The power of a name

the power of a name

One of the many lessons I learned early on from my father was the importance of learning and pronouncing people’s names correctly. My dad, who was also my FFA advisor, made sure to teach the lesson every year as we prepared for our annual FFA chapter banquet. See, during our banquet, we awarded every student in the program at least once and the awards were presented by fellow members of the chapter. For many students, this was the first time they’d ever been recognized for anything. And, for most, their parents would be in the audience.

It was a moment to be proud of.

Now, think how hard it would be to have your name mispronounced in front of a crowd of people as you’re getting an award (maybe your first one ever). Tough, right?

Now, I won’t say that names weren’t ever mispronounced. After all, we were high schoolers and because of how our program was structured – students from seven different schools came to my dad’s agriscience class for half of their day; some in the morning, some in the afternoon – there was always the possibility that the student giving an award had never met the person receiving the award. It wasn’t a perfect system.

But the lesson was taught to each student, year in and year out, that we should all do our best to learn everyone’s name and how to pronounce it. The parents in the room worked hard to pick that name. As we’re honoring their child, they should be proud to hear that child’s name announced – and announced correctly.

I’m currently reading the famous book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, and I recently finished the chapter on this same idea. As he says “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” To remember someone’s name is to show them respect; it demonstrates that you care and understand the important part they play in the world.

Here’s some tips we can all use to better remember and pronounce names. Do you have any others to add to the list?

One (or more) of “those” days

The last week has been filled with the kind of days I hate having. You know, the kind you describe as “one of those days” with a stressed out look on your face when your significant other asks you how your day was. The kind where your to-do list is so long, you don’t even know where to start it. The kind where the minute you get one thing done, you add five more. The kind where nothing seems to be going right. The kind where it feels like, no matter how hard you try, you keep dropping the ball.

Yeah…one of those days. Or in my case, several of them.

Thanks to three giant events that are taking place for my clients in February (coupled with the fact that I’m moving to a different state), I know I’m not the only one facing the pressure. Everyone on my team feels like they’re playing an ongoing game of “How long can you keep your head above water?”. But the doggy paddling is getting tiring.

It’s during these times that I start to wonder what it would be like to have a more “normal” 9 to 5 job. The type of job where you go to work, do your tasks and then go home, leaving your work at the office. In this fantasy land, there’s no working in the evenings. There’s no feeling of letting people down. There’s no putting in time at the coffee shop on Sunday morning. Your time out of the office is just that – your time. You don’t feel the pressure to clock the extra time or go the extra mile because it can always be done the next day.

Yeah, I know. There’s a reason I called it a “fantasy” land.

On the flip side, when I start yearning for this type of job, I try to stop myself as soon as possible. Instead of dreaming of less responsibility, my inner voice starts getting real with me:

Why would you want a job that you’re not invested in enough to put in the extra hours?

Why would you want to work someplace where you didn’t hold such high standards that you want to deliver at absolutely peak levels, even if that takes some more time than your regular 40 hours a week?

Why would you want to be somewhere that didn’t require you to push yourself past what’s comfortable?

Remember, lady: You. Don’t. Want. That. You want to be a rockstar and rockstars stop whining and go to the next level.

If evening and weekend work was the normal year-round, my inner voice might be a little more logical and tell me to think about my work-life balance. But it isn’t like this all the time. Once I get through February, I know from experience that things tend to relax a bit. And, starting in February, my role will shift a bit, giving me more flexibility in my work volume. So, I know this isn’t a long-term thing. It’s temporary and, while a pain in the short run, I know it will lead to success in the long run.

I’ve just got to keep swimming.

Home really is where the heart is

Whenever a soon-to-graduate college senior asks me if they should take a job away from their home state, I’m always the first person to mimic the Nike ad and say, “Just do it.” Get out of your comfort zone, meet new people, experience new places. Don’t look back on your life and say, “What if?”

I’ve been in Minnesota for 3.5 years now. Before I interviewed for my current job, I’d never been to the state. I’d never lived in a city bigger than East Lansing and I’d never lived away from the state of Michigan for more than the length of a summer internship. I knew absolutely no one. It has been a new experience in every sense of the word.

I would be lying, though, if I said it wasn’t hard.

Until you’re out in the real world, you don’t realize how hard it is to make friends as an adult. High school and college are these weird places where friends are basically there for the taking, already sharing the same interests as you – they’re in classes, clubs, mabye even dorms that you hand selected, so obviously you’ve got to have a little in common. When you move to a new state, though, with no one familiar, you don’t have any of that. People already have their own friends and activities, and you’re the oddball in the mix.

Thankfully, I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by truly wonderful people. Most are those I work with, so not only have they made my job fun, but they’ve also invited me into their homes to share their friends and families. I couldn’t have asked for better people to welcome me with open arms.

Next month, I’m moving back to Michigan.

My fiance recently got the opportunity to take a job closer to home and my company is allowing me to work remotely, so we’re taking the chance while we’ve got it and moving back closer to our families and friends. Yes, we’ll be leaving behind our basically brand new and first-ever house. And I won’t get to see my wonderful coworkers near as often as I do now. But we’ll be gaining so much more than we’re losing.

