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Why No Experience is Ever a Waste of Time

waste of timeThe past several years spent starting my own business and living the out-of-the-box life of a young entrepreneur have provided me with as many new experiences as the 23 years prior. While “new experiences” may sound fun, exciting and even a little sexy, any business owner will tell you that there is a large range in altitude between the valleys and the peaks.

In my reflection upon these life experiences, the negative and positive, the helpful and hurtful, the uncomfortable and encouraging, I realized that I’ve developed an almost nostalgic sentiment around each one. Even the moments that could be viewed as mistakes or wastes of time have all helped to teach me something and bring me to where I am today. And I think we can all relate this back to our own lives.

Consider this thought for a moment. “If we do not find anything pleasant, at least we shall find something new.” This quote, attributed to Voltaire, challenges us to never see anything as a waste of time, but more as an opportunity to experience something new. Is this a reasonable request? I think so.

Here are four reasons why we should reframe what we’ve been dwelling on as past mistakes and wastes of time and view them simply as a new experience.  

Because something motivated you to make this decision

When you feel like something has become a negative experience or a waste of time, stop and recall what led you down this path to begin with. In many instances, passion, inspiration, hope for a better future or enjoyment guide our choices. While you may never know where the journey will lead you, it’s the best intentions with which you began that really matter.

Because you choose your experience

We are the keepers of our own happiness and only we determine how we feel about any particular situation. There are some people who have really been dealt a tough hand, yet they live a life of contentment and gratitude. Then there are people who appear to have everything going for them, yet they couldn’t be more miserable. What sets each of these types of people apart is simply how they choose to experience life. We must choose happiness in order to be happy. And if we choose to never see a situation as a mistake or waste of time, then we will live with a lot less regret.

Because there’s always a bright side

Any experience – even a negative one – contains at least a pebble of happiness, if only we’re willing to look for it. To apply this to a challenging example, let’s say the experience was that your new business failed and you had to close your doors. As Voltaire would reason, this is not something pleasant, so we must then look for the “something new” to turn this into a positive experience. The bright side would be that now you have the opportunity to restructure your business model and try again, venture into a new line of work or simply spend more time with your family. The bright side will not always cast away all of the dark shadows, but it will at least restore some of your hope and happiness.

Because dwelling is not mandatory

By nature, I dwell. I dwell on the big things, the small things and everything in between. Sometimes I’ll continue to walk around with this weight on my shoulders, unable to remember what was bothering me in the first place. This makes it very easy for setbacks or negative life experiences to take a toll on my emotions. But I’ve gotten better. I now remind myself that worrying accomplishes absolutely nothing, so instead I get active. If it’s a problem I can’t solve personally, I go for a run to clear my head or start working on another project simply to feel in control. We determine how much we allow ourselves to dwell and the sooner we take our mind off of a negative experience, the closer we are to our next positive one.

Share your thoughts! Have you found any life experience to truly be a waste of time? How much does your mindset impact how you experience life?

 

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How to Cultivate Social Media Relationships (Outside of Social Media)

cultivate2Social media has forever changed the way we connect and communicate with people all across the globe. I’m always amazed to see the many various states – and countries – in which my followers reside. There’s no question that social media has fostered relationships that simply wouldn’t exist without this technology. Although social media helps to make communication easy and automated, there’s one very important aspect of relationship building that we must never put on autopilot or take for granted.

To cultivate meaningful (as well as beneficial) social media relationships, we must continue to build this connection outside of social media alone. Here are four important practices to help you foster your relationships and make yourself more than just an avatar.

Make it one-on-one

Following or friending a contact is only the first step, yet so many of us stop there and think we’ve built a meaningful relationship with someone. Sure, it’s exciting when your favorite celebrity follows you back on Twitter, but this hardly means you’re anything more than a number. To take it one step further, you have to seek out one-on-one interactions.

