Why You Need a Yoda

One of the repetitive tips a business student receives from guest speakers, motivators and profs is to “find yourself a mentor.” It sounds great, they mean well, but how many of us actively pursued finding a mentor? Few. Very few.

Finding a mentor to me brought visions of intimidating power-suited, stiletto-clicking, smart-talking, out-of-my-league accomplishing women who would look at someone like me and say, “Oh dah-ling, by your age I had already become VP of Fabulously Enviable International Ventures and managed a staff of for-tay.”

Meryl Streep as scary, intimidating, stiletto-clicking, power-suited successful woman in Devil wears Prada

The sheer fear of having to approach an older, wiser, more accomplished adult was almost overwhelming. So many of us try to seek advice and support in more passive avenues. We attend networking events, we might chat with profs during office hours, and if we are feeling slightly brave, might go up to the guest speaker after the presentation and personally ask a few questions. All of these are great things to do, but when it comes to personal support, these other avenues don’t even hold a candle to the kind of empowerment that comes with having a mentor.

Hundreds of articles have been written about the benefits of mentors which most often include networks, accountability and refining skills. While all these benefits are true, I want to share what I believe to be most compelling, at-the-heart-of-the-matter benefits of having a mentor.

1. Confidence

Confidence to pursue goals and believe in my ability to accomplish things has by far been the most rewarding aspect of having a mentor. When I say confidence I don’t mean arrogance, I mean that inner conviction that you have what it takes, you trust in your abilities, and your ideas are worth hearing. Having a mentor who not only models confidence, but teaches me how to be confident has been indispensable. Every time I come home after dinner with my mentor I am on such a high that I fly into our condo and announce just how excited I am to take on the world. Poor Howie doesn’t understand sometimes, “Babe! I’ve been telling you for weeks that you can do it! I think you’re the smartest person in the world! How come you believe her when she says it and not me?!” Well Howie, you kind of have to think I’m amazing, my mentor doesn’t. So as unfair as it is to Howie, encouragement from a super cool non-family member looking in on your life can sometimes be the missing key to finally having the confidence to go for it. Confidence turns ideas and goals into action and reality.

2. Wisdom

Sometimes our generation is in such a rush to have it all and have it fast that we like to downplay our weaknesses. We fear showing a chink in our armour lest we be judged as incompetent and incapable. My mentor created a space where I didn’t have to be “on” all the time. By being comfortable I could be honest about myself, my career, and we were able to have genuine, authentic conversations. She imparted years of wisdom on a number of issues that had secretly worried and stressed me out for years. One being that for my entire life I’ve felt all over the place with my roles, my interests, and stressed about the fact I wasn’t honing in and focusing on developing one specific expert ability (like they tell us all to do in business school). She looked at me and said, “Cheryl, the person who told us we all need to spend thousands of hours becoming an expert was a man who probably couldn’t multi-task. It isn’t true. It’s the people who have depth and breadth that are the visionaries and leaders. They understand how things relate from a top-level perspective. They are the people that manage the experts.” I can’t explain how liberating that was to hear.

3. A Plan

If you find a good mentor, he or she will invest time in you for life. You may not meet so frequently all the time, but the relationship will always be there. A mentor genuinely cares about your future and will want to help you articulate your goals and the steps you need to take now to reach your goals. How often do we set time aside for ourselves to map out what we want to do in five years? Ten years? Twenty? Probably not often. And with a mentor this is exactly what you do. Plus, they open a lot of doors to help you get there.

4. A Sounding Board

Mentors provide an outsider’s perspective on the issues you face. They aren’t your boss, they aren’t your spouse, they aren’t your parents. They are unbiased, they have been there, and they get it. Mentors are the ultimate people you want to tell your most out-there, crazy ideas to because they will tell you the truth. They will tell you if there’s an element about your idea you should go for, and they help you consider ideas from perspectives you would have never thought. From how to implement a new marketing strategy, to managing people, to managing work-life balance, and initiating uncomfortable conversations, your mentor is the Mickey* in your corner.

Ultimately the decision to pursue a mentor-relationship is entirely up to you. For some people, they will not see the need or will not be able to get over the fear of approaching a potential mentor. But for those of you who are serious about carving out an exceptionally successful life and/or career, mentorship is absolutely key.

