Grow Your Circle

In March 2018 I had the honor of presenting during the Leadership day of the Spectrum conference hosted annually at RIT by the Rochester chapter of STC. My content was very well received but for one reason or another, I’ve never shared it with my peers or made it publicly available in its entirety … until now. Yesterday while I was presenting Grow Your Circle for the second time, a terrifying and unexpected thing happened at the point which I open up about my own journey. I started to cry. Fortunately, I was presenting to a group of individuals known for their uplifting behaviors and also whom I’ve had the privilege of building relationships with over the years. Thanks to their encouragement (and tissues) I was able to finish albeit skipping parts. This is the presentation that taught me that vulnerability is ultimately necessary to grow your circle.

Our actions and thoughts are shaped by the culture in which we grow up. Regardless of where we are born and raised, our culture those ideas, customs and social norms of our community will inevitably have an effect on the way we act and think throughout our lives. We learn from the people around us and over time these learned actions turn into habits. Eventually, these habits become second nature, almost automatic.

As children, we are told not to talk to strangers, “stranger danger!” But today I’m going to share with you why we MUST talk to strangers and grow our circles to improve our wellbeing. Whether you are a student, a parent, a manager, or an individual contributor, this presentation is for you. You will learn why growing your circle improves your wellbeing, who should be in your circle, and how to grow it.

Wellbeing can be defined as a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential. Your wellbeing is multidimensional and holistic; it’s your whole-of life experience. According to the National Wellness Institute, your wellbeing is improved by:

  • The benefits of regular physical activity and healthy eating habits
  • Creative and stimulating mental activities and sharing your gifts with others
  • The enrichment of life through work
  • Self-esteem, self-control, and determination as a sense of direction
  • How a person contributes to their environment and community AND
  • The development of belief systems, values, and social networks

There are a lot of models that put YOU first. My favorite appears during the pre-flight briefing when the flight attendant instructs you to fit your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. I don’t think anyone argues with this logic because it’s pretty obvious that without oxygen you couldn’t help others if you tried. But why then do we continue to prioritize our kids, our careers, and other pursuits over our own wellbeing? Maybe those scenarios are more like slow air leaks that don’t always result in lost cabin pressure. It’s what every else is doing right – or is it? Look a little closer at the people you admire or those that influence you. Do you have the full picture or do you just see what’s on stage? We’ll come back to that. Your circle starts with YOU. What is YOUR purpose, what are YOUR strengths, what is YOUR passion? This is your core.

Looking for your purpose? If you struggle to answer this question, ask yourself how do you want to be described or what impact do you want to have on the world. Your purpose is what motivates you. No one else can answer this question for you and your motivation cannot serve to meet the expectations of others.

Not sure what your strengths are? Appreciate your uniqueness; you are the first person to have had your exact genes and experiences. It’s true; I read that scientists have found psychological and biological differences even occur between identical twins. Only you have experienced your exact cocktail of environments, which will never influence another person exactly the same way again.

Your environment or culture may have prevented you from discovering your strengths. For example, if you’ve never been to the ocean how do you know you’re not a great surfer. You have no idea what strengths you have that are undiscovered. The more new situations you expose yourself to, the more opportunities you have to discover unknown strengths.

Challenge assumptions about what you’ve been told are “acceptable strengths” for you based on your gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Meet new people. Try to create as many new opportunities for yourself as possible to discover your strengths. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Take courses on subjects you’re curious about but have never studied. I like taking free courses offered by universities around the world using

Travel. If you can’t afford to travel, take virtual vacations via Snapchat maps to see what people are doing in other countries. What are their customs, what are they talking about, what do they value? When the hurricane hit Florida last year the media had me terrified for my family down there. But I went on “Snapmaps” and watched the stories of strangers all up and down the coastline. There was some wind, some rain, and some branches falling but nobody was panicking. Some people were even throwing hurricane parties, enjoying some wine and cheese safely indoors. The newscasters were broadcasting from the middle of a flooded street so I didn’t have the whole picture. What I found most fascinating was the custom of throwing all the lawn furniture in the pools to prevent it from blowing away. Everyone was doing it! I’ve never lived in a hurricane zone so I didn’t know this was a thing.

