Tag Archives: Thinking Positively

The six-word phrase that matters most

Picture of boys playing soccerDid you know there is a parenting phrase that brings student athletes happiness, confidence, and a sense of fulfillment? It’s just six words: “I love to watch you play.”

Years ago, I first came across a variation of this phrase in the program for a local Nutcracker performance. My friends’ daughter was playing Clara, and they placed an ad in the program saying, “We love to watch you dance. Love, Mom and Dad.” It made an impression on me. It was so simple, supportive, and beautiful.

I like to think that I’ve used it many times since then to encourage and praise my kids, but I’m not so sure I remembered to. However, it was top of mind when my husband and I sat down to write a letter of love and affirmation for our daughter, to be given to her at a high school retreat. Our daughter is a talented writer, and in our note to her, we said: “We love to read what you write.”

Coincidentally, a few days after the retreat, I came across Daniel Coyle’s article in the Huffington Post: Five Ways to Nurture Talent (Without Being a Psycho Parent). In the article, he shares informal research done by collegiate coaching experts about ways parents had made a positive or negative impact on their children’s development. One of the “aha’s” from their interviews is what Daniel Coyle says may be “the wisest parenting tip I’ve ever read.”

The kids reported there was one phrase spoken by parents that brought them happiness. One simple sentence that made them feel joyful, confident, and fulfilled. Just six words. I love to watch you play.

Given how important the phrase is to student athletes, and the impression it made on me when I first saw it, I started wondering how it could be adapted by leaders to make their teams feel confident, happy, and engaged with their work.  For example,

I like to watch you lead meetings.
I like to read your reports.
I like to watch you give presentations.
I like to see you help customers.

What do you think of this phrase, as a parent or as a leader? Have you used it yourself? Thinking of opportunities to use it more in the future? Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts. After all, I like to read your comments.

–Karen

© 2014 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

(Photo credit: BigStock.com)

Alone, but Never Alone

Woman looking out of a windowWhen my kids were infants, I remember rocking them back to sleep in the middle of the night, looking out of our living room windows across a canyon. Seeing the lights in the other hillside houses helped me realize there must be dozens of parents nearby who were awake just like me: nursing babies, consoling kids after nightmares, taking temperatures, giving hugs. I wasn’t the only person not getting a good night’s sleep, and it was strangely reassuring.

I was similarly comforted as a startup CEO. How many other entrepreneurs were out there choosing just the right words for a pitch deck, searching for talent to join their small team, balancing new product ideas with the need to focus, or second guessing their business model when a new competitor comes on the scene? The uncertainty of it all was overwhelming at times, but I knew I wasn’t alone. Others were on the same journey.

“It’s lonely at the top” is a well-known adage in leadership circles, and there are plenty of strategies for dealing with the isolation. You can reach out to other leaders to get advice and support. You can work with an executive coach. You can have a trusted mentor. You can read leadership books and blogs. I’ve used all of these strategies over my career, and they’ve definitely helped.

During my maternity leaves, I used similar approaches to deal with the same feeling of isolation. I joined mothers groups and took exercise classes with other new moms. I read parenting books. All were helpful.

Yet, there were still times, as a leader and as a parent, that I was alone. Alone with my thoughts, the decisions I faced, the positive smile I would have to put on when I opened the door to that next meeting or that next family meal. Knowing that others were going through similar challenges and surviving, possibly thriving, made all the difference in the world.

How about you? How do you deal with the sense of loneliness as a leader or as a parent? I’d like to hear from you!

–Karen

© 2014 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

(Photo credit: BigStock.com)

Risk? What risk?

Photo of a young woman in front of three doors About a year ago, with our daughter entering the second half of her junior year in high school, many of our family dinner conversations began to touch on college planning. What colleges to visit? When to sign up for standardized tests? When was the next meeting with the college counselor?

During one of these conversations, my daughter asked me how I chose which college to attend. Before I tell you what I said next, you have to understand something about me: I grew up in a small town, in the same small town where my father was raised, and where his father was raised. I don’t exactly come from adventurous stock. So, at age 17, when deciding where to go to college, I chose the best school within a 50 mile radius of my home. Fortunately, it was an ivy league university, and to this day, I’m thankful they accepted me.

Back then, I evaluated opportunities by thinking of things that could go wrong, the potential downsides. What if I went far away to college, got sick and needed my mom? What if I didn’t have enough money to travel home for Christmas? Would I find a safe place to store my things over the summer break? You get the picture.

However, I’ve changed since then. Over the course of my career, I’ve seen the positives that can come from risk, and I now evaluate opportunities by looking at all the things that could go right. And I’ve found myself saying yes to things that my younger self would have talked herself out of. One example from the past year? Joining Athentica, an early-stage startup, as the CEO. When I was being recruited, I looked at the impact we could have with our first product, the business we could build, what I would learn, and the ways I would grow my network. Sure, there was the risk that we wouldn’t be successful, but I didn’t let myself focus on that. Instead, I looked at the upside and said yes.