The most magical mentor-mentee relationship

Think about it… where would Luke be without Yoda? Bieber without Usher? Harry without Dumbledore? Zuckerberg without Andreessen? Jagr without Lemieux? Neo without Morpheus? Almost every great leader (fiction and non-fiction) had a mentor. Mentorship is so worthwhile. It’s worth your time to make it happen.

Thoughts on mentorship? Am I overestimating its value?

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* Mickey: Are you serious? You’ve never watched Rocky?! Go and educate yourself immediately by watching this.

Next post, look forward to some tips on how to find a good mentor!

Like this post? Then you might also like my tips for Climbing the Corporate Ladder

“Too Poor to Have Kids”

I came across this article in the Huffington Post, but if you don’t have time to read the article in its entirety here is the Modern Wife recap:

  • The article asserts that “young Americans are just too poor to have kids”
  • Population growth is at its all-time slowest growth rate since the Great Depression, and the birth rate has been falling since the housing bubble burst in 2007
  • Average wage of college-educated 23 to 29 year olds plunged 9% in the last decade
  • Three in 10 of these young adults are choosing to move back in with their parents rather than beginning their own households and families
  • For the first time in U.S. history, unmarried households outnumber married couples
  • Economic growth is expected to continue to be sluggish because the labor force is growing at a slower rate. Population growth is the key driver for consumer spending, housing demand, and household formation

Bottom line is, according to this article: poor economy is propelling many of us millennials to delay or opt out of having our own families.

So what exactly is going on here fellow Generation Y’ers? Are we really too poor, too down and out, too financially strapped to venture out and begin our own households? The more I considered this article the more convinced I became that the economy is just a small little piece of the “millennials aren’t reproducing” pie. We need a generational attitude shift.

I’m going to take you back to early1960 when a young couple decided to get married. Having emigrated to Canada with their respective families as children in 1950, they left behind a war-ravaged European country that had no jobs, little food, and scarce opportunities. With little more than the clothes on their backs and a few pieces of luggage, their families made the long passage across an ocean landing  on the east coast at Halifax. From there, a long train ride took them into southern Ontario. These large double-digit families rented small farmhouses built for six and worked on other Canadian farmers’ fields to make a living. Everyone, fathers, mothers, teenagers and young children pitched in.

The Dutch farming community of southern Ontario was fairly close-knit and that’s how this young couple met and fell in love. Barely past their teenage years, they got married and started their own household in much the same manner their parents did: renting and working on other people’s farms. Up until the day they got married, that young man gave his paycheque to his parents. The couple soon welcomed their first child and were thrown into parenthood in living conditions that involved outdoor bathroom facilities.

Year by year and four children later, they worked their tails off and gradually carved out a nice living for themselves. He went to night school and became a technician at a booming car plant and she became a self-employed cleaner when she wasn’t raising children. Fifty-two years later, they are retired and live in the third home they’ve owned, spend their winters in Florida, and play golf in the summer. These people were my grandparents, and they kick butt.

Considering their story, and thousands of other stories from grandparents just like them, the “we are too poor to have children” dilemma just doesn’t add up in this millennial’s mind. Are we actually too poor to have children? No. We think we are. And there’s a lot of other self-interests we want to pursue before we have them. The economy is a just handy excuse to use when you need to keep a grandchild-craving in-law at bay.

We were raised in a culture that promotes the pursuit of personal ambition. We were raised thinking things like televisions, video-games, cell phones, and iPods ranked right up there with water, food, and shelter on the list of life’s essentials. Have a family before you own your home? Shocking! Move out of mom and dad’s place before you have your own high def TV? Oh the humanity! Get married before I’m a senior manager and have a pension set? Stop! You’re killing me! These thoughts cause heart palpitations to millennials.

How can a generation who was raised with everything, be motivated to start out with less than their parents? Though our grandparents and parents had every best intention at heart in wanting to give us more than they had as children, something has become lost on us. Something to do with hard work, sweat, tears, patience, making something out of nothing, and a willingness to roll up our sleeves has become lost on the millennial generation. We want success, we want wealth, and we want it now. Children, families, and “settling down” have to take a backseat until we feel we have it all together.

Of course I am generalizing, of course there are exceptions. But take a good hard look at the 20-somethings in your life and I think you will find some truth to what I’m saying. Is it wrong to pursue a career? Is it wrong to want it all together before we start our own households and have children? Maybe not. But let’s call it for what it is.