Once you get a good interaction going with someone on social media, such as a retweet, a like or a comment, follow-up with a private message (or even better an email) to continue the conversation on a more personal level. This could be a potential client, someone you admire or someone who has a question for you. While it’s not exactly face-to-face, in the virtual world, this one-on-one interaction makes you feel like you know the person on a much deeper level and is an important step in building a meaningful relationship outside of the massive, public social media platforms.

Reciprocate

It’s what every social media guru preaches, yet so often we still disregard this advice. To build a meaningful social media relationship, you must both give and take. If you have a connection that loyally supports you by retweeting, commenting, liking and sharing – look for opportunities to do the same for them!

The reason so many of us fail to do this is because we can’t rely on platforms like Hootsuite or Socialoomph to monitor this for us. Sure, they can tell us who interacted with our posts, but we need to take it one step further and closely follow our feeds, looking for appropriate times to reciprocate such support for news our contacts share. In doing so, we build mutual trust, respect and friendship that lay the groundwork for a meaningful relationship.

Put a face with a name

Any in-person, social function like a networking mixer, awards dinner or happy hour is a prime opportunity to take your social media relationships offline. There’s always that awkward moment when you know you’re already connected with someone on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook, but when you meet them in person for the first time you still introduce yourself like you’re complete strangers. Stop the madness!

So long as you’ve kept a clean and professional relationship with them on social media (i.e. no stalking or creepy personal messages), there’s no shame in acknowledging you’re already connected with them. Introduce yourself and let them know you’re connected online; they might be thinking the same thing but don’t want to say it. This will put a (real) face with a name and show that you’ve done your homework. It will also make you memorable. Which brings me to my final point…

Be memorable

To make yourself more than just an avatar, you must first make yourself someone worth remembering. Out of all the people who contact me for various reasons, I’ve found the most memorable ones to be those who feel the most genuine. It’s easy to spot a message that was written just for you versus one that’s being sent out to an entire contact list. Private messages on social media are a great tool for cultivating meaningful relationships, but they’re also heavily abused. Be sincere in why you’re contacting this person – this will show through and help you stand out among the spam. It will also increase your chances of getting a response in return.

In a world where virtually everything is accessible online, the need to build personal and meaningful relationships becomes ever more important. It’s possible to accrue thousands of followers without a single one knowing you beyond your twitter handle. As a business owner or entrepreneur, you should strive for quality – not quantity – of connections. For it’s how well you engage your audience that ultimately determines whether they become a future client or customer.

Do you actively cultivate your social media relationships? Share how you do it!

 
 

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The Virtual Work Environment: When it simply doesn’t work

virtual work environmentAs a consultant, I strive to run a lean business. I work from home and meet clients on location to eliminate the overhead of an outside office. I delegate work to additional contractors rather than taking on full time employees. And because I require merely an internet connection and laptop, I can and have worked from almost every location I’ve ever been in. The virtual work environment has suited me very well. My clients have also experienced the benefits through my pricing and availability. But as fun and flexible as working from home can be, I acknowledge that it simply doesn’t fit every situation.

Different personality types are better suited for the “home working” experience and depending upon the job description, a business may need an in-office employee to meet various needs. I’m a full subscriber to the virtual work environment, as it lends itself to my particular services very well. But before you start setting up your own home office, take into consideration these following work situations that shouldn’t go virtual.

When you need immediate responses.

I make the commitment to my clients that they will receive a response or acknowledgement of their message within one business day – often much sooner. In comparison to most email communications, this is quite a quick response time; however, it’s still not as quick as if I were sitting at a desk next to you. In-office employees allow for almost instant communication because you have the benefit of popping your head over a cubicle or hunting them down in the break room. If the job description requires immediate responses, a virtual position could substantially decrease efficiency.

When you thrive on social interaction.

