The Accolades Folder: A Simple Yet Effective Way to Regain Confidence When Your Self-Esteem Needs a Little Boost

At some point in your professional life, you will have one (or a few) of those days where Murphy’s Law feels like a universal constant. As everything that can go wrong does go wrong, you may consequently begin losing confidence in yourself, and doubt your ability to meet a deadline, land an important client, close a big sale, or whatever other tasks take up space in your workday.

In order to gain a better perspective in these lower moments, and sometimes give myself a little kick in the pants to move forward, I devised a simple method for reminding myself of all the things I have already accomplished—things that epitomize my ability to climb out of holes and set things right. This method is an “Accolades Folder,” or more informally, a “Nice Stuff” folder, which I use to save birthday messages, special notes from customers and co-workers, announcements of business and personal milestones, emails of appreciation, and any sort of note that makes me smile and feel good about myself and the work I do. This collection of notes serves as proof and a reminder of the positive impact I have had on colleagues and clients. Even just reading through a couple of them brightens my day and gives a little push to break through the mental barriers that hold me back from completing a daunting task. After reading through this folder, I find myself ready to tackle projects with a renewed enthusiasm and brighter outlook.

I’ve created a page on my website called Testimonials with a few highlights from my Accolades folder, to the end of sharing my skills and successes with potential employers. See, an Accolades folder has utility far beyond your own personal encouragement!

“Smile, Beautiful”: My Own Story of Street Harassment and Why I Refuse to Smile

For the past few months on a nearly daily basis I have been the victim of catcalling and harassment as I walk down my block in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. The perpetrators are men who stand in the doorway of their place of employment and when they are not serving customers, they are serving derogatory one-liners and comments to the women who walk by. All of my life, I’ve been told to ignore these comments and continue walking confidently past them. The other day, one of the worst of the group directed a comment towards me while I was walking home from the gym. I’m not even 100% sure as to what he said this time—usually it’s a comment about my body or the directive, “Smile, beautiful.” Whatever it was, suddenly a fire that had been kindling inside for months erupted into flames and I verbally unleashed my wrath on this man. I shouted at him loud enough for the customers in the store and people on the street to hear me, loud enough so they could understand what this creep had been doing to me. I told him that I was sick and tired of his comments every time I walked past the store and that they needed to stop immediately. His cheeks became flushed and he laughed at me. Then, to both of our surprise, I shoved him and walked away. I left the situation feeling humiliated and disappointed.

By the time I got home, my body was trembling with adrenaline-fueled fury. My flight-or-fight response had kicked in big time. Was it the endorphins from my workout that triggered me to fight and finally stand up for myself? In these types of situations, I have always walked away. Despite my lingering rage, as soon as I entered my apartment, a wave of emotions overcame me, along with the shock of my own surprise; I’d never had such a visceral reaction to an incident like this, no matter how much I’d hated them. I became upset by what now, in the safety of my home, seemed like “unladylike” behavior. Intellectually, I knew that failing to embody some archaic idea of femininity couldn’t even compare as a “fault” to these men’s egregious behavior—behavior that women endure on a hourly basis, around the world, along with far worse offenses. The hardest part of this entire situation became coping with the misplaced embarrassment and shame, and the vacillations of my reactions and emotions.

Later that day, I posted to Facebook about the experience. Some of the first people to respond were male friends from my CrossFit community. One of the reasons I love CrossFit is because of its commitment to empowering women, and at my gym in Brooklyn, I’ve never encountered a single man who treated me differently because I was a woman. The responses of my male friends weren’t an aggressive Let’s go beat this guy up response, but a We’ve got your back and we will stand up for you to make sure this doesn’t happen again. They understood how upsetting this was to me and wanted me to feel safe walking down the street. The outpouring of support from women and men from all parts of my life was significant in the fact that ending street harassment is something we need to do together.

When thinking about catcalling and how our society brushes it off as “boys will be boys”, Tiny Fey put it best in her book Bossy Pants, when she wrote: “When did you first feel like a grown woman and not a girl?… Almost everyone first realized they were becoming a woman when some dude did something nasty to them.” I don’t clearly remember the first time it happened, but I do remember times when I feared that a negative response to catcaller’s comment would lead to physical danger, when a catcall lowered my self-esteem, and when I chose to dress more conservatively to try to avoid unwanted attention.

