Your one word of the year

In 2013, Fast Company published an article on choosing one word to focus on that year.  Never mind New Year’s Resolutions but one word, one purpose, one driver to focus on for the year.

Similar to my personal BHAGs, I adopted this one word idea for personal use.  2013’s theme was focus and 2014 theme is gratitude.  Both shaped how I was going to approach situations, events, and commitments for the year – both personally and professionally.

To come up with my word, I often go through the following activities:

Reflect

  • What were some of my favorite memories from this year?
  • What could I have done better?
  • Which BHAGs did I complete this year and which ones did I miss?

Envision

  • What are some of my in-the-works, draft BHAGs for the coming year?
  • What do I have planned?
  • What do I want to learn?

My word of the year also shapes what ends up going on my personal BHAG list.

I want 2015 to be something big and life-changing.  My one word for 2015?

I can’t wait to see what fearless brings in 2015.  What’s YOUR one word of the year?

The value of personal BHAGs

As we wind down 2014, one of my favorite things is to reflect back on what took place the past eleven months and look forward on what I’m excited for in the coming year.

For the past few Decembers, I’ve created personal BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) inspired by organizations that follow Jim Collins’ philosophy.  From reading twenty books to getting to wheel pose in yoga to visiting a new country, the goals are meant to be a mix of ones I am certain I capn accomplish and others that are daunting and far-fetched.

As I begin to brainstorm new BHAGs, I always review my current BHAGs and see which ones I’ve accomplished and which ones I’ll miss.

This year, I had fifteen BHAGs and only managed to accomplish 2.  That’s a 13% success rate.  I shared this with a friend who then asked me what the point  was of making BHAGs if I was only going to miss most of them.  Her question stung although very valid.  I did ask myself… “well, what is the point?”

I took a look at my 2014 personal BHAGs:

  • Save an additional $X amount
  • Read 20 books
  • Go to a new country
  • Run a total of 300 miles
  • Be able to do a wheel in yoga class (check – hello upside down world!)
  • Finish one module in Rosetta Stone
  • Be able to swim five laps
  • Be in the 15lbs weight lifting in boot camp
  • Go to a new state or province (check – Greetings Atlanta!)
  • Take my mom on a holiday
  • Complete 10 hours of coding
  • Take a public speaking course
  • Be able to do forty pushups in a row
  • Trapeze lessons
  • Private (going to keep this last one to myself)

I didn’t end up doing most of them.  I didn’t even end up completing the one I thought would be the easiest – reading twenty books.  As of December 3rd, I’ve only read twelve.  But of the books I did read, one was Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices and several were Haruki Murakami.  I chose books that challenged me as a reader and a thinker.

Same with the run 300 miles BHAG.  In 2013, I had complete a running race as a BHAG and at the time I wrote that goal down, I hadn’t run more than ten minutes since tenth grade gym class.  In 2013, I ran my first 5k and then 10k and fell in love with the race.  In 2014, I set my eye on a half-marathon as part of my getting to 300 miles.  I ended up running three half-marathons from February to October but sadly those plus training did not equal 300 miles.

When I reflect back, the value of my personal BHAGs isn’t completing them and giving myself a gold star.  The BHAGs provided me with an opportunity to explore new hobbies, new interests, new passions.  I learned what I like (running and yoga) and what I hate (following cookbook recipes1).  It was in trying to accomplish my personal BHAGs that gave me most meaning.  The journey is the reward.

So here I am at the last month of the year and starting to think about 2015’s BHAGs.  Will I have many?  Chances are yes.  Will I complete them all?  Not a chance.  I’ll be surprised if I finish more than two but I’m excited to see what it will take to complete them.

Share with me some of your BHAGs or New Year’s resolutions.  I would love to take a peek and see what I can borrow.

1 I had this silly idea one year of cooking once a month from a recipe book. It failed miserably.  I tend to be more of an innovator and creator in the kitchen than a recipe follower for better or worse.

What my favorite childhood books taught me

I was recently invited to a baby gender revealing party where the guests were asked to bring a childhood book with a handwritten message in lieu of a traditional Hallmark card and gift.

It’s been awhile since I last bought a children’s book so I was a bit at loss of what book to get.  As a lifelong reader, I thought back on what books were my favorite to brainstorm for the expecting couple’s gift.  What came to mind were two books that I still love to this day.

