2019 has been the most challenging, difficult, exhilarating, horrible, fun, exhausting, most rewarding year of my career. I unknowingly walked into a new role and accepted expanded responsibilities, not realizing the firestorm/sh!t show that was to come. 2019 crammed what feels like 5 years’ worth of experience into 1. My team and I were challenged to pull off the impossible in what was the largest implementation and our biggest opportunity to grow our membership in recent years.
Under normal circumstances, we would have had many, many months to pull an implementation of this size, but we had just Six. Short. Months. RFP to Go live for a client with 175,000 employees + their families was a herculean effort, not to mention is was something I’ve never done before. Every day I questioned why I thought it would be a great idea to take on my toughest career challenge yet with 4-year-old twins at home. But in retrospect, it was the best decision I could have made and I wish I would’ve done it sooner. This year taught me more than I ever imagined it would. While I learned a boat load of functional and technical skills, my most notable growth came in the form of interpersonal and leadership capacities and self-care.
My list of lessons learned from this year could fill an entire 1 TB hard drive, I’ll just share my top 5 lessons learned so we aren’t here all night.
You can achieve more than what you think you’re capable of
Just when I thought the mountain of work we had to achieve couldn’t get any larger, our client pushed us harder and faster to achieve excellence and perfection while hurling new requirement after new requirement like a good ole fashion stoning. I learned that what usually takes 6-9 months to achieve can actually be done in fewer than 3 months. We are naturally prone to playing it safe, padding our deadlines, planning for longer than we are doing. But when the rubber meets the freaking road, we are capable of doing more than we think, faster than what we ever imagined. We. Are. Badasses.
Trust me when I say there’s a time and place for working on an accelerated timeline, and there is a certain amount of risk that comes along with it. Not every issue or aspect should be managed to an accelerated pace and there’s a constant battle of deciding if this is the sword you want to die on. But when you find yourself on that sword, trust your gut, follow your instincts, and keep your team and colleagues close. Together with teamwork and the right leadership support, the seemingly impossible can be achieved in half the normal time. The caliber of work that you can developed rapidly without red tape or over analyzing is the icing on top. We produced some amazing results and solutions when our backs were against the wall. Our bodies and experience carried us through when our minds thought it impossible.
Be careful of the narrative in your head
This one is two-fold: negative self-talk and replaying an un-true narrative in my mind. As confident as I am, negative self-talk has been known to get the best of me. Am I capable, is this too much, am I worthy of this opportunity? Even as a trained psychological gypsy, I am guilty of self-doubt. For me, it tends to come either right when I get a big task but before I’ve found my way through the fog and planned a path forward or right before I need to perform or execute at a big meeting, usually in the hour leading up to it (perfect timing, right?).
The hardest part of getting out of the negative talk track is recognizing when you’re in one. Once I realize it, my favorite go-to methods are the power pose (thank you Grey’s Anatomy) and positive affirmations. I’ve even gone so far as to write them on sticky notes and plaster them in my space). I also remind myself that nervousness can also be linked to excitement, and it shouldn’t always carry a negative connotation.
The next one can be a dozy- telling yourself made up stories. It sounds absurd, but everyone does it and until recently, I never even realized I was doing it. I first learned about this concept from Brené Brown after watching her Netflix special, The Call to Courage. She calls it the “Stormy First Draft”. I’ve also seen it referred to as the “shitty first draft”, which I think describes the phenomena wayyyyy better. It’s essentially the brain’s way of making sense of something, especially if it caused an emotional reaction, absent of hardcore facts. Have you ever over analyzed an interaction or conversation so much so that you swore you were their sworn enemy and they were trying to sabotage your career, they think your baby is ugly, and they must hate old people? Yeah, me neither ::rolls eyes ::
These stories usually play on loop, over and over and over again in your head and can really wreck an otherwise productive day/week. More importantly it can alter the way you interact with yourself and others. To make matters worse, you can then turn your false narrative into a self-filling prophesy shitstorm and then all hell breaks loose. So how do I avoid the storm? Recognize when it’s happening, check my facts and ask myself “is this story I’m telling myself true?”, and then adjust my narrative if the known facts don’t align remind myself that “I don’t know that to be factual”. My biggest growth this year was having the courage to ask someone for the facts when I really needed them. Facing an intense conversation and at times facing my biggest fears outweighed the lingering effects that a false narrative playing on loop can bring.
