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Pilot Episode

The purpose of these writings is to share and ease the identity crisis that young people may have moving into a professional career. Including what I have learned, my own experience as a Gen Z/X, and how I navigate the relationship between Sara, in her truest form, and my workplace self.

Content:

I am not a blogger. In fact, I have a bit of disdain for fitness bloggers specifically, and/or those that may self-promote under the shield of “helping others.” However, as I took my first job at the ripe age of 21, working in a complex global organization, I realized that I was experiencing an extreme case of cognitive dissonance: How did I get here? Is this what Sara would do? Did I want a corporate job, and am I changing myself for the worse? The better?… This could probably continue on for a lot longer. Long story short — as one of the youngest people to join my company, and as one of the first Gen Zs (1995) that had entered the workforce, I was (am) feeling WEIRD.

Yeah, and?

Personal Stories
Random Epiphanies
Questions for the reader(s)
Advice (where I feel qualified enough to give it)

About Me:

Talking about myself in too much detail may diminish the magic that is a random online blog. So I will just say that I currently work in human resources at a very large, global, private company, and I have always had an interest in industrial psychology and English literature. Therefore, you have the conception.

Her Venn Diagram:

Thanks for getting through the fluffy stuff. You made it to my first blog! And as with all pilots, this may be a considerable letdown for you, OR it will entice you just enough to keep skimming my writing after today.

The first thing I want to address is the title of this article. Her Venn Diagram. I believe that names carry a lot of power and should not be taken lightly. “Her” obviously refers to me, although I wanted “Her” to explain that my perspective in the workplace may be vastly different from a male, as well as it is how I self-identify. “Her” (not to be confused with the movie starring Joaquin Phoenix) also shoulders a lot of pride and power for movements that are happening all around us #MeToo #ShePersisted #HerStory. The gender conversation is not going away anytime soon, and I am happy to share my personal experiences later on. Full disclosure, I encourage and hope that men can have a connection to these writings as well; this is 100% not a feminist or female-only blog.

Now, the Venn Diagram. See below.

Screen Shot 2018-05-16 at 10.00.36 PM

See what I mean?

(This sketch was in my original draft, but I was charmed by how much character it had, I decided to keep it in instead of order a professional diagram.)

I will let you interpret this image how you see best but will provide some context. Ra-Ra-Rewind. Circa 2016 – on the left, “Sara,” has been in school her whole life. She drinks fishbowls with her friends at the local college bar for as much change as she could scrape off the sidewalk in a given day. She is in business school, so she knows that if she only spends $10 at the bar now and buys $50 of New Amsterdam and Jagermeister next week, she wins because the present value of money is greater than the future value of money. Anyways, she drinks, she dines, and she hangs with the gals. Not only does Sara drink on Tuesdays, but she also has been a vegetarian for two years, so she can’t actually eat the chicken wings that her friends order – though she is a mooch and wants to. In a nutshell, Sara is a young girl that wants to save the world from cow farts, corporations, white privilege, and enjoys an occasional vodka soda whilst doing it. Interestingly enough, as previously stated, she is also in business school, which contradicts a few of these principles yet again, but that is for a later discussion.

The mist clears, and we are back in 2018 where “Work Sara” now exists and has existed for about a year.* She works an 8-5 day job, 40 hours a week, and finally got that overly climactic “taste of the real world.” She now has to come to terms with conference calls, wearing shoes that are not Chuck Taylors, working with people that are at different stages of life, which includes but is not limited to: children, engagements, grandchildren, and mid-life crises. She realizes that people in the real world actually use the phrases “personal brand” and “re-invent the wheel,” and she has to sometimes tell people that are 20+ years older what to do and how to do it. Public speaking? Oh, you mean logging on to a Skype call and virtually sharing your PowerPoint (yes, please throw notecards away). Overall, she really likes (even loves) her job, coworkers, and manager… but once again, how did she get here? And why does she feel so evolved?

This, my friends, is a classic case of cognitive dissonance. Not to be defined as unhappy or incompetent. Disjointed. Phony? Changed? Torn. Some people may reply to this with “Hey, Sara, that is called the Imposter Syndrome; it’s a TedTalk by Amy Cuddy.” As much as I love Amy Cuddy, that is not this feeling. It is when I come to work, but a part of my identity is left at home, and Past Sara is looking at Work Sara in confusion and perhaps condescension.

The articles I will continue to write from Her Venn Diagram articulates this particular feeling that may resonate with audiences who are in the same position as the two Saras who are coming to terms with each other’s existence. Whether you are just graduating and feel a part of yourself changing, or for those who have been in the working world for a while but still seem to be searching for that self-actualization…that missing part of you still stays at home, or with your friends, while your other self is at work. If anything, I hope my writing inspires, encourages, empathizes, and honestly, helps my own sense of relief. This is not an advice blog but an exploration of our generation in the real world. I hope to explain how I deal with internal conflict, inner workplace workings, the gender disparity, and how to find your slice of happiness in a world that is globalized, structured, and requires you to wear just the right blouse that says “I mean business” and “I am approachable.”

*To be clear, Sara has had jobs in the past, and “Work Sara” refers to Sara working in a corporate setting as a full-time employee post-graduation.

 

I forgot my badge again. — Me

The Real Employee Handbook

The workplace is passive aggressive. Corporations are complex organisms meant for information sharing – a petri dish for the conception and breeding of unspoken rules about communication, meetings, emailing, slacking, etc. There is too much to know and too much to do.

This Wasn’t in the Training

Because the workplace is an infinite sharing economy of information that bleeds into a funnel of micro-environments (individual personalities) in support of a larger, macro purpose (the company mission and culture), it dooms all newcomers to flail around, attempting to read between the lines. There are thousands of nuances, unspoken rules, implied courtesies, panic buttons, and stereotypes. Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive onboarding checklist that states the following:

  • No emojis or exclamation points to person xxx above band level xxx
  • No cold-calling or pinging people before 9am (their online status will miraculously change to “away”)
  • “????”‘s are just as passive-aggressive in the workplace as they are when you are texting your roommates about the dirty dishes left in the sink
  • If you need to talk to someone without a specific action item or agenda, don’t schedule a rambling meeting on their calendar (the definition of young “Work Sara”)
  • If anything starts with “per my” it really means: “Hey, email-skimming idiot, go read what I already sent you.”
  • Don’t add too many people into a meeting, they will wonder why they are there, get annoyed, and do emails during it anyway. And quite honestly, it’s probably too many people with too many opinions anyways.
  • If you surprise copy someone’s manager on an email thread, shit gets real.
  • No moving or canceling meetings more than twice (you may as well just say “I’de rather be doing, literally, anything else, than go this meeting”)
  • You aren’t actually allowed to get angry — logic, reason, and evidence is your new punching bag
  • Your white chuck taylors, that aren’t actually white, but are dirty cream, are not that acceptable. In fact, someone might report your dirty shoes to your manager*
  • Never set up a meeting to go over something that is in an email thread because you’re too lazy to read 13 people’s comments. Just read the email. Because if you set that meeting up… they will ask “did you read the email?”
  • Team outings: You aren’t too busy. Everyone is busy.
  • People will most likely call you out if you are too vague about a topic you are supposed to understand. The best policy is to be honest. Like dogs or babies, Corporate America can smell fear and bullshit.

