After several years of professional coaching and much longer collaborating with women in the workplace, I've noticed a trend where we tend to burn ourselves out without knowing exactly why. Usually the default explanation for this behavior assumes that women just don't know how to set boundaries, or are uncomfortable with saying "no." While this may be the case in some situations, perhaps it's also because we haven't taught women how to filter the many requests for their time in a way that allows them to align their efforts with their purpose. There are lots of inspirational quotes floating around the internet about how we need to spend our efforts on our passions rather than things that consume our energy, but how exactly do you tell the difference?
I've been blessed to have a very clear calling to make as great an impact as possible on my community and the people who influence it. With that calling came an understanding that I have to accept that I can't help everyone. At the risk of sounding like the Godfather, I've had to develop ways to determine whether something is worth the investment of my time and energy. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way:
1) Know what you're trying to accomplish. Let's take networking as an example. I've met women who take every single volunteer opportunity they are offered as a way to get their name out in the community. It's not long before they're busy being busy and wonder what they're really contributing or getting out of supporting so many different causes. Before you jump to accept every offer, think about your goals. If your objective is to build relationships with a particular demographic, don't jump into projects that won't offer that opportunity. It's ok to say no to something that doesn't align with your objectives! You only have so much time, so give yourself permission to use it in a focused way.
One of the successful community leaders I admire most researches the boards and committees he wants to serve on years in advance of getting involved. He sees where their most valuable connections are, to the point of mapping out the influence that can be leveraged through each team. While you may not have to go to this extent, put some thought into how an opportunity will bring you closer to your goal before you say yes!
2) Work with people who will help you succeed. How do you get a feel for whether someone will be the type of partner or client to have the motivation for you to succeed together? One of the easiest ways is to offer to help someone and give them a next step to see if they will take you up on it.
I once attended a reception for women who graduated from a leadership program. I went around to each of them, congratulated them on their accomplishments, and gave them all my card with an invitation to keep in touch and let me know how I could help them in their next chapter. Out of all the women I talked to that day, one reached out and asked me to lunch. After that introduction, we developed a long mentoring relationship, and I invested a great deal of my time and energy in supporting her because I was impressed by her motivation to learn. I would have extended the same effort in her other classmates, but nobody else took me up on my offer. That act alone doesn't guarantee someone will be successful, but it sure helps get a feel for who is committed to pushing themselves outside their comfort zone. Those are the kind of people I want to be surrounded by.
I've been blessed that I haven't solely relied on income from BLC to pay my bills, which has allowed me to be much more selective about the work I take on. I recognize that not everyone has this privilege, however it is an approach that can be worked into many business plans. I receive many more requests for coaching services than the number I end up taking on as clients. I'm sure this has cost me money but to me, my reputation and the results I promise are much more important than short-term gain. I don't want to coach people who I don't feel are ready or committed at this stage in their life, or have more complex issues going on than I will be able to address. By saying no, I can prioritize my time for people whose lives I am more likely to impact, which is my ultimate goal.
3) Don't wait to be asked. Is there a Board you'd love to serve on or a prospective client you'd like to meet? Make a wishlist of relationships you'd love to have, think about how you could set up those introductions, and then to work reaching out!
Some of the most important people in my life started as strangers who I sought out. Did you read about someone interesting in the newspaper? See a great accomplishment on social media? Get in touch to say congratulations and see when you could get together over coffee or lunch to learn more about how they're achieving their goals. While it may sound intimidating to ask people out on a "professional date," I promise you won't get the scary responses you're imaging. Most people will be flattered and take you up on it, and who knows how you could collaborate from there! (On the off chance they do, here are some ways to bounce back from rejection so you can keep trying!) I've hired people this way, found business partners this way, and it's really the only guaranteed method to build your sphere of influence. If you take charge of the individuals and organizations you want to work with and develop a plan to engage them, you'll do the kind of work that gives you energy rather than leaves you drained.