Explore and understand your emotional intelligence and that of others
Implementing the art of evaluating my false narratives allowed me to unknowingly start to explore my emotional intelligence. You see, I’m a red speed boat through and through (combing a few personality tests into one for ya). I move fast and expect people to get on board or get left in the dust. I’ve got no time for the blue sail boats to slowly chew on, digest, or poke holes and doubt the plan. But a well-rounded team needs styles of all types and I knew I had to find a better way of working with others, especially those that were my polar opposite to my style, and value what other personality styles bring to the table.
I started to notice patterns of discussions, topics, and people that lead my mind to tell a false narrative or got me into hot water with others. The psych gypsies call this self-awareness. I evaluated sensitive topics and approaches to getting work done that were hot buttons for not only myself but for others as well (social awareness). This allowed me to know that I had to approach certain topics with certain people with caution, grace, purpose, and at an appropriate pace. Always ensuring that we were both in the right frame of mind to process the conversation in a healthy manner.
Recognizing my own emotional baggage and managing my reactions became the first step, even apologizing, pausing, and course correcting when needed. I grew to realize that humility would take me further in my career and in life than many other qualities. Extending empathy to others to better understand their point of view, allowing them the space and time to process things at their own pace was where the biggest change started to happen in 2019. It was amazing how the conversations shifted and how I was able to convert that self and social awareness into meaningful management of relationships.
Ask for what you need- no one will take care of you, better than you
More so then not, you must be your own personal champion. No one will fight harder for you, than you. As a woman, especially a millennial, I sometimes feel guilty about asking for what I need; I need more help, additional resources, time off, a freaking raise. I’ve always hesitated when asking for what I needed. I didn’t want to appear too needy, too pushy, or too entitled. But this year was different, I advocated for me and what I needed, and I was pleasantly surprised when those needs were met, because I had the courage to ask for them. So here’s to tooting your own horn, asking for what you deserve, and not feeling a damn bit of guilt about it.
Find your person
Find someone at work that you can develop a relationship with where they can tell you like it is. Someone that you respect, can listen to you but be brave enough to call you out when you need it most. The key is that this person should have no authority over you (apparent or otherwise). A relationship that’s built on trust and mutual understanding. Bonus points if that person is a member of you team or has worked with you in the past. This can be a mentor or a work-wife (that’s what I call my work BFF). I always know that I can pick up the phone and vent to her without fear or judgement or repercussions. I tell her my false narratives and biggest fears. She is able to call me out on my BS and talk some sense into me. She’s got the ability to help me snap out of a funk, and if need be, tell me when to put my big girl panties on and move forward. If we let ourselves, we can wallow in our failures or despair for days, weeks, months and sometimes years. My work wife and I allow each other to feel all the feels, express all the possible or impossible scenarios, but then we put a time bound stop to it. One day, 1 week, 2 weeks depending on the issue, but never longer. Once that time is up, it’s time to move forward, learn from it, but leave all the emotions and what ifs in the past.
Having a friendship where I could process experiences and challenges free of judgement and full of support kept me afloat in 2019. Sometimes understanding that others experience similar challenges and at the end of the day, we are all humans with very complex emotions so we need to give ourselves grace but regain perspective quickly.
I interrupt this program for a very random tangent. The Experimental Psychology Grad in me really wants/needs to site these sources like this blog is a peer-reviewed journal, but I don’t really know the protocol here. Maybe I’ll link some of the resources, books, and articles that I used to better recognize what was going in my brain or take a deeper dive into each topic in more detail at a later date. I don’t want a college professor accusing me of any plagiarism of ideas, so I might start whipping out some APA citations and reference when I get deep in the gypsy magic that is psychology. This post is proof how you can use your psychology degrees EVERY.DANG.DAY. Now back to the show….
Character is built during the most trying of times. If you want to know what you’re really made of, you certainly won’t find it when things are easy and you’re playing it safe. We grow and evolve out of necessity when things are uncertain, when we face certain failure, and when the pressure and stakes are extremely high. Furthermore, the amount of respect you can earn while being the calm in the storm is nothing short of amazing. I can close the year feeling extremely proud of the risks I took, how I treated others, and knowing that I left it all on the table. The one thing I now realize: if it scares you, it’s worthwhile. If it doesn’t, perhaps your holding yourself back from reaching your true potential. What plans do you have in 2020 to reach your full potential?