Lastly, the most important unspoken and unwritten rule in any company or workplace is “Check Yourself,” or more realistically: “Save Your Ass.” What does this mean? Archive your emails, messages, and historical documents – all of them. In general, people crave categorization and resolution – they will want to know why decisions are made, and who is accountable. If organizations are all about information sharing, then a best practice is to store the information that will come to bat for you when you need it most. And because information loops need to be tracked, unfortunately, the blame game happens. Does this sound cynical? That corporations are the hunger games of information? They are, yes and no. Regardless of company culture, it’s not fun to be left empty-handed when you need a personal attorney in the form of a memo dug up from March 8th, 1:38pm sent to Tim in Accounting. Our eloquent and influential former President, John F. Kennedy had said it best: “Let us never save emails out of fear. But let us never fear to save emails.”

 

 

*Yes, this happened

Posture to Change the World

I mentioned this article in my first featured post, but I would like to retreat back to Amy Cuddy’s TedTalk on “Your body language may shape who you are.” If you have not seen this video, I would highly recommend you watch it. It is inspiring, informative, and relatable to most anyone. The main takeaway I would like to discuss is the topic of subtleties and the energy of non-verbal communication. Similar to “you are what you eat,” we can twist this into “you are how you sit” and “you are how you speak” and “you are what you don’t say.” My 6th-grade multimedia teacher once said that 80% of your language is non-verbal. His wife yelled at him once because his arms were crossed at a party — he apparently felt like he had to relay the message to his 6th grade photoshop class.

Now I would like to drop another bomb from the media and our current in-the-news issues. We hear a lot about racism, feminism, and social movements overall such as the #MeToo movement that supports and empowers victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment. As with the recent accusations and A-list celebrities under fire regarding the #MeToo movement, a lot of people, mostly men, are in an era of fear, especially in the workplace. In this fear, people are quick to jump in to say “I’m not racist” or “I would never do that” and “I am not sexist.” It’s almost as if saying it out loud protects you from accusations. If you verbally champion yourself, it must be true and people must believe it. I am fairly positive the people proclaiming it also sincerely and blissfully believe it about themselves. When it comes to most men or women in the workplace, everyone tries and believes that how they act and how they treat people is without bias and their intent is pure. Overall, we must assume that human beings have good intentions or our hope would be small and sad. Even I like to think that I am excused from biased behavior, but in the long run, I am positive I have said or acted in a way that is offensive or stand-offish to someone of the opposite sex.

In summary, a majority of people believe that perpetrators of #MeToo are only those that deliberately or forcefully grab a piece of the passing secretary, or claim that as soon as a female professional has a child, she has doomed herself. There may be a perception that #MeToo refers directly to slut-shaming or making an inappropriate joke. The point is that #MeToo, feminism, racism, social justice, are about so much more than overtly making racists statements or unwanted actions. They are about awareness and fighting the systemic injustices of a society that has not set up women or ethnic minorities for success. And it can even be boiled down to how you sit in your chair.

“So you are saying that I can fight systemic injustices by…. sitting in my chair?” YES. That is exactly what I am saying. Or more accurately, you can fight systemic injustices by sitting correctly in your chair. Please continue reading as we will delve into the topic of microaggressions: Proper Posture 101.

The inspiration for this occurred when I was in a meeting talking about talent strategy. It was a Tuesday. It was myself and a few other male employees. As the HR professional in a room of technical talent, I was steering the meeting around recruiting strategy. I also want to add that these people in the room were 30+, male, and most importantly, friends of mine. Additionally, I am a female, blonde, and 22. So you have enough information to paint a pretty holistic picture of the environment and what the context was. As I was speaking, I noticed an energy in the room. I looked around me, and there was a common and almost comical, identical posture from my audience members. It looked like this:

Screen Shot 2018-07-14 at 1.12.12 AM

I then realized that I was sub-consciously reading this energy emanating from posture, of men that were almost double my age, sitting in “power poses” without even meaning to. And with respect to them, they most likely were engaged in the conversation, but I could feel myself pulling, reaching, and clawing to prove myself and to move the conversation back to them for their validation or response. I realized it was because this microaggression of posture was occurring, and they didn’t realize the stimulus that it had on my all-too-acute awareness of my gender, status, age, and progression in comparison to theirs. After the meeting, I started to think… why is it only men that sit like this? Does this happen when a male is leading meetings? What if that man were to be their boss? What if it wasn’t their boss? I can’t be sure they would compose themselves in the same way. I needed a control group. I also considered that I’M the one being biased… shouldn’t I be thinking about the flip side? What if women were in front of me, would I notice or be attuned to their posture as well? Am I being hypersensitive? However, as I researched a bit more, I concluded that women do not commonly sit as above. In fact, you can observe yourself just how awkward this looks on the flip side:

woman posutre

female pose

As you can see, these poses do not look as familiar on women, and it is because they just don’t sit in these relaxed, yet authoritative poses as often as men do. And in retrospect, I sincerely do not think that men intentionally sit as above to prove a point, or to play in a power game. It really is because their bodies read the stimulus of the environment, and begin to relax in a way that they wouldn’t normally sit if their audience is someone who is in a more powerful position. However, this is one of those tiny, little, almost annoying things we, again, like to call microaggressions. If you haven’t been able to connect the definition of microaggression to the poses above, here is a holistic definition that may help: “Microaggression: a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group” (1). This term is more commonly used in a racial context, but as I feel completely non-credible to speak on that topic, so we are using the term microaggression in regards to gender.

Here are more examples of gender microaggressions in the workplace, that as a woman, you most likely have experienced, and as a male, you may start to recognize in yourself or in others around you:

Authoritative posture in meetings (power poses)

See above.

Are you taking notes?

As if this is the 60’s and all of the women in any office are secretaries, it can be assumed that the woman in a meeting is going to be the one to take notes and send out follow-ups. Or, in general, assuming that women will be doing the administrative tasks. Specifically and individually asking a female in a meeting of multiple other male attendees to do this is a subtle microaggression. It should not be assumed that women like to take notes or are more capable of doing it.

In addition, before delegating or assigning work, be conscious of the type of work and why you are giving it to that person. For example, event planning, administration, welcoming/onboarding, etc. are subconsciously viewed as more feminine or female-oriented tasks.

“Calm down” and “high strung”

There is a pervasive perception that women are more emotional than men, especially in the workplace. With this perception, comes along the view that we also are unable to control those emotions or are ruled by our feelings. This stems from a misbelief about women’s “hormones,” our feminine or motherly nature, and general emotional capacity. (Obvious side note: please do not ask women in the workplace when they are planning on having children, or assume that they do have children).

