Snapshot at 31

Beth at 31.jpg
omg! So happy! but those wrinkles!

A short list of things I’m obsessed with lately:

Snyders flavored pretzels (particularly the hot buffalo wing)

Checking heavy books out from the library (haha, literally!)


Paying off student loans by August

Gathering more twitter followers organically (314! 316!)

Bullet journals

Moral Psychology


A short list of things I’m obsessed with always:

Taking assessments online (from buzzfeed to psychologically validated tools)

Polar seltzer

Productivity listicles and sites like My Morning Routine

Visiting green spaces in Massachusetts (Walden Pond)



Snapshot at 31

Personal Mission Statement

Salem Sunrise

Some people are lucky.  They know what they want to do from the moment they hit middle school, maybe even sooner.  Some people look at their personal path extending back into childhood, remembering a love of writing, or horses, or cars, or math.  Although I, like Arthur J. Miller Jr. think that we can look back at childhood skills and flow experiences and point to innate skills, it’s not always easy to put together these things into a coherent career path and say “Well, I’ve always wanted to be a firefighter!”

Here’s a taste of my winding 12 year path –

  • I loved reading and writing and wrote my college essays about how I dreamed of starting a girls magazine.
  • By the time I graduated from college I thought I wanted to open a bakery in Seattle, building an intentional living community and hosting speakers.
  • Two years out of college I talked about my dream to manage a retirement community and direct activities for older adults.
  • A year or so into my first adult job I loved watching our therapists at work and I started taking courses at night with the hope of being a nutritionist (or maybe a physical therapist, or occupational therapist) and helping people reach their goals for healthy living and pain-free work.
  • Five years ago I wrote a different personal statement for graduate school about how I was excited to learn how to provide the structure and organizational development needed for people to flourish in the workplace, and for businesses to achieve better outcomes.

When I considered the various interests I’d had and what I wanted to accomplish, you couldn’t just point to them and say well, it’s “obvious” you’ve “always” wanted to work in a particular industry, doing a particular job.  Although the liberal arts are widely mocked as not pointing to a specific career – not every person can say they’ve always wanted a specific career.

I didn’t have one unifying vision throughout these 12 years post high-school to gain a specific position.  What did I do during this ambiguous time?  I explored my values and beliefs, as well as a wide variety of fields like social work, sociology, biology, psychology, business.  I tried out hobbies like leading an exercise group, taking courses in grant writing and anatomy & physiology, and volunteering with the SalemRecycles committee.  And let’s not forget attempting to be a North Shore Blogger.

This May I got a position as an HR Coordinator handling recruiting, organizational development activities, and organizing training opportunities at a small company.  I am happy here. For now.

Still, the story of Eric Liddell, the runner profiled in Chariots of Fire, haunted me. The famous line from the movie – “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure” –  is endlessly presented in Christian blog posts as the ultimate construction of how you can know what you’re designed to do, a personal mission statement.

And goddamn it, I wanted a mission statement too!

I wanted it because I believe a personal mission statement provides overarching guidance on what activities you should choose to spend your time on.  Life is equally about knowing your priorities and what you should do, and carefully choosing what you won’t.  This quote by Steve Jobs says it well, “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”  In August of this year that I was finally able to articulate what my mission statement is for my life.

So here it is –

My mission is to aggregate information, to create connections, and to stimulate reflection.

And when I do those things, I do indeed feel God’s pleasure.

This is a mission statement that fits in well with human resources, but this is a mission statement that could equally well apply to another career path I might pursue, such as a teacher, a therapist, a community organizer, a career coach.  Therefore, it’s a mission statement that can grow with my own experiences and expand to hold my ambitions. Looking at my previous career aspirations, it could have fit equally well for me if I’d been the director of a retirement facility, as if I’d been the editor of a magazine.

Ultimately those three actions are the way I orient my life, and the way I create value on teams.

How do I aggregate information? I read a lot. A lot.  But I don’t just read that information and keep it, I pass it on. Hence, creating connection.

Create connections?  I’m not a social butterfly, and never have been.  At best, I’m an ambivert, happily making friends one to two at a time, asking my friends for introductions to their friends, and slowly amassing an empire. I don’t do lighthearted easily, I’m much more likely to connect with you at the coffee shop and get your full life story.  Then, I use the information I’ve read, or gleaned from conversations to solve problems, and help improve lives.

