Our leadership blind spots

Movie night in our house is now a tradition. The movie selection process can begin as early as breakfast – and can sometimes take all of 12 hours to finalize. You might say that ‘quick decision making’ is an area of growth in our house. This weekend, we’d settled on “A Dog’s Purpose“. I considered this a win because I hadn’t seen it yet, and both of our daughters are fans of watching a movie many times. Make that many, many times. 

So when I got home and got the news that everyone had decided that it was too sad of a movie for the night and that they’d all agreed instead on Freaky Friday, I did a mental eye roll. After at least ten viewings, this was overdue to go the way of Toy Story, Finding Nemo and the High School Musical series. Instead of agreeing, I set out to find a new option we could all agree on. Throwing our normal democratic decision making process to the winds, I announced that we would watch The Blind Side

It’s now a decade old but I still love the feel good story of the kid who gets a chance due to the kindness of strangers. But what hit me last night was the story of Big Mike’s seeming inability to learn, as determined by a raft of elementary and middle school teachers, as the source of his failing grades. And yet despite the opinions of these so-called experts, some in his new environment who saw Mike with a fresh set of eyes saw something different. Not an inability to learn, but an inability to learn in the way classroom education is traditionally taught. 

When “they” can’t learn

In our own day to day, a similar challenge goes far beyond classroom learning. It’s about how many of us as leaders lead and informal teachers teach and communicate: in the manner that we were taught and that makes most sense to us. Or as this piece in Pioneering Collective plainly states: “With the ability to inform, persuade, and empower, communication is a leader’s most powerful tool. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, and the world’s greatest leaders understand that effective leadership cannot exist without effective communication.”

So what’s effective? When our message gets through as we intend it to. A picture is indeed worth 1,000 words in this classic scene when Leanne, Big Mike’s new guardian, teaches the football coach how to do his job. She’s a designer, not a football coach, an athletic champion or a teacher. So how could she know better than the coach? She listened, watched, and saw what mattered to Mike. She adapted her approach to one that would connect with him and eloquently and quickly got her message across in a way that stuck. In fact, it stuck well enough to create an entirely new life for Mike.

How many of us chalk up our inability to get our message through to someone else’s inability, or unwillingness, to learn? How often do we lose some of the richest talent with invaluable perspectives and ideas to a one-size-fits-all approach to communicating, teaching and motivating, missing the chance to make the most of who they are? What if the solution for those we see as unteachable involves not just them needing to adapt but ourselves as well?

In response to one friend’s fawning praise, “Leanne,  you’re changing that boy’s life”, a knowing smile spreads across Leanne’s face as she says, “No, he’s changing mine.” Just as each of us are when we learn to communicate, connect and motivate those around us to make the most of who they are. A blindsiding experience to be sure.

Are we weeding out our best stuff?

With the weather turning balmy I’ve been doing more walking in our neighborhood. A month or so ago our neighbors put in this beautiful new garden in front of their house, a lovely arrangement of plants, flowers, a stone path and a sculpture of this big turtle. Every time I walk by it I smile at the grin on the chill turtle’s face. Pretty soon after they’d planted it I would see my neighbor out in front taking care of it. Every time I walked by. It became the running joke that I needed a hobby and she was becoming garden obsessed.

By the third day I finally asked what it was that motivated to get out there each day. “The damn clover” she told me. Now – to be fair, I should have known that pretty much any answer she could have given would have met with my clueless stare. I have by all accounts a black thumb when it comes to plants. In fact, I’m pretty sure if they bottled me I’d be the world’s best weed – and plant – killer. When I was pregnant my neighbor at the time, who was a masterful gardener himself, asked, “Do you think you’ll be more successful keeping kids alive than you have been with your plants?” Considering my track record, it was a fair question.

So, I know nothing about clover. Except that it’s green. And to my uneducated eye, pretty. No, my neighbor informed me, it will take over if you don’t root it out. The roots take hold and … I’m not sure what else. But all I could think was, it was the perfect contrast against the rest of the garden. It looked nice and fit really well with all the other plants they’d chosen. She wasn’t sold – and each day she or someone else in the family was out in front weeding the clover out that had somehow magically made its way back in the moonlight. I couldn’t help but wonder – it’s my inclination to pull for the underdog no doubt – if there are benefits to clover, and apparently there are.

