Managing Stress During Critical Moments:

April 22, 2014 Leave a comment

examsAt exam time the tension and stress in the air is palatable.  I will walk down a hall lined with students waiting to enter the exam room and could hear a pin drop.  It is as if they are not even breathing.  Similarly, I have conducted numerous mock interviews, where the greatest obstacle that the student faces is his/her own nerves.  In these cases I tend to focus more on mindset and less on the content of the answers.

The reality is, if your mind is paralyzed with anxiety and stress, it will not matter how much you have prepared, you will not be relaxed and confident enough to access that information.

Here are some tips to help you prepare for those critical moments, to decrease your stress, and increase your focus and confidence:

Create a plan to study and prepare.  Do your research well in advance.  I have found that I cannot study effectively for more than about 6 hours a day.  Beyond that, I find that my eyes may be scanning the material, but my brain is not processing or storing any of the information.

Be sure to eat properly before you go in for the interview or exam.  This should include plenty of protein to provide a longer source of energy.

Get a good night’s sleep.  Don’t stay up preparing into the wee hours of the morning, what is most likely to set you up for success is rest.  Disconnect from the material a couple of hours before you head to bed, so that your mind can gear down and you can get some restorative sleep.

Instead of getting worked up and anxious counting down the hours and minutes, take yourself outside and go for a walk or a run.  I find that my clearest thoughts come when I am walking my dog.  The combination of increased blood flow, fresh air, and stress relief is great for increasing focus.

Finally, instead of standing silently holding your breath before you enter the exam or interview room, take yourself somewhere quiet and take a few deep breaths and focus on your breathing.  This is proven to slow your heart rate, decrease your blood pressure and enhance your memory.  Going into the room calm will enable you to focus and perform at your optimum.

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Running on Empty?

March 31, 2014 Leave a comment
empty

Running on Empty

I read a blog post from the minister at the church I attend and what he wrote really resonated with me. We are at a time of year in the academic calendar when energy is low and demands are high. I can see it written all over everyone’s face: in the slow dragging of feet, the deep sighs and yawns and the expressionless way that people seem to be lumbering through their days. When there is so much to be done, I too find myself forgetting to even check my tank to see how much gas I have. I commonly find that I am running on fumes, focussed too much on what needs to be done and not enough on whether I have the energy to do it.

Whatever it is that you need to keep yourself going, to fuel your body, mind, and spirit, I encourage you to take the time to do it. The impact of time lost in stopping to refuel will be paid back exponentially in the revitalization of your energy and focus.

Thanks Kevin, for reminding me to stop and refuel and not let myself run on empty.

Kevin’s Post from Canon Kevin’s Corner

When I first got my driver’s license 26 years ago and was driving my father’s car it would perturb him to no end if I brought the vehicle back less than half a tank of gas. You see, he never really let his car get much below half a tank before he would fill it up. He could never understand why I would let my own cars get so low on gas. On the many trips he and Mom made to Ontario, right at about this time of year, he will be traveling with me in the car and always ask the obvious question, “Why do you let your car get so low on gas? There’s no need of it! You pass all these has stations every day and you still wait.” He would shake his head upward, lips pursed, and eyes closed as if to say – it’s no use telling you anything.
He knew me!

Dad was really on my mind today. I had pulled over to return an email on my cell phone when I noticed that the fuel light on my car was not just low, but was flashing. Then I remembered that it originally showed low fuel three days ago. O dear!!! I was about three-quarters of a kilometer from the Shell station. Thankfully it was downhill. As I pull back on the road the car actually sputtered but then gained some momentum as the car tipped downward. I pulled into the Shell station and literally sputtered up to the pumps on fumes and stalled out!!!!!!! Close call. The image of my father shaking his head, resigned to the fact that I do not listen, came right before me.

Not long after I first moved to London and purchased this car, I actually ran flat-out of gas and had to be rescued. That happened to me once in Windsor as well. One would think that I might learn from my mistakes. One would be so wrong. There is no need for me to run out of gas. As dad told me all those years ago, I pass gas stations all day long in this city. Bad habits are hard to break sometimes. But I commit there and now to not let my car get that low again.

