That Time We Said “Still”

Almost a decade ago, I worked in a very rigid, structured (slightly uptight) office. I say that with a lot of love (and PTSD). That job taught me more than I could have ever learned in university.

Structured organizations are interesting – you either love them or you hate them. I was too young to know one way or the other. I just knew that my job was stressful. There were multiple levels of approval for everything I wanted to do, regardless of how big or small. My team and I were once told that our ad, laid out on a black background, needed to be 25% more black. That was a head scratcher, and not the last time I would hear something like it.

Structure. Routine. People want what they want.

One Friday at this place, my friend M had to follow up with a customer. We had been working on a time sensitive project – maybe a product launch or a promotion – I don’t remember what exactly but we needed answers. After having left a voice mail and following up with an email, she found herself following up again a few days later. Something to the effect of:

“Hi buyer,

Pleasantries go here. Blah blah blah. I still haven’t heard back regarding the (project) we had discussed. Can you please let me know how you’d like to proceed?”

The email had barely left her outbox, when we got called into the manager’s office. We’re thinking, ok we need to tell him what plan B might be. A million thoughts went through your head when a manager asked to see you in their office at this place, one of which was, very often…am I losing my job today?

As we stood in the doorway of his office, email still on his desktop, he turned over and said “why would you say STILL in this email?”. Well, because we are, in fact, still waiting to hear back! And so began a 15 minute lecture about why “still” should have never been used.

M & I joked about it for years after. But fast forward a decade later, I get his point. It could have been made more clearly, or communicated differently. It could have been used as a teachable moment versus a moment of discipline. But I get it.

Here’s a little Seinfeld to help:

Did you say “Jerry I didn’t think you’d show” or “Jerry I didn’t think YOU’D show”

You see?

Same as “Hey there I’m still waiting (normal tone)” or, “I’m STILL waiting (frustrated tone)”. We already have a hard enough time dissecting verbal communication. Now eliminate tone from it completely, add in the receiving party’s emotions and state of mind that day, and you can see why someone might feel like their back is up against a wall.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this more times than I’m comfortable admitting. Sometimes people come across harsh, sometimes their intended harsh message isn’t exactly received. It’s like receiving a text message you’re not quite sure how to respond to. “Hey do you want to read this and tell me what you think?” How many of us have done that with messages that come through, trying to decipher a secret code.

Here’s the point.

You have to pick your words carefully. It sounds silly, but that’s the world we live in now. Less face to face, more finger to keyboard. I’ve said this to almost every team I’ve ever lead. Pick your words. If you’re heated, STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. Try to receive the message from the other person’s perspective and see if it feels like a punch in the gut.

I once sat through litigation, where the opposing side pulled out one of my emails from a couple of years prior and questioned me over my use of “grrrr”. I am not kidding. They had a separate argument prepared over the word “subjective”. Words are no longer JUST words.

Communication is an absolute art. Most of us can do better. You have to consciously work at it. Now, before I send an email, I tend to read it at least twice. If I’m frustrated or trying to get a point across, I might get a friend to give me some honest feedback. And, because I’ve lived through it, before pressing send, a little voice in my head asks if I think what I’m saying in an email would cause another “grrr” discussion with a lawyer.

Words are precious. Take a pause before you use them. I mean it. Even face to face, they can be twisted and your intentions can be misinterpreted. And, icing on this complicated cake, you cannot take your emails back. They’re there. In the abyss. Even if you delete it, delete the deleted, and restart your computer, they are out there. Someone is printing it, showing it to their boss, complaining to YOUR boss.

OR

They read it, they acknowledge your message, they appreciate how it was communicated, you guys get along and you live to see another inbox.

Your Career, and Your Gut.

It’s been some time since I’ve posted. Honestly, I have been less motivated, and more overwhelmed. I’m sure most of you feel the same way. There’s a lot happening, majority of which tends to feel out of our control. So, I’ve given myself permission to stand still, which in and of itself is anxiety inducing for me.

Me. When I force myself to stop.