A few of my least favorite verbal, gender microaggressions are the phrases said to a female when she is stressed, passionate, or showing her emotions. Phrases such as “calm down” or “you seem a little high strung.” It is perfectly acceptable and even encouraged to reach out in a supportive and concerned manner, however, I rarely have seen a man tell another man that he seems “high strung” or to “calm down a bit.” People are more attuned to and expect women to show their emotions more, and may like to share their opinions about those emotions.

As a less-relevant side-comment, another verbal microaggression to be aware of is telling a woman “you look tired” when she is simply not wearing makeup. She could be tired, or she could just not have put mascara on, but either way, she knows how she is feeling or looks, and there is not a need to remind her. I know I personally receive quite often when I don’t want to put makeup on that day. And as a societal complaint, we shouldn’t be expected to spend an extra hour before work to look pretty if we are only doing it because it is expected or to make others comfortable. For those that do put a lot of appearance labor in to get ready for the day — you go queen(s).

Mansplaining

Mansplaining is a newer phrase that sprung into the media and pop-culture as of a few years ago. Here is the definition per Wikipedia, who can explain better than myself:

“To comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner. In its original use, mansplaining differed from other forms of condescension in that it is rooted in the sexist assumption that a man is likely to be more knowledgeable than a woman.[7] However, it has come to be used more broadly, often applied when a man takes a condescending tone in an explanation to anyone, regardless of the age or gender of the intended recipients: a ‘man ‘splaining” can be delivered to any audience.[2] In 2010 it was named by the New York Times as one of its ‘Words of the Year'” (2).

In the workplace, it is best exemplified by a male explaining something to a female that she has more knowledge or credibility in. For example, if a male accountant were to explain the definition of “pipelining talent” to me (myself as an HR professional).

Interrupting

This is self-explanatory. I believe that most women in the workplace have been interrupted in a meeting at some point in their lives.

Recognizing Privilege

When typing emails or notes to authority figures or men, I notice myself re-reading my messages and deleting words such as “I think,” “I believe,” and “maybe.” This is again, because of my all-too-acute awareness of the perception that my age, function, and gender can have on that specific audience — a subtlety of vulnerability/weakness. Although this is not specifically a microaggression, it is a distinct privilege of power to not have to delete those words from a message. It isn’t always about what you say, it is about what you don’t have to say or think about.


 

The list above is not meant to be comprehensive or to attack anyone of any certain gender. However, regarding these more sensitive topics, sometimes the best approach is to be as specific as possible and to look at it head-on. Words, actions, behaviors, and even energies have power, and it is the importance of impact, not just intent, that matters.

I want to clarify, that the people I work with are truly amazing, and the examples and topics given above are general observations of any woman in a corporate environment or any workplace. The gender conversation is not going away, and the more awareness, the more discussion that takes place, the better. These discussions should also not be limited to gender. We should constantly be discussing inequalities of race/ethnic diversity, gender, sexual orientation, etc. and how to combat our subconscious biases.

So what can you do to help fight inequalities, microaggressions, and injustices?

  1. Be aware and be observant
  2. Seek to understand, ask questions, and open up discussions with people of the opposite gender and race (in a non-racist/sexist manner)
  3. Work on yourself first, change requires action
  4. Be an ally to those around you. Nothing changes without the partnership of those in power and those without or with less power.
  5. Always, always, always, practice empathy

 

Lastly, and most importantly, remember to behave as if your boss is in the room. Sit in your chair.

 

For additional reading, Forbes has a great article on microaggressions: https://www.forbes.com/sites/marlenahartz/2017/07/24/4-ways-men-can-stop-microaggressions-in-the-workplace/#200745835d91
(1) https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/microaggression
(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mansplaining

 

Practicality: Time Management

Moving into a full-time career, there were a lot of skills I needed to pick up quickly or I’de find myself in quicksand. What I had learned about organizations is that for every full-time employee’s workload, it seemed there could always be two people doing that job. The first practical skill that had jumped out of the magician’s hat, was time management and what it really meant to be organized…and disorganized.

For most of my life, there were two types of people in this world:

A)

agenda book 2

B)

messy-locker

For 22+ years, I had found myself exclusively in category B. I had never owned, nor written in an agenda book, planner, cookbook, or calendar. When I would come home from classes, I would systematically run through each class and each assignment per class in my head. It was in chronological order in regards to my week starting Monday. I can righteously and pretentiously say, as when people brag about their ACT scores well into their 30’s, I didn’t turn a single college assignment in late or missing. It worked for me, although how I managed to survive without writing things down, using Google calendar, binders, or really any form or organization made me think there may have been a tiny screw(s) loose. I could remember my assignments by the day and time but had to replace my house keys 3 times and somehow lose my car in the Mall of America parking lot every single time I go. I never got the memo to take pictures of the West Pineapple sign.

When it came to Category (A) people, I was at a loss. I truly believed that people who had those beautiful agendas, with their multi-colored gel pens and highlighters, per what class, what day of the week, and when the assignment was due, found happiness in coloring and not actually “doing” their to-do list. I distinctly remember looking over at a girl on her laptop and, with mouth gaping in disbelief, watched her online shop for a $50 agenda book that even tracked weekend activities. I heard horror stories of a girl tracking her calendar so severely that she would schedule in when she was going to do her makeup. My current roommate even uses the Whiteout gel when she makes a mistake in her agenda book. To Sara, this was a foreign concept. If I did really feel the need to write something down, it is with a sharpie and the back of my hand.

Fast forward again to Work Sara, a week after she tosses up her graduation cap into the air, she walks into her first job. The first lesson she realizes is that her tiny loose screw doesn’t cut it anymore. There are tasks, within subtasks, within micro-tasks, umbrella-ed by a macro-task. Projects within those tasks, and meetings and conference calls adjunct to the projects. Sara’s way of life, the “wing it and somehow it worked for 22 years,” was not going to cut it. She slowly realized that being organized and managing her time were not just “preferred qualifications,” it was essential to survival.

My first performance meeting went a little bit like… “I had always prided myself on being self-aware with a high EQ… but it took me this long to realize I am not detail oriented, nor am I organized. Please help.” Lucky as I am to have had amazing managers, the advice I was given was to use the tools that are already integrated into my day-to-day work life: Outlook, Excel, OneNote, etc. She understood I was not familiar with to-do lists, or agendas, and she gave the advice that altered the course of my disorganized universe: Block off your calendar by the tasks that you have. You may laugh and say “wow, how revolutionary,” or “No shit,” well guess what, Sara was starting at blank zero, so not only did she take this advice, she RAN with it. Sprinted. A Phoenix reborn from the ashes. In other words, she took it much too literally.

This is what my outlook calendar began to look like.

disorganized
Sara Dick“What Not To Do” (2018) Snipping Tool. 3 in x 5in.

