Are you a team player?


A few years ago I was flying from San Jose to Phoenix, impatiently waiting at the gate as all the lucky holder’s of Zone One tickets pressed to the front of the crowd. The stewardess began her spiel about letting families with young children board first, and anyone requiring special assistance, as the rest of us pretended to listen.  

The man in front of me was obviously a veteran traveler. He had his shirt cuffs rolled up, and his carry-on suitcase cornered like a Porsche and spun in tight 360 degree circles. When the stewardess invited all the “Elite” and “Star Club” passengers to board next, he motioned for the young woman in Army fatigues to step ahead of him in line. “Oh, no,” she said, surprised. “I’m not Elite.” He looked her uniform up and down, and replied “Yes, you are” before motioning for her to step ahead of him again.

The stewardess had overheard the exchange, and checked the beaming young woman in with the rest of the first class passengers. I was totally impressed...just by considering someone other than himself, unexpectedly and unnecessarily, this man established himself as a leader to those of us within earshot. He offered her respect, and everyone else took his lead; the stewardess broke protocol, and no passengers complained about letting her cut the line.  

Team players focus on bringing out the best in others. Instead of seeking out the spotlight for themselves, they show their leadership by helping the people around them to shine. In doing so, team players usuall end up building a great reputation for themselves, too!

Here are 5 simple ways to be a team player at your internship, volunteer site, job, etc. this week. For more ideas, check out this tiny but powerful book.  

  1. Come up with a solution for something your team is challenged by. You know that nagging thing annoying everyone...the microwave constantly on the fritz, the listserve with inaccurate email addresses, the disorganized office supply closet, etc.? Instead of thinking, “Somebody should really do something about that…,” be the somebody. Do the something.

  2. Compliment a colleague (In front of others, if that’s something they’d like!) sharing why you appreciate them, what you admire about their work, or acknowledging something they did well. Don’t you love a kind word? They can improve a day and change an attitude, so share them generously!

  3. Look for the highest common denominator. It happens…people get comfortable, talk gets loose, and before you know it the conversation has descended into gossip. Master a few phrases to elevate and refocus the dynamics around you onto something positive and professional. Lead the way to higher ground with a casual hint, “Soooo, about those Mets…” followed by a quick topic change, or a heartfelt “You guys, I’d be horrified if I was the one gone tonight and this conversation was about me. Since he’s not here to tell his side of the story, why don’t we move on?”

  4. Take one for the team. If it’s one of those nights when someone needs to stay late, or a shift needs to be covered for a sick team member, or someone has to work on a project with a notoriously difficult personality, take a turn volunteering enthusiastically, and don’t be a martyr about it.  

  5. Follow through on your commitments. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Simple.

3..2..1...happy new career year!

There are tons of important things to think about over the leisurely holidays, but with a new year approaching, career goals are probably near the top of the list. So, here are three super simple ways that you can…


…and then get back to Netflix, skiing, or consuming the last of those amazing pretzel-shaped holiday butter cookies.

Really though, your career doesn’t have to be a daunting thing to think about in 2019. The biggest progress often comes from taking small steps consistently. So, here are a few you can take right away to get 2019 started on the right career foot:

1) Fill your inbox on purpose.

If you don’t find lots of career-relevant information in your inbox already, there’s an easy solution: start subscribing to updates and newsletters from groups that are engaged in the career paths you want to know more about. Remember, you can always unsubscribe if the mail gets annoying.

Search for Meetup groups, Facebook groups, LinkedIn discussion groups, and networking groups that are specific to your community. Many organizations serve as hubs for specific interests, like community arts centers, nonprofit advocacy programs, or professional associations. Do a Google search of your interest and region to see what comes up. If a cursory review of the website appeals to you, sign up for updates to keep in the loop about opportunities you can take advantage of, like volunteering with an organization you’d like to get a foot in the door of, classes that will help you build a skill for the job you want next, or social events for people in the profession you’re investigating.

(If you’re wondering, “Does this really work?” my answer is YES! Subscribing to a faculty listserve when I wasn’t technically “faculty” introduced me to a call for proposals for new study abroad programs. I ended up co-designing a 3-week immersion in Scotland with a professor and colleague, and it was selected in a competitive process to be piloted with students. Technically it was work…but paid to go to Scotland? Mmmhmm. So, connecting to sources of opportunity and ideas can indeed lead you in awesome new directions.)

2) DJ your downtime.