Not doing much has left a lot of time for reflection for me. On my life, my actions, and my career. I’ve been blessed with career progression. But now, looking back, I can tell you that there have been a LOT of flops. I can’t say that I have regrets, because through those flops, I’ve made incredible connections.

I met my mentor (and friend) through one such flop. He believed in me from the moment I started working with him. Literally, by lunch that day, he just left me to do what I do. Although that gig was short lived, I’ve followed him for the remainder of my career. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And in this case, what I gained far outweighed the challenges.

I could go on and on. If I look back at all of those “flops”, they all had one thing in common – I didn’t listen to my gut. I went through the interviews, I asked all the questions, and the answers I got all seemed to make sense. But I can remember very clearly, as I was signing contracts, something nagged at me, and I couldn’t figure out what. And within a month, I could see clearly why it wasn’t the right fit.

So why did I ignore my gut? I regularly found myself wondering if its my gut telling me something isn’t right, OR, am I just avoiding something that I know is going to be challenging, because it is new. I know true growth only comes when you really embrace the unknown – that awkward, uncomfortable feeling – and power through. So for me, in those instances, the lines blurred.

Can I say I regret them though? Not really. I would have saved myself a ton of stress, that’s for sure. But all of these made me better, they rounded me out professionally. In some cases, they gave me a huge boost of confidence. “if s/he can be an executive/ own a company/ launch a brand, then so can I!” Would I have learned the same things had I trusted my gut? I don’t know. It might have set me on a completely different path, but I believe, I would have ended up in the same place (as a person) sooner or later.

I know a lot of you are out there searching for your next adventure. Be open minded. If something is nagging at you through your process, be inquisitive. Ask questions – of yourself, your recruiter, your potential new boss – as bluntly (and politely) as possible. We forget sometimes that the interview is meant to be a two way selling process. You need to show that you’re capable of doing the job, but the hiring manager also should show you why this job, and this company, is a good fit for you! I’ve compiled a list of questions I’ve asked over the years during interviews. If you’d like to hear about them, shoot me a message.

If you, like me, decide to go against what your gut says, trust that all is well.

Remind yourself that there is no such thing as failure when it comes to selecting a job if you’ve done your due diligence and based on what you know, the job seems like a good opportunity for you. Take it from someone who has fumbled a few times through this process. As long as you’re open to learning, and professional development, there is always something to be gained.

Above all, remind yourself that you’re exactly where you’re meant to be in your journey, right at this moment. It might feel uncomfortable, it might not fit the vision you had for your path. But trust. This. Is where you needed to be, right now. It will spark change, growth, and stepping into your full potential.

Breathe through it. I’m with you. Breathing in the good shit, Breathing out the bullshit. And enjoying one hell of a ride!

What Are You Worth

Worst kept secret: I LOVE Moneyball. The book. Although watching Brad Pitt didn’t hurt my cause either.

It is hard to argue with what is written between the lines. Everything, comes down to a single number. In baseball, the story goes, that number is your on-base percentage. Doesn’t matter what else you’re doing. Did you get on base?  Wins, come from runs, and runs happen if you’re getting on base. Simple right? Now, what is that number for your business?

If you’re in the business of selling a tangible good, I would argue, the number is shipments. How much did you ship? (Not just sell, but ship to the customer. And there is a difference) Shipping would suggest you invoiced and got paid, it means you had products in your warehouse to fill a purchase order, and that your account would have had pull at the shelf and needed to restock.

When I build a strategy, I often spend some time identifying what my number is, before anything else. What would define success in my space? In a selling environment, for me the number is always units per store per week. I can tell a rep to make sure his region sells through $10,000 a month, or we break it down to an easy to track number. “Your goal is $10,000, you have 50 stores, so each store needs to bring in $200 a month, or $50 a week. Their cost of the product is $10 so each of your store needs to sell 5 units a week.” Much easier pill to swallow, isn’t it?

This concept applies to almost everything. Even your career. I call that your currency. Not what you charge your clients, not what your salary is, or even your net worth. Although those need to be addressed too.

