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630: How to Work with a Boss You Don’t Like with Katherine Crowley

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Katherine Crowley says: "If you're feeling hysterical, it's usually historical."

Katherine Crowley discusses what to do when your boss is holding you back.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What to do when your boss gets under your skin 
  2. The 20 bad boss behaviors that drive employees nuts 
  3. The most important thing you can do when managing up 

About Katherine

Katherine Crowley is a Harvard-trained psychotherapist and career consultant. She helps individuals identify and tackle psychological and interpersonal obstacles to success. She assists with career assessment, developing a personal vision, improving interpersonal skills, and creating work/life balance. 

Katherine is also the co-founder of K Squared Enterprises, a Management Consulting firm dedicated to helping individuals and companies accomplish their business objectives while navigating the psychological challenges of working with others. She is the co-host of the podcast, My Crazy Office, which is a weekly workplace podcast dedicated to helping listeners navigate their careers. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Katherine Crowley Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Katherine, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Katherine Crowley
Hi, it’s so fun to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And you also got your own podcast called My Crazy Office. Could you tell us perhaps one of the craziest office stories you ever heard.

Katherine Crowley
Oh, my gosh. Well, actually interesting, one of my most strange experiences was when I was working for a business owner, and she was running two businesses at the same time. And so, my entire workday consisted of finding notes passed under the door of the office that I work in, in her home, and fulfilling whatever the task was that was required, having no idea what the output was, you know, what the outcome of my work was actually creating, and rarely seeing her except once or twice every couple of weeks. So, that was a strange, that’s what we call an absentee boss situation but it was just so strange because I was living in this world where I don’t fully understand what went on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you have logged a whole host of such boss behaviors, and you’ve got a great title in your book Working for You Isn’t Working for Me: How to Get Ahead When Your Boss Holds You Back. So, tell us, what’s the big idea behind the book?

Katherine Crowley
Well, actually, what’s interesting is that book, Working for You Isn’t Working for Me, came out of the first book we wrote Working for You is Killing Me, which was actually more about peer-to-peer managing up, managing down. And when that book came out, it was a national/international bestseller because it spoke to the pain of so many people. But the one thing that everyone told us, because Kathi Elster and I traveled all over the country giving talks and workshops about how to handle difficult people at work, and every lecture someone would come up and say, “You don’t understand. It’s my boss. That’s different. This person can fire me or demote me.”

And so, we realized that we needed to write a book specifically about dealing with the boss because what we learned was that people don’t quit jobs, they actually quit bosses. So, Working for You Isn’t Working for Me was about coming to terms with, “If you have a difficult boss, how do you manage them rather than waiting for them to manage you?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, there’s much to dig into here. So, let’s start with your four-step program for dealing with difficult bosses. Can you lay out those four steps and give us some examples of them in action?

Katherine Crowley
Absolutely. And the interesting thing is from the Working for You is Killing Me there’s a four-step of unhooking, and we apply the similar thing to the Working for You Isn’t Working for Me. So, I want to talk about the unhooking process because I think it’s very effective if you can do it. So, the four steps are that you unhook physically, you unhook mentally, you unhook verbally, and you unhook with a business tool. And that means nothing except that the first thing you have to realize is that you’re hooked. So, you know that a boss is getting under your skin if you find that you’re having physical, emotional, mental reactions every time you interact with this person.

And so, if you notice that you get a headache, that your stomach feels tight, that your shoulders hurt, that you have a hard time breathing, that you feel exacerbated after every meeting, you then can establish that you are hooked. Once you established that, then you can start to unhook. And the unhooking physically part, so let’s imagine the favorite tough boss, which is the micromanager, the super controlling, oversees everything you do, and doesn’t let you make any decisions on your own. If you had that kind of a boss, what you could do to unhook physically would be that you might, at the day’s end, work out, or go for a run, or go for a walk. You could splash water on your face, you could go for a drive, you could do something physically that helps you release the toxic energy that you may generate by having to deal with this person day in and day out. So, that’s unhooking physically.

Then, unhooking mentally has to do with kind of talking yourself off the ledge. So, let’s say your – this is very common – micromanaging boss insists that you report on every single thing that you do and everything your team does, and you find that to be just offensive. Unhooking mentally, after you’ve cooled your system down by physically unhooking, would be to ask yourself some important questions, like, “What’s happening here? What are the facts of the situation? What’s their part? What’s my part? And what are my options?”

So, going back to the micromanager, what’s happening? “This person is insisting that I give reports on a daily basis about what everyone is doing and it’s ridiculous.” What are the facts? “My boss is requiring this of me and it’s part of my job.” What’s their part? “So, maybe they’re super controlling. They don’t trust anything we do. It drives me crazy.” That’s the fun question to answer. But then what’s my part? And in this case, it could be that, “My part is that I’m taking their behavior personally, that I’m assuming that this person only doesn’t trust me, and that it’s all about not respecting my work ethic.”

So, then your options are, with a micromanaging boss, you could continue to resent them. That’s always…you’re allowed to do that. You could quit. You could badmouth this person and tell everyone how horrible they are and hope that they quit. Or you could say, “Okay, I’m working with someone who needs control. And so, what would happen if I just followed their requests and see if I can establish trust with this person?” So, that’s where you could get to by mentally unhooking.

Next, unhooking verbally is saying something to move the situation forward. So, with this boss, there’s a high-road and low-road verbal communication. Low-road would be, “I can’t believe we have to write these stupid reports. Don’t you think we can do our jobs?” High-road could be, “I understand that you’re concerned that we’re all on the same page, so let’s try this out and meet in a month and see if it really works as a system.”

And then, unhooking with a business tool is to pick from some kind of thing, whether it’s a procedure, a policy, a document, to complete the transaction. And so, in this case, you could say, you could send a follow-up email and say, “I understand that we’re going to be doing this reporting system for a period of time. I look forward to tracking it and seeing if it really works for you and open to feedback along the way.”

And so, now you’re taking yourself from the hooked part where you’re furious, you can’t stand the person, and you are in a powerful struggle with them, which is usually what happens with bosses that we don’t like, we get in power struggles, to calming your system down, finding viable solutions, and moving the situation forward.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the business tool piece there, that was just sort of an email or are there different business tools? Tell us what you mean by that.

Katherine Crowley
It in this case it’s an email. So, business tools, what we’d say about those is those are…they’re actually, they’re always with you. They take the emotion out of a situation, because, so often, what happens with bosses and coworkers who drive us crazy is we take them personally, right? So, business tools, anything that clarifies the parameters of your work situation. It could be a job description. It could be company policies. It could be documentation. If someone does something over and over that drives you nuts, usually we just store the instance in our mind and feed a big ball of resentment. What you could do instead is document. That’s a business tool, to write down what happened, to describe the effects that it’s having on your job, to be clear about the costs that may come, that it may cause the company.

So, it’s taking whatever the situation is and looking, “What’s the business tool I can apply here?” whether it’s, let’s say, if someone’s a chronically late person, well, there may be time policies at your workplace that you could apply to the situation rather than feeling insulted by their tardiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, so those are the four steps of unhooking there. And you’ve zeroed in on 20 of these behaviors that drive you bonkers. And so, I’d love to get a quick rundown of those if you can give us the cool 30-second version list of all 20. But I’d also, first, actually, I want to hear, you say that often these can even escape detection in the first place. So, can you tell us a little bit about the detect side of things?

Katherine Crowley
Yeah. So, detecting, that’s a very good question. What usually happens is we start to feel irritated. We start to get angry if someone starts to really bother us, and then we get into a whole tailspin, emotional tailspin, about what’s happening. Detecting requires that I look up from my situation, try to figure out “What is going on here?”

So, for example, if there’s a kind of boss that we would call a calculating confidant. And this is a kind of boss that would pull you in and ask you a lot of personal questions and look like they want to get to know all about you, and then use that information against you later on down the road. Of course, when that happens, it feels horrible and like betrayal, and, “How could this person do that?”

But if you actually detect or figure out that, “I’m working with someone for whom this is their style, this is how they operate,” then it gives you just a little distance so that you aren’t just feeling manipulated and poorly treated by this individual. So, does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. So, detected, in so doing you would sort of give a label and some distance, and you say, “Okay, this is not personal. They’re not sticking it to me in particular. This is just sort of how they operate and I hate it.”

Katherine Crowley
Right. Exactly. And if it’s something, like there are bosses who are chronically late. So, if they’re chronically late, to detect and understand that this is, again, this is what they do. It’s probably what they’ve done with every employee that they’ve ever worked with. Then it just gives you a little modicum, I think, of control that, “This is what I’m dealing with, not I’m doing something wrong and it’s driving me crazy.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, can you give us the listing of these 20 bad boss behaviors because I’m sure we could talk for hours about them? But I wanna hear just the quick rundown like, “Okay, we got this and this and this,” so folks can recognize it in your telling.

Katherine Crowley
All right. So, I’ll just give you the list and then you can see what you think. First of all, we have categories. So, the first category is called the game players, head game players. And the top of that list is what we call the chronic critic. Then we have the rule changer, the yeller, and the underminer. Next category are the bigshots and the mother superiors. Under that we have “I’m always right,” “You threaten me,” grandiose, and control freak.

Next category is called the line crossers. These are the people who have bad boundaries. So, the first of those is lovestruck, next is the calculating confidant that I mentioned before, the tell-all, the first person who tells you more than you ever wanted to know about their life, and then the liar-liar. Next category is ambivalent leaders, and this is always interesting, I think. The first is the sacred cow, which I’d be happy to describe at greater lengths; the checked-out boss also known as the absentee; the spineless; and the artful bosses, the person you can never find in your hour of need.

Then, finally, we have what we call delicate circumstances. And that is the junior boss, someone who is younger than you, significantly younger than you; the former colleague, a colleague who gets promoted above you; the unconscious discriminator which is, these days, a very hot topic; and the persecutor. That’s the cast of characters.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. I think it’s handy just to have a sort of typology in terms of, “Okay. I recognize that.” So, we could talk about these 20 in depth. But, maybe, you could zero in on maybe one, two, or three of these that are both particularly demoralizing for people as well as super prevalent? So, there’s both a high frequency and a high intensity of damage, so let’s talk about those three in terms of how we deal with them.

Katherine Crowley
Yeah, I would be happy to. I actually want to start with the sacred cow, Pete, because this is one…what’s interesting is this is a boss who will feel so frustrating but they’re often like nice people. You know what I mean? So, a sacred cow is someone who’s been in their position for a long time, they’ve climbed up the ladder of the office, whatever it is, the company, whatever it is. They usually are…the people at the top are loyal to this person because they were loyal to them, and they’re now in a position where they probably don’t have the competence really to do anything significant. So, what they want to do is just toe the line, not make any ruffles, and just do a basic job but not cause any problems.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, in this instance, the boss is the sacred cow that a lot of people say, “Ooh, maybe I don’t want to cross them because they’ve historically been really good to me and…”

Katherine Crowley
That’s right. The sacred cow has friends, usually, at the top. They’re protected in some way. And so, what could happen is, let’s say you’re a very inventive or creative person and you get hired by this person, and as you’re getting higher, they’re saying to you, “We really need innovation in this department,” which may be true. But then once you get into the position, you experience that you are blocked at every step of the way. Any new ideas, they’ll say, “We’ve done that already. It won’t work.” They’ll ignore your best thoughts about how to solve a problem. They will tell you that upper management doesn’t want that kind of thing. So, they’ll do whatever they need to do to sort of put a road stop onto anything you’re trying to accomplish.

And for people who are real performers and who like to achieve and contribute, this kind of boss is deadly. Yeah, and so the thing with the sacred cow is that, going back to detect, the four Ds: detect, detach, de-personalize, deal. With the sacred cow, the first is to detect, like, okay, if you find out that someone has been there for many years, and they’re not going anywhere, and you keep pushing up against this person, which is usually what happens when you’re working for a sacred cow, you get in power struggles of constantly trying to push your ideas forward. Then you detect, you’ve got, “I’m working for a sacred cow. They’re not going to become comfortable with change. They’re not going to want to do anything innovative.”

Then the detaching would be, “Okay, this is not about me. This is about them.” And de-personalizing would be to say, “All right. So, this person is afraid of change, but maybe they need to look good.” Sacred cows still want to look good in whatever position they’re in. And so then, the deal, what can you do, would be to find out, and this is very hard if you’ve already pushed hard and been rejected and feel resentment, but the deal part would be to find out if there are any projects that the sacred cow is interested in, like things that they would love to accomplish if they had the ability, and get behind those ideas or try to make your ideas their ideas. So, if you’re willing to make the sacred cow look good, you may actually be able to make progress.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. All right. So, that’s a handy one then. Can we hear another boss here and how we’d approach it?

Katherine Crowley
Yeah. So, a commonly occurring and destructive, I would go to the very top of the list, which is the chronic critic. And it’s funny because we have another version of the chronic critic in Working With You is Killing Me called the pedestal smasher. And these are the bosses who have very high standards for everything, and often when they first bring you onboard, they tell you that you’re wonderful and that you’re finally going to solve their problems and that they really admire your work capacity.

Once you start working for this kind of boss, the chronic critic, they then begin to find fault with everything that you do. And so, they slowly start to erode your confidence because they can always find the wrong thing. One client we had who worked for a chronic critic used red highlighter, under-liner, even online with documents to show where the mistakes were. And, literally, it got to the point where the client was like, you know, they’d go to meetings with their neck in a brace because it was so hard to deal with this person.

So, they slowly can erode your confidence and, therefore, detecting as soon as possible becomes a really important thing when you find out, and you can always ask around to see, “Is this person, have they always been so critical of everyone or is it just me?” You detect but nothing. They don’t ever find things good enough because part of what they’re doing is trying to keep you below them so that you don’t threaten them, right? So, you detect that.

Then, again, detaching, realizing this is not about you. And chances are you’re never going to have the experience where they say, “You did an amazing job.” De-personalizing is, “Okay, so if that’s how this person operates, then my job is to continue along and try to create, try to do a good job but not take their statements personally.”

And then dealing would be to do your job, to go to other places to get recognition. So, you may want to join a taskforce, or go work with another department on a special project, or go outside and join a professional association. Nowadays, those are all happening in online and meetups and things. But you do something like that to pump up your confidence again so that you can figure out what your next best move will be.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now, could you tell us an inspiring story of someone who did just that, they figured out, “Okay, we got a troubling thing in this behavior,” what they did, and then the cool outcomes that unfolded from that?

Katherine Crowley
Yes. So, actually, I can tell you about someone who worked for a sacred cow and it was actually for a very prestigious institution, he was very excited about the job, got there, and then had pushback for every single thing that he did. He was able to befriend that sacred cow after much frustration, a lot of hitting walls. He was able to befriend that sacred cow and found out that that individual, the boss, had a very specific project that she’d always wanted done but had never had the resources to do. He made it happen and, as a result, their department won an award, and he went on to be offered another job at another institution.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Katherine Crowley
So, there’s a good story.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And I’d also love to zoom in and hear sort of navigating these tricky situations, are there any particularly powerful scripts, phrases, questions, that you recommend and see are helpful over and over again?

Katherine Crowley
Yeah. Well, I think that’s such a good question. When we wrote, in both of our books, when we talk about talking to whoever the individual involved is, we always talk about how important it is to prepare yourself. Like, one thing that’s valuable, I think, actually in knowing, like, let’s say you know that you work for a boss who always has to be right, for example. And there are those bosses, so you don’t want to go into the conversation looking to convince them that you’re right. You would prepare for that kind of a conversation by thinking, “Okay, how can I join with this person and their approach?”

So, you could say to this individual, “I know your opinion is very important to me, and I know that you usually understand things in a way that I don’t, but here are my thoughts about doing X, Y, and Z.” So, you confirm the individual’s capabilities, you try to talk to them in a way that makes sense based on how they hear and reason with things, and then you make a concrete suggestion about how you can move forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well, now, can you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Katherine Crowley
My favorite quote may seem odd but it is by Hoagy Carmichael, a jazz musician, and it is, “Slow motion gets you there faster.” And I like it especially because in the digital age we’re all constantly running – I certainly am, I’m sure you are as well – and constantly on the go, and wanting things to happen quickly. And so, I find that quote “Slow motion gets you there faster” really helpful because it helps me slow down, focus on what needs to happen in the moment, and have patience with the process. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges in any situation, and certainly in a difficult work situation is to be patient with the process.

Pete Mockaitis
And now could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Katherine Crowley
Yes. So, one of the studies that we did actually was for our third book, which was Mean Girls at Work. And there, we put out a request for any stories that women had about other women who they found difficult to work with. And what we were able to glean was that, I would say, 40% of the studies, or 40% of the stories rather, what was interesting was they were not about blatantly mean cruel individuals. They were what we call passively-mean situations where people were excluded, where they were taken out of an email link, where they were not asked to join an event, a work event, or even a social event, where they were contradicted at a meeting but in a nice way, it’s that sort of passive-aggressive looks like.

And so, we found that really interesting that 40% of the women who had difficult relationships with other women, it was more of a passive-aggressive experience, and it really informed a lot of what we wrote about in the book because women do a thing called tending and befriending. We believe we need to be nice to each other and yet what happens in the workplace, because we’re not that comfortable with direct confrontation, is that people end up tending, acting friendly, and then doing subversive things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Katherine Crowley
So, my favorite book is Eckhart Tolle, Towards a New Earth.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Katherine Crowley
So, I practice what we preach, so I will say that I do, on a daily basis, every morning I exercise and I write a list of what are my top three priorities. And at the end of every day, I also exercise again, and I practice gratitude. And I know that those things don’t sound like business tools per se, but those set the tone for the rest of my day.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect or resonate with folks, readers, listeners, they quote it back over and over again?

Katherine Crowley
Yes, there are two. And one is…

Pete Mockaitis
Nice job.

