A Sneak Peak: 12 Months of Meaningful Improvement

NYE-1 copyI’ve been working diligently over the past couple of weeks to build out my 2015 bucket list, and a lot of the ideas I’ve been stumbling upon have had a 30-day theme… 30 days of going the extra mile, or 30 days of self restraint. So I thought I’d make a year of it. In addition to my standard tasks and dreams, I’m going to spend the year making meaningful improvements.

When I first shared this list with AB, his response was “It sounds like you’re just trying to torture yourself,” so I wanted to explain some of the background and thought process behind each month. Some are or will be harder than others, but as a habit takes minimum 21 days to stick, the idea is that if it sticks, I can carry over good habits into the following months. So as a little sneak peak to my 2015 bucket list, I present 2015’s 12 Months of Meaningful Improvement:

January: Month of using zero disposable cups or bottles. This seems pretty straightforward, but I’m a big fan of being environmentally friendly. I also wanted to start with something doable but still impactful. I will be carrying with me my Klean Kanteen, so I can still make trips to Starbucks and grab some water, but will limit that impact.

February: Month of drinking nothing but water (and protein shakes). AB made the caveat about protein shakes, because I would otherwise be lacking in my post-workout protein intake. But this means no coffee, no alcohol, no high-calorie drinks, no afternoon diet Coke, etc. It’s something of a cleanse, and I’m also hoping it saves a little money, too. I’d really like to limit my alcohol intake in the coming year. I find that while I enjoy a little wine or whiskey at home, I’m really tired of going out.

March: Month of no television. I wholeheartedly acknowledge that this will be the most difficult month. I watch a few shows with AB and may or may not keep watching these (technically, they’re online). However, I want to eliminate my habit of turning on the TV and browsing the web, post-work. I will instead read, write, draw, cook, clean, or call loved ones.

April: Month of meatless Mondays. My food philosophy tends to be “meat-on-the-side” anyway, but I want to make a conscious effort to limit my meat intake for a slew of reasons. Meat is expensive, detrimental to the environment, and can cause some serious health issues. Now, I don’t have a poor or meat-dense diet, so I’m not particularly invested in being veggie again, but I think that limiting my intake will help encourage me to be mindful of my consumption.

May: Month of twice-weekly blog posts. It’s pretty clear I’ve been struggling to post regular content here – really for about a year. I attended Alt Summit last year, which was super inspiring, but I don’t feel that I have a niche for MSW anymore. I want to actively combat that – to fake it ’til I make it by posting regular content.

June: Month of morning walks. I haven’t yet figured out how this will impact my morning workouts – it might be that my walk from the gym to the office counts, but really I just want to get out and spend some time in the daylight. Walking was always a good opportunity for me to reboot or foster creativity, and I’d love to challenge myself to get outside and enjoy a little fresh air. It might instead mean taking a walk at lunch… we’ll see.

July: Month supporting only small / local businesses. This will be hard for me, because it means to chains and no Amazon. I’ll still be buying groceries, as usual, but want to limit any discretionary spending, and force myself to be more conscious of how I spend my month.

August: Month without shopping. I know, I know. The blasphemy. Emergencies and food (from the grocery store) are allowed. Beyond that, I’m skimping.

September: Month without taking a cab. This is both to encourage myself to walk, and to save money. I spend a lot of money on cabs.

October: Month without gluten. Just shut up and do it. Ughhh. I know going gluten-free is super trendy right now, and for the past several years. I’m not in it to lose weight. Really, I think that gluten intake impacts my allergies. And I don’t want to be itchy all the time. I’ve tried out gluten-free and felt amazing but it’s an INCREDIBLY difficult diet to maintain. It takes a lot of planning.

November: Month of daily gratitudes. In brainstorming these months, I noticed a lot were about limiting myself. But during the month of Thanksgiving, I want to emphasize everything I’m grateful for – even the small things. This might mean journaling about my “gratitudes,” it might mean just saying a silent thank you at the end of the day, or it may mean doing “high-low” – a game of sorts where each person lists their high point and their low point of the day – over dinner

December: Month of random acts of kindness. And in the theme of the holidays, I want to extend my cheerfulness to others in the form of random acts of kindness. Everything counts – it doesn’t have to be a grandiose gesture. Donating when prompted at checkouts, holding the door for a stranger, surprising a coworker with coffee. Should be a wonderful year?

Inspired to try some meaningful months yourself, or write an annual bucket list? Share it with me or in the comments – I’m always looking for new ideas.

