That Time 2018 Taught Me 7 Tough Lessons—All Making Me More Successful
2018 was a big career year for me. I launched this site, my workload tripled from the year before and I had the privilege of accepting rewarding and fulfilling opportunities. I found that I’m getting a handle on many workplace issues and challenges that served as an Achilles heel for me over the years . . . now that’s not to say I’m now a perfect member of the workforce. I’m still learning, growing, making mistakes and am very much a work in progress. But, I’m more cognizant of my behavior and more apt to give myself an intervention before things get out of control. I’m still prone to anxiety attacks and curing an acute case of “foot in the mouth” syndrome— but we all have to start somewhere, right? So, I invite you to come on a little journey with me as I take a look at the progress I made in 2018 and the things I still need to tackle come 2019. Here are a few lessons I learned . . . all the hard way, of course . . . with some wisdom, insight and humility to share!
1. It’s Okay to Correct Your Boss
Picture this: I’m on an important conference call and several times, someone superior to me relayed incorrect information. She said we needed to do “X” instead of “Y”—and I KNEW that “X” was not correct and this mistake would not only delay things but also, worse yet, create extra work. I freeze, unsure what to do, truly worried about insulting this person—someone who always has the right answers—so publicly. I tell myself that this superior likely has insight into the program that I do not. I tell myself I must be mistaken, that “X” must be correct because she’s looped in on higher level meetings and discussions. Needless to say, “X” IS incorrect and because I don’t speak up—chaos ensues. This all would have been avoided if I simply chimed in on the call with something like, “Hi! Quick question—you said ‘X’ but ‘Y’ is in my notes—can you confirm that this has changed?” Trust yourself to speak up when something doesn’t sound right. You won’t get fired for asking questions. More importantly, you WILL up your level of trust if you’re able to successfully avert a crisis! Proving that you’re paying attention will never get you flagged in a bad way—I promise!
2. It Feels Great to Say No
Saying “YES” when your heart/head is screaming for you to say “NO” is one of the worst and most anxiety inducing feelings on the planet. As a freelancer, I live in a state of perpetual fear that every job will be my last and I’ll be proverbially punished if I turn down an assignment. There are many acceptable reasons to say “no” to work. A few include (but are not limited to): needing 45 extra hours in the day to properly give said work the attention it needs, receiving such a tiny amount of compensation you’ll blow it all by springing for a Venti, not vibing with the team to the point that you roll your eyes with every email or list them in your phone as “Annoying People” and finally—absolutely detesting the subject matter. I’ll never accept an assignment that I’m not over the moon passionate about ever again and here’s why: Over the summer, I was offered a gig overseeing content for a fertilizer company’s web site. Yes, I’d literally oversee “shit” content each month. And, truthfully, from the minute the job was on the table—every aspect of it just reeked of BS. But, it was steady money (the equivalent of winning the freelancer lottery)—so, I reluctantly said yes. Fast forward, I’m two weeks in and even more miserable than I feared. So, I told them I would not renew my agreement—effective the very next month. Morale of story? If it looks like shit and smells like shit and is literally about shit—trust your gut before stepping in it.
3. Taking 10 Minutes Out of Every Hour to Reset Will Save Your Sanity
Whether you freelance or work a full-time gig, a hazard of a busy career is sorting through the hundreds of open tabs—in our brains. Multiple work responsibilities coupled with multiple personal life obligations equals the potential for mix ups, brain freezes and screw ups. Staying organized takes a lot of hard work. In fact, you must treat finding your personal organization system as the unofficial and unspoken responsibility of every single job. Earlier this year, I suffered several middle of the night anxiety attacks. I’d wake up flipping out, desperately trying to remember if I sent an important email or wondering where I saved an important document. Enough was enough—I knew this was avoidable—so, I forced myself to start taking ten minute “resets” every hour of my workday. I reassess my to-do list, update my priorities, put my files in order, organize my documents/email and finish easy tasks (sending a one sentence email, signing a document, sending an invoice type of thing) that I can quickly get off my plate—and out of my brain. Taking these ten minute time resets saves my sanity and makes me more productive. Those ten minutes don’t hold me back—they actually help me log off at a normal time, enjoy my evening and sleep through the night. And, the workload waiting for me the next day is so clearly organized that I’m excited to jump in because I’m mot overwhelmed and unsure where to start.
4. Every Three Months, Pick a Day to Do Whatever You Want
There’s an okay-ish mall about five minutes from my house that’s fine for rainy days and quick stops. But, about 45 minutes away is a FABULOUS mall that features WAY better stores (hello, Primark), better food (Cheesecake Factory and Chipotle? Let my basic bitch flag fly and fly high) and a better vibe (this mall and I just have an understanding—we get each other). I rarely go on the weekends because it’s Disney World level packed—but during the week, it’s like my own private shopping oasis. So, I look at my calendar at the beginning of each quarter and figure out when I expect things to slow down or can sneak in a personal day. I block that day off on my calendar and look forward to my upcoming escape. When the day comes, I drop off my daughter at school, pop on a podcast and am giddy as if I was actually going to Disney World as I make the 45 minute drive to my slice of heaven. Now, maybe a mall day doesn’t do it for you—but whatever it is, pick a place, block off a date in your calendar and let the rejuvenation happen. Do this on a WEEKDAY and at least once a quarter. Fans of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way may recognize this as an “Artist’s Date.” Now, Cameron implores her readers to take this “date” EVERY WEEK which is obviously not possible on such a large scale for working folks. That’s not to say you can’t take time for yourself in small doses throughout the work week (grab a coffee solo, read a magazine, meditate . . .) but I highly recommend planning a major, day long event at least every three months. Trust me—the next day, you’ll show up for work AND your life—inspired and ready to kick ass.
