Marking Time: Reflections on a Year

Jayne Mattson writing her annual letter

Marking Time: Reflections on a Year

January 3, 2022

Jayne Mattson writing her annual letterWhat do you do to mark the shift through the New Year?

Especially in times like these, with a multi-year pandemic and the difficulties of connecting safely with our loved ones, I believe that tuning in to the New Year can help us more consciously embrace what’s good in our lives.

At least… I hope so.

I began a new ritual last year: I wrote myself a letter that I would open one year later, and I invited my readers to do the same.

What I’d like to do now is ask: Was it useful? Was writing myself a personal letter at the turning of the year a useful endeavor?

Let’s find out…

As I opened my letter today, I was surprised to see that I wrote a four- pager. I don’t remember doing that and I don’t think of myself as a writer but apparently, I had a lot to say!

And as I read through my message, three themes rise up: Gratitude; Relationships; and Innovation. I can see how these themes made sense last year, and they make sense right now as well.

Gratitude:

My letter tells me that I woke up early January 2021 with a heart full of gratitude because the three top priorities in my life of faith, health, and connection with family & friends were strong.

I am an optimist by nature and tend to look at what is good to make it better. Even last year, mid-pandemic, I chose to focus on the positive things that happened in my life that got me through what are some of the most challenging of times for all of us.

Like many people, I had lost friends and family. Not being able to grieve fully in person made the losses even more painful. Despite that, I still felt gratitude for having them in my lives for so long and I cherished each memory we had together.

Relationships:

The physical was certainly difficult, but meeting people virtually seemed to alleviate it in many ways. (Good to note as we head into our 2nd pandemic winter.)

Since my relationships with family, friends and colleagues are extremely important, I found ways to stay connected. I am known as “the glue that keeps people together” and I embrace that as part of my identity – so much so that I wrote a book about building relationships just a few years ago. Bringing people together is second nature to me.

Innovation:

The last theme in my letter was about how over the previous year I had leaned heavily into innovating as I created new marketing channels for my business.

I hired a Marketing Consultant and a Web Designer who helped me rebrand my business and create an amazing new website that I still am so proud of!

It was challenging work because it made me get very clear on who I help, how I help them, and how I want to find and connect with the people I serve.

That work was hard, but it was so worth it! I’m still using that marketing strategy now and I’m looking forward to leveling up in the new year with Live video on LinkedIn!

As I look over last year’s letter, I have some very specific takeaways:

Writing that letter was helpful. I feel like it’s creating some powerful cohesion between where I was at this time last year and where I feel like I’m going now as we head into the new year. I can see the flow of the themes and it brings confidence and clarity that I would not have had if I hadn’t written myself that letter last year.

Noting the themes between then and now is powerful. I can see the flow of ideas and direction. As I look back, it gives me a sense of accomplishment; as I look forward, I feel conviction about where I’m headed.

The themes of Gratitude, Relationships, and Innovation feel to me like a balance of past, present, and future. I like how that feels – being grateful for where I’ve been, cherishing what I have, and being planful about where I’m going.

Will I be writing another letter this year? Yes. In fact, I’ve already started it.

And I invite you to write one to yourself as well. The flow of time can sweep us away if we let it. Marking time with letters to ourselves can help us be more intentional about where we’ve been, what we want, and where we’re going.

Will you be writing a letter to yourself? Let me know in the comments! Then next year when it’s time to open my next letter, I’ll tag you and we can both open our letters and share what we’ve learned!

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Speaking Up: How to Confidently Assert Your Boundaries at Work

Speaking Up: How to Confidently Assert Your Boundaries at Work

December 13, 2021

Early in my career, I had a manager who would berate his employees during our staff meetings.

Whenever I saw him do this to my colleagues, I would talk ask them after: “Why don’t you speak up?” The answer was usually just a shrug, or a question: “What would I say?”

Then one day, it happened to me. My manager scolded me right there in front of my colleagues. I was embarrassed, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

As soon as the meeting was over, I went into my manager’s office and said, “I would like to talk to you about that you said to me in the meeting this morning. When you said _______, I felt disrespected, specifically because you said this in front of my colleagues. I welcome feedback, but can you please do it behind closed doors?”

He said: “I am sorry. You’re right. I won’t do it again.” I’m happy to say that he stopped speaking to me that way during meetings!