Use your downtime for professional development. While you clean your apartment you can tune in to a podcast related to your field of interest, gathering interesting conversation starters for your next career-related event . You can harness the power of your daily commute by finding a podcast that expands your knowledge and builds your skills.

Take 10 minutes to check out The Art of Charm, The Art of Manliness, Michael Hyatt, Emma Gannon at Crtl Alt Del, Ahiyana Angel’s Switch, Pivot, or Quit, or Being Boss and download a few episodes for future downtime.

(Does it work? Ok ok, honestly, I’m a reader more than a pod-caster. But the same idea applies. I just read Dr. Atul Gawande’s book “Being Mortal” about end of life care. A week later I reconnected with an old college friend who, to my surprise, had just certified as an End of Life Coach. Thanks to the book, I’m looking forward to much richer conversations than just “Huh?” or “Oh how do you bear it?” )

3) Reach out to a weak tie.

Weak ties are people who are on the peripheries of your social circle, whose lives overlap just slightly with yours, spending most of their time with very different crowds and communities. This part of your network is a goldmine of opportunity.

Why? Our besties, or “strong ties,” are often so close to us that they have access to nearly the same information we have already. Weak ties, however, are usually different enough that they have access to other sources of information from reading different blogs, spending time with different social networks, and attending different events.

This group will have ideas and connections you’ve never considered, and never knew existed. Sometimes those valuable exchanges of information happen spontaneously, but other times, they need to be coordinated. Reach out to someone you know casually through your gym, church, book club, favorite tea shop, or other groups you’re loosely connected to. Invite them for a casual coffee or lunch date, to learn more about their background and career interests.

You never know where these conversations will go…their uncle just might be specialized in the medical profession you’ve been curious about, and conversely, you might know the talented-but-inexperienced photographer they’ve been trying to find for a low-cost gig.

(Does it work? Yep. I was interviewing some young women for a research project recently and one of them was an especially creative photographer, still finding her way through college, with ambitions to work in the print magazine industry someday. Well, I just so happened to know another woman, a few years ahead in her career, who worked for an award-winning LA-based mag. In this example, I was the “weak tie,” and was glad to connect them for some mentoring. You can invite this magic into your life by setting up coffee dates to intentionally explore those intersections of interest, rather than waiting for serendipity to bring them along.)

If you’d like more ideas for easy actions with big impacts, you can download the full Career Experiment (called “Take One Step in 10 Minutes or Less”) for FREE right here. (The password arrives via email 2 seconds after you sign up ;) )

Stretch your way into your next job

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When I need a stretch in real life, I begrudgingly attend a yin yoga class and complain all the way through about my tight hamstrings. When I need a stretch in my career, I get freakishly excited about taking on a new project that scares me a little bit. A strange obsession, true, and it started early…

On my first day of high school a pony-tailed teacher bounced into the classroom and began launching copies of a 300+ page book at each of his students. It was called Sophie's World, and it was a college-level text on the philosophical foundations of Western thought. After the books were distributed he taped a red paper to the wall and asked what color it was.

We all agreed it was red. (High school was going to be a breeze…)

But then, he wanted to know how we knew.

Slowly, a few brave, 14-year old hands went up. The discussion picked up pace as he began dissecting the answers:

"It's red…because everyone agrees it's red? If everyone in this room agrees it's right to tie me to this chair and leave school, would that make it right? How do you know what you agree to is true?"

“It’s red…because you were taught it was red? Is everything you’re taught true? How can you tell the difference?”

Thus began our foray into the oh-so-exciting world of epistemology. Everything I thought was true suddenly became a question, and it shook me to the core.

A few years later I graduated from this public high school in Arizona (where public ed was ranked 49th in the nation in 2001, FYI) and headed off to a private liberal arts college. Most of my peeps came from prep school. Thanks to this class, I could hold my own with just a ‘lil bit of faking-it-till-I-made-it.

Although I quickly forgot the differences between Kierkegaard and Kant, the deeper lesson stuck: Growing is uncomfortable. It’s stressful. It’s scary. Sometimes it straight up hurts. Stretching prepares you for the big leap, getting you ready to reach further than you have before.

One of the easiest ways to prepare for a career move is though “stretch projects.” These are assignments you select strategically to help you develop the skills, gain the experience, grow the network, or gather the knowledge necessary for your next professional step.