What are you trading every day? What is in exchange, as specifically defined as possible? Have you thought about it? For a sales person, it might be a sales trend, or contribution to an organization’s bottom line. You’re in marketing? How about a track record of positive ROI, brand launches you’ve worked on, the portfolio you’ve managed over your career. Whatever it is that has made you unique – the winningest part of your professional past. Your professional worth. What does an employer HAVE to know about you. Why does anybody need to hire you.

Without being clear on that, it is impossible for you to effectively plan a career progression, a raise, your next move. If you haven’t really thought about it before, that’s ok! I hadn’t either.

When I first started my brokerage, I could not figure out what to charge people. Not because I hadn’t done my homework on what others in my field were billing, but because I couldn’t stand firmly on my professional currency. I had a small idea of what my work could do for others, but not really. And you know how I know this? The first person that received their quote from me signed on immediately. No questions asked. IT WAS A BARGAIN. He could see it, clear as day. Me – I was just hoping I’d get paid. The next guy, I raised a bit, but then somehow ended up taking a 20% haircut because they thought I was quoting them in Canadian dollars and I was too nervous to correct them to the USD. Again – people grab a good bargain when they see it.

Finally, I found my balls (and figured out my professional worth) with my third client. I remember sending a quote and having the CEO ask if we could discuss my fee. He went through line by line and finally he said “You mean to tell me you’re worth more on part time hours than someone else’s full time salary??” My palms were sweating. I could feel the blood rushing to my face. I found literally two seconds of courage and I replied “Yup!”. No explanation. He replied with “I think you are too”. From that moment on, I never settled for less than my quote.

There is a number, for everything. And your number is so closely tied with what you’re bringing to the table. Think about it. Define it meticulously. And trade it like Gold. Whether it is for your business, or at a job interview. Be clear. Ask for what you deserve. The worst thing anyone can say to you is no thank you. But if you’ve communicated your worth clearly, they will likely negotiate.

You are gold, baby! Don’t you forget it.

The One About The Shoe

Someone asked me last week how I ended up in sales. Honestly, I never intended to be a sales person. What I did always chase after though was career advancement, continuous education and improvement, and like many women, breaking the glass ceiling. That naturally put me on a long selling journey.

Fast forward to a decade later, and I’ve achieved more in sales than I ever did as a marketer, a field that I am to this day extremely passionate about. That’s what I went to school for. That’s what my skill set makes me great at. At least that’s what everyone used to tell me, because I’ve always been creative. “You’re a shoe, you’re a shoe, you’re a shoe!”

The truth is, until you force yourself out of your zone, you won’t really know. I’ve been fortunate enough (choosing that word carefully) to be pushed out of my zone a few times.

Once a few years ago, when in a desperate attempt to broaden my horizons, I landed a job as an alcohol sales rep. Had it not been for that experience, I would still be the most introverted person you have ever met. I would have been stuck behind a desk, barely speaking to clients on the phone, never travelling the World. But most importantly, I would have never fully stepped into my light, aware of what I am capable of and how much of a change maker I can become.

Then again, eight years ago, I agreed to run sales for a US brand attempting to launch in Canada. ALL of Canada. Plot twist: I’m scared of flying (or at least I was at that point). AND, my only sales experience had been the alcohol gig, for the cottage country in one territory. What do I know about the rest of Canada. Friends talked me through this. Selling is selling. Just go for it and see what happens. And I did. I flew in for an interview over dinner. I had to take drugs to get myself on the plane. When I landed, I had an hour or two to get myself ready -groggy and all. I was so nervous I spilled water all over my dress shirt.

It is scary. Trust me, I know. I used to call my bestfriend every morning during the alcohol gig and cry. I’m not ashamed of that. I was terrified. I don’t know if I can do this. What if they reject me. I know nothing about alcohol. (that part was a legitimate concern. Up until that point, my definition of alcohol was a fruity white zinfandel) The list of fears ran deep. Three months after that gig had started, my territory was one of the fastest growing in our region.

