by Beth Benatti Kennedy, MS, LMFT
After the last couple of years, many of us are feeling weighed down in different ways. With spring finally here (in the northern hemisphere, at least), take some time to revitalize your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being so you are ready for whatever lies ahead.
To restore your mind, try these three suggestions:
- Stop over-anticipating
I have noticed some of my leadership coaching clients stuck in a rut, spinning their wheels as they try to anticipate the future. That’s natural, but give yourself a break and limit how much of it you do. Instead, accept uncertainty and focus on what you are doing in the present.
- Stay connected
Sometimes when stressed, it’s tempting to avoid people, but connection is crucial. Take time for those who recharge you, whether you connect remotely or in person. When you are with someone, remind yourself to be fully present and listen to the other person.
- Pause and reflect
A great way to restore your mind is to pause and reflect. Note what triggers stress and anxiety for you and try a pause breath. Deep breathing, or abdominal breathing, lowers stress by increasing oxygen levels in the brain and bloodstream and clearing out carbon dioxide in the lungs. As you breathe, hold a hand over your belly. Watch it rise with every deep in-breath and fall with every extended out-breath. Try breathing in to a count of four and breathing out to a count of six.
Recharge your physical well-being:
- Renew your energy
- Are you fueling your body with the right foods? A healthy diet is essential to wellness, while a poor diet with too much sugar or too many processed foods can make you low in energy.
- Stay well-hydrated. It’s easy to forget to drink a glass of water, but try filling a carafe with water in the morning and keeping it in your workspace so you’re reminded to drink.
- Exercise is important, but you don’t have to spend hours at the gym every day. Take a short walk in the middle of the day and if you can, walk where you have exposure to nature, such as a park.
- Sleep is essential for physical and mental recovery. Are you regularly getting enough sleep at night? If not, a quick online search will yield sleep hygiene tips.
- Manage your energy ‘leaks’
Are you treating your energy like the valuable, renewable resource it is? An important part of restoring your energy is addressing your energy ‘leaks’. Some examples of energy leaks include toxic relationships, technology addiction, and unclear boundaries. When you recognize your energy leaks, you can take steps to address them. Sometimes, that means saying no. Believe it or not, saying no can often lead to amazing recharge and work impact!
Renew your spirit with these three techniques:
- Be honest about your feelings
This has been a challenging time and it is okay to share these feelings, whether it’s with a trusted friend or in a journal. Some people find meditation a great way to create ‘space’ and let go of what is weighing them down.
- Make time for yourself
Take time for your spiritual practice, whatever that means to you. It could be being more mindful, going on more walks, or enjoying nature, yoga, or anything that connects you to your values and purpose. When you take time for yourself, it can help you focus on what your purpose is and feel more centered.
- Mix things up
Explore life by venturing outside of your comfort zone or doing things a little differently. Go to an art gallery, explore a museum, or try something creative like finger painting! Make an occasion out of a meal at home, whether it's a leisurely Sunday brunch or a candlelight dinner (even if it's leftovers!) Add some new weekend activities that are enjoyable and bring more excitement into your everyday life.
Try these tactics to recharge your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being and boost your resilience.
For more on this topic, check out Beth's book Career Recharge: Five Strategies to Boost Resilience and Beat Burnout
For more career guidance, check out the rest of our site
Advocating is one of those invaluable professional skills, irrespective of what you do for a living. It’s something of a hybrid between influencing (where you’re usually making a softer push) and selling (where you’re making a harder push), and it’s an important blend of the two. Despite its importance, however, advocating is uncomfortable for many people, particularly when it comes to advocating for themselves. It feels boastful or self-serving or careerist. Still, it’s absolutely necessary, and trust us, most of your co-workers are making their own pitches, so if you don’t learn how to advocate for yourself, you’re going to get left behind.
You’re likely already advocating much more than you think, whether it’s for yourself, your team, your manager, or your company. Want to convince someone to do a task the way you believe it should be done? Advocating. Aiming to work on a corporate project for your boss’ boss? Advocating. Seeking a pay raise or a promotion? Advocating. Pitching a new business idea? Advocating. You get the idea.
Obviously, you have to know what you want to be able to advocate for it. Let’s assume here that you do. And as much as you might believe that your manager, his or her manager, your co-workers, or HR know what you want professionally, odds are they don’t. They have their own interests – which may or may not be aligned with your own – as well as many other things on their minds. Even if they do know what you want, they often need to be reminded or nudged to act.
Yes, it’s possible to advocate too much for yourself and develop a negative reputation as a consequence, but most of you should almost certainly be advocating for yourselves more than you are right now. To a degree, even when managers complain about someone being overly aggressive in asking for what they want, they respect that person for their ambition, and they are more likely than not to take action as a result. As the saying goes, “The squeaky wheel gets oiled,” at least in part because most managers want to be liked. When you don’t get what you’re seeking – assuming you’re not asking for too much or being too impatient about it – you get a good sense of where you stand (or don’t) in the eyes of your manager or employer. That’s always helpful intel, even if it’s not the kind of intel you wanted, because it indicates you either need to change others’ perceptions of you to better align with your own self-perception, or it suggests a larger issue that might necessitate making a change. In this sense, you gain, whether you get what you’re seeking or not.