This is when working from home may have nothing to do with the job, but everything to do with the person. I thrive on a quiet, uninterrupted work environment. I used to HATE having people drop-in just to chat or getting pulled into an impromptu meeting. I worked much less efficiently because of these distractions. But I’m an introvert. For others, these are not “distractions” but are part of the company culture that makes them feel like a team. They thrive on social interaction and pull their energy and inspiration from those around them. If you took this away, work would suffer.

When you don’t trust your teammates.

Trust influences how well tasks are accomplished when employees aren’t working face-to-face. When working virtually, you don’t have the benefit of building relationships as quickly as you do in a traditional office. It takes a lot longer to build up the feelings of trust and accountability toward someone you don’t see day to day. Distrust can also come from not knowing if someone is doing the work they need to be doing. It’s easy to assume your co-worker is snoozing on the couch at home while you’re slaving away on a project if you don’t trust them or have the ability to check-in on them as you do in a traditional office.

When you’re needed to serve various, undefined roles.

The final work situation that does not lend itself well to a virtual position is one in which you are the Jack of all trades. Think of an office assistant. Their job description might outline the role of answering phones, entering data and scheduling appointments. But in reality, they are likely asked to take on many additional projects to help around the office since they are there and available. In an office where it’s all hands on deck, virtual employees benefit from being “out of sight, out of mind” and are not utilized to their fullest. This leaves the in-office employees to pick up the slack.

Even though we just covered four situations that are not best suited for the virtual work environment, don’t get me wrong. There are still many, well-documented benefits. Studies show that home workers are more productive, happier in their jobs and less likely to leave than their office-bound peers.  Virtual working also saves money, is better for the environment and gives staff the flexibility that many people crave. But it’s equally important to note that “home working” simply doesn’t fit every situation. Technology can connect us from sea to sea, but it can’t completely replace the need for in-office employees.

 

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The Best Way Out Is Always Through

robert frostWe’ve all endured our own challenges. They come in varying shapes and sizes and sometimes seem to pile on all at the same time. No part of life is immune to struggle; family, health, work and finances can bring us to our breaking point in the blink of an eye.

In the poem “A Servant to Servants” by Robert Frost, he captures a profound thought that I have used as my personal mantra during challenging moments. “The best way out is always through” I’ve taken this to mean that when you’re in the thick of things and feel like you want to turn around and go back. Don’t. Get though life’s challenges by continuing to move forward.

Here are some reasons why, even during the toughest moments, the best way out is always through:

It encourages taking calculated risks

I recognize that there are times when it’s better to cut your losses and walk away. However, that’s a different scenario than what I’m talking about here. Rather, Frost’s advice applies to well-thought out decisions or challenges from which you simply can’t turn away. Ones that you need to move forward with despite the overwhelming feeling to give up.

When choosing to venture down a path, first calculate your risks. Take time to really think through a decision before you dive right in. But once you decide it’s something worth doing, don’t turn back. Force yourself to work through the struggle. Whether it’s switching jobs, moving across the country, improving your health or getting married, be certain about your decision and then see it through the ups and downs.

You won’t lose the progress you’ve made

By turning around, you lose all the time and energy you’ve invested thus far. Seeing the challenge through until the end ensures that your progress is not wasted.

My time spent working on a statewide political campaign was a very trying time in my life. Fresh out of college, I was alone in a new city working long hours for terrible pay. I knew that Election Day was my finish line, but there were still moments when I wanted to give up. Had I turned back, I would have lost experience, friendships and job opportunities that ultimately led me to where I am now. The best way out of that stressful time in my life was to see it through.

You might be nearing the end

Just because you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, doesn’t mean you’re not nearing the exit. Reprieve could be right around the corner. Think back to a challenging time in your life. When was it at its worst and when did it end? So often the greatest struggle happens right before things improve.

If you had given up and turned back, your journey home would have been far longer than continuing until the end. Plus the guilt and regret you’d feel would make for terrible travel companions.  We don’t know what our journey is all about which is why we must continue to move forward with the hope that the best is always yet to come.

