Embracing the Unexpected in 2021

Réveil Samaritain on a rainy night

A chilly, rainy night in Paris back in 2018 brought to mind a good life lesson that I learned, and how I’ll strive to approach 2021. As the introvert in the marriage, I willingly take on the responsibility of vacation planning. This typically involves extensive research about flights, hotels, restaurants, public transport, tours, etc. In doing my research for this particular trip, I came across a crêpe restaurant that looked too good to ignore. It was now on the list. On the night Robbie and I agreed to eat there, the weather looked fine…until we stepped foot out of the hotel on our way to the restaurant in another part of the city, via Paris subway. After a couple of blocks, the torrential downpour turned us back around. Yes, I was glad that common sense had prevailed but I was equally disappointed that our dinner plans were scrapped. We happened to spot this other restaurant a half-block from our hotel that, at first glance, looked like the perfect place only because of its proximity. My initial feeling of having to settle for this “Plan B” restaurant soon changed. The extremely inviting and friendly atmosphere, along with great food, helped get me on board. In fact, our waitress at Réveil Samaritain helped make it a unique experience by allowing me to practice my French with her. It turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of the entire trip.

Yes, planning, for whatever the situation, is a smart strategy. At the same time, however, it’s equally important to open ourselves up to life’s unexpected twists and turns. For example, we may have an idea or goal about what direction we want our career to go, but things in life often don’t turn out as planned, and often it’s due to circumstances outside our control. Ironically, it’s sometimes the thing that comes out of left field that proves to be the even better option. Personally, I’m excited to see what 2021 will bring, and am cautiously optimistic that it’ll be an all-around better year than 2020. And I’m trying to stay as flexible, adaptable and open-minded as possible to recognize all the unforeseen plot twists and possibilities that could materialize.

Coincidentally, today’s message on my new 2021 “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” calendar says, “We always increase the odds of making something happen when we have a plan designed to take us where we want to go.” I agree with the message for sure, but I also think that things happen for a reason, and sometimes it’s the unplanned, unexpected things that ultimately get us really excited!

Sitting still to get a jump on the day

Doing whatever we can to maintain our mental health, especially in these stressful and uncertain times, is important, maybe the most important thing. As part of my morning ritual, I sit for a 10-minute meditation. For me, it’s a great way to set a positive tone and help keep me grounded and centered for the upcoming steady stream of Zoom calls and other job-related tasks. But all mornings are not created equal. Some mornings I can stay in the present moment more effectively than others.

And that’s really the overall goal when meditating – to try to stay present. As an introvert, it’s not surprising that I tend to think…a lot. My mind goes back and forth, from the past to the future to my to-do lists, etc., etc. But the beauty of meditation is that it’s totally okay to lose focus, no matter how many times, as long as we catch ourselves when it happens to come back to the breath. Completely judgment-free.

So, on those mornings when my mind is in overdrive and it seems like I’m not getting anything out of my mediation practice, I really am. I’m able to bring myself back from my thoughts, every time. But also, there are fringe benefits that can’t be discounted: I’m sitting still, breathing deeply, with no technology/social media distractions. Nowadays especially, any time I can see the positives and be grateful for them is a good day, indeed.

Creating Space for What Matters

As Stephen Covey pointed out, ” The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Continuing to work from home (until further notice) has motivated me to clarify my priorities and creating space for what matters (hint: it’s not all about work).

Surprisingly, work-life balance, at least during the early stages of the pandemic proved a bit challenging. When working from home (WFH) full-time, it’s all too easy for the workday to blur into me-time. So, I had to set an intention to draw a clearer boundary between work-time and down-time for greater work-life balance. On the other hand, being commute-free now, I have more time to pursue my personal endeavors.

