just in time for January 1st.  This is after spending months researching and reading about happiness.  "Happiness" is Gretchen's passion and her full-time job.  I had set a goal for myself to spend January researching and writing about self-knowledge, February's topic was to be communication. Here it is mid-February and I've accomplished almost nothing. So no there is not a happiness project in my immediate future. But I can spend the remaining months of the year researching self-discovery and what it will take to get control over my life.

Have you read the book? If so what were your thoughts?

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:
Does Happiness Have a Set Point?
Jane Pauley Gives Practical Inspiration

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Is working for your boyfriend a good idea?

Beth a 21-year old college student is considering dropping out of school to work full-time for her boyfriend’s computer company. She’s been working towards a degree in health sciences with the goal of becoming a physical therapist. Last summer her boyfriend hired her part-time to create websites for his clients. She discovered she enjoys this work and is good at it. Now she’s experiencing doubts about her chosen career path and hates the idea of spending additional time and money (she will need a master’s) for a degree she’s no longer sure she wants. She thinks dropping out of school will be a win-win. She will spend more time with her boyfriend, determine if web-site design is the career for her and perform work she enjoys without the burden of additional college loans.

Beth is not asking me for advice, but I so want to give it - I don’t think working for a boyfriend or significant other is a good idea. Here is why:

Working for a significant other changes the dynamics of a relationship:
In addition to boyfriend and girlfriend Beth and her boyfriend are now manager and employee. Beth’s boyfriend critiques her work and it is not always favorable. Also, he no longer refers to her as “Beth” or “Hon,” instead he calls her “Elizabeth.” And more often its, “Elizabeth I need you to ….”

Co-workers will perceive the boss’s girlfriend as receiving special treatment or favoritism:
At my company we have a manager who supervises his girlfriend. Almost every employee in the company feels the girlfriend receives special treatment. She is perceived as coming and going as she pleases and not doing her fair share of the work. This boyfriend/boss is constantly called to HR to discuss complaints about her. He gets defensive and repeats these conversations to his girlfriend. She no longer speaks to most of her co-workers. This entire situation has been a fiasco. HR is currently in the process of formulating a plan to reassign the girlfriend to an alternate manager.

- It will be hard for Beth’s boyfriend not to give her the afternoon off when they both are required to attend a function together (or want to go to a baseball game).

- Beth will have 24-7 access to the boss, since they do live together. Her opinions of co-workers will make a difference. If she doesn’t like them, their jobs could be in jeopardy.

You will never be away from work or each other:
This is just a fact, when both parties in a relationship work for the same company conversations tend to always be about work. Disagreements or relationship problems become work problems and work problems become personal problems.

What happens if the relationship doesn’t work out?
In the event of a breakup the entire company will be affected including co-workers and clients. And what about Beth? She will no longer have a boyfriend or a job.

What should Beth do?
I know of ONE couple who have a successful business they built together. This couple was married five years and had careers of their own prior to starting their business. The business is a partnership, not manager and employee. I also know several other women whose biggest regret is never obtaining a college degree.

- Before Beth does anything she should talk to her college advisor. Discuss alternative career paths. Shadow workers in a variety of careers including physical therapists. Apply for internships.

- If Beth does decide website design is the career for her, she should consider pursuing a degree in graphic design. I would also recommend including several business courses in her curriculum.

- Instead of working FOR her boyfriend Beth should start her own business. Website design is not her boyfriend’s core business. If she is needed to perform work for his clients she should do so as a consultant rather than an employee while pursuing additional clients of her own.

Have you ever worked for a significant other? Was it a positive or negative experience? Do you have any advice for Beth?

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:
Favoritism in the Workplace
Workplace Hook-ups
Mom Worried About son's Startup Business

Saturday, February 04, 2012

SWG Coffee Social: January Good Reads

If you don’t count the episode with my new hair brush or the Monday morning the heater failed on our 7-year old water heater, January was a pretty good month. My company reinstated employee wages to their pre-pay cut levels effective January 1st. Despite having prepared the spreadsheet detailing these pay-cuts initiated in "2009" for the company budget, I was still pleasantly surprised wages were reinstated this early in the year.

