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How to Attack Nerves and Win

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A job interview can be one of the most nerve wracking events outs there. I believe that uncertainty in important situations is what fuels our anxiety. We so greatly wish to achieve success, get that job, that we put immense pressure on ourselves, creating doubt. This is all perfectly natural.

I have been playing basketball since I was three years old. I am continuing my career today at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. With thousands of games played under my belt, never has a game gone by without butterflies pumping through my stomach. My senior year of high school, my team was fortunate enough to play for a state championship. I was so nervous I couldn’t sleep for days in advance. Before the game I remember my hands trembling and wondering how in the world I was going to hold a basketball, let alone play with one.

Another player named Bill Russell, a much greater player than I am, was said to have thrown up before every game. Imagine being so nervous you were physically sick. Bill Russell played in thirteen NBA seasons, winning eleven championships while averaging fifteen points and twenty two rebounds per game. Not too bad. But hey, at least my team won that state championship game right?

My point is that nerves can be overcome. Personally, there are steps I take in dealing with my nerves before games that I believe can be applicable in other areas. Like a big test, a big piano recital, or a big job interview.

The key is to find ways to ensure that once the ball is tossed up, the first note is played, or the first question asked, those nerves disappear. I like to think of it as finding a rhythm. So now the obvious question, how to find your rhythm?

The first step is preparation. All of my games these days happen on weekends, so my team does something critical during weekdays. That’s right, practice makes perfect. We work on things we need come game time, such as shooting, passing, and dribbling. Our coach also prepares game film on our opponents to learn their strengths and weaknesses.

I’m not sure what day’s of the week your job interview will be on but I’m confident you will have ample time to prepare beforehand. Learn the company inside and out. Be ready to discuss aspects of the company you admire. Look up practice interview questions and review them over and over again. Put yourself in the best position for success. Think about your strengths and weaknesses.

How do you plan on emphasizing your strengths? This is incredibly important because in an interview you want to ensure your strengths are portrayed without going overboard. How will you respond when asked about your weaknesses? Be honest about them, unless you have no weaknesses, which would be pretty cool and in which case you have nothing to be nervous about.

Another thing I like to do is what I call “getting in the zone.” It’s a pretty common idea in sports. Basically around twenty to thirty minutes before the game starts, I isolate myself from most of my teammates. I try to find a quiet place somewhere, and just sit by myself and concentrate. I try to put all of my attention on the task at hand. In the case of a game, I imagine what I need to do to win. I think of the film I watched all week and what I learned. Say I now know that the guy I’ll be guarding can’t shoot three pointers. I remind myself to repeatedly lay off him when he has the ball in order not to let him go by me and get to the hoop.

Whether or not your interviewer can shoot probably won’t matter, but your approach can still be similar. Think about your preparation leading up to this. In basketball it’s critical not to over think things. Doing these things before games allows me to play freely, reacting rather than over thinking my actions and playing poorly.
I believe this can translate into an interview as well. Hopefully this can help you to communicate freely and effectively, find your rhythm and nail that job interview.

IMG_1144JJ Weir
JJ Weir is a future CPA whose NBA dreams were cut short due to average height and a lack of athleticism. He currently studies accounting at Rhodes College. He is also a member of the Varsity Basketball Team.

How Work Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

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People spend a lot of their time at work, people often find friends on the job, and what people do is an important source of their social identity and status. Simply put, work matters. Consequently, the conditions of work matter, too. Work can be an important source of stress and strain in people’s lives, whether that stress comes from long working hours, work-family conflict, the economic insecurity that derives from the threat of layoffs or fluctuating wages and hours, or not having control over one’s work environment.

Not surprisingly, I and some operations research colleagues have found that toxic workplace conditions are as harmful for mortality, having a physician-diagnosed illness, and self-reported physical and mental health as exposure to second-hand smoke, a regulated known carcinogen. We also estimated that approximately 120,000 people a year die from workplace conditions—and I am not talking about physical exposures such as accidents or harmful chemicals—and that the workplace is responsible for almost $200 billion annually in incremental health care costs.

I am writing a book on this issue of the workplace and human sustainability. Although there is enormous epidemiological evidence on this topic, I am seeking personal examples of how people’s work has made them ill and/or stressed. If you are willing to share your story or example, contact me at pfeff@stanford.edu to explore setting up a (recorded) telephone interview. I can offer you anonymity if you so desire, and if requested, will also not mention the name of your employer.

