Chief Relationship Officer
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Iíve worked with small business owners in a consulting role since 2002. I started my first business in 1992. Now I find myself working with job searchers after one of the toughest economic years in history. Itís 2010, and weíre not out of the woods yet. No family has been insulated from the challenges we face today. Everyone has made some sacrifice as Americaís economy grasps for a kick start. Some even speculate that they arenít waiting for a recovery and that this is the new economy as if itís here to stay. In response to that, they are evaluating what is working and reinventing what doesnít.
Part of the reason we face tough times is that we arenít proactive. As Dr. Stephen Covey (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) says, we must begin with the end in mind. We need a vision for what our life should be. Instead of developing contingency plans or next steps for our life, we get cozy in our comfort zone and set goals to excel at the status quo. And yes, itís comfortable. But there, youíll find the greatest danger looming in the days to come. And sadly, many will settle to live at a slow, reactive simmer no matter how desperate the situation becomes because itís familiar and they know what to expect.
I own a publishing company, and we just published a compelling book for a Tulsa-area author and speaker named Gary Sheely called Cutting Away: Facing the Fatal 5 to Survive and Thrive for the Best Life Ever (www.cuttingaway.com). In it, he discusses the fear, denial, and comfort zones that trap us in a life less stellar than we deserve. The first of his Fatal 5 is the unrelenting attraction of our comfort zones.
Perhaps youíre now forced to venture outside your comfort zone because of sour economic times. Maybe you are unemployed or under-employed. Maybe you are in debt up to your eyeballs or your retirement fund has not yet recovered from a devastating year on Wall Street. Maybe your relationships with family and friends arenít what they should be. Maybe your values only permeate your personal life but never creep across the threshold of your professional life. Maybe you are just hiding in the safety of status quo, and youíve decided enough is enough. Make this your time to live for more.
If you want to change anything, you have to face the unknown, and that requires planning, thought, courage, and prayer. We all have options to choose a destination. The desired destination may not be just one life step away. It may even be a lifetime of steps away, but we all can strategize the path to get there. The will to strategize is what separates the victors from the victims.
One of the most important decisions I ever made was to choose to live outside my comfort zone. It inspired me to choose a path not because it was easy but because it challenged me. Itís a place of experimentation, trial, and error. It has stretched me mentally, physically, and emotionally. I donít remember the last time I was bored.
Sure, occasionally ó like everyone else ó I need to step back, reflect, and regroup. And yes, I have to correct mistakes, and sometimes I say or do something that draws strong criticism. However, living outside my comfort zone has helped me develop the mental toughness and courage to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done. Itís also given me the opportunity to learn to resolve the inevitable conflict. More than anything, it has given me accomplishments and experience that I never dreamed I would have when I lived inside my comfort zone.
Part of the experience of living outside my comfort zone is learning to take risks and make mistakes as part of the journey for success. Nevertheless, Iíve learned so much more from the risks and the mistakes. Being female usually means being more risk-adverse, so the discomfort with risk is more of a hurdle. However, the people who take bigger risks earn the right to experience bigger successes. Those who play it safe really never get to experience miracles. There is no substitute for hands-on, real-time learning.
I donít want to imply that education isnít important. I completed an associate degree and a bachelorís degree; but if I had known that I would use my masterís degree so much, I would have never waited 20 years to get it. However, most of my learning takes place through the written and recorded word on a daily basis, by learning from othersí experiences, by taking chances, and by experiencing life.
Besides books, newspapers, and periodicals, you can find experts in your topic of interest on the Internet. We live in an era when experts use websites, blog articles, and podcasts as a marketing medium. There is more information available to develop our expertise and broaden our horizon ó or just drill deeper in our chosen field of interest. You have choices. With all the information out there on a seemingly infinite number of topics, the biggest challenge will be choosing what to ignore. Spend at least 30 minutes each day reading to develop your personal and professional skills and knowledge.
A typical support system consists of family members, friends, coworkers, peers, and mentors. Your family hopefully provided you the necessary support system you needed in your early years. If they didnít, donít let them be your excuse for not reaching for more. Let them be the driving force that inspires you to experience and accomplish more.
As we mature, we collect a group of family members and friends that become our support network and inspiration. We sometimes outgrow them as we search for more. Itís okay to assess your relationships and let some of them go.
Actively identify and seek out the kind of people you want to surround yourself with. Figure out where those people are and go there. The quality of our own potential is directly proportional to the type of people we surround ourselves with.
Professionally, youíll find coworkers, superiors, and peers who have your best interest at heart. You need to identify who they are because there are plenty of people in most workplaces that do not. If you find yourself in an intolerable job situation, ask yourself why itís intolerable. If itís the people you work with, a strong peer network can make it more tolerable until either the workplace changes or you find something different. Donít forget to let your network know what your ideal situation looks like so they can let people in their network know. Eighty percent of positions are filled through networking.
Some of the most important people in our support networks are our mentors. You should have several because they may exhibit different qualities you admire. Normally, we choose our mentors and initiate some kind of two-way relationship. But occasionally, mentors will choose us because thereís something they see in us that maybe we havenít yet seen. Be open when those opportunities present themselves. Even look for people who can mentor you from a distance ó someone you admire who is a high-profile figure that you never meet and who doesnít even realize he or she is mentoring you. Thatís a powerful lesson that we need to always be aware that someone is watching how we navigate our own choices in life, isnít it?
Never forget that a mentee (someone you mentor) can be part of your support network as well. No matter how young or inexperienced we might think we are, we can always reach back and bring someone along behind us. One of the best parts of being a mentor is what we learn from the experience of mentoring someone else. Giving the gift of our attention, interest, and time not only invests in someone else, it increases our own self-esteem and self-worth.
We all have a personal brand ó an image that people identify with us ó whether or not we choose to define it. I want to define and continue to refine my brand image. I hope you will choose to as well.
When I started the research for my most recent book, Currency: Striking Networking Gold in a Relationship Economy (www.networkingcurrency.com), I had no idea how important a personal brand was to being a great networker as well as a successful individual. As the research evolved, I realized it was probably the most important thing. I learned that it became one of the top reasons people remember us and choose to business with and refer us.
Will you choose to make this your year? Three important steps in taking charge of your future are to live outside your comfort zone, embrace an attitude of lifelong learning, and develop a strong support network. By adopting these practices, you can improve your life ó and maybe even the world around you. I want that for you and frankly, our society is desperate for it.
To download a preview section from Currency: Striking Networking Gold in a Relationship Economy, click here.
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