How to stimulate reflection?  I’m a reflective person, but I would like to help others live intentional lives by asking open-ended questions that get at the transcendent things of life.

I feel simultaneously comforted and inspired by my mission statement, as though I put a missing piece into place in my life – the final thing I needed to help my values make sense.

What’s next for me?  Well, I’ve got the Mission, and I’ve got the Values, but the truth is – I’m still working on the Vision.

Hopefully sometime in the next 12 years, I’ll figure it out.

Other posts I’ve written about self-reflection you might like:

Creating a habit of Self-Reflection

5 Ways to Know Thyself!

Personal Mission Statement

My $.02 on Gravity Payments 70K Minimum Salary

I first heard about this story in late July by reading this NY Times article. I also decided to read this article in Forbes, this one in Entrepreneur, and this one in Fistful of Talent.  Four articles is plenty for me to have an opinion.

Really, there are two pieces of this story that interest me.

Psychology – Price hears a psychology study and realizes his company can do better providing for people’s basic needs.  Fact: people who make 70K aren’t worrying about paying the basic bills.  “Price based the figure on a 2010 Princeton study he read, and an epiphany while on a hike with his friend who was struggling to pay her bills on an annual income of $40,000.” – From Entrepreneur.  Basically, just take a look at Maslow – employee’s have their basic needs taken care of and can then focus on other pieces like improving job performance, or saving, or creativity.

Maslow, Compensation, Benefits

Biblical Literacy – The man paid attention to this extremely disturbing biblical parable of the Workers in the Field that rocks me every time I read it.  Seriously, go read it.   The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t work like the USA works, and doesn’t work like we want it to work.  It won’t be “fair” they way we like to think of “fairness.”  Is Price a Christian?  Well, he grew up in a household of faith, but he isn’t anymore.  According to the NY Times –  “Mr. Price is no longer so religious, but the values and faith he grew up on are “in my DNA – It’s just something that’s part of me.”

Parable of the Workers

So, this crazy decision made his employees obviously uncomfortable.  No, it wasn’t fair within his company, and he definitely should have consulted other people on his decision.  It’s demoralizing to people who only got a slight salary increase for their already higher paying positions.  After all “ Giving large raises to lower paid, lower contributing employees may be well intentioned, but unless it’s paired with equitable raises for higher contributing employees, it is bound to cause dissatisfaction and turnover.” (As Forbes points out: Equity Theory!)  I can easily see other psychology principles coming into play pretty soon, like the fact that we easily get accustomed to the new normal – hello Hedonic Treadmill!

But, quite a lot of what I see in this is that we (journalists? Americans? pundits? fellow employees) continue to confuse the idea of labor value with personal worth, and at the same time, pretend that how much we earn shouldn’t/doesn’t affect how we see each other.

The change forced the employees to reckon with the way they judge their own worth and the way they judge the worth of other employees.  Suddenly, they’re all on the same “worth” scale, and so they cry foul, they see it as an attack on their personal worth.  If I’m suddenly making as much as the admin, despite my different duties and education, am I worth what I think I am?  Serious ego blow.  I think this is also a story about identity and the way we value people.

That, and the obvious workplace connection, is what makes me keep thinking about this story.   The Bureau of Labor Statistics gives us plenty of ways and formulas to help calculate salaries and benefits, but they don’t touch on how we as humans make meaning from that data and determine worth.  A lot of us take what the BLS says about labor value, and the emphasis on making money and spending money and determine that a salary is equivalent to their personal worth.  All you do is answer phones, that’s not worthwhile, you’re not worth a wage like that.  That’s not even close to true. My labor is worth a dollar amount, but my worth as a person is priceless.

What I think Price did is to try and make that discrepancy between worth and value a little smaller.  His method was flawed, imperfect and is causing waves, but I definitely applaud him for a radical decision and doing something.

My $.02 on Gravity Payments 70K Minimum Salary

Learn to be an Exceptional Peer Coach


Who can be a coach?

It is natural to consider coaching as the domain of an expert, the responsibility of the manager or part of a high-potential talent development program offered by HR. However, coaching can exist between peers within the same department or role and provide myriad benefits for both the individuals and the organization.