You’ll never have to wonder what could have been

Regret is one of the hardest emotions to bear. It will consume your thoughts and haunt you the rest of your life. The best way avoid regret is to see your challenges through. If you give up on your dream of starting your own business just because you encountered your first bump, you will always wonder whether it could have been a success if you stuck with it. Any chance for progress is a reason to keep moving forward. Don’t spend the rest of your life dwelling on what could have been – instead, turn it into what has become.

Progress is always accompanied by challenge. If it wasn’t, we’d be a far more accomplished society – but we wouldn’t appreciate it near as much.  Every challenge will result in change, but it’s up to us to make it positive. For the important lessons that life teaches us through struggle, don’t turn back and run away. Heed the advice of Robert Frost and keep moving forward until you’re out.

How do you approach life’s challenges? Do you agree or disagree that the best way out is always through?

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2014 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Appearance vs Experience: How social media has changed what we value

taking a photoHow often would you say you check your social media news feeds and see a picture of a friend on vacation, enjoying a fancy dinner, attending an expensive sporting event, meeting a celebrity or buying something big like a car or a house? I would venture to say this is likely an everyday occurrence. It’s common for social media to attract information such as big announcements or fun experiences, but what’s concerning is the trend of sacrificing the full enjoyment of these experiences in order to amplify their appearance.

We are becoming a society that is more focused on the appearance of our life experiences than we are with the actual enjoyment our life experiences. We can no longer appreciate a Valentine’s Day dinner unless we first check-in to the restaurant on social media, share a picture of our pricy entree and finish with an overly mushy (and overly personal) post about our significant other. Why do we need the validation of our social networks to confirm that life is good? Your vacation still occurred whether it’s on your Facebook newsfeed or not and your new car still exists even if your Twitter followers haven’t seen a photo. But maybe the reality of our lives is no longer enough. Maybe now we feel we need a broader audience to really enjoy life’s pleasures. This thought begs the following question…

Do we value the appearance more than the experience?

If you have ever paused, recreated or staged a moment so you could take a photo for Facebook, then the answer is yes. If you have ever updated your status in the middle of a romantic dinner, on vacation or during a massage, the answer is yes. I know I’m just as guilty of this crime as many of you may be and worse yet, it’s a hard habit to break! Next time you’re experiencing something really fun or unique, resist the temptation to update your social media. It seems downright unnatural. In particular, Facebook is becoming a “brag book” where we seek approval and validation for almost everything we do in life. It’s simply not accurate, and a little absurd, to measure the importance of such special moments by the number of “likes” a photo receives. We need to reverse this trend by refocusing on the experience over the appearance. We need to disconnect, even briefly, to allow ourselves a chance to take in the memory of a moment.

While social media has become the catalyst for this problem, it is a platform for sharing. There’s no reason not to update your networks with good news or a photo of something you enjoy. This is only cause for concern if in doing so you diminish the real-life experience for yourself. If you’re too busy trying to capture everything on your iPhone, the world is going to pass you by. Sure you’ll have photos to remind you of these great memories, but wouldn’t you rather simply live them first hand?

Have you seen examples of this emerging trend? Maybe you’re even a contributor. Where do you find your enjoyment – in the appearance or the experience?

 

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Our Trip Around the Sun: A recap of top posts from 2013

earth and sunWith only 2 days left in 2013, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on this crazy busy but very memorable year. Who knew we could pack so much into just one trip around the sun? It’s a journey we’ve taken together  – with all of its ups and downs, twists and turns. I know that I have personally grown more this year than I have ever before. I had many significant life changes, career growth and have continued to work to find contentment in every moment – even the ones that challenge me to new limits.

To honor the progress of this year, I began by sifting through the Bennis Inc Blog archives and found that I fell in love all over again with some of the thoughts I shared. So in celebration of all great things to come in 2014, here is a highlight of the most popular posts from the Bennis Inc Blog in 2013!