You can advocate for yourself during 1x1s with your manager, if you have such meetings. (If you don't, that's a separate issue.) You can set up an ad hoc meeting for the discussion – or suggest you and your manager go to lunch or have a drink after work, where they’re more likely to be relaxed and open to hearing you out. You can have the discussion with your skip-level manager – and if your direct manager is made uncomfortable by your having such a discussion with his or her boss, it’s an indication that you work for an insecure manager. You can have an advocating discussion in the context of a performance review or career discussion. The point is – there are many opportunities to have these discussions. You just have to do it – it goes back to the notion of being in the business of you, and to owning your own career.
As a simple exercise, consider something you want in your current job situation for which you feel you need to advocate, ideally something you’ve been hesitant to raise. Then write down the following:
- I want [what you want] from [person or group] because [why you want it]
- It’s important to me because [provide reasons, ideally incorporating some emotion or values statements in your choice of words]
- What I’m proposing makes sense because [list of reasons why it will benefit the person or group – this is arguably the most important point]
- The person or group I am trying to convince may have concerns about [list of concerns they may have for giving you what you want – this is also important]
- They shouldn’t be concerned, though, because [re-state / summarize how what you want benefits them]
- To increase their willingness to grant me what I want, I will [actions you will take to alleviate any concerns they have or demonstrate your commitment to what you are proposing]
Come back to what you’ve written down in a day or a few days later. Polish it a bit. Make sure you’ve thought through how you want to have the conversation on this topic, with whom, and when, because recipient and timing definitely matter. As an extreme example, you generally don’t want to be asking your boss for a pay raise when the company has just announced layoffs. In any case, don’t go into the discussion half-cocked. Be thoughtful. Test it on a family member or mentor or a co-worker who won’t be threatened by what you’re seeking. Be especially clear on why giving you what you want is in the interest of the person with whom you’re going to have the discussion. Remember that they have their own interests and you’re advocating for yours. And be persistent. It often takes asking for something several times for your manager (or whoever) to realize that you’re serious about it and that it’s important to you.
Once you’ve had the discussion, reflect on how it went. Did you articulate your message as planned? Did you convey why it was important to you? Were you able to address the other individual’s concerns? Did you agree on a concrete set of next steps, even if it was just to continue the discussion within a certain timeframe? Few conversations go perfectly, and you can almost always learn something even when they go well. Take the time to reflect after these important discussions, so that you are better prepared the next time.
The more often you do this (within reason), the more comfortable it will become for you, and the more comfortable your manager or employer will become with hearing you out. It will become an inherent and expected part of your relationship, and if managed well, that can be incredibly powerful. Remember as well – to quote the Rolling Stones – you can’t always get what you want. Prioritize what’s most important to you and focus on that. But once you’ve narrowed in on what’s most important, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Unless you ask, you’re probably not going to get what it is you’re seeking.
No matter what you do for work, you need to master some foundational career skills. Consider them as the “10 essentials”, a reference to the items you should always have with you when you go camping or hiking, especially in backcountry areas. These 10 career skills won’t be equally important in every role, but if you master them, you will position yourself well for a broad range of career situations.
- Authenticity. Though this list is arranged alphabetically, it’s also appropriate for authenticity to come first among our list of career skills because it is arguably the most important trait of all. Whoever you are, be yourself. You should always work on being your best self, particularly in professional settings, but be your best self, not someone else’s. If you try to be someone else, or to mimic their style, it won’t feel natural, and it will come across as phony. Accept as well that you won’t always be at your best. It’s part of the human experience. In this context, it’s ok to admit your mistakes and acknowledge your flaws and weaknesses, especially if you talk about them with candor, show humility and vulnerability in doing so, and demonstrate that you are learning from them and working to be better every day.
- Collaboration. Very few, if any of us, literally work alone all the time. We depend on others to accomplish our day-to-day work and our broader professional objectives, including the people with whom we regularly work, those in our companies more broadly, and people outside our firms. For these reasons, it’s essential to work well in team situations and to be a good colleague. You’ll need to accept the “give and take” and to compromise at times. But no one wants to work with someone who is difficult, who doesn’t carry their share of the load, who’s a “lone wolf”, or who hogs all the glory. We win – and we lose – together. Be someone whose co-workers appreciate as a colleague.
- Communication. Whole books have been written about communication as a core career skill, and we won’t try to summarize them all here. Suffice it to say that your written and oral communications should, at a minimum, be clear, concise, and complete. When speaking, your tone and body language should reinforce the message you are delivering. Remember that research consistently indicates that 90%+ of your communication is not in what you’re saying itself. As you become a stronger communicator, you should also work on being compelling. Appropriately use tone, emotion, gestures, movement, and repetition to amplify your message without taking away from it. Draw on stories and anecdotes in addition to facts – our brains are wired to remember stories in particular. And to loosely quote Maya Angelou, bear in mind that people may not remember what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.
