To Succeed, Choose What Is Essential

I was commiserating recently with a colleague about busyness. We each expressed how we had agreed to do things that have filled our schedules. I asked rhetorically, “Why do we do these things?” She didn’t hesitate to answer.

Her response, “We get ourselves into these things because of passion, energy, and a need to ‘do it right.’” She also said the activities probably filled a need to be needed. Ironically, another friend had recently come to the realization that she almost always said yes when asked to serve on a committee or take on an assignment, in large part, because she liked feeling needed. Once she realized that, she also realized she could say no.

I admit that one of the challenging areas in my life requires much attention, but it also is an area for which I am really passionate so I didn’t feel comfortable saying no to the request.

Fortunately, I was reading “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown when I was asked to step into the role. The wisdom from the book helped me to set parameters, and I know there is an end in sight. That is important because time spent on this project is taking away from time I’d like to devote to writing.

McKeown asks his readers whether they have ever found themselves majoring in minor activities. His point is that through Essentialism we learn how to get the right things done. If we aren’t the ones prioritizing our life, someone else will. I’ve become much more adept at saying no. It’s a powerful word.

I’ve shared how I’ve scaled back on movie nights and even stopped playing volleyball, something I have enjoyed for decades. Volleyball is a huge time commitment. I have to drive to the club, play for two hours and then drive home. If we aren’t playing particularly well, I don’t even get a good workout. I realized I could take those three hours and use two of them for writing and one for the gym. I set my priorities.

Following McKeown’s book, I made an individual choice on how to spend my energy and time. The choice, though, also involved the “reality of trade-offs.” In other words, I couldn’t have it all or do it all. The result was no volleyball.

McKeown writes, “Everything changes when we give ourselves permission to be more selective in what we choose to do.”

What changed for me was more time for writing. I’m about to finish writing the first draft of a book. That’s a huge win for me. I’m not even focused on the rewriting, editing or pitching of it. I simply want to get the first draft finished.

I chose to focus on writing, and soon I’ll have a manuscript.

That was essential to me.


7 Nuggets of Career Advice

The other week I was fortunate to hear from four leaders in higher education. All four also were women. I’m not sure if that really mattered, but the event was billed about hearing from women leaders. And they did share challenges they had faced as women advancing in their careers.

Their stories resonated with me, and I took away several lessons.

Take advantage of opportunities. One of the leaders said she didn’t necessarily have a career path, but she took advantage of opportunities, particularly the ones that excited her. She noted that paths always opened up new opportunities.

Say yes to the right things. One leader said she sometimes has problems saying no. “Perhaps it is a fear or a belief that it might close off some opportunity,” she said. She has learned, though, that only individuals know what they are trying to achieve. Her advice? We should stay focused on what we want, not what others want.

We should stay focused on what we want, not what others want. 

Follow your passion. You know what you love so talk about it and share it with others. Believe in yourself and be open to the next opportunity. Another leader urged audience members to discover what brings them joy.

Don’t set limitations. One leader said she had to give credit to how she was raised – specifically, without limitations. Consequently, she believed she could do whatever was important to her.

Find silver linings. One leader said that when something is negative, she thinks about the negative from multiple angles and tries to determine what could be positive or good about the situation. As she put it, “It’s a mind game that gives me a better perspective.”

Be strong. As a leader make deliberate choices about with whom you surround yourself. The leaders also encouraged amplifying the voices of women in the room in an effort to bring men and women into the conversation as co-equals. And don’t allow yourself to be pushed off to the end. One leader said she was at a conference and the last speaker (a male) had a plane to catch. She was asked if she would switch, and she said no, noting that he should have arranged his flight schedule according to when he was slated to speak.

Be open to mentoring or mentoring others. Find a mentor who will push you and provide you with different perspectives. If your mentor is just like you, “one of you is dispensable,” noted one of the leaders. Find someone with who you can have extensive conversations and talk in detail about your goals.

6 Steps to Plan a Successful Event


Birthday BalloonIn December I threw my sister a surprise 50th birthday party. I did it with by brother-in-law and while living in another state.

In another month, I’ll be part of team that is putting together a conference. I’ve lost track as to how many conferences I have put together.

When I tell others that I’m organizing an event, many cringe. They think it is too much work, no one will show up, or it will cost too much money. Those can all be true, but if you follow these six steps, you should have a successful event.

  1. Establish your goals. Why are you holding the event? The surprise party was to celebrate a milestone in my sister’s life. Knowing that helped define the other elements of the party. The conference I am organizing is intended to provide learning and networking opportunities for members.
  2. Identify a team. Events require a strong attention to detail. It’s helpful to have someone who is overseeing the event at a macro level, as well as individuals who can handle specific areas, such as speakers or logistics.
  3. Pick a date. If you have flexibility with the date, consider holidays and availability of speakers and how they could impact your event. You also want to give yourself enough time to plan the event.
  4. Create a task sheet. I’m always surprised when someone asks me to help with an event and I ask about the task sheet and am told they don’t have one. I can’t function without one. I build in all of the steps needed to pull off the event and note the due dates and anything I need to be aware of. I track the status of each task.
  5. Establish a budget. Registrations and sponsorships should cover all of your expenses and, ideally, provide you with profit. The surprise party didn’t need to make a profit, but we did need to consider the budget, which informed the venue, menu options and decorations.
  6. Evaluate the success. When I am organizing a conference for a group, I consider it a success if most members attended and said they learned something from the speakers or made a new connection. The surprise birthday party was a success because my sister was surprised and she told me later, “It’s exactly what I wanted for my birthday.” That’s the best evaluation I’ve ever received!