Having fueled the car up and having avoided the embarrassment of being out of gas again, I began to think about the other ways that we run out of fuel. How often do we move through our days mindlessly, knowing full well that we are getting pretty low and our energy is at a place where it will be hard to imagine how we could keep going? We fail to take the necessary steps to make sure we have the energy to continue. Or how often do we spiritually feel that our tank is getting pretty low? There are times I am sure that most of us feel as though we may be drifting further away from God and not closer.

A couple of weeks ago I became aware of the fact that I was not taking the time to do things that replenish me. I cannot tell you how I got there – but I can tell you that I was feeling as though I was not as in touch with my Creator as I normally like to be. As I engaged in my Lenten reflections it became painfully obvious that in the busy day-to-day grind of life, that for a number of weeks I was not taking the time to do the things that were spiritually life-giving for me. As much as I needed to get to Shell today for petrol I needed to name what fuels me – and go get it. I love to read, and two weeks ago I came to the stark realization that I had gone a couple of months without reading a book at all. I also love to write. My writing had all but stopped. Again I could see my father saying to me why do you let your tank get so low? Just as I sputtered to the tanks today, I sputtered to the book store a couple of weeks ago and have been reading and writing in an attempt to keep things moving?

Dad was right! We have no need to let our tank get so very low. The car and our spirits need ‘regular’ attention in order to keep running smoothly.
I would be interested in hearing what fuels you. What do you need, to keep you moving forward. If you feel comfortable, comment on this blog and share the things that are life-giving for you. When you feel a little low, or lacking energy spiritually or otherwise, where do you go to fill up as it were?

The Most Important Things For My Career Are:

February 27, 2014 2 comments
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Finding a career path

I frequently meet with students who are struggling to figure out their path in life.  Often I find the challenge is that they are spending a lot of time worrying about what they think they SHOULD be doing and not enough time reflecting on what they WANT to be doing.  As I have stated many times, it is abundantly important to focus on finding a career that is fulfilling and in line with your personal preferences, attributes, and skills. 

To start this process of reflection, think about the point that you are currently at in life – based on your likes, values, skills, and needs number from 1 to 5 the top priorities for you when it comes to your career.  As you move through your career your priorities will likely shift;  thus, it is good to take a look at these every few years to see if your priorities align with what you are actually doing.  If they do not, it may be time for a strategic change.

Help Society: I want to do something which contributes to improving the world we live in

Help Others: I want to be directly included in helping other people, either individually or in small groups

Public Contact: I want to have a lot of day-to-day contact with the public

Work with Others: I want to work as a team member toward common goals

Work Alone: I want to do projects by myself with limited contact with others

Competition: I want to engage in activities which put my abilities against others

Make Decisions: I want to have the power to decide courses of action

Work Under Pressure: I want to work in situations where time pressure is prevalent

Influence People: I want to be in a position to influence the attitudes or opinions of other people

Knowledge: I want to engage in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding

Expertise: I want to become an expert in whatever work I do

Artistic Creativity: I want to engage in creative artistic expression

General Creativity: I want to have the opportunity to express my creativity in many ways (though not necessarily in artistic ways)

Aesthetics: I want to participate in studying or appreciating the beauty in people and/or surroundings

Supervision: I want to have a job in which I am directly responsible for the work of others

Change and Variety: I want to have work activities which frequently change

Precision Work: I want to work in situations where attention to detail and accuracy are very important

Stability: I want to have a work routine and job duties that are largely predictable

Security: I desire the opportunity for a continuing position

Recognition: I want to be appreciated for my work, and receive acknowledgement in ways that are meaningful to me

Fast-Paced Environment: I want to work in circumstances where work must be done rapidly

Excitement: I want to experience a high degree of (or frequent) stimulation in the course of my work

Adventure: I want to have work duties which require frequent risk-taking

Financial Gain: I want to have a high likelihood achieving great monetary reward for my work

Physical Challenge: I want to do activities that use my physical capabilities

Independence: I want to be able to determine the nature of my work without significant direction from others

Moral Fulfillment: I want to feel that my work contributes to a set of moral standards, which I feel are very important

Community: I want to participate, contribute and belong to my community; however I define it

Time Freedom: I want to be able to work according to my own schedule

These topics for consideration come from a game that was developed by York University.  The game is called Who Am I? and helps players to gain insight into their desires, interests and abilities.  To learn more about Who Am I? visit: http://www.yorku.ca/careers/whoami/

Nothing Comes From Nothing

December 16, 2013 1 comment

HardWork_Header

At this time of year we are bombarded with advertisements trying to entice us to buy more, get this, give that . . . My favourite marketing strategy is the ‘buy one get one free’ or ‘buy two get two free’.  “Come listen to this presentation and get your free paring knife.”  We are led to believe that there is such a thing as free.