I literally blocked off my day by the EMAIL. The call. The time to get up and pee. Work Sara was so new to the game that she micro-tasked her whole day by the minutes she would be spending. It’s could be comparable if you were to introduce a vegan to a Juicy Lucy for the first time, and they love it so much, never having tasted the mouthwatering recipe of cheese cooked INTO a burger, they end up eating a Juicy Lucy for breakfast, lunch, dinner, afternoon snack, after dinner snack, 3am, get up and eat snack, and eventually  dies of… cholesterol. Obesity? Except I didn’t love micro-tasking, it was just the first thing I knew how to do. I took the information “Block off your calendar” and merged it with my lack of experience with to-do lists, and created the monstrosity that is above. I think my manager had a heart attack when I explained my new method.

However, the great part about humanity, is we are gifted with the ability to evolve and grow. And I happily grew out of this phase. I started using both OneNote (a great online application through Microsoft) for my to-do list for the day, and only blocked off general tasks that needed my undivided attention (e.g. Interviewing, Plan Intern Event, Create Strategy Presentation). This gave me the satisfaction of checking off boxes in my OneNote, but also facilitated my time management for the day or setting weekly goals. I am still learning how to be effective in the workplace, but for those of you that are also extremely disorganized: you are not alone and we can evolve together.

I used to be in Category B, and I can safely say that I am now a whole new non-binary category. Category B, meet Category C:

to do.jpg
I stole this from a generic google search. Someone’s child made this and mom thought it was funny. It is.

 

But it’s not the destination (organizational efficiency) that matters, it’s the journey…right?


 

Since this is supposed to be the “practical” article, here are a few more tips and lessons from someone who is constantly grasping methods to be more efficient while going through a horrible conversion therapy of organization.

Using the “Category” feature in Outlook

Google definition of Categories: Color categories allow you to easily identify and group associated items in Microsoft Outlook. Assign a color category to a group of interrelated items—such as notes, contacts, appointments, and email messages—so that you can quickly track and organize them.

My definition: Categories are similar to folders, but act more as “labels.” For example, you can only put a single email into a single folder. However, with categories, you can assign multiple categories to a single email (see example below) and if you filter by either label, it will pop up. For example, if that random tweet spam email was labeled both “my survival guide” and “personal development” I could search either category or both, and that email would appear. It is helpful when an email fits multiple different purposes. I only use folders for archiving, and I use categories for search and project purposes. Very handy!

1)

microsoft-outlook-categories-quick-2.png

2)

categories.png

3)

searching 2.png

Do. Delegate. Delete.

If you have mastered the art of email, that is, consistently sending timely and intelligently replies, while also managing your day job, I applaud you. It is a skill that is integral to any 8-5. The classic mantra that I have learned, as cheesy and as cliche as it is, is the 3D’s — Do, Delegate, or Delete. You block off time for emails, or as received throughout the day, and while reading through, you have to do one of the 3D’s in order to avoid a pileup. The greatest fault of any working professional is casually skimming emails and leaving them in the inbox to do later but then forgetting about it because it says it is read. I write not as a person giving advice, but as a person who has made this mistake for a good, solid amount of time. You either do the action item, delete the email, or delegate it to someone else who is the SME or correct stakeholder.

Okay, wow, this is just turning into a general email advice blog.

Communication Templates 

This is a give-or-take method depending on your career and how you interact with stakeholders. In my role, I have a high volume of people who are going through a similar process, so I encounter a lot of the same emails asking the same questions. To save myself from typing my fingers off, I draft a very professional and helpful email that answers the common email, I keep it in my OneNote, and when I get repeat questions, I just copy and paste the helpful email and tweak per the person that emailed me. You would be surprised how much time you can save by not typing the same thing over and over again. Again, the little bit of customization is key, and also just a nice thing to do.

 

 

 

Behind the Bar

Setting: a large dinner cruise ship set on one of the wealthier sides of town. The event is rented out for a couple who is celebrating a wedding reception. A few attendees know each other, most don’t.

Me: behind the bar, cleaning up after the rush of Mai Tai’s, Dirty Martini’s, or other complicated drinks I have to Google on my phone. Tall enough to reach the liquor, short enough to get ID’d by the guests.

The first and most important lesson I learned as a bartender on a luxurious cruise boat is that you are either invisible or you are the single most valued resource within miles in any direction. In the instance I am describing above, I was invisible, cleaning lipstick stains off of wine-glasses. There are two men left standing at the bar, talking. Here is the sum of their conversation:

“So what do you do?”

“I am a hedge-fund manager for Big Money Inc.”

“Oh awesome, yeah, I do _____ at Little Money Inc.”

*the conversation continues around technicalities of the business, where each is at in their career, mutual friends, etc.. The man who works at Big Money Inc. is not very invested in the conversation (no pun intended), as assuming this exact conversation happens to him 3 times a day. At least.*

“Well it’s been great to meet you Man – do you mind if I grab your LinkedIn?”

*Big Money says yes, again, not very wholeheartedly. They disperse. Sara is cringing, still occupied by monotonous scrubbing, but using the interaction as a nice pass-time while the bar is empty.*


The scene above manifests a topic that has been my single most internal struggle from the second I stepped into business school 5 years ago. If you are reacting the way that I did, you can probably guess it.

 

networking 3

 

networking men.jpg

 

networking 7

 

networking 10.jpeg

networking2

Networking — in its various forms. Although one of those pictures could be used as a stock photo for a dating app.

I was hesitant to write an article about this topic because a. it has been absolutely beaten to death in all sense of the word b. writing without solutions manifests as complaining. c. There are still residual internal conflicts. However, I believe that Networking, or the concept of a Network, is integral to every single person’s career, and there aren’t enough conversations around what that means for the career advancement, women, privilege and the way it needs to be modernized.

What is networking:

There are a lot of opinions about networking.

How undergraduate business education defines networking is simply making connections with people whether brief or long-term, so that you may learn from each other or provide mutual benefits (an opportunity, a referral, a connection, advice, etc.).

Symbiosis my friends. Key takeaways:

  • Keep your network “warm.” Send sporadic emails throughout the year, grab coffee, and by all means necessary — don’t let the connection die!
  • A network does not have to just be people in your line of work, it can be a friendship, a mentor, a person next to you walking their dog, your oral hygienist
  • Get involved to widen your network: clubs, student council, sports, fraternity-sponsored foam parties, etc.
  • Most importantly — have your elevator pitch ready in case you have 30 seconds to talk about yourself in a very awkward rushed way that will land you a job

In retrospect, I do want to credit the university system. They glorify networking as one of the most important things you can take away from your college experience. And it’s true. That is how I landed my current job and how a lot of other people had stumbled upon opportunities, formed friendships, and found their passions. Most importantly, networking is also a form of art: talking to strangers, finding a common interest or topic, and executing a social interaction in a productive way. The more you do it, the more natural it becomes. It is an art that takes endless amounts of practice. I can attest that when I haven’t put myself out there in a while, the unfamiliar conversation at corporate events or happy hours feels more forced and unnatural. We can imagine that for introverts, this may be an activity that is even more difficult than for those that shine in social situations. However, we will delve into the flaws of networking further along.

