Year of Intention

I wrote this post on top of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean with OneRepublic’s “I Lived” playing. Sounds like a fairy tale, right? It’s pretty much is and allowed me to pause and reflect.

My writing spot for the day

My writing spot for the day

It’s been a long summer, one where I repeated the phrase: “It could be worse,” nearly 100 times. Everyone moved, work was crazy busy and I found myself moving along without any clear direction. That’s not normal for me – I’ve always had a plan, a goal, a schedule so this way of life didn’t feel right.

If you’re not moving forward, then you’re going backwards right? I’m not sure. But what I learned this year is that over orchestrating my life puts too much pressure on me and probably those around me. Every day should be its own adventure.

I paused over the weekend and reflected on what I want the next year to look like. Normally, I would create a list of things I want to accomplish in the next year and highlight the best moments of the past one. But that’s easy for me. 25 feels like a milestone so it should be more challenging. This year is going to be the year of intention: setting intentions, putting more positive ones out to the universe and being more intentional with my words and my time. To start, my intention for this new year is to believe in the change. My journey in the last year has been shaped by changes that life handed to me not ones I consciously put into motion. I know I can do better when faced with new challenges and unexpected changes. Whatever is meant to happen will shape my path for the better…or at least make for an interesting story!

Will I totally give up my planning nature? Definitely not. Who I am at its core isn’t going to change nor do I want it to. But in the spirit of continuous improvement, I want to fageocus on getting better from here!

I’m looking forward to celebrating my birthday over the next few days and making 25 the best year yet! I invite you to join me in my year of intention and to share your thoughts below!

Why LinkedIn Matters

Have you ever Googled yourself? What’s the first thing that comes up? For most of us, it’s our social media accounts, specifically our LinkedIn profiles that first appear. Now pretend a prospective employee or your new project manager is Googling you. Would you be comfortable with them seeing your LinkedIn profile in its current condition?

A couple of weeks ago, I listened to a webinar by William Arruda about the power of LinkedIn and how companies could use it to recruit talent. I never paid much attention to my LinkedIn profile except for when I first graduated, but after this webinar, you better believe I updated my profile.

My results when I Googled myself

My results when I Googled myself

If you haven’t been on LinkedIn lately, the site has several new features, including the ability to customize your background and add documents to different roles you’ve listed. It’s not just your online resume anymore; it’s your personal website where you can create an online brand for yourself. Maybe you want to highlight a volunteer position that showcases other skills. You can do that and provide real examples for others. You can show the value you bring to your current organization and share pieces of thought leadership as well.

What Arruda said that I haven’t realized yet was that LinkedIn can be a competitive advantage for companies. Think about it: If your employees have strong profiles, where they share content about or related to your company or industry, they become brand ambassadors. In turn, these employees increase the visibility of your company and can engage others potential employees. It’s like a free mini recruiting system!

This is a mindset shift for most people. We are all used to our resumes in a tidy Word document that we can easily email to people. What we forget about is our online profiles like LinkedIn, which could reach more people daily. Companies also need to have an online presence and keep social media as a top priority. By strategically engaging their employees and sharing content on LinkedIn, companies can retain current staff and recruit even stronger talent.

When was the last time you updated your LinkedIn profile? Does your company have a strong online presence? How do they consistently engage employees? Share your thoughts below!

Starting the Conversation

For those who don’t know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. An entire month is dedicated to these debilitating diseases that impact approximately 57.7 million Americans over the age of 18. The first step is truly generating that awareness and starting the conversation.

The problem we face today is the stigma around mental illness. It should be treated like any other disease. Just because the symptoms aren’t always visible doesn’t mean they aren’t real. Anxiety, addiction and others paralyze people in ways that are indescribable. Unless you’ve experienced it, you should not judge.

I apologize if this post sounds like a rant; that’s not my intent. I know too many people who suffer in silence from mental illness. Mental health is just as important as physical health and people should realize that. Without your mind, you’re just a body wandering around. Talking about it will ultimately help save lives.

Over the weekend, a Temple alum and successful professional athlete, died at the age of 25. The cause of death was confirmed as a suicide yesterday. This was someone who had everything going for him. What could have possibly been that bad?! We will never know. If he only would have talked to someone and been vulnerable enough to admit something was wrong, could that have saved his life?

kindnessI think about him and others and wonder: If we as a society embraced mental wellness more, would people suffering be more comfortable talking about it? Today, I am inviting you to start that conversation with me – share experiences, offer advice or just listen. The quote to the left is our reminder that you just don’t know what people are experiencing. Approach your day with empathy and a smile – it could change someone’s world.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

In my last post, I wrote about the power of storytelling. Stories help convey our values, purpose and brand. But what happens when that oh so powerful story is a lie we repeat to ourselves often?

