Is Your Blade Growing Dull?

When I was in undergrad, I intellectually stimulated almost every day. Sure, there were the Saturday nights when the most intellectual discussion was how fast can we finish the beers at the track team’s party (shoutout to the homie Devon Smith), but regular days consisted of my group tossing around ideas about how we would take over the world while either eating in the cafe, working off our cafe eating in the gym, or making sure we still had access to the cafe/gym next semester by sitting in the library to keep our scholarship dollars rolling in.

I miss those days — the days when we dreamt and planned more than we worked ourselves into an apathetic torpor. Whether the goal was entrepreneurship or figuring out how we would climb the corporate ladder or improving the quality of life for others, we used our minds in an unconventionally imaginative fashion.  Their iron sharpened mine and mine theirs.

I still talk to (but rarely see) many from my circle, as many of us have gotten bogged down in the mundane and monotonous movement from Monday to Friday, only to pray on Friday for the weekend to move in the slowest motion possible and, conversely, for Monday morning to prey on us as hard as we pray on Monday for Friday. This is week in and week out. We do it for the bills and the insurance, the 401(k) matches and the paid days of sick leave, benefits which ultimately catalyze the very mental health days that we end up taking and retirement we long for (because I am convinced that I will never truly want to retire from a passion but I’ll be in a hurry to leave a job). Security holds many of us hostage, which is ironic, because our “security” only secures the prison we have chosen for ourselves.

Instead of security, we should reach for risk, which lies in having those around you  keep you sharp and hungry and thinking outside of the box that would become a cell were you to think inside of it. To keep from being a prisoner of habit, you must have friends with whom you can toss ideas around over a glass of bourbon on the rocks or a good game of Spades. Those who remind you that you are not the smartest person in the room. A circle whose skill sets don’t mirror yours but, instead, complement them. People who specialize in various fields so that, when one of their clients/friends needs help in your field, you’re going to be the first to get the referral.

Today, I charge you to reconnect with an old friend who once inspired you. Whether they pushed you to strengthen yourself spiritually, financially, physically, professionally, or otherwise, give them a call or shoot them a text. See when you all can get together for coffee or lunch or a drink after work. If they’re in a different city, find a time when you all can meet somewhere just to catch up. While I love technology, there is something magical about tossing ideas across an actual table and working through a problem face to face. In short, allow their iron to sharpen yours and do the same for them. It’s the only way you’ll get out of this stagnant stupor that “security” supplies.

 

Make sharpening your sword a priority.

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#TrendingThursday 2.0 – Num. 3

How to Ask for the Job Title You Deserve
When it comes to job titles are important. I know the old saying goes “Don’t judge a book by its cover” but people definitely judge books by their titles. Your chemistry book in high school could’ve been titled “Blowing **** Up” and there wouldn’t be a single teacher that said “Let’s teach with that this year.” Well, do you think “burger flipper” sounds better than “food and beverage technician?” This article talks about the importance of going for the title you deserve because your next employer is going to want to know what you did before and the easiest way to figure that out is to read your title. So, when you’re getting hired or looking at renewing your employment contract, that may be as important of a negotiating point as your salary or benefits are.

22,000 People Agree to Clean Toilets for WiFi Because They Didn’t Read the Terms
How it all went down is interesting but the title lets you know what happened. You can read. The question is, “Do you?”

How to Improve Your Body and Business Skills at the Same Time
I’ve fallen into a rut folks. I haven’t really worked out in two weeks. When I was at my last job, the gym was right beside my office so I would workout for 45 minutes on my lunch break, shower, and head back to my desk to finish the day. I don’t have that luxury anymore. But this article points out some ways that working out can make you a more saavy young professional. Check it out.

 

Make professional development a priority.

#TrendingThursday 2.0 – Num. 2

One Woman’s Brave Email is Helping to Break the Mental Health Stigma
Due to an increase in dependency on technology, people are not interacting with one another as much as we have historically. Additionally, technology and social interactions make it almost impossible to function “normally” these days without always being connected. This is true for our personal and professional lives. But, wasn’t there a time in which you were expected to work M-F, 8-5 and, outside of that outside of fields where it would be an emergency, you were left alone. Well, those days are gone and, especially if you’re a salary worker, you are expected to be on call and available to field work related questions as early as 6AM and as late as 11PM.

So, it’s understandable that, from time to time, you’ll need a mental health day. I don’t know about you all but I don’t have enough of a stake in any company to jeopardize my health, physical or mental, for a job.

This week’s Trending Thursday is touching on that and that alone. Only one story but one that I want you to read and, in the time you would spend perusing additional stories that would’ve been posted for Trending Thursday, ask yourself if you need to use a sick day as a mental health day. How often do you take a day not to vacation but to really just enjoy it? Weekends are weekends. They’re for enjoying. But when do you step away, meditate, and really focus on bettering yourself? We all need them and we shouldn’t be ashamed to take them, nor bullied when we do. And, if you’re a person of integrity and your employer has a problem with you using these days, maybe you all need to have a discussion about either trust or what truly constitutes a healthy lifestyle.

