New year, new project?

December 31, 2013

“Discerning the difference between good, hard work and burdensome, draining toil (that ends up fruitless and misery-making) is key to bringing into being what you long for most.” – Kathy Caprino

We’re on the cusp of a new year, and that means we’re already seeing a slew of headlines of the ‘7 Ways to a New You!’ or ‘5 Ways to Achieve Success in the New Year!’ variety. We all need a bit of inspiration at the start of a new year. But as time goes by you become more and more aware that real, messy life isn’t as simple as a series of bullet points.

So I was really pleased when just before Christmas I discovered this video (below) by career coach Kathy Caprino, who some of you will remember from my fifteenth show, Do We Have to Fit In? In the video Kathy answers a reader's question about why her passion project, a travel blog, is proving so difficult. She was thrilled to start this on-the-side work, and is disappointed to find the going - coming up with content, building readership, etc. - incredibly tough.

Kathy's response resonated with me because it emphasizes that actually, achieving anything of worth in the world is hard. There are no five bullet points to success. This isn’t something we hear that much in western culture, where instant gratification and instant results are celebrated. But although we probably all know someone who appears to have achieved overnight success, it’s likely that a) it wasn’t instant at all or b) they were extremely lucky, benefiting from a combination of connections and serendipity. Most of us won’t fit into either of those categories. I’m in exactly the same situation as Kathy's correspondent with what I do with The Broad Experience. It requires an enormous amount of work to do the interviews and cut the tape and put it all together, not to mention the challenge of building the audience, and I don't yet receive any compensation for all this (which I do on top of other stuff). I regulary experience moments of exasperation where I ask myself, “Am I crazy to be doing this?” Then I get an email or message from a listener talking about how much they get out of the show and I stick with my gut, which tells me I am onto something. I'm listing some pointers on this topic below for anyone who is thinking about or has already branched out with their own, risky project, only to realize after months of work and seemingly little reward, God, it’s tough out there. Many of these come from Kathy's video.

  • Creating something worthwhile is hard work. It just is. We hear far too much about passion fueling projects or new businesses, but passion does not make your business or project successful. People will not come just because you build it. Consistent effort is required. Go into your project expecting that. And it may take a lot (lot) longer than you expected to get the results you were hoping for. Be realistic. So much of what we see in the media sets us up for unrealistic expectations
  • We all want things to fall in our laps because we think we've seen this happen to someone else we know, or someone we've heard about. Forget it. It probably didn't happen to them either. 
  • Kathy emphasizes "essence versus form". She asks the woman who wrote to her if this travel blog of hers is the right form in which to present her passion for travel - maybe there's something else she could be doing that would let her exercise her love of travel but that wouldn't be so draining.
  • Which brings me to a vital point Kathy makes about all of this. If the work feels like a slog, but one that is bringing you little pleasure or giving you no energy, you need to re-think what you're doing. If, on the other hand, you're like me, and the work you're doing energizes you and keeps you going, despite how hard it is, keep at it. Keeping going requires a combination of hard work, persistence, and guts.

 Happy New Year. 

The importance of asking for help

May 31, 2013

"Me and other very successful entrepreneurs came from the school of, 'Don’t you dare ask for help, that would be admitting a weakness.' But boy is it liberating to say, 'I don’t have all the answers.'"

- Maureen Borzacchielo, CEO, Creative Display Solutions

I have a friend who sees asking for help as a weakness. Increasingly, I see it as a strength. He believes seeking and finding his own answers to problems is the way to go through life. Admittedly this came up in a conversation we had a couple of years ago about therapy. I thought he could benefit from it and was quite surprised when he said he'd been thinking about it. But the next time we spoke, he'd decided against it. He preferred, he said, to wrangle with any family issues and inner demons internally. 

I thought of this again when I read this excellent post by Henna Inam on The Glass Hammer this week. The piece is aimed at women. So why did I begin this by talking about a man? Because I believe that while men usually rely on themselves when it comes to personal issues and where their egos are involved (like asking for directions) they're much better about seeking help and asking for favors in business. Women are more like my friend when it comes to work - we tend to rely on ourselves, thinking we have to do everything alone. We fear people will judge us as somehow lacking if we ask for help. 

Not asking for help is one of the reasons, I believe, that women lag men's success in the workplace. I interviewed entrepreneur Maureen Borzacchielo for a Marketplace radio story last year, and one of the things she told me was that the female entrepreneurs she mentored did not ask other businesspeople for enough help. Maureen herself hadn't done enough of this at the start of her life as a small business owner. Heather McGregor, who I interviewed for the penultimate show on women's appearance at work, also feels strongly that the only way to excel at work is to ask for help both at work and at home.

Tips for the help-shy: 

  • I wasn't that conscious of this until I interviewed Maureen and she articulated it: many women aspire to perfection. We feel we have to do everything ourselves, and do it perfectly. But that's just not possible, and the sooner we come to terms with this the better. 
  • This point seems so obvious when you look at it on the page, but it isn't always when you're in the thick of things, as Maureen was when she was starting out: "I met Russell Simmons at an event Tory Burch hosted…and he said he learned by seeking out people who were more successful than him. That’s OK. When did we [women] decide it wasn’t OK?" 
  • Don't think of it as bothering people. This is such a woman thing. Henna Inam puts this really well when she asks you to think of a time someone asked you for help - you probably felt flattered they'd chosen you.
  • Give help to get help. Heather McGregor has asked for a lot of help with her children over the years because she has always worked. She's had nannies, but she has also relied on family, friends and neighbors to step in. "If you’re not helping others you are not building a team," she says. "You need a sustainable community – you may never need to call the favor back in, but that doesn’t matter. You may watch someone else’s children, and you may have grown children, but you may go away unexpectedly and need someone to feed the cat." Having this community of willing helpers, who she and her family help in return, has helped her concentrate on her business.
  • I've just signed up for a series of coaching sessions with a digital marketing strategist, and the feeling of relief that came over me when I hung up the phone was huge. It was like the clichéd weight being lifted from my shoulders. I just cannot do it all when it comes to the gazillion things, digital and otherwise, I need to do for The Broad Experience and to 'get myself out there'. I need help.

Never enough hours

November 27, 2012

Sometimes this entrepreneurship business seems like too much. Yes, I said it. There are days when I feel unequal to the whole thing. Today I've been fielding a flurry of email (largely started by me) about what I should be doing for The Broad Experience on social media, the site itself, PR, etc. and it's all piled up to make me feel as if I'm sadly behind where I should be. I would love to be on top of everything, have an amazing site, understand SEO completely, and let the whole world know that my show exists. But I'm human, and I am one human at that. I wish I could clone myself, but that doesn't seem to be an option (though if you're aware of any advances in science, please let me know). As a result, I may for a while be lagging behind all that the marketing gods, and the show, require in the early 21st century. I did do one daring thing today, relatively speaking (thanks for the idea, Sheila Butler!) I wrote to several people I know who listen to the show and asked them to leave me a good review on iTunes as a way to get The Broad Experience a little more notice. 

Changing the subject, and talking of Sheila Butler, here's her penultimate Successful Women Talk interview on developing online influence, with guest Stephanie Sammons. I recommend it for any woman going out on her own. My ears really started perking up around the 10 minute mark. Stephanie has good advice for people on 'drilling down' to what it is you want to say. I like the term 'nuggets of wisdom'. 

Talking of wisdom and nuggets thereof, I'll be presiding over a TEDxWomen event this coming Saturday on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I say presiding, but perhaps jollying people along between talks is a better description. It'll be my induction into the mysterious world of TED and its younger siblings, the TEDx events.