- Conviction. Conviction is ultimately a measure of whether you believe in yourself and in your point of view. It doesn’t mean that you’re always right, but it does mean indicate you’re capable of being more than just a follower. For example, are you willing to make a bold move or an unpopular decision? Are you comfortable taking calculated risks? Do you have the courage to speak your truth or to take a contrarian viewpoint? Are you an independent thinker and worker? Are you willing to give constructive feedback when it needs to be provided, even when it might not be well-received? In all of these situations, having conviction is critical.
- Drive. Drive is a measure of your aspirations. You demonstrate it in a number of ways. Are you self-motivated? Are you intellectually curious? Do you seek continuous improvement – in yourself, in others, and in the organizations of which you’re a part? Are you open to feedback, even when it’s uncomfortable to receive? Do you balance your drive by not truly expecting perfection, by celebrating small wins, and by saying, “Thank you” along the way? Remember as well that drive is also an indicator that your activities are aligned with your passions and interests. If this alignment exists, it will be evident, in your energy and in your enthusiasm for what you do. If the alignment is lacking, you won’t be able to bring your best every day, and that’s something you’ll need to address.
- Empathy. Empathy is about being able to envision yourself in someone else’s place, to understand their life context, their worldview, and their perspective. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them or let them have their way. It does mean that you understand and are taking into account how they will see what you’re saying to them, what you’re asking of them, or what you’re expecting of them. Empathy can’t be taught. Some people are naturally empathetic, while others eventually discover for themselves how to be empathetic. Still others never achieve this self-discovery, and they are less effective leaders and colleagues as a result. Work at unlocking your empathetic self.
- Execution. Put simply, execution is about being able to get things done, about achieving results. Do you have strong problem-solving ability? Are you able to see the steps needed to achieve a goal? Can you clearly communicate those steps to those whose help you will need in accomplishing them? Do you create the right kind of environment for personal and team success? Are you able to see risks and mitigate them, and to overcome obstacles when they present themselves? Do you achieve your results in the right way? Work is ultimately about execution. Hence it’s critical that you have a strong reputation for being able to get things done right.
- Influence. The importance of influencing skills cannot be overstated. They are useful in so very many situations, because no one is always in charge. Influencing is about getting someone to see your point of view, to come to your way of thinking, or to do what you would like them to do, even if it’s not what they wanted or not in their self-interest. You exercise your influencing skills when you lack absolute positional authority (i.e., you’re not the boss) and often even when you have such authority. Particularly in today’s heavily matrixed large corporations, influencing skills are a must. They’re also useful when you need to advocate for yourself (in and of itself an important skill) and when you’re negotiating for something or trying to resolve a conflict. Having strong influencing skills will broaden the range of situations in which you can be effective.
- Judgment. The strength of your judgment is revealed by the quality of your decisions. Are you thoughtful about the actions you take? Do you take into account the pros and cons of potential courses of action? Do you make an effort to see a situation from different vantage points, such as the perspective of different stakeholders? Do you make ethical choices, ones you would not be embarrassed to see made public in some fashion? Some people lack good judgment. Some never develop a good moral compass. Putting such people in leadership or other decision-making roles leads to bad outcomes, for themselves, their teams, and their organizations. Be known for your judgment and your sense of ethics.
- Resilience – Wrapping up the list with resilience is appropriate, because work is hard. (Otherwise, it wouldn’t be work, right?). Not everything about it is ever fully in your control. Changes will take place, and they won’t always be good for you. Along the way, you will make mistakes, experience failure, and come up short relative to goals or expectations. Work and other aspects of your life won’t always be in perfect harmony. At times, the burden of it all will seem like too much. This is natural, and we all feel this way. Being able to weather these times – to learn from them, to move past them, and to draw strength from them – is what resilience is about. This doesn’t mean putting up with a work (or life) situation that is leaving you miserable or unfulfilled. If you feel that way, you need to work to understand why, and to do something about it. But it’s important to realize that everyone has tough days, and that the resilient are those who learn to adapt, to maintain a positive outlook, and to stand tall, even when things are challenging for them.
Work at mastering these 10 essential career skills. Look for them in your colleagues. Incorporate them into your line of questioning when you are interviewing prospective new hires – and ask candidates to walk you through real examples.
To be clear, these "soft" career skills aren’t a substitute for technical competence - so called "hard" skills. You have to know how to do your job if you want to be successful. But strength in these areas will be a massive force multiplier on your technical competence, because if you have both the technical skills and these foundational traits as well, you are destined for greatness.
How we help. We offer tools for you to self-assess your capability levels in each of these areas and to gather input on them from those around you. We offer skill-building content and events, and we provide access to coaches who can help you work on a personalized course of action to improve in areas that are holding you back.