This recent incidence by my apartment occurred right after the Isla Vista Killings, which had set off a firestorm of comments under the #YesAllWomen hashtag. I had read a lot of those tweets and contributed some of my own. My reactions to the posts ranged from nodding in agreement to sighing in disbelief and gasping in horror at the stories shared through this simple yet powerful hashtag. I found it appalling, that one of the most common experiences that links women to one another is harassment by men. I was not surprised by the backlash #YesAllWomen garnered, but it still struck me at my core that there would even be a negative response to these messages. I wanted to shout, “Of course we know that #NotAllMen do these things, but too many women are affected by it and it warrants a discussion about it.”

More recently, I’ve read articles in response to #YesAllWomen written by women and men with an array of viewpoints. The biggest takeaway is the prevalence of everyday sexism toward women and empowering women and men to work towards solutions to ultimately eliminate it.  The complexity of this issue is not going to be solved overnight, but it can be solved through open and honest discussions about harassment, and more to the point, misogyny. Because of my experience, I am more willing to share this story with people. I am also more inclined to step in and assist another woman who is the brunt of a catcaller’s comment.  

For the time being, I am walking on the other side of the street until I feel more comfortable walking by that storefront again. I do feel like I’m letting the bad guy win, but I also feel that for my personal well being, this is the best course for me while I process what happened and how I might handle it differently—or in the exact same way—in the future.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can help fight street harassment, check out these resources:

http://www.ihollaback.org/

http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/

http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/06/03/stop_street_harassment_study_how_often_women_gay_men_and_people_of_color.html

“I Can Also Spin Plates”: Two Tales of Taking Risks in Your Job Search

I’ve always been a little dumbfounded by people telling me to be more daring and take risks with my job search. I’ve been on the other side of the table as a hiring manager and experienced some of the risks people have taken in order to win my confidence and get an interview, and I can tell you that more often than not, they did not succeed. Because of this, I have always been rather conservative in my approach to applying for a job—a formal cover letter and resume, following all the conventional rules. But everyone’s threshold for risk is different, and recently, I intuitively knew that it was time to update the way I tackled my job application materials. I needed to better highlight the transferability of my professional experience while also allowing my personality to shine through. In an effort to become less averse to risk while looking for a new job and to push myself beyond the borders of my comfort, I racked my brain to remember a time when a job candidate I’d encountered took a big risk and succeeded. It surprised me how easily a particular story came to mind—one that had taught me a significant lesson, and is actually one of my favorite stories to tell, especially since that person has become one of my dearest friends.

During the fall of 2007 while working at Apple Seeds, I was given the opportunity to hire two new playground attendants for the team I had recently taken over managing. I had some experience with hiring staff from my time as Aquatics Director at the Stratford YMCA and had already hired a couple attendants, but considering that Apple Seeds was a new business that relied heavily on customer service, I was a bit nervous given the high stakes of these hires. As I’ve always done, I asked around internally for references. A front desk associate who I was friendly with referred his friend Tom for one of the openings. He emailed me a copy of Tom’s resume and I was immediately impressed by Tom’s previous work experience. When hiring a playground attendant, I generally looked for someone with experience both working in a customer service role and with kids. Tom had both, as a musical theater major who had taught Shakespeare to teenagers and salesman at a magic shop. He also had experience as a stagehand at Julliard. His other talents included magic and juggling.

I quickly said to the front desk associate who referred him, “Who is this guy? The only thing he doesn’t do is spin plates!” Later that day, I received a voice message from none other than Tom, stating that he left off one very important skill on his resume—he was very good at spinning plates. I laughed so hard that I dropped the phone.  Needless to say, I called him back right away to schedule an interview. I had to meet him in person.  He deftly used humor to diffuse what can sometimes be a nerve-wracking situation, and I loved the confidence he displayed. He found an “in” through his friend and took advantage of it immediately, in a delightful, endearing way.

Tom continued to stand out as an exceptional candidate. The interview felt more like a conversation between two friends. He was warm, funny, and charismatic—all perfect qualities for a playground attendant. After checking his references and confirming his previous employers said he really was that fantastic, I hired him right away. As a playground attendant, Tom eventually joined our stroller check team and then worked his way up to a Floor Coordinator and is now a Facilities Manager overseeing the physical plant of Apple Seeds’ two full-service facilities and several private playgrounds in residential buildings. I truly did find a gem, and looking back, I can say that the risk he took with that phone call marked the moment he won my attention.