Sometimes people just don’t realize that how they’re doing something is having a negative impact, and they don’t see how else they might do it that could provide better results.

There are three elements at play here that I want to bring to your attention: boundaries, confidence, and assertiveness.

When my boss berated me in front of my colleagues, he crossed one of my boundaries: I will accept feedback, but only in private. As soon as he crossed this line, I knew I had to say something.

This is where confidence came in. Confidence is based in courage, and courage doesn’t exist without fear. Going in to talk to my boss wasn’t easy. I wasn’t sure how he was going to take it. But talking to him about it was essential. I had a boundary to defend!

And in fact, I demonstrated that boundary by talking to him in private. I like to think that me doing unto him the way I wanted him to do unto me is part of why it went well.

And lastly, we all need to be assertive. Assertiveness is about communicating in a clear and direct manner. It’s about using the right language so that we can get our message across with respect so that we are heard without hurting someone else’s feelings.

I think there’s a fine line between assertiveness and aggressiveness that we have to walk carefully, especially for women. If we push too much, they’ll be offended and put off; if we push too little, they won’t take us seriously. Walking this line takes practice.

I often help my clients work out how they want to respond to situations like this. Here are two things that I have them think about:

  1. What is the action or behavior that didn’t work for you?
    example: my boss berated me in front of my colleagues
  2. What is the action or behavior that needs to happen instead?
    example: I welcome feedback behind closed doors

Then use those two pieces of information to help you craft an assertive statement that clearly describes what you need.

Again, this takes practice. But if you work with these situations intentionally, you can help to promote an atmosphere at work that will enable you to thrive!

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Drawing Lines: How to Maintain Healthy Boundaries at Work

How to maintain healthy boundaries

Drawing Lines: How to Maintain Healthy Boundaries at Work

December 6, 2021

How to maintain healthy boundariesDuring a recent presentation, I asked my audience – a group of early-career professional women – this question:

“Which professional boundaries do you find difficult to maintain?”

Their answers showed that:

  • 66% struggled with committing to their personal time outside of work hours because they continue to check emails after the workday has ended
  • 22% had difficulty saying “no” to opportunities that did not align with their lifestyle needs and values

This same audience agreed that the challenge is further exacerbated when you have goals and desires around your work including:

  • Wanting to be recognized and valued for your work
  • Feeling respected by others
  • Getting feedback in private
  • Being valued for their willingness to express differing opinions

It’s easy to feel torn between reaching for our career goals and protecting our personal lives. It might be tempting, even, to forgo our boundaries and personal lives for the sake of our career goals.

I caution you against that mindset. Once a boundary is given up, it’s much harder to regain. Plus, that’s a short-term approach. I’ve thought it myself: “I can do this for a year…”. But one year turns into three, which turns into a lifetime of imbalance.

It’s not just that you’ve opened the door and now you can’t close it. It’s more that it’s a habit that you’ve created within yourself. You don’t even see it happening… but habits are pervasive and difficult to change.

We’re also talking about setting other people’s expectations. If you don’t maintain healthy boundaries in your current job, it can be difficult to reestablish the boundaries you want without changing jobs altogether. If your boundaries are so compromised that you’re miserable, that’s a viable option… but if you can stop it from happening in the first place, you’ll save yourself a lot of pain and frustration.

So, decide right now what you want your career to look like and how you want that to balance with your personal life. It’s better to create stricter boundaries now that you can loosen later than to create loose boundaries that are almost impossible to tighten.

This problem of maintaining healthy work/life boundaries is not new, but it has gotten worse with working from home. These lines get fuzzy when they exist within the same four walls.

I encouraged the women in my audience – and I encourage YOU - to clearly define what your boundaries are:

  • What boundaries do you want to create and maintain?
    Be specific! Examples: No checking email after 7pm, or only take on opportunities that are in line with where you want your career to go.
  • What does crossing the boundary look like?
    Again, be specific. Envision it so that you’re more likely to see it when it happens.

Once you have a clear definition and understanding of your boundary, your next step is to have a conversation with your manager. When you are both on the same page about what you each expect, your boundary will likely require less management and, should lines start to get crossed, it will be easier to get back in bounds.

Want a little bit of accountability? I’m here for that! Tell me in the comments below: What’s the boundary that you want to maintain?