Something From Nothing by Phoebe Gilman was first read to me in Kindergarten.  The story is about a baby boy who receives a blanket at birth.  As the boy grows up, he brings his blanket with him everywhere, eventually turning the beloved blanket into a raggedy fabric.  Unable to part with the blanket, the boy’s grandpa turns the blanket into a jacket which the boy lovingly wears until the jacket also becomes teared.  The boy’s grandpa turns the jacket into the vest, and the same activity occurs, and so the vest becomes a handkerchief, and eventually into a button, and over time the boy looses the button, leaving the book with a sad, unresolved ending.

As a child, the story resonated with me.  It taught me that just because something has been loved, used, and tired, it doesn’t mean that it automatically gets thrown out and forgotten.  With a different eye and a fresh perspective, a beloved but destroyed blanket can be reused and turned into many, many different items.  It’s like one of those Ikea hacks that we often see on Pinterest.  Missing a few bolts?  Turn that Ikea Malm desk into a bed frame!

The second book that came to mind was The Balloon Tree by Phoebe Gilman(1).  The Balloon Tree is about a young princess whose father, the King, leaves the kingdom for a few days.  The king leaves the princess’ uncle in charge and tells the princess that if she gets into any trouble to release a balloon and he will see it and rush home.  As soon as the king leaves, the uncle locks up the princess and orders for all the balloons in the kingdom to be destroyed.

Unknown to the uncle was that the princess knew a secret passage to get out of her imprisoned room.  The princess goes on a long search throughout the kingdom for one balloon to release and call for her father.  Unfortunately, all balloons seem to have been destroyed.  Through ongoing persistence and resilience, the princess eventually finds a balloon from a wizard and plants the balloon under a magical tree that grows multiple balloons.

I adored this book as a child because of the pictures, the idea of balloons everywhere, and because the princess’ name was so similar to mine.  I eventually chose The Balloon Tree as my gift over Something From Nothing because I loved the can-do, positive attitude of the princess and the resemblance of the story to Hamlet.  Princess stories often involve the princess being helpless and needing saving but The Balloon Tree princess took control of her own situation and came out the winner.

It was a pleasure to be able to provide a gift to the expecting couple during this exciting time in their lives but I think I got a bigger gift from this activity than they did.  Thinking about what book to get provided me with the opportunity to return to a time where reading was simply for enjoyment and entertainment and also allowed me to reflect back on what made my favorite childhood books so special and how they made me feel.  It reminds me of that Maya Angelou quote,

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I couldn’t remember much of the story of Something From Nothing and The Balloon Tree at first until I did a bit of googling but I did recall how they made me feel and how much I loved them.  What are some of your favorite childhood books?

(1) As I write this, I just realized my two favorite books as a child were from the same author! 

In response to HBR’s article on Lean In

If you follow me on Twitter or on LinkedIn, then it’s not a surprised I’m a huge fan of Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In.  I came across this article from Harvard Business Review, It’s Not Women Who Should Lean In; It’s Men Who Should Step Back, which I highly disagree with.

Here’s a comment I left for the author:

As a woman in the early stages of my career, I very much disagree with this article and James’ analysis of Lean In.  The book isn’t telling us to copy men but rather guide women to overcome hesitation.  I’ve seen young women new to the workforce who are often time hesitant to speak up at a meeting for the fear of being wrong or going against the grain compared to young men in the workplace.  I, myself have experienced this, and it took a couple of years before I had the confidence to “lean-in” and speak up.  What Sandberg’s book does do is help guide women to gain confidence and a voice earlier on.  She’s bringing to the forefront what society is dictating and how to overcome societal and environmental norms that taught young women for the first 18 years of our lives to be quiet, play nice, and be agreeable.

And to address your question on “why is it the women who should be copying the men? Why can’t it be the
men who could be well served by taking a page out of an entirely different book: that of the very women Lean In is advising to change?”

As I mentioned previously, Lean In isn’t suggesting that women copy men.  But let’s say for argument sake that it was.  The book was written to guide women readers in their development and to provide insight for male readers into the challenges women face in the workplace.  And as much as I would be surprised and delighted if men stepped back, it’s much easier for me to take control of my actions then convince a whole gender to “lean back”.