I am currently working with my writing coach to take a bolder, riskier approach to reshaping my own career, and I recently had my own opportunity to take a risk similar to Tom’s. Apple Seeds and I mutually parted ways this winter, and in the midst of consulting for a few organizations, I am also exploring companies that I’ve always admired or worked with in some capacity. A couple weeks ago, I applied for a position at a wonderful organization with which I have been steadily volunteering for several months. Right before submitting my materials, I had a chance encounter with the founder of the organization in an elevator and got to chat with him on our way to the lobby. After speaking with him, I became even more confident that I wanted to work for this organization, and like Tom, I wanted to do something that would convey that desire. To that end, I hunted around for the founder’s email address and sent him a brief email after I submitted my resume and cover letter to let him know that I had applied and that I enjoyed our conversation. He wrote back quickly—and a few days later I got offered an interview.

While this may not sound groundbreaking to some people, it was outside the borders of my comfort zone—who was I to contact this busy man with whom I’d spoke for a couple minutes? It was also a simple way to stand out from the pack, in a manner that was genuine, personal, and reflected my honest desire to join the organization, just like my friend Tom’s gesture. Some smaller risks I’ve been taking include making new connections via social media and reaching out to friends for introductions to people they know at companies I would be interested in working for, or to ask for leads on job openings. I am also getting involved with opportunities to meet new people; I’m still volunteering; I joined a running group; I switch up the days and times I attend group classes at CrossFit South Brooklyn; and I’m starting a monthly discussion series with a friend—all things that push me to keep growing.

Reshaping one’s career is never an easy endeavor, but if we want to continue to grow as people and not get stuck while freelancing or looking for work, we have to push ourselves beyond what feels safe. Each new step I take beyond my comfort zone, and each person I connect with and new community I become a part of, brings me closer to finding fulfillment through my career—and makes the process fulfilling for its own sake. The ease of staying challenged and focused somehow increases in correlation to growing my capacity for new relationships and challenges. I’m more willing today to put myself out there more I was even just a month ago. Sometimes not knowing exactly where we’re going can work out far better than we could have imagined… 

Athlete of the Month

CrossFit South Brooklyn has become more than just a gym to me. In addition to improving my level of fitness, it has become a place where I have friends to turn to for encouragement, advice, or a good laugh. I'm so proud to be a part of this amazing community of athletes and honored to be recognized as Athlete of the Month for July 2014. Here's my interview, featured on the CFSBK blog.

http://www.crossfitsouthbrooklyn.com/workout-of-the-day/2014/7/15/rest-day.html

Incarnation Camp - Alumni Profile: Kim Jefferson

Upon first meeting Kim Jefferson, you may be struck by one of her eclectic, very well-curated outfits. Or you might first notice the devil-may-care look in her eyes that indicates there are deep and textured layers beneath her surface—layers you immediately want to know more about. But Kim isn’t eccentric in a way that intimidates or silences others; she’s a connector. Need a new roommate? Kim knows someone with whom you’ll be compatible. Looking for a new job? She can probably get you connected to one of her friends at the company of your dreams. Kim is one of those people who can enter a room of strangers and leave with a room full of friends. Sit down and ask Kim a few questions, and you’ll soon discover that Incarnation Camp is responsible for drawing out her personality and allowing her to become the fullest version of herself. You’ll discover that Incarnation Camp functions as a constant influence in her storied life.

Creatively employed, Kim is a self-described “freelance hustler.” There are no jobs too big or small for her to handle. Her main focus is DJing, a result of multigenerational family influences—her father was a radio DJ and her grandfather DJed parties just outside Pittsburgh, PA after working shifts in a coal mine. Kim got her “start” as a DJ when as a teenager, she worked her first DJ gig cueing up tapes in preparation for a Pioneer Village dance, way back when they used a dual deck cassette player. Later, as a Counselor Assistant, she graduated to the then technologically advanced 5-CD changer and DJed Highlands/Reservation dances. Through her thoughtful selection of music she began to explore which sounds worked well together and discovered the joy she felt when she kept campers entertained until the stars shone bright over Bushy Hill Lake.

Outside of camp, she had never used “real” DJ equipment until a friend showed her the ropes using Serato Scratch Live . He was impressed by how quickly she learned and her knack for matching beats. He offered her an official DJ gig at a bar in Brooklyn. She now DJs several of her own DJ nights in addition to weddings and special events, and block parties. At the 2006 Alumni Weekend Celebration, Kim hosted the Square Dance, a long time camp tradition. She played crowd favorites and traditional camp line dance songs such as “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Montego Bay.” During the summers of 2007 through 2010, she volunteered to DJ the weekly dances in Pioneer Village—officially bringing her DJ career full circle. She will be DJing the weddings of two of her former campers, Kate Grossheim and Masha Udensiva-Brenner, this summer.