No, we are not too poor to have children. My grandparents were too poor to have children, my parents didn’t “have it all” to have children, but they had children anyway.

Thoughts welcomed. Was I too harsh on my generation? Are we too poor to have kids?

Featured on NuggleMama!

I’ve been a fan of Julia from NuggleMama for a while now. Her seriously savvy blogging skills are an inspiration. The fact that she is a fellow Canadian makes my admiration even that much greater. So when she chose me to be her featured Canadian Blogger last Friday I could not have been more excited!

Please check out my revealing tell-all interview with Julia and if you’re feeling extra friendly, leave a little comment! While you’re there, I highly recommend you check out other areas of her blog, you won’t be disappointed!

Climbing the Corporate Ladder

A few months ago I had the privilege of attending an informal women’s breakfast panel with the IWF (International Women’s Forum) in Waterloo. This was another inspiring experience where, once again, I had to pinch myself a couple times and wonder how I ever managed to roll with the likes of these awesome women! Pinching aside, this event was an incredible information-exchange in which panelists told personal stories and answered questions about their own unique career paths. I feel like I would have to write a novel to capture all the wisdom that dripped from that session but for now, I’ll settle for a brief blog post. So here you have it, curtesy of the amazing ladies of the Baby Boomer generation: the top five things millennial gals should know about succeeding in the corporate world:

1. The best career paths are winding, never straight.

We heard from a lawyer, marketing director, and HR VP. These same women had collectively quit a high paying job to take more education in Australia, obtained an advanced musical degree in voice and opera, worked in arts management, been a dancer, travelled the world for an international company, been involved in national companies, been part of local start-ups, taken mat leaves to raise children, worked in the financial sector, government sector, high-tech sector, and so much more. The resounding message from these women was that every single job, even the bad ones, provide you will tools and experiences that make you even more equipped for the next opportunity. The most valuable people in an organization are the ones who have vision. And the best visionaries understand the breadth and scope of different people, places and industries. Weigh the risks of taking on new experiences, but don’t be afraid to take them.

2. Language is power. 

What phrases are you guilty of using in the workplace?

  • I know you are really busy but I really need . . .
  • If it’s ok, I think we should …
  • I was thinking it might possibly be a good idea if we …
  • I really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to do this with me …
  • Let me know if you have any concerns about this and I can change it!
If you answered yes to any of the above (and we all have); STOP DOING IT.

Unfortunately a young woman’s tendency to think of others and not step on toes has made many of us into unassuming, beat-around-the-bush, never-want-to-interject pacifists. It’s all in the language ladies! If you called a meeting, don’t act like your time is less valuable than your colleagues, don’t crowd your sentences with “maybes” “possiblys” or “perhaps-es.” When someone interrupts your sentences don’t be so quick to back down. Put a polite finger up or mention that you were not done speaking. Use plain, direct, confident language that sets you up for respect and attentive ears, even from the oldest and most male co-workers you deal with.

3. Set goals for roles, not titles.

This piece of advice is golden. So often we have set the bar high with certain titles and salaries we want to achieve by a certain time. VP of this, director of that, make $100K by 30 and the list goes on. Goals are important, but make sure you set the right kind of goals. Decide what kind of work you want to do, what kind of role you want to play. What makes you happiest? What makes you want to pull your hair out? What kind of life do you envision? What kind of work environment do you picture yourself in? The great thing about these kind of goals are that by moving more and more toward roles, responsibilities, and environments that you enjoy, the chances are you are going to be more passionate and effective at what you are doing. Even more important than the name of the company, the industry, or the job, is the role.

4. Be patient.

Sounds simple, but then why are so many of us killing ourselves trying to achieve what took our parents and mentors years and years of hard work? Patience my dears, patience. The very best things in life take time. No other substitutes accepted. I’m not saying sit back and expect your career to just happen, I’m saying you need to view your career as a cultivated journey, never a final destination. Relish each moment for where you are in that time and don’t waste your energy lamenting over the fact that you haven’t made partner or junior VP quite yet. Excel at where you are, right now.

5. Long hours ≠ effectiveness.

Come again? Long hours, do NOT equal effectiveness. Here’s the truth ladies, you can burn the midnight oil and send emails to your team late into the night but the truth is that kind of thing isn’t going to put you ahead. Can you really be 100% at 1am after a 16 hour day? You need to figure out what it is in life that recharges your batteries and then carve that activity into your agenda. Is it a good workout? Some reading time? Art? A good night’s sleep? Spending time with family? Whatever it is that you need to do to keep yourself at 100% and healthy make sure you make the time! You are not helping anyone by running yourself ragged.