The whole world has opinions about networking and there is not one correct answer to whether the concept behind a “network” is negative or positive. There are always benefits…

The Constant Benefits of Networking

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MSNBC: Why Networking and Having a Positive Mental Attitude Is Important

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5 Advantages of Professional Networking

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and costs to everything.

 

Why Networking Feels So Dirty and Makes You Want to Shower

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99% of Networking is a Waste of Time

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Why Networking is Bullshit

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View at Medium.com

You can believe that networking is the key to career advancement, or you can associate networking as “dirty” and disingenuous. Either way, we must acknowledge the implications of social capital that is a consequence of networking, and that “network” means different things to different types of people. As previously stated, this especially rears itself across gender boundaries, privilege, and cycle of generations.

A Stop in Time:

When the workforce was dominated by men largely before the 1960’s, you can imagine how jobs were communicated to the public and how rudimentary the concept of talent acquisition was that existed. Disregarding how nepotism was the staple of passing on jobs/trades, there was no spike in bachelor’s degrees, nor were they required, to signal specialization. There was no ZipRecruiter or LinkedIn to send position notifications. At any point in history that was pre-internet, social capital was your lifeline to how you were recognized and connected to work. From what I envision 1900-1970’s to look like, networking usually involved other household men from poker nights, local bars, or simply the next-door neighbor. Although lack of internet and male workforce domination are uncorrelated, the two existed together at the beginning of time, and set the precedent for how the labor market intertwined with social capital and the phrase my father, like many others, enjoys repeating that “it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know.” Again, the connections you had and the people you knew were everything, and John Smith, who washes the car with you every Sunday, could be your ticket to career placement and everlasting success.

Class Advantage:

As always, the topic of privilege in regards to class hierarchy or other social groups of western societies is something I like to mention, but do not feel qualified to fully educate on so I will make it brief (1).

Have you ever heard of the 30 Million Word project? It was a study by researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley in 1995 around the number of words children learn by the age of three. The conclusion? Children who grow up in poverty learn 30 million fewer words than those who grow up in the upper social class (2). Although mostly related to the achievement gap, it is a great, eye-popping statistic that sets the stage for how privilege gifts success to those already successful and makes other social and economic groups work that much harder to compensate.

I think this translates very well into the topic of social capital. Those in the upper-class score abundantly more referrals, jobs, opportunities, and experiences just because there are networks in place that benefit their socio-economic status. Consider it in terms of geography and relocation. Those from a small-town, rural area or a lower income area move to a big city. They know little to no people and have to create their support system and network from scratch. Seemingly just as talented, intelligent, and hard-working… they have to work considerably harder. Compare that to an individual who is native to an urban, wealthy, area, you can almost guarantee their parents, peers, dog-walkers, teachers, etc. have some social connection that facilitates their opportunities. Similar to the 30 million word gap, there are 30 million more people that those with privilege are connected to. So the question becomes — why should we continue to support a system that benefits people that simply know more people?

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Gender:

Moving on from the basic history lesson and very politically charged caricature, when I started to write this article, my first intention was to discuss how a. there were already pre-existing networks, social norms, and an umbrella advantage before 1960’s that women had to catch up to and b. pre-socialization taught CIS gender males to be better at “networking” in general. However, the more I researched it, the more I came to the conclusion that men were not better at networking, nor did they have more or less of a social connection. Overall, men and women simply network differently.

Before continuing on, please use this link to read an article by Forbes. It summarizes my observations of networking extremely well, almost to the point of taking words out of my mouth…although one could, and should, disagree with the concluding action items it gives the audience. If you do not want to read it, it is summarized below:

“Women are really good listeners, and, even at a networking event, we listen to what the other person needs so that we can help make that happen […] In an effort to personalize professional networking, women normally try to create connections or friendships. Before we think, ‘What can this person do for me?’ we ask, ‘What can I do for her in order to get what I need?”

“A man thinks, ‘Who do I know who has what I need right now?’–could be a job, investment tip or tickets to the game–and then he asks for it. Simply. […] The male brain is more compartmentalized; they get straight to the point, they know the goal. They tend to decide right away, with little to no small-talk, whether they will work with you or not.”

Unknowingly, I had witnessed this distinction during my first college internship. I was at a corporate sustainability conference, it was early in the morning. The earliest I had ever gotten up to be professionally put together at that point in time. I sat down to eat a free classic conference buffet breakfast (keyword free for College Sara). My manager came up to me right away, and said: “okay, go network.” Not only was I caught off guard, I was totally taken aback. I thought the word “networking” was supposed to be used subtly? As in that was what you were doing, but no one was supposed to directly call it that. Like how fantasy football is a fun phrase for online gambling. Or when people are on a keto, vegan, no-carb, no-fat diet…that’s called being hungry. Anyways, I was in a room full of about 50 people, all around middle-aged or older, and now I had the big label of Networking slapped on me. If he had said, “hey, let’s go chat with a few people,” or “now is a good time to introduce yourself,” that would have felt more natural to me. But now I was supposed to do this foreign, forced, very objective thing called “networking.” Also, how does one start a conversation from literally nothing? I had a bit of an internal combustion, and I am sure my first few conversations were by no means of the charming nature.

I will attribute some of that anecdote to my “greenness” of how young I was in my career, however, the directness and discomfort is what was intended to be captured. As one of the examples above, why did that word make me want to take a shower?

Self-Promotion – the Catapult:

As I was proven wrong by my previous assumption that men were “better” at networking, another thought experiment surfaced when I was talking to one of my colleagues. She said something like this: “I don’t like asking for a promotion, I would rather get tapped on the shoulder for something like that.” And at that moment, she had eloquently described my other pain point around how social capital has historically functioned around career advancement and self-promotion. Considering that self-promotion usually facilitates opportunities for career advancement, unfortunately, self-promotion is one of the most prominent double binds for women in the workplace. (Double bind: a situation in which a person is confronted with two irreconcilable demands or a choice between two undesirable courses of action) (3). In this specific case, the double bind is talking about oneself. Ex: If women speak of their accomplishments, they are viewed as “self-absorbed” “competitive” “bossy,” but if we don’t speak for ourselves, we can be looked over. In contrast, men who talk about themselves are viewed as “showcasing” or “confident,” which are much more acceptable traits. Overall, self-promotion is something that I have always struggled with, and I had always thought it was just because I am not “competitive” (4). However, no one should be punished for humility, and inconveniently, it is usually women who struggle to showcase their work. (To note: the “double bind” is not a new, profound discovery by me. It is one of the most studied gender-oriented psychological biases in the workplace.)