Sharing your story can help bring the problem of harmful workplaces to light and just possibly stimulate employer and policy interventions to limit the physical and economic damage.

pfeffer-2l-bio-imageDr. Jeffrey Preffer
Dr. Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University where he has taught since 1979. He is the author or co-author of 14 books.

Happiness at Work

Several years ago the university where I work redesigned our adult, working student curriculum. Many of these part-time students/full-time employees were returning to school after leaving college decades earlier, others were entering college for the first time, and still others were coming back for a second degree. No matter what their background these students shared a similar struggle: They longed to find happiness and fulfillment at work. Our students are not unique. The workplace is littered with disengaged, dissatisfied employees. There are those who pass the time by counting the minutes until time to clock out, others wishing for a different job, still others regretting decisions made years ago that have created a feeling of being trapped in a dead end job.

The good news is there is a way out. Here are some ways we have addressed these concerns.

1. Find Balance
Finding balance means you set priorities and develop boundaries. People with a strong sense of balance place self-care above boss-pleasing, manage their energy rather than time, and learn to put “first things first.” Tool: Keep track of your schedule for one week. Beside each activity put a ” +” if the activity adds to your level of energy and a “-“ if it zaps you of energy. Categorize your activities to determine where you are spending the majority of your time and energy. Make adjustments to increase the number and times you engage in energy producing activities.

2. Slow Down To Speed Up
Our culture places high emphasis on multi-tasking. In fact, it is seen as a badge of honor to be busy, SuperMom or SuperDad, and to “have it all.” Research, however, strongly indicates multitasking and over-commitment decreases our work performance, our self-esteem, and eventually our happiness. Slowing down and concentrating on one activity at a time keeps us from becoming slaves to our frantic schedules, allowing us to master an activity before moving on to the next. Tool: Use the STING technique. Select one task to do at a time. Time yourself using a clock for no more than one hour. Ignore everything else during that time. No breaks or interruptions should be permitted. Give yourself a reward when the time is up.

3. Play To Your Strengths
Research by the Gallup organization reveals that when employees are able to do what they do best at least once a day, they are more fulfilled and engaged on the job. We spend so much time trying to be well-rounded and fix our weaknesses, we often ignore those things where we are naturally strong. Ironically, our greatest opportunity for personal growth lies in our areas of strength. Tool: Buy the book StrengthFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. Take the assessment and begin to develop your strengths.

4. Find Meaning In Your Work
One key to stay motivated on the job is to connect your job with your own personal goals. You do not have to love your job to be happy at work. Some people work to provide for their family, providing them with meaning and purpose. Others find meaning in friendships they build at work. Still others find fulfillment in the realization that effectively doing their job helps others excel. Any job can have meaning if approached with a positive attitude. Tool: List the people who would suffer if you did not show up for work, quit your job, or your position was eliminated.

5. Practice Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness means you are living in the moment. When you practice mindfulness you are able to observe the current situation free from the guilt of the past or worry about the future. People who regularly practice mindfulness are happier and more at peace. They don’t try to control or manipulate events. They take action when necessary, but focus only on important, controllable responses. Tool: Draw two intersecting circles. Label one circle “Things that are important” and the other “things within my control.” Hang this Venn diagram where you can easily see it. Before reacting to situations, analyze them through this diagram asking, “Is the situation important enough for me to respond? and “Is the outcome of the situation within my control?” If you cannot answer yes to both these questions, you probably do not want to take action.

6. Show up with gratitude
Although there are many paths to happiness, the most impactful is showing gratitude. Living a life believing the glass is half-full is one of the most powerful things you can do to improve your lot in life. I have personally witnessed miserable employees become engaged and fulfilled at work through the simple act of practicing gratitude on a daily basis. Tool: At an intersection you pass everyday on your way to work, list the things in your life for which you are grateful. Think of three new things everyday.

Remember, happiness is a choice and can be gained through intentionality. The above exercises can go a long way to improve your happiness at work and in life.

bevDr. Bevalee Vitali
Dr. Bevalee Vitali is an Associate Professor of Business at Christian Brothers University. When not in the classroom, she works as a contract trainer in corporations and non-profit organizations, focusing upon leadership and personal development, employee development, and well-being.

Six Ways to Increase Your Confidence

I often hear from my clients that they wish they felt more confident. Research shows that women especially struggle with self-confidence. In fact, in the workplace, often it’s not the men holding the women back – it’s the women themselves. While women are busy behaving and trying to get everything perfectly right, men pass them by. (For example, men will apply for a job if they feel they meet 60% of the job requirements; women prefer to meet all the requirements.)