Having those outlets at the end of the day is super important, especially on those stressful and frustrating days. With that said, doing something fun or creative or athletic or mindful first thing in the morning is a great way to set a positive tone and mindset for the day, not to mention increase clarity and decrease reactivity. I’ve recently started a “10-10-10” routine each morning: 10 minutes of meditation, followed by 10 minutes of standing yoga (or stretching), followed by a 10-minute cycling class in the newly-created home gym. Mind, body, and spirit! I also make evert effort to end the workday right at 6pm so I can shift my focus onto other things like taking a walk, writing a blog post, journaling, catching up on my TV shows or the current book I’m reading, trimming the shrubs in the front yard, whatever it might be.

Work-life balance has always been a top priority for me. Not uncommon for an introvert, especially to have quality time for myself and away from the steady stream of meetings and co-worker interaction. WFH has presented both challenges and opportunities to achieve it. It’s been an education for sure!

I recently read an article entitled, “Microsoft Thinks You’ve Been Missing Your Commute in Lockdown“. After my initial chuckle (my commute is the last thing I miss), I read through the article and realized that the company is aiming to enhance work-life balance (via new features in Microsoft Teams) and encourage clearer boundaries between the workday and down-time. I give them credit for initiative and intention, but the bottom line is that since it means using technology, it kind of defeats the purpose of disconnecting, at least for me.

Another noteworthy article talks about Feierbend, the German word describing the time period immediately following the end of a workday until bedtime. In Germany, this time period is typically reserved for leisure activities to help create disconnection and a clear distinction between the workday and down-time. The article goes on to describe how certain working professionals are handling and adjusting Feierbend in the age of WFH, where, as many of us know all too well, the lines can blur all too easily.

The Office of Tomorrow?

The open-office concept with densely-clustered cubicles was pretty common before the pandemic hit, but I think it’s safe to say that we’ll see a much different configuration if/when we return to the office. What that’ll actually look like is anyone’s guess, but it could look kind of like what’s pictured here:

This was a concept was created, pre-pandemic, resulting from the collaboration between Susan Cain, author of Quiet, and Steelcase, a workplace design firm. The goal was to create a workspace where introverts could thrive. The really interesting thing is that, if you take a close look, it could potentially address important health and safety issues that organizations will have to put in place. Notice the enclosed workspace, the 1-person lounge area with a glass partition separating socially-distanced desks (facing away from each other). Incidentally, all that natural light coming through is pretty nice bonus. I like working from home, but I have to say coming back to an office that resembles this might possibly tempt me. Might.

My “Phase 1”

In the past few weeks, local businesses and parks and other public spaces have been in various phases of reopening. On the surface, it’s encouraging because I think most people want to get back to some sense of normalcy, including me. On the other hand, some of the data, especially personal observation, don’t seem to support reopening just yet. We’re now seeing a spike in cases. Granted, part of this is probably due to the recent widespread protests, but another factor is what I perceive as the “I just don’t give a crap anymore – I want my life back” attitude, which I’ve seen not only online and on TV, but also in-person. I witnessed it just today in fact. In an ideal world, everyone would have at least a baseline of common sense and consideration for others, but sadly this isn’t reality. (Face masks are about protecting others, not ourselves).

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Timmy is helping me assess Phase 1. Data gathering is very important!

Because of this, my “Phase 1” will be according to my own schedule and comfort level with the situation, not a declaration made by DC government, nor anyone else. DC is apparently moving to “Phase 2” this week, but I’m not there yet.  And from what I’ve heard, it’s a very mixed bag – some local businesses are doing a great job in enforcing the guidelines and protocols, and others not so much. Human behavior, by the way, is also a mixed bag: The other day, I observed a woman (with two small children) with no mask and completely disregarding any sense of social distancing. On the flip side, just a few minutes prior to that, I saw a grandmother, with a mask on, visiting her grandchildren – she stood outside while the kids were inside the home. When I brought the car in today for servicing, there’s inconsistency from one minute to the next when it comes to wearing face masks, even though the car dealership requires it. Without enforcement, requirements are merely suggestions.