Katherine Crowley
So, I’m a psychotherapist by training, so one of the things that I will tell people is that, “If you’re feeling hysterical, it’s usually historical.” Now, I did not make that up but it is such a truism that whenever I say it, people are like, “Oh, my God, that’s so true,” because it’s not the person showing up late for a meeting. It’s probably the 35 times they showed up late, and the time they were late on a deadline, and the time, you know, whatever. And that’s a valuable statement just in the sense that, again, going back to the things we were talking about, unhooking, detaching, you have to calm yourself down so that you respond in a right-sized way to whatever the situation may be.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Katherine Crowley
I would point them to our website KSquaredEnterprises.com and also to our podcast which is My Crazy Office.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Katherine Crowley
Yes. My final challenge, actually my call to action is to whatever your situation, if there’s someone who is really bothering you, there are two things that you can do. One is that you need to stop and see whether you are in a power struggle with this person, because power struggles you will not win. The second thing is you need to consider whether you’re expecting this person to behave exactly the same way you do. So, it’s always important to examine your expectations. We often get furious of people who do things that you say, “I would never do that,” and yet the most important thing for figuring out how to work with people is to understand that each person is operating from a different set of expectations and behaviors.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Katherine, this has been a real treat. I wish you luck and success, and hope that working with people is working for you.

Katherine Crowley
Thank you, and talking with you has been lovely for me.

629: How to Find and Use Your Strengths with Lea Waters

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Lea Waters says: "When you feel good, you function well."

Psychologist Lea Waters talks about tools you need to tap into your strengths.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The best way to tap into your strengths
  2. Why our strengths are often hiding–and how to find them
  3. The hack that halts anxiety 

About Lea

Lea Waters AM, PhD is a psychologist, researcher, professor, published author, internationally-celebrated keynote speaker and one of the world’s leading experts on Positive Education, Positive Organizations and Strength-Based Parenting and Teaching. 

Professor Waters is the Founding Director and Inaugural Gerry Higgins Chair in Positive Psychology at the Centre for Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne where she has held an academic position for more than 23 years. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Lea Waters Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Lea, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Lea Waters
Hey, Pete, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m so glad to dig into your goodness here. But, first, I need to hear about the time you won a rap dancing competition.

Lea Waters
Okay, that was a long time ago. Well, firstly, you can probably tell from my accent, I am Australian, and I grew up in a very small little country town in Australia. The town had 800 people, now has 8,000, which is still a very small town, but 40 years ago we’re talking now. So, when I was 14, I went along to the local townhall on a Friday night, it was a sort of disco back then in the early to mid ‘80s, and they had a tap dancing competition, which I won, because I did the worm and I did the robot rap dancing thing, and I had just learnt the Michael Jackson moonwalk, and it was only just Michael Jackson that just sort of perfected his moonwalking.

So, I was able to do the moonwalk and the worm and some little computer robot dancing, and, somehow, I won this little local rap dancing competition for teenagers. I think I won a can of Coke, I know, and I won a…because back then we’re talking records, we weren’t even at CDs, let alone what we’re at now, so I won a little like 6-inch record of a local band in Australia who had done a remake of “Oh, won’t you take me to funky town.” So, yes, that was my prized possession.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, congratulations.

Lea Waters
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember I won a karaoke contest when I was a teenager at a Relay for Life, a cancer fundraising event, and that were just good memories of just being ridiculous and cutting loose. So, hopefully, we’ll bring some of that fun and energy into this exchange.

Lea Waters
I hope so. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Even though we can’t see the dance moves.

Lea Waters
No, no, no. Well, you just got a little sort of you through the Zoom but, yeah, your listeners are probably better off not having seen me attempting to do that now as a 49-year old when I did it as a 14-year old.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, it seems like you’ve taken some of that positive goodness into your current career. You are an expert in positive psychology. Can you orient listeners who are not familiar with that term? What’s that all about?

Lea Waters
Hmm, sure. A great place to start too, Pete. Thanks. So, I’m a psychologist, been a psychologist for 27 years, and I’m also a university researcher in the field of positive psychology. And so, positive psychology is a subfield of psychology, and it distinguishes itself because it’s the science and practice of studying the positive end of the human experience.

So, we’re looking at, “How do we scientifically study and understand and, therefore, amplify joy, wonder, curiosity, or love, compassion, empathy, altruism?” It’s a strength-based science so it’s really focusing on, “Who are we at our best? What are the inherent strengths that we bring to work, bring to our life outside of work, bring into our teams? And then how do we use those strengths to sort of be at our best to be pro social and help other people, and to help ourselves and our team reach our full potential?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, amplifying some of those things sounds certainly pleasant. I would enjoy that and really the course of experience in life. Can you also share with us a bit of the case associated for how that helps folks be all the more awesome at their jobs?

Lea Waters
Okay. So, what the science tells us, and, look, honestly, even as I’m saying this, people just know this intuitively. When you feel good, you function well. When you are able to bring the best of yourself to work, when you’re in a position where you can utilize your unique strengths, the things that give you energy, the things that sort of come easily to you, the things that you are sort of self-motivated to do, that’s going to flip into higher levels of performance, productivity. And it’s really sort of challenging this assumption about, “How do we create improvement in ourselves or in our work team or in an organization?” because most of us, Pete, were sort of raised on this assumption that improvement is a process of fixing what is wrong with us.

So, let me give you a scenario. Let’s just say that you and I did work in the same workplace, and I happen to be your boss, and we’re passing each other in the hallway, and I stopped for a minute, and I say, “Hey, Pete, can you make an appointment with my assistant? I want to catch up on Friday afternoon because I’ve got some areas of improvement that I’d really love to talk to you about.” What do you think would be the first sort of response inside your head when your boss says, “Come and have a meeting with me to talk about some areas of improvement”?

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, I’m screwing some things up, and so I’m kind of on high alert now.”

Lea Waters
Exactly, yeah. So, we’ve all been conditioned to think that improvement is this process of fixing what is wrong with us. And so, we have that scenario and you immediately think, “Oh, goodness. What have I done wrong? What do I need to fix? What’s not going so well?” And yet improvement can also be a process of building up and amplifying what is right about us.

So, unbeknownst to you, I actually want to meet with you on Friday because your sales figures are through the roof, and I’m like, “All right, if he’s already at this level, and this is clearly a skillset of his, if we can figure out what and why he’s doing so well, and we can improve that, he’s going to sell even more. If we can then figure out his sort of secret sauce and get him to help his fellow teammates, then we’re doing better.”

And so, our natural inclination is to sort of engaging improvement by fixing what is wrong with us. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t do that. We still need to look at areas of weakness and faults and flaws, and try and sort of shore those up. But what does science shows us is that you can spend a lot of time working on a weakness, and you can improve it, but it’s never going to turn into a strength. A weakness is never going to turn into a strength. You can improve it up to a point of a level of proficiency, but beyond that you’re better off just spending your time actually working on what are the strengths, what are the things that come naturally to you, what are the things that you enjoy doing, you get energy from, you perform well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so understood. Well, then I’m curious, when it comes to these strengths, well, first, let’s zero in on how does one identify them?

Lea Waters
Yeah. There’s a number of different ways you can identify your strengths, and the most obvious way is surveys. There’s quite a lot of surveys out there that allow you to identify what your unique strengths are in a workplace but also outside of work. So, many of the listeners here are probably familiar and they may have done these kinds of surveys at work that help you to identify where are those areas of self-energy and self-motivation. And I do have a free survey on my website, if people want to go to that, and sort of get a start on using a survey to identify.

More deeply than a survey, it really is about tuning into yourself and looking at where are those moments where you get into flow, you have high levels of energy. There’s a quick learning curve, so it’s a skill or a process that you’re able to learn with relative ease and more quickly than someone else. Where are the areas where you seem to learn quickly, do it a little bit better than anyone else? And also, as I mentioned just, you’ll know a strength because this is energizing.

When we use our strengths, using your strengths gives you more energy. When you’re using a weakness, it’s exhausting, it’s depleting. Often, when I run my workshops, for example, I ask people or invite people, “Pick up your pen with your non-dominant hand, and for the next few minutes, when we do this exercise, use your non-dominant hand.” It’s always quite amusing, Pete, because you see people with their tongue out and their brows are really kind of furrowed, really concentrating on, “How do I write with my non-dominant hand?” And it’s a slower process, it’s frustrating, it’s messy, you don’t perform as well.

And then I say, “Okay, now swap back to your dominant hand.” And it’s a good example of the energy and effort that’s required to build up a weakness in contrast to leaning towards using our strengths more often. So, we can identify our strengths through surveys, we can identify our strengths just by tuning in and saying, “Where are the areas where I feel energy, where I have passion, where I perform well with relative ease, where I’ve got a fast learning curve?”

But another key way of identifying our strengths is through social mirror. And what I mean by that is other people are a mirror to us for our strengths. So, tuning into or deliberately asking, intentionally asking other people, “Where do you see my strengths?” having those conversations at work where you’re engaging in this technique called strengths spotting.

So, strengths spotting, as the name would suggest, is just a technique of looking at where you see the strengths in other people and acknowledging those, “You know, I really love your curiosity, Pete, and the way that you’ve come to this, and you thought about the questions beforehand, and you’ve done a little bit of research. So, that says to me that you’ve got these strengths of sort of curiosity, and love of learning, and being organized, and wanting to share things with other people.”

So, using, allowing other people to be that social mirror, because the research shows us that, for many of us, we have this phenomenon called strength blindness. And strength blindness, as the name would suggest, is that we can become a little bit blind to our own strengths, sort of an interesting and cruel irony because our strengths are partly nature and partly nurture. And what the developmental psychologists have shown us is that we’re all born with our own unique kind of inherent strengths potential.

Some of you were born with the gift of the gab. You’re really, really good communicators. Others of you were just born with the natural ability, for example, around math. Some people are really, really good at problem-solving. Some people just have those really natural kind of social intelligence skills. And so, because we’re born with our strengths, and then the environment helps us to cultivate them, we can end up having this experience of strength blindness.

Because if you were born as a person who could do math fairly easily, or have very good organization skills, or great people skills, when you’re utilizing those skills and utilizing those strengths, they’ve come so easily to you and they’ve been with you your whole life, so you don’t think of them as an asset. You don’t realize that, “This is actually a strength. This is something that I’ve got that other people don’t necessarily have.” So, we become blind to our own strengths. And that’s why using your work colleagues, your friends outside of work, as that social mirror is a sort of third key way of finding out what our strengths are.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And now when you talked about the surveys, I know about StrengthsFinder, which I think is great, and so you’ve got yours. You talked about the left hand, right hand assignment, I thought about Myers-Briggs. I’ve done the exercise in many workshops. I’ve facilitated as well. But what are some of your other just total favorite tools in the survey realm that really elucidate this for people?

Lea Waters
There’s a fantastic survey called the VIA survey, V-I-A, and it stands for values in action. And what I like about that survey is it’s based on our strength of character. So, strengths are kind of coming to broad back. So, we’ve got our strengths of talent and then we’ve got our strengths of character. So, strengths of talent are performance-based, they’re observable. You can see if someone is a fast runner, you can hear if they’re a gifted debater, you can see if they’re a gifted artist, you can taste if they’re a gifted chef.

The VIA strength survey identifies that second bucket which is our strength of character. So, where our strengths of talent are observable and performance-based, our strengths of character are personality-based rather than performance-based. And, in a way, they’re less observable because they sit inside us. So, strengths of character include things like courage, perspective, wisdom, kindness, humility. So, these are not necessarily observable. They’re positive strengths, positive aspects of our personality that sit inside of us, and come out through our choices, through our decisions, through the way we relate to other people.

And so, that VIA Character Strengths, that survey that I’m talking about focuses on those inner assets, the character strengths. And I also like because it’s free, and it’s been around for about two decades, and it’s been validated, and it’s got population norms, it’s been validated and translated into 20 plus different languages, so it’s a really, really useful survey for our listeners to go in and have a look at. And you can do it as a team within your workplace and sort of identify, “Well, what are the unique constellation of this team? Who’s got humor?” which we really kind of need right now during COVID times, “Who’s got perspective? Who’s got grit? Who’s got those fantastic sort of curiosity, love of learning, problem-solving type skills?”

And I also love it because, for any of the parents who are listening, there’s a youth version. So, if you have younger kids, they can also do the equivalent survey so you can have that conversation at home, of like, “Well, these are my strengths, as mom or dad, and these are my children’s strengths.” So, that’s a lovely family bonding thing to do.

And there’s another survey that I’ll mention, too, which comes from the UK called Cappify, C-A-P-P-I-F-Y. What I really like about that particular survey is that it also identifies your weaknesses. So, a lot of the strength surveys are really nice because we have this strength blindness where we’re not so good at identifying our own strengths, we’re all pretty articulate when it comes to identifying our weaknesses. When it comes to identifying our strengths, we don’t have that same level of knowledge. So, strengths surveys are really useful for that. But what I like about Cappify is that it gives you your strengths and your weaknesses so you sort of got that balanced profile. And it also identifies this third category called learned behaviors.

And, for me, that was something…that was a real sort of epiphany moment because our strengths, in order for something to be a true strength, so normally if you ask someone, “How would you define a strength?” And most people would say, “Strengths are the things I’m good at,” and, yes, that’s absolutely true, but it’s only part of the answer. So, psychology research tells us that a strength is something you are good at, but it’s also something that gives you energy and you’re self-motivated to do.

And why it’s important to have those sort of three elements of a true strength is because there’s lots of things that we grew up to be good at. We grew up to be good at them because it’s expected of us, because it’s part of our role at work, because we were praised by parents, teachers, our boss, so we have that performance element, and we mistake it as a strength. And in the Cappify research, what they would say is it’s not actually a strength. It’s a learned behavior. You’ve learned to be good at it. You’ve got the performance element of it but it’s not giving you energy, and it’s not something that you would choose to do. You’re not self-motivated to do it.

And, for me, that was a real eye-opener because, in my role at the university, I was being asked to chair a lot of projects and a lot of sort of committee meetings, and so, over time, I’ve learnt to become good at that. A quick meeting is always a good meeting as far as I’m concerned. We set an agenda, I’m a trained psychologist so I’m reasonably good at sort of group dynamics, and people would leave those meetings and say, “Oh, that’s such a strength of yours, Lea.” But I would leave those meetings feeling quite depleted, quite de-energized, and thinking, “Oh, God, all right. Well, I got through that. Now let’s get back to the things that actually give me energy at work.”

And so, I learnt through the Cappify that, yes, I was good at chairing meetings, I had the performance element of it, but I do not have the energy or the self-motivation piece behind it, so it wasn’t a true strength. It was perceived as a strength by others. But when I started, “That’s not actually a strength of mine,” it was helpful for me to say, “Okay, I need to know that when, if I can, when I’m structuring my week, if I’m chairing a meeting that the hour after that is time-tabled for something that is going to re-energize me, something that using my natural strengths. And, for me, that’ll be research and writing, or working with my students, or going out and doing some corporate work because that’s what gives me my energy back.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. All right. So, we’ve got some good views for strengths, what they are, how to find them, why we’re better off trying to improve those than work on a weakness forever. So, let’s shift gears a little bit over to some of the other tools in the positive psychology toolkit. If folks are feeling an extra dose of stress and anxiety and blah in the midst of pandemic, or even, hey, months, years after the pandemic, what are some positive psychology tools that are ideal for this challenge?

Lea Waters
I love that question, Pete. We’re all, I think, so many of us have got just this classic case of mental fatigue because we’re way too many months into a global pandemic, and we’re tired, and we’re working from home and we’re stressed, and it’s playing out in our body. So, I guess, one of the questions is, “To what degree do we engage in stress management? And then to what degree do we say, ‘Okay, I can only do so much to manage my levels of stress. I’m going to turn my attention more towards boosting my positive emotions.’”

And so, there’s lots of things that we can do in positive psychology. Savoring, ecotherapy, the use of laughter, capitalizing on these sorts of micro moments of positivity. These are all about amplifying the positive moments that are still in our day despite everything that’s going on. And I can go into the detail of some of those for us in a moment. But then, also, one of the things that positive psychology does is recognizes that we can gain from adversity, that positivity can come out of negativity. And, in fact, you can’t really appreciate the feeling of warmth until you understand the sting of the cold. The two things kind of go hand in hand.

So, we can definitely talk about amplifying those positive moments but I think one of the other things that positive psychology science really lends to us right now in the moment of this sort of global crisis is techniques on how to better handle those negative emotions. So, mindfulness, how to grow from adversity, this notion of post-traumatic growth, or adversarial growth, and how to practice self-compassion. So, take your pick, Pete, because we really got a whole list of things in the field of positive psychology that we can do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we’ve talked about savoring a couple of times in the show. So, ecotherapy, what is this?

Lea Waters
Yeah, lovely. Okay. So, ecotherapy is basically having an intentional relationship with nature. So, that can be things like using urban spaces, going for a walk around your neighborhood, going to the local park. It can be getting out into nature reserves if you have some that are close to you. It can be as simple as going out and looking at the skyline at the end of the evening. Plant therapy, so saying if I have a garden outside, I’m going to do a little bit more gardening at the moment, or I’m going to setup a little plant wall or an indoor area for plants. Even using wood, wooden materials.

And so, this kind of broad idea of, “Let’s connect back with nature,” is really, really helpful to us all right now during COVID. In fact, some of the research is now coming out to say that we must have this in-built wisdom because there’s a lot more people now who are going out, exploring their local neighborhood, connecting back with nature in various ways. And what’s important about that is that when we do connect with nature, whether it’s real nature, as in sort of a wildlife park or whether it’s using our urban spaces or plant therapy or just looking up at the sky and looking at the clouds, when we do that, it changes our physiology.

And what the research shows is that even within five minutes of intentionally connecting back with an outside space, intentionally taking your shoes off if you go to your local park, take your shoes off and feel what it’s like to have grass and earth on your feet, that when we do that, it triggers our relaxation response in our nervous system. Your heartrate decreases, your parasympathetic nervous system starts to kind of get activated. And so, the parasympathetic nervous system is the nervous system that helps to calm us down, have good digestion, clear our mind of cortisol. So, ecotherapy is such an important thing for us all to be doing during this time.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your take on, let’s say I’m in Chicago, winter, cold, a lot of parks, etc., shut down, what are some…I like the notion of using wooden things because it’s sort of like, “Okay, I can do that anywhere no matter what their restrictions are.” Any other goodies like that?