Determine skills and abilities that would be useful to the world. Set clear goals for mastering those rare and valuable skills. What do you have to offer? Which strengths need to be developed? Who can you learn from? We aren’t born with preexisting passions. Engage in deliberate practice, push your skills and abilities to mastery. As you get better, you will develop confidence in yourself. As you develop confidence, you begin to deeply enjoy what you’re doing and become very passionate about it. We weren’t born with preexisting passions. Engage in deliberate practice, push your skills and abilities to mastery. As you get better, you will develop confidence in yourself. As you develop confidence, you begin to deeply enjoy what you’re doing and become very passionate about it.

There are three rings around your core which support your wellbeing. They are: emotional/physical, career/financial, and social/community. These rings are made up of people such as family, friends, teachers, doctors, advisors, colleagues, neighbors, etc. The people in your circle influence and support you. Or as Jim Rohn says, “We are an average of the five people we spend the most time with.”

Draw this circle on a piece of paper. In the empty space, jot down what skills or behaviors you would like to improve. Are there people currently in your circle that have these skills and behaviors? If nobody comes to mind, consider writing down names of authors or podcasters. For me, snapchat stories and Youtube have had the most influence because they are somewhat authentic windows into the lives of people around the world. I’ve picked up a lot of positive new habits and life hacks just from catching a glimpse into the everyday lives of those I follow. I spotted a lazy Susan in someone’s fridge one day and I was like, “why didn’t I think of that!” It’s a game changer let me tell ya! As I introduce you to each layer of the circle, take inventory and while you are at it, ask yourself if there’s anyone in your circle that is a negative influence or discourages you from improving your wellbeing?

An active mind and low stress are key to a long life. Neuroscientists have found that regular exercise increases the production of new neurons in the areas of your brain that are related to learning and memory. Exercise also improves mood and reduces stress. Do you have people in your circle that you exercise with or that encourage you to exercise? I’ll admit, my husband won’t exercise and that makes him a negative influence but it doesn’t mean he’s out of the circle! No, it just means I have to grow my circle. I am currently on the lookout for positive influences with habits that I’d like to adopt.

In the same way that a sedentary lifestyle adversely impacts your body and emotions, a lack of mental work weakens your neural connections, which is why it’s important to exercise your brain in different ways. To prevent losing brain flexibility, avoid getting trapped in patterns and routines. Get out, try new activities, and meet new people. Experiencing new social interactions are the best exercise for the brain.

Eat nutritious foods, Move regularly. Stretch. Don’t procrastinate your routine visits with the doctor. And why not check in with a behavioral health specialist a few times a year or try acupuncture, reiki, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and infrared sauna at least once to see if you like it.

We are essential each operating a vehicle wired in ways which the medical world continues to research. You only get one of these vehicles. There are no rentals when it breaks down and there are no trade-ins when it quits. All the money in the world can’t buy you a new one. For this reason, proper maintenance is unequivocally your number one priority.

Financial wellness is having an understanding of your financial situation and being prepared for financial changes. To maintain that balance, be comfortable with where your money comes from and where it’s going. Are the “Joneses” in your circle? Are you spending above your means to keep up with them? They may be a negative influence but you don’t have to get rid of the Joneses you just need to look for new influences.

Is your work fulfilling? If you Google how successful people define success you’ll find they all seem to agree it’s measured by happiness and fulfillment, not by wealth or notoriety. That is because when you become really good at something and generously use your skills to help others, you’re dedicated to something bigger than yourself. You will feel most fulfilled when you’re engaged in work you have control or autonomy over and it makes a tangible impact on the lives of other people. You can only have this type of work by developing mastery, investing in others, and being a giver. When you give, your unique skills and abilities continue to develop and grow.