I feel like I’ve slowly but surely become more comfortable and less anxious over the past few months, despite witnessing  behavior that could be construed as indifferent, complacent, oblivious, inconsiderate, or some combination of all of these. I will say, however, that  crisis fatigue is a thing, and most likely also a factor with some people. I totally get it, and I definitely have a touch of it myself. (Doing some meditation is a big help by the way).

This pandemic can be a test in patience, but being patient, smart, methodical, not in denial, and considerate are going to be key. And this bears repeating: wearing a mask is about protecting our neighbors, not ourselves. With that said, it comes down to an individual’s comfort level. I’m going at my own pace, and I’ll get to Phase 1 (and Phase 2 & 3) when I get there.  And apparently, some local business owners feel the same way.

And finally, some satire on the subject, a reflection of where we are in the US right now.

The Introvert-Extrovert Dynamic: Quarantine Edition

As we approach July, which is month 5 of our quarantine lives, Joe and Stephen sit down with their extrovert significant others, Robbie and Sabrina.  We talk about how an extrovert’s quarantine experience has differed from that of an introvert, and we candidly discuss what it is like living at home 24/7 with someone who recharges in different ways than yourself.

Thank you to Robbie and Sabrina for taking the time to sit down with us share your experience.  We hope seeing someone else’s face for 45 minutes was refreshing!

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Life in Spain vs. the US: Quarantine Edition

I recently spoke with my friend, Leonid, who I know from DC, and who recently relocated to Sitges, Spain. Below are photos of his new hometown. If I didn’t like him, I’d hate him for living in such a beautiful locale! 🙂

Anyway, in this podcast we compare and contrast the quarantine situation between Spain and the US, and how we’re both handling it, not only on an individual level, but also from a national perspective.

In an upcoming podcast, we’ll be “traveling” to Germany to visit with friends to see how they’re doing in the face of the pandemic.

Building relationships and social distancing: LinkedIn to the rescue

As introverts, I think most of us have always leaned on LinkedIn as our go-to networking approach, but now that we’re in the midst of social distancing and self-quarantining, and relying even more on getting things done remotely, it’s more important then ever to be active on LinkedIn. Personally speaking, (and I would guess for many other introverts), this is no real shock to the system as LinkedIn was, and is my primary source for building professional relationships.

Having a profile on LinkedIn is a great start. But it’s just that – a start. Now what? The first step of course is to make sure your profile is complete and current, including a photo (usually professional dress). Also, don’t overlook or underestimate the “About” section: this is a great opportunity to highlight in a concise way relevant work experience, education, skills and accomplishments – in other words, how you can contribute to the success of an employer or solve problems for a client in your target industry. Keep in mind that employers often use your profile as a basis for hiring decisions.

OK, moving on. What’s next, now that you have an awesome profile? Ask for a few recommendations from former supervisors and co-workers, as well as past and present professors, for example – really anyone who can attest to your skills, qualifications, work style, etc. is a potential recommendation for you. But remember we’re still networking here, so it’s important to be willing to reciprocate and offer to write a recommendation for those same individuals when appropriate.SocialDistance

You’re making progress: got your profile up, with a couple recommendations. What now? Get active. Join some of the groups related to your target industry, or perhaps your school’s alumni group. for starters. And now that you’ve joined, what’s the next step? See who the group members are with whom you can potentially connect. Participate in the discussion forums by posting relevant articles and commenting on other members’ posts. This is a great way to increase your overall visibility on LinkedIn.

What else? LinkedIn can be a valuable tool when it comes to informational interviews. How does this work? Do a search on an organization you’re interested in, and LinkedIn will show you which of your connections have some sort of association with that organization. Requesting informational interviews from 1st degree connections is usually straightforward, but with 2nd degree connections, try to get an introduction from one of your mutual contacts if possible. As many of us are now seeing in the world of social distancing and mandated work-from-home, online meetings can be just as productive and fruitful as in-person ones, and this is true for informational interviews too.

