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Yes, and…

status quo

It’s been a decade since I left the large, global, corporate world. During the biggest economic downturn the U.S. had seen in a long time, I started my learning and organization development practice.

Working in a global organization, despite many successes, the clash between work and life values was impacting my health. I loved the idea of the job; the reality, not so much. At 34 years old, with two young sons and a spouse who worked full-time, I decided I needed to make a change. Yes, it was scary, and yet, not changing seemed scarier.

People, you know, “they”, “them,” …”those” people, even some close to me, said I was crazy not to look for another “real” job in corporate; consulting was “too risky”. Though I interviewed and considered other internal corporate opportunities, the closer I got to an offer, the more I felt like I was suffocating. I needed a break from the “traditional” route, and I’ve never been one who’s afraid to shake up the status quo.

Several people knew I’d been doing consulting on the side while working full-time, and encouraged me to consider consulting full-time because, “you know everybody, people need your skills.” I had interviews and had secured two contracts within days of leaving my corporate job. Yellow Giraffe Learning Partners, LLC. was born. Ten years later, through partnership with many organizations, the Yellow Giraffe is still Standing Tall.

Over the past decade, colleagues and friends have asked me to talk to people and “share my secret to success.” For a few years, I thought it was luck, frankly. According to many online sources (Forbes, BizJournal, and others), over 50% of businesses fail in their first five years. Now that a decade has passed, perhaps it’s not been mere luck. I had instinct and determination combined with a healthy dose of fear.

Three years ago, I decided to shake up the status quo again by returning to corporate. Saw a job posting by sheer happenstance; the role offered an opportunity to help create a learning practice within a rapidly growing organization. Once again, out came the naysayers, the worriers of good intent, wondering why on Earth I would take a pay cut to go “back inside.” Yes, I like a good challenge, and…I wanted another opportunity to create from scratch. Yellow Giraffe Learning Partners continued to provide learning & development services, outside of my current internal job industry; clients were happy to partner with my bench of learning consultants to help them with their projects.

That instinct, determination, and fear? They serve me well in corporate, too. Taking a role that had never existed at the company before, a consultative “bring it” approach was needed to educate others on what I could do, and to build credibility before I started deviating from the status quo around learning and development. Everything from learning strategy, building a team, branding, templates, project management and processes; the entrepreneurial mindset has come in handy.

What’s your next “yes, and” moment? A leadership facilitator once shared a perspective that still resonates with me today. It is the idea that saying, “Yes, but…” tends to negate or shut down a conversation; on the other hand, beginning your thought with, “Yes, and…” allows for more expansion of possibilities, more inclusive conversation. As you think of your desired future path, and you hear, “yes, but…” in your head, change it to yes, and…”

Here are some of the tips that I’ve shared with people who’ve wanted to know more about my navigation from internal employee to consultant. When “yes, but” started to creep in during times of great change, I thought, yes and…

  1. Start! It doesn’t have to be fancy! Swap skills with colleagues. My accountant set up an Excel spreadsheet to  mymanage business finances, saying; “you don’t need to buy fancy software at this point!” I still have that spreadsheet. To minimize startup costs, can you barter skills? I did this, and I gained a website and a company logo. My network gained resume/interview coaching and social media training.
  2. Be true to your values. What is important for you in your work, the type of people, schedule, industry, etc? What other values are important to consider in your life? One tough choice for me was to decide between a project that fit my love for global work, (scope changed to 12 weeks abroad), and my love for family. Family won; great mentors ensured me opportunities would come again.
  3. Define success. I found this a surprisingly challenging exercise and have refined my own definition over the years. Create a list or vision board that shows the behaviors, attributes, lifestyle you want if you are successful as a consultant.
  4. Bring it! Clients hire you for your up-to-date expertise; you may need to respectfully challenge and broaden their thinking from the original request as you assess current state; many are leery of speaking up in fear of losing the client. You are there to guide and improve their business.
  5. Commit to your field of expertise by joining professional associations. Even more effective for your professional reach is to volunteer with those organizations – whether you are a consultant or an internal employee. The relationships there will serve you well.