Well, it turns out things didn’t go according to plan; I recently made the difficult decision to leave the startup. Did I fail? That’s not how I’m looking at it. I learned a lot about early-stage startups. I made strong connections with the venture capital community and with people working to improve online education. I led the development of the initial product offering. I worked with great people. So much good came from it.

Perhaps most importantly, my kids saw me take this professional risk. And, they know I’m doing just fine, even though it didn’t work out. I hope they’ll think back on this time when they need to evaluate options in their future careers. I want them to be able to take a risk—to take on a stretch assignment, to move internationally, to switch jobs—and not be held back by the fear of all the things that could go wrong.

In other words, I want them to be able to transform risks into opportunities.

–Karen

© 2014 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

(Photo credit: BigStock.com)

I could’ve done more…or not?

Photo of girls' feet in a tap dance classMy daughter is in her final year of high school and will be off to college in the fall. Eight months to go, and I’m already mentally preparing myself, curious about how our lives will change.

Only eight months left of her childhood. I find myself wondering if I could’ve done more for her over the years. I wonder if she should have gone on an exchange program or overnight camp. I wonder if she should have had more dance lessons or gone to more concerts and plays. The list goes on.

Yet, there were only so many hours in the day and a budget to stick to. As a result, I set priorities. And while I’m proud of the daughter that my husband and I have raised, the feelings of guilt—that I could’ve done more—keep creeping into my mind.

This morning, I came across an interesting blog post: How Leaders Can Avoid Shiny Objects, Black Holes, Fire Drills and Other Dangerous Distractions. Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie writes that one of the greatest challenges of leadership is managing time. He explains the need to spend this limited resource on the most important issues, and to avoid the distractions that can jeopardize projects, teams, and entire companies. I appreciated how he described the three most dangerous distractions: bright shiny objects, black holes, and fire drills.

What I find interesting is that each of these distractions can also show up in parenting:

Leadership* Parenting
The Bright Shiny Object
A new product, project, or partner that’s generating a lot of buzz. The problem is, it’s not really right for the company, or it’s a long shot.  But it’s really cool!  Should you devote time to it, at the expense of other, more viable and profitable things? The latest and greatest after-school activity. The problem is, your child is already pretty busy. But, you’re concerned that your child will not get into insert the name of your favorite college unless they do this activity. Should you figure out how to pay for it, juggle the schedule, and organize carpools to fit it in?
The Black Hole
The company has approved an expensive project, but about 25% of the way in you know you’re going to be over budget. Do you pull the plug now, or ask for more money and trudge on? You enrolled your child in a new sports program, but they’re disappointed because they aren’t as strong as the other players. Do you pull the plug now, or invest in private coaching?
The Fire Drill
Your boss saw a complaint from an unhappy customer. It was a bad one, but when you dug into it the day before it appeared to be an isolated case that could be routinely handled by  customer service, following the protocol for cases exactly like this one. Your boss sees it as a complete breakdown of customer service. Should you start the fire drill – two days of phone calls, e-mails, and meetings involving all of your team, devoted to that single complaint? Your child has known about a school project for over a week, and the night before it’s due she panics because she doesn’t have all the needed craft materials. You’re not too worried because you can think of other things she can use. She sees it differently. Should you start the fire drill of running around town to pick up the supplies?
* Many thanks to Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie for these leadership examples.

It’s not easy to avoid these distractions. It takes courage to say “no”, to be the bad cop, to step back and not get swept up in it all. But, by avoiding them, parents and leaders can spend their time and money on the things that really matter.

So, as my daughter heads off to college, I’m not going to allow myself to feel guilt over the things I could’ve done as a parent. Most would have distracted me from more important activities. Instead, I’m going to feel good about the things I did that made an impact and helped her become an incredible young woman.

–Karen

© 2014 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

(Photo credit: BigStock.com)

Embrace the Gap

Many people have taken breaks during their careers and wonder how to explain the gap in their experience. My suggestion: embrace it, just like students do with a gap year. 

Photo of a pink floppy disk

Image courtesy of nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last week, I caught up with a friend Ann, a stay-at-home mom who is thinking about returning to the workforce. She shared with me a dirty little secret: her latest resume is on a floppy disk. I had to laugh. Not only has she not updated her resume in almost 20 years, she wasn’t even able to open it.

As you can imagine, Ann wasn’t sure where to begin creating a new resume. She had done plenty of volunteer work as a stay-at-home mom, but she wondered if it was significant enough to list on her resume or LinkedIn profile. She didn’t necessarily remember the dates of her jobs earlier in her career. She was spinning her wheels, not sure how to proceed.

Does this sound familiar? Perhaps you don’t have a 20 year gap, but instead took off a year, or two or three, for personal reasons? If so, you may be asking yourself how you can prove you can still do the job. You may be wondering how to fill your resume with something, anything, to show you were productive during those years.

My suggestion is to embrace the gap you have in your professional experience. Don’t conceal it; instead, emphasize what you learned, how you grew, and how you changed. Think like a student who takes a gap year before going to college. As long as they aren’t sitting on their parents’ couches watching TV all year, they tend to gain valuable experience by traveling, working, or volunteering. There’s no stigma, no reason to hide what they’ve done.