Peer coaching, initially developed as a way to train new teachers, has seen effective crossover into the business world. Developing peer coaching skills can have benefits for individuals and the company.   It can be used in any department struggling to find ways to train new hires or support a stretched-thin manager.  Additionally, since peer coaching relies on building strong, positive relationships amongst co-workers and developing competence it can act as a strategic employee engagement technique.

People who take on a helping role are often able to understand a rote process in a new way, as well as reap the feel-good benefits of facilitating an “a-ha” moment for a colleague.  Coaching coworkers gives employees a chance to develop important managerial skills, or enlarge their job responsibilities for an added challenge.  The most effective peer coaching relationships are built on mutual trust and confidentiality, and involve refining and building new skills and competencies that are identified early on in the relationship through use of specific objectives.

Here are four ways you can become an exceptional peer coach.

Learn to help others set specific goals.  It is difficult to coach or be coached when the goals is to “Become a better widget maker.”  What does better mean?  What does it look like when you’re successful?  How will others know you’re a better widget maker?  How will you know when you’ve reached the goal? Help your colleague set specific goals for the peer-coaching relationship either by relying on the job description, manager input, or coachee self-identified skill deficiencies. The more control the coachee has over the process, the more likely he or she will be invested in the outcome.

Learn to ask open-ended questions.  Correctly identifying the error the coachee is making isn’t the point of a coaching session.  Instead, developing possibilities for solutions, identifying what led to to the error, or what assumptions are being made are much more crucial.  Taking a non-judgemental stance and asking questions such as “How did you determine that would be your next step?”  “How can you improve on this for next time?”  “What did you learn from this?”

Develop a non-evaluative attitude. Taking on a coaching role does not give you more power over your colleagues and as such you should not be evaluating their work as “good” or “bad.”  However, any time someone is given feedback it is instinctive to feel defensive.  Rather than asking “Why did you…” questions that push your colleague toward justifying their actions, use questions that help diffuse tension such as “what evidence did you use for that decision.”

Develop a reflective mindset.  In his book Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky wrote, “Most people do not accumulate a body of experience.  Most people go through life undergoing a series of happenings, which pass through their systems undigested.  Happenings become experiences when they are digested, when they are reflected on, related to general patterns and synthesized.” How do you create your own reflective habits?  What open-ended questions do you ask yourself?  Set aside time during your week to process your own experiences and consider areas of growth as well.

For Further Reading.

Peer Coaching.   R. Ladyshewsky (2014). Chapter 20 in The Complete Handbook of Coaching.

Honing your skills as a peer coach.  S. Friedman (2010). Harvard Business Review.

This post was initially published on LinkedIn on August 6, 2015.

Learn to be an Exceptional Peer Coach

Going beyond transactional relationships

Denali National Park, Alaska.
Everyone craves connection.

But so often we exist on the level of the transactional.

What is going on with you?

How was your weekend? 

I want to move into the level of transcendent relationships.  What is beyond my normal experiences.

How are you. Today? Right Now?
It is surprisingly, achingly, difficult to push past the transactional in our relationships, and into the transcendent.  After all, the transactional is a lot of what we do: sleep, eat, wake, talk, do.

There is beauty in the transactional, I won’t lie to you.  I want to tell my friends how fun my weekend was, the birthday parties, the beaches.  I want to tell the story of how Ethan got stuck on a playground in a playhouse window, like a little monkey, screaming “Mama!  Save me!”

But it’s death to leave our relationships in the transactional level, where all of life is a calendar of activities.  Where you are stuck looking at the world from the perspective of causality.  This happened and this resulted, plain and simple.

I want to live in a world where I talk about the birthday parties, but also the wisdom we’ve gained getting older. I want to talk about the absurdity of parenting, but also the effort I’m putting in trying to shape a moral human being, one who cares about his friends.  I want transcendent relationships, rising above the clouds of the mundane.
I want to be able to say “I’m [physically] tired because I work now.”   But I do myself a disservice if I don’t also talk about the possibility that I may be existentially tired because I have not learned how to nurture my soul during the soul-sucking 10hr/week  commute.  I truly believe the answer to tired problem goes beyond “Go to bed earlier.”

I still cannot believe how difficult it is to live in the transcendent, despite the time I spent reflecting in worship at a church service every week, the time I spend journalling, and the blog posts I love reading on lunch breaks about the more of life. After all, this is a world where I may only see true friends once or twice a week, and possibly only for an hour or two at a time, it is hard to get beyond the transactional.