We can all agree that it would be a nice change of pace to move away from the gender conversation, but as a reminder, in my recent article “Posture to Change the World” I did pre-warn the audience that this specific topic was not going to fade into the night lightly and harmoniously (5). It is my principal goal that these writings do not feel as though attacking a certain gender — that is not what the point is, and there is not one specific person that my articles are directed towards. If I have only a few desired outcomes of my blog, it is that people will move forward having learned one new thing given my own experiences, and to make decisions with more empathy than they had before.

Get to the Point Already:

In conclusion, Sara was wrong. It wasn’t “networking,” however vague, that caused the gender variance, it is the combination direct-ness and self-promotion that causes a disconnect in how men vs. women advance. For something so subjective, so ingrained in the airwaves, how do we level the playing field and modernize social connections to match today’s world? Additionally bringing it back to people who are not naturally inclined to social networking, how do we make sure that regardless of ENFJ, INSF, extroversion, introversion, white, black, female, male, upper class, lower class, rich, poor, dog, cat, guinea pig, that everyone has a level playing field to opportunities? What I am asking is why leave development and talent up to chance? Why keep a model of social capital (biased social capital) and someone’s career balancing on a pendulum that favors those who are able to talk about themselves. Your future shouldn’t revolve around who your parents know, where you were born, and how outgoing, charming, or extroverted you are. We especially need to evolve in the structure, pay, and promotions internally within an organization… one that does not just rely on “who you know” or how well you can talk about your accomplishments, but the accomplishments themselves.


The Long-Term Solution:

The Yelp Review

This concept emerged when I received my 360-degree feedback from my manager during my first year-end performance review.

The review process: the company (I assume the head of talent development, CHRO, or CEO) sets a “model” for what the “ideal” leader looks like (it is actually called the Leadership Expectations). Employees are evaluated with the Leadership Expectations as a benchmark, or for those with school in mind, a rubric. Your peers/coworkers/managers “grade” you based on how your strengths and weaknesses align with the model. For example, I might receive 3 praises for “Putting People First,” and 3 improvement marks for “Bring External Benchmarks.” In the end, the feedback you receive from various stakeholders should create a holistic performance review, assuming there are re-occurring patterns/consistencies.

My manager then receives these evaluations from my respective stakeholders and we discuss how my performance aligns with the overall Leadership Expectations set by the company (6).

After I had my review, my first thought was – why don’t we make these qualitative evaluations into quantitative and post it internally? So that others can, in a snapshot, understand my performance and accomplishments. Consequently, there would be no need to self-promote if it is already out there floating around on a platform. Just like how Yelp is a consumer-sourced marketing tool for stores and restaurants, the people you work with would be your credibility. The product is your talent, the market being other members of upper management. Conceptually, this may be how it would look:

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If you decide to read the recommendation section, you may notice that this template was stolen from the Airbnb site. A. Jane is obviously a 5-star employee B. she is very spacious and clean.

This concept would require:

  1. The reviews only to be sourced from a basic 360-degree type of performance evaluation directly tied to stakeholders that the individual works with (clients, co-workers, managers, etc.). Not just friends on LinkedIn. It would have to be a 360-review system because we would not want to give too much marketing power to a direct supervisor.
  2. The manager of the employee (or the employee) would have to be connected to the social network site and would be able to approve and verify that the people reviewing the employee are within the scope of the evaluation.
  3. The criterion for the ratings above is an example – would they be identical categories across the entire site? Would people make their own categories based on their specific career or company model?
  4. If anything at all, this model should pioneer internally as a promotional tool for objective evaluation. Let’s make performance reviews visible to other hiring managers.
  5. This idea is not fully formed. However, the concept is centered around having equal opportunities in the labor market based on performance, not who you know. Credible, transparent ratings.

Look familiar? It is already happening on LinkedIn:

Image result for linkedin endorsements and recommendations

Image result for linkedin endorsements and recommendations

Holes in the system? Absolutely. But again, the draft above is a conceptual design.

The Role of Managers

The role of managers is changing. It used to be the person who is the lead on a project, the ultimate decision maker, the strategy leader, and the point of contact for multiple people whether is it supervising or just reporting up. However, this is shifting. Now, more than ever, employees are hungry for development and growth, and it is becoming the only way to retain them. We want feedback, both good and bad, as constantly as we can get it. We want to be the center of attention in our own roles. The solution? Add it into Management KRA (Key Result Area) – are your employees being promoted and developed? Are you sharing talent or moving people internally for a better fit? If they aren’t ready to move up or over, are you giving your employees the tools needed to learn the trade they are in? In conclusion, we want to be tapped on the shoulder. It raises confidence and validates our work. It makes us feel good about our performance and propels us forward.

Change How We Think

Let’s just hire the most deserving and qualified people. Not your boss’s niece’s boyfriend’s uber driver.

Short-Term Solution – How to Come to Terms with “Networking”

It has taken me a very long time to come to terms with “networking,” and it is still a phrase I try to avoid. However, I found my own truth in this space that helped ease the internal dissonance, which includes a “rule” I created for myself. “Networking” for me is now synonymous with “information gathering.” For example, If I am going to spam people on LinkedIn or reach out randomly to a person I have never met — it is only to gather information (not just asking for a job or opportunity).

Why this works:

  • It makes you a better “networker” when you are genuinely passionate and interested
  • It doesn’t feel phony
  • People love to talk about themselves
  • While in school, I used to go on LinkedIn and find people in my field of study, just to hear about their roles AKA what they liked and disliked. The conversations ended up being great advice or directed me into certain career paths
  • You truly, truly can learn at least one thing from everyone and anyone
  • It can lead to opportunities – when passionate people talk to other passionate people, you stay at top of mind
  • For those corporate social events…when there is no commonality between you, an HR specialist, and Jane, a financial trader — you can always fall back on asking people about themselves (hint – this is a great icebreaker for career fairs too).

 

Here, take my business card. I rank 5-stars in sending emails.

 

 

 

References (not extremely pretty)
  1. See various definitions of privilege for holistic understanding:
    1. Privilege: a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.
      ‘education is a right, not a privilege
      mass noun ‘he has been accustomed all his life to wealth and privilege’
    2. White privilege (or white skin privilege) is the societal privilege that benefits people whom society identifies as white in some countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances. ()
    3. Social privilege: The term is commonly used in the context of social inequality, particularly in regard to agedisabilityethnic or racial categorygendergender identitysexual orientationreligion and/or social class.
  2. According to NPR and more recent studies – it has been combatted that the actual number is 4 million. Which is still a lot.
  3. Double Bind Definition
  4. I used to use competitive as a “weakness” in interviews
  5. Posture to Change the World
  6. I hope to soon write a more in-depth article on my first performance review

Can You See the Signs?

Ages 5-9. You pick your sport: basketball, softball, golf, tennis, frolf, soccer, football, swimming, dance, gymnastics, fly-fishing, lacrosse, diving, cross-country, track, long-jump, high-jump, discus, baseball, horse-racing.

Ages 14-18. You pick your electives: pottery, art, mechanics, robotics, graphic design, newspaper committee, choir, band, orchestra, drawing, decoy design,* software coding, video production, underwater basket weaving.