What lessons have you learned about creating success in the workplace?

Meet Frank (Call me Shirley)

Working for an engineering firm means that you must get used to being a minority as a woman, and it also means you need to become comfortable with engineers. At times I feel like my workplace could inspire a long running sitcom. When I share my workplace stories with family and friends they think at times I must be making this stuff up. But I swear I’m not. I just work with an extremely colourful cast of people. So just to give you a glimpse of my work life, I’m going to introduce you all to Frank.

Part of my job involves working very closely with the company’s president Frank. Frank was born in Liverpool in the 1930s and has a very intriguing, international history. Before coming to Canada and founding a severe service valve company in the 80s, Frank began his career as an engineer in the British army. For a time he was in the Suez and I’m pretty sure he saw active battle (though I may have to fact-check that one).

He’s worked for British conglomerate companies with nuclear reactors all over the world and happened to fall in love with a Canadian gal back in the 1950s and married her. He’s worked and raised his family for extended periods of time in Singapore and Kenya before deciding to settle in Canada for the sake of his wife. He’s chaired the Olympic committee for the Pentathlon and in his own words “made and lost a fortune three times.” He’s lucky this valve business panned out or apparently that would have been the final straw for his wife.

At nearly 80 Frank still comes into the office at least 3 to 4 times a week and has been talking about retiring for 10 years. He’s definitely an engineer, is very particular, and likes to have all his “ducks in a row” before he can start working on something. When I first started working with Frank I think he mistakenly thought I was his personal secretary and called me Shirley for a period of time. I had to learn how to decipher his handwriting because he’s “no good at those computer things” and he once spent two minutes looking all over his desk when I told him I saved a file to his desktop.

Cartoon which appeared in our company newsletter

I don’t take the name mix-up personally however, and several of my co-workers have not only accepted their new Frank-given names but embraced them. Maurice is now Mortinique after Frank mistakingly introduced him as Mortimer, but then remembered he had a French name.

He’s a true entrepreneur at heart and can’t stand “bloody bureaucrats” because “they’ve never created a shilling of wealth in their lives.” He has the most priceless anecdotes and is an absolute jaw-dropping delight when he comes along on important client dinners. He’s not a big fan of utensils at the company lunches and prefers to choose what deli meat to place on his sandwich with his hands.  My personal favourite Frank-isms are:

“At my age you can’t see as well, can’t hear as well and sometimes you forget to zip up your fly. What’s even worse is when you forget to zip it down.”

and

“I like a woman with big mahguffies.” (Which he claims is a Swahili term, your guess as to  what mahguffies are is as good as mine).

In his spare time he breeds horses on his beautiful rolling farm. His favourite horse is the great big Shire horses he used to see as a boy working on the Liverpool docks. Many of us would know these as Clydesdales but you NEVER call them Clydesdales in Frank’s presence because according to him “the bloody Scots took English Shires, brought them over to Scotland and started calling them Clydesdales.”  When my little sister desperately needed a summer job Frank hired her to pull out all the “bloody thistles” in his horse fields. She asked him why he kept a llama with the goats and he told her it keeps the coyotes away. She asked if that was true, he said “Well that’s what the bloody llama salesman told me.”

Frank is the kind of man that adds a lot of character to a company. You can’t help but love the guy. When I told him I was taking three weeks off to get married he was shocked and asked if I was sure I loved the guy. I told him I most definitely did and he replied, “Well make sure that you do. Because that’s the one thing in life you don’t want to muck up.”

Diet vs. Office

I’m determined to get back in shape. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered getting in shape and working in an office setting are inherently at odds with each other. To help other young women who might be starting office jobs or have already discovered their impact on love handles, I’ve managed to compile a guide of the top five weight-loss dangers that occur in an office and how to overcome them.

