Is there anything more powerful or captivating than a good story? One where the heroine is challenged and struggles to the breaking point, only to dig deep, find her resolve and some unexpected aspect of her story that helps her solve the puzzle, get the bad guy, win the election, save the child, acquire the keys to the c-suite, or find Oz? Like Dorothy, whose persistent focus and desire to help her friends, showed us how she had what she needed all along once she had the encouragement to believe in herself. She was able to tap into her gifts and that led her to the end of the Yellow Brick Road.
My love of story and more specifically sharing our stories, advice and lessons in ways that can create inspiration and motivation for others is what ultimately shaped the podcast I host each week. She Said/She Said Podcast started as a way to showcase the leadership stories, advice and best career practices of a broad array of women. While it’s still that, it has also become a lens into one specific dimension that I believe is fundamental to true leadership: understanding and building influence in your career and life.
Why influence? It’s what makes you the person that others want to work with, gravitate toward, and listen to. It’s what often differentiates one job candidate with a similar resume from another, it’s what can help you weather the choppy waters and ups and downs of balancing work and life — including career pivots, and it’s what often will result in a happier existence overall.
So, how can you build influence practices into your life in your 20s in ways that will serve you well into your career? Here are a few important tips that might help you! And, you can find lots, lots more at She Said/She Said Podcast!
1- Understand your story: Your story includes those elements when you were at your best (winning the prize, crushing the goal, saving the puppy, etc… ), and also those times when you were at your less than best. It’s a mix of all your experiences: how and where you grew up, the role your parents or caregivers played, advice you’ve been given, jobs you’ve held, criticism and praise others have shared, relationships and friendships, essentially the experiences you’ve had and how they shape the way you see the world and think about who you are.
2- When you look at your story, what elements jump out at you? What’s the narrative you see or hear? Is it positive? Does it emphasize what you’ve learned and how your experiences have given you unique skills and perspective that is valuable and differentiating? If not….
3- Be willing to edit your story: if the storyline you hear as you reflect on your story doesn’t emphasize how you have learned from your experiences (even the bad or less positive ones), revise it. Shift the focus to how you are better as a result of what happened. Let that more positive version become the one you tell yourself when you encounter a new challenge or obstacle.
4- Invest in your growth: if you are in your 20s, you already understand the value of investing in your education. As you progress and get busier and busier in your life and career, it can be increasingly difficult to make the time to invest in yourself, and yet those precious windows of time are critical to thinking creatively about problems and challenges you will face. Three pieces of advice here: 1. schedule regular dates with yourself to do something not work related that give you a fresher perspective on the world (that can include listening to podcasts like She Said/She Said Podcast 😉); 2. build time into your schedule for personal reflection. As you reflect, use the time to practice identifying when you were and were not at your best and what you learned. 3. Set regular intervals — maybe once a quarter — to give yourself a report card on how you are doing. DO NOT use this as an opportunity to beat yourself up or compare yourself to others! It’s about celebrating your progress and what you are learning, even (and especially) if you are learning as a result of setbacks!
5- Set both “success” and “failure” goals: As you set goals for what you want to accomplish, remember to also set back up goals. Essentially, push yourself to take risks, but have backup plans ready for how you’ll tackle the challenge if and when you fail. If you have a plan for what comes next after taking that big risk, you’ll increase your comfort level in taking the risk in the first place.
6- Build your network, and evolve it as you evolve, and seek feedback: the most successful people I know have massive networks that they draw from, but as a wise business coach once advised me, “Don’t go to the hardware store to buy bread.” She meant, be mindful of whom you are asking for advice on which topic. If the person doesn’t have any experience with whatever the topic is, then find someone who does! That advice is also a good reminder for which comments — especially the unsolicited ones — you listen to. Remember: Not all feedback is created equal, and (most importantly) feedback does reflect your value as a person!
7- Getting along with people you find “impossible” or who don’t share your views: One of the most important things to remember about getting along with others is this: everyone wants to feel seen, heard and valued. Even if you think the other person is completely misguided, approach them with respect. You’re much more likely to find common ground from which to build a connection and maybe even create something together. It really is ok to “agree to disagree.”
8- Keep a list of what is most valuable to you and what you will not compromise on: Measure any decision you are making against this list. How does it hold up? When you have to make trade offs, doing so consciously and with clear-eyed awareness can be incredibly important. I’m often asked for advice on how to balance work and life, especially when you have children. There is one simple answer to this question: Ruthless prioritization. There will always be trade offs, but when you have your list of what’s most important handy, it can make your decision making in the moment much easier.
9- Share your influence: As you build a following and your expertise in whatever it is that you do, use it to help others create opportunities for themselves and to succeed. One of the most powerful ways to gain more influence is to share it!
10- Join me for She Said/She Said Podcast where you will find lots more crowdsourced advice from a broad array of smart, thoughtful, accomplished women!
Regardless of your particular path or journey, it all begins and ends with your story — the story you tell yourself, and the one that you share with the world. I love that famous line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” How you understand, edit, and reflect upon your story is key to how you will bring your unique value and influence to the world.
Laura Cox Kaplan is the founder She Said/She Said Media and Podcast.