By delida costin • March 05, 2016•Writers in Residence, Careers, Other Career Issues, Law School, Other Law School Issues, Issues, Balancing Private and Professional Life
A young woman invited me to tea. She told me that she knew the importance of networking, mentorship versus sponsorship, personal branding, leaning in and doing good work to build a career. She told me she was working on it. Then she asked a question that stumped me. She asked whether I would share the guidelines, or a framework, that I used consistently to sort specific decisions. I gave her an answer that I don't even remember, and our visit ended -- but her question lingered.
It lingered because I wasn't savvy enough to ask that sort of question when I was so early in my career; I was impressed. It lingered because I did not meet a thoughtful question with a thoughtful answer. So, I looked back through time at certain crossroads in my life and tried to pull to the surface the conscious and unconscious decision trees that I have used. Then I asked myself, "What decision-making processes have remained constant through time?"
A few weeks later, I called her to invite her to tea. I gave her a proper response and then turned my answer into the topic of a keynote that I gave last month to scholarship recipients. Here is the transcript, edited for length.
Goodness. How do we reach out and grab it for ourselves and for our communities?
Goodness. It often arrives in the wake of good choices, movement, resilience and tribe building.
I want everybody in the room to take a minute to think about that friend of yours who always makes good choices. Got it?
Now imagine that friend of yours who always makes bad choices. Got that?
Take another minute.
Now, let's focus on the choices that you make. Imagine one morning you get two phone calls, one from each friend. Each is inviting you to hang for the day, go for a ride and take care of some errands. What kind of "that-was-a-great-day" sunny joy memories might you create with the friend who makes good choices? What kind of hot mess can you get into with the friend who makes bad ones? Imagine a string of mornings where you have that choice. What opportunities, what challenges appear? What if you string those mornings into months or years? Is there more sunny joy than hot mess in your life?
Make a choice
The first way to grab goodness is to make a choice to grab it. Now sometimes the only choices are bad ones. I get that. And yet, even when all options are terrible and you are tired and feel defeated, in that moment the trick is to determine the best choice possible. Then set a course where one good choice leads to a better good choice, which leads to an even better good choice.
It's also okay if others frown on your choice. What matters is that you make the best choice for yourself in the moment. Cutting class makes teachers and parents very upset. Yet, I have no regrets about cutting classes in high school because I discovered the Museum of Modern Art. Goodness.
The second way to grab goodness is to move. Just move. Sometimes you won't know how to make the right choice. That's okay. Move anyway. Move in the direction that will generate abundance, or joy, or the grade, or love, or adventure or independence or financial security. Move towards what feels right. Or move away from the things that will strangle your opportunities. It's okay if you don't know what will happen next. You won't find out unless you start doing.
You can always course correct if you need to. When I moved to California, I asked my dad, "What happens if I miss the east coast?" My dad said, "Then you'll move back east." Course correction.
The third way to grab goodness is to develop resilience. You're going to need this because sometimes all your choices will be bad and you'll get beat up. Sometimes, you'll move in the wrong direction. Sometimes, the hot messes out there will land at your feet. You are going to fail exams, receive harsh feedback, be betrayed, miss deadlines, experience death, fight with your best friend. Resilience is dropping to a knee for a moment/a day/a month/a year to recover and get a feel for the next step . . . and then . . . getting up. We have a choice of how to respond when things get tough. We can curl up under the table and stop trying, embarrassed and defeated. We can also get angry, mad and belligerent. While there's a time and a place for both, the more interesting path is to try to walk the middle with grace.
We learn the most when things get tough, so move in the direction of challenge. Don't be embarrassed by a setback; learn from it. Don't get so angry that you make it hard for the person who is making you angry to say yes to you tomorrow.
Gather your tribe
Finally, gather your tribe. Your tribe isn't necessarily your network, which you also will need to build, but that's a different speech. Your tribe isn't necessarily your family, but often your family is part of your tribe. Your tribe is comprised of the people who have your back. You may need to search for them through the years. They are the people who are in your corner, even when they don't know what you're fighting. They are the ones who will forgive the hurt that you cause them when you make horrible nasty choices. Your tribe-folk may not always like you, and they may not even want to talk to you regularly, but they will demand that you stand on their shoulders beyond the point of their own fatigue when you need a boost -- and you'll do the same for them.
Go Grab Some Good
You are about to embark on a new adventure. You are here because you have already grabbed goodness and you're on your way to continue your education. One of the most precious gifts that you can give to yourself is the habit of grabbing goodness. It will carry you through school, through your first jobs, through your careers. It will be the gift that you give to the generations who will follow you.
So, when you get those two calls from those two friends just stop and think: do you want sunny joy memories or hot mess? Then, grab the good. Bring it into your community. Take it with you. Reach for it with every choice and every move. Look for challenges so that you can develop resilience. Gather your tribe and hold them tight.
Do you know your tribe? Let me know in the comments below.
Delida Costin is the former general counsel of Pandora Media and lynda.com. She is also a proud alumna of Boston University School of Law. She frequently speaks about leadership, legal practice and diversity.
Learn more about Delida on her website: www.delidacostin.com
Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/delidacostin