Lea Waters
Yeah, okay. So, using wood plant therapy, I can see a plant right behind you, Pete. So, bringing some plants into…getting some indoor plants, and saying, “Okay, over these really chilly winter months, my focus is going to be on taking care of this plant.” Skylines, like I said, anything to do with skylines. So, even though it’s very ridiculously cold where you are, sort of getting out onto your balcony, ragging yourself up so you pretty much just got your eyes that are showing, but spending that five minutes at the end of the day watching the sunset, feeling the…

Anything to do with water as well, even though it’s water inside. Water is a part of nature so connecting ourselves with water intentionally, doing that through showers, footbaths, hand baths. We have to wash our hands a lot at the moment because of biosafety and hygiene measures with COVID. So, instead of just washing your hands, do it intentionally, really experience the flow of water, use it as a kind of mindfulness hack in that moment. So, tuning into, “How am I feeling? What does it feel like to have water sprinkling on my hands? What does it feel like as I’m sort of patting my hands dry with a towel?” So, giving myself a little kind of emotional vacation for that minute as we’re washing our hands.

And then even short of that is nature apps. So, there are quite a lot of apps out there now where you can listen to the sound of water, you can listen to the sound of clouds, you can listen to the sound of rain, birds, etc. So, obviously, it’s not quite the same as being out in a nature reserve but it still has that physiological healing benefit for us.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Okay, thank you.

Lea Waters
A pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, now let’s talk about dealing with stuff that isn’t so pleasant. What’s the post-traumatic growth concept and how can we do more of that?

Lea Waters
Post-traumatic growth is, I mean, we all know about PTSD and the fact that if we go through adversity or a trauma, it can compromise our ability to cope, and it can lead to sort of more permanent stress. So, post-traumatic growth is sort of the positive opposite of that, and it was borne initially out of psychology research that was looking at PTSD and how it is that we can help people who have experienced a trauma or adversity or grief or loss, how it is that we can help them to go from a weakened state and adapt back to their sort of level of happiness and functioning that was there prior to the trauma or the adversity.

And as psychology research was studying, “How do we help people diminish and manage PTSD?” what they identified was that there was a certain percentage of people who had been through that same experience, that same loss, that same trauma, and were not only…this is going to please…I’m going to apologize in advance for some bad grammar here, but they were not only not experiencing stress, they were actually saying, “Look, I wouldn’t wish this experience on my worst enemy, but I’ve actually grown. I’ve grown as a result of this experience. I have a different perspective on life. I’ve got different priorities now. I’ve learnt that I can handle more than I thought I could. I found out really who my true friendships were and what it is that I want to move forward, spending my time on.”

So, this was a curiosity for these psychologists because they hadn’t really considered their role about, “How do we help people deal with the negatives of trauma or adversity or stress?” And, it turns out, that there are some people who not only didn’t have the negatives but have this positive. And so, that was kind of the origins of post-traumatic growth. It’s been studied a lot since then, and it’s really relevant for us all right now because so many of us are going through trauma and stress and adversity.

And just to know that this doesn’t have to permanently affect us in a negative way, that if we approach this adversity by asking ourselves, “What can I learn from this? How can I grow from this? What strengths do I have to bring to this situation? How can I learn that, in the midst of a lot of darkness, there are still these small little pockets of light? How can I help myself develop those skills to look at those things?” then we come out of that with a different skill set.

And we also come out of this experience knowing, “Okay, that was not a great experience. There was a lot of adversity, there was a lot of distress but I learnt about myself, I learnt that I’m stronger than I thought I was. I learnt to let go of some of those small issues that I used to put a lot of energy into and stress about. It’s not important to me anymore. I’ve changed my priorities.” And we’re seeing that already, Pete.

There’s a psychology research that’s coming out now through the pandemic is showing that people are saying, “This is a distressing experience but I’m enjoying more downtime, I’m enjoying time with my family. I’ve made more of an effort to stay connected with my friends even though it’s a virtual connection. I’ve learnt something new about my colleagues that I didn’t know.” So, we’re coming out with some positives through this. And, individually, a big factor that influences whether you come out of adversity, having grown, is the questions you ask yourself, is the way you frame that adversity in the moment.
It’s not about denying the adversity by any means but it is about saying, “Okay, this is really hard. I’m tired today. I can’t understand why I’ve got brain fog. I can’t think clearly. I’m feeling overwhelmed. What am I going to do about this?” It’s not about ignoring it. It’s about acknowledging, and saying, “Oh, okay, what meaning can I make from this? How can I grow from this? And what can I learn about myself? Maybe what I can learn is my limits, and I need to know. So, pushing myself as hard as I used to,” for example.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then it sounds like these are all productive questions, “What can I learn from this? How can I grow from this? What meaning can I make from this?” Maybe the hard part is just sort of shutting down the alternative voice that can crowd out those questions before they start, like, “Oh, I was stupid. What was I thinking? Aargh, this sucks. I hate this. I want it to end right now.” So, any pro tips for, right in the heat of battle, how do we kind of head that off with a pass and shift gears into the more helpful questions?

Lea Waters
I think there’s two ways to go with that one, Pete, and one is mindfulness and the other is self-compassion. So, let’s start with mindfulness, and I think mindfulness helps you to slow your brain down, have that moment of perspective and pause where you can hear what the inner voice is saying, and so you’re able to catch that inner voice more quickly, and then make a decision, “Do I head off that inner voice or do I just show compassion because it does suck?”

What we’re going through does suck, Pete, and we do have our own overlay on top of that of, “I’m not good enough. I’m not getting enough work done. I’m not managing my time well enough. I’m not being a good colleague. I’m not being a good parent. I’m tired all the time.” And so, sometimes it’s about heading off those thoughts and then going on to those more constructive questions, and other times it’s actually more about that moment of self-compassion, which is a big area of study in positive psychology. And it’s about sort of reversing the Golden Rule and turning it back onto yourself, “Do to yourself,” and be kind to yourself and have that moment of mindfulness where you’re recognizing, “I’m struggling right now. I’m not feeling so good right now.”

And giving yourself that same compassion you would give to your colleagues or your friends when you see that they are struggling. So, just witnessing that struggle, embracing the suffering, “I’m tired. I’m distressed. I’m fearful. I’m fat, ugly,” whatever comes to you in that moment, and just being with it, and saying, “I’m sorry that you feel that way. Like, I recognize that you feel that way right now.” So, being in that moment, having that mindfulness, showing that sort of self-kindness, that self-compassion. And a big part of compassion is embracing the suffering but not feeling lonely in the suffering.

And so, recognizing that we’re all…everyone struggles, everyone suffers in their own way. Right now, that’s easier to see because it’s a global pandemic, and so we’re having this kind of shared struggle. But recognizing that, “I’m not alone and there are other people who are going through this,” and engaging in self-soothing techniques. Those self-soothing techniques can be just as simple as, like I said, that inner voice that says, “Oh, you know what? Yeah, you’re really tired. Maybe we can go to bed early tonight.” Or, self-soothing through ecotherapy that we talked about before. Self-soothing by reaching out to a friend.

One of the really basic parts of self-soothing is actually holding yourself. You can emotionally hold yourself but physically holding yourself, it seems like a funny or silly or embarrassing thing to do, but, literally, like wrapping your arms around your shoulders and giving yourself a hug in that moment, or patting yourself on the back. Or, a big one, and people tend to do this quite naturally, and you’ll often watch, our little kids will do this too, they do it quite naturally. So, getting your hand and just gently rubbing from your ear down to your shoulder blades, so rubbing that kind of right side of your neck, because what’s sitting underneath that right side of your neck, if you rub from your ear sort of down the right side of your neck and across your shoulder, is the vagus nerve, and that’s a major nerve that helps communicates between our brain and our digestive system, but also helps to calm us down.

Pete Mockaitis
So, this would be the right side and not the left?

Lea Waters
Right side, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Our right. It’s like I’m looking forward, I got my right eyeball, and it’s…and I’m on it, all right.

Lea Waters
Yeah. So, just gentle self-touch that’s why going back to that hand massage, when you’re washing your hands and having that moment of mindfulness. And another key self-soothing technique is helping yourself to laugh. And laughter doesn’t mean that you’re ignoring that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, or whatever it happens to be. I had the very sad loss of, I lost my sister a couple of years ago, and she has a son, and we had that sort of moment a couple of weeks after she had died, and we’re deep in grief and just missing her so, so, so desperately.

And my nephew, who was 20 at that time, said a joke, and, honestly, it was dark humor but it was this funny little moment of like “How mom would’ve felt about this particular thing,” and we both cracked up laughing. But then he looked at me, and I could see he had this like feeling of this flash of like guilt, like, “Oh, was I allowed to do that? Was I allowed to have this moment of laughter?” in his really intense deep grief, and I was able to sort of look at him, and say, “It’s okay, mate. You’re allowed to. We’re still allowed to laugh even in the dark times.”

And so, for me, at the moment, I’m very intentionally looking at funny YouTube clips, funny memes. I’m asking my friends, “Anything you see funny? Like, pass it my way,” because in that moment of laughter, that changes our brain chemistry. Laughter triggers endorphins and it triggers dopamine. Laughter also resets our nervous system and, particularly, if you’re having that big belly laugh. When we laugh, our ribcage expands so our diaphragm expands as we’re sort of engaging in that laughter. And the reason that it does that is because, when we laugh, we exhale more forcefully, so we, “Ha, ha, ha.”

Because we’re exhaling more forcefully, we’re actually releasing more air, and so our lungs take back in, they have to kind of counterbalance by taking back in more. And because we inhale more deeply, it expands our thoracic region and it expands our ribcage. And why that’s important is because when we’re expanding our ribcage through laughter, the body’s intuitive system means that the expansion of the ribcage and its thoracic system, we’ve got a whole lot of nerves that run through that area. And so, it’s like the ribcage talks to the nerves, and says, “Hey, we’re expanding and we’re laughing and we’re happy.” And what that does is it triggers a relaxation response in our nervous system.

So, laughter changes our brain chemistry and it gives us endorphins and dopamine. It helps our brain but it helps our body because it talks to our nervous system. That’s why when you have that laugh, you have that really big belly laugh, and then you kind of sigh and kind of sit back in your chair, and like your shoulders kind of drop. And so, I’ve listed a whole bunch of self-soothing techniques there, Pete. I don’t know if there’s anything you want to sort of go into in more depth or…?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, that’s lovely. Thank you. And I’m just sort of imagining in my own mind’s eye how to enhance that all the more, like, “And do it in a bathtub or do it with a great blanket and space heater,” kind of whatever, just make the most of it.

Lea Waters
Yeah, absolutely. And the bathtub gets us back to the ecotherapy, and the blankets get us back to self-soothing and touch, particularly for those listeners who are experiencing heightened anxiety at the moment, and that’s really common for a lot of us. In fact, the sort of global research is coming back to show that, on average, people across the globe are experiencing sort of double the amount of anxiety than they were pre-pandemic. And I’m a person who struggles a lot with anxiety and always have all throughout my childhood and adult life, so my anxiety has really, really spiked at the moment. And touch is a really, really important part of helping to reduce our anxiety.

So, it can be that self-touch that we talked about before, washing our hands, massaging your vagal nerve, giving yourself a hug. But if you have a pet, hugging your pet as much as possible because that also releases oxytocin. And oxytocin is a neuropeptide. It’s a hormone that’s known as the love hormone or the bonding hormone. But when we have oxytocin, through touching ourselves, through touching another person, so hugging family, friend, obviously at the moment we’ve got physical distancing so you can only kind of hug those people that you live with or you know are safe, like pets. But you mentioned blankets.

So, blankets and pillows also create touch, and they calm our nervous system, and particularly weighted blankets. There’s some really interesting research now on weighted blankets. And weighted blankets, being helpful, if you are struggling with anxiety. Sleeping under a weighted blanket helps you feel safe, and it puts an extra level of just sort of weight onto you, which, again, sort of talks to your nervous system and helps to calm you down.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Lea Waters
No, I think we’ve covered a lot. I would probably just circle back to there’s lots of techniques to use. What has to underpin that, I think, are these sorts of three more enduring approaches. The first approach is the strength-based approach. So, identifying what our strengths are and how we can bring them into…how we can use our strengths to amplify our life when things are going well, and how we can bring them into times of challenge, in times of adversity. I think it was Winston Churchill who said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” So, how can we come out of this, utilizing and knowing our strengths? So, that’s kind of the first approach.

Then the second one is just this idea that, “I can grow from this actually. That recent past that make me feel bad, I’ll have moments of distress, I’ll have days where I’m tired and I’m struggling, but I can come out of this with new priorities. I can come out of this with closer relationships. I can come out of this recognizing that I’m stronger than I thought I was.”

So, coming out with going in, and being in this experience, knowing that I can grow from it using our strengths, and then that third kind of underlying approach, which I think, at the moment, is just being compassionate to ourselves and others.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Lea Waters
A quote?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Lea Waters
Yeah. I’ve really been living on quotes this last seven months during the pandemic. So, I started with Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. The quote was, “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” I was like, “Yeah.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite book?

Lea Waters
Whoa, I’ve so many favorite books, I don’t know which one to say. What would be a favorite book of mine at the moment? I am re-reading Charles Dickens.

Lea Waters
I do have A Tale of Two Cities.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Lea Waters
I have a website which is LeaWaters.com. And remembering that my name is spelt L-E-A so LeaWaters.com. And please follow me on socials, Insta, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. I’m putting a lot out at the moment on just these basic little small micro-techniques that we can use to help ourselves cope with stress and amplify the best of us, our strengths and positive emotions, during this difficult time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Lea Waters
I think our final challenge right now is know your strengths, use your strengths, and go to work tomorrow and be that strength mirror for someone else. If you see someone using a strength, call it out, acknowledge it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lea, this has been fun. I wish you lots of luck and positivity in your adventures.

Lea Waters
Thanks, Pete. It’s been a pleasure to be on the show.

628: How to Stay Challenged and Grow Your Career with Daniel Scrivner

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Daniel Scriver shares insights on how to develop your career from his experience as a college dropout turned designer turned CEO.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to develop new skills through self-teaching 
  2. Why Daniel left a dream job at Apple
  3. Why you should always seek discomfort 

About Daniel

Daniel Scrivner is the CEO of Flow. Previously he was the Head of Design at Digit and Square. He’s worked for some of the most respected brands in the world including Apple, Nike, Disney, and Target. 

Daniel advises world-class teams at companies like LendingHome, Empower, TrustToken, Designer Fund, and Notation Capital. He’s an early-stage investor in businesses like Superhuman, MixMax, Notion, Good Eggs, Burrow, Madison Reed, Stance, Almanac Brewing, and many more. And he’s been invited to speak at some of the world’s most prestigious organizations including Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z), General Assembly, Techstars, Designer Fund, and 500 Startups. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Daniel Scrivner Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Daniel, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Daniel Scrivner
Thank you so much for having me on, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into this conversation not the least reason of which because you have the fanciest microphone a guest has ever brought onto the show. Can you tell us the backstory of why you have such a piece of equipment?

Daniel Scrivner
Yeah, sure. So, I actually started recording my own podcast a few months ago and was debating in my mind kind of, as everybody does that cares about audio, what sort of a setup to get. The microphone that I use is the Neumann U 87. And I don’t have a great reason for that. I mean, just the only thing that I would say is, in my life, if there’s something that I enjoy, I never feel bad about buying, going for quality if I know that I’m going to use it for a really long period of time, and this seems fit to that vein.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. Okay. Well, I love it. So, I also love your story, so it’s pretty wild in terms of so you went from a dropout experience all the way to becoming a CEO with some exciting adventures in the middle. Can you please tell us the story of your climb and maybe the most compelling lessons along the way? And we’ll have a little back and forth as we do so.

Daniel Scrivner
Oh, sure. And I’ll try to keep it brief and feel free to jump in any time. But, yeah, as you alluded to, I definitely have an unconventional background. But what’s funny is it makes a ton of sense to me, obviously looking in hindsight, but when you said the words “the climb” I don’t know why but I don’t feel like it was really that. I guess that for just a little bit of context, a few things that maybe will help kind of makes sense of my journey is, one, I’ve always been a huge believer that if there’s anything in life you’re excited about, if you care enough about it, if you’re curious enough, you can teach yourself how to get good at almost anything.

So, what that’s I’ve done, and I sorted out my career, I focused on design. Specifically kind of web, digital design. This was back in the early 2000s, I’m a child of the 80s and 90s so I grew up with the internet being a really exciting, cool, new part of my life. And the quick backstory is, growing up, I was never attracted to anything design related. In fact, I hated art classes growing up. I never considered myself a very artistic person. So, how I kind of stumbled into design, as I think about it, is I was getting ready to graduate early from high school, this is going way, way back, I ended up taking a course one summer to get some extra credits, I just thought it would be a nice easy fun course about how to create HTML websites. And back in that point in time, creating websites now is a lot more complicated, back then all you needed to know was HTML.

So, I learned that class and I just got hooked on that I suddenly had the skill where I could take an idea in my mind, be able to use HTML to build it, and then I could tell my friends, “Hey, go and visit this URL,” or, “Hi, go and check this out,” and they could pull it up. And that just seemed like this magical thing to me.

And so, the way I stumbled into design was I started making these websites and thought I was going to be excited to share them with friends, but then nothing ended up looking like something I was proud of. So, it’s that moment where I was like, “I can make something but I want it to be cooler. Like, I care about this thing, I want it to be nice.” And so, that led me to this question of, “Well, what is that?” And, for me, it still is how I think about design as I think a lot shaped by that early experience. But my career now, I’ve been doing design at some level for 15 plus years, I’ve worked at companies like Apple and Square and with a bunch of other interesting cool brands.

But, for me, design is just the intersection of solving really hard technical or business problems and trying to pull it off in a way that you can create something that’s singular. So, ideally, it’s remarkable and that it’s unique and interesting and you’re contributing a new note to the melody but, at the same time, is beautiful and you’re kind of pulling off an artful twist.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, why don’t we get the broader view first and then we’ll dig into the details with one exception. Okay, so design, I’m not great at design and it always sort of kind of struck me as something – it’s funny, this show is about how to be awesome at your job and skills learning and growth and development, so I almost feel contradictory saying this. But it almost strikes me as something you’re born with, like you’ve got the designer’s eye, like you’ve got the touch, and I was like, “I don’t think I have it.” So, I always outsource my design and I think I know enough to say, “I don’t like that,” and “I love that.”