To get a better picture of Kim, and to understand the influence of camp on her life and her influence on camp, we will travel back to when she was 9 years old and first decided she was ready for a forest-canopied adventure at sleep-away camp. That summer, she attended a Girl Scout camp, but did not particularly enjoy it. Fortunately for us, this experience did not deter her from seeking out a new camp to experience the following summer. She learned about Incarnation Camp from the Rosenberg (Peter, Lili, and Jojo) and Martin (Liza) families. After attending a slide show at Church of the Incarnation that piqued their interest, she and her younger brother Troy were sold. They signed up for one month of camp and this is where Kim’s Incarnation Camp legend begins.

The summer of 1988 was her first as a Woodlands camper. She couldn’t have known then that that summer would kick off nearly two decades of summers spent making friends, DJing dances, and having fun on Incarnation Camp’s 700 wooded acres. When you ask her to pinpoint her favorite unit from her camper days, you will see hints of mischievous laughter dance across her face as she remembers different aspects of her camp-filled summers. Her first answer is Winds, because she and her friends were a little wild and care-free, but also very close. She also is partial to Pioneer Village because of the independence she was given to manage her daily activities, and because of the unique opportunity she had to participate in a five-day adventure trip. But based on a wonderful story that she told me, I’d argue that a summer she spent in Highlands ranks pretty high on her list too.

That summer in Highlands, her Unit Director organized an activity called “Secret Buddies.” Similar to “Secret Santa,” each camper was assigned a secret friend and was responsible for making them small gifts or striking up conversations with them throughout the week. Kim was assigned Nell Michlin, fortuitously setting the stage for what would become their lifelong friendship. Kim spent her free time at the Arts & Crafts Shed making huge tissue paper flowers that she left on Nell’s bed before lunchtime. Each day, Nell was thrilled to receive each flower and strung them up on her bunk bed as proof of how awesome her secret buddy was. Eventually, the secret was revealed and they became friends. Kim and Nell remained friendly during the next couple of summers, and their first summer on staff sealed their blossoming friendship. Living together in the Highlands CA tent, they discussed the “genius” of R. Kelly’s lyrics and spent their weekly day off [finding random fun walking around Old Saybrook and going to the movies]. In 2011 and 2012 as the Highlands Unit Director, Kim excitedly introduced Secret Buddies to her campers and staff. She shared the story of how the activity was the cornerstone of her friendship with Nell, and is one of her fondest memories of summer camp.

As you might expect, asking her to choose a favorite unit as a staff member was much easier. As Kim’s own experience in Highlands demonstrates and as she told me, “There is something special about girls that age. It’s a great opportunity to reinforce self-esteem,” she added, “because societal pressures of the pre-teen years have not yet come into play.” She remarked that girls at this age are not afraid to cut loose and just be weird. As a self-identified offbeat and weird person, Kim was able to connect with her similarly-disposed campers as a trusted adult and ally. During her first summer on staff in 1994, she became fond of a particular group of campers with great personalities—the perfect mix of funny, outgoing, and a little outlandish. She loved working with these kids so much that she wanted to spend her free time hanging out with them in the unit. She ultimately followed them from Highlands to Winds to Pioneer Village, allowing her to witness their transformation from quirky girls to self-assured teens.

In addition to her summers working with the eccentric Highlands girls, Kim also loved the summers she spent working and volunteering in Pioneer Village. She says the experience that stands out above the rest remains the overnight trips. The experience involved an array of emotional feats: Kim confronted her own fears about the risk involved with taking a group of teenagers off camp for up to five days at a time, and saw her campers confront their fears by accomplishing goals and building character. She cherished the achievement of getting the campers safely off camp, journeying for multiple days, searching for campsites, and delivered them back to camp, unshowered and dirt-stained, but with beaming smiles on their faces and new life experiences to talk about. Kim only participated in canoe trips as a camper, but as a staff member, she not only led three canoe trips, but she also led three hike trips and two bike trips.

So, what advice does Kim have for future Incarnation Camp staff members? Camp is not about you, she says. Take the time listen to your campers and make sure you are fulfilling their needs. Each child is unique; you need to figure out how to help them grow both individually and alongside their fellow campers. Counselors and staff have the ability to make a powerful impact in a short period of time, she says, The best gift you can give campers is to help them see that they can conquer their fears and make great achievements, which will have far-reaching benefits beyond the borders of Incarnation Camp, as Kim’s own life demonstrates.