The more we learn about human nature, the better we should be treating those around us, helping one another to become more well-rounded and complete individuals. The question is, “Are we?” Or are we trying to fit the more aware (wo)man into space that disrespects his/her uniqueness?

 

Time and health are two things that you cannot get back once they’re gone. Make them every day’s priorities.

Take Your Time

Usually, when people tell you to take your time, it’s in reference to not rushing. But today, I’m speaking about paid time off. This three day weekend was a freebie but how often do you need a few extra days off and there’s not a Monday or Friday holiday anywhere in sight? Do you take that time when needed or just tough it out?

Unless you are the owner or a partner at a business and you don’t have the necessary support to take off, you should be taking off from work from time to time. And you should do it without feeling guilty or without doing work during your time away.

We live at a point in time when we’re always expected to be accessible but that is not natural and it’s definitely not healthy. Think about it; our parents and their parents and everyone before them was never reachable at all times of night and on the weekends. So why should we be? People need some time away from work. Downtime is not an option, it is a must.

No matter how much you’re paid, everyone needs to relax. Your organization is not going to fall apart because you take a three day vacation. And, actually, you taking some time to re-calibrate is going to likely improve your performance more than it adversely affects it. PTO is a part of your benefits package and it’s free money. Who doesn’t take free money from a reputable source? No one I know.

Take your time. Catch a flight. Hike some trails. Develop a hobby. Write a book. Ride a bike. Sit on your couch and count the bumps on your ceiling for all I care. Just take some time to refresh. You work hard. You’ve earned it.

 

Make professional development a priority.

Long Live the King/Queen

Being able to do something for an extended period of time doesn’t mean you’re good at it in a practical setting. And, moreover, it doesn’t mean you can lead someone else well.

Example: Being able to write “I will not quit” 1,000 times on a whiteboard doesn’t make me an author, nor does it mean that I can be the editor of a great book on the efficiency of writing. It means I can write the same thing over and over again without quitting. Plain and simple.

Likewise, being in a field for a long time doesn’t make you a leader. And, in a day and age where I have the ability to read whatever I need to in order to understand the basic processes of a role, it is more important for me to invest time in developing integrity and leadership as opposed to the technical skills that can be learned.

Mediocre experience over time does not equate to leadership anymore (and, if we’re honest with ourselves, it never did). That is an archaic thought process that kept people in power for years longer than they should have been. Many of them are just around for retirement and, the only reason they want to lead is to get a more comprehensive benefits package on that last day (I’ve seen it with my own eyes in numerous instances). Companies and organizations, my charge to you is to look for someone who has exceptional character and who has invested in their leadership development, hire them, and I’m pretty sure they’ve got the work ethic necessary to master the subject matter (unless you’re looking for someone to head up your emergency room or you need someone to lead your quantum physics team, then look for that required experience/training).

Here’s the catch though: If you have an actual leader who has an inspirational attitude, longevity, and who is still learning, you’re in a great position. The hard part is being able to differentiate that leader from someone just in it for the glory.

 
Make professional development a priority.

The Right Motivation

Do you ever look at more seasoned professionals who may have a ton of knowledge but, based on their titles/roles, are settling?  Or at a person who recently turned a promotion down and you don’t understand why?  Well, last night, I realized that the right motivation can make anyone do anything.

Last week, at my wife’s office Christmas party, everyone was given a book titled The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  Desirée was ecstatic about this!  In my eyes, this woman loves to clean whereas I, of course, am a traditional bachelor who, before her, cleaned only when I was entertaining guests (and, when I say “clean,” I mean “reorganize the clutter” at best or, more often than not, “throw it all in my closet b/c no one is going in my closet”).  Thing is, now, I’m married and compromises must be made, right?  So I’ve found myself being neater in order to make her happier.  Thought I was doing pretty well.  Then last night she pulls the book out.  And I thought, ‘Cool.  She can read while I watch Family Guy.’  Boy, was I wrong.  “We’re reading this book together,” she said.  At that moment, I ran down a list of promises as to what I would and wouldn’t do from this point forward if I didn’t have to listen to an entire book about cleaning.  She proceeded to read the first chapter in its entirety.  No Family Guy for me.

This morning, she woke up and my mancave was “tidy.”  The living room was organized.  My closet was clean.  The trash was taken out.  Today I’m working from home and, on my lunch break, I’ll be discarding junk.  All in hopes of not hearing another word from that book.