Daniel Scrivner
You’re a great client.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s so funny, I love designers, I love working with them because I’ll tell them exactly, sometimes I feel crazy about my feedback, like, “As I behold that image, that part of it makes me feel like a little kid and you’re patronizing me,” and they say, “Oh, thank you. That’s great feedback.” I was like, “Really? Because I feel silly saying that out loud and like you’re going to bite my head off,” but the designer is like, “Oh, perfect. I know just where to go based on what you’ve said.” It’s like, “Great.”

Daniel Scrivner
No, I think that’s really all designers, I think, are looking for a lot of the times is just specific actionable feedback. As an example, one, probably the vaguest piece of feedback that I’ve ever received, and it was while I was at Square, and it was from the CEO Jack Dorsey who was looking at a design I did, and said something along the lines of, like, “It’s not whimsical enough.” And that definitely sent me down a like, “Oh, my God, what does that even mean? Like, what is that? Is it the color? Is it the structure? Is it the…?” I don’t even know. I didn’t even know where to go with that.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s not whimsical. Well, because, oh, man, I think for like corporate design, it’s really easy to be too whimsical real fast, and it’s like, “I don’t trust this, what I’m looking, at all. This spinning helicopter hat.”

Daniel Scrivner
He wanted that dial cranked up and I was scratching my head for a long time.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s start there. So, learning design, that seems like a skill that’s hard for people to pick up if they don’t have some kind of aptitude for it but it sounds like you disagree. Lay it on me.

Daniel Scrivner
Yeah, I definitely disagree. So, I think, well, just to take a step back. I have definitely worked with a lot of engineers that have led me to believe that there are certainly some people that probably don’t get design, like don’t understand colors, just kind of don’t understand just aesthetics in general. So, I think you have to have some inclination or curiosity or a desire to do a lot of research to just develop a point of view about like what looks good and what doesn’t and what is that. And that’s something that’s very difficult to build up.

If someone were to ask me, “How do I figure that out?” I would say, “I don’t know. You need to watch a lot of movies, read a lot of books, look at magazines about architecture and car magazines,” because I think that’s one thing that’s always fascinated me about it is great design can work in any industry whether it’s an interior designer using color and shapes and symmetry and patterns and textures to create a beautiful inside of a house, whether it’s an architect using some of those same tools to create a beautiful structure.

What’s interesting about design is kind of, if you boil it down, it is extremely primitive in that it’s largely shapes, colors, tones, moods, so, I definitely believe that anybody can learn it. And I think that, for a little bit of the backstory there, so I’ve mentioned I’ve been doing design at some level for 15 plus years, and every single year I continue to get probably a handful of emails from somebody that saw my work or listened to an interview that I did, who writes in and says something along the lines of like, “I’m inspired by your story. This is something that I want to do. How do I figure this out? How do I start working as a designer?”

And the reply I always write back is probably not the reply they were expecting. In fact, rarely do I ever receive a reply back. But it’s just along the lines of, “Like, the way I was able to do that,” so if someone kind of understands my story and knows that I dropped out of college so I don’t have a college degree, I did that because I found in this thing that I loved and I didn’t want to put that off anymore.

But the way that I learned it was extremely basic and probably it’s just like hustle applied to trying to learn. But, for me, it was very much like, “I want to do this thing,” so my approach was just, “Okay. Well, I’m going to do free work to start,” so I literally got paid nothing when I first started, and I was going to, honestly, anybody I knew or anybody that knew somebody that I knew that wanted something designed, and typically that would be a business card or a logo or a website, and I would just do it for free because I knew that I wanted to be doing it, I needed to have a portfolio so I can get better work, land better clients, eventually start paying. And so, I really just worked my way up that way from literally the lowest level on the totem pole of doing free design work for people that I just knew, all the way to working for some of the largest companies and most respected brands in the world. But it very much was a, “I’m just going to take it one step at a time.”

And, for me, one thing that ties back to, which we can certainly explore, is something that’s played a big role in my life is what I refer to, what I call the growth curve. And, for me, it’s just the sense that I think the way I’ve been able to get to where I am today is by constantly trying to challenge myself. And I’ve done that multiple times in my career where I’ve left really comfortable jobs, not because I wasn’t excited about that work anymore, I was still very excited about the work I was doing at those companies, but because I felt like I needed a new challenge.

And I don’t really know, I sort of know where that comes from, but there’s something in me that once I’ve kind of figured something out, I get a little bit uncomfortable and restless. And so, I’m always trying to challenge myself and kind of climb this growth curve.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so there’s a lot in there right there in terms of going out and doing it and getting a lot of reps. It sounds like whether that’s doing your own work or observing other work. And I found, I think, it is interesting with design in that I think it’s taken me a while to get here and not that I’m a pro by any means but it really is, for me, it’s kind of uncomfortable for a while, it’s like, “I just need to kind of…” I feel it first and then I had to articulate it in terms of, “Being in this room feels awesome. I love it here.” It’s like, “Why?”

Pete Mockaitis
But then you start to get a few things. In, like, realtors, like they’re taking photographs of places, it’s like, “The top thing is it’s free of cluttered garbage.”

Daniel Scrivner
“It’s bright. It’s airy. It’s typically lots of light, lots of very clean white and stainless steel.”

Pete Mockaitis
“And there’s just not a lot of clutter.” And I think that’s huge right there in terms of…and that can apply to a space or to a layout or a website or whatever. Like, I think Oli Gardner, I heard on an Unbounce event, had a slide wherein someone was like begging like Oliver Twist, “Please, sir, one more link shoved into this website.” It is like, “No, you got to keep it focused.”

Okay, so by doing a large volume of work, and by pushing and challenging yourself, and by observing and reflecting, you got really good at this skill. So, the here we are in your story.

Daniel Scrivner
Over a long period of time.

Pete Mockaitis
So, now you’re great at design and you have made some stuff that looks good, and where does this story go next?

Daniel Scrivner
Yeah, so maybe that was the kind of first formative part of my career, and I think for me there was a moment in time that I still remember very vividly but at the time didn’t feel…honestly felt scary and I don’t know if I was optimistic but I was excited about it but, basically, to share a little bit of the story. So, I’m in high school, I take this class, I start doing work for free, literally, when I’m in high school, end up graduating six months early. A big reason why I did that was I just wanted to do more time doing design work and I felt like, “Why spend all my day in school if I can kind do more of this work that I really enjoy?”

So, I graduated six months early. Fast forward a couple of years, and I’m suddenly at the point in my early 20s at this point in time, probably 21, something like that, say, and I suddenly have this kind of fork-in-the-road experience where I’m in college at the time, I’m about to finish my undergraduate degree, getting ready to kind of pick and transfer to the university that I want to go to which, in my mind, is kind of my parents’ voices. They were always very much, “You have to kind of go through this order,” and one of those things that was non-negotiable was going to college, so I was like, “Okay.” And I know that’s what I should do or that’s what felt like what I should do.

But the other thing I had in the other hand was, at this point, I had done enough design work that I actually was getting paid to do it, and was really enjoying it, and had enough work that I actually had to turn down projects. And so, the fork-in-the-road moment was, “Do I continue with college, kind of go to a university, really focus on that experience for the next two years or do I decide to take a bet on myself?” And at that point in time, the way I was framing it, which was probably a little bit nice, is kind of pause school for six months. I ended up quitting the job that I had at the time so I kind of severed all of those things so I could go all in. And my only goal was, “Let me see if I can survive basically doing everything by myself.”

So, I would pitch clients, I would quote clients, I would give them estimates, I would do the design work obviously, hand off the designs, do all the kind of the clerical stuff and accounting stuff. I just did everything. In those six months, I ended up doing that. Initially, my goal was just to make it six months. I ended up making it six months and it wasn’t pretty. A lot of that was extremely challenging, it was extremely difficult, it wasn’t all stuff I was super excited about. Balancing books or collecting invoices or following up on payments is not the most exciting thing in the world compared to design, but I ended up doing that.

And what that ultimately led to was, fast forward another year past that, I ended up getting offered a job to go and work for an advertising agency in L.A. called DDB. That led, about a year and a half after that, to getting offered a job at Apple to join their marketing communications team which was when I moved to San Francisco, and I ended up being at Apple for three and a half years. And I credit that a lot with being my…if there was any real-world bootcamp-like education experience in my career, it was absolutely being a designer at Apple.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s zero in on these particular bridges, leaps, transitions to DDB and to Apple. How did they find you and interview you, etc.? Was it just like, “Your stuff looks good, come on down”?

Daniel Scrivner
It’s effectively that’s the gist but the DDB, to be super honest, I have no clue. I cannot remember if they found me, if I found them, I’d never really heard of the firm before so it’s made me think.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, they’re huge.

Daniel Scrivner
They’re a big advertising agency but they’re not Ogilvy. They don’t have that kind of brand name recognition necessarily so that one I’m not sure.

The Apple one is, I think, a little bit more interesting. So, the Apple one was, at this point, I was, I don’t know, mid-20s, probably 25, something like that, 26, and I, for sure, obviously, Apple was an incredibly exciting company, and I think for a lot of designers, it’s the place you hope you can get to at some point in your career. And so, the way that kind of transpired for me is I have this job at DDB at the time in L.A. so I’m commuting to L.A. and I’m doing all that and I’m enjoying my work. It’s not the most exciting. I’m not doing the most challenging interesting modern stuff but I’m doing it. I’m an actual designer getting paid to do design work which is crazy.

And I end up getting an email from a recruiter at Apple. And for those that don’t know, Apple is definitely one of the companies that they have a large recruiting team, and their recruiting team, they really are looking for the best of the best or people that they feel like can succeed as designers in some department at Apple. And for people that don’t know as well, Apple is massive. Even in the marketing communications team, I joined as a marketing designer, I worked on a lot of Apple.com projects, I ended up getting to do a lot more interesting stuff kind of in my time there.

But Apple also has motion graphics designers which just do things like animations and transitions and videos. They have graphic designers which do the packaging and the identities for some of their products. If you look at like AirPods Pro, like that name on the box, that’s something that a graphic designer put together letter by letter, playing with the kerning, playing with the weight, trying to get that just right, so it’s a huge department.

So, to kind of get back to the story, my first thought, honestly, was this is spam. Like, “Let me see where this email is from. Let’s me see if it’s actually from Apple.com.” So, I end up looking at it a little bit, kind of looked up the name of the person who sent it, and it all checks out. And the way that worked initially was I was offered an opportunity to come to Apple and cover for a woman who was going on maternity leave for six months, so it wasn’t like, “Here you go, here’s a full-time offer.” It was, “We really like your work. We would like to have you on the team to start,” and this is also very common at Apple about, I would say, probably 50% of the creative team is all contractors so it’s not full-time employees, so that’s not uncommon.

But I came in on contract and kind of my approach was, “I’m going to soak up everything I can, learn everything I can in these six months, and I’m also going to try to prove that I have a place on this team, that I can contribute and I can be a good designer and a good kind of member on the team,” that’s a little bit of that story.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, recruiter. I’m curious, in both of these instances, did they just not care, like it doesn’t matter in the design world, or for you in particular, “Oh, you don’t have a degree? No problem”?

Daniel Scrivner
So, it’s really interesting. I would say, for both designers and engineers, number one, I think there are a lot of technology companies, it’s definitely not a deal-breaker. Like, I think Google, they’ve relaxed this policy, but Google is definitely out of the norm in their requirement, which I’m not sure if they have anymore, but they have had for a very long time, is a requirement that you can’t get hired unless you have some sort of a college degree. But, typically, at technology companies and at startups, it doesn’t matter.

And the way that I’ve always thought about it is the majority of designers I’ve worked with do not have a design degree, and I think that’s part of the problem is if you were to try to go get a design degree, you can get one but it’s what is typically called a Masters in Fine Arts. You’re going to be doing it for six years, you’re going to learn all these kinds of fundamental skills, which I would argue you could learn just as well on your own by teaching yourself because it’s just literally going in kind of design history, looking up work of famous designers, doing these mock projects.

And part of that was, the way that I thought about it was, because if we go back to the part of my story where I was deciding whether to go to college or whether to take this kind of six-month bet on myself, definitely in the back of my mind was, like, “I can go and study design,” but the sense that I had was I was going to be learning fake design. So, part of what you do if you go to a Masters of Fine Arts program is kind of like going to business school, and you do a bunch of case studies, which are perfectly fine. They definitely help exercise some of your mental muscles of like, “Here’s a problem. How do you figure it out?” But does it map to the real-world job of being a designer? Absolutely not.

The most difficult things involved in kind of being a designer at any level is stuff like, “How do you gracefully take feedback that you agree with or don’t agree with? How do you ask really great questions of another person’s work where you don’t want to offend them, you want to know and respect that they put a lot of work and energy and love into what they’re creating?” But you want to try to ask great questions to kind of spur and make sure that it’s as good as it can be. And so, there are all these skills in design that are largely very powerful but very soft skills. And the only way you can really learn them is by doing it.

And so, that was kind of my perspective at the time. And what’s been interesting is I’ve had the opportunity to work with quite a few people that have a Masters in Fine Arts degree, and I don’t say this out of disrespect for any of those people, it takes, obviously, a huge amount of hard work to go and get a Masters in Fine Arts degree. But did I think they were necessarily better day in, day out designers? No. And I think, typically, they would have kind of a chip on their shoulder a little bit of, “Well, this project is too good for me.” And I think part of what helped me was there was no project that was too good or not good enough for me. Like, I was excited to work on it and take it on if it was a design challenge. And I also just loved it and I think that there’s this kind of sense of enthusiasm and love that, I don’t know, maybe I didn’t get it beat out of me in college but I was lucky that way.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s a great perspective when you’re at Apple, it’s like, “I’m going to learn as much as possible in this place,” and in so doing your skills are sharpened. And so, what happens next?

Daniel Scrivner
So, I ended up at the end of those six months, I got offered a full-time position and I joined the Apple marketing they called it. I don’t know what’s called anymore but they called it MarCom internally which was short for marketing communications. But, basically, at the end of the day it’s like everything that’s not an ad on TV, that team did it.

So, I ended up getting offered a full-time position. Fast forward a little bit, about three years later, I found myself in a position I found myself in a few times now where when I first got offered the opportunity to join Apple, I thought, “Oh, my God, this is it. This is the place I’ve wanted to be. I can’t wait to be on this team.” And three and a half years later, again, really, like for me, I think a word that sums up a lot of how I approach the things that I love, which is both good and bad, but I think largely good is obsessive. And so, for me, with design, I just obsess over it. I would think about it all the time, I would constantly be working on little projects to try to improve my skills.

So, one of the things that I would always do when I was at Apple, and I think this is great advice for anybody that has a job, where it’s like you’re going to get better the more you do it. And if you challenge yourself with things that are slightly out of your comfort zone, you’re going to show up to work just a better all-around employee. But I would do things like, when I first joined…I knew how to put together a layout. In a layout, you can sometimes describe that as like if you go to, I don’t know, Apple.com, a layout is “What generally does this page look like? How do you chunk it out? What’s the typography there? Where are kind of the images?” It’s very similar to doing product design if you’re doing a layout for a screen.

So, I could do that but I suck at doing icons, and icons are this thing that they are like if you go and you open up your iPhone, if you have one, or Android phone, if you don’t, you look at kind of the app icons or the little graphics or symbols that you click on to get around an app, that’s icon design, and it’s both a very ancient form of communication. It’s based on hieroglyphs and cave paintings, and there’s a lot of those things that map almost literally one-to-one for kind of icons that we have today. So, it’s a very old form of kind of communications but I was really bad at it.

And so, one of the things I would do is just challenge myself, like, “I’m going to make an icon set of 30 icons I’m excited about.” And the way these projects always go is they’re absolutely brutal in that for 80% of the time I’m just like, “Oh, God, I’m not getting any better. What’s going on here?” And I just keep chugging through and trying to put one foot in front of the other again and again and again. And, inevitably, what happens is if I can just persist long enough, I’ll finally get to a place where it all snaps into place. So, I would do stuff like that.

But about three and a half years in, I just had this moment where I felt like I knew how to be successful at Apple. And what I mean by that, and hopefully it doesn’t sound egotistical, but in my mind, if you kind of take a step back and think of a place like Apple, they have a very recognizable aesthetic. Well, what does that mean? That means that there are rules that inform it and that there’s kind of like a construct and a framework for how they think about it. And so, if you can understand those things and get good at those, you can take on almost any project and figure out end time how to execute it in an Apple way.

And so, I’ve kind of gotten to that point and I had this moment where, again, I did this kind of flash forward, saw myself at Apple 10 years in the future, and thought that that would’ve been perfectly fine. And there are still times when I think back and wished that maybe I’d stayed a little bit longer just because there were such incredible people there and I learned so much and just enjoyed working with them, but I felt like that probably wasn’t the best thing for me. And part of what inspired me in that was, what I alluded to earlier, Apple has a lot of contract designers, and typically those contract designers, they don’t work at one company for longer than six months.

And one thing I observed that I thought was really interesting and different about the best of these contract designers were that when they were teed up a problem, they could look at it from ten different angles. And so, they could say, “Okay, I know,” as an example, say, something like take an example that came out today. So, Apple announced these AirPod Max, like headsets that you put on your head that literally are like headphones. And so, you would get teed up a project, like, “Hey, here’s this thing we’re going to launch soon. Figure out how to tell this story on a marketing website.” And you need to think that through.

But what I found fascinating about the people who had kind of a broad body of experience was they could look at it from a bunch of different angles. They could do a dark version of that layout, a light version of that layout. They could do something that felt super pop culture-y. They could do something that felt really minimal and restrained, and I thought that there was something really special there. And so, the kind of story I put together in my mind was, “Okay. Well, I think part of that is they just get to flex different muscles. They’re constantly taking on different challenges.”

And so, what that led me to think about was rather than stay at Apple, which would’ve been perfectly fine and would’ve been a great outcome, but rather than doing that, I think it’s time for me to challenge myself. And so, what I ended up doing, which was not at all common at the time, was leaving Apple, which when I was there no one left Apple. You didn’t leave Apple to go work somewhere else especially as a designer, and you definitely didn’t go to a startup, but I decided that I wanted to go and join Square. And Square, at that time, was about 50 people in size, it was in San Francisco, it was right in the city, I didn’t have commute, so that’s why I made that leap.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Well, I want to push fast forward a little bit. So, you went to Square, you did some great things, and now you’re the CEO of Flow. How did that come to be? And what is Flow?