 

Parting shots:

Favorite Camp Meal: Yankee Pot Roast

Favorite Dining Hall Song: Bumblebee Tuna

Favorite Camp Activity: Overnights

 

“Paparazzi, get a picture!”: Creative Problem Solving, from Camp Counselor to Operations Director

It was the last week of summer camp in 1999. Traditionally, during Incarnation Camp’s last week, the counselors offer different activities every afternoon and let the campers choose which ones they want to participate in. On Sunday, there were no organized classes; instead campers had the morning to explore activities of their choosing and their afternoons were filled with an all-camp activity. Earlier that specific Sunday in 1999, I overheard some of my 12-year-old female campers lamenting that they had not had the opportunity to get a picture of their favorite male staff members, since they were too embarrassed to approach them and ask. This little tidbit of information presented me with an obstacle to overcome—giving the campers a safe space to take risks and encouraging them to step outside of their comfort zone. I thought to myself, How can they get these photos in a fun and memorable but non-threatening way? In an “Aha!” moment, I came up with a game I called “Paparazzi”—a game that would teach me a valuable lesson about considering how you present things to the people you are managing. It would also teach me that reframing a challenge or a difficult task can make it more accessible and easier to surmount.

I had 12 to 15 girls who wanted to participate in what I initially told them was “a mystery activity.” I suggested they grab their cameras, a notebook, and a pen. Since I knew the camp schedule, I took the girls on an all-camp trek to the locations where we would most likely find the male staff. During our walk, I finally revealed that we were going on a hunt for staff members, so we could take pictures of them (thereby neutralizing the notion that it just needed to be male staff members). We discussed tactics for getting a photograph, such as from a distance, up close, and as a group. I assured them that I would do the embarrassing part of getting the staff member’s attention and it was their responsibility to figure out the best way to get a photograph. By transforming the seemingly insurmountable task of getting these pictures into a fun activity that required collaboration and creativity, the task became less daunting for the girls.

As I spotted one of the first male counselors, I shouted, “There he is! Paparazzi, get a picture!” Then the gaggle of giggling girls ran over to the very surprised staff member and took pictures and solicited autographs. Luckily, every one of the guys we approached played along. With a little encouragement and some improvisation, every one of the girls took a social risk, stepped outside of their comfort zone, and achieved their goal. Eventually, they began to approach male staff on their own, since getting through the first couple of interactions emboldened them and even gave them the maturity to interact on their own, in a way that felt safe and natural. The whole experience was heartwarming and adorable. By the end of the activity, each camper got to take a picture with her favorite male counselor and not only took home memories, but learned an important lesson about confidently approaching situations and people that seem beyond them. What at first seemed like an impossible goal was achieved with some teamwork, being open to new experiences, and a willingness to let go of the self-doubt that held them back.

Over a decade later, the summer of 2011 rolled around and I also had earned a few more maturity and confidence stripes. I was working as the General Manager at Apple Seeds, a 15,000 sq. ft. enrichment center and play space for young children. The company’s co-founders presented me with a seemingly insurmountable challenge—to put together a comprehensive Operations Manual and develop individual departmental training manuals. Not exactly the same arena of working with soon-to-be teenage girls. But the challenge was there all the same. These manuals were needed in about a month’s time because some potential investors from India and the UAE were interested in opening international franchises of Apple Seeds and the co-founders wanted them as part of a presentation. About six or seven different people had written parts of the current iteration of the franchise manuals, which meant the manuals were a composite of six or seven different voices and notions of proper syntax and formatting—which is to say that they were an incoherent mess. I wasn’t even sure where to start. But my experience breaking up challenges into manageable pieces, just as I’d done in 1999 with my girls, had taught me how to solve complex problems. Writing these manuals was not an easy task; it required long days of researching and writing, many rounds of editing, selecting the right language to convey important information, and creating a format that flowed from one document to the next in a cohesive way.

I compiled the pertinent information and expanded upon and defined important operational procedures to develop a user-friendly manual of business practices for Apple Seeds. The content of the manuals aligned with the values and mission of the business and contained detailed guidelines for staff training, supply organization and set up, and processes for the running of each department. (For further details about these manuals, head on over to my Projects page.) Ultimately, the manuals enabled the successful signing of franchise agreements with our partners in Mumbai, India and Dubai, UAE, and to train the General Managers of those locations. With the successful completion of this task, I gained a deeper understanding of how to tackle a complex task—earning a level of confidence similar to that which I’d helped my campers gain so many summers ago. 

Several years after that summer at Incarnation Camp, in 2005, I became a Unit Director and some of those same campers were on my staff (at the ripe old age of 25, this made me feel old). I watched as my campers-turned-counselors introduced “Paparazzi” to their girls, putting their own unique twists and spins on what they remembered as an opportunity to step outside their comfort zone and have fun while accomplishing a goal. Watching them offered me a glimpse of the next generation of leaders in the making, paying forward their own lessons in improvisation, being creative in social interactions, and taking risks toward achieving goals.