However, many of my male clients express a lack of confidence as well. In fact, you might be surprised; a lot of people who are struggling appear to have it all together. If you think you’re the only one who’s short on confidence, that’s just not so. The good news is you can boost your self-confidence; here are six ways to get started.

1. Think positive.
Yes, I said it: think positive. I’m not talking about being a Pollyanna when things are going wrong, but running worst case scenarios in your head all day definitely won’t help your confidence. The same part of your brain that worries is also the part that daydreams. Make sure you are giving at least equal time to best case scenarios.

And don’t forget, your body language counts as “thinking positive,” too. First, make sure you smile; it makes your brain feel good, makes you more attractive to others and it’s contagious – and as a man on the NYC subway once told me, “it won’t mess up your hair!” Second, watch this TED Talk by Amy Cuddy to see how striking the Wonder Woman pose can help you feel more confident before that next interview or critical meeting.

2. Avoid the trap of “compare and despair.”
Comparing ourselves to other people is one of the most damaging things we can do to our self-confidence. That’s because we compare our “insides” with other people’s “outsides.” The truth is, we really don’t know what’s going on inside other people’s hearts and heads – our guesses about how other people feel are probably pretty inaccurate. If you want to test this, pay someone a compliment about a trait you admire. For example, “you are such a relaxed and natural public speaker.” And then ask, “what’s your secret?” You might learn that they are indeed nervous – and (bonus) you may learn their secret to appearing confident!

3. Appreciate your accomplishments.
We tend to be quick to criticize ourselves, and entirely forgetful when it comes to acknowledging the things we get right. Every time you pause to consciously appreciate your accomplishments – no matter how small – you are reminded of all that you do and are capable of. So don’t wait around for outside praise or validation. Maybe you’ll get it; maybe you won’t. It’s better just to be an adult and meet your own needs for acknowledgment and appreciation (but definitely ask others to help you celebrate your big wins!).

4. Don’t aim for perfection.
Confidence is important, it’s true, but sometimes we’re better off having a little courage instead. You can’t always wait until you feel confident (that may never happen) to make an important move. You’ll never be perfectly prepared. Identify when you are ready “enough” and go for it. Even if things don’t go quite how you wanted them to, you’ll still gain confidence because you’ll have learned how to take a risk and how to handle a less-than-perfect result. As Brene Brown says, “Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.”

5. Be prepared.
One of the workshop topics I often speak to groups about is Authentic Networking; I encourage people (especially the introverts like me) to network in a way that’s comfortable for them. During the workshop, we create and practice a personal introduction, prepare a few questions to ask the people they’ll meet, talk about how to effectively work a room (even if they need bring a buddy), and get used to standing alone awkwardly for a few moments. In short, we prepare. Does that mean we won’t feel nervous at all? No, but it sure helps, and preparation may mean the difference between showing up and taking a risk, or not showing up at all.

6. Increase your self-awareness.
Many of the things that I work on with my coaching clients build their self-awareness and their self-confidence. From identifying their values and strengths to challenging old beliefs to understanding their self esteem drivers to embracing their perfect imperfection, the coaching process boosts my clients’ confidence. They also build self-awareness that guides their decisions and choices – and fuels the actions that move them toward their goals. Action creates more confidence, and a virtuous cycle is formed. So read a book about personal development, get some feedback, ask for support – whatever you need to build your self-awareness. Not only will it boost your confidence, it happens to be essential to great leadership, too.

There’s no need to go on a confidence binge and try all six of these ideas at once, but I do encourage you to try whichever appeals most to you. If that gives you a boost, try another. Real progress is made up of small steps; know that it’s normal to experience some discomfort and a setback or two when trying something new. The important thing is to get out there and do something different. It may be a little scary, but that’s also where the growth and excitement are. Keep practicing, and don’t be surprised when someone asks you what’s your secret to being so confident!

jen-frankJen Frank, MBA, CPC, ACC
As a Certified Professional Coach, Jen has dedicated her practice to helping people achieve their goals and live their best lives, while being kind to themselves. By supporting people as they gain self-awareness and self-acceptance (traits central to great leadership), she works to empower people to step up as leaders in their own lives as well as in their organizations and communities. For more information about executive, life or career coaching for individuals, or training for organizations, see www.jenfrankcoaching.com or contact Jen at jen(at)jenfrankcoaching(dot)com.