January is always a busy month for me with closing the year-end financial statements and preparing schedules and reconciliations for my company's year-end audit. This year was no exception and I ended up working most Saturdays. The good news is this year’s audit was the smoothest I have ever experienced and my company is projecting a profitable year with several interesting projects in the works.

With my busy schedule I didn’t have much time to devote to reading or the blog, but I did manage to keep up with my Google Reader. Here is some of my favorite January reads from around the blogisphere:

Trish a thirty-something trying to balance all the "have tos" and "want tos" of life while realizing insanity isn't always a bad thing writes - what may be her most important blog post ever -  On Feeling Whole Again - Handling Postpartum Depression

Webb shares her decision to receive a facial peel in Decadence? or Desperation? Then in Much Ado about...Not Much! she informs us she didn't see much of a change and wouldn't do it again. (Disappointing news for all of us.)

In Blogging, Books, Writing and Age Grace reminds us of her dream to one day have a science fiction novel published. Her inspiration is Harriet Doerr whose wonderful book Stones for Ibarra was published when Harriet was 73. Grace links to this list of late blooming authors.

In Monica's post The Undoing of Gleda Balls  Monica writes of the boost she received to her career when she informed upper management her boss Gleda was not doing her job. In The Other Shoe Drops Monica is told Gleda is being let go, then is offered a raise and a promotion at a meeting in the company's parking lot. These events remind me of my post An update on "I hate my supervisor" where I wrote:
It has been my experience that bad managers are eventually weeded out, but it seems to take upper management close to two years to discover and get rid of a problem manager while the lowly ranks who work for them recognize the problems and shortcomings of their new manager within a couple of months. In the meantime, everyone including the company as a whole suffers.
Although Monica insists Gleda was not the worst boss she ever had, she clearly was incompetent and Monica's decision to inform management sped up the weeding out process and minimized the damage.

I have been meaning to conduct a series of informational interviews with women in a variety of careers for some time now.  My excuse has been I don't have a descent list of questions.  This problem has been solved with Anna's post No More Excuses! 15 Questions To Ask During an Informational Interview. She provides the best list of informational interview questions I have ever come across.  I will be using them.  Thank you Anna.

That wraps up my January.  If you have a "good" post you would like to highlight please do so in the comments. Also, my goal for February is to explore relationships at work particularly women not supporting women.  If you know of any books, articles or blog posts that discuss this topic please let me know.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: Women entrepreneurs, example not exception

Thanks to Trent Hamm from The Simple Dollar for including this remarkable video in his post Ten Pieces of Inspiration.

I have worked in finance and accounting for 25 years, so I must say I was disappointed I had not heard of  microfinance loans prior to viewing this video. According to Kiva:
Microfinance is a general term to describe financial services to low-income individuals or to those who do not have access to typical banking services.

Microfinance is also the idea that low-income individuals are capable of lifting themselves out of poverty if given access to financial services. While some studies indicate that microfinance can play a role in the battle against poverty, it is also recognized that is not always the appropriate method, and that it should never be seen as the only tool for ending poverty.
Ah they are loans for low-income individuals. No wonder I had never heard of them. Gayle points out when people see the word “microfinance” women must often come to mine.  If you see the word “entrepreneur” most people think men. 

Another example of women entrepreneurs supporting the family can be found in Barbara Demick's book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.  During North Korea's famine in the 1990's, it was the women who supported the families. They foraged the countryside searching for ways to engage in (illegal) small business: trade, subsistence farming, and selling handicrafts. The men were required to continue to reporting to their official place of work despite the fact that the factories were no longer functioning or providing food vouchers. One of the women mentioned in the book perfected an inexpensive cookie which she sold each at an outdoor market. These markets were illegal, but without them the people would have starved.

It is time for all of us to think bigger
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon