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Would You Ask a Man That Question?

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A real life snapshot from my life as a work-from-home mom

A few weeks ago I was asked a question that I initially didn’t hesitate to answer. It’s actually a question I’ve been asked on more than one occasion, so I felt prepared to defend myself with an explanation. The question was, “How do you plan to balance work with a family?”

It’s not an unreasonable question, right? It was asked in a light-hearted way by a new client who, I truly believe, felt like they were going through any normal paces of qualifying someone to be their new PR consultant. The board voted unanimously in my favor and I ultimately got the job. Sometime later, a female colleague of mine, who was also at that meeting, brought up her frustration that I had to answer such a “ridiculous” question. She picked up on the (not so subtle) sexism of that question that I’ve come to view as normal as a female business owner and working mom. Her point was clear. Would you ask a man that question? No, no you wouldn’t.

Picture a man being asked “How do you plan to balance work with a family?” during a job interview. I envision a bewildered look come across his face as he responds “What do you mean?” He would likely ask for clarification before he felt compelled to offer an explanation…an excuse, really. Meanwhile, I had my “excuse” locked and loaded because it’s one I’ve had to provide time and time again. Sometimes I even voluntarily offer it up as I can see the look of concern come across a client’s face when they learn I have two young children, one of whom stays at home with me 5 out of the 7 days of the week.

“When do you have time to do work?”

That’s another common question. I used to be proud to answer this with a description of my highly disciplined and efficient schedule that is required for raising a family, keeping up with the house and growing a business. But now I see that I was defending myself from society’s disbelief that I can be a mother and a business owner – and do both well.

I’m not angry or outraged at these questions. I hold no grudge against the people who asked them. Rather, I’m shocked by my own numbness toward sexist remarks made to women entrepreneurs daily. I’m sad that I allowed myself to feel guilty, even for just one second, for “balancing work and a family.”

It is without question that a woman most often gets the lion’s share of work and responsibility when it comes to raising a family. Rather than questioning her ability to work and parent, congratulate her, offer encouragement and be flexible with your demands.

How refreshing would it be to instead hear “I know you have a young family. It’s wonderful you’re pursuing your passion. We will flexible, as we know family comes first.”

I’m fortunate to work with understanding and encouraging clients who not only know I am a hybrid mom, but see it as a badge of honor. They know when they call me there’s always a chance you’ll hear a babbling baby in the background or that I may need to reschedule a meeting because I’ve got a sick toddler. But as a mother, I also know how to power through a challenge and multi-task like it’s an Olympic sport. If you want something done, give it to a busy person. And if you want something done quickly, correctly and with every distraction going on around her, give it to a mom.

Have you ever been asked a sexist or unfair question? Share how you responded, or wish you had responded by leaving a comment!

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Life Lesson: Are You Satisfied or Merely Distracted?

Life Lesson Are You Satisfied or Merely Distracted

Thanks to technology and society telling us it’s normal and expected to be connected 24/7, we have found more ways than ever to live life distracted. We have become accustomed to consuming multiple forms of media at a time, so much so, that watching TV is often accompanied by surfing our phones for social media updates.

I am just as guilty as the rest of the world. I have caught myself checking my phone with one hand, answering an email with another hand and fooling myself into believe I’m still paying attention to the TV show playing in the background. During these moments in life, I feel productive, entertained and comfortable. But am I mistaking these feelings for happiness?

The question I pose today is this…amidst all of the distractions we use to take our attention off of feeling undesirable emotions like boredom, loneliness, doubt and sadness, are we skirting around the hard, but paramount task of seeking out true satisfaction in our lives?

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a thought-provoking lecture that cautioned us not to mistake satisfaction for distraction. By nature, we as humans have found countless ways to distract ourselves (i.e. procrastination) from the real task at hand, often because it’s more work. But we’re not fooling anyone. The repercussions of our distracted lives can be found all around us. How many “friends” do you have on Facebook versus how many friends you talk to (I mean real, meaningful conversations) on a weekly basis?

The blinking light of a social media update should not be valued higher than your family conversation around the dinner table. The distractions around us are tempting, and sometimes warranted, but for the most part they are futile attempts to fill a void that can only be filled by seeking true satisfaction – whatever that means to you.

The life lesson I want to share is this. We can continue down this slippery slope of distracting ourselves into believing we are satisfied in life, but we will always need to find more and better distractions to make us believe we are “happy.” Or we can start today by taking a closer look at our lives and the relationships that form our happiness. And the first step is to close our laptops during the evenings and weekends, turn off our phones when spending time with loved ones and seek satisfaction before distraction.

It’s a crazy, but simple notion – so simple that unless these two words were brought my attention in stark comparison, I might never have considered how satisfaction could be mistaken for distraction (and vice versa). It really makes me think about my intentions when I’m tempted to pick up my phone at dinner or check my email during family time. If I’m desiring the feeling of distraction, maybe there’s a void I need to fill first and foremost with true satisfaction that is far more lasting.