The reality is that nothing in life is free.  Someone is paying – whether it be the workers who are paid a pittance, the environment, or perhaps you are not paying with money but with your time listening to a marketing ploy. “Nothing comes from nothing and nothing ever could” (yes, I just watched the Sound of Music).  I have found that if I allow myself to accept this as a fact, I am much less easily manipulated.  If something seems too easy, if someone is telling me that something is free, I should be sceptical.

As a society we are constantly looking for the easy out, how we can get something for nothing.  We want to lose weight without exercising or solve financial hardship by winning the lottery.  The reality is, as Thomas Edison stated, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

When it comes to finding your ideal career, it is an upward climb; it is, indeed, hard work.  Just pulling together a decent resume can take days.  To be successful in a career search, you have to simultaneously be uncomfortably introspective and outgoing.  You need to take the time to understand yourself, your needs, skills, values, and passions, and then look for where those align with a company or a career.  You can get advice and tips, but ultimately no one can do the work for you.  You have to be willing to put yourself out there time and again and risk being knocked down.  Then you need to pick yourself up, brush yourself off and do it all over again.

Sound terrible?  Yes, indeed it may be.  There will be moments where you feel like you are a failure, like you have wasted your time, like you have done everything right and yet everything is going wrong.  You will feel that you deserve it this time around – and you might.  But still you don’t get the job.  And then, just when you think you can’t get up again, you can’t stand submitting another application or preparing for another interview, just when you are ready to quit, you try again because you remember those cheesy quotes that “nothing worth having is free.”

And in that moment between overwhelming exhaustion and opportunity is when things start to look up.  That is when you realize how hard it is to beat someone who never gives up.  (Babe Ruth)

So, in this New Year that is filled with cheap promises of easy comforts – do not be misled for nothing comes from nothing and nothing ever could.

Tips for Creating an Effective LinkedIn Profile

November 18, 2013 Leave a comment

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a great tool for researching prospective careers, building your network, and reaching out and connecting with people.  This should be an entirely professional social media tool, so keep your personal life out of it.  It really should function as an on-line resume and professional networking tool.  It takes some time and effort to create a great LinkedIn account, but if you do it right, it will certainly help you in connecting with the right people and getting a job.

Here are some tips on how to set up an effective LinkedIn profile:

  • Create an effective and informative professional headline.  This helps people to understand, in just a few words, who you are and what your skills are
  • Take time to write a clear, concise, and compelling summary statement.  Tailor it to what your target audience will be interested in knowing about you.  Be sure to include key words, industry-specific lingo and job-specific skills so that it is easily searchable
  • Carefully proof read your entire profile. Then, have at least one or two other people look over your profile; ask them to give you feedback on whether it is clear and accurate
  • Get a professional headshot done.  You want to be dressed in business attire and looking sharp.  This is about creating a positive and professional image – think about what message your photo sends about you and whether it fits with your career goals
  • Add industry relevant skills to your profile.  Once you have added these skills, start endorsing others for the skills that they possess.  This will, in turn, result in others endorsing you
  • Similar to endorsements, the process of getting recommendations is founded in reciprocity.  If you want others to write a recommendation for you, first write a recommendation for them.  Take time to write serious and thoughtful recommendations, as they are also a reflection of you.  When you write a recommendation for someone else, they are then prompted to return the favour and write one for you. Endorsements and recommendations add to your credibility
  • Customize your profile URL – go to your profile, click on Edit, click on Manage Public Profile Settings, on the right hand side of that page, click on Customize your public profile URL. This allows you to create a shorter URL that looks better and more professional on contact cards and resumes
  • Join groups that relate to your career interests and industries. Being involved in groups can help you to connect with people that you might not otherwise interact with

Advice on Giving Advice

October 31, 2013 Leave a comment

communication roadblocksI am sure that you have experienced a time when you turned to a friend, family member, or colleague when you were upset or frustrated hoping that you could share with him/her what was bothering you only to receive an earful of unwanted advice in return.  Rather than feeling heard, you felt irritated and disengaged.