For a long time, I defined my career as a means to make money and I always needed more money because separating from my first husband bankrupted me. I was horrible at budgeting so I actually couldn’t afford to eat. My co-workers surely thought I had some kind of disorder because I only weighed 100 lbs and I was rarely seen eating lunch. I fed my son well but I’d sip a diet vanilla coke all day and occasionally bring in some steamed broccoli and rice for lunch. I remember one Christmas I wrapped boxes of marshmallow cereal and put them under the tree as gifts for my son who was 3 years old at the time. He was delighted because we don’t keep sweets in the house but I was beside myself because I worked so hard and my annual raises didn’t seem to make a difference. I picked up part-time jobs to cover unexpected bills and I posted for leadership positions because they were higher paygrades. When I didn’t get the leadership positions I decided to go back to school in hopes a shiny new degree would increase my odds. While I value my education there was no confetti, no streamers, or anyone handing me one of those oversized checks in the end. It was just another day on the job.

I was brought up in a culture where what I accomplished and how well I accomplished it was rewarded with approval and acceptance, so I poured through leadership books and took on extra challenges to prove myself. I was falsely motivated by striving for perfection but thankfully, the positive influences in my circle inspired me to focus on self-improvement, healthy achievement, and growth instead. Here’s what experience has taught me:  Leadership is coaching, listening, delegating, setting expectations, managing performance and confronting conflict. If you want more money but don’t want these responsibilities, don’t apply for a leadership position and if you are a leader but you don’t want those responsibilities, TAP OUT. Don’t wait for the oxygen mask to drop. If you feel fulfilled doing the work you currently do but need more money, ASK FOR IT. Determine how much more you want and ask what YOU need to produce or accomplish to earn it. Most likely it won’t be an easy goal to reach but this will help you determine how to grow your circle.

Need to sell more widgets, reduce administrative costs, and increase production? if you don’t know how to do this you’re going to need a creative solution, and so you’ll need to diversify your perspectives and ideas. Diversity is the magic ingredient of creativity; it’s our differences that help us see connections where others don’t. In order to implement your idea, you will need a supportive group, a willing market, favorable regulation, capable execution, and functional technology. That’s how you innovate. If you don’t have all those things, add more people to your circle to learn the business, collaborate, and SELL your ideas. The more champions you have more credibility, influence, and confidence you will have (the wider your range).

Avoid isolation! As social animals we’re wired to seek the company of others; belonging to a group has always been crucial to our survival. This need is so strong that social disconnection causes real pain, one that neuroscience has shown is reinforced by our brain chemistry. Gravitate toward people with common passions and beliefs. We behave or think differently depending on who we are with. Who we interact with influences our beliefs, goals, and actions. Culture can be so contagious, studies show that if we observe other people acting impulsively, we are more likely to be impulsive ourselves and neglect our long-term goals for a pleasurable moment. Even worse, the more we like the person observed, the stronger the effect is, and the more willpower we lose.

Look for people who share your goals. Volunteering or getting involved in projects that help other people in your community doesn’t just benefit others, you may find it brings you a deeper kind of happiness too. Finding a community of people who share your passions will help you realize your goals. Your passions are your own, but it’s often very beneficial to pursue them with other people. Finding people who share your passions can lead to new opportunities to fulfill your goals. Sometimes working with others is not only beneficial, but it’s also actually necessary. Some goals can only be achieved in large groups. Don’t pressure yourself into thinking you should achieve your goals alone, because that’s unrealistic.

Half-time. Pulse check. Hopefully, by this point in the presentation, we’re in agreement that you are not defined by your job title. As we move forward and you consider ways to grow your circle, keep in mind it is not a 2-dimensional illustration. While you look for people to influence and support you, consider who you are influencing and supporting.

Make development plans to improve the skills and behaviors you wish to improve in pursuit of your passions. The first step of growing your circle is sharing your development plans with people in your circle. Ask for their input. Do they recommend any skills or behaviors you hadn’t considered? Do you have skills you weren’t aware of? Do they have people in their circle they can introduce you to?

Talk to strangers! You don’t have to be an extrovert to grow your circle. I’m an outgoing introvert. I love talking to people while I’m talking to people but afterward, I’m exhausted. I love getting invited to events but then I have to muster up the energy to go when the time rolls around and if I’m being honest, sometimes I find excuses not to go if I think I can go unnoticed or I won’t let anyone down. Challenge yourself to meet at least one new person every time you are in a social situation before you duck out.

Be curious and show you care. Have empathy and notice people. Ask people about their habits and customs. Try this Grow Your Circle activity if you don’t have the gift of gab. When you are chatting with new people, challenge yourself to ask questions that help you uncover the most unique thing you have in common. This way you will learn a lot about each other.