Daniel Scrivner
Great question. So, yeah, I guess I’m trying to figure out how to back it into this question. So, if we go back a little bit in my story when I was really young, one of the things I talk about was just this belief that if you are interested in something that you could figure out how to do that. And I give a tremendous amount of credit to my parents. So, growing up, we would do things like it was very common, probably happened once a month where we would all get in the car, drive down to the biggest library nearby, spend hours and hours in a library.

And so, one of the things that I got, I have two younger brothers, we would all, literally all five of us, we’re a five-person family, we would split out, all go to different levels, find the books that we were interested in, and we would spend hours there. And at that point in time, we were kind of young, say, 10, 11, 12 kind of age. And so, one thing I got fascinated, just hooked on, that I can’t really still put my finger on it, and say, “Why?” was business and investing.

And so, in high school, I was reading books like The Millionaire Next Door, or, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, or, I can’t think of other ones, but like largely business and investing books that typically people aren’t interested in let alone in high school. I’ve just always been fascinated by that, and that’s something that still, today, I’m always…it’s another obsession I have, is I just love learning from investors. Why? Because I think they’re experts at kind of thinking through industries and companies and which company has the best odds to success and why. And I’m also really fascinated with entrepreneurs, and this is the idea of creating something of value that you end up charging more for than it takes to create, which still, to me, feels like kind of pulling off a magic trick that someone is willing to pay for that even though it costs less to make it. It generates profit and you can invest that in other things, so I have these interests.

So, fast forward, I end up leaving Square after five and a half years. At that point, the company had IPO’s, we were 1,500, probably 2,000 plus people at that time, had an incredible experience. But for anyone that doesn’t know, being at a company that goes from 50 people to 1,500 or 2,000, and from having a little bit of venture capital money all the way to IPO in five years, it is a brutal experience. It’s wonderful in so many ways but it is also an incredibly trying and difficult experience.

So, I got to the end of that, was super proud of what I had done when I was at Square, and the team that I was able to work with and helped build, but I knew, again, that I wanted to flex some different muscles. And so, what I did leaving Square was I started kind of exploring things that was entrepreneurial-like and investor-like, so I did. I started doing some venture capital investing, some seed investing in companies. I now have a portfolio of over a hundred that I’ve built up and I’ve learned a lot from that. I also started advising companies. One thing in San Francisco that, this is maybe changing today, you know, San Francisco is changing quite a bit at the moment with the coronavirus and just all the effects that that city is feeling.

But at the time I was there, it’s just packed with people that are really good at what they do, they have really interesting ideas. And so, what that means is there are a lot of startups that don’t get design but need design to be successful. And so, I started working with some of those to help them think about how to think about design on their side.

Fast forward a few more years, and I ended up…so Flow is owned by a company in Canada called Tiny. And Tiny is like a mini conglomerate. You can kind of think of it like a mini-Berkshire Hathaway. And I knew one of those founders, Andrew Wilkinson, for about 10 years, and this was going back, it’s like very serendipitous, but going back to being a designer early on. It’s a really small community. So, we kept in touch and kind of he was a designer, I was a designer, we would both kind of check out each other’s work and loosely stay in touch. Long story short, fast forward a bunch of years in the future, and he now has this company that has many sub-companies, Flow is one of them.

And so, for a little context about what Flow is. Flow, at this point in time, it’s a 10-year-old company. We focus on task and project management, software, largely for teams. And the way we excel, the way we kind of compete is by offering people a beautifully made product that is powerful but it doesn’t feel bloated and it feels like something you’re excited to work in. And the metaphor I use there a lot of the times is like WeWork office versus a cubicle. And if you think about productivity software, a lot of productivity software is the cubicle land, and we try to create this beautifully crafted piece of software that teams need.

So, we went to grab coffee. Flow, at that point in time, was not doing super well and they felt like they wanted somebody to come in and take over and someone ideally with design background that could kind of invest a ton in the product, create a vision for the product of where it was going to go from there. And so, I joined Flow two years ago, and over the last two years, I’ve been working on turning around the company.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, what a beautiful tale from making websites to you are heading up a company and are investing in businesses that are really cool. By the way, I use Superhuman for my email and I love it.

Daniel Scrivner
I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
So, wow, so what a journey. I’m drawing my own little lessons about really digging deep and then challenging yourself and learning from the people around you and keeping those relationships alive. But since we’re actually towards our final minutes here, why don’t you boil it down for us in terms of what do you think are the top do’s and don’ts for professionals looking to grow a career and advance in, hey, more fun wins, meaning in money, as we say here? If you want more of that over the long arc of your career from age 20 to age 60, 70, top do’s and don’ts, lay it on us.

Daniel Scrivner
I could probably talk about this for an hour so I’ll try to be as concise as possible just because I think there’s so many…like, one thing I think you’ll learn over time by working in a lot of different companies, by being at different stages of your life at different companies, it’s a very nuanced thing. So, I will share, I think, what’s helped me and people can decide whether that’s useful. But I think the big things for me is, ideally, you’re doing something that meets that bar of obsession. Like, in my mind, I’ve got a two-year old now, we’ve got another one coming on the way this right around Christmas, and with my kids, I think, the focus there is very much I just want them to find something that is energy-giving and life-sustaining. And I think if you can do that, then you have this…it’s almost like a nuclear fusion reactor where you have something that is just never going to run out of juice.

The goal, in my mind, initially was I wanted to find a couple of things, and at this point in time, that’s design, business, and investing, that I can think about, obsess about, read about, and try to get better at over the long course of my life. And so, find those things and then pour yourself into them. And what I mean by that is I highly encourage people, and again life is a single-player game, you have to decide if this is applicable for you. But, for me, something that’s always been really helpful is you find that thing that you love, then pour yourself into it. And what that means is not only giving 100% at work but, ideally, also doing stuff outside of work that challenges yourself and develops muscles that are probably related to what you at work but might help you prepare you for your next job, might help you prepare for the job you want five years or ten years, or what you want to be doing.

And I think back to my time at Apple, and I would work a full 10-, 12-hour day, get on the bus, do this fun little icon project. I didn’t do it every day. There were definitely days I was burnout or I just needed to shut off my brain but I’ve always had stuff like that going on the side. And I think people have different opinions about that. In my mind, I do the things that I love, and so what that means is there’s very little distinction between work and play, or work and real life. And so, I think that blurriness is really helpful.

And then I think another thing that I would suggest is to challenge yourself. Like, something that I have distinctly found is that the majority of people I’ve worked with are kind of limit their own trajectory by the belief they’re willing to have in themselves, the confidence they’re willing to have that they can overcome any hurdle, and just this deep sense that if they’re interested enough in something, if they want something bad enough, they can figure it out and they can do it.

And this isn’t a anything-in-the-world-you-can-have-go-for-it type kind of pep rally or speech. It’s just I think the way to kind of think about it is this very soft, just in the background confidence of if there’s a challenge that you see in front of you, believe in yourself, bet on yourself, and know that if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you can find a way to push through discomfort, that there are really good things on the other side of that.

And then the other thing I would say is really throw yourself into that growth curve. I almost try to visualize it in my mind of I always want to be in a place where I’m pretty uncomfortable. Ideally, if I’m in a job or doing something and I’m committed to it, I’m really excited about it, I want it to be slightly out of my comfort zone. And I think this role that I’ve taken on with Flow is certainly that. The role I took on early on at Square was certainly that. When I was at Apple, it was certainly that. And I think if you string together kind of subsequent experiences that step, by step, by step, challenge you a little bit more, get you a little bit out of your comfort zone, make you do things that you don’t feel like you’re qualified for or you don’t think you can really do yet, I think the trick there is like a lot of people have this idea that, “I’ll do that once I can do it.”

And if that’s the way you think about it, you’re never going to do it. You just have to start doing, be willing to be bad at it, be willing to be uncomfortable, be willing to kind of cringe even at the quality of your work initially because that’s the price you have to pay in order to get better.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said. Thank you. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite book, something that you really dig?

Daniel Scrivner
Yeah. The book I was thinking about kind of before this interview that I think might be really applicable, maybe people haven’t heard of, that I really enjoy is a book called Principles by Ray Dalio.

And for a little bit of background there, Ray is the founder of a hedge fund called Bridgewater, it’s the largest in the world, they have a very different culture where they really try to go all in on this idea of meritocracy which is that there’s not really any hierarchy; it’s just kind of a group of peers, and anybody is as good as anybody else and it’s all about kind of the arguments you can make and the work that you’re able to do.

And so, that book is the output of the last 30 plus years of trying to build this company, and it really is what’s in the title. It’s a handful of principles that apply to working in groups and working as an individual. And I’ll stop there, I won’t spoil it, but it’s a thick book. I highly recommend you get the hardcover just so you can open it up and flip through it. You do not need to read it from cover to cover but it is an incredible work.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Daniel Scrivner
So, something I’ve been thinking a lot about, and this falls into the vein of like, “I’m not good at this yet, but I see the value in it and I want to double down on it,” is taking time to reflect each week. And this is something that I think, if I were to go back in time, this idea of reflection and what does that even mean, where you’re kind of pausing, you’re not doing any work, you’re going to stop sprinting, you’re going to stop focusing on your to-do list, you’re going to stop caring about your email, you’re just going to stop. Ideally, go somewhere where you can kind of think by yourself and sit down, and just really reflect on how things are going at the moment.

And, for me, I try to do that once a week for at least an hour. I have somewhat of a structure, I’ve a few questions I ask myself every single time. Some of those are really simply things but these are, at the end of the day, really profound questions, like, “Are there opportunities that are around me, or I have access to, or I see that maybe I just haven’t recognized?” And, especially in my role now, that’s true all the time.

Another one is, “Are there risks I haven’t recognized? How are things going? What’s going well and what’s not?” But I think taking time to reflect, the kind of metaphor I would have with that is, I think, reflection is something that almost none of us do often enough. The reason it’s important is because anytime in your life that you have a goal, you need to be able to know how you’re tracking and course-correct. And what I found in my own life is I would reflect once a year, maybe by doing New Year’s resolutions, or once a month, or once every six months, and that’s okay. But I think if you can get that down to where you’re spending a little bit of time, it can even be 20 minutes or 15 minutes once a week, what it allows you to do is it just tighten up and kind of keep you on track with where you’re headed. So, I would say reflection is big.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch with you, where would you point them?

Daniel Scrivner
They can visit my website to see the podcast episodes I record, to see the stuff that I write at DanielScrivner.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @DanielScrivner and they can learn a little bit more about my podcast if they’re interested at Outliers.fm, and about Flow at Getflow.com.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Daniel Scrivner
I call it kind of the alpha challenge but one thing that I have written on a Post-It that’s a little bit trite but I find it really helpful is just, “If you weren’t afraid of the consequences, what’s something that you would try that you likely wouldn’t try otherwise?” And so, I think asking yourself that question, really thinking about that and being open with what that answer is, bring that whatever answer you write down, you have to give yourself permission, you have to believe in yourself that you can go and figure that out, and you can go and do it.

And so, I would challenge people to ask themselves that question, “What’s something that you would want to do that if you didn’t care about the consequences and weren’t looking at feeling or any of that stuff?” and take that answer and bet on yourself and figure out where to take that.

Pete Mockaitis
Daniel, this has been such a treat. I wish you lots of luck with Flow and your challenges and all you’re up to.

Daniel Scrivner
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been awesome.

596: The Six Skills of Proactive Professionals with Chrissy Scivicque

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Chrissy Scivicque says: "The more we manage the expected, the more capacity we have to deal with the unexpected."

Chrissy Scivicque discusses the crucial set of skills that keep you ahead in your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to become 5000% more effective at your job
  2. How to keep the unexpected from blindsiding you
  3. The one question that leads to astounding career growth

About Chrissy

Chrissy Scivicque believes that work can be a nourishing, enriching life experience—and she loves helping professionals discover exactly what that means for them and how to achieve it. Her popular website, EatYourCareer.com, is devoted to this mission. As an award-winning writer, certified career coach and experienced corporate trainer, Chrissy brings a unique perspective to the world of professional development. She is the proud author of The Proactive Professional and The Invisibility Cure.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Chrissy Scivicque Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Chrissy, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Chrissy Scivicque
Well, thank you so much for having me, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig in, and I’m also excited that you share my fondness for true crime documentaries.

Chrissy Scivicque
Yes. I’m glad to hear that you also have this morbid interest.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I don’t know. I guess my favorite podcasts are in the true crime realm but they’re not about murder because that feels a little weird for me but, still, I think my wife and I watch like three JonBenét documentaries. Have you seen The Jinx?

Chrissy Scivicque
I haven’t but I’ve actually listened to a podcast about every single episode.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Chrissy Scivicque
That’s typically how I prefer to take in my true crime, so I just listen to podcasts. It really is very disturbing. My family is incredibly worried about me. But I think what I’m finding out is that when I disclose this information, so many people say, “Me too,” because we have this kind of morbid curiosity. I think it’s really…I tell myself it’s about problem-solving, that I love a good mystery, and I’m a little bit of an armchair detective, and I figure it’s a problem-solving exercise. That’s what it’s all about.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, the mystery is intriguing. So, you listen to a podcast about every episode of the documentary The Jinx, but you haven’t listened to The Jinx, haven’t watched The Jinx.

Chrissy Scivicque
I did. True crime obsessed, my friends, because we’re all obsessed.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that was one of the most compelling ones. I can’t give away the spoiler but, like, I imagine, if you were a documentarian trying to cover a crime, this is like a unicorn dream come true for you.

Chrissy Scivicque
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “Wow!”

Chrissy Scivicque
There’s nothing better.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ll just leave it at that.

Chrissy Scivicque
I understand The Tiger King is the exact same though.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I haven’t actually watched it.

Chrissy Scivicque
I haven’t either but I’ve listened to a lot about it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, one of the mysteries that you’ve been working to solve is in the realm of being proactive. You’ve got a great book title, I’m digging it, The Proactive Professional: How to Stop Playing Catch Up and Start Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life!) That’s an appealing promise. So, maybe to get terms clear, how do you define a proactive? And can you make that real for us in terms of, “Here’s what proactive looks like versus reactive”?

Chrissy Scivicque
Yes. So, I define being proactive as doing the right things today to set yourself up for success tomorrow. So, there are so many great examples, and I’m just going to share the one that comes top of mind because I just heard from this individual recently. So, this gentleman reached out to me through LinkedIn, and he shared with me that he read the book last year, and he was happily employed, he was thinking he was going to stay at his company for the next few years, but the book inspired him to be proactive about his career management.

And so, he did things over the past few months. He updated his resume, he got on LinkedIn and he was nurturing his network. He got a professional certification. He did all of these things for, really, just the purpose of being proactive, a just in case sort of thing. And then, recently, 2020 hit, and he was laid off in May. So, he reached out to me, and the reason that he was contacting me, he said, “Chrissy, I’m not freaking out. Instead, I feel prepared for this. I did all of these things, not knowing what the future held, but now I’m ready to launch this job search where I’m looking at my colleagues, they’ve been laid off, and now they’re scrambling trying to update their resumes and do all of these things that I’ve been doing because I’ve been ahead of the game.” So, that’s just a perfect beautiful example of someone being proactive in their career.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, that is a great picture right there in terms of if anyone is feeling the stress and wishes that they didn’t, had been proactive, for one person there, got them out of that. So, I’m intrigued. Let’s talk a little bit about the why on a global scale. I couldn’t help myself when we’re talking about being proactive. I think of Stephen Covey and The 7 Habits, with habit one being “Be proactive,” because I had to grab the number. And I don’t actually know what his underlying research base is so maybe you can give us one. But I trust he has one, and this is not hyperbole, but he says, “The difference between people who exercise initiative and those who don’t is really the difference between night and day. I’m not talking about a 25% to 50% difference in effectiveness. I’m talking about a 5,000% plus difference particularly if they are smart, aware, and sensitive to others.” So, 5,000%, 50x, does that sound about right to you? Is that squaring with your research and experience? Unpack that for us.

Chrissy Scivicque
A thousand percent, I couldn’t agree more. I believe that this is the skillset that really differentiates the average professional from the exceptional one, and I see it over and over again. I have researched this for years. I literally started to read about what it means to be proactive 15 years ago. I was working as an executive assistant, and the executive I supported at the time, he used to say, “Be proactive,” I mean multiple times a day. He would say it so frequently that I remember at one point, I was like, “Oh, is he losing his mind? Is he senile? We’ve talked about this a million times.” But, obviously, he was telling me he needed me to improve in that area.

So, I started this research process and I found that Stephen Covey has some great material on this topic, but other than that it is quite limited what’s out there. What we find typically, and what disappointed me in the process, was that business experts and leadership experts and trainers and coaches, everyone was saying, “Be proactive. It’s especially important in the workplace. It’s necessary for success,” but then no one was following it up to say how you actually do that and put it in practical terms. And that’s what I need. When I’m learning, I need practical step-by-step actionable advice, and that’s really what I set out looking for. And I found that I needed to talk to people, and I needed to talk to people who were ahead of the game, they seem to be always two steps ahead of people, and I needed to ask them, “How do you do it?” and break that down.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s a nice way to phrase that, “Always two steps ahead of the game.” And, indeed, to stop playing catchup, which is not fun. It’s sort of an exhausting mental place to be day after day. So, yeah, being, so 50 times as effective and not being stressed and exhausted and feeling behind like you’re catching up sounds like a real big why to deliver on. And I’m glad we’re going to dig into the how there because, you’re right, I think “Be proactive,” I think it’s also sort of like, “Be strategic.”

Stacey Boyle was a guest we had who said, “I kept hearing that.” I was like, “What does that mean and how do I do it?” So, yeah, lay it on us. How does one be proactive? What are sort of the fundamental skills and steps?

Chrissy Scivicque
Yes. Well, what I set out to do when I started this whole project was to create a framework. I’m a big believer in the step-by-step methodology. And so, what I came up with was basically a six-part framework. And so, as I’m digging into what it means to be proactive, I realized that we tend to think about it as being one single skill but, really, what it is, it’s this combination of six different skills.