For example, many years ago my director challenged me to lead a “train the trainer” session for other professionals. Although I was totally comfortable teaching college students, this was a hurdle. More than anything, it was a psychological stretch…did I really have enough experience to teach other professionals anything of value? Turned out I did. That stretch project led to a further stretch, presenting at a professional conference. Eventually, I was sufficiently stretched to leap into my next career, full-time Learning & Development for professionals.

The best part of stretch projects is that you can incorporate them into your 9-5 job, so you’re getting paid to build leverage for your next move while you maintain the security of the position you’re blessed to have now.

No matter what your current work situation, there’s a way to include stretch projects in it:

Option A: Work with your supervisor. Is your supervisor someone you can talk to about your career goals? Will they be open to helping you develop the skills for your next step, even if it’s out of the organization? If so, the most ideal way to do stretch projects is with the full support of a supervisor who can help you connect to training, resources, and opportunities that will help you grow and be highly effective in your current job.  

Option B: Work in stealth mode. If you have a dud supervisor, if openly showing a desire to grow would cause alarm bells, or if even hinting that you ever might want to outgrow the organization could cause a speedy firing, you can still do strategic stretch projects. You just won’t be able to talk about why you’re doing them, at work. Seeking out opportunities within your organization will be fully your responsibility, and you’ll need to discreetly tap into your network to find what you’re looking for.

Option C: Be a free agent. If you’re on your own and nobody cares what you do, you’re in a great place to do stretch projects. As a freelancer, you can solicit clients who need the type of work you want to do, letting them know upfront that you’re learning as you go and charging a reduced rate. While this might not be a good fit for some clients, others would love to give you a longer timeline and some grace in exchange for affordable work. You can also ask a more skilled freelancer in your network to subcontract work to you, and learn a new skill under their supervision.

Are you ready to make your paid work hours work for you by finding a few good Stretch Projects? You can download a step-by-step guide for this Career Experiment for FREE right here. (The password arrives via email 2 seconds after you sign up ;) ) In it, you’ll find ideas for stretch projects, tips on starting the conversation with your supervisor, and other advice you can apply today.

Not sure where to start? Let a Thought Leader lead the way!

You could do the hard work yourself. Or, you could…

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In every field and niche, there are key players who drive the conversation forward. Usually, they gather people who share an interest through their blogs and websites. These “thought leaders” are hubs for spreading new ideas and facilitating conversations between readers. Finding just one amazing thought leader can give you access to hundreds of ideas, opportunities, and resources.

Here’s an example: In 2015 I piloted a study abroad program to Scotland with two of my best professor peeps. Minor detail: None of us had actually ever been to Scotland.

We spent hours on early-morning Skype calls with UK-based sustainability professionals sourced on LinkedIn, working across two time zones. We lost entire weekends coordinating logistics involving trains, busses, ferries, airplanes, hostels, hotels, retreat centers, farms, and ecovillages in a country we had never seen. (To be fair…we camped out at a resort to make the extra work more fun.)

Then…we met Lusi.

Lusi ran a Scottish association dedicated to permaculture. She knew everyone in the field, the unique sites that were off the beaten track, distances between locations, and even the quality of public transport between them. She was embedded in the community to such a degree that she could advise us on who was doing really great work…versus who just had a great website. Based on her input, we revised our three-week program to something much stronger than we could have done on our own.

That’s the power of a thought leader.

Connecting with the thought leaders in your fields of interest gives you a massive head start. Finding them can be a bit of a trick, but it’s SOOOO worth it because by following them you’ll create a stream of higher-quality information on your areas of interest than you could ever find on your own. The info they share allows you to:

  • Access high quality resources that have been vetted by a leader in the field, so you don't have to dig them up and evaluate their quality on your own.

  • Learn about opportunities to take your interest a step deeper (such as meetups, workshops, conferences, and other ways to engage with “real people”).  

  • Build your knowledge base of hot topics, key players, and big ideas that are shaping the field, so you can be an informed conversation partner at networking events and a knowledgeable candidate for interviews.

  • Observe what’s going on in the field from a safe distance, to see if you’re really interested in the conversations going on there. When you’re ready, you can participate. Joining a conversation will give you quick feedback on the value your comments add to other members...which can be really, really encouraging if you’re not sure how your experience or expertise translates to another field!

  • Confirm your interest in the field...if the content you connect to online doesn’t get you excited, you can move on to explore another path.