Ages 19-22. You pick your major: communications, pre-med, finance, anthropology, chemical engineering, English, theatre, nursing, pre-law, accounting, marketing, history, psychology, public relations, education, sociology, human resources, bagpiping.

Ages 22+. An entire career.


Imagine a classic Charles Dickens novel*, the cliche of the poor blacksmith living penny to penny, mercilessly training his son with fire and hammers to be the next best blacksmith. He wants a better life for the boy, but the only way he knows how to provide is to pass along the skills of.. you guessed it — a blacksmith.

“Back in the day,” you were simply handed down whatever knowledge, skills, and resources were passed down to you by your respective elders. For example, my parents have four generations in the beverage wholesale business, specifically beer. They most likely were even bootlegging during the prohibition. My dad, a child of nine, had started out in the industry along with every single one of his brothers (five), who eventually veered off and either started their own distribution businesses or joined the corporate scene. There were no options, and there didn’t need to be since they were all happy to follow in their father’s footsteps…who had followed in their father’s footsteps…who had followed in…. etc. My brother, who is now about four years older than me, works for my dad at their own beverage wholesaler.

However, for our generational timeline and for me specifically, we have taken for granted, and have not even noticed, just how much this is changing. Sure, you hear of the renowned author giving birth to a baby and teaching them how to write and read right out of the womb, hoping they will carry on the prodigal legacy of writing the next Carrie or Hunger Games, giving them a little push in the right direction and equipping them with every possible skill they will need to carry themselves. However, as never before precedented, with college rates exponentially increasing and fewer trade workers, people are able to choose any career path they deem interesting. This is a severely frightening concept. At the age of 18, you are supposed to understand your inner self enough to know what you want to do for the rest of your life? When your parents sat you down and said, “The whole world is ahead of you, you can do anything you want to do if you put your mind to it,” this was not only a cause of the “participation trophy” generation where our parents made us feel special, but ironically enough, this became a reality as soon as we hit 18, and we could, quite literally, do anything that we wanted to do. How frightening.

I realize this is not any new revelation and would also like to point out that this concept is catered to the privilege of the middle class and up. Some, unfortunately, are not able to afford to go to college nor have their parents’ support to go. Add it to the list of things we need to practice gratitude towards. However, almost anyone who does enter the four-year university world feels overwhelmed and confused about who they are and what motivates them. Especially post the 1990s and into the current era, the trend of following in your parents’ footsteps is dying out, slowly but surely, as information, skills, and resources become more easily attainable outside of your immediate circle and college is more accessible. I bet if my grandma Laticia had nine kids today, only one or two of those would actually go into the beer business and the rest would be doctors, social workers, teachers, lawyers, etc.

So now that we have entered the age of options, things become both easier… and harder. It’s almost like we want fewer options to determine the rest of our lives. For example, how I pick movies to watch with my friends: “Okay, pick your top three favorites, and I will pick my first favorite from your favorites,” because scrolling through Netflix and agreeing on a single form of entertainment with 3+ people is nearly impossible. We sometimes…just want less. But I don’t foresee this going away, almost ever, with the modern technology that we have.

So the question becomes, how do we narrow down and self-reflect? How do we pick our top favorite, from our top favorites, from our top favorites? It starts with pattern recognition and behavior awareness. These signals can come from any compartment of your life if you just take a second to step back and recognize the patterns that are taking place. This includes, but is not limited to: your shopping carts, people you admire, podcasts you listen to, shows you watch, books you read, and my personal favorite, the “envy pang.”

We all online shop probably more than we care to admit — take a look at your receipts and your shopping carts (like any good online shopper, the shopping cart is simply used as a basket to hold all of your favorite items, and then to buy later once you feel more financially secure to buy a slinky, charcoal toothpaste, a self-help book, and ten summer crop tops). Notice what you are buying. What do your orders look like? What remains in your shopping cart and what doesn’t? In the bigger picture – what do you spend your MONEY on? This is a great first signature of your values and priorities. To give a personal example, a lot of my Amazon shopping cart is books. Just the last two books I ordered can give clues to any unbiased third party — a look into “Sara.” I had just ordered Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Both books are largely based on relationships with other people, emotional intelligence, and psychology. My other top items include environmentally friendly products such as a bamboo toothbrush, reusable straw, a fake tree, etc. Interestingly enough, I used to work in environmental sustainability… but what came first, the chicken or the egg? Maybe some of you are obsessed with the latest and greatest Apple product? video game? pet supplies? books about famous people? books about history? It’s a start.

Now, think about the people you “follow,” both in the social media sense and the IRL sense. Who do you retweet? Who do you follow around? Personally, my entire Twitter (fake Twitter) feed is taken up by Elon Musk, Lena Dunham, and social awareness/politically charged memes. So, to summarize, a businessman who cares about the environment; a feminist icon who happens to be a writer, author, and director; and memes, just because that is what Twitter is for. Now, who do you follow in your day-to-day life? Whose LinkedIn do you stalk the most, and whose career do you mimic? Do people in your field interest you, or is it those people who are external? Are you a doctor who becomes intrigued by the progression of your attorney friend’s career?

How could we forget the entertainment of the world? Podcasts, movies, and Netflix. Although most shows regarding the working world are extremely romanticized and dramatized (exhibit A: Grey’s Anatomy), there is a key to why those shows interest you. How else could you sit, stalemate for 6+ hours, staring at a glowing box? One of my best friends, and roommate in college, only cared to binge-watch shows such as Law & Order, How to Get Away with Murder, 13 Reasons Why…etc. You can see why she dabbled in the major of sociology of law and criminology for a while. She was fascinated by the art of investigation, problem-solving, riddles, and psychology. And now that podcasts are the new music, pay attention to your key searches. Is it “health,” “education,” “crimes,” “economics,” etc.? Once I started to notice that my searches mostly involved psychology in the workplace and female-oriented podcasts, (WorkLife with Adam Grant at the top of my history searches along with Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour), it made sense why I was drawn to the field that I am in.

Lastly, and most importantly, be attuned with your “envy pang.” It is that feeling you get, such as a little tightening in your chest, when someone says they are studying a topic, receiving an award, progressing his or her career in a certain direction, and your own heart pangs because you wish it were you. This is not a feeling of being less successful; this tenseness comes from a subconscious desire that you were doing those exact same things because you know you would either be great at it, or it is something that fascinates you. For example, your friend says, “I took a semester off and decided to study for the LSAT.” Your breath turns sharp. You want to be studying for the LSAT. You would make an amazing lawyer. In the meantime, you are working as a marketing coordinator, where you do great work, but when someone else says they are the new marketing director for Google, your heart stays silent.

No matter how many self-help books you buy on Amazon, quizzes you take, blogs you read, or therapists you pay for, you don’t have to actually know “where you see yourself in 10 years,” because the ultimate, dark, and best-kept secret is that no one does. Don’t let the words “entire career” scare you – let it inspire and propel you forward.