5. Speak Your Mind—But Wait 10 Minutes
I find that I need to respond to emails/texts—good OR bad—IMMEDIATELY—and, ESPECIALLY when the message insinuates that I did something “bad.” You know how in Back to the Future, Marty McFly’s trigger is being called “chicken”? Well, I have the same reflex when I’m wrongfully accused of being, well, wrong when I KNOW without a doubt that I’m right. My “impulsivity” gene flairs up and I’ve been known to respond without thought or without care of the repercussions.
Well, here’s what I’ve discovered: I must wait at least ten minutes before responding. Yes, it’s a phenomenal skill to stand up for yourself and feel confident in speaking your mind . . . but your brain needs time to process the claims and figure out the most professional (and least hostile) response. In the heat of a moment, I’ll admit to crazy long tangents with way too many details that have ultimately made things worse. I’ve said things that I regret and have had to backtrack or apologize for them. It sucks. Less is more—ten minutes of simmering on things allows those “bad” thoughts to leave your brain peacefully instead of dumping them out—unnecessarily—on another person who may not appreciate the sharpness of your tongue. It always creates a bigger mess to untangle— a mess that could have been avoided with taking that ten minute time out!
6. Newsflash: The World Won’t End if You Shut Up Instead
Here’s something I learned in 2018 (something that only took me 41 years on this Earth to sink in)—some people in “power” positions at work are insecure. That's just the way it is and there’s NOTHING you can do to change them. You MUST ignore it whenever they try to wield their “power” and make you feel inferior. It’s them—NOT you—and they WILL fight to the death to get the last word. I promise with every fiber of my being and a lot of futile fights over the years that you will never get the last word. And trying to is a painful, stressful process . . . and one that’s avoidable by simply shutting the eff up. Insecure people want to push you down a notch and make you feel like everything you do or say needs their scrutiny. They can’t help it. But, you are more in control of the situation than you realize. You see, by simply allowing them to puff up their chest and condescend—even if you desperately disagree and feel your blood boiling—and say NOTHING—you’re doing yourself, this person and the world a huge mitzvah. You’re taking away their “power” by not reacting. Yes, you may want to punch a wall when you walk away but you’ve maintained your dignity and stopped this toxic energy from growing. Do you want to know a secret? Insecure people usually know they’re being an asshole. I say this from experience as a recovering insecure person. I’ll admit now that as a boss, I let my insecurities get the best of me. Every time I couldn’t resist “putting someone jn their place”—I stressed over my behavior and how I made the other person feel for DAYS. Then I’d embarrass myself further by doing things to overcompensate to try and make the person like me again . . . in the hopes they’s forget that I acted so insecure . . .
7. Removing Your Email Apps During Vacation is MANDATORY
Back in August, my family took a much needed and overdue vacation to Disney World. It was a stressful year for us—my husband was away for three months while going through the fire academy. I had a lot on my plate taking care of our three-year-old daughter and juggling one of my busiest and most rewarding years yet in my career. When my husband returned home, he had a new “rotating” schedule and my work life had two speeds—crazy and insane. Family time was hard to come by and admittedly, I didn’t always feel totally present. I was on my phone, frantically answering emails late into the night instead of soaking up precious time together. So, I decided that Disney was an “email free zone.” Before boarding the plane, I removed ALL email off my phone. Outlook and the Gmail apps? Deleted. General mail? Buh-bye annoying notifications. It was like taking a pacifier away from a baby without warning. It took a bit to detox and not check for “phantom” emails but within a day, I was light as air and felt free as a bird. Was there a work emergency blowing up my phone? Not my problem. My “out of office” message was handling that. My focus remained staunchly on my husband, daughter and unlimited monorail rides, princess encounters and parades. No email meant no reason to constantly look at my phone—which meant staying in the moment. Now, I did think about taking social media off my phone too. I just felt it wasn’t fair to deprive my followers of my adorable daughter’s make over at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique! Oh and in case you were wondering? Yes, I was greeted with an avalanche of emails when I returned home. But about 90% of it was already taken care of and old news. Gee, so weird that I took a break, life went on and my job didn’t implode! Delete email from your phone during your next vacation. I promise you’ll come back refreshed and ready to kick ass with your workload like never before!
Okay—your turn! What tough lessons did you learn in 2018? How will they make you a better boss, employee, freelancer, parent and more in 2019?,