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Building critical habits at work
Know your worth, tell your story, dwell less and be an ally
👋🏻 Helen here with another weekly installment – I can’t believe we are coming up end of 2021 and that we’ve been running this newsletter for almost a year, posting consistently every week. Before we start, Adam and I want to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. We are grateful to each and every one of you for being on this journey with us. Thank you for reading, for your comments, and for forwarding Mind the Beet to your friends. This has become a meaningful, creative, and inspiring outlet for us to share our journey.
This week, I listened to Brene Brown’s interview with James Clear on Atomic Habits where he reminded me about identity-based habits. To be successful, one should imagine who she wants to be and take actions based on that identity (vs. falling back to old habits).
Additionally, I had a couple of mentoring sessions (mostly with women) which reminded me how many of us constantly question: am I good enough, am I strong enough, am I smart enough. I see us holding ourselves to impossible standards, and also dwelling on past mistakes and injustices. Let’s be honest, I am talking about myself as much as I am talking about others. Holding up a mirror and reflecting is hard but necessary to arm us all with good habits to move forward and up.
I wrote a few pieces of advice that I have found to be applicable across my careers in both politics and tech, as a marketer, as an individual contributor, and now as a manager and a leader. I have pressure tested this advice mostly with women, mainly because that’s who I mostly mentor, but as Adam and I discussed this post, we agreed that it is just as applicable to men. So let’s dig in.
1) Know your worth
Until you know your own value, others cannot know it for you. The question is, how do you figure out your worth? I’m a big fan of Tara Mohr’s “Playing Big” and this quote sums it up for:
“Playing big doesn't come from working more, pushing harder, or finding confidence. It comes from listening to the most powerful and secure part of you, not the voice of self-doubt.”
I once wrote in my performance review that my strength is that I get stuff done and that I have a strong bias for action. My manager at the time said yes, and “it’s not only that you get stuff done, but you do it creatively with resources you have, which makes you nimble and adaptable. This is one of your greatest strengths.” I was so grateful for her reflection and help in understanding my value. Find yours.
If you don’t know what your unique value is, ask people who know you to help you identify it - you will be surprised and enlightened.
2) Tell your story
There are so many times when we do great work then are too shy to share because we worry that it’s too self-serving or that we would be scrutinized for something we should have done better in the process. But finding the right way to share success, learnings, and gratitude is a great way to shine a light on the positive outcome you achieved as well as help others be seen.
One of my team members led through a tough product incident. The feature we shipped had several quality issues. She, as a product manager, pulled the right engineers, data scientists and managers together, facilitated brainstorming, helped get everyone to align on the problems to solve and saw it through to a resolution. While she was communicating locally, I encouraged her to send regular updates to the leadership team to ensure they heard from her what was happening and what we were doing about it. It took courage and thoughtfulness to appropriately represent the work of so many people, share hard news (# of impacted users), and acknowledge mistakes that have been made by the team. I coached her through unspoken fear that her actions will be picked apart and scrutinized – what could she have done better? Is this actually her fault? Is staying quiet and fixing the problem so nobody notices actually better than drawing attention to this?
The outcome, however, was that she was seen as a leader taking accountability, which ended up contributing to a strong case for a promotion and most importantly cemented her as a business owner in her space.
3) Be an ally
Every one of us needs allyship - in big moments and small moments. If you see a coworker who has shared learnings (of success or failure), a small act of allyship is to acknowledge it. If you see someone who needs a self-confidence boost, pay them a meaningful compliment. Being an ally requires being thoughtful, timely, kind, and direct.
I will never forget when I switched to PM (read Three careers by mid-30s), my manager was helping me prepare a presentation where I was going to explain my feature and the technical components that were involved. As I was practicing my talk, I tried to insert jargon-y words like the acronyms of the components and used words like x number of calls will result in y latency. My manager asked me why I was speaking in gibberish - and I explained to him that I wanted to speak the right language to my audience of developers and product leaders. His response was “I didn’t hire you because I wanted you to talk like the rest of us, I hired you because you are a storyteller and can explain the business value of what we are doing to anybody. Now, can you please tell me a story of what your feature is meant to do?”
I am so grateful for that day - for his allyship and support in a moment of deep insecurity and impostor syndrome. He reminded me that he hired me for my unique value, which he continued to see with great clarity through my moments of self-doubt. His trust and faith in me when he hired me, has continued to inspire me over the years to support others as they have wanted to pursue product management paths without a technical background
4) Dwell less
“You know what the happiest animal in the world is? It's a goldfish. It's got a 10 second memory. ~ Ted Lasso
I spend too much time reflecting on past mistakes or past wrongs that have happened to me. There is a fine line between self-awareness and learning vs. moving on. The biggest insight I’ve had over the years is to not just move on from your own mistakes but to also let go of things that have happened in the past to you as dwelling becomes unproductive as well as a hindrance. We all make mistakes and co-workers, leaders, and managers around you want to be with people whom they do not need to walk on eggshells around, meaning with people who can rumble through it and move on to the next challenge to solve together.
Many years ago, I thought that I had an unfair annual review and in my opinion, my maternity leave that coincided with it did not help. I sought out full context on what happened and as expected, there were two sides to every story and various circumstances that contribute to the less than ideal outcome. Over the next few months, my team made it right, the best way they could – gave me the next set of awesome opportunities and promoted me later than I had originally planned, but still in a reasonable time frame. However, in my mind, I was still wronged and continued to talk about this instance.
In hindsight, I wish I could have told myself to move on sooner and stop worrying about the best. I can’t imagine I was a pleasant person to be around because I carried baggage.
Summing it up
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” ~ James Clear, Atomic Habits
I am constantly astounded by how many people (women especially) around me are caught in the cycle of self-doubt and all how we get in our own way when we don’t feel confident. The outcome is that we limit what others see and most importantly what opportunities we seize. If this is you, I see you. It is me too on more days than I’d like to admit. But I also know that tomorrow is another day, and I can work to be my best self by building scalable systems and habits that will propel me further.