As Seth Godin says, “If you’re not upsetting anyone, you’re not changing the status quo.” Sometimes the people we may upset includes ourselves, too. Learning begins when you get outside your comfort zone. Yes, and…

40 by Design

A mid-career professional. A parent. Wife, friend, sister, daughter. Gen-X’er. Small business owner, consultant, contractor. Learning professional, trainer, instructional designer, e-learning developer and project manager. Networker extraordinaire. I-phone using, LinkedIn promoting, tweeting, latte-drinking, dog-walking, traveling when I can find the time, book-devouring, politics-discussing, homework-helping, volunteer-loving, playing with my kids, desperately overscheduled “but it’s all good stuff”…person.

And now I’m 40. What does it mean to be a 40-year old small business owner, mid-career professional juggling the demands of being supermom (as I define it) while having time to be a great friend, lover, and partner to my husband…while running my own small business? Does it magically become clearer with the new ‘40’ label? “Sure”, she says, while guzzling down 8 more ounces of her doctor-recommended 64 ounces of water per day.

As a teenager, I remember seeing pictures of my own mother in her 30s and 40s and thinking, “she looks younger in her 40s than in her 30s.” My mother came up behind me and said, “That’s because in my 40s you girls were older and I had a bit more time to re-focus on myself and my own career.” All righty then.

What is a career, exactly, in an age where it’s a downsize, right size, virtual, flex-time, technology-enabled answer all the time environment?

My answer? I’m a designer. I design ways to enable people to learn skills they need for their current and/or future jobs…or how to look for a new job when theirs is no longer open to them. As I design learning experiences for my bread and butter, I choose to think of turning 40 as a learning experience to design into my own life. What I know about 40 in my world is that I’m reflecting on these questions:

1.You Want Mustard on that Sandwich?sandwich

(Bread): Kids are growing up fast and they’re only young once. You laugh, you cry, you worry, and you cheer, endlessly, for them.

(Bread): Parents are getting older, health issues are occurring, and they are not local to where we live.

Question: How can I make the most of our time together?

(Cheese/Meat): You! Marriage, parenting, and careers take passion, time, and energy.

Question: How can I be present and in the moment in each of these huge components of life?

Sometimes the pressures of all of these items can make one feel like a sandwich that’s been sitting at the bottom of the laptop bag too long…but it’s still delicious and life-affirming for those who hunger for the sustenance from those whom we love.

2.Who Am I Again?

* Is my life going the way I want it to?
* Am I leaving the world and people around me in a better place than when I arrived?
* What am I forgetting to nurture, encourage, and grow?
* What am I putting off doing until “someday?”
* What doesn’t matter anymore?
* What DOES matter?

3.How Do I Know?

No roadmap for parenting. How do you forgive the crap we all survived as children and let your child live his/her own life, and make his/her own discoveries in and about the world?

Marriage. It’s been awhile now. How do we be sure to keep our own relationship as a couple when there’s always late-night-early-morning work calls, team practices, college scouting, children’s milestones, parents expectations of you…and remember that we CHOSE each other? Turn the phone off, hold hands no matter who’s there, have each other’s back without holding each other back, and get away from the NOISE once in awhile.

Career. Yeah. Onsite, offsite, global, national, titles without pay, pay with more responsibility, travel is awesome except when you miss your spouse, children, dogs. Technology-changing, always reaching, industries closing, more work, less staff. The question is, where are you getting what you need to manage your energy, emotions, and sanity at an acceptable level? Are you working to live, or living to work?

What’s next? Who knows? Flexibility, challenge, ownership of my career is important. Raising community-aware humans is paramount. Making time to spend with people I love is increasingly more important. Not putting up with bullshit ranks up there, too. I am a designer of learning; learning to me equals options.

candlesWhat’s next is that I know there will always be options – that is the design framework for my life. At 40, I can say that with more certainty than before – and that’s a good thing. For me.

Yep, I’m a designer, and no matter how many labels I may have, I will design them into my life in a way that lets me be myself, and be with those who matter, to make the most of my passion and energy for life’s options.

Happy (Belated) Birthday to me.