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The Career-Growth Gender Gap: It’s still here but we’ve got plans

women can take action to change the career-growth gender gap

The Career-Growth Gender Gap: It’s still here but we’ve got plans

November 22, 2021

women can take action to change the career-growth gender gapIf you are a woman and early in your career path, there’s something you need to know:

Women face challenges in their career growth that men do not.

If you think that we’re beyond the gender problem, I invite you to think again… because we are not!

In fact, women face TWO specific challenges:

First - Women don’t move up to the next level within their first five years at the same pace as men

Second - Because they don’t get promoted, women do not develop the same leadership skills as men within this same time frame.

These two steps are essential for career growth!

Researchers call this the “broken rung.” According to a 2019 study by McKinsey and LeanIn.org, these obstacles that prevent women from progressing in their careers.

Here’s the thing:

If you don’t get promoted, you don’t get into the pipeline for further promotions. Instead, you play a game of catch-up and it’s easy to continue to fall behind.

So… what can you do about this?

As an answer to that question, I’d like to tell you about a wonderful group of early-career professional women that I recently had the wonderful opportunity to speak with.

They were enrolled in a year-long program designed to address these common career-growth challenges that women face in the workplace. These women knew that they had to take control over what they needed and wanted in their careers. They were aware that if they were going to remove the obstacles they faced, they needed to understand the challenges that created them.

As part of their program, these women identified their values around what is important to them in the workplace. With that in mind, I spoke with them about three key areas that build upon what they value in the workplace.

  1. Work boundaries
  2. Confidence
  3. Assertiveness

These are foundational factors that support their values. (If you want to identify your own values with regards to the workplace, download the Corporate Culture worksheet.)

Here’s a quick summary of these key areas and how they support and align with your values:

Work Boundaries reflect how you want to be treated in the workplace. Keep in mind: You should treat others the same way you hope to be treated. Following the Golden Rule can serve a guiding light.

Confidence helps you define and establish your boundaries.

Assertiveness guides you towards using the right language to get your point across clearly and tactfully when your boundaries are threatened or compromised.

What I find most exciting about these key areas is that they are skills. That means you can learn them and practice them so that when you need them, you’ll be ready.

Here is what I’m hoping you’ll take away from this:

  • You have to choose to take control over what you want and need in your career
  • You can take action to combat the challenges you face
  • Finding support through communities and a career coach can help you make these things happen for yourself.

We are still facing gender challenges in the workplace, but we are not victims to them. You can take specific, focused action to support your own career growth. When you do the work, success will follow.

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3 Things I Learned from the Students at the BU Questrom School of Business

College Students

3 Things I Learned from the Students at the BU Questrom School of Business

September 6, 2021

College StudentsOver the last six months I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work as a Career Coach with the undergraduate students at the Questrom School of Business at Boston University. During this time, I’ve helped them write resumes and cover letters, negotiate offers, and develop networking strategies.

When I think of what I’ve learned about them, three words come to mind:

💪 Resilience

🙏 Appreciation

🤨 Determination

Resilience is the ability to recover quicky from difficult situations.

These students entered college expecting it to be a fun and four years. They anticipated, meeting new friends, interacting with professors, and joining clubs to meet new people and develop leadership skills in preparation for their future. It is often some of the best time in a person’s life.

Then suddenly Covid hits.

Imagine being in your last year of college when you’re told that you have to take all your classes online. All of your college activities either goes virtual or gets cancelled.

As I worked with the students, I noticed that I didn’t sense any major disappointment or residual challenges. They had adapted to these unexpected changes with resilience!

Appreciation is feeling or showing gratitude.

The second thing I learned about the students (to be honest, I was surprised!) was how appreciative they were about my help. After our meetings, they all thanked me. I received many comments about how helpful it was to them. Many sent me follow-up emails thanking me again for my time and mentioned specifically how I helped them in our meeting.

Students continued to follow up with me to let me know how they did in the interview, and how they used my advice. I’m excited to see them fostering these important behaviors early in their careers!

Determination is processing or displaying resolve.

The last thing that I’ve learned from the students is they never give up. Questrom students are known to be smart, go-getters, competitive, and high achievers. They are expected to have high GPAs upon graduation.

But not all students entering their last year have that expected high GPA so they struggle to remain competitive, and they know it. Instead of accepting their situation, they met with me to talk over their plan to get it higher.