Much like fairy tales, our personal narratives were constructed at an early age, whether we believe it or not. The people closest to us helped to develop these stories, both positive and negative, that we end up carrying with us through life. So, if you were told you weren’t good enough your entire childhood, chances are you’ve carried that baggage with you through adulthood.

Another thought is that we may have perceived situations as children and translated them into negative stories about ourselves. The mother who was tough on her kids was merely preparing them for life’s challenges versus how a teenager might have perceived this tough love. Either way, the stories we tell ourselves can both help and harm us in the long run.

For me, the stories I create in my head are absolutely dramatizations of reality. I’m still trying to figure out why this is. I’m assuming it has something to do with my personal triggers. Triggers are scenarios that prompt an emotional response. Note: this emotional response can be extremely positive or extremely negative. Triggers, much like personal stories, are deeply rooting in your past experiences.

I tend to obsess about certain situations, then create a false story in my head that in turn solicits an emotional response. See what kind of chain reaction I have going on here? It’s not healthy or sustainable. I’m working on it but am finding it’s really hard for me stop the whirling in my head. The good news is I’m starting to recognize when I’m giving in to this behavior, so that’s step one. Here’s what I’ve been attempting to do when I know I’m obsessing, lying and reacting.

  • Recognize that I’m obsessing and creating a false story about a particular situation
  • Take a deep breath to calm myself down and pull myself out of the emotional reaction I’m having
  • Think about what actually happened versus what I perceived
  • Put myself in the other person’s shoes: could something have triggered them that then caused a chain reaction?
  • Ask myself: will this matter tomorrow, next month or next year? This one is especially helpful in keeping things in perspective.

I am certainly a work in progress, but have found these steps helpful. What kinds of stories do you tell yourself? Do any illicit an emotional response and how do you manage that? Share with me!

The Lost Art of Storytelling

Think back to when you were a child. What was your favorite bedtime story, one you could hear over and over again? Now looking back, what was it about that story that intrigued you? The characters, a particular moral, a happy ending? Either way, it’s clear that stories, whether real or fictional, have the power to influence.

storytellingA few weeks ago, I listened to a presentation by Lani Peterson, an award-winning storyteller, author and public speaker. In her 60 minute talk, she spoke about how powerful personal stories can be if constructed correctly. Her main points are summarized below:

  • Stories need to be personal, emotional and connected to your values. If a story isn’t authentic, it loses its power. Having a powerful story positively contributes to your presence and identity.
  • As you’re telling your story to others, take time to step back and evaluate. Check in with yourself and others within your organization to ensure the story you’re telling is aligned to what others know or hear about you.
  • There is also immense power in listening, especially when you are new to a company and need to better understand their story and the motivations behind it. By listening, you can find common values between you and your colleagues or your company at large.

After listening to Lani, I reflected on what she said and really thought about my own story. I’d venture to say your personal and professional narratives are one in the same. You might need to tailor it to your audience. I asked myself the following questions to strengthen my story:

  • What do I want to be known for?
  • How did I get here/what did the journey look like?
  • If I wasn’t in the room and someone asked about Alex, what would I want that response to look like?

Your story is essentially your personal brand. It’s a tool you should use to build your credibility andbranding establish strong relationships with others. What I find challenging when developing your story is aligning it to your company’s values while also stay true to its meaning. Like Lani said, a story must be authentic to be powerful. But, it’s also important to message it correctly so it resonates with others within your organization.

As I move forward in my career journey, I plan to take Lani’s tips with me. I’ll also continue to evolve my story as I experience new things or challenges. How have you created a career narrative? Has it changed over time?

Book Review: Normal Gets You Nowhere

Note: This post contains explicit language

While on vacation, I read Kelly Cutrone‘s Normal Gets You Nowhere. This is her second book after the wildly popular If You Have to Cry, Go Outside. I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while, so I’m glad the opportunity presented itself on vacation. I was not disappointed; I couldn’t put the book down and finished before the cruise was over.

Normal Gets You NowhereCutrone’s straightforward attitude shined in this book, as she offers insights on topics including religion, empowering young girls and death. She holds nothing back and provides a fresh perspective on ideas that aren’t frequently challenged. Below are my favorite de-normalizing thoughts from Cutrone with my opinion mixed in.