Take a constructive look at your own happiness. Would you say you are truly satisfied or merely distracted? If you feel compelled to share your insights, I’d love to hear your personal response to this deep question!

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2016 in Life

 

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5 Lessons My Cat Has Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

pinot life lessons 1If you’ve read enough posts on the Bennis Inc blog, you’ve likely stumbled upon the mention of my Russian Blue cat, Pinot. She has been a key member of my staff since before I made the entrepreneurial leap to take my business fulltime. I’ve kept a sense of humor as to how Miss Pinot “assists” in my business, but let’s be honest, she’s more of a figurehead than a worker bee.

As I approach the fourth anniversary of quitting my 9-5 and pursuing my dream of running my own business, it’s only fitting that I also reflect upon what my snarky mascot has taught me about maintaining a work-life balance, making tough decisions and keeping a sense of humor about it all.

Enjoy these five lessons that my cat has taught me about entrepreneurship!

Know when to spring into action and know when to lay low.

Pinot has two settings: rocket ship and ancient sloth. When there is a task on her to-do list, she tackles it with urgency. Anything else that is not deemed as necessary of her attention, she barely opens an eye. Certainly this is an extreme lesson for any business owner to fully embrace, so let’s water it down a bit.

I apply this Pinot philosophy by jumping on any task I can complete that day. I’ve made a conscious effort to “eat my frogsand clear my bandwidth early and often. In contrast, I’ve also learned to not rush to complete those tasks that are awaiting important details from other people, are not deemed urgent or could potentially cost me time without the guarantee of payment. Thanks to Pinot, I know how to choose when I spring into action or lay low to remain efficient with my time.

Make time to care for yourself daily.

Pinot can often be caught leg in air, in the middle of a very intense bathing routine. She prioritizes the hours she spends grooming her coat and sharpening her claws. While 6+ hours out of anyone’s day is far too much time to devote exclusively to maintaining yourself, there is a lesson to be learned here.

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Thanks to Pinot, I’ve embraced the habit of treating my body to some sort of exercise daily. I also make time for life’s little luxuries like a haircut, trip to the nail salon or browsing a store so long as my other work tasks for the day are complete. It’s my reward for efficiency and my motivation to push through challenging tasks.

Manage your own agenda…unless you really, really need something.

Pinot is like that roommate that you never really run into, yet you know they still live with you because of the random items they leave scattered around. In Pinot’s case, this is mostly litter and fur. Pinot manages her own agenda and rarely comes to me unless she really, really needs something – i.e. food or belly scratches.

I perceive the value of this lesson to be the importance of working independently, yet not being shy about asking for something when you need it. I aim to make my clients’ lives easier by not having to micromanage me. When producing content, I do need their initial input. But all I ask for is simple bullet points or fragments of ideas. From there, I work independently to weave this into a final product they’re proud to share with the media, on their website or with their social networks.

If you’re not getting the attention you need, insert yourself until you can’t be ignored.

To add to the point I just made above, when you do really, really need something from a client in order to do your job, be assertive and follow-up with them until you get the answers you need. Pinot has the skill refined into an art form. Anyone who owns a cat, or has even been around a cat, you know how they insert themselves into your space until you can no longer choose to ignore their presence.

Pinot has laid across my laptop as I type, waved her tail in front of my eyes and tucked herself tight up against my arm so I cannot do anything but breathe without acknowledging her (I think she’s working on a tactic for that breathing part, too). Sometimes what Pinot wants (i.e. treats) I can’t give her or she doesn’t need at that time. I verbally or non-verbally tell her no and she moves on. This is an incredibly valuable lesson in business.

I’ve written about how a no is as good as a yes. As a business owner, we need answers to move forward. Even if that answer is a no, it is still better than no answer at all. With Pinot as inspiration I (more tactfully) follow-up with contacts until I receive an answer and the ability to move forward

Prioritize and capitalize on any opportunity to nap.

If there is one thing cats are good for, it’s napping. I believe the average cat racks up about 17 hours per day of Zzzz’s. That’s no joke! Personally, not only does that much sleep sound terrible, but I’d have no time to accomplish anything else. Instead, this is another Pinot lesson I take with a grain of salt.

I have learned the value of a good power nap in the afternoon when the opportunity presents itself. So often, my energy wanes as my mind is burnt out from the morning’s writing, conference calls and networking meetings. Rather than guzzling caffeine and pushing through the wall, I devote no more than an hour (often less) to shutting down completely. Everyone responds to napping differently, but for me, and many other effective leaders throughout history, a nap breathes a fresh breath of air into the day. I am able to do far more quality work when I awake compared to the unenergized and unfocused work I would have accomplished without napping.