1. Never Lose Sight of Your Childhood Dream

In this post, I reflect on my childhood dream to become an architect and interior designer. Clearly this dream never became a reality; still I managed to incorporate the core aspects that I loved about these careers into what I’m doing now. If you take a closer look, you too may see that you never gave up on your childhood dream – you’ve just repurposed it.

2. The 80/20 Principle: How to identify the clutter in your life and business

After reading “The 4 Hour Workweek,” I was inspired to write about my own take on the 80/20 Principle. Essentially it states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort and time. I still swear by it and every so often have to refocus myself on whether or not I’m applying it to all aspects of my life.

3. A Penny Saved Is More Than A Penny Earned

This was a really fun post! I give a couple (creative) reasons as to why a penny saved is actually more than a penny earned. Instead of trying to earn more money to do more things, we should actually be focusing on living more conservatively and enjoying the free time it provides.

4. A Low-Information Diet – The Solution for Overwhelm and Overload?

After a very overwhelming start to my career on a political campaign, I’ve since prescribed my life the low-information diet. Essentially, it’s eliminating all of the noise and clutter that we needlessly bring into our lives and as a result, has helped to boost my productivity and reduce my stress.

5. D’oh! The 5 Most Common Public Relations Mistakes

I’m still surprised to see how many hits this blog gets a day! I outlined some of the most common PR mistakes that we all make from time to time. This guide is a great help especially for small businesses out there who may be looking to implement their own PR tactics, but are too scared of making a mistake.

6. A Price for Passion: Being smart and fair when pricing your services

This is an essential post for every entrepreneur or business owner as it covers one of the most critical question for making money – how do you price yourself? For those who offer services, this is even more complicated because the resource you’re ultimately selling is your time. Here are the tips I’ve learned through my own trial and error with pricing my services.

7. The Necessary Slow Burn of Business Growth

The idea for this post came from a creative analogy that I saw as being applicable to business growth. Though we all wish success could take off like wildfire, there is necessity to the process of slow and steady growth.

8.  The Life Lessons of Parenthood

On May 11, 2013, my life forever changed. I became a mother. This post examines the life lessons of parenthood I learned in just two short months with my son, Holden. Now nearing the end of 2013, Holden is growing into a little man and the life lessons keep on coming!

9. A No Is As Good As a Yes

Un-productivity is one of my biggest pet peeves. I hate when projects get held up because of someone’s lack of responsiveness. This blog post is a plea to those regular “offenders” that a no is sometimes as good as a yes because it helps us move forward with work – and life.

10. The Working Mom/Stay At Home Mom Hybrid

This was the most read and shared post of 2013 – and one in which I opened myself up to discussing a pretty personal and controversial topic. The decision of whether to be a stay-at-home-mom or a working mom is one of the most difficult choices for any mother. This post takes a look at how I’m adjusting to life as a “hybrid mom.”

Tell me about your year! What was one of your most memorable moments from 2013?

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2013 in Life

 

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Twas Two Days Before Christmas…

Twas Two Days Before Christmas

(A fun twist on a familiar favorite)

Twas two days before Christmas, when all through the house
not a computer was turned on, not even a mouse.
Their cords were wrapped up in the corner with care,
in hopes that I had strength to leave them there.

Miss Pinot was nestled all snug in her bed,
while visions of toy mice danced in her head.
For once taking a cue from my sleepy, gray cat,
I settled my brain for a short winter’s nap.

Is it possible to tune out all of the clatter,
to focus on Christmas and what truly matters?
No doubt it would feel different to completely unwind,
what’s the worst that could happen, we’d have a good time?

So from now until New Years, the blog posts can wait
there are loved ones to hug and cookies to bake.
This short disconnect will help creativity to soar
and inspire me to write better than ever before!

Until then, don’t worry what to do with your time,
make your own holidays relaxing as I’ve done mine.
Here’s my final wish before the exit I make,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a short break!”

whimsical christmas tree

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Life

 

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