So, it’s a blend of, I think of them really as cognitive skills and behavioral skills. So, it’s about how you think and it’s also about how you act. So, these six different skills all work together, and I can go through them at a really high level pretty quickly, and then we can dig in as you like from there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it. And I can’t help but think of Liam Neeson right now since we’re going to talk about a particular set of skills, and not for tracking down a kidnapped daughter, and hunting the criminals, but maybe we’ll prevent you from having to do that if you proactively apply these six things.

Chrissy Scivicque
I like the way you’re thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yes, please, lay it on us.

Chrissy Scivicque
Okay. So, we’ll start with the first one. The first one is big picture understanding. So, big picture understanding is really all about understanding your context, understanding the broad environment in which you’re operating. In the workplace, you need to think about, at the highest level, things like the economy, things that are happening in your industry, things that are happening in your professional field within your organization, within your team. You’ve got to keep an eye on all of that because that’s going to help you to make smart decisions for yourself and your career, and then also just on a day-to-day basis.

So, an example from my own career, I started my career in banking, and that was in the late ‘90s all the way up until 2008, which was just an incredibly turbulent time in the US economy. And it was really important for me to keep an eye on those things happening within our industry and the economy, and to watch that not only for my clients so I could be proactive on their behalf, but also for my own career. And, thankfully, I was able to kind of look out and make some decisions for myself that allowed me to leave the bank where I was working about three years before it became the largest bank failure in American history.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Chrissy Scivicque
And, really fortunate, you know, to be able to take that kind of a proactive step where, unfortunately, so many of my former colleagues lost their livelihood in that process. It was a really disastrous situation. But that’s the importance of the big picture understanding.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m intrigued there. So, I don’t know if you’re like The Big Short, like you put all the pieces together in terms of this is what’s going to go down. Or, how did you pull that off? Did you know precisely, “Okay, we got a problem with these mortgage-backed securities, and the ratings on them aren’t being…”? What did you know? And how did you get to know it? And how was that enough to say, “Uh-ok, let’s look around elsewhere”?

Chrissy Scivicque
I think it was paying attention. And I don’t want to, in any way, imply that I had some sort of unique knowledge. I don’t think it was that. I think it was just paying attention and really thinking through the implications of some of the things we were seeing. We were seeing extremely low interest rates. We were seeing mortgage standards had been incredibly deteriorated. People were over-leveraged. It was just this confluence of things happening that made me feel uncomfortable.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Like, something bad may be happening soon-ish that’s going to tend to hurt.

Chrissy Scivicque
Yeah, it’s kind of instinct and paying attention to that, and just the broader environment. I think a lot of people probably did see but they didn’t take action soon enough, and they kind of were hoping for the best, and they saw those same things happening, but one of the biggest problems with people being proactive is that it’s risky. For me to leave a secured job where I was making a lot of money and go somewhere else is a risk and with no guarantee of a successful outcome, and a lot of people don’t want to take risks. They’re willing to kind of wait it out until action is forced upon them. So, that’s the opposite of being proactive though. Being proactive, you’re taking that intelligent risk. You’re taking the information that you glean and making some intelligent choices.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s cool. So, there we go. First, big picture understanding. And then what?

Chrissy Scivicque
So, then, second, we have situational awareness. So, situational awareness is a term that we typically hear in things like self-defense classes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m thinking about FBI agents, being like, “Count how many lightbulbs there are in the room,” that kind of thing.

Chrissy Scivicque
Totally. Yes, exactly. It plays into our true crime stuff. But that’s exactly what it is, it’s being aware of your immediate surroundings. So, big-picture understanding is the high-level stuff, and then situational awareness kind of narrows it down to say that you’re paying close attention to the immediate things happening around you in the workplace. You’re not going on autopilot. You can’t be proactive if you’re on autopilot. You’ve got to be engaged. You need to be not only physically present but mentally present as well.

And sometimes it’s just really basic things, like you see that your boss is looking stressed out, and you know that he or she has a deadline coming up at 3:00 p.m. today, probably not a great time to barge in and say, “Hey, we got to talk about my career growth opportunities,” right? That’s just being aware of the situation and observing and listening with your eyes and your ears and your head and your heart. Being truly engaged in what you’re doing is a requirement to be proactive.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, that’s great. And then I could see all kinds of proactive opportunities already being opened up there, it’s like, “Hey, can I take something off your plate? We’re going to work through lunch, do you want me to grab you something?” It’s like, “I love this person.”

Chrissy Scivicque
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “This is the kind of proactive team member that I want to promote. Or I don’t want to promote because I’ll lose him. I want to give more money to keep him or her.” Something good will happen.

Chrissy Scivicque
Right. When I was an executive assistant, I remember, at first when I was working, I was supporting this leader, and he was notorious for at about 2:30-3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, we used to call him Hurricane Herv because he was just a hurricane. And I would always joke, “Oh, we can downgrade him to a tropical storm.”

But I finally put two and two together, situational awareness, I started to realize, “If he doesn’t have some true breaktime away from his desk, away from just the mental strain of what he’s doing in the middle of the day, by that 2:30-3:00 o’clock time, he’s going to be a hurricane.” So, I started to be more proactive about, “I’m going to block that time on your schedule, I’m going to walk into your office and make sure that you’re taking care of yourself.” And that was something that was additional, that kind of takes me from being the average assistant to being that whatever it was Stephen Covey said, that 5,000% improved assistant.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And so, now we started the story again. So, then that unfolded, what did Herv say? “Chrissy, you’re just the best ever, and I need to reward you for how wonderful you make my life”? How did that unfold?

Chrissy Scivicque
You know, I did pretty well in that role. I can honestly tell you that my title actually adapted over the time that I was there, and besides being an executive assistant, I also became the director of client communications because that was a key skill of mine that I was able to leverage in that role in kind of an unexpected way, and definitely earned some monetary rewards as well. I think that the biggest reward though is that that partnership that I was able to build with the person that I was supporting. It wasn’t just about checking the boxes and doing the tasks. It was about truly, “How am I helping you to be more valuable? How am I helping you to achieve your goals in unexpected ways, in ways that aren’t necessarily defined in my job description?”

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Okay. So, we got the big-picture understanding, the situational awareness. And then what?

Chrissy Scivicque
And then the third one is future focus. So, this is just about keeping one eye on what’s coming up. So, while you are paying attention in the moment to what’s going on with your situational awareness, you’re also thinking about what’s coming next. So, what’s coming up tomorrow, next week, next month, even next quarter and next year? Thinking about not only the events and the deadlines and those types of things that you need to be managing backwards to figure out what you need to do today to be successful with those things, but also thinking about your own future, and what you want to be building for yourself.

So, if you’re keeping your eye on the future and thinking, “Next year, I’d really like to get a promotion,” well, great. So, that means that this year, there’s things that you should be doing to set yourself up for that. Perhaps getting some more professional development, and perhaps speaking with your manager and finding out what those opportunities might look like, and letting them know what your goals are. So, you’re constantly thinking about the future and working backwards to say, “What do I need to do now so that that future becomes a reality?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about the fourth skill?

Chrissy Scivicque
So, then the fourth one we go into is strategic foresight. So, this is where I think the magic happens. It’s really what connects the dots. So, we start with big picture understanding, big high level. We then go to situational awareness which is all about where we are, future focus is all about where we’re going, and strategic foresight says, “Well, how do I get from here to there?” It connects the dots. It fills in all of those steps.

So, it’s kind of where you’re thinking about what the possibilities of the future might look like, and saying, “Okay. Well, what steps can I take to avoid problems, to leverage opportunities, overcome obstacles?” It’s basically filling in those gaps. Our former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, used to tell leaders to look for people who can see around corners. And that’s what this is. This skill is seeing around corners and figuring out, “Okay, what’s coming next? And what can I do to prepare for that thing that’s coming next?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. And the fifth skill?

Chrissy Scivicque
The fifth skill is intentional action. So, you’ve gone through all this, you can see what’s coming next, and you then take some action to go ahead and implement. You have more of a kind of a bias to action instead of waiting to have certainty about the future, instead of waiting for someone to direct you or instruct you, you go ahead and you do what you know needs to be done. So, that’s where Stephen Covey talks about taking initiative. That’s what this is, taking initiative, taking that intelligent risk even if it is you know uncertain but you go ahead and you do the right things to get yourself to that next step.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And sometimes the intelligent risk and the action-taking can be…it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I think with the risk, you say, “Hey, I noticed this and so I went ahead and took the liberty of doing that. Shall I order this thing I found, or should we book this?” As opposed to committing thousands of dollars to something that nobody asked for. You can invest a little bit of time identifying the thing and just asking for the approval.

Chrissy Scivicque
Yes. And sometimes the proactive thing that you can do is opening up the conversation, “I noticed this and I’m thinking that we can do this.” So, I don’t want to ever encourage anyone to take unnecessarily risky steps in the spirit of being proactive. Sometimes it really is just opening up that conversation, having a proactive conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And what’s the sixth and final skill?

Chrissy Scivicque
And then the final one is self-evaluation. So, this is where you look at how this is all working out for you, as Dr. Phil says, “How is it working out for you?” And asking yourself, “Am I staying ahead of things or are things catching me off guard?” And when things catch you off guard, asking, “Okay, was there something that I missed? Should I have seen this coming? Should I have done something different to prepare for this?” And in all of that, you develop these lessons and this new understanding that then goes right back into your big picture understanding. So, it’s all this wonderful beautiful cycle that continues.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is great stuff, and I kind of went a little bit quickly through the six skills, or asked you to go through them quickly, because I guess I want to see them all in action from one through six. And, in terms of an example, if I could, I might put you on the spot in terms of, okay, this podcast. You did your homework, and you may already have noticed some things that I should do or you could do, or you might recommend that I have somebody do. So, if I could, could I put you on the spot? And it’s okay if we get it wrong or you mis-assume. But could you maybe give us a demo from one through six, big picture understanding, “Hey, Pete and How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast, what are some proactive stuff one might do?”

Chrissy Scivicque
Interesting, Pete. I like this little thought experiment. Okay. Well, I think that we’re in a really interesting time to think about big picture understanding, right? Thinking broadly about everything that’s going on, you might want to think about how all of this work-from-home stuff is potentially going to impact what it means to be awesome at your job, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Chrissy Scivicque
So, big picture, thinking about that and thinking about how perhaps the needs of your audience are changing.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Chrissy Scivicque
Situational awareness would just be you’re continuing to look for immediate feedback from your audience, and interaction with them to find out what’s really speaking to them, especially right now in this time. Future focus, continuing to think about where you want your podcast to go for you and for your audience. And the strategic foresight piece would be connecting those dots, “Okay. Well, where we are right now and giving people what they need right now in this moment, how can we also be setting ourselves up for where we’re going in the future and how we’re expanding as a brand and our offerings?” Taking intentional action? Doing it, getting going, moving fast on it, so that you’re making moves. And then self-evaluation, always just looking back and thinking about, “Okay, what worked, what didn’t, what can we tweak for next time?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Great. Thank you. And so then, I’d love another example in terms of…that was one piece of listener feedback when you said, “I love it when you ask, ‘Can you give me another example?’”

Chrissy Scivicque
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, here we’re doing it, we’re taking some intentional action.

Chrissy Scivicque
Perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we heard about Hurricane Herv and the support you offered there. We heard about for me and the podcast and some proactive things to do. Could you tell us a fun story about someone who made the leap from, yeah, mostly reactive to mostly proactive and saw some great things happen through taking the six steps?

Chrissy Scivicque
Yeah, I have so many fun stories. I work a lot with support professionals and administrative professionals. As I said, I’m a very proud former executive assistant myself. So, last year, in fact, I worked with an executive assistant, she reached out to me when she had just been promoted to supporting someone in the C-suite at a global technology firm. It was her first time supporting at that level so she really wanted to set herself up for success, and really go in there with a strategic plan for how she was going to stay two steps ahead of this incredibly busy and very powerful woman she was going to be supporting.

And so, we developed together, essentially, kind of an interview list, some questions, again, that proactive piece being opening a conversation, some questions for her to ask and discuss with her new partner in the first few days of working together. And these were questions like, “What’s your preferred communication mode? What’s your communication style? How do you typically deal with stress? And how can I best support you when you’re under stress?” These great, high-level questions about how they can build this partnership.

And so, the new assistant had this conversation, and the executive was just floored by this approach and loved it so much that she said, “I want you to go and have this same conversation with these other executive leaders that you’re also going to be working with in this role, and do this exact same thing with them. And then let’s teach the other assistants to do this as well.” It’s a proactive approach to developing a relationship. You can apply the proactive approach to any aspect of your career: relationships, career management, tasks management, customer service. Everything.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that so much. And we had Mary Abbajay on the show talking about managing up, and this being sort of just a super powerful action that any professional can take. And in her experience, fewer than 1% do, to say, “Hey, what are your preferences in these ways?” And in so doing, I love it because a lot of people, when I suggested this, “Oh, that’s kind of weird.” It’s like, “It’s only weird because you haven’t done it, and it’s only weird because now you’ve been working with the person for two years, you feel like maybe you should’ve done it earlier. Now, why are we talking about this now?”

So, it’s just weird because it’s different but it doesn’t mean it’s bad. And so, in fact, being on the receiving end of that, I can tell you I just love it as a manager/leader. And you’re telling, with that story, that this senior executive loved it so much, she said, “Please spread this far and wide. This is fantastic.” And then other senior leaders made the time to do that with delight as opposed to, “Oh, why are we doing this? I’m too busy.” It’s all positive when you go there.

Chrissy Scivicque
Yes, absolutely. It sets you up for success, and that’s what I think is also important when you’re framing the conversation is that you’re letting them know that, “This is about designing the partnership that’s going to work for both of us, that’s going to allow me to be a better support for you.” And so, if they understand the value of taking that time, they’re much more willing to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then, tell us, if we’re trying to get going with our proactive selves and practicing these six skills, are there some top best practices and worst practices we should keep in mind to maximize our progress in building these skills?

Chrissy Scivicque
Absolutely. Yes. So, I would say the best and easiest thing you can do right now, aside from anything else we’ve talked about, if you’d just only do one thing, start asking yourself with everything you do, “What’s next? What else? What’s the next question? What’s the next need?” And then go ahead and answer that question or provide for that need before it is specifically asked for or requested.

So, I’ll give you a quick example of this because I look for it everywhere I go, and once I give this example, I’m betting you will too. So, customer service is a really easy place to see this. A lot of customer service people, unfortunately, they end up being very reactive, they only answer the specific question you ask, they are order-takers. And when they are more proactive and do this answering the next question thing, it’s very powerful and you notice it right away.

So, last year, I was in a hotel in Las Vegas, and I woke up at 5:00 in the morning, called down to the front desk, and I said, “Hey, do you have a Starbucks in the lobby?” And the front desk agent said, “Yes, we do.” And I was getting ready to say, “Great. Thanks,” and hang up the phone and head downstairs in my PJs to get my coffee, and then he stopped, and he said, “And it doesn’t open until 6:00.” So, he gave me this additional information that I didn’t think to ask. It was 5:00 a.m. in the morning, I’m not thinking about that. I’m just asking, “If you’ve got the Starbucks,” but he gave me the information that I really needed before I even thought to ask for it myself. And thank goodness because I didn’t want to be walking down there in my PJs for it to be closed.

And so, when you start to see that, and you go, “That was really proactive.” It’s a super small teeny tiny little thing, but thank goodness. And we can do that for our clients, we can do that for our managers, we can do that for our colleagues, even if they aren’t asking the direct question, even if they aren’t saying the direct thing they need, we know it a lot of the times. We have to own our own expertise, and say, “I know what it is that you aren’t thinking to ask. Let me go ahead and give you the information you need, and let me go ahead and get you that thing that you aren’t thinking of that you need.” We can do that.

And all it is, it’s that simple shift of starting to think about, “What else? What next?”

Pete Mockaitis
What’s so great about that example is, you’re right, anyone can do it, and there’s situational awareness in terms of, “Oh, I have a feeling I know what you’re driving at, it’s that you would like to have caffeine inside of you.” And then that’s so simple, “And it doesn’t open until 6:00.” And I guess, boy, this is a continuum. You can go all the way the distance in terms of, “However, there’s one across the street which is open right now.” And it’s like, “Okay.” Or you can take it even further in terms of, “You know, our staff is happy to acquire that for you and bring it up to your room. What would you prefer?”

And you can sort of then choose for yourself in terms of, “Hey, given my availability and my bandwidth and my boundaries and what’s appropriate, I can sort of draw the best line as opposed to just sort of defaulting to question answered. We are done now.”

Chrissy Scivicque
Right. It really puts you in a very powerful place of being, of true service to people. This is a skill that is trained at the Disney University. I don’t know if you’ve heard the story that the most common question that Disney cast members at Disneyland hear is, “What time is the 3:00 o’clock parade?”

Pete Mockaitis
“Where is the bathroom?”

Chrissy Scivicque
“Where is the bathroom?” is probably pretty common too. But, “What time is the 3:00 o’clock parade?” They don’t really mean that. The 3:00 o’clock parade is at 3:00 o’clock. Duh. But they’re frazzled and they’re pulled in a million directions, and, really, they want to know, “What’s the best place to watch the parade? What time will the parade get to me where I’m standing right now?” They’ve been standing in the hot sun in lines for hours so they’re not thinking clearly.

And Disney guest service people are taught to anticipate the true need. Don’t just answer that the 3:00 o’clock parade is at 3:00 o’clock. Give them what they really need and find that out. Inquire. Have some proactive conversations with them and anticipate their needs, “Well, right around here, if you watch from here, it passes by at 3:15 but I’d go over there by the ice cream shop.” Give them what they really need. You know what they need. They don’t know. They’re frazzled.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s great about that example is that your knee-jerk reaction, “That’s 3:00 o’clock, idiot,” in terms of, it’s like, “Why are you bothering me with this?” You can very much take an indignance sort of selfish knee-jerk reaction to it. But I think it’s also it just feels better from a humanity, happiness, energy experience in terms of thinking and operating that way, not so much, “How can I get through this interaction as quickly as possible because I have too much to do and I’m exhausted and frazzled to, ‘Oh, this person has a need, and I have an opportunity to delight them’?”