There are many reasons why their GPA might be low, yet I never heard any student use their specific situation as an excuse. Instead, they wanted to go over their plan and get feedback about what I thought. They were open to my additional suggestions that could help them remain competitive. Every single one of them was determined to graduate with a high GPA!

My experience over the last six months has been so rewarding. I feel honored to have been able to use my experience in career management to help the BU Questrom students at a pivotal time in their lives.

I’m looking forward getting to know the incoming seniors. I know that I will continue to learn about them, and I am looking forward to them continuing to surprise me!

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How to Grow Your Confidence Step by Step

grow your confidence

How to Grow Your Confidence Step by Step

March 29, 2021

grow your confidenceConfidence is the sureness of our abilities to do something and do it well with no self-doubt!

We all have certain situations where we are more confident than others. We are more confident in our areas of expertise and interest and profession.

How do you become more confident?

You can read, observe, watch videos, or listen to podcasts.  What you have learned, you need to practice and practice some more until you become more confident in your abilities and you diminish your self-doubt.

You build confidence by taking one step at a time toward your end goal. Break apart what you want to achieve in small steps where you can see and feel yourself become more confident. If you didn’t succeed in one step, you don’t need to go back to the beginning. Just repeat the step you struggled with until you have it.

You don’t build confidence overnight. You will have to work at it.

For example, when you were little and learning to ride a bike, I suspect you started off with training wheels. They were intended to help you learn to ride a bike without getting hurt. You learned how to get on and off, how to stop by using the petals, and to gain confidence for when you took the next big step…. And the training wheels were taken off the bike.

Have there been times in your life when you wished you were more confident? I suspect that your answer is “yes.” Who doesn’t want more confidence?

One area in my professional life where I struggled with confidence was in my ability to write in a professional manner. I could write a lovely personal note, but when it came to writing for business, I struggled. I am more comfortable as a verbal communicator. I knew what I wanted to say, but it’s harder for me to put it in writing.

But I really, really wanted to write an article and be published! So I decided to do something about it by breaking it into “one step at a time.”

For the sake of a deeper example for you, here is my “one step at a time” process:

  • I asked a trusted colleague if she would be willing to be my “accountability coach” for writing an article.
  • We discussed my specific challenges, and we identified my topic.
  • Drawing from my areas of expertise in career management, confidence and relationship building skills (content that I felt confident in), I chose to write about “Rebuilding Confidence After a Job Loss.” I believed that the emotional loss of losing a job needed to be discussed more.
  • My colleague helped me get started when she said, “Just talk to me about this. Why are you so passionate about the subject?” After I told her why it mattered to me, she said, “That is your beginning.”
  • Next, she told me to write in bullet format how someone would rebuild their confidence. After all, I have been developing resumes for years so I am the “queen of bullets!” I can do that, and I did!
  • We are almost there…. How to end the article?
  • Once again, she asked me a question. What do you want them to know about what you just said? I told her and she said, “That is your ending.”

Success in writing my first article!

  • Two big discoveries along the way were: I felt confident about what I wrote about; My lack of confidence was in how to write it
  • I learned that I could write by drawing on a process that comes easy to me. I was confident developing bullet statements that I could turn into sentences.

The story does not end there!

I was proud of my article and I wanted to see if anyone would be interested in publishing it, so people who were in a job transition could perhaps feel better about their situation.

I sent it to the marketing person at my company who in turn sent it to their PR firm. They loved the article and it got published on CareerBuilder and Monster and re-published a couple of more times.

I was ELATED! And I was hooked and determined to continue to improve my writing and confidence.

Over the years since that first article was published, I became Marketing’s “go to person” for either writing or contributing to article requests.

And then after I left that company, I got really daring and I wrote a whole book! That book, You, You, Me, You: The Art of Talking to People, Networking, and Building Relationships serves as the cornerstone of my consulting business.

This entire journey comes back to one of the most important things that helped me develop my confidence in writing: My willingness to say, “I am not good at it, but I’d like to learn.” I was open to advice on how to improve. I was willing to practice, and I sought guidance and feedback that helped me find my way.

And so, I ask you:

Around what skill do you want to increase your confidence?

What are you willing to do to make it happen?

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Are the things you say to yourself holding you back?

Are the things you say to yourself holding you back?

May 17, 2020

This topic of our beliefs is covered in chapter two of my book, You, You, Me, You: The Art of Talking to People, Networking and Building Relationships.

