Mentorship over Coffee, Lesson #4: Don’t Let You Hold You Back

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...
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I had my last mentorship over coffee session almost a month ago and I finally put aside some time to write about it. Even though our session was cut short, I probably took the most from this one. Here’s why.

I’ve been ferociously working on a project with my colleagues that we started about six months ago and it’s now finally coming to fruition. We’re at a point where we can socialize internally and get people rallied behind it.

I shared it with my mentor and though I was nervous, I was excited to share; I was so proud of it. After sharing the project, I patiently waited for their reaction. It was one of awe. I was relieved, yet, I was still unsure. I was sure they would tell me what was wrong with it. I waited but they went on about how awesome it was.

After looking at my expression, they asked, “What’s wrong? Are you not proud of it?” No! I was so proud of it but I was so scared to know what other people thought. I was so emotionally involved in the project and knew how great it was that I just wanted everyone else to see how great it was too. They looked at me and said, “You have to remember that you will be the hardest on yourself.” Immediately after telling me this, they got a call and had to leave. I spent some time thinking about this and put my thoughts together. It’s true; I was so hard on myself. We all are, and I think this is why we don’t do more than what we’re capable of.

We can come up with a million excuses as to why we can’t do something (read this article: 10 Reasons Why We Fail), but really, the only person holding you back is yourself. As I thought about the project I had worked on, I realized there were a few stages where I could have got stuck and prevented myself from progressing to the next stage.

Let Yourself Be Creative

The first step is to allow yourself time to be creative. We are so consumed with our everyday activities that it’s not often we stop and just imagine. To quote Albert Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” We’re all in a place where we’re living up to someone else’s expectations – maybe it’s your employer’s, your parent’s or your professor’s – so when do you make room for yourself to think broader than what is expected of you? We all have creativity in us but don’t allow ourselves the time to let it rise above the surface.

Solution: Schedule it! You make time for everyone else and everything else, why not make time for you to think? It doesn’t mean that you’ll come out with something, and you may not for days, weeks or months, but when something does come to you, you’ll have renewed energy!

You Have to Make it Happen

Some may think this is the hardest part but I actually think the first is the hardest. Once you’re at a point to make it happen, everything falls into place. The difference between being creative and making it happen is the difference between “strategists” and “doers.” I am about to be a jerk here but I cannot stand when I ask someone what they do and they say, “I do strategy.” That tells me “I do nothing.” Don’t get me wrong, strategy is important (it’s in my top 5 strengths) as you can’t execute on something if you don’t have strategy, but the train doesn’t stop there. You have to do it!

Solution: When you have an idea, you shouldn’t think that you have to do this on your own. This is why having true, meaningful relationships with people are so important. Make sure you’re around people that have different qualities than you; people that compliment you. Marissa Mayer says, “Surround yourself with the smartest people possible.”

Don’t Just Believe It, Sell It

I recently saw the 80th anniversary Lego short animated film and actually watched the entire 17 min video. It tells the company story of Lego, from it’s humble beginnings in the early 1930s. What was interesting to me is that the initial founder, Ole Kirk Christiansen, believed in his product. He made each toy product with pride. When it came to selling, however, he would often cut himself short – he sold enough to feed his children. It was when one of his sons, Godtfred, stepped in to lead the business that his products began to sell. He was no different than his father in believing in the product, but he had a way of selling it. Selling means attaching the benefits of your products to the needs and wants of the buyer. What one buyer wants isn’t necessarily what another buyer wants. This goes for everything you do. Sell your work. Let people know why it’s important to them, not why it’s important to you. (And don’t jump to selling if you don’t believe first.)

Solution: Make it into a story (similar to what Lego did). I recently read an article that was spot on called How to Use Storytelling as a Leadership Tool.  Often times we talk ourselves out of telling stories because we think it’s for children. Stories connect humans; it’s something anyone can relate to.

Be Ready to Have Thick Skin

I have definitely been down this road, as many of you, and it’s tough. I might have a more sensitive personality than others, but I have learned that not everyone will like your idea. It’s definitely hard to take in especially when you’ve put blood, sweat and tears into something you thought was golden and it turns out not necessarily being golden in someone else’s eyes. The only thing that I can say here is “listen and adapt.” Somebody might catch something that might make your product/project/work better than what it actually is. It might be hard for you to believe that there’s actually room for improvement, but most of the time there is. Many companies start off offering a certain product and/or service and when they start gaining customers, they realize customers may use it in a way that didn’t initially anticipate.

Solution: Pretend like you’re going into an interview and think of all the potential questions that can be asked of you. Try to think of everything that could go wrong and document how you would handle each. You might not tackle every potential punch that can be thrown, but at least you’re in a mindset that it is possible things might not go the way you initially planned. When it does happen, you won’t give up.

I’ve learned a lot leading this project and fortunately, I kept pushing through and made it the last stage. I will keep you posted with what’s to come. Although the project hasn’t been launched yet, I am confident it will.


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