I was at a course called Leader Effectiveness Training (LET) just a couple of weeks ago and we were learning about how we can avoid these common communication roadblocks.

The first step, which we so often get wrong, is to identify who actually owns the problem.  For many of us, our first instinct is to jump in and try to solve the problem for the other person.  When we care about someone or about the outcome of a situation, we want to take ownership of that problem.  In doing this we are not taking the time to actively listen and are not empowering the other to come up with a solution.

I find that this is most common with people in a position of authority such as, organizational leaders and parents.  There is a deep investment in finding a suitable resolution, so the leader/parent steps in, takes over, and solves the problem.  The difficulty with this scenario is that even if the issue is resolved, the person who originally experienced the problem has no further insight or ability to deal with similar situations when they arise in the future.  If we, instead, engage in active listening, avoid some of our strong natural instincts to advise, reassure, or analyze, then we send the message that we are here to support and listen and empower the other to find an approach to the problem that is his/her own.

Taking this approach can be both liberating and rewarding.  Instead of having to own and, therefore, resolve every issue that is brought to your attention, you enable others by trusting that they have the capability to develop and execute on a resolution.

So the next time that someone approaches you with a problem try to first bite your lip and allow him/her to own the problem; instead, listen actively to what he/she is saying.  As they taught us at LET many of the things that we naturally want to do in that moment can make the other person feel like he/she is not being listened too.  These are called communication roadblocks and include:

  • Ordering
  • Warning
  • Moralizing
  • Advising
  • Using Logic
  • Criticising
  • Praising
  • Labeling
  • Analyzing
  • Reassuring
  • Questioning
  • Avoiding

For further insight on why these are roadblocks and how you can avoid them, visit: http://www.gordontraining.com/leadership-training/do-you-use-the-dirty-dozen-when-you-communicate/

http://www.gordontraining.com/leadership-training/leadership-training-do-you-give-advice/

Email Best Practices

August 26, 2013 Leave a comment
email etiquette

email etiquette

When dealing with email communication I am frequently stunned by the lack of professionalism that I encounter.  Many times I receive emails that have no salutation or sign-off and no capitalization, grammar or sentence structure.  If these habits continue when the sender enters the workforce he/she will find that it will have a significantly negative impact on his/her career prospects.

You will find that if you take the time to write accurate, concise, and respectful emails that you will be perceived in a better light and will likely receive more positive and helpful responses.

Secondly, if you develop a strategy for effectively managing the emails that you receive, you will waste much less time will be responsive, organized and less stressed.

Below are some tips for helping you ensure that you are creating a professional image and effectively managing your email:

  • When writing emails it is always best to err on the side of formality.  Professional emails should include accurate punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure, grammar and spelling. If you are not sure how to address someone, start with the most formal option eg. Dear Ms. Smith, then wait for the reply to determine how to address further correspondence.
  • For professional communication emoticons, abbreviations and slang acronyms like LOL are too informal.
  • Avoid the use of wallpaper or colourful fonts that are distracting and slow down the receiver’s ability to process the message.
  • When it comes to font type and size stick with the basic serif fonts, such as Times New Roman, or san serif, such as Arial, in the 10- to 11-point range.
  • Reread messages before sending.  This allows you to check the tone and content of the message from the reader’s perspective and enables you to catch mistyped words such as god instead of good that will not be caught by your spell checker. An articulate, concise and accurate email tells others that you are intelligent, professional and detail oriented.
  • Keep your inbox clean. Use electronic folders to archive messages that you may need to refer to in the future.  Keep the inbox for current items that you need to deal with.  This will help you feel organized and less overwhelmed and stressed.
  • Insert the receiver’s address last. This ensures that you do not accidentally send an incomplete email or forget an attachment. This is particularly important when dealing with a sensitive topic.  Better yet, if a topic is sensitive, don’t send an email go and talk directly to the person in order to avoid a misreading of your tone or intent.
  • Open an email once.  Don’t waste your time by reading an email and then leaving it to sit because you don’t feel like answering it only to have to return to the same email later.  Have a one touch policy, open it, answer it and then delete or file it.

For further tips on managing your email check out: Managing Your Email, Thinking Outside the Inbox by Christina Cavanagh.  http://www.christinacavanagh.com/book.htm

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