What do you think? Is he right?  Am I way off the ball with my interpretation of the book?

Hello, Influence – A visit to Klout

Last night, I had the privilege to visit the Klout headquarters in the SOMA district of San Francisco as part of the Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner*series.  I’ve been to several of their events before including ones at Yelp, Genentech, and Thoughtworks and had always left feeling inspired.  The events are a great way to meet other females in tech as well as see the host company’s head office and learn more about their culture.

klout

You’ve been pinned by Klout!

Like many tech companies in the Bay area, the Klout office was vibrant and eclectic – from its wooden, high ceilings to the meeting rooms named after famous celebrities – the office showcased Klout’s dynamic culture.  The event began with Klout’s Director of People and Culture, Katelin Holloway, sharing her take on Klout’s culture and how the process to being a Kloutlaw (a Klout employee) required going through a series of interview to assess your skills and also if you will fit in with their culture.

The dinner went into a series of speaker and panel discussion.  The speaker that resonated with me was Klout’s Community Manager, Sahana Ullagaddi.  Sahana spoke about her move from working in a more corporate setting in New York to working a start up in San Francisco.  Mirroring a lot of what I did when I first moved here, Sahana reached out to influencers on social networks that she found inspiration and asked to connect.

I reached out to anyone who influenced me even if they weren’t in my reach, I still reached out.  I found the less expectation the more invested I was to learn from them.

– Sahana Ullagaddi, Community Manager @ Klout

That’s the thing I found when I moved to a new city and had to rebuild a network.  I emailed, Facebook messaged, inmailed, and tweeted at people who I thought were interesting and who I wanted to learn from.  To my pleasant surprise, I had a good response rate.  When you are genuine and authentically reaching out or as Sahana put it, “authentically curious” without any agenda or expectations, people are more willing to reach back out and connect.   I encourage you to send a cold message to someone whose career, lifestyle, beliefs, etc. you admire and see if they are willing to have a 20 minute coffee chat with you.  You’ll be surprised at what genuine sincerity can bring.  And when you’re one day in a position where people are reaching out to you, remember back to those who helped you and pay it forward.

*Girl Geek Dinner is a not for profit run by volunteers that connect female “geeks” together through sponsored dinners at organizations such as Google, Facebook, Yelp, etc.  There are city specific chapters with the Bay Area chapter being one of the largest ones.   It’s a free event however getting tickets to one of the Bay Area Girl Geek dinner can be challenging.  They usually run out within seconds of them opening the event on Eventbrite.  If you’re in a city where there’s a chapter, I highly encourage you to attend an event.

The Art of the Follow Up

I recently moved into a role where I now have a say and influence in the hiring process.  After being on the hiring side of several interviews, I’m surprised at the lack of follow up from those that I’ve interviewed.  The post-interview follow up helps remind the interviewer who you are and offers the chance for you to reinforce your strengths.  Simply put, the follow-up email should be a norm – typical behavior that goes together like peanut butter and jam, thank yous and you’re welcomes, left and right, interview and follow up email.

Think of the follow up email as a way to

  • Highlight the strengths you mentioned
  • Address any hesitations or weaknesses the interviewer may have brought up during the interview
  • Reinforce why you are the perfect fit for the role and the company

And personally for me, the follow-up email provides an opportunity for me to see your communication skills.  If you can’t write a decent email to a first time manager, then there’s no way you can convince me to be comfortable with you writing an email to my manager, to my manager’s manager, or to my manager’s manager’s manager.

For those who raise the point that you may not always have the interviewer’s email address… I call bull.  We live in a day and age of internet creeping.  An easy Google search will pop up the company’s standard email address or you can always guesstimate (john.smith@google.com, johnsmith@google.com, jsmith@google.com, j.smith@google.com, etc.).  If that doesn’t work, try your interviewer’s social networks.  While I prefer not to be messaged via Facebook or Twitter, a nice follow up message on LinkedIn is appropriate.

“Image is power. Image is superficial”

I came across this TEDTalk by model Cameron Russell.  Absolutely loved her message and how open and honest she was about her experience and the fact that her modeling career is a result of genetics and legacy.

A short 5 minute video that’s well worth watching.