What struck me was how much of this ‘rooting out’ of the things that seem to belong – but we’d rather they didn’t – many of us do in our own lives. The things we’re good at or drawn to or feel strong doing – but don’t think they will do much for us. I remember going through one of the personality tests at work years ago – and what emerged from the color coded system was that my strength was “earth green” – caring, encouraging, sharing, patient and relaxed. But the company’s leaders were mostly ‘fiery red’ – competitive, demanding, determined, strong-willed and purposeful.

My green felt weak in comparison – so rather than tapping into how to make the most of who I am, I instead focused on being more “fiery red”. I wanted to be one of the people considered “high potential” who would be seen as a valued future leader  – and my assumption was I simply couldn’t do so by leading with encouragement, compassion and patience.

It didn’t go all that well. Could I do it? Sure. Was it harder? You bet. Did I enjoy it? Not particularly. And what I lost in the process was the person people had come to know – the leader who created a great team by knowing people well enough to help them find their fit. Who created an environment where people smiled, laughed and went the extra mile for each other while exceeding the results they thought were possible. Who shared wins and struggles so everyone had the chance to learn from both.   

Quick point here – what I’m not saying is to be oblivious to the team and organization you’re a part of – the norms, behaviors and “what good looks like” of your colleagues. Fitting in matters. And what each of us brings also matters. A garden full of clover isn’t what my neighbor is going for – and I don’t blame her. But I can’t help but wonder what would happen if she let some of the clover remain sprinkled in there – since clearly it wants to be there. Maybe there’s more good that it can offer than is readily apparent.      

How to Mindfully Choose Your College Experience

College. A scary and yet exciting place to be. This is a time when you will grow and a place where you will learn. Going to college means to become more independent. It means to be free. But with great power, comes great responsibility…

Choosing a university can be a very long and tedious process. I remember feeling a lot of stress as I tried to decide what I wanted to do with my future. People at my school would compare their SAT scores, look at the rankings of the schools we were each applying to, and stressed about how we could’ve gotten a better grade in a class. We were all competing to prove who was the most academically qualified.

Looking back, if there is one major lesson I learned throughout the process it’s to always remain true to yourself. We each have our own unique paths after high school, and ultimately, in our lives. What I realize now is that it’s not about getting into the highest ranked school, but understand who you are and what is it that you are seeking to achieve in the next four years of your life. You want to find a place where you feel comfortable to be yourself and where you believe you are going to grow as a person.

Here are some more tips I want to share with you on how to mindfully choose the school that is right for you – and what I used to end up in a place that I really love.

  • Ask yourself why you want to go to college: Is it to pursue a career that you are really interested in? Is it to be able to live away from your parents? Is it for the parties? Whatever it may be, and as we have talked about before in The Self-Power Club, it is always good to ask why before you make a big decision. I personally knew I wanted to go to college because I wanted to receive an education that supported creativity and the arts.
  • Consider the Environmental Factors That Matter To You: Knowing what type of environment you work best in can help you identify the possible locations that do and don’t fit. You may conser the location, the weather, the night-life, outdoor activities nearby and even the culture of the city or town where the school is located. I knew I wanted to be close to my family so I limited my search of schools for those located in Southern California. I was also looking for a small town type of environment because I wanted to take a break from the city.
  • Understand the philosophy of the school: You are going to get educated anywhere you go, but how you receive that education changes tremendously depending on the school. I would really recommend taking some time to read the “about” page of each university. Mission statements also do a good job at capturing their educational philosophy in just a few sentences.
  • Read about the majors you are interested in: Similar to my previous point, try to read over the academic catalog of the career(s) of your choice. It is also okay if you aren’t really sure what to pursue yet. Reading about the classes and requirements can help you get a better glimpse of what subjects you would be learning about. For example, some schools that offer psychology as a major have classes that are more theory based while other schools are heavier on research.
  • Look at the different activities offered on campus: College is not only about the academics, you also want to have fun! What made Chapman University really stand out for me was the amount of student involvement that was encouraged on campus. I searched for my school’s list of clubs and started to get a glimpse of what the campus community felt like. You could also look at the different traditions or honour societies that each school is affiliated with.
  • Consider the size of the school: Are you okay with going to a lecture with more than 200 people? Or do smaller classes sound better? Knowing what the ratio of students to teachers is very important. I like Chapman because the classes here are small (about 20 people). I feel like this allows me to participate in the classroom and form closer relationships with my teachers and classmates.
  • Set an intention: Picture yourself being on a college campus. How do you see yourself? With a lot of friends? With a lot of homework? Before going to college, I would recommend thinking about what is it that you want to achieve during your time there. It could be anything from growing professionally or meeting new people from different parts of the world. Whatever it may be, having an intention can help you set a direction that fits you.