“What does this have to do with professional development?”  I’m glad you asked.  As an employee, you need to figure out what motivates you in what situations.  I had become desensitized to the reminders set on my phone so Desirée found a new way to get me to hear her.  I applaud her creativity.  It worked.  Take an honest inventory of yourself and see what motivates you.  Then have a candid discussion with your supervisors and inform them of those things that drive you to perform.  It might be recognition.  It might be gifts.  It might be compensation.  Whatever it is, if it is of value to you, articulate it.  And don’t be afraid to say “money.”  No, you’re not asking for a raise right then but you are letting them know that, upon excelling in your role, you expect compensation.

As a young man, my parents told me I can do anything I set my mind to.  Last night, Desirée Daniels proved that to be true.  It just takes the right motivation.
Make professional development a priority.

For Anyone Who Will One Day Lose a Loved One

You determine how professional you are at work. You decide how much money you invest and save. You choose your attitude every second of every day. But what you have no control over is death and a death that hits close to home can seep into your professional life and, if not handled properly, can affect you personally, professionally, and financially for years down the road. So how do you handle something that hits hard but that you have no point of reference for? Well I don’t have a cookie cutter answer but I do have some suggestions that will make it easier when that happens.

Our generation has picked up a very interesting trait: we keep working through everything. That doesn’t sound that bad. Usually it isn’t.  But in the context of dealing with the passing of a loved one, if you fail to take time to grieve on the front end, many problems will arise from it on the back. There are situations in which we feel that the death of someone close to us is pending and we can begin to brace ourselves. Then there are times when it happens suddenly and we have to deal with both the emotional and material aftermath unexpectedly. Unfortunately for me, I’ve experienced both since graduating from college in 2011. Fourtunately for those of you going through it right now or bookmarking this article for later reference, I’ve experienced both in the past half-decade and can provide some relevant insight. Though all of these suggestions do not directly affect your level of professionalism, the impact of death can cause every area of your life to deteriorate, which includes your professional life. So a healthy process for dealing with it is necessary for you to continue moving forward.

First of all, even before death is a thought in your mind, make sure you’re working your backside off at work. Give it your all. When companies know you are an asset, they want to do everything they can to keep you around. So when you let them know that your parent has fallen terminally ill and you need to work from home for a few months (or not work at all if that is the case), you’ll have a better chance of them considering that as a viable option than you would if you were doing the bare minimum. No one feels compelled to make exceptions for the person who is pulling up in last place. But that person who is giving their all to help the company succeed is a great person to have around and strengthens the brand.

Have a solid emergency fund of at least 6 months of your living expenses in place that is liquid. I just lost a member of my family this past August. My fiancée and I moved when we knew that the disease was terminal. I had saved up enough to survive for around 4 months but that was better than I had when I experienced previous loss of a loved one, at which time I was living paycheck to paycheck, saving little to nothing. If we had not saved, quitting our jobs and relocating to be with family would not have been an option.  At best, we would have had to part ways for a while and one of us would’ve continued working.  But that sacrifice we made to establish emergency funds put us in a position to be able to have peace of mind when time proved itself to be more important than money.

When death comes, as it will for everyone at one time or another, let it hit you. I was the first child that my parents had and much of the responsibility fell on me to handle the funeral arrangements for my father and calling family/friends and speaking at the funeral service (mind you I was traveling back and forth to Charlotte at the time interviewing for positions). Right before the funeral service, I got a call from a job and would be starting that position within a few weeks of his passing. So I just kept moving. And I didn’t grieve. And, when this new job started, I wasn’t at my best. I went to work and did what I needed to do but I hadn’t dealt with the fact that I just lost someone I had known for 23 years. And not handling that when it happens caused me not to be as focused as I needed to. So I truly recommend that, when death comes, you cry if you feel like crying. If you need to call your best friend and head to a bar and have a beer, do it. And, even if you don’t feel that you need to, figure out a therapy that works for you. Whether it is seeing an actual therapist or writing in a journal or beginning a workout plan, take ownership of your feelings. It will help in the long run like you wouldn’t imagine.

Lastly, get back up. Have you ever heard the saying “One monkey don’t stop the show”? It’s true. When my father passed, my uncle put it a different way: “The world is going to keep moving and if you don’t keep moving too, it’ll drag you along with it.” Yes, you have to grieve. It is healthy and necessary. It will reduce your level of stress and allow you to enjoy a longer life. But all processes have a purpose: either to strengthen or weaken. If your process has no purpose, you are simply wallowing in pity. So set a timeline and benchmarks. Decide that you’re going to take a couple weeks off to reflect and, when you get back, you’re going to ease yourself back to your regular pace. But make sure you get back to your regular pace. I’ve seen the aftermath of death affect some people’s professional lives nearly two years down the road because they did not keep moving with life and that can be a career killer.

I’m no therapist. I’m not anyone’s pastor. But I know that, if you want to succeed professionally, you have to prepare for those things that no one else is willing to prepare for. This is that uncomfortable topic that we tend to ignore, though it makes 100 times more sense to brace ourselves, our bank accounts, and our professional lives for it, because it is pending even when we don’t know it.