How “Fake It ‘til You Make It” Inspired Confidence In Me and My Team

In the late winter of 2009 my co-worker and friend, Kim, then General Manager of Apple Seeds (the company where we both worked), giddily announced her engagement. While I was very happy for her, I realized that a monumental shift was about to occur at Apple Seeds. Kim’s fiancée lived in Washington, D.C. Unless she was planning to commute by Acela or have a long distance marriage, her resignation was imminentand I was about to gain the confidence I needed to be a leader by acting as if I had that confidence all along.

Kim and I were amongst the first employees hired at Apple Seeds, back when it started in 2007; she was the Director of Membership Services and I was then the Director of Scheduling & Summer Camps. We faced many of the same challenges together, collaborated on projects, sought each other’s advice on solving problems, and were a constant source of stress relief with humor, reassurance, and friendship. Kim was the kind of co-worker people dream about. She could tackle difficult projects without breaking a sweat, such as managing the 250+ families that checked-in for our first Halloween party, and could handle the toughest customer service situations with grace, always leaving her clients with a face-splitting smile.

In February she gave her notice that she was leaving at the beginning of May. After an intensive interview process, we hired Bethany (not her real name) as our new Director of Membership Services. She spent numerous hours under Kim’s tutelage learning the business from top-to-bottom, sitting side-by-side at the desk in front of me (Apple Seeds had an open office layout). What felt like it should have taken an eternity came at lightening-fast speed and soon it was Kim’s last day in the office. It was the end of an era at Apple Seeds.

I supported Bethany as she officially became the point person for all membership related inquiries and began tackling her responsibilities independently. As the weeks went by and she got deeper into the position, things seemed to be going well. She managed projects, responded to customers, worked alongside her staff, and smiled while doing it. I was still helping her on a daily basis, as any manager should, with answering questions about policies and procedures and handling difficult customer service situations. But around this same time, as with any new and growing business, Apple Seeds’ priorities shifted, responsibilities changed, and new directives were issued. The summer camp season began and half of my workday became devoted to running Camp Apple Seeds. I started managing all aspects of camp programming including registration, coordinating activities, overseeing staff, and handling parent communications. I was left with only the afternoons to check in with Bethany and I could tell that the workload overwhelmed her. I worked with her—extra training sessions, meetings to review and troubleshoot problems, and redistributing work. Still, it became clear that her sense of being overwhelmed wasn’t going to go away. Two months after being hired, she quit, citing that the workload she was given was not within her skill set to complete.

Apple Seeds’ co-founders announced Bethany’s resignation at our weekly staff meeting, and I could see expressions changing from relaxed to anxious. I too was nervous. Bethany’s position was critical; she managed a team of seven front desk associates and was responsible for writing weekly newsletters sent to 1,500 readers, answering dozens of daily email inquiries, and handling daily customer service issues. In that staff meeting, I knew I had a decision to make: I could hope everything turned out okay—or I could step up to the plate and be certain that it would. I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge, but I had also never considered myself the kind of person that invites challenge into her life. But as a manager, I saw it as my responsibility to make sure that our staff would not feel any negative effects from this transition, even if that meant learning to wear a few new hats.

For the next couple weeks, I arrived to work at 8:00a everyday. It gave me a full hour-and-a-half to organize my day, send newsletters, and respond to emails before camp began. I delegated the responsibility of setting up and cleaning up camp to my lead and assistant counselors. Our facility opened at 9:00a and camp started at 9:30a; freeing up that half-hour of time allowed me to check in with and help out our front desk staff before the day was fully underway. In addition to managing the floor team, summer camp, and the operational procedures that keep a 15,000 sq. ft. children’s play space running seamlessly, I also took on a majority of Bethany’s responsibilities, including managing the front desk team. I worked alongside the front desk staff to check-in customers during high traffic times, answer tough questions, give tours, and process class and membership sales.  

I began to understand and see firsthand the positive effects of an in-the-trenches management style—not only the way it benefitted the staff, but the way it benefitted me. Perhaps it sounds strange, but I immensely enjoyed the extra workload, because I wasn’t working on my own—I was leading a team that had materialized under my leadership. I often left work hoarse from what felt like non-stop talking but I was still smiling because I got through it with in the company of that committed, dynamic team.