A year after that, not only had I helped launch a brand into Canada, and establish it as the fastest growing in the market within a matter of months, I was leading the global development of that business. If you had told me ten years ago that I’d get to be a VP by the time I was 30 and travel the world, I would have laughed. And laughed and laughed. Who are you talking to?? Me, fly for a living? NOPE!

It is incredible how we limit ourselves with our words, our thoughts, preconceived notions and extremely flawed understanding of our capabilities and limits, and how much we can achieve if we just tell the little negative voice in our heads to FRO.

Have you caught yourself doing that? In sales I was taught to address an objection with “What would happen if you did x”? It is highly effective, if you’re willing to listen and support. But it is even more effective when you use that same statement every time you put an obstacle in front of yourself. Every time you tell yourself no. Every time you think it cannot be done. What would happen if you did it anyway?

I beg of you. Cover your ears to block out the negative, open your eyes, and Leap. Out of your typecast. Out of your comfort zone. Out into the unknown. I promise you, there will be people ready to catch you if you fall.

Balance.

I read a review on Glassdoor the other day that confused me completely. “The Work/Life balance is next to none. Even on your day off, count on working.”

When I think of Work-Life Balance, I think of one’s ability to prioritize between his work, career and ambition, and his life – think health, family, friends, leisure, personal growth. It is absolutely a lifestyle choice.  Your choice. And while a lot of companies work very hard at encouraging a balance between the two, the execution comes down to you, your ambition, your life goals.

The problem, I would argue, is that most of us (even myself from time to time) have failed at clearly define what that balance looks like. This is not an exercise in window shopping for balance either. You cannot just look at a co-worker and think “He has a great career. He has a loving family. He is fit and healthy. I will take one of those please.” The moment you start down that path, you minimize what that person has sacrificed in the past to achieve that balance. You judge a very narrow window of what is likely a long winding road. If nothing else, you set unrealistic expectations for achieving balance.

I have been sitting on a seesaw that is heavily loaded on the career end.  I have certain goals I need to achieve in my career, and I understand that comes at the sacrifice of a life fully lived at times. (More work, less leisure, less time with friends and family, etc). I prioritize one end more than the other. That is my balance. I also know that if I power through that phase, the weight on one end will eventually lift off and I will achieve absolute equilibrium.

Dig deep and think, not only about what a balanced life looks like to you, but what you have to do to get there. Accept that imbalance in the short term is necessary for a perfectly balanced life long term. Particularly if you are ambitious. And most of all, take control of that seesaw. All any employer can do, is to press down on one end.  You and only you can prioritize one side over the other. So take control – either plant your feet down firmly on one side, or just go along for the ride for a while.

Lipstick and Politics

A friend and I got to talking about office politics the other day. He mentioned he, like most of us, hates it. Playing that game is of no interest to him. As someone who did not get the hang of this concept until much later in my career, I completely get what he’s saying.

Go back a year ago, when at the peak of burnout hell, I walked into a MAC Cosmetics store, pointed at my face and said “THIS…needs help”. As one of the staff started assessing the situation (and believe me, it was a situation), she asked why I hadn’t considered using makeup before. My response flew out of my mouth like I had rehearsed it a million times. “I look young. I take care of my skin. I always figured I could just get away with not wearing any make up”, to which she replied “just because you can get away with it, doesn’t mean you should”.

Here’s why that shocked me and immediately gave me an “aha!” moment. For years I believed, it is what’s on the inside that counts. Inner beauty. Your makeup will wash off, your face will change, but your inner beauty will always shine bright. These are statements I, like many women, still believe. But the catch is, to get someone to see your inner beauty, you often need a hook. You “dress to impress”, you wear a cologne that you think will do the trick, you get a car wash, you shave, you shove your feet into 6 inch heels that are guaranteed to destroy your feet later in life. Dating politics, or, life!