I ended up going to Chapman University because it really fit with my personality and what I was looking for. The liberal arts education gave me more freedom to choose my classes based on my own interest. I also really enjoy the small community because it has made it easier for me to adapt to my new home. My friend, on the other hand, goes to Penn State and really enjoys the big campus environment. She likes the diversity and ability to meet new people from different cultures everywhere she goes. She also really enjoys the fun home football games that happen every other weekend.  

Whatever path you may choose to take, I hope you find a place that matches with your own personality. Spend some time researching your different options available and connect it to your own interests. Each school will offer different doors of opportunities, but it is up to you to choose the one that feels the best for you.

If you have any other questions about college or even my transition from high-school, don’t hesitate to ask!

“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney

How to Banish the Quarter-Life Crisis

Just because you feel like you should do something doesn’t mean you have to.

I received a newsletter recently that spoke to me on a deep, existential level. The subject line? “I just want to give up and take a nap.” Naps aside (because we all probably need one), the feeling of wanting to give up is a strong one – and one that resonates with me.  

The good news here is that I’m not alone. You see, this email from Girlboss spoke to a topic that’s gaining some unfortunate popularity: the quarter-life crisis.

Are we even allowed to feel crises when we’re so young? Often, the resounding advice from the world at large says “NO” – that millennials have it easy, we live in the land of opportunities, that we have so many resources and options within our grasp that we “should” have it made.

And yet, there’s that word. “Should.” We’ve talked about it a few times in this blog. The quarter-life crisis seems to come from all this pressure we feel stemming from what we hear we should do. Not whether we could or even want to; it feels so often like not only do we need to have it all figured out, but we also have to make it meaningful too.

But here’s the good news: just because you feel like you should doesn’t mean you have to. It’s absolutely OK to not have it figured out in your twenties, your thirties, or beyond – we’re allowed to make it up as we go along.

Here’s how I support myself when I’m feeling the pressure of the quarter life crisis:

  1. Do what you need to do. Take a breath and focus on the present – what’s actually on your to-do list? Forget the things you feel like you “should” do for a minute and instead look at the short term items you know you have to tackle today. Sure, this can easily backslide into procrastinating, but perfectly fine to take a break from long term stress to deal with short term tasks. Build momentum by crossing tasks off your list one step at a time.
  2. Ask for help. Talk to a friend or family member about how you’re feeling – getting some outside perspective is a good way to remind yourself that sometimes we’re the ones putting the pressure on ourselves. If your anxiety is particularly strong, talking to a therapist can be a huge relief too.  
  3. Remember it’s temporary. The anxiety from existential problems like this can certainly feel like it’s going to swallow you whole, but thankfully anxiety is not a permanent feeling. Try to step back from it and remember, it’s called a quarter life crisis because you’re only in the first quarter of your life. As you give yourself the emotional space to make up your path as you go along, the anxiety will pass and you will figure out the next step you need to take. Another helpful tip? Think back to the last time you felt overwhelmed – what was the outcome? More importantly – did that moment end? Trace your feelings backward and you’ll see – the overwhelm is fleeting, and the outcome rarely matches how anxious we feel about it.
  4. Let go of things that aren’t serving you. Is the anxiety coming from a specific source – a task you don’t feel up to, a relationship that’s turning toxic, maybe a role that doesn’t fit you? Sometimes the things we think we want aren’t what we really need. And what’s more, sometimes we tell ourselves we can do it ALL – and realistically we don’t have the bandwidth to do everything. Let go of the “shoulds,” focus on what you can AND want to do.
  5. Figure out your own personal definition for success. You may hear the world telling you that success is a certain set of goals – making money, getting married, having kids, climbing the corporate ladder. But are those goals right for you? Maybe success looks like the space to take that nap on your couch when you need it; or it looks like nailing your next performance evaluation. Your goals can be as short or long term as you need – just keep that keyword “need” in mind.