Despite my thorough enjoyment of my shifting responsibilities, I also privately was a bit of a nervous wreck, worried that I would screw something up. I took to heart the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it.” But by putting on an air of confidence, I inspired confidence in my team and in myself. I was learning how to work with the entire group while supporting their individual talents. During this period, two front desk associates stood out as leaders, and with some encouragement and trust that I would support them, they took on more responsibility, which had the added benefit of freeing up some of the pressure on my schedule. After I discussed their roles with the co-founders, we promoted both individuals to positions we were able to create specifically for them, being Front Desk Manager and Front Desk Assistant Manager. With the promotion, they both felt more confident and secure with their career at Apple Seeds. With new leaders at the helm, front desk operations began to run more smoothly.

That summer encompassed one of my defining career moments. I gained confidence in my management and leadership skills by seeing firsthand that I had the ability to effect positive change. I also learned to really trust the people I worked with. I believed they had the ability to get the job done—and I realized that when you believe in and support your team, they develop the confidence to do great things. In order to do this, they needed clear instructions, the right tools, and sometimes a little extra guidance along the way.

Stepping up to this challenge also made me eager to ask for new and exciting work on a regular basis. An example of this was when I volunteered to take the lead on organizing a large and important dance recital for 70 children, I managed the invitations and RSVPs, worked with the teachers to choose songs, answered parents’ questions, and handled all aspects of execution on the day of the event. Soon, I became one of the first employees to jump at new opportunities presented by the co-founders at weekly staff meetings, regardless of whether they were in my skill set. I was open to the idea of learning new things, and I had enough successes behind me to know I was capable. I became more open to sharing my ideas and willing to take initiative in other areas at work. Later that summer, I was voted Employee of the Month by my colleagues, and the company’s co-founders promoted me to General Manager.

I share all of this because at one point in my career, the idea of becoming a “strong leader” was still vague and amorphous. The reason I loved working at Apple Seeds were the kids. The company’s mission—to be a safe, clean, and fun place for our community to gather, socialize, and play—informed my passion for my work. The families and children that Apple Seeds serves are the ones who helped me pull through on the more difficult days. Most importantly, I learned that we often need to be thrown into the proverbial deep end so we can learn to swim, or become a better swimmer than we already were. Diving into this challenge has made me more comfortable being uncomfortable and more confident in my abilities as a leader, and I continue to be willing to dive into new opportunities that will challenge and inspire me.

 

On Being Unemployed

A few months ago, unemployment hit me like a ton of bricks. The day I was laid off, it was a rainy, cold Friday afternoon in January. It felt very cinematic as I walked home with tears welling up in my eyes and no umbrella to protect me from the elements. Admittedly, I started crying the minute I called my husband to give him the news. I barely slept that night. Then finally, after allowing myself the time I needed to process and grieve (yes, grieve) the loss of a position at a company I’d been with for seven years, my appetite started coming back. I woke up Sunday morning, a little tired, very hungry, and ready to face this new challenge with resilience and imagination.

At first, it felt like I was on vacation. I kept thinking that they would never be able to survive without me and that eventually they would call to ask—no, beg—for me to come back. Needless to say, that did not happen, nor do I know any cases of that happening. Friends and family kept telling me to remain confident, that sometimes world-shifting change was what was necessary to make bigger and more lasting improvements in life. 

Luckily, I was fortunate in my last position to work for and with people I truly cared about, who also cared about me. Although being let go came as a surprise, in retrospect I agree with the co-founders’ line of thinking. I did outgrow my last position, and the company was not expanding fast enough to support my growth. My time there was a wonderful experience and the skills I developed and leader I became were a result of the endless opportunities I had to take risks and be creative. It was time for a change. I left on excellent terms with my colleagues and the co-founders and still keep in touch with them. Knowing that I continue to have their support has made this transition less daunting.

My confidence still waxes and wanes, but I know deep down inside, there is something better on the horizon. I also know that I am in a very fortunate situation where I don’t have to worry about my expenses, since my in-laws have graciously allowed us to camp out in their beautiful apartment while I job search and continue to challenge myself with a freelance consulting career. I’ve realized that this change, while I didn’t choose it, is actually a first step on the path to what I’ve always wanted but might not have been brave enough to seek out on my own. I now view this as an opportunity to rediscover the activities I once loved doing. I’ve been learning and honing new skills by volunteering with DonorsChoose.org, advising college-aged women at NYU, consulting for Incarnation Camp, being more creative with cooking and crafting, doing lots and lots of writing, and getting through a stack of unread books. Overall, my mindset has significantly improved. Through each new experience I make new friends, achieve goals, and most importantly have fun.

In an effort to openly discuss unemployment and how I have been handling it, I’d love to share a few things that have helped me.