It is perfectly fine to not want to participate in office politics. It is also absolutely OK to just wash your face, put on some moisturizer and walk out the door. But you must adjust your expectations based on your behaviour. You will not score a slam dunk if you’re satisfied with being a bench warmer, plain and simple. I would love to tell you that you will go far in the corporate World without playing that game, (or you will meet the man of your dreams one day standing in your dirty sweats without a hint of make up on your face), but the sad reality is, you need to step into the court. You need to dribble the ball a little before passing it on. To get into the spotlight, you have to get in the game.

The good news is, you can still do that with integrity and staying true to your values. In fact, I insist that you remind yourself of those daily. Then and only then will you be able to flawlessly balance the art of dancing around the politics, and the wonderful thing which is the true, authentic you.

Glass Ceilings. Hard Heads.

This article of mine got published almost five years ago. I remember sitting in burnout hell, (but at a beach so it balances out!) and in true Sabba fashion, committing to submitting it during the first two days of my vacation. It got published a few months later. After closing off the article by summarizing my career achievements, they noted: “She is among a handful of women to have such an accomplishment in her field of work.” It sounds crazy, but at that moment, the burnout was worth it.

Glass Ceilings and Hard Heads

Glass ceilings are meant to be shattered. Otherwise they would be made of concrete. Here’s some insight into how you too can defy the odds.

It is a man’s World. I’m not telling you this to be antifeminist. But the sooner you wrap your head around the concept, the sooner you can get to real work. I landed my dream job, against all odds, three years ago. You’re not ready. You’re too young. You’re green. You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. Translation: This is a men’s club. We will chew you up and spit you out. There was a very low glass ceiling set over my head, industry wide, and I’ve never wanted to shatter anything more in my life. 

Malcolm Gladwell once said “You must have the strength, the resolve and the courage to pursue an idea, even if the rest of the world thinks you’re insane.” Insanity can be a beautiful thing. There are no limits, no boundaries, no fear. It is destructive behaviour that in some context is terrifying, but when it comes to business, it is refreshing and often, coming from a woman, completely unexpected.  To be strategically destructive, you must have a clear, unbiased understanding of the very thing you are trying to tear down. You must be able to navigate through with a clear understanding of the peaks and valleys of your environment. We all have the urge to immediately go to war and execute knee-jerk strategies that will likely have an immediate impact. But what goes up fast often falls down just as quickly. This is important. The only way to gain short term momentum, truly, is to outspend. It is predictable. Predictable doesn’t break glass ceilings. 

Patience is Not My Gig.

That, is the predicament of a very impatient woman. I want what I want and when I want it. But I forced myself to adjust and be patient. The first few weeks were awful. I would look at my reports and think “they were right. I don’t know what I got myself into. This isn’t turning fast enough”, all the while a little (manly) voice in my head saying “just put it all on sale. Why else would people buy your stuff?” Immediate gratification. Bragging rights today, right now, the high of success – they are hard to pass up. But in that moment I decided, I’m not just after a pat on the back. I want to be talked about. I have to be remembered. You’re either Blink 182 or you’re The Beatles. It won’t happen overnight, and it shouldn’t take you decades. There will be dust and there will be smoke, but when all that settles, you need to still be standing. That takes patience.

“We’re creative. We’re resourceful. And Goddammit we are desperate!”

Those are the words my co-worker and I tweeted at my first ever International expo. I secretly live by that line to this day. The World is a much more colourful place when you’re a little desperate. You do not get the privilege of being an underdog very often. And it is a privilege. I love nothing more than being an underdog. When you’re resources are completely limited, you are forced out of familiar ways. You have no choice but to think differently. Even today, as one of the fastest growing brands in my space, I knock myself off the pedestal very regularly.  There is a certain level of arrogance that naturally comes with doing something well. Did you ever see Michael Jordan do the same play over and over again? Or make a slam dunk and then stand there and admire himself? I didn’t think so. The “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality is no longer acceptable. You better believe there are people, like me, looking at your perfect strategy trying to tear it apart and beat you at your own game. (I told you I’m destructive!) Wins are meant to be celebrated, but they are lessons just as much as any failure will be. Take notes, go back to the start line as a poorer version of yourself and figure out how you’re going to win again knowing what you know today. It is a frustrating exercise and people will question your sanity, but when you figure it out, it is as beautiful as any moment in business can ever be.