And I don’t want to seem too, I don’t know, Pollyanna or unrealistic, but I really did, with my first job, it was at Kmart, my first job like with the normal I delivered newspapers and did lawn stuff, but in terms of like a paycheck was at Kmart. They called me Pantry Pete because I worked in the pantry, that’s why.

Chrissy Scivicque
It’s good to have a nickname. Always good.

Pete Mockaitis
And I remember, they said in one of our training videos that we had the power to please, which meant like doing substitutions in terms of, “Oh, we’re all out of the 24-pack of Pepsi, that sale, but we can give them two 12 packs at the 24-pack price.” So, I just thought that was the coolest thing, one, because I’m 17 and I don’t have a lot of authority in a lot of ways, and that was just kind of cool, like, “Oh, I could do that. Yeah, power.” And, two, it was really nifty that it kind of got my creative service juices flowing, and it really was fun in terms of, “Oh, how could I delight someone?” It’s like, “Oh, we don’t have that, but you know what, there’s this other brand of thing which is almost really it’s the same thing. It’s nuts and caramel corn in a bag.” I could define that it’s just about what you’re after, it’s like, “Oh, I never heard of that. Okay. I guess Poppycock, Fiddle Faddle, Cracker Jack.”

Chrissy Scivicque
Same difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Pretty close.

Chrissy Scivicque
It’s great though. It brings us back to that big picture understanding, right, because it reminds you of your big picture purpose in your role. Pantry Pete is there to help delight customers and get them what they need. And so, you’re then given the power to proactively prevent a customer from being dissatisfied, so I love that. I think Disney does the same thing, right? It reminds their employees, “Big picture, we’re here to make magic, and these people have paid a ridiculous sum of money to be here. So, any opportunity you have to make magic, let’s do it even in super small ways. Answering the 3:00 o’clock parade question, you can make magic.” So, I think companies get it right when they empower their employees to do those kinds of things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Chrissy, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Chrissy Scivicque
I think I’ll just add that one of the things I hear frequently from people when they go through my training or they read the book, they come back and they tell me about the moment that it happens, that finally their boss or whoever finally says, “You read my mind,” because it’s such a powerful moment when you’re able to proactively anticipate someone’s needs and you come off looking like a mind reader. And I think that’s one of the coolest things about learning to be proactive is that you start to get that kind of reputation, “Oh, I’m a mind reader. I can figure out what you need before you even know you need it.”

And the first time that happens, it feels so good. And I’m not suggesting that I’m really teaching you how to be psychic. We never really know what the future holds, but we can always take some proactive steps to set ourselves up for success. So, I love that. And if you get that, anyone listening, if you get that moment when somebody tells you, “You read my mind,” and it feels great, let me know about it. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
And, boy, that’s just powerful in so many domains in terms of what’s up with your colleagues as well as I’m thinking about marketing now in terms of, well, the term mind reading makes me think of I took Ramit Sethi’s copywriting course, and there’s some useful stuff. And he talked about trying to understand people’s hopes and dreams, fears and pains, and barriers and obstacles. And, sure enough, once you get some of that, it’s like, “Oh, hey, I made content that’s quite relevant to you.” And that is really fun when you get those emails, like, “Yes, that’s exactly what I wanted.”

And then even when you’re making a landing page or a marketing communication or whatever, it’s just so much more resonant in terms of, “Yes, that is what I need. You, you get me. You read my mind.” And so, whether you’re collaborating, you’re marketing, you’re selling, you’re just being a great partner and friend.

Chrissy Scivicque
Yes, personal life as well, absolutely. Yes, we can be proactive for one another. We’re on the bus and we see somebody who needs a seat, we can stand up before they have to ask or beg for it. We can be proactive in literally every single aspect of our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Chrissy Scivicque
Yes. So, the biggest one that I rely on, this comes from Nelson Mandela, and he says, “Let your choices come from your hopes, not your fears.” And I hope to live my life like that. I don’t want to ever look back and regret that I didn’t do something because I was afraid. And I always encourage my coaching clients to do the same. Aim for what you hope for.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Chrissy Scivicque
I love the marshmallow study…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes.

Chrissy Scivicque
…where there’s kids and they’re given the option, “If you can not eat this one marshmallow, when I come back in 15 minutes, I’ll give you two.” And it’s all about the ability to delay gratification and self-manage. They followed the kids and what we find is that, with these skills, you have more success in life. The kids who were able to not eat the one marshmallow, and they earned the two marshmallows, they scored better on their SATs, and they were better at stress management. So, those are really important skills, they’re learnable skills, but they’re really great requirements for success in life and at work.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Chrissy Scivicque
The newest one that’s been added to my list is called Work Clean by Dan Charnas, I believe is the last name. And it’s such a fresh perspective on the topic of organization. He basically talks to and researches with world-renowned chefs, and talks about them working in these incredibly busy restaurant kitchens and how they manage the physical environment and create systems to be able to do that. So, it’s a really new idea, new way of looking at cleanliness and organization, and he applies it to the corporate world, which is really cool.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Chrissy Scivicque
I’m going to go old school on you, and I’m going to say good ole paper and pen, the Bullet Journal method. Ryder Carroll just did a book on this recently, and I’m loving it. Right now, I use a lot of tech systems, obviously, for just running my business, and sometimes I don’t want to look at another screen. I just love having my Bullet Journal.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Chrissy Scivicque
I’m going to give you probably an unusual one. I am a doodler, and I think that doodling is…I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. Every piece of paper, literally, that I’m looking at in front of me right now is covered in doodles. It’s a very relaxing habit. I know that it helps me to concentrate and listen more, particularly if I’m in a learning environment. So, as a trainer, whenever I see somebody doodling, I don’t mind it. I know it’s a really helpful way to kind of distract one part of the brain to concentrate on something else.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Chrissy Scivicque
Yeah, probably the one that I hear repeated most is that the more we manage the expected, the more capacity we have to deal with the unexpected. So, it gets back to the idea that certain things in the workplace are absolutely expected and predictable, and we want to manage those things as much as possible because crazy, unexpected things are going to come up. And when they do, we need to have capacity to deal with them. So, go ahead and manage anything that’s expected so that you can have that capacity to deal with the unexpected.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Chrissy Scivicque
I would love it if they would go to EatYourCareer.com. And you can check out my blog, you can join me for free training webinars, Q&A sessions, all sorts of great materials there for you.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Chrissy Scivicque
Final call to action is to trust yourself and trust your experience and your expertise, and realize that much of the time you know what to do. You don’t need to wait for anyone to give you permission or instruction. You have the figure-it-out skill, so trust yourself and be proactive, and just do it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Chrissy, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all the ways you’re proactive.

Chrissy Scivicque
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been great to be here with you.

593: Why Hard Work Isn’t Enough: Insights on Developing Your Career with Patty Azzarello

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Patty Azzarello shares three simple steps to finding more success and satisfaction in your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The top reason most people get stuck in their careers
  2. Why results don’t speak for themselves
  3. How a simple email can forge powerful relationships

About Patty

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She has more than 25+ years of experience working in high tech and business. She has held leadership roles in General Management, Marketing, Software Product Development and Sales. She has been successful in running and transforming large and small businesses, and has significant international management experience.

She is the founder of Azzarello Group, which works with CEOs and leadership teams to help their businesses (and people) get better at what they do. She is the author of the best selling books: RISE: 3 Practical Steps to Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader (and Liking Your Life), and MOVE: How Decisive Leaders Execute Strategy Despite Obstacles, Setbacks, and Stalls.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Patty Azzarello Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Patty, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Patty Azzarello
Hi, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we’re going to be talking about how to… I love the forced awkward segue. We’re going to be talking about how to rock out in your career and to rise, but you actually have some history in an actual rock and roll band. Tell us this story first.

Patty Azzarello
That is stating it a little bit generously. I started my own company 12 years ago and I created an advisory board for my company. And as I was putting the board together, one of the people noticed that, “You know, we could form a band.” There was a drummer, there was a keyboard player, there was a lead guitar player, and I describe myself as a willing singer. I’m not a great singer but I’m a willing singer. So, we got a rhythm guitar player and a bass guitar player to fill it out, and we were together for a couple years. We played a handful of gigs. It was super fun. It was just super, super fun.

Pete Mockaitis
One of the funnest parts about bands are their names. What name did you go with?

Patty Azzarello
You know, we never named our band.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Patty Azzarello
We never named it.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s even cooler.

Patty Azzarello
My business is called Azzarello Group. We just would call it The Azzarello Group band. It was sad.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it looks like you rose to power even in that context. Like, your name was the one that got to be on the band, so we’ve got some things to learn from you. So, you’ve done a whole lot of work and research in zeroing in on why some people rise or do not rise in their careers. And this is a fascinating topic. We had Carter Cast, he was a professor at Northwestern who talked about five career derailers. And you’ve got some insights yourself. So, lay it on us. Maybe could you start us off by what’s perhaps the most fascinating and surprising discovery you’ve made about what makes the difference between those who rise and those who don’t?

Patty Azzarello
Well, I think the thing that gets most people tripped up is that working hard is not the answer.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sweet.

Patty Azzarello
Like, just being great at delivering on your job description does not make you stand out. It helps you not get fired. But I find that people, they put their head down and they work super, super hard, and they do an excellent job, and they just have the sense that if the world is fair, they’re going to get tapped on the shoulder, and they’re going to get noticed, and they’re going to rise. But it doesn’t work that way. And it’s simply because everyone else is too busy to go find you and learn about what you’re doing, and you have to figure out how to advocate for yourself in a positive and productive way if you want to stand out and if you want to get the recognition necessary to get ahead.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, hardworking alone doesn’t cut it. Delivering well on the things on your job description doesn’t cut it. So, it sounds like you’re saying that’s necessary, like you need to do the thing that you were hired to do. And your book has three key sections: do better, look better, and connect better. So, do better, is that about the actual performance of your job?

Patty Azzarello
Yeah. So, if we just take the model very, very quickly, there are three parts to it, and the thing that a lot of people miss, and I missed in my own career before I learned this. I wish I had my book in the beginning of my career. It would have made things a lot easier than having to stumble and figure it out along the way. But I think the issue is that those three parts are all critical, and a lot of people just focus on the work. They only focus on the work.

So, do better is not just about delivering on your job description, but it’s about making sure that you are delivering value, and you’re not judging your value by being busy. You’re judging your value by, “Am I really delivering things of high value?” Look better is about your reputation and making sure you’re not invisible, because if you’re invisible, you don’t get noticed, you don’t get promoted. And it’s not about being political at all. It’s about communicating in the right way about your work, so you are sharing the value that you deliver. And then, connect better is simply about meeting support. The most successful people are the ones who get the most help. They’re not the ones that are so brilliant all on their own that they can just soar with their own efforts. And being able to get help and ask for help, and build the network and support you need is a critical skill.

It’s funny, every once in a while, when I’m on a stage and there’s questions from the audience, I get the question “Patty, do you have any natural tendencies or habits or traits that think helped you in your own career success?” And the first thing that always comes to mind is a willingness to ask for help. One of my superpowers is just asking for help, learning from smart people, accepting help, putting that help into practice, and I couldn’t have done any of the things that I did without people helping me.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, excellent. So, that’s a nice little overview there in terms of the three components: do better, look better, connect better. I want to touch upon each of them in some level of depth. I’m curious, would you say that if your goal is to rise in terms of to be promoted, to earn more money, to get a cooler, more high-visibility, high-impact, sexier, if you will, projects, if that’s what you’re up to, then would you say that the do better, look better, connect better are of equal importance? Or if you had to do 100% allocation, how would you split it up?

Patty Azzarello
The most important thing is to make sure that none of those are zero.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Patty Azzarello
It’s not that you have to have a particular balance or have the same balance at any point in time. But if you think it’s just all about the work, and the other two things aren’t important, you’re going to get stuck.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I like that view, it’s like make sure that nothing is zero because I see a spreadsheet in my mind’s eye in terms of, “Okay, I can multiply three things, like zero to 100. So, then the product of these three figures could be anywhere from zero to one million, one hundred times a hundred times a hundred.” And, sure enough, anything multiplied by zero is zero. So, even if there’s a master of someone who looks really awesome and connects just fantastically, if their actual ability to produce the work is at zero, then they’re going to kind of hit a brick wall pretty soon, in terms of like, “Hey, we gave you this because we love you and you know all the people, but you didn’t even do it. I can’t trust you anymore.” So, the rise concludes. So, that’s handy. Make sure none of them are zero.

And I’m sort of imagining, if I multiply them out, what’s that look like? And maybe I’m not at zero but I’m like at two of a hundred in terms of like connecting. So, that’s really a bottleneck. Well, that’s my mathematical brain. You said avoid zero, that’s where I went. So, let’s dig in then. So, with do better, you mentioned that it’s not about being busy. It’s about value. And value is…well, hey, I’m a former strategy consultant, so that’s a word that can fall into jargon territory pretty quickly. What do you mean by value and how do we identify whether we’re doing something that’s high value or low value?

Patty Azzarello
Well, if you think about how you end up spending your work days, there’s a lot of crap that filters in. And the first step is to identify the low-value activities, to identify the chaotic, repetitive, low-value activities, and just develop this habit of saying, “This is not worth this much time.” If you can just develop that habit, and not let yourself get swept away in a bunch of low-value activity, by definition, what you do work on is going to have more value.

But beyond that, I think it’s really important to look at what you’re working on and give yourself some time to think about it, and assess it, and judge it, and look at it, and say, “Where is the value coming from? Is this helping customers? Is this creating efficiency? Is this helping us all communicate better? What are the good things of value that are happening when I complete this work?” And I find when you start thinking about that, you start having the ability to add more value.

Now, if you want to go right to the heart of value, understand the P&L of your business, understand the business model, understand where the company makes money, understand where the revenue comes from, where the profit comes from, where the costs are. And the more you understand that, you might have a job as an individual contributor in a customer service or support department, but when you start thinking about the P&L of the business and the P&L of service and support, you start to realize, “If I could serve customers faster and better, that’s value.” Like, just turning the crank and doing, answering the same question over and over again is doing your job. But thinking about it, and saying, “I’ve answered this question 47 times in the past two days. Maybe I’ll suggest getting to the root cause of it so we can avoid that question entirely and the organization spends zero time asking that question.”

So, no matter where you are, what level you’re at, what role you’re in, you can always be looking at how the work is done, and thinking of ways to improve it, and to make it better. And that’s what I mean by value.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s really great in terms of, you know, I think there was a Dilbert book called Always Postpone Meetings with Time-Wasting Morons. And so, not to be pejorative of…every human being has intrinsic value. But some activities certainly, and some meetings certainly, just don’t do much, or maybe even do negative value adding. And so, one, I think just sort of having your radar up, and saying, “Huh, how is this good and useful?”

And then, sometimes, it’s like, “You know what? No one’s asked that question in five years, and we should’ve stopped doing this a long time ago now that you mentioned it.” That can sometimes be the outcome of just having that habit of regularly questioning. And I’m thinking, even if you’re not in a business organization, the value could be governmentally, sort of serving constituents or nonprofit, like fulfilling the mission and the impact metrics that you’re after there. So, roger, you’re thinking about that, what’s viable, what’s not so viable, what is the good this results in.

And I think, often, it’s great to, I’d love your take on this, to diplomatically ask those sorts of questions. I mean, you probably don’t want to say, “Does anyone care about this crap anyway?” But you do kind of want to educate yourself and get perspective on how something is viable or not viable. So, do you have any pro tips or scripts for how we ask that question without insulting people?

Patty Azzarello
Yeah. So, in two directions here. So, this happens so frequently, an executive will ask somebody to do something, and the person runs off and starts doing it because they believe they have to do it best and immediately because an executive asked, therefore, it’s super important, just because the executive asked for it. That is so not true. Executives ask for things all the time, and they have no idea what they’re asking for. They just have no idea of the costs of asking a question.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, intriguing. So, you’re saying they know what they want but they have no idea what the cost is.

Patty Azzarello
Right. So, an example is, when I was an executive, I asked my financial manager, “What is the headcount of our organization?” in the hallway, and I expected him to say, “Eleven hundred and thirty-seven.” And he said, “Well, it depends.” I’m like, “What do you mean?”

And he said, “Well, if you want an answer that is 90%-95% accurate, I can probably get that to you by the end of the day. But if you want it more like 97% accurate, I’ll have to wait till tomorrow morning because I’ll have to pull the organizations in Europe and Asia, and that might take even two days. But if you need it really accurately, it’ll probably take about two weeks because we’ll have to pull all of the open job wrecks, and all of the reports of people who are leaving, and rationalize that.” And my head was just exploding, thinking, “Oh, my God, don’t do any of that. Like, I literally thought you could answer my question in the moment.” And I said, “Do the shortest one. Do the shortest one.”

And so, a great way to match the value of a work to the time you invest in it, and make sure there’s a good match there, is to simply ask yourself the question, ask the executive the question, before you start working, “How much time and effort is this outcome worth? Is it worth an hour? Is it worth a week? Is it worth a half a day?” And if you can really understand that upfront, you’re going to do a much better job and you’re not going to be running around in circles wasting time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I tell you, that’s such a powerful question. I love the way you articulated that because it can vary massively, and you have no idea. And just assuming it’s at one level is bad news. Like, sometimes the answer is, “It is worth more than your entire annual compensation package to nail this perfectly.”

Patty Azzarello
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, okay, then. And then other times it’s like, “Oh, I mean, please spend no more than 10 minutes doing what you can do on this.”

Patty Azzarello
Yeah. But just because an executive asked doesn’t mean it’s like your life is dependent on doing it great and immediately.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Perfect. And so, under do better, you make a point that we should become less busy. That sounds appealing, and we kind of mentioned we should become less busy just by eliminating low-value activities. Do you have additional reasons for why we should become less busy?

Patty Azzarello
Well, so first and foremost, if you burn up all of your time on delivering just what’s in your job description and you’re overwhelmed by it, look better and connect better are going to be zero.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Patty Azzarello
So, first and foremost, it’s important to be less busy for that. But it’s also important to be less busy because you’re a human being that has a life outside of work that also matters, and just grinding yourself up in your work is not my definition of success. My definition of success is that your job has to fit into your life in a way that your life works. And a big part of that is being less busy. And if you’re so busy, you’re not adding as much value as you could because you’re just not thinking about it.