I wanted to take a deeper dive into how you can change the messages from your past to help pave the way for healthier personal and professional relationships.

Do you feel worthy and deserving of the best life has to offer? I certainly hope so!

However, many people do not feel worthy and have held onto to their negative beliefs all their lives. They might have been true at some time in your life, but are they still true today?

Our beliefs are engrained in us from the messages we heard from early childhood that carry us into adulthood. 

One clear positive message I heard often from my father from when I was very young was, “Honey, honey, honey, of course you can do it.” Hearing him say this engrained it in my belief system. I still hear his voice today.

Sometimes our beliefs lift us up, and sometimes they hold us back from taking on a project, achieving a goal, believing in our abilities, or just feeling good about ourselves. We hold onto “I am not good enough (or smart, talented, pretty, etc.)” because we don’t understand that these beliefs have somehow become our truth.  We hold onto the positive messages, but people sometimes hold onto the negative ones more. Those negative beliefs can be incredibly powerful!

I know that exploring the past can be daunting and painful, and there are memories you might prefer to forget. However, exploring those memories will help you understand more about yourself.  Joseph Campbell, American Professor of Literature whose work covered many aspects of the human experience once said, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

For instance, growing up I often heard I was too sensitive because my feelings would get hurt easily. I would feel so badly about a situation and then my father would say “Honey, honey, honey, you are making a mountain out of a mole hill.” The message I heard was that being sensitive was not a good thing.

Fast forward to adulthood where I am in a field where I help people, and I have found that being sensitive is an asset and a strength. I have changed the message about being sensitive from a bad thing to a positive one.  It took work to change the negative belief of “being too sensitive,” but I’ve done it!

How did I change my belief? By listening to the newer messages people were telling me and watching how people were reacting to my being sensitive to their needs.

What if some of the negative messages you heard when you were younger weren’t actually true?  Have you ever challenged them and asked yourself, “Are these really true? Even if they were… do they mean the same thing today??

One final example of how our beliefs can sometimes not serve us well is found in the journey to becoming a parent.  I have heard many times, “I want to give my child what I did not have.” Maybe growing up they lacked affection, or material goods, or wish they could have attended an Ivy League University. Parents want to live the life they wish they had through their children.

It makes me think, “What makes the parent believe that their child wants what they didn’t get?” Don’t you want to give your children what they want and need? You cannot go back to your childhood to give you what you did not get, but you can give your adult self a variation of what was missing from your childhood. I believe that a healthier belief system makes for a stronger parent.

So, what limiting self-beliefs are you currently holding onto? And how do YOU know them to be TRUE?

  • Do you want to stop feeling so badly about yourself?
  • Do you want to ask to be on a challenging project?
  • Do you want to feel confident during the next staff meeting or presentation?

Now is Your time to take some action with these steps one at a time. 

  1. Uncover your limiting self-beliefs. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and be as honest with yourself as possible. It might be painful at first and it is a great beginning. Start by drawing at T on a piece of paper where on one side you write down all the beliefs you have about yourself – both positive and negative. On the other side of the T indicate if you believe them to be true or false.
  2. Understand the origin. This step will help you gain an understanding of how and why you have those beliefs. This is not about placing blame; rather, it will give you insight about where the things you believe came from. Ask a family member you trust to talk about your childhood with the intention of learning more of how you were raised. Steven Covey suggests that we “seek to understand.” This is good to remember at this step.
  3. Work on letting go at your own pace. Decide which messages you want to work on changing based on your list.  Seek help, read books, listen to podcast, or even hire a coach or counselor who can guide you through the process. Be patient and loving with yourself too as this will take time to let go.

As children, we take in all kinds of messages that form our beliefs about ourselves and others. These messages help us develop our behaviors, habits, and our belief system into adulthood. As children, we do not have the whereabouts to understand the why or the tools to make changes. However, as adults you begin to understand yourself more deeply and life’s situations triggers some of those not so positive messages you heard from childhood.

If you have beliefs that are holding you back from having unhealthy relationships and situations in your personal and professional life, it is not too late to take responsibility as an adult. You are not responsible for what happened or did not happen to you as children. However, you are responsible for what happens to you as an adult.

Your life matters and you matter too. I have the utmost confidence in your ability to uncover and let go of your limited beliefs that has prevented you from achieving your greatness!

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