If it’s hard with old friendships, it’s triply hard with the new friendships, where you need to joyfully spend the time in those early conversations with transactional conversation such as “Where do you live,” “What are your hobbies?”

This isn’t a blog post with a tidy solution at the end – I wish it was. For all of my desires to live beyond the everyday, to read about the best questions to draw out friends and family, and my active attempts to practice it, I still catch myself going days without looking under the surface of my experiences, or prying the lid off glib responses of “good” to “how was your day.”

But I try.

If you liked this reflection, you will also enjoy – A midsummer reflection on spiritual gifts, and advice for the inbetween times.

Going beyond transactional relationships

Convincing Others to Set Goals

DirectionI’m a vision seeking, goal setting, to-do list making person. I suspect you are too.

However, it’s likely that you run into people in your daily life who could care less about setting goals.  It’s also likely that you may manage some of them, or perhaps, be tasked with converting them to goal setting.  The horror!

How can you go about convincing others to set goals?

Here are some common excuses I’ve heard, and ways to work around these road blocks.

Every time I set goals, I fail!

Lots of people set goals… many of them on January first.  Others set department goals in response to initiatives from management.  Both of these sets of goals are often unrealistic, quickly lost in the daily to-do lists, or require a lot of metaphorical moving parts that don’t exist at hand.  Unsurprisingly, these goals fail because of lack of planning and so many things outside the goal-setter’s ability to control.

If this is the reason you hear for someone’s lack of goals setting, you need to help them assess why that goal didn’t work, and get their confidence back.  Ask questions such as:

Was the goal you set realistic? Did you have the time and money to accomplish the goal, or was it a stretch? Did it require other people who didn’t have time to dedicate to the project?  Was the goal in line with your overall priorities for the year?

One goal I had for this year was to run a half-marathon, and I was hoping to do it in May.  However this goal directly conflicted with my volunteering goals, and goal to get a job.  I used my free time to pursue those goals, rather than run.  Therefore I “failed” in respect to my half-marathon goal.  I didn’t take a moment to assess how much free time I had, sometime simply assessing resources will help people set realistic goals.

I already have a to-do list.

Yep, me too.

Let’s go back to that first sentence “Vision seeking, goal setting, to-do list making”  I’m surprised how often people mix up those three items, but they are absolutely not the same thing. Your goals are not another to-do list, and furthermore your goals should flow from your vision.  Vision is focused, and it starts at the top.  It’s the 50,000 foot view, not the street view.  When you decide where you’re going to go, it means you can’t see travel down all the side streets.

I hate that.

With every cell in my body I want to be able to do all the things I like to do, read all the books, see all the friends, run all the races, write all the blog posts.

But a vision means that you have a place you’re going.

Here’s the good news.

Having a vision means your to-do list can get shorter.

Why is that? Because it becomes easier to stop adding things to your list and life that don’t matter.  You stop getting so attached to projects that don’t contribute to your bottom line, or your overall success.  It becomes easier to look at other people who are doing those things and say “It’s great that they can do that, but it doesn’t contribute to my happiness or my plan.”

If this is the reason someone gives you, ask them questions that get at the types of items on their to do list.  Ask: Are these tasks contributing to your overall success?  Who sets your to-do list?

I don’t have time to set goals.

Imagine you’re heading from Salem, Massachusetts to San Diego, California, and you have a timeline of a week to travel there. So you set out on your bike. By the end of the first day you realize, “There’s a long way to go, and I’m not even close to meeting my first deadline. I better work harder.”  It doesn’t matter how hard you work pedaling that bicycle, you will not make it to California in a week.  Google maps estimates that it’ll take you 269 hours, and there’s only 168 hours in a week!

A lot of times people think there’s not time to set goals, then set out on their bike to make a cross-country trip.  But, taking a look at the vision, and then assessing the methods you’ll use to achieve them is crucial.  Instead of using a bicycle – try a car, or a plane!  Suddenly you’ll find a lot more time in your schedule, once you’ve assessed the methods for tackling your to do lists.

Setting intentional goals save time because you can properly assess your resources, build your team, and cut out the side trips, and finally, picking the appropriate vehicle to travel in.

The next time you run into people who are skeptical about goal setting, figure out the why behind their excuses, and then set them straight.  Gently.

Convincing Others to Set Goals
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