Ready to Find Your Thought Leader(s)? You can download a step-by-step guide for this Career Experiment for FREE right here. The password arrives via email 2 seconds after you sign up ;)

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Career Experiments vs. Career Plans: Does it really matter?

Before we start teasing out the differences between Career Experiments and Career Plans (And more importantly, the mindsets they turn into!) lets start with some basic definitions.

  • Career Experiments are hands-on activities giving you direct contact with the careers you're curious about, so you can choose one next step based on a solid foundation of experience.

  • Career Plans are long term goals solidified in a written document so you can make plans to achieve them over the long haul, breaking those big goals into little action steps to execute one at a time.

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Here’s the big difference:

With Career Plans, your steps are predetermined. Your Career Plan dictates what you should do, and then what you should do after that, long before you even get “there.” The Career Plan gives you benchmarks of what you need to achieve, and where you need to be, three (five, etc.) years down the road…without any regard for what actually happens along the path or how your interest in the final destination may change. (ACK!!! You know that girl who persisted through four years of an education degree only to realize she can’t stand teaching? Yes, the one who disliked every.single.year of practicum, but did it anyway, because it was her “plan?” Talk about sleep walking!)

Career Experiments are based on the premise that you can’t make reality conform to your plans. Instead, what you can do is get really good at investigating all the opportunities that emerge on each, individual step of your career journey. And you can even create these opportunities through taking actions that build your network, your skills, and your awareness of how you can use them across fields and industries. Career Experiments give you the flexibility to build your career story one step at a time, making sure that each step is grounded in your most updated experience and all the information you gathered along the way.

Here are five more advantages to Career Experiments:

1) Career Experiments are low stakes. You’ll figure out right away if a path isn’t for you, so you don’t waste time pursuing a path that turns out to be a dead end or a wrong fit.

2) Career Experiments make it okay to change directions. Confidence is built by taking ONE smart step at a time, not from blind adherence to a long-term “plan.” Career Experiments accept, and even expect, changes in direction…so a “changed plan” isn’t a “failed plan.”

3) Career Experiments work with reality, instead of against it. They allow you to explore new options, many of which you may never have known existed, as you discover them.

4) Career Experiments connect you to insider’s information. They introduce you to people who are already actively engaged in a job or fields, who know the hot topics, big issues, and opportunities on the you real-time information on which to base your thinking and moves.

5) Career Experiments build your network, your resume, and your self-awareness. In other words, it’s the triple-threat for your career!

Ready to give Career Experiments a try? You can download step-by-step guides for 9 Career Experiments for FREE right here. The password arrives via email 2 seconds after you sign up ;)

She's back! And she brought a shiny dissertation with her.

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The dissertation is DONE! And, I only nearly cried once

My supervisor, previously the Dean of the U. Edinburgh Business College, has a characteristically British dry sense of humor and scathing sarcastic wit. Earlier in the program he facilitated a competition between several departments; we formed teams to simulate businesses, then in a 2-hour marathon competed against each other to produce greeting cards.

The winners were welcomed to the stage to receive his highest praise, and then the losers were invited to do the same...receiving the most humiliating public shaming ever endured. Producing a package of Polo candies, which look like this for the non-UK readers... 


he proceeded to explain that this was the only item he could think of with more holes than their failing business plan. 

Even from my seat safely tucked away in the middle of the auditorium, it was painful. 

So, I knew he wouldn't hold anything back in providing "feedback" on my work. I'm a glutton for punishment, and this was the best decision of the entire semester.  

Explaining his insistence that I identify a research question before reading anything, he shared a metaphor. "Laurah," he admonished, "Your research question is like a compass. The library, and the research databases it contains, are like the woods. If you go into the woods without a compass, you're going to get lost." 

He encouraged me to frame my question in plain ol' English, and we settled on this: So, how do college students actually find their career paths? 

I then proceeded to spend the entire summer immersed in my favorite topic ever, reading research in beautiful cafe's across Edinburgh.


And you know what? I love it even more now.

I can't wait to turn this dissertation into some fun content here at B+B. 

Thank you for your patience with my long study break. 

PS: Oh! Right! The only time I nearly cried was when he told me I needed to stop writing the lit review and move on to the next section.

Whaaat? I'm sorry, but whose dissertation is this? :) :) 

I explained, through quivering lips and misty eyes, that the final section on iterative decision making was essential for my professional growth, sent him an updated draft the next day, and he acquiesced. At 35, I don't apologize for being a humungous nerd anymore.