  • Cutrone starts by telling everyone to figure out how they are sacred, magical and special. This is an individual truth that all must nurture and develop. In her words, “I want you to fuck the Earth with your energy.” We are each responsible for the energy we put out to the universe so we might as well put positive energy out there.
  • Next, she discussed the media and how society is overstimulated with ridiculous distractions. We should be challenging what is fed to us via the media, whether it be through traditional, digital or social channels. People are programmed to not dig deeper; we should ignore that programming and push the envelope.
  • In speaking about empowering young women, Cutrone talks about sexual repression and how we teach young girls to be coy but not how to be honest. Amen! All women should be comfortable talking about sex and empowered to say what they feel versus doing the norm.
  • I LOVED the chapter about holidays: Why celebrate and spend money on days you don’t believe in? Tailor holidays to your personal belief system and only back ideas you firmly believe in.
  • She describes life as a bank account: random acts of kindness and telling truths are the deposits. Kelly CutroneBeing stupid and messing with others are withdrawals. If we give more than we take, we progress. I couldn’t agree more with this concept. It ties back to the energy we put out there – the more good we put out, the more good we shall receive.
  • Your “no matter what” club: The people who you would do anything for, not because they’d do it for but because you want to; because your life would not be the same without them. Sometimes, these people disappoint you and don’t progress as quickly as you do. That is not a reason to discard them. Do not let your ambition get in the way of this group of people.
  • Lastly, Cutrone approaches the topic of death with clarity and vulnerability, speaking about her grandparents’ and father’s passings. As someone who is still grieving, this chapter was hard but necessary to get through. You should plan your death, who’s there and how you want your life to be celebrated. That’s the key – death should be a celebration of someone’s life.

I could write another 500 words about Normal Gets You Nowhere and all of the examples Cutrone provides about why being normal isn’t the best way to live. To that end, I want to thank Kelly Cutrone for putting it out there and challenging the stereotypes. I also want to thank all of the women in my life: my mom, grandmothers, girlfriends and colleagues, who have embraced being different and have lived their lives on their terms versus others.

I highly recommend Normal Gets You Nowhere – you’ll feel inspired to think and live in a more authentic way. If you have read the book, please share your opinions in the comments section!

Cruising is a Girl’s Best Friend

I spent last week cruising the Caribbean with one of my best friends. I’m not sure what I was more excited about: my unlimited drink package or being able to lay in the sunlight for hours at end. I just couldn’t wait to get away and unwind.

Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman

One thing we didn’t plan for on the cruise was spring break. Being a bit removed from the college life, we completely forgot that the March is when most colleges have their spring break. Lucky us! Our ship was filled with college seniors letting loose and partying one more time before graduation. Most would be annoyed by this rowdy bunch but I was intrigued. I never went away on spring break during college. I wondered if I was ever as carefree as the group of girls we made friends with. Maybe..?

One thing about being on a cruise: If you’re remotely friendly or social, you will have an entourage following you by the end of the vacation. We literally had all sorts of people hanging out with us throughout the cruise. What can I say; we’re a good time!

At one point during the trip, I believe our new friends referred to me as Oprah. What an honor! I was talking to them about life after graduation. There’s advice people beat into your head, mostly around finding a job, being financially responsible and not burning bridges. What they don’t tell you is that the hardest part about graduating college and becoming adults is transitioning your friendships. In college, everyone has the same goal: to make it out alive (aka to graduate). After college, those goals and priorities shift and look different for each person. You’re going to have friends who get married right after college, choose to go to graduate school and some who might be a little lost. I said this to my new friends from UGA and the reaction I

Some of our friends from dinner

Some of our friends from dinner

got was priceless. No one had ever said that to them. Admittedly, they are worried about their friendships, people moving away and life changing. As I talked to them with one of my college best friends next to me, I was honest: it’s hard, you’ll argue, breakdown, freak out and cry..a lot. But just remember, not everyone grows up at the same time. No one’s dreams should look the same. Understanding and respecting that is the key to holding on to those friendships post college.

I love vacations because it gives me a chance to reflect about life. If I didn’t meet these girls, I don’t know if I would have thought about how graduating impacted my friendships. I might not have realized how blessed I am to have friends who respect each other’s decisions and understand one another’s journeys. It wasn’t a vacation of a lifetime, but I got to push pause on reality, let my thoughts unravel, dance until the sun rose and unplug from technology.

Tell me about your most recent vacation! Any big revelations or did you make any new friends?

My favorite picture of Haiti

My favorite picture of Haiti

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