Top Five Weight-Loss Dangers in the Office

1. The Long Meeting: Long Meetings are gatherings of at least 4 employees where matters are discussed for at least one hour. Often times the Long Meeting Scheduler is filled with a sense of guilt for having to take away precious time her co-workers and in an effort to appease co-workers she will travel to the nearest Tim Hortons to purchase a 60 pack of timbits. The general rule is that there must be at least 12 timbits per every employee or the backlash could be fatal. Grumbling and questions of “WHERE ARE THE TIMBITS?!” are often directed at the Long Meeting Scheduler if she fails to provide a form of sugary ball snacks. To avoid this danger, simply sneeze atop all the timbits and spoil the temptation for all. If the social repercussions of this action alarm you, you can alternatively bring your own healthy snack to the meeting, such as a banana.

For my non-Canadian friends. These are timbits.

2. The Thoughtful Spouse: This person is enrolled in Cake Decorating courses and is married to one of your co-workers. He or she often finds the time to bake various sugary delectables for his or her partner (your co-worker) to share with the office. These treats are often extremely tempting due to their freshly baked nature and homemade icing. Avoiding this danger is futile. Not eating the said delectable will result in distracting daydreams about their deliciousness and might offend your co-worker. I recommend you ask a third party co-worker to split one of the treats with you to half the amount of calories yet still allow you to maintain concentration and social ties.

3. The Celebration: Celebrations occur for various reasons including retirements, birthdays, reaching sales targets and going ten or more days without Larry injuring himself. Most often, Celebrations involve a large cake with specific congratulatory messages written in icing. Avoiding Celebrations altogether would earn you the label of Buzz-kill Bill and might jeopardize your likability with your boss and co-workers. To avoid this danger, volunteer to cut the cake at Celebrations and you can either conveniently use up all the cake before you had a chance to have a slice or cut a piece for yourself so embarrassingly small, that it poses no significant threat to your caloric target that day.

4. Customer Wine and Dines: When attempting to schmooze potential or current clients, you may be asked to attend a dinner where good food and great wine are abundant. Unless you have a valid excuse, it is in the best interest of your career to attend. To limit the calorie aftermath, stick to one glass of wine, don’t drink your calories away, save them for the delicious dinner. Limited alcohol consumption will also drastically reduce the likelihood of sharing inappropriate anecdotes to aforementioned clients, like the time you fell asleep during a live David Susuki lecture.

5. Long Commutes: Long Commutes can pose a significant health risk not only for the sheer length of time they waste when you could be exercising, but also for the added stress and cortisol levels bonehead drivers you encounter can cause. If Long Commutes cannot be avoided, use the driving time to learn a new language via CD, such as Italian. The time will not be wasted and the sense of accomplishment will motivate you to take a short run or walk upon your return home. The other alternative is to fit a workout in during your lunch break if you have access to a shower or do not sweat. Or, you could move closer to your work like I did and force your spouse to have the Long Commute. The final option is to work-out in the early morning but seriously, who does that?

I hope these tips have provided other young career women to soldier on in their journey for work-health balance. It isn’t easy when 99% of what you do requires sedentary computer work but the pay-off of a hot bod is definitely worth it! Plus, I suppose the other side effects of longer life and more energy aren’t too bad either.

girl power

This is why I love being a woman. A few weeks ago I spent an entire morning basking in the presence of some of the most inspirational, focused, dedicated and driven professionals I have ever met – all of whom happened to be women. There were executives, presidents, VPs, politicians, artists, lawyers, accountants, entrepreneurs, deans and everything in between. Did I mention these were all women? The best part about this group of women is that despite the vast array of differences, one thing they all had in common was a desire to mentor and support other women. Enter me.

There is no other way to phrase this than to say I’ve been blessed with the most amazing opportunity. Over the course of the next eight months one of the most admirable and accomplished woman in the KW area (and Canada for that matter) has decided to dedicate a portion of her time to help me grow as a professional! I’m hoping to disclose a little more about this person over the coming months but for now I’ll save her the immense publicity that comes with this blog 😉 and admire her on a more anonymous level. The best part about her was that despite all her intimidating credentials and accomplishments, she was so incredibly approachable. She is basically the Yoda Jedi Master of empowering women.

After a fabulous goal-setting and mentorship workshop facilitated by ICE Leadership, I realized that my mentor did not consider this an eight-month gig – she was committed for life. Christmas has come early. How did this happen? I’m not sure exactly, but I’ve certainly never been more motivated or energized to be a positive impact within my company and attain my long-term career goals. How does it feel to actually believe you can make things happen? To have someone, whom you admire immensely, (who is not your biological parent) believe you can make things happen?

It feels amazing. I can’t wait for the journey ahead.

More on mentorship to come in the months ahead!