TED Talk Tuesday: Maria Forleo talks lilies and leaches

So maybe this isn’t a TED talk, but I’m still reeling from all the inspirational content that was covered in Alt for Everyone, and had to share. The below video was spurred by the Overcome Overwhelm session with Hilary Rushford and Whitney English. While Hilary was able to wax poetic on her macro vs. micro planning, and how important it is to say no, Whitney designs and sells her own planners on Etsy—they’re beautiful, functional and the second I posted a picture of them to Instagram, my coworker commented about having one of those lusted-after planners and loving it.

The video features ADHD expert Ned Hallowell, who touches on five tips for entrepreneurs and creative types—great advice for anyone who easily feels overwhelmed and wants to work smarter, not just harder. His tips are:

Define clear and specific goals. Set three daily goals, three weekly / biweekly goals, three long-term goals to meet in the next 6-12 months, and three lifetime goals. This forces you to prioritize and ensure that the work you’re doing is in pursuit of “the big picture.” You also know me and goals. They’re my crack.

Avoid “sceen sucking.” This is an incredible term. How often do I log into my computer just to check my email, and then end up putzing. It’s estimated that out of every hour, 20 minutes are spent unproductively because people end up sucked into their screens. Instead, Hallowell suggests allocating a specific time or times each day to devote to email and online interaction.

Change the default response from “yes” to “let me get back to you.” Not only does this ensure that you’re not over-committed, but it this helps ensure that you only take on projects that are true to yourself or true to your brand and help further those longer-term goals.

Never worry alone. To try to avoid constant toxic worrying, (1) never worry alone, (2) get the facts so it’s not as overwhelming and you know what you’re working with, and (3) make a plan. This is something that I can 100% implement in my own life nowadays; I have a tough time differentiating between worry and genuine stress, so getting the facts and making a plan will help me avoid the nagging stomach ache of stress.

“Cultivate lilies and get rid of leeches.” I love this one: Lilies are people or projects that are worth the time and energy you invest in them, and who give back. Leeches aren’t worth the time and energy you invest, and instead are dream breakers and take away time from the lilies. That said, don’t crowd your life with too many lilies, such that you’re overwhelmed by too many commitments to each. Quality over quantity? Sounds like Perfect 10 for the people we surround ourself with, yes?

Enjoy the video!

Online Resources for the Young Professional

Girl smiling using laptopI’m two months in. Thus far, dressing the part, and leaning in have paid off (I’ve started my formal appraisal process, so I should know more soon!). A partner at my firm sent me an email recently acknowledging my hard work—one of the top emails I’ve ever received, second only to my first college acceptance. “We do let our interns jump into the deep end of the pool if they want to, because they often can… and you’re certainly doing that.” Tears of joy. I may have failed the swim test my first summer at camp (true story; I’m an awful swimmer), but look at me now, treading water in the deep end with the big kids.

Kind of along those lines, I thought I’d share some of my favorite resources for the young (primarily female) professional:

Perhaps I’m biased as a former journalista, but I think being informed about the world’s goings on is vital for anyone—young and old, professional or not. Global events catalyze localized effects, and knowing an important news bit can change conversations. I’m a firm believer that cultural literacy improves intelligence, interview performance, work efficiency, blind dates. Nothing’s more awkward than having a date bring up recent issues in Ukraine or Venezuela and… nada. Even as a newsmonger, I can’t consume it all, so I rely heavily on my morning Skimm. While you get your beauty rest, Skimm summarizes the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the world, and delivers it to your inbox every weekday morning. It’s Politico Pro for normal people: the top-line, need-to-know stuff, with hilariously awesome analysis built in; they summarize the good stuff and contextualize why you should care. It’s catered to Millenials and riddled with sarcasm. And it’s free, so no excuses.

The Muse is another great resource, especially before and during the dreaded job search. They’re similar to Levo League (below), except instead of networking events, they offer free online classes that increase your hire-ability and a more comprehensive database of jobs (at really cool companies, too)—I applied to a couple of positions last year that I found through their site. Think of the Muse as your personal college advisor—if your college advisor were super hip and knew about all the hot, new gigs.