Getting through the quarter life crisis isn’t really as simple as aging out of your quarter-life, unfortunately, but luckily the feeling doesn’t have to stick with you day in and day out. Remind yourself it’s 100% OK not to have it all figured out – I’ve yet to meet the person who does – and that it’s OK to make it up as you go along. I know I certainly am!

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston Churchill

The World of Visual Arts

How can I be an artist in today’s digital world?

Meet Leah. Leah is a student at Chapman University studying Animation and Visual Effects. She is distinguished by her vivid energy, her love for video games, and her unique approach to the world. Today we talk about her perspective as an artist and how she’s been adapting to the digital arts world. Hope you enjoy!

“It’s not only about talking, it’s also about listening.”

Meet Colleen and learn about her unique experience after high school and how she realized Communication was the field of study that brought out the best in her.

Colleen Penaluna is a student at Chapman University studying Communications with a minor in Political Science. Her discerning mindset for social justice distinguishes her from many of her peers – that and her love for corgis.

Thank you for being here today. How about our readers get to know you a little better. How would you describe yourself in three words?

Oh lord. I’d say I’m loyal, open-minded, and diligent (oh and sleepy too).

What is something that you do every month that you think makes you feel the happiest?

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Stuck in a situation that’s no longer a fit? Your beliefs might be the culprit.

Near the end of the previous school year, I got in touch with one of my daughter’s teachers about how she was doing in class. Despite some amazing teachers and creative strategies to support her, she was having increasing difficulty with math and it was clearly taking a toll on her confidence. My daughter was getting to the point where she’d avoid doing her homework, already convinced she wouldn’t be able to do it without even trying.

After a few back and forths, her teacher suggested taking her to the doctor to get her evaluated. “For what?” I asked. I knew exactly what – my background in healthcare, being a daughter of a mom who worked with kids with learning difficulties and the experiences of my friends precluded me from feigning ignorance. I knew that my daughter likely was dealing with Attention Deficit Disorder. So my question to the teacher was entirely meant to challenge, to push back, and to make what she was suggesting not so. Continue reading

Why You Should Try New Things

Last weekend my friend called me and asked if I could help her out on a film set she was working on. The person in charge of the production design had canceled last minute so she needed someone to replace them. At first I thought about rejecting the offer and telling her I was busy. I didn’t really know a lot about set design, let alone a film, so I didn’t really think I could be much of  an asset.

But after giving it a second thought, I decided to give it a go. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Participating in the set actually ended up being really fun. I got to help out with the arrangement of props and learned about complex processes behind film production. It even reminded me how much I enjoyed interior design.

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How I’m “Journeous” – Dylan Gallagher, Orange Sky Adventures

A picture is worth 1,000 words. You know it, you’ve heard it, and most influentially – you’ve seen it. We saw it too when we talked to Dylan Gallagher, founder of Orange Sky Adventures.
What did we see? The spirit of ‘being Journeous’ in action.

We met Dylan at a recent event where he told us that what Journeous is all about really resonated with him. He shared a bit about his own experience ‘being Journeous’ – and we wanted to hear a bit more. So we sat down with Dylan to hear, eight years after graduating from college, how he’s been Journeous, what he’s learned along the way, and his advice for his younger self and others who are there now. Take a listen.

The Power Of Self-Awareness

It was only a few years ago when I first heard about the concept of self-awareness. This notion of “self” had always been something unspoken, for I’d always been told it was psychologists who were in charge of analysing people and their patterns of behaviors. As a response to this abstraction, I struggled to understand what this idea truly entailed. I had always been me, so how could I not know who I am?

Time passed and I was introduced to the art of yoga and meditation. In my practices, this word kept showing up and I became more curious to understand what it was really about. Reading from the different perspectives of psychologists, philosophers and spiritual teachers, I realized just how naive I had been.

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