The weekend I didn’t go to the shore…

About two months ago, my husband and I were supposed to spend the weekend on the Jersey Shore at the home of one of our dear friends’ parents.  Each “season,” our friend gets the house to herself for one weekend and hosts an event known as “Camp Chaos.”  The name sums up how the weekend goes down.

This year the shore was taxi/flight/taxi/drive rather than the Friday night road trip from the city of years past.  Two days before departure, I got sick.  Unspecified, flu-like sick.  We didn’t want to cancel and put off making a decision until the last minute.  Hours before the flight left, we decided to use the flight to NYC and have a quiet recovery weekend at my in-laws’ empty apartment.  Disappointed though I was, that weekend was a significant turning point for my consulting practice.

In the course of 48 hours as “tourist” in my home city, over long walks and talks and meals with my husband, I realized I was doing a lot of things wrong.  Removed from real life and alone, no one asked how work was going.  And without the pressure to give a pat, positive, response, I was able to answer that question honestly for myself.

I identified a few lessons and made a few promises that weekend, most of which I’ve stuck to.  The most critical lesson for me was about ignoring my instincts.  When I’m not at peak performance, my natural inclination is to redouble my effort and push through.  I’ve always believed that the combination of my work and will can make almost anything happen.  A sequestered, semi-sick weekend where I completely let go of the reigns shifted my entire mindset.  Which brings me to Lesson #1:

Don’t squeeze the bunny.

I asked a lot of smart people for advise when I started consulting.  Like the diligent bee I am, I did everything they told me to.  I went to networking events, created a drip list, sent articles to interested parties, (dabbled in) social media, had enough coffees to support a fair trade beanery.  The results weren’t there.  Because you can’t make someone need/want/hire you simply based on their knowledge of your existence.  All you can do is be awesome and generous, form real relationships (rather than networking “connections”) with people you like and enjoy spending time with, and let the need find you.

Step away from the screens.

In the absence of having a real job and/or enough consulting work to keep me occupied 60 hours a week in the spring, I replaced being busy with busyness.  Online, on email, digesting content constantly – it became a habit and a void filler.  Its so much easier to refresh email than go for a run.  Or pick up the phone and have a conversation.  Or write a blog post.  Or volunteer.  Making is harder than consuming – I also derive a lot more satisfaction from it.  I just have to force myself to do it.

Friends are the best wingmen.

My job is to listen and help people solve problems.  I do this for my friends all. the. time.  I always have and I hope they never stop asking.  Yet I used to think it important to separate my personal and professional lives.  What I realized that weekend is that besides my existing clients and former colleagues, my friends know best who I am and what I can do.  In the past, when friends wanted to recommend me for gigs or to hire me themselves, I was unsure.  Were they biased because they knew me? Were they giving me an unfair advantage? Yes and yes.  They also knew exactly what they were getting, that they could trust me implicitly, and that I would be honest with them.  Now when a friend presents an opportunity, I’m open to it.  If they didn’t believe in me, they wouldn’t do it.  Why would I say no?

Technology = Frenemy

Besides the compulsive relationship I was developing with my iDevices, I realized something that weekend away: sometimes, no, a lot of the the time, its better not to know what’s going on.  In this age of info overload, ignorance is even more blissful.  That Friday, I checked my email while waiting in line for movie tickets and read a message about an issue a client was having.  I then pondered that issue throughout the evening wondering if I could help, how and when.  This might make me a committed consultant; it definitely makes me terrible company.  For social media, this rings even truer.  Do I need to see an ex’s wedding photos just before I fall asleep? Or while waiting in the ladies room line at a concert? No and no.  I recognized that weekend, which was delightfully low tech, that I’d never considered the emotional toll that social media takes.  That if I engage on those platforms, my mood will necessarily be impacted, and so will the “offline” experience that I’m trying to have.

I realize I’m not exactly breaking new ground with these little lessons, but reframing my situation during a 48 hour break from real life changed how I work.  Since then, I’ve begun engagements with three fantastic clients (none of whom were known to me two months ago) and feel both relaxed and optimistic about the future.  When someone asks how work is, I can unequivocally  respond that its great.  We’re thinking about another weekend away.  Maybe St. Thomas in December.  You know, just to keep the momentum going.

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The weekend I didn’t go to the shore…

Are you a Filibuster(er)?

I wrote the following piece a while ago and didn’t post it for fear of seeming catty.  But in the 7 months since I moved and have been hardcore networking, the number of alpha talkers I’ve encountered boggles.  my.  mind.  I’m not blaming geography – truth be told I didn’t do a lot of networking in NYC and may have had the same experiences there if I had.

Time and again, I’m trapped.  A prisoner in a jail of my own politeness, I nod and make appropriate sounds.  I try to indicate through body language – feet pointing elsewhere, leaning back – that I want out.  But the type of people who swing from self-aggrandizing story to story like monkeys through the jungle are not attentive to my subtle, non-verbal cries for help.

So.  Rather than selecting from one of the anecdotes I could share about grandstanding strangers, I provide you with this social illustration from a ways back in a faraway place.

We were at a dinner party on a Saturday night.  There were 6 of us.  We were invited by a couple we knew well; they had also invited another couple they wanted to introduce us to.  We met for the first time that evening and have not seen them again.  Here’s why.

Over cocktails and a three course dinner, my husband and I and our friends probably took 20% of the airtime.  That means each of us spoke 5% of a 5 hour evening.  Assuming .5 hours of silence for serving/clearing/moving between rooms/potty breaks, that means each of us spoke 13.5 minutes over the duration of the entire evening.

The third couple took up the other 80% of the audible space.  The wife probably dominated 75% of that, which means she spoke a total of 202 minutes, or, 3.3 hours.  That actually sounds pretty conservative.  One story, which could be summed up in the 5 words “my kid woke up today” lasted about 15 minutes.  I wanted to kill myself, then her, in that order.

If we’re going to hold up the truth mirror for a second, most of us can probably acknowledge we’ve been the chatterbox in a situation with the right mix of strangers, cocktails and insecurity.  But while I learned her preferred method of preparing cauliflower (mashed), about her dress for a holiday party they hosted (black strapless, we didn’t go) and her upcoming trip to the Bahamas (harbor bay, for her 40th), she did not learn more than 13.5 minutes worth of headlines about any of the rest of us.  At least half of whom are downright fascinating.

I doubt this woman or any of the good folks that have word-vomited on me have any  malicious intent.  Perhaps they even think they do me a favor by filling the air waves and taking pressure off me to hold my own.  But I’d posit a better approach to meeting new people, whether personally or professionally; contribute to the discussion and be ready with your highlight reel of anecdotes if the conversation runs dry.  But, more importantly, have your list of probing and follow up questions so you can actually learn something about those you interact with.  Many of the new contacts I’ve had the “best” feedback from are people I simply showed an interest in and then listened to.  Its become clear to me through these interactions that the best impression I can leave is often that I really want to know someone.

Are you a Filibuster(er)?