We’ll be able to see our parents and siblings more than once a year. We’ll be able to have dinner with friends on a random weeknight. We can volunteer with our local FFA chapters. We’ll get to go tailgate at a Michigan State football game or cheer on the Lions when they play the Vikings in a see of blue, instead of purple. All of the things we’ve been missing for 3.5 years will be back in our lives on a regular basis and we couldn’t be more excited.

I still stand by that recommendation to college seniors – go out and try something new outside your comfort zone. I wouldn’t give up the experiences I’ve had for anything. You can always come back home.

And it’ll be that much sweeter when you do.

Attention: Calling the future of agriculture!

Preface: This is an unapologetic, unpaid promotion of a program that I think anyone who wants to lead the agriculture industry should be part of. It is an admittedly shameless sales pitch. For those not yet scared off, carry on 🙂

If you’re like me, you crave opportunities to learn and grow in your personal and professional life. However, you’re tired of one-day seminars and webinars where someone walks through their PowerPoint, tells you what you should do to be a better leader, communicator, manager, marketer, etc. and then disappears into oblivion the minute the “training” (and I put it in quotations for a reason) is over. Often, employers don’t continue supporting the messages of these trainings and they become a big waste of everyone’s time and money.

Photo courtesy: Mark Jewell

Thankfully, I just spent two days at a training that takes those types of “trainings” and gives ’em a big ole punch in the face.

The training was a part of a year-long program I’m taking part in called The Millennial Mastermind. It’s a high-intensity, high-participation program that takes high potential leaders in the agriculture industry and pushes them beyond their limits to figure out exactly why they’re in this business, what their life purpose is, and how they can turn that purpose into big, sweeping change in the industry, their communities, their families and the world. Beyond the two-day intensive, there is ongoing training throughout the year, including podcasts, conference calls, coaching and webinars with industry leaders.

Photo credit: Mark Jewell

The mastermind group that I’m part of is made up of six millennials from seed companies, co-ops and advertising/communications. We came together two days ago not knowing anyone and not quite sure of what we were going to do or learn during the training. We left last night invested in each others’ success and dedicated to living our purpose in order to make a difference to others around us.

This program has only started and already I am beginning to see myself transforming – becoming more confident in myself and more clear on the direction I want my life to take. That’s what brings me to the point of this post:

If you are a millennial in agriculture or have millennials who work for you that you don’t want to lose and think could take over your company someday, you need to sign them up for this program.

No one is paying me to say this. In fact, it’s the opposite – this program is a considerable investment that my company is making in me. And it is life-changing. I want to make sure others have the chance to be a part of this movement. This is what training and development is supposed to look like and I’ve never come across anything like it. Do yourself and your company a favor. Connect with the program’s creator Mark Jewell or leave me a comment if you want to learn more about Millennial Mastermind. The next group starts in December – hope you’re there.

Stop aiming for perfection

I’ve been a perfectionist my entire life (just ask anyone who knows me). I’ve even worn those titles – perfectionist, over-achiever – like a badge of honor, proud of just how much I was achieving with little to no struggle. I was a straight A student, graduating from Michigan State with honors. I excelled in nearly everything I was involved in. I rarely faced a challenge I couldn’t easily overcome.

And now, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a good thing.

Here’s what I believe happens to perfectionists when they enter “the real world”:

  • You take criticism (even if it’s constructive) really hard because you’ve never really gotten it before
  • You live in fear of screwing up because you might disappoint someone (a huge driver of perfectionism)
  • You have a hard time taking risks because you might make a mistake or something could go wrong
  • You’re always questioning your own abilities because what used to make you feel confident – being highly capable in everything – doesn’t come so easily anymore
  • Any small mistake or failure seems epically larger than it is
  • You put more pressure on yourself to get things right the first time than anyone else does, for fear of letting someone see weakness or vulnerability

And if that’s not what happens to all perfectionists, at the very least it’s what happened to me.

In my job, like most, there is no perfect. There’s always something that could be done differently or better. There’s always someone asking if you had thought about things another way or asking your motives behind a decision (even if it was the right one, the fear of there being a chance you did something wrong is terrifying). All of these things are part of learning and growing but, while I know that to be true, it’s a hard pill to swallow.

So, I’ve decided that, moving forward, I’m working to fight my perfectionist leanings and I encourage others to as well. Do your best, yes, but also:

  • Stop being afraid to screw up!
  • Go out of your way to do things where you might make mistakes
  • Learn from those mistakes
  • Surround yourself with people who encourage and support risk-taking (aka they tell you to get on the trapeze because they will be your net if you fall)
  • Try new things
  • Actively remind yourself that you don’t have to be perfect to be awesome (say it to your reflection in the mirror each morning!)

Perfection isn’t a compliment – it’s a straight jacket, holding us back from going out and doing all the amazing things that are out in the world. Stop being a perfectionist, but keep being awesome and imagine where it could lead.

A reminder of perspective

I’ll admit that I’ve been feeling a little down about work lately. I’m chalking it up to a minor “quarter life crisis” – which I know I’m not alone in experiencing – and putting an unnecessary amount of pressure on myself to figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life.