So, the advice I give in terms of how to become less busy, there’s a ton of advice in my book Rise which we don’t have time to go through all of it here, but the one thing that I think is a must to start thinking about is what I refer to as ruthless priorities. And what I mean by ruthless priorities is to be very ruthless on choosing them, and then be very ruthless about protecting them and actually getting them done. And so, if you’ve got 25 things, 25 super-duper important priorities on your task list, you’re not going to get them all done. You’re just not. No one ever does. But if you try to start saying, “I’m going to put these in rank order, or I’m going to draw a cut line,” your head starts to explode because everything seems so important you just feel like you got to do it all.

What I like to do in that case is go through each one and ask the question, not, “Is this important?” but “How bad would it be if I failed at this?” And I find if you ask that of your 25 things, there’s going to be a couple that suddenly rise to the top. And that’s one way to choose your ruthless priorities. But choosing a ruthless priority does not mean you don’t do anything else. It just means that you have one or two things, you’re not going to have 25 or even five ruthless priorities, you’re going to have one or two, and you’re going to protect them, and you’re going to commit to yourself, “No matter what, I’m going to get that one done. No matter what else is happening in the world, I am going to get this one thing done, and I’m going to protect it.”

And, typically, if you choose one thing, it doesn’t take up 100% of your time, so you have the rest of your time to deal with all the flak and other stuff that you still have to do, but you wake up every morning, and you say, “I am going to de-risk that ruthless priority,” and then you finish it. Hallelujah! Like, people love to finish things. And then you pick the next one. And I find that by doing and focusing in a ruthless way on one important thing at a time, you can sort of cut through the chaos, and even if you stay very busy, you’re getting the high-value thing done, and the busyness is not getting you stuck anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
And, actually, I want to zero in on the Hallelujah portion of that because I think that what’s great about that ruthless-prioritizing question there is by taking the time to surface your own kind of emotional anxiety, angst, associations with the to-do list, and then nailing the things that, in a way, have the most hidden terror embedded within them, you really will experience a sense of release and freedom and urgency, stress, anxiety leaving you.

And this happened to me many times. Like, I’ve just been surprised, like, “Oh, I feel so much lighter now that that is done, and I don’t think I even knew that I would feel that way.” But, now, with your question, I will probably more frequently be able to identify that in advance and bring into the prioritization. Very cool.

Okay. Well, let’s talk about looking better. Yeah, how do we do that?

Patty Azzarello
I love a comment. I got an email from a woman in the UK who said, “Patty, I read your book Rise, and I got two pay raises and a promotion.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Patty Azzarello
I was like, “Wow! Like, what did you do? What did you learn? Tell me more.” So, I sent her an email, and she came back and she said, “It was the look better part.” She had been kind of at a zero on look better. She was in a marketing company, and she was in charge of events, getting people to events. And she was growing the event business for two years. She tirelessly worked to grow their event business, and she was in a meeting with the CEO.

And the CEO looked at the spreadsheet, and said, “Huh, I thought, in general, the event business, the event market was declining. I guess it’s not, because our numbers look good.” And her valiant efforts were invisible. He just assumed he had made a wrong assumption about the market, and their event business was growing because the market was growing.

Pete Mockaitis
Au contraire.

Patty Azzarello
And it was such a wakeup call for her to hear from my work that you have to be an advocate for the value that your work creates. And so, she immediately started communicating about all the things she learned about how to grow their event business ahead of a declining market and make it a growing business for them. And she didn’t just run around bragging, “Look what I did,” but she shared meaningful nuggets of work that other people could learn from, and suddenly she got that positive visibility, and her career just took off with more pay and promotions because she connected the dots.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, that is very illustrative in terms of just the assumptions people make about why even if you’re doing amazing work that’s creating amazing results, you think, “Hey, the results speak for themselves.” They don’t. We’re just making it. Even when the executive had that context of, “Oh, I thought that market was declining. Well, I guess it’s not.” Yeah, that’s excellent. So, point taken. You got to share that with people. And I guess do you have some pro tips on how that happens?

Patty Azzarello
Yeah. So, there’s a chapter in the book that’s titled “Be visible but not annoying.” And this is where I really want to emphasize again that I’m not talking about being political, and I’m not talking about just having a good talking game without results to back it up. The results absolutely do matter. But the thing that people struggle with is, “Oh, I don’t want to be self-promoting. I don’t want to come off like I’m bragging. I don’t want to be annoying.”

The reality is if you have those concerns and fears, you’re never going to be annoying. You don’t have it in your DNA, so I try to get people to stop worrying about it. But we all know people who are advocating for themselves and their careers absent of results, and that is super annoying. The magic formula here is simply to ask yourself, “Is what I communicate of value to the people I share it with?” And if the answer is yes, you’re not being annoying. So, you don’t just around saying, “Look what I did.” You run around saying, “Look at what the company can do now. As a result of this project being completed, we are now in a different space and we can accomplish X, Y, Z which we couldn’t do before.”

And it’s important to tell people that because, Pete, you finished your work, and if you never share, “Now what? Now this value is here, what can we do with it? What can we learn from it? How can we build on it?” you’re missing an opportunity to create even more value. So, if you think about the way you communicate as creating value, because you’re sharing how to collect the winnings of the results you delivered, that’s never annoying. People are like, “Wow! That’s fantastic. I can use that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s a great point in terms of things change all the time and you develop new capabilities, and as a result, that’s going to come up from time to time in terms of, let’s say, oh, even if it’s sort of like deep in the internals of the organization, like, “Oh, but, yeah, we probably don’t have the data on that.” It’s like, “Well, we used to not have that but once we upgraded with the ABC, we can now pull this by this, this, and that.” It’s like, “Oh, well, okay then. Great move.”

Patty Azzarello
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“Please go get the data on that since we now can,” and then they’ve been made aware. I like that in terms of the point is not, “Look at me, I’m awesome.” The point is, “It’s valuable and we can do something now,” or maybe the context has shifted, or there’s a new opportunity in terms of, “We’ve been getting great results with so and so who’s been quite pleased so they might be the perfect partner to want to explore doing a new thing.”

Patty Azzarello
Right. So, if you don’t mind, before we leave look better, I just want to make one more point on that, which is the importance of understanding how you are perceived.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Patty Azzarello
That’s another thing that sometimes just goes to zero for people. They don’t worry about it, they don’t think about it, but it’s your reputation. And if you want to get recognized, if you want to get promoted, you have to understand what your reputation is, and you have to recognize how you’re perceived. And the way I like to advise people on this is to think about what it would look like if you were to put in your best self forward, and then try to do that on purpose. Try to do that with intention. Because a lot of times we’ll do something, we’ll do a presentation, we’ll do a negotiation, we’ll deliver something, and have the internal reaction of, “Man, I was brilliant,” but you feel surprised by it.

And isn’t it a shame to be so surprised? And it’s kind of a copout to be surprised. Why not try to be brilliant on purpose more of the time? Why not be more intentional about showing up as your best self more of the time? And, again, that’s nothing about being political. It’s just about committing to show up stronger and to be present and to give more in the work environment to give more value because you are showing up. That’s another key part of look better.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s interesting how that can then translate into particular actions that you take. In some ways, you might say, “Well, hey, it’s kind of out of my control. I have good days and I have bad days. Sometimes I’m in the groove, sometimes I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” But, in practice, right off the bat, things like, “Hey, well, I could sleep. I could exercise. I could eat a healthy meal. I could think in advance of the meeting what specific outcome am I looking for, what are likely to be their main concerns, and how could I bring something that will address those concerns.”

So, it’s interesting that, in a way, hey, our general mood does shift day to day and we’re not in complete control of that. In another way, there’s some key sort of levers that we can all pull. Are there any kind of recurring leverage practices you recommend in terms of being able to show up at our best more frequently?

Patty Azzarello
Yeah, there’s a chapter in Rise, and I’ve got also a lot of other resources on my website on this topic, of the idea of understanding your personal brand, and that’s your reputation. Your personal brand is whatever everybody else says it is based on their interaction with you. And so, yes, we all have our good days and bad days, and low energy and so forth, but if you can think ahead of time about what it is you would like to be known for, that can help you be purposeful about it even if you’re having a bad day.

So, if you would like to be known for the person that sorts through the chaos and the clutter in a complicated situation and always has a creative, clear answer, keep that switch turned on. And even if you’re having a bad day, “Oops, this is a complicated conversation, this is time for me to use my superpower.” And if you think about that ahead of time, you stand a much greater chance of doing it consistently.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Great. And then how do we do that connecting better?

Patty Azzarello
You know, connect better, as I said earlier, one of my superpowers has been asking for help. This is another area where a lot of people go to zero which is just networking, just keeping their professional network going. And what I say, there are two elements to networking. One is meeting new people, and the other one is keeping in touch with people you already know. And the second one is actually where all the value is, because once you meet a new person, they become somebody you already know, and if you don’t put any effort into that relationship, there was no value in making the connection in the first place.

And so, what I tell people – and I tell introverts, and I’m also an introvert so this was not natural for me, I had to learn it myself – is that even if you dislike the idea of meeting people so much that you never want to meet a new person ever again for the rest of your life, you should still be networking with the people you already know because that’s where the value is. And that’s actually a lot less scary to people who have a fear of networking.

And what I like to say is, “Let’s just cross out the word networking and instead use the word be generous.” That’s what networking is, it’s reaching out to people, it’s being kind, it’s saying hello, it’s asking if you can help them, it’s sending them interesting things, it’s actually being helpful. The more of that you do, the more you are going to have an army of people who want to help you when you suddenly need help.

And so, you don’t have to try to match it up one-on-one, but it’s more of a karmic thing that always be giving, and always be giving more than you’re taking. And if you’re doing that, you’re going to have so much capital in the bank that people are just going to be so happy to help and support you when you need something. And it’s really that easy. Just be generous and invest some non-zero time in reaching out to people you already know and being generous.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you mentioned a few ways in which we can be generous. I suppose there’s push and pull. Like, you can be generous when someone asks a question, you can either give them the shortest possible reply that finishes that email and gets it out of the inbox. Or you can really thoughtfully think, “Oh, you know, what is it they’re trying to achieve here? It seems like this. I imagine this should probably be difficult given A, B, C constraints, restrictions. I know someone who might be able to help with that.” And so then, there’s one way that you’re generous when a request is made of you. How do you recommend we be generous when no one is asking for anything?

Patty Azzarello
Yeah, it’s so simple. “Hello.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Patty Azzarello
I know when I get an email from somebody I haven’t heard from in years, and they just say, “I was thinking about you and wanted to say hello.” That brightens my day. Absolutely. And if those people…I have people in my life that do that regularly maybe once a year or so. If they ever need anything from me, I’m so happy to do it because I feel like we’re connected, I feel like the connection is current. It’s really that easy.

And I often challenge people in workshops, I say, “How many meaningful network…?” Like, they say, “I’m too busy for networking,” which just means, “I don’t like networking and I don’t want to prioritize it.” And I say, “I don’t believe anybody is too busy to not be able to spend 30 minutes a month doing something intentional. How many networking outreaches could you do in 30 minutes?” Now, if you’re using LinkedIn or Facebook, a gazillion. Like, like, like, like, like, a couple of comments, you’ve got a lot of hits.

But if you wrote thoughtful emails, you could probably write five thoughtful emails in 30 minutes. And if you did that once a month, you would have done a thoughtful outreach to 60 people in a year, which is infinitely bigger than zero and it’s a value. And so, I really challenge people to do that, and they’re like, “Well, what do I do?” And I say, “Just say, ‘Hi, I was thinking about that project we worked on together and that funny thing happened, and I just wanted to say hello. And here’s what I’m doing. My kids just started college. No need to reply. Just thinking about you. But if you do get a minute, I’d love to hear what’s up with you.” Something like that.

It’s easy for them to read, it doesn’t take a lot of time, you’re giving them something. And this woman said to me, she came back to another workshop of mine three or six months later, and she said, “Patty, when you told me to do that, I thought that was the stupidest thing I ever heard. I just thought that was the stupidest thing I ever heard. I thought it was just a waste of my time, a waste of the other person’s time to have an email with no useful relevant content in it, but I took your dare, and I did it.” And she said, “I have to thank you because it has been wonderful. I have gotten back so much from these simple outreaches that have just made me smile and a few useful things even happened.” And it’s there you go. It’s another Hallelujah moment.

We tend to, I think, sometimes think about networking as this big scary thing where you’re supposed to go schmooze with highly-important influential people and get them to do something for you in the first meeting. It’s like, “No. Say hello to your friends.” That’s networking.

Pete Mockaitis
And I love how there’d been many friends that I’ve wanted, intended to reach out to, and it’s almost like a vicious cycle in terms of, “Oh, it’s kind of been a while. I feel like it’s been a while. Then I really got to bring it in terms of…” But it could just be, I love what you said, it’s like, “Hey, I was thinking about you and how we did this thing. Hope you’re doing well,” and just maybe like a comment, like, “That was really funny,” or, “I really appreciate how you did this.” It’s like, “This has come up again and again,” or, “I still haven’t thrown away your Christmas card because you’re, oh, so adorable, and it’s on my desk. Hope you’re doing well.”

Patty Azzarello
Exactly. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Well, tell me, any final thoughts you want to share before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Patty Azzarello
So, just two more ideas in connect better that I’ll just mention very quickly. One of them is what I refer to as the experience paradox. And what I mean by that is a lot of people say, “Patty, I want this job but I don’t have the experience, so nobody will give me this job.” And what I mean by the experience paradox is you can’t get the job without the experience, but you can get the experience without the job.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Patty Azzarello
And so, if you’re thinking of career development, that’s what career development is, is to set your sights on the job that you want, and go learn about it, talk to people, just immerse yourself in that job that you want, and look for crumbs to pick up, projects you can volunteer on to get some experience in that job. That sort of connection is really a shortcut to advancing.

And then the other thing I want to mention before I leave connect better is if I look at my own career, the outside of my own efforts, there was nothing more impactful for me than having mentors. And if you don’t have mentors, go get one. Talk to smart people and be learning from smart people. And, for me, it doesn’t need to turn into some like awkward marriage proposal of, “Will you be my mentor?” because you can just learn from smart people and they never know that they’re your mentor.

But if a relationship sparks and you find that you’re talking to the smart person a few times, all you need to do is say something like, “You know, these conversations have been so incredibly valuable for me, and I’ve been putting the things that you say into practice, and they’re working, and I’m so grateful for that. I’m starting to think of you as a mentor. Would it be alright, maybe, if I got on your calendar on a more regular basis, once a month for half an hour?” And if they say yes, you’ve got a mentor. It’s as easy as that. And do it.

Advancing your career without mentors is like climbing Mt. Everest without a Sherpa and a guide. Like, yeah, you could give that a try, but why on Earth would you? Get the help.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Yeah. And it’s interesting how even in the mentorship example, it’s the experience first and then the role, if you will, of mentor protégé. It’s like, “Hey, we’re already been doing this for a while and we’re seeing that.” Very cool.

Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Patty Azzarello
So, the first one is from Picasso, and it is that, “Inspiration does exist but it has to find you already working.” And I just love that because if you’re doing any kind of creative work, if you just sit there and wait for inspiration, it just doesn’t work that way. But if you’re willing to just kind of sit yourself down and start doing it badly, just start, then that’s when the inspiration comes. And I found that over and over again in my life.

My other favorite quote is from Mary Anne Radmacher, which is about courage, and it’s “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” And I think, particularly now, where there’s so much extra stress and pressure and uncertainty, we can’t underestimate the value of just coping, of just trying again tomorrow, “If I didn’t set the world on fire today, that’s fine. I’m going to show up again tomorrow.” I think that’s just so important.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Patty Azzarello
The one thing I have been a student of is success and watching successful people and learning from successful people. And the area that I’m most fascinated by is what it takes, is what the investment is behind that success. Because I think a lot of times we have a tendency to look at success and think it was easy for the person, and I love understanding, “What was not easy about that?” I’m fascinated by that. And I have another quote by Michelangelo, which just cracks me up, which is, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And how about a favorite book?

Patty Azzarello
In terms of like business books and books that enrich your knowledge, one of my favorite, favorite books is Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, about how to communicate effectively. That was just like a lightning bolt, and that kind of changed everything for me. I love that book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

Patty Azzarello
My cheque book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Patty Azzarello
If you look in my tool drawer in my house, I have a hammer, and I have duct tape, I have a couple of screwdrivers, and if it can’t be fixed with that, I use my cheque book. And I’m not a gadget-y person. I have probably the fewest apps on my devices of anyone that I know, but one of my roads to success was just realizing there are certain jobs I shouldn’t do, and just being willing to outsource and get someone else to do some of the things that are not in my wheelhouse is my favorite tool – delegating.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Patty Azzarello
I started about five years ago committing to exercise every single day. And for the first two years, I had a 100% record. And what was fascinating to me about that was it required much less discipline to make it not optional, because before it’s like, “Will I? Won’t I? Will I do a harder workout tomorrow?” I spent so much mental anguish in deciding on a given day whether or not I was going to exercise. And as soon as I made it not optional, boom, I got so much mental time back, and it required so much less discipline. So, I’ve been doing that for about five years now. I don’t have a perfect record anymore but I miss a handful of days a year, which, for me, is close enough.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with people; they quote it back to you frequently?

Patty Azzarello
You know, it kind of gets back to our theme that’s been running through this conversation about not staying too busy. And it’s one of the most highlighted things in my book Rise which is, “You have to find a way to deal with all of the work, not do all of the work.” You can’t just let stuff drop on the floor, but, man, don’t just do it all as it comes across the table. Deal with it all and do the stuff that matters.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Patty Azzarello
I would point them to my website, which is AzzarelloGroup.com. And I also have an online professional development program that’s called my Executive Mentoring Group. And you can find that at ExecutiveMentoringGroup.com, or if you don’t want to type so much, ExecMentorGroup.com.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Patty Azzarello
Schedule some time to think. If you’re not doing that already, schedule some time to think, and use it to conquer your busyness, and make sure that the look better and connect better portions of your efforts are not zero. But it all starts with scheduling time to think. Give yourself that gift.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Patty, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and all the more rising.

Patty Azzarello
Thank you. It’s been super fun.