1. Ask for help. You will be amazed by how much your circle of friends and family are willing to help. You just have to ask! I sought help from my friend Kate, who is an excellent writer and coach. Through working with her, I have gained confidence, found a direction, and begun exploring new areas of professional interest. 

I’ve also asked for help from my wider network. Whenever I see an interesting job posting or read a thought-provoking article, I immediately check my LinkedIn profile and look to see if I have any connections with the company or to the author. You will be surprised by how far-ranging your network is. Additionally, I was lucky enough to reconnect with a former camp counselor who has had a tremendous amount of success in her career. She has put me in touch with extremely interesting and friendly people and has helped me remained engage with meeting new people.  

2. Pursue the things you love. One beautiful aspect of being unemployed includes the gift of free time, which I refuse to squander. When I am not job searching or working on projects for my freelance consulting career, I am working on my writing skills, volunteering, knitting, knocking out my reading list, rekindling my love for NYC, and testing out new recipes. I recently agreed to be a co-advisor for the NYU chapter of my college sorority and I joined a book club. I attacked my practice of strength training even harder than usual, and am seeing improvements in my squat with a 200-lb personal best and deadlift at 210-lb. Just get out and do things! They don’t have to be expensive things either—take a walk in the park, soak in a long luxurious bath, call friends you’ve lost touch with, go through your pantry and be creative with dinner, take a class at your local library. There are lots of fun and excited things waiting for you—don’t sit at home all day, do something!

3. Get on a schedule. Part of being able to appreciate the gift of the time you’ve been given involves not letting it become a vast ocean of time. Most people who are unemployed say that the hardest thing is being without a schedule and feeling like they don’t have a purpose anymore. We all want to be useful—so force yourself to be useful and disciplined by scheduling out your week and taking specific slots of time to rest.

This is one of the areas that I found the hardest in the beginning. Most mornings, I wake up and eat breakfast with my husband and get my day started right away. I write a to-do list and stick with it making sure to schedule some “play” time for the activities I love. My day will typically involve a search of the job boards, researching any interesting job posts and writing cover letters, working on content for my website, emailing professional contacts and/or responding to emails, exercise, and social media work. I use various tools and services to keep me on track: HootSuite is great for managing your social media accounts; Google calendar for managing your appointments; and I’ve recently started exploring Microsoft One Note for managing projects and ideas. But the thing that works best for me is good old pen and paper. I find nothing more satisfying then being able to literally cross items off of my list. 

4. Allow yourself to feel sad, mad, uninspired, misanthropic, whatever. You will likely take a ride on a serious emotional roller coaster (I still am!). You will send out resumes and cover letters with confidence, and you’ll smile thinking how impressed the hiring manager will be to read yours. You’ll think about all the clever things you will say during the interview. Then you will check your email and sit by your phone waiting for contact. And, you’ll keep waiting. It might start to feel similar to waiting for contact from alien life forms. If you’re lucky, you may get contacted right away. Great news, run with it! But if you are like the average person, you may be waiting a very… long… time… 

When this happens, or when you receive a rejection letter, give yourself time (kept it short 10 to 15 minutes) to be upset about it. This was one of the greatest pieces of advice I ever received from a college professor. He told me that he allots a certain amount of time to be upset, stressed, and angry over an incident to the extent that he even puts a timer on it. After that allotted time is up, he moves on to something else. If the thoughts begin creeping back, he writes, “worry about X” on the bottom of his to-do list and makes a concerted effort to get everything else done before giving himself more time to mull it over. This little piece of advice had made a huge difference in how I approach disappointment. Yes, I still get trapped mulling over situations more often than I wish I did, but I also try to put everything into perspective and keep chugging on. And again, this kind of discipline is essential to moving forward.

5. Get LinkedIn. This is a standard recommendation found on many unemployment help-based websites, but it really is one of the most important things you can do. In the first few days after I lost my job, I connected with EVERYONE I knew in some capacity—old college friends, former co-workers, workout buddies from the gym, professional contacts I’d previously made, etc. I was not embarrassed to connect with people I only knew as an acquaintance. I doubled my Connections just by skimming through the “People You May Know Section” each day. This has been tremendously helpful. I have been able to connect with people who work at companies that I am interested in. Most importantly, I have met lots of new people through LinkedIn contacts. After I speak with a 2nd or 3rd connection, I automatically connect with them. Don’t hesitate to reach out to people and ask for help. See, we’re circling back to my first point!

The most important thing is to not get discouraged. Being unemployed when you want or need to be working is a stressful experience, but your own thoughts and emotions can become your worst enemy. These tips are intended to help you get through the tougher parts of this experience. Please feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to chat further or need some encouragement.