As my friend Ann started writing a new resume, she tried to hide her years at home by emphasizing her earlier career in marketing. However, through volunteer activities, Ann had discovered her passion for helping the elderly. She enjoyed spending time with older people, helping them with errands, and bringing them to doctors appointments. So, I encouraged her to describe her volunteer work in a way that showcased her passion for helping older people, and to be clear that she was looking for a similar role as a paid employee. Her next draft was spot on and ready to start sending to potential employers.

While emphasizing volunteer activities is a great way to embrace a gap in your career, here are some overall strategies to consider:

Show that you know how to stay relevant. As you begin your return to work, read respected news sites and blogs for your field. Join relevant groups and follow Influencers on LinkedIn. Write comments on articles posted by these influencers. Read a best selling business book published this year (or two!). And, as you network and start interviewing, ask others for their favorite sources for industry news. Not only is it a great way to start a conversation, you also may discover trends or influential people that missed your radar because of your gap.

Identify transferrable skills. Take the skills that you learned during your gap and describe them in a way that will resonate with potential employers. If you started a blog, talk about how you became a better writer or photographer. If you organized volunteers, talk about how you mastered delegation. However, be careful to not take the analogy too far. No one becomes a supply chain expert by packing lunches for their family every morning, or a CFO by balancing their personal checkbook.

Highlight what you learned about yourself. What did you learn about yourself or do that you were surprised by? Just as Ann discovered she loved working with older people, what did you learn about yourself that would be of interest to a hiring manager? If you had the opportunity to travel to new destinations, what surprised you about the experience? If you took on an internship to learn new skills before looking for a full-time job, did you find something you wanted to look for (or stay away from) moving forward?

Make yourself unforgettable. Breaks from a typical career path can become the fuel for an interesting personal story. What’s your story? Write it, practice it, share it with friends, and then tell it to potential employers. Hopefully, your story will be unforgettable, and they’ll bring you in for a second round of interviews.

Do you have a gap on your resume? Or do you know a young person who is taking a gap year before college? What additional strategies would you recommend for embracing it, and not concealing it? I look forward to hearing from you!

–Karen

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

(Photo credit: BigStock.com)

I haven’t learned that yet

When my son was about six years old, a family friend who was visiting us sat down to do math puzzles with him. At one point, our friend asked my son to multiply two numbers, and my son answered, “I haven’t learned that yet.” It was the perfect response! He owned the fact that he didn’t know something, yet he didn’t make any excuses. I was impressed.

I heard this phrase again this past weekend at the She++ Conference at Stanford University. The goal of She++ is to inspire women to embrace computer science. Given my daughter’s interest in studying CS, she and I decided to attend the event.

As part of the conference, a panel of Stanford Computer Science (CS) undergraduates, all of whom were women, shared their experiences. A recurring theme was that, while CS is a challenging degree program, it can lead to empowering, potentially world-changing, career opportunities. Many of the panelists shared stories of struggling with assignments and not getting great grades on an exam or two. Most of them had not done any programming until they entered Stanford, and understandably they felt intimidated by other students who had been programming since they were 9 or 10 years old. One of the panelists emphasized that it’s okay to say to yourself or others, “I haven’t learned that yet.” You can and will learn it! I couldn’t agree more.

As parents and as leaders, we can encourage others to be comfortable with the phrase “I haven’t learned that yet.” When we see someone looking perplexed, or struggling to get something done, we can ask, “Have you learned how to do that?” It’s our job to make it safe to ask for help and embrace learning new things, whether it’s simple multiplication or advanced computer algorithms.

I’d love to hear from readers about how they make it safe to ask for help or how they support others who might feel vulnerable because they don’t know something.  Please reply with a comment. I look forward to reading about your experience.

–Karen

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Start as you mean to go on

I was surprised by the response to my post about how hard it can be to shed past reputations. Many people emailed me directly to share their personal experiences of having to leave a company to reinvent themselves. It happens more often than I’d imagined.

Since then, I’ve been thinking of how people go about recasting themselves…for a new job, as they join a new community or school, or to meet a personal goal. Is it different for children and adults? And what is the role of a parent in helping their children adapt to change?

Then I heard the phrase, “Start as you mean to go on.” It means:

  • Make the effort to get things right at the beginning and develop good habits to follow going forward.
  • Approach something new by acting as though you were already a success.

I love it. This phrase embodies both the practical and the psychological aspects of recasting yourself, of starting over.

Did I follow this advice when starting my new consulting business? Yes and no. I’m a goal oriented person and a disciplined list maker, so I’ve done well with my goals for how much networking to do each week and how often to post on my blog. These have become habits I can easily continue. The more difficult aspect of “starting as I mean to go on” has to do with my confidence. I’ve never been a consultant before, and I need to regularly tell myself that I have deep expertise and skills that are in demand. It’s just so hard to get past my inner critic who prevents me from acting as though I’m already a success.

So, I’m reaching out to you, my readers. How have you started as you meant to go on? Do you have ways to ignore your inner critic? Have you helped a child or an employee make a fresh start? What worked? I’d like to hear from you!

–Karen

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.