If you didn’t join a sorority in college—or if your chosen organization doesn’t have a super stellar alumni program—then let me introduce you to your new crew: Levo League. The organization defines themselves as a “social good startup designed to elevate young women in the workforce by providing the career resources needed to achieve personal and professional success.” They publish articles (both original and pulled from other career sites, all with awesome pictures) that cater to young female professionals, organize “Local Levo” groups that get together for happy hours and networking events, and post job opportunities. I frequently read through their articles (that’s actually where I heard about Skimm), and am headed to a happy hour with NYC’s Local Levo tomorrow! I’m looking forward to networking and making new female friends.

I also want to throw Glitter Guide on here because sometimes a girl just has to have fun, too. I’m a huge advocate of work/life balance, and GG helps me find that. The lifestyle blog covers decor, crafting, and travel (my favorites), as well as beauty and fashion, and is so.darn.glittery. It’s a recent fave, but I’ve enjoyed lapping up all the glittery goodness the guide has to offer. The photos are inspirational and, at the very least, make for some stellar Pinterest material. That’s it—I’m a glitter junkie.

Lean in, ladies, and share your favorite professional (or not) resources!

I’m Leaning In

worn ballet shoesA while ago, I read Sheryl Sandberg‘s Lean In. It inspired me during my job application process to put myself out there, ask for what I want, and negotiate. I learned about the delicate line women must dance between being feminine and being powerful, between being assertive and being nice. Put on your dancing shoes—It’s one heck of a ballet out there, ladies.

I’ve had many internships, both good and bad, and I’ve learned boatloads from both. Quality of work cannot save one if they don’t act the part of a professional. I work in a female-dominated office (I mean, welcome to the world of PR), but I still try to put into action all that I’ve learned. I want this internship to turn into something long-term, so I’m getting myself noticed (in a good way). I’m leaning in.

Here’s how:

I’m playing the part. I believe strongly in the adage “dress for the position you want, not the position you have.” As an intern, it’s easy to wear boots and leggings and comfy, quasi-professional clothing. But I’ve taken stock of what others wear, and adjusted my style accordingly. When I noticed that I was a solid 3 inches shorter than… everyone (when did 5’4″ become so short?), I committed to wearing heels. Every day. Every office is different, but it’s important to take note of what others are wearing and dress *up*. That is, up the corporate ladder.

There’s a lot more to it than dressing the part, though. Appearance is important, but so is perception. I recently listened to a TED talk about the subconscious psychological affect on oneself and others of power poses, of “being big,” taking up physical and metaphorical room. I’m subtly trying to note this during meetings, and be big. Check out the talk for more insight—I know saying “I’m being big” is vague.

“Women dressed professionally earn between 40 percent and 60 percent more over their lifetimes.”
Nashville Biz Journal

I’m participating.
This one should be self-explanatory, and applies to those that are in stable positions, as well. But when I show up to work, I’m there to work. I take notes, ask the right questions, get involved. Having completed so many internships before, I know how second-nature it is to be a wallflower, enthusiastic about doing tasks when asked, but not being proactive on one’s own. I can’t afford this wallflower luxury. I’m hungry for a job, and I’m making it known.

I’m introducing myself to people. I’m sharing my ideas and helping on the most remedial tasks. I’m putting together groups for collaboration between interns. I’m doing my own research and alerting my teams to any relevant information I find. I treat this internship differently than former co-ops. I am hungry. I want that determination and passion to show; they are my greatest strengths (Note: This does not mean speed of work over quality. In any industry, accuracy—even in emails to peers—is key).

“Don’t ever take a job for granted. Every day you must prove yourself.”
Tracy cioffi

I’m networking.
I’ve instituted a snowball networking system, whereby I ask a person out to drinks/lunch/coffee. Later, I follow up with an email or conversation asking them whom in the office they recommend I get in touch with. This system is beneficial in many ways: (1) it “forces” me to reach out to those I might not have initially thought of, (2) it gives me an excuse to talk to them besides brown-nosing, because emails can start off with, “I was talking to so-and-so, and they suggested I get in touch with you to talk about fill-in-the-blank. Are you free to get together this week?” and (3) the networking tree grows exponentially. Most people give more than one name, so I can reach out to multiple people at once.

Networking at my job is important because it’s an open-concept office where employees at every level work and converse with employees at every other level. It’s important to know first names. Further, even if I do rock my internship, there might not be availability at my company. By building relationships with others, I am opening more doors. Many come form other firms or know people “in the business.”

“If [networking] doesn’t work, come armed with sweets. Who can turn down home baked goodies?”
Dustee Jenkins

Any additional suggestions for me, or for those looking to turn a temporary situation into a full-time job?