Arrogance and Ignorance. That is All.

I’m a big believer of Humility. It is an incredible concept and it doesn’t exist nearly as much as it should. I’m about as competitive as they get and when I come out on top, I can’t help but make a sly remark. Nothing disrespectful, just more along the lines of “you’re right. My plan really isn’t good at all!” (as I kiss my trophy for the #1 product in the category, for the 3rd year in a row). We all think it. I just put it out there from time to time. Humility isn’t just about how you handle wins and losses. It is being self-aware enough to know that you cannot possibly know everything there is to know. Things evolve quickly and most industries, thanks to technology advancements, are becoming fast paced. Information you knew a few months ago is almost archaic today. 

One of the many questions I often get asked, is how do you have time to read? I flew 190 thousand miles last year. To say there is no routine to my life, outside of getting on and off planes, is an understatement. But there are two things that are a guarantee. I get on the bike every morning, and I read 20 pages. I cannot imagine any other way of starting my day. If it’s important to you, you will make time. If you’re a know it all, then “there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to read”. Nothing will ever be a good excuse for ignorance and arrogance. They are fatal flaws and we are all suffering from them on some level. Nobody expects you to read “Wooden, A Coach’s Life” by Seth Davis (which is probably some of the best 624 pages you will read by the way), but at the very least, read a couple of articles, in and out of your field. Some of the best strategies I have used are based on things I learned outside of my field. There is nothing related to your business that should be perceived as beneath you. I work every expo in my markets – every single one. While the people that set those glass ceilings for me are sitting in the hotel lobby or sending their minions to run expos, I get out there and get insight that no book or article can ever give them. These interactions are gold. Some will tell you your time is better spent doing something else. You tell me – what else you would be doing on a Saturday or a Sunday that is this insightful? 

See You At the Finish Line.

Having a good support system is important. But nothing trumps having the vision for where you want to be and your relentless (and I mean relentless) pursuit for that goal. I started my career at 21. I moved away from my family and friends to live in a basement apartment, for a job that barely covered my rent and student loans. I told myself, the day I started, that I will be a VP by the time I’m 30. I will make the decisions. I will be the boss. And everything from now until then is a step in that journey. I understand there are sacrifices but I believe when I have reached my destination, I will look back and see without those sacrifices, I would not be here. As Steve Job famously said, “Connect the dots”. I believe I can have it all, but they will come one after the other, not all at once, and that’s ok. Is it unfair that women have to sacrifice part of their lives to get ahead while men seemingly breeze through? Maybe. But you can either waste your precious energy obsessing over it, or accept it for what it is, tell yourself and the World that you will make it, and get out there and be an absolute badass.  This is not a race to the “Have it All” finish line. It is the Iron Man World Championships. You just have to make it through, one (thoughtful) step at a time.

In the end, I did it make it to VP, and I didn’t have to compromise my values and morals to get there. What started out as a single country launch led to a global takeover just over a year later. It is a dream, but it was a lot of work. I watched all my friends get married, have babies and move into the suburbs with their cute families. I missed the birth of my best friend’s baby, one of the most heartbreaking misses of my career. It took a lot of sweat, and yes, sometimes frustrated tears. In public. In front of my boss. Twice. 

It is a man’s world, but you don’t have to stop being a woman to get in it. We are beautiful, delicate creatures, but we are also fierce (I would like to see a man live through menstrual cramps. That’s all I’m saying). Set your priorities, accept what it takes to move forward, and know that should you choose to aim for that glass, you will have challenges physically, emotionally and mentally. The sweet smell of victory makes it all worthwhile, and hopefully you are surrounded by people who will help you make up for what you missed out on in the process when your journey has reached its glorious end.