Do I want to stay in advertising?

Do I want to move to the non-profit sector?

Should I freelance?

Are there other interests outside of agriculture that I should tap into?

Should I be looking at things closer to home, friends and family?

I know that none of these are questions that need to be answered right now, and that I should just stop and take a breath. But it’s just so hard sometimes, when you feel like there’s just so much to figure out! Thankfully, I got to have an experience at work last week that gave me a little bit of perspective.

Right now our agency is working on a little self reflection, trying to discover where we want to be in the future and what steps we need to take to get there. As a part of the process, I got to be part of a focus group. The group was made up of people mostly in my age group, from all different disciplines and departments. We were asked about our thoughts on agency culture, where new business might come from and the creative process. One of the best perspective gaining questions that got asked, though, was the first one we got started with:

Why do you like working here? What makes you get up in the morning every day?

What I loved is that, across 10 or so people around the table, there were common themes that resonated with all of us and prove that yes – despite my constant panic about whether I should shift course – this really is a great place to work.

We don’t take ourselves too seriously.

Minneapolis is a big advertising/PR town, with shops that are doing globally recognized work. We do great work in our office, too, but you won’t see us jet-setting to Cannes or only doing work for high profile, “flashy” companies. We know our clients and their business and that’s why they hire us. We work hard to bring them new insights and ideas and, at the end of the day, we relax over a drink and some happy hour snacks. We love what we do, but we don’t have to stick our nose up at everyone else to do it. We’d rather challenge you to a game of Crud instead.

We value the fact that employees have lives outside of work.

While we expect that the work gets done well, on time and on budget, our senior management (and clients) also understand that people have interests and families outside of our walls. Unlike other “run ’em ragged” shops, people on our team will raise an eyebrow if you’re still in the office after 6:00 or if you say you’re skipping a kid’s baseball game because you’re trying to get work done. Work is only one part of our lives – it doesn’t do well to make it the only focus.

We put a lot of faith in young talent.

This is one that’s especially good for me to be reminded of every so often, especially when I get caught up in all the things I don’t feel very confident in. At my agency, our leadership has faith in young talent. There are 20-somethings (like yours truly) who get tons of responsibility over strategy development and project execution for lead brands of our biggest clients. When we prove that we can handle the challenge and can be trusted to make smart choices, we’re given the opportunity to lead. That’s huge.

So next time I get stuck in a “What in the heck am I going to do with myself for the rest of my career?!!?” place, I’m going to look back on this list and remember – I’m in a pretty good place to figure it out.

6 Ideas for New Hire Onboarding

With the arrival of summer interns and a slew of new hires thanks to expanding business, my company is re-evaluating our onboarding procedure (which is really to say, we’re creating one).

Now, I for one think that your first week at a new job is one of the hardest. Not only do you not know anyone, but you’re also learning a bunch of new processes and — despite being eager to jump in — don’t know enough about the business to just start taking things and running with them.

Knowing those challenges, we’ve brainstormed some ideas that I think would be great additions to any new employee program. I don’t know that we’ll put them all into action but maybe there’s one or a few that you think would work in your office!

Introduce the company mission or vision
For Millennials especially, we want to know what our employer is trying to achieve or the mark they want to leave on the world — and how we can contribute to that. Start introducing the company mission to new employees from the start and help them discover how they can live it every day.

Make a buddy system
Where in the building can you get a Diet Coke? Who do I go to when I need to order office supplies? What does Bob Smith do again? These are just a few of the questions that a new employee may be wondering but not know who to ask. Sure, there’s always your manager, but why not have a buddy? We thought it’d be great if new hires — especially those straight out of school — had a “buddy” that was at their same position, maybe also somewhat new to the company, to answer the questions that seem silly until you get to know more people.

Provide an organization chart
If your company is anything like mine, there are lots of people with titles that may mean little to nothing to you if you’re new to the industry. Having an easy to understand org chart helps new employees learn names and what people do (make sure to include pictures!).

Create “Our Company 101”
Despite the fact that you just interviewed with your employer, know the basics and it seems like a great place to work, there may still be holes in your knowledge of what they actually do. For us, that missing information might be who our largest clients are, how we make money and what our short and long term goals are. Consider creating some sort of introductory document or presentation that helps new employees get more comfortable with the inner workings of the business.

Training materials, practice assignments and/or tutorials
One of the hardest part of starting a new job IMO is staying busy until you know the business well enough to generate your own work. For new employees, consider having a set of training modules/tutorials that teach skills they’ll need or practice assignments that mimic what they’ll be doing. For us, examples might be an online tutorial on basic HTML or writing a creative brief based on a fictional scenario. For your business it might be something else, but make sure the tasks are relevant to their position and help get them up to speed on what you’ll expect from them in the future.

Lunch and happy hours
I’m a firm believer in the power of lunches and happy hours to get to know people. Make sure you’re inviting new employees to lunch and happy hours with people at all levels of the company to build those connections in a more casual setting.

I know there are lots of other ways to welcome new people to your organization, and these are just the tip of the iceberg. Make sure to share what your company does or other ideas in the comments!