 

* I went to a small-town high school – yes, there was a class where you made hunting and fishing decoys.
** Great Expectations is one of my favorite books of all time.
Envy Pang” is a completely made-up phrase to describe the physiological reaction of anxiety, heart racing, and envy when someone talks about a topic and it resonates with your own goals or interests.

 

“What You Can Live With”

Studies show that your personality and emotional intelligence solidifies by age 26. You can always change, that is the gift of consciousness, but your fluidness starts to depreciate. Your crystallized intelligence, the ability to recall learned knowledge and experiences, begins to become first nature rather than your fluid intelligence, the ability to solve new problems using new solutions and pattern recognition. This hopefully does not sound like scientists are calling 30 “old,” but just an observation of brain chemistry I assume.

This concept may point to the catalyst of why young professionals want to be promoted, moved, and burdened as fast and as soon as possible. Do we subconsciously know that our time is already ticking down? That in a few years we will start to solidify in our open-mindedness, versatility, or Emotional Intelligence? Our hurriedness could also be caused by that previous concept of immediate gratification and customization bestowed by our parents. If anyone knows of scientific studies that involve each generation and the levels of ambition, (or more accurately, impatience and promotional levels) I would be curious to see it.

If these concepts prove to be true on the timeline of minds, this also explains why university involvement is so crucial for companies, such as bringing in interns and entry level graduates from ages 18-22. They are a blank slate, open, eager, and ready to be filled with knowledge from a credible and established source. The undergraduate process is for learning, while equipping students with everything they need to make informed and educated decisions. The buds of morality, principle, and interests are rooted in the years that we pick our major, take liberal arts classes, and join student organizations. Then, the career experience is for application and putting into practice what the college tool belt holds. This is why companies pay thousands and thousands of dollars to promote their brand, jobs, and values on campuses. They want to make a mark on the young people, those that are hungry to learn and grow, that want to project their findings, passions, and ideas. They (we?) don’t even know what they (we) truly like or dislike yet. The tone of these writings is not to sound cynical, but to sound admirable. It is pure genius and presents mutually beneficial opportunities for both the business and the students.

One of the first ideals that I had begun to form post-college and into my career, in reaction to the environment around me, were my principles and morals — specifically, what I valued when it came to my work and life balance, priorities, and scheduling. In school, you work towards a specific goal: A, B, C, D or F. Once you achieved that A+ on your mid-term exam, the weight was lifted, you could slack off for a few weeks until it got down to the wire again. But now, the workload stays consistent, and there are always meaningful projects, goals, and tasks you could be working on at any given time. Throw in the technology for constant connection to email, calls, and texting, and you have a completely unscripted schedule.

Now what? Well, this is a reasonably challenging question, because you are trying to sort between the personal pressures, work pressures, and inspiration. When did I feel like I was working because I had to, and when was I working because I was inspired to? Was I putting in extra hours to keep up? Or was it to impress my boss? Was I taking on too much, or just the right amount? This is what was running through my head almost weekly the first year of my new role. To muddy the waters even more, I had interacted with both peers and upper-level management who had completely 180-degree views of work-life balance, all the way from “once 4:30 hits I completely disconnect – no calling, texting, emailing, etc. And I ESPECIALLY don’t open my laptop on weekends. Get done what you can get done, and enjoy your personal time,” all the way to seeing employees logged onto Business Skype at 1:00am or emails coming in mid-afternoon on the Saturday of Christmas vacation. Who was doing it the “correct” way? What did I believe was the right thing to do? I want to advance my career, but I also cherish the time I get to visit my family, friends, and explore my hobbies. AND if I only have until 26 before my morals really set in… this internal conversation needed to start wrapping up. Work Sara and Inner Sara were once again, trying to both hug it out, but also drop kick each other.

Now here comes the epiphany, but this time, it didn’t sprout from an either Sara winning out, or making a pro and con list. It actually came from a speech I heard at a young professionals development conference, from a fantastic speaker and entrepreneur who shared both her personal and work journey — what it was like being a full-time mother while starting a multi-million dollar business from the ground up. Amy Langer, the President of Salo L.L.C., gave her account of starting out in the financial services industry, and then branching out to start her own company, utilizing her skills and abilities both learned and innate. She spoke about the ups, and the downs, and the rollercoaster of having two children in the same year her company took off. She mixed in lessons on leadership, authenticity, and most influential to myself, the importance of sticking to your values. I don’t want to put her story to shame, so I will not paraphrase her content – but it was entirely relatable while being aspirational. At the end of her seminar, I raised my hand* — I asked something like this: “Obviously being a woman in the workplace is hard enough, but did you have, or how did you deal with the inner turmoil of splitting your time between raising your family and starting up a company where both people are depending on you?” I wanted to know. I needed to know how she chose her values, her spectrum and schedule of logging in and disconnecting, and how someone who is that incredibly busy can create her own philosophy of work-life balance. As to be expected, she had anticipated this question. She replied that of course she received questioning, and even condescension from people looking in from the outside, and of course those early years were the hardest of her entire life, however, the correct choice, the “right” path, the divine equilibrium, is simply “what you can live with.” 

Dumbfounded and inspired, I thanked her afterwards. That her lesson had meant a lot to me, and it is always rewarding to listen to women in the business world achieve their dreams. It also gave me quite a bit to think about. As the obvious answer was, there is no right answer to work-life balance. Maybe Europe has laws against using email past 5pm, while the U.S. worships just how many hours you put in, but it all trickles down to what you can live with, and what brings you the most joy (or least amount of anxiety, if you need to look at it that way). As a young professional with no kids or major responsibilities, I can say I occasionally take enjoyment out of logging on at 10pm on a Tuesday night, to finish up a project I find meaningful, or answer a few emails I had been neglecting during a busy day full of meetings. I liked being prepared, and it allows me to join project teams that I otherwise wouldn’t have time for. However, I definitely felt ashamed for being “that person” who can’t disconnect. It seemed a lot of people around me had that very strict work-life balance. Was I wrong? Was I missing out on being a 22 year old, living in the city, if I spent my free time doing more work? Was this going to set me up for a horrible balance in the future if it is something I would begin to grow accustomed to? Would it start by logging on just a few hours here and there, but escalate into full-blown 14-hour workdays if I got sucked in? These were the questions I asked myself. And yes, sometimes I do shut down, throw my laptop in the trash, and walk away at exactly 5:00pm. I am still working on a balance that is best for my lifestyle and what satisfies my inner self. But what I learned is that you are the one that has to live with your decisions and no company, friend, boss, parent, or coworker can decide that for you, and you really shouldn’t have to explain your decisions either. And as you noticed, there aren’t any research sources cited to the “26 rule” above, so maybe it’s never too late to change your principles, morals, or values… and that is the beauty.

 

* I usually never interject in Q&As unless something particularly strikes me – why does it make me so nervous to ask questions?