So this is just a small taste of what you can do with LinkedIn, but hopefully this will get you moving in the right direction if you’ve been wondering about some positive next steps to take with your networking strategy. Final thought: LinkedIn is a very effective tool, but use it as just one of several approaches, especially when we return to “business as usual”. For now, however, I would recommend making it your primary source.

Podcast: Navigating the workplace as an introvert, Part II

In Part II of our “Introverts in The Workplace” podcast series, Stephen & I continue the conversation on topics including: the job search for young professionals, workplace collaboration issues, presentations/public speaking, career fairs, and professional events and social engagements.

Note: When we created this podcast , pre-Covid19, the world of work looked considerably different than it does now. In our next podcast, we’ll discuss how things have changed for each of us personally and the challenges we’re facing, as well uncover the bright side and how we can all make the best of our current circumstances. Oh, and we’ll have a couple special extroverted guests to join the conversation!

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Being a non-conformist outside the comfort zone

Just the title of this blog post makes me break out into a cold sweat. Well, not really, but conformity and comfort zones have traditionally been my defaults. But, to quote Jerry Seinfeld, “sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.” I can think of several examples in my life where this proved to be the case. One experience that comes to mind is when, a few years back, I contracted a condition called adhesive capsulitis (a.k.a. frozen shoulder), with a good deal of pain and restricted mobility that came along with it. After much online research (as I tend to do), it seemed like physical therapy was the way to go to resolve the problem. So off I went to PT, twice a week and a daily home regimen of stretching and strength exercises. My shoulder seemed to be very slowly and gradually improving, but I wanted to see what other options there were, something maybe I could do in conjunction with PT.

04 Jun 2001 --- Swimming against the tide --- Image by (C) K.TiedgeMy research turned up a lot of info about the effectiveness of acupuncture in addressing frozen shoulder. Now mind you, needles have to be my least favorite thing in the world, and I avoid them unless absolutely necessary. So it was with great trepidation and anxiety that I went for a consultation. The acupuncturist talked with me at great length that first visit, and we found a way to minimize my anxiety. After just a few more acupuncture treatments, I was noticing a significant decrease in pain and increase in mobility. When I told others about going my acupuncture experience, I was met with both positive and negative reactions. No judgments on my part, but some people just don’t believe in anything that’s not mainstream or traditional. It seemed pretty clear to me, however, that doing PT alongside acupuncture was accelerating my recovery. Fast forward to today, my shoulder is back to 100%, and even more exciting is the fact that I can swing a tennis racquet with no problem (even though my game is far from 100%)!

Being a nonconformist and taking the road less traveled can pay dividends in other parts of our lives too, including career. Earlier in my professional life, I made a cold call to a company to see what job opportunities were available, which was so out of my out of my comfort zone and so “un-introvertlike”. But I did it anyway. I found a contact number on their web site, assuming it was the HR department’s general number. I got connected to voicemail and left a message, briefly introducing myself, summarizing my background, and what I was looking for in my next job. I received a call back later that same day, and an invitation for an in-person interview. What I found out later was that I had called the Vice President of the company, who forwarded my message to the HR Manager. I had unwittingly bypassed HR and directly contacted a senior-level employee, which eventually led me to my next job.

Today, LinkedIn is one of the primary resources to help facilitate making those higher-level contacts at our target companies. Many job seekers, however, still rely exclusively on online job boards to find their next job. Incorporating some unconventional, bold, and creative approaches can help us gain an advantage in the job search. For example, joining a relevant industry association is an effective, but underutilized, way to make connections and increase knowledge (and hence our marketability) in a given field.

Incorporating creative and “out of the box” approaches, as well as leveraging the power of LinkedIn when conducting a job search is the way to go. As M. Scott Peck, the author of The Road Less Traveled, said, “If we know exactly where we’re going, exactly how to get there, and exactly what we’ll see along the way, we won’t learn anything.”