Which one of Pinot’s lessons is your favorite? Share how you will or already do apply this wisdom to your career by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2015 in Business & Success

 

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“In Stitches” (a short story with a big influence)

I can still recall the feeling of the dewy grass between my toes. How it managed to turn my flip flops into slippery ice skates during mid July in Pennsylvania I’ll never quite understand. It was summer break and I couldn’t have been over the age of seven. During this time of year, my mother’s inevitably hectic mornings included yet one more to-do, dropping me off at my care-taker’s. She knew me well enough to know that without fail each morning would result in an excuse, a lie or a threat to get me out of going there. That is why the feeling of grass between my toes still conjures up the tight grasp of my mother’s hand. It was her silent way of tell me that no matter how slow my flip flop ice skates moved, I wasn’t getting out of this; I was going to Aunt Roni’s house.

Every child has that one place they despise going. They drag their feet, kick, scream and hold onto nearby doorways, pleading for their parents’ mercy. For some kids it was the doctor or dentist, perhaps even school or church, but for me, it was my Aunt Roni’s.

Aunt Roni was old. Her house was old. Her toys were old. Her television set was old. But worst of all, her rules were old. Aunt Roni was a neighbor two houses away who although there was no blood relation, my mother insisted I called “Aunt” out of respect. During the summer she was my care-taker while my mother was at work. It was during these impressionable summers that I was subjected to her old fashioned and outdated rules. For example, lunch was served at exactly twelve noon, regardless of what orders my stomach growled hours before. I was only allowed to watch television in thirty minute increments and was then forced to play outside, which most often resulted in me angrily pushing an empty swing or sitting arms crossed, sulking behind a tree. A kid couldn’t even indulge in a whole freeze pop! Instead, I had to watch Aunt Roni cut each popsicle in half and put it back in the freezer for “another day.” All of this aside, the rules that frustrated me, a very hyper and fast-paced child, the most were her rules about sewing.

I should mention that more than just my care-taker, my Aunt Roni doubled as a personal sewing instructor. Whether these sewing lessons were secretly arranged by my mother or just a new form of torture Aunt Roni invented is still unknown to me. In short, sewing wasn’t my bag. Many idle hours on the backyard swing set were spent pondering the reasons why anyone would want to sew. Just cutting a pattern out of fabric took more effort than going to a department store. To this day I’m still fairly certain that Aunt Roni spent those same hours pondering why anyone wouldn’t.

For the age of seven, I was a fairly proficient seamstress and earned many blue ribbons at the 4-H fairs. This particular summer I chose to make a tote bag. Straight lines, no zippers, I thought I had a pretty easy summer lined up. But like most of my fool-proof plans to get out of life easy with Aunt Roni, I was sorely mistaken.
I had spent the better part of June meticulously pinning each side of my tote bag together, hand-sewing on the pocket, and finally I was ready to add the handles. I felt Aunt Roni behind me, studying every stitch, looking for any stray thread or—heaven forbid—a sloppy seam. Just as I usually did in this position, I began to panic. With superhuman strength, my foot laid on the sewing machine pedal. The motor hummed with more horse power than most legal street cars, jumping to 40 beats per second, my heart rate not far behind. I jerked back, taking my bag with me, pulling it right under the hungry machine that chewed up the fabric and spit it out. In a crumpled heap, my bag and I laid on the floor, my emotions matching its appearance. As I was surveying the damage, I remembered Aunt Roni had seen it all.

She knew I had been too fast, too hasty with my work and this was the result. Without an ounce of apathy, she told me to tear out every stitch that ran through the center of my bag—by hand. If there was one thing I hated even more than putting the stitches in, it was ripping those same stitches out. I hung my head, thinking of what I would be doing for the next several hours. Aunt Roni looked at me and said, “For every stitch you tear out, you learn something new.” I can tell you that during that afternoon of intense seam-ripping, the only thing I learned was how much anger and frustration a seven year old could feel.

Throughout my childhood summers spent at Aunt Roni’s, I ripped out more stitches than I probably ever kept. It goes without saying that I learned a lot. I learned patience, respect and discipline. I learned that even the most daunting tasks can be made simple if you break them down. Nearly 16 years later, I have managed to make quite a few mistakes. But when the time comes to put aside my pride and rip out the stitches I’ve sewn, I know I’ll walk away with a life lesson and an even deeper love for my Aunt Roni.

Aunt Roni and me August 2010.

 This short story is dedicated to my dear Aunt Roni who over the course of our summers together became more than a care-taker. She became my grandmother and my guardian. She came into my life when I was just an infant and showered me with the tender and unconditional love you can only receive from someone who is placed in your life by God. I owe so much of who I am to those summers spent with my Aunt Roni. I can only wish to someday be this special and influential to someone else.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Life

 

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