November 2023

  • Lean Into the Emotion

    There are many times in your professional and personal life when you’re going to be put in a situation that makes you uncomfortable. Maybe even severely uncomfortable. Our natural tendency is to try to mask that discomfort and present an air of confidence. We don’t want to appear weak or vulnerable. And of course, the more significant the discomfort, the less likely we are to successfully accomplish presenting confidently.

    Common situations can create the opportunity for real discomfort: a) interviewing for a job you really want, b) giving a presentation in front of a big group, c) having a challenging performance conversation with a direct report, d) terminating someone’s employment, e) declining a job offer, etc. etc.

    A highly valuable tip I received several years ago, is to lean into the emotion. Instead of putting on the air of confidence, take the opposite approach: start off by acknowledging the discomfort. “I’m really nervous to be presenting in front of everyone today.”. “I’m feeling a bit anxious about this conversation, even though I know we need to have it”.

    People are excellent at picking up when you’re feeling uncomfortable, regardless of whether you acknowledge it or not. If you authentically lean into the emotion and address it head on, you’re more likely to garner empathy and understanding from your audience, whether a group of people or an individual. We tend to root for the underdog, or someone struggling. It’s human nature. By leaning into the emotion, you’re bringing the audience onto your side. Lean into the emotion to start and you’re more likely to set yourself up for success. It will have the added bonus of quieting whatever emotion you’re feeling.  

    This only works if you describe an emotion you are genuinely experiencing. Don’t say “I’m feeling nervous”, if you’re not, or you’ll likely produce the opposite effect.

  • LinkedIn vs. Reality

    I quit Facebook in ~2018 and Instagram in ~2020. I ultimately found what I was receiving from these apps vs. what it was costing me to be a net negative trade off. It was easier to leave Facebook. By 2018, my news feed was mostly weird political commentary from people I hadn’t spoken to since Highschool. Instagram, on the other hand, was more challenging. What did it for me was going down a 45-minute rabbit hole on a Toronto Chef’s profile and finding myself having an imaginary argument with them over their content. Once I pulled myself out of the rabbit hole, I realized I was sitting in my living room legitimately pissed off at some person I’ve never met who doesn’t know I exist. That felt pathetic enough to motivate me to delete the app. At the time, I decided if I really missed it after 30 days, I’d re-download it. And I didn’t.

    With Instagram and Facebook gone, that left LinkedIn as my last remaining social media vice. LinkedIn has always been billed as the ‘Professional network’ and as a result, receives a somewhat morally superior treatment; we don’t typically speak about LinkedIn addiction in the same vein we might Instagram or Tik Tok. But over the last decade, LinkedIn has transformed itself from a job site to a comprehensive professional social media network. With this transformation, there’s been a surge in non-hiring related information: lots of professional learnings, stories of success and failure, and general commentary around topical professional subjects (e.g., in-office vs. home, ‘the great resignation’, ‘quiet quitting’, etc.).

    As a professional focused network, you might expect the content to exhibit less of the “distorted reality” phenomenon plaguing Instagram (i.e., people solely highlighting their best and proudest moments to create an exclusively positive/happy/beautiful image). I’ve found that to be only partially true. Over time, there seems to be more of the themes you see on other social media platforms: an influx and rise of influencers, stories that are hyperbolic in nature, and lots of distorted reality.

    It’s easy to get caught up in other people or company’s portrayed successes and play the comparison game. I try to remind myself that often the reality of all situations you see on Social Media – including LinkedIn – are probably not as good or as bad as they are presented. A few interesting examples of topics I’ve seen on LinkedIn, which present an overly positive or negative image relative to reality:

    • LinkedIn: “Zoom CEO sets standard among Public company CEOs by reducing salary to $1 following mass layoffs.”
    • Reality: Zoom CEO reduces salary to $1, 12 months after selling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stock.
    • LinkedIn: “We’re so proud to be among the fastest growing companies!”
    • Reality: We invested massively in growth in the last 24 months. This may or may not be sustainable and to accommodate a much more challenging investment environment, we may have to consider a layoff in the next six months.
    • LinkedIn: “We’ve been awarded a Great Place to Work designation, again!”
    • Reality: We paid a for-profit enterprise $3,500 for a Great Place to Work designation. We may have an amazing culture, but you’ll need more information to validate that.
    • LinkedIn: “It’s 2023 and remote office culture is officially dead. Back to the office!”
    • Reality: Some companies will return to the office and thrive. Some companies will preserve their remote/distributed working environment and thrive. Building a great culture requires intentionality regardless of a physical location (or lack thereof).  

    There is, in fact, lots of high quality content and I’ve learned a decent amount through LinkedIn over the years. Nonetheless, while LinkedIn may position itself in a slightly different category as other mainstream consumer social media (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok), it’s helpful to keep in mind it possesses many of the same qualities (good and bad).

  • Don’t Fixate on End Points

    We, humans, seem to love setting goals and objectives for ourselves. Particularly challenging ones. There’s a real satisfaction that comes from setting out to accomplish something, putting in a lot of effort and work, and seeing those efforts pay off through the successful achievement of that goal or objective. In general, I believe it’s a really positive practice. This type of big goal setting occurs in both our professional and personal lives. Professional goals might include striving for a promotion, attempting to hit a really big sales target, releasing an amazing new product feature that beats out the competition, earning an award for a song you produced, etc. etc. Personal goals might include finishing a 100 km bike ride, learning a new language, completing a PhD, having kids, visiting every national park, etc. etc.

    There is one slightly risky way of approaching big goals and objectives though, which is to expect the singular act of achievement to result in some type of universal salvation. I’m being a little hyperbolic, but I’m guessing most people have experienced some type of this self-talk, even if a little less extreme:

    • If I get promoted, finally I’ll be happy.
    • If I hit my savings goal of $[x], finally I’ll have enough.
    • If I release that amazing new feature, we’ll beat the competition.
    • Once the COVID lockdown is lifted, my stress and anxiety will go away (circa 2021…)
    • If I get married, our challenges will go away.
    • If I finish my degree, my grandparents will respect me.

    The reality of course, is that even achieving an extremely lofty, difficult, and amazing goal, rarely results in some type of panacea. As a result, when we obsess over the goal, and spend a huge amount of our attention and energy focused on it, we run the risk of setting ourselves up for disappointment. And depending how much stock we’ve put into the importance of that goal, it can be pretty devastating. “I got the promotion… and I still hate my job. What’s going on?”

    This concept always conjures up the following image (and personal experience) for me: you’re running a race, and it’s really challenging. You’ve put what feels like your maximum effort to get yourself to the finish line. Then, when you think you’re 100 metres away from the end, you realize you misread the last marker, and you still have 3 km to go. You’re devastated, and struggle to finish the race, because you’ve hinged all your efforts on getting to what you believed was the finish line. The obsession with the endpoint, has potentially robbed you of your ability to succeed.

    It’s important not to overly obsess about the endpoints. And why the cliché phrase exists, “the journey is more important than the destination”. If you can find genuine satisfaction in the efforts and energy you put into all the things that lead up to that endpoint (i.e., training, working hard, practicing, planning, etc.), you inevitably build more resilience and are better prepared to handle setbacks, or a (naturally) shifting goal post. Who cares if you didn’t get the award? You know you vastly improved your skills.