I recently had the privilege of interviewing Margaret Heffernan. Margaret is incredibly impressive, with a career that includes running five companies in the United States and the United Kingdom, being a college professor, authoring five books, and giving multiple TED Talks. Originally from Texas, Margaret has lived all over, including in the U.K.
Margaret’s career is so impressive that it was hard to narrow down the questions to a list that would fit into one podcast episode. As you can imagine, the interview was wonderful. The insights Margaret shared haven’t left my mind since we spoke.
Margaret describes herself as someone that has always done work that she’s loved. At times, she was paid well, and other times she made very little. But, she was always happy in her work. I asked her how she was able to organize her career this way.
She made two important points that I want to share with you. When a job wasn’t the right fit, she didn’t hesitate to walk away – even if she had only been there for a short period of time. This reminds me of the way a company would quickly fire someone if they weren’t the right fit. But, as employees, we stick around out of some kind of artificial loyalty.
When Margaret worked in an environment where it was clear that succeeding would be an uphill battle, she looked for another job that was a better fit. This would happen in situations where perhaps the staff didn’t treat everyone fairly. Rather than take it personally, she moved on and looked for a better situation. This must have been a tough decision at times, given how important equality is. But, I think we can all agree that it’s easier to succeed in an environment that supports you and your talent.
The second tip Margaret he was gold, quite literally. She said she was always careful to keep enough, “running away money on hand.” I can’t tell you how happy this phrase makes me. Running away money is often referred to as an emergency fund. It is typically six to twelve months of salary (or living expenses) saved up. Most people place this money in a savings account for safe keeping.
Having a financial safety net gives you choices. It allows you to walk away if you really need to. It allows you to control your own destiny, not your company. Very often, when we upgrade our house, our cars, and our lifestyles, we are simply chaining ourselves to the very company we hate.
And as Margaret noted, just having the running away money doesn’t mean you actually need to run away. It often gives you a boost of confidence to be yourself at work. You know you’ll be okay, even if everything else falls apart. That added confidence alone makes things at work go better, and it keeps you from running away at all.
Have you ever gotten an email from someone that you just want to ignore? Perhaps it’s from a vendor you work with that wants to tell you about a new product they’re selling. The email provides no immediate value for you. There’s nothing you can do about it right now, and frankly, you’re busy. You’re so far up to your eyeballs in reports that you can barely breathe. We’ve all been there. I can definitely relate. The easiest thing to do is often to ignore the email.
Now, think back to how you landed your last job, or maybe the one before. Chances are good that you found it not by applying online, but through a professional contact. There’s a good chance that you previously worked with that person, either directly or indirectly.
It’s extremely common to be recruited by an outside company you do business with – either your customer, or your supplier. After working with you, a company has a chance to see you up close. They know just how professional you are, and how devoted you are to your craft.
But, this will only happen if you treat those around you with a certain level of respect. Taking a moment to let someone know you’ve received their email can mean the world, even if you’re not able to fulfill their request. I’m not suggesting that you say yes to everyone. And, I’m certainly not suggesting you respond to things that are clearly spam. You don’t have time for that.
But, do take the time to value those around you – even on the days when they’re asking for something rather than offering something. For example, if someone is asking for a meeting that you would normally be open to, but are just too busy to take, send an email letting them know you’ve received their message and would like to meet, but are swamped for the next few weeks. Most everyone understands the concept of being busy at work. Or, if a person is asking for your help with something that you really can’t do right now due to existing commitments, be honest and up front.
The most difficult scenario is when you don’t respond at all. When you ignore an email, it doesn’t just tell the person that you’re busy. It tells them that they’re not important. It says that you’ll only respond if you’re getting something out of the deal. And, it says that you may not be as professional as they thought.
When you’ve been with one company for a number of years, this can begin to seem normal. You want to be efficient and use your time in the best way. But, sometimes something unexpected can happen. Your company may lay off an entire division. If you’ve focused all of your attention on internal folks, while not nurturing outside relationships, you may struggle more to find something new.
It goes back to the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Angela Copeland is CEO and founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at CopelandCoaching.com or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.
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