If you want to get yourself invited or be included, reach out to the organizer and let them know you are interested. Be sure to tell them why you’d like to join in and what YOU can bring to the table; share what you have to offer. Be aware and be intentional about your interactions with others. Ask yourself, “how can I shape this meeting in a positive way?” It is by giving and investing in other people you grow your circle.

Be memorable. I had the pleasure of meeting the actress Rita Moreno from the movie Westside Story. I can’t remember what the luncheon was for but I will never forget our encounter. When we shook hands and I introduced myself as Roxy she said, “Always introduce yourself with your first AND last name, YOU ARE worth remembering.” Rita was a great addition to my circle.

Be visible and maintain relationships. You don’t have to develop a relationship schedule but if you don’t regularly see someone in your circle that can help to develop you, you will need to use post-it notes inside your medicine cabinet or set reminders in your calendar to touch base and set them frequently. I listen to podcasts and watch influencers on snapchat or Youtube every morning. I learn new customs and ideas every day. This makes them part of my circle.

Happiness comes from investing in someone other than you. Think about the most valuable player in your circle, what makes them your MVP? Be that person! Invest in others. Make time for them. It’s better to follow what successful people did to get there rather than to follow what they did after achieving success. So share your experiences with others when they ask for guidance.

Extend your credibility, be a champion for others. Make enthusiastic introductions  like this example, “I’m really excited this gal is joining the project because she has over 15 years experience with this software and has already told me some ideas that will be quick wins for our team!” Be open-minded and interested in what someone says to you. Be present. Put your phone down. Close your laptop. By doing this you will add to their confidence by making them feel heard, respected, and valued. Make introductions between people in your circle. Matchup strengths with weaknesses. Help others shine. If you receive more attention or are given more opportunities because you are in a more visible role, remember to redirect that attention onto those with less visible roles. Be yourself and be authentic. In a world of perfectly stated Instagram photos, photoshopped models, and Hollywood productions, we need more doses of reality.

I’d like to share one more story with you in closing. In February of last year, I was reminded of a much older story. You see my uncle is a math teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School down in Parkland Florida. He is still processing the events that unfolded during the shooting but he was otherwise unharmed. After the initial terror of it all, I started to reflect on the deeper impacts we all have in each other’s circles. But don’t worry, this story ends on a positive note.

In the spring of 1997, one year before graduation, I turned around in my seat and asked the boy behind me what he was listening to in his headphones. He pulled one side away and looked around skeptically. Staring down at the desk he answered quietly, “you’ve probably never heard of it,” so I asked him if I could listen. He looked around again before handing the headphones over to me. I listened for a minute and said, “you’re right that’s different, I’ve never heard anything like it, where’d you get it?” I don’t recall the name of the band or where he said he got it but I still remember that moment and I remember seeing his smile for the first time. Before that day, the boy and his friend were just two quiet guys in long black trench coats with bad acne but afterward, he was a friendly smile in the hallway and the straight-A student that helped improve my history grade.

If you recall that period, a couple years later there was a lot of attention on teens wearing long black trench coats. I wondered if the boys from my school were still wearing trench coats and if they were being given a hard time for it. I also caught myself wondering if they were at all like those boys from Columbine. I honestly don’t believe the trenchcoat boys from my school were capable of anything like that so I don’t claim to have prevented any violent crimes from happening but I can’t help but wonder what kind of impact, impression, or influence I had on him by briefly being a part of his circle.

When I was searching for my purpose, I thought of that moment and others just like it. My purpose is and always has been, to be the brightest part of someone’s day. I didn’t have a circle diagram with his name on it, there was no master plan to improve my history grade. I didn’t know school shootings were going to become an epidemic in our country and I definitely didn’t think noticing someone was going to be a defining moment in my life. I shared this story with you to demonstrate that growing your circle isn’t a worksheet and it’s not a checklist. It’s a mindset that starts with you. It is habits and behaviors you will pass onto your children and those who come in contact with you.

Talk to strangers, grow your circle. YOU have the ability to improve your wellbeing AND the wellbeing of OTHERS.


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