Self-defining

There are those days or events in life that define you. Some of those events or days are accomplishments such as graduating, getting married, accepting an important invitation, changing jobs/careers, etc. while others are negative unexpected events or bad news. A few events are self-realization moments that could normally be considered average days. Each of us have our own moments and react to them differently so they uniquely define us when we acknowledge and embrace them.

I’d like to share one of the unexpected moments & my first experience with self-realization and definition. My high school had a ski team, even though we lived outside of Kansas City. I took an ‘elective’ class called Mixed Chorus. It was simply a choice on a piece of paper that worked with the time frame I needed, I had no idea that choice would be the first that led to such a defining life moment.

The mixed chorus teacher was the leader of the ski team club. One day during class he mentioned there were still openings for the trip to Keystone, Colorado that the ski team was taking in a couple of months. As a born day dreamer I blocked out everything else that he said after that. I visualized myself there (without realizing at the age of 15 what visualization was). I saw the mountains and snowfall in my mind. But when I came back to reality I knew my parents would not have the money. My mother was a stay at home mom most of the time and my father made enough to pay the bills, most months…with some help from family now and then. And I had just been given the gift of a baby sister a few months before the trip announcement.

Despite the possibility of me going seeming impossible, I talked about the trip to my friends for a couple weeks in between classes. My excitement grew. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I finally got up the nerve to mention it to my mom while I was helping with dinner one night. I did not expect her response. She looked at me and said “let’s see what we can do.”

I was shocked that it was now even a discussion topic, but after thinking back, I’m not shocked that my mom saw how excited I was about the mere thought of the opportunity and how much it meant to me. So with a mother’s love she talked to my dad and mentioned a temporary part time job she could work at night to help make this happen. Also, since I was not going to ski, it would be cheaper for me than the other students. The teacher/ski team leader assigned me as the point person for each team member to check in with at the lodge at designated times so I wouldn’t feel like a complete outcast!

Within the next couple of weeks we had paid the deposit for the transpiration and hotel, with a balance due the week of the trip. As my mom dropped me off at the school to climb aboard the charter bus, she gave me a tight hug and said ‘enjoy yourself’. I knew this was not only a financially difficult time, but also hard for her to let me go that far from home for the first time with ‘strangers’. I climbed on the bus and had one friend to sit with, the others were older and students I barely knew with a few parents as chaperones.

The bus had three, yes three, flats on the way out. We were way behind schedule. When we finally arrived at the hotel in Keystone, we were all so exhausted! We only had a few hours before we had to be up and meet the shuttle to the lodge/slopes. I had three roommates and we all just dropped our bags and quickly fell asleep. The early morning wake up call got us all out of bed with excitement about the day! One of my roommates threw open the curtains and the four of us stood in silence for several minutes at the view of snow covered mountains.

Once at the lodge, everyone was given instructions about checking in with me, I had my little notebook and was ready to just enjoy the views! I used some of my very limited meal money to buy a cup of hot chocolate and claim a comfy chair right in front of the large windows toward the slopes. I used my little film camera to take a few photos and read the book I had brought. This was me…It was the first time in my life I was ‘on my own’, I felt so grown up, so independent, I was enjoying some me time and I loved it!

That night we went as a group to a small shopping village that had an ice rink in the middle of the various shops. I browsed a bit in one of the souvenir shops and I purchased a geode key chain, that I still have on my keys to this day. My friend was still browsing so I walked outside. There were some tables around the outside of the ice rink and a hot dog vendor nearby. I got my hot dog and chips and sat at a small table near the end of the rink. I finished my meal and simply enjoyed the setting, taking it all in, reflecting on my life, my future…everything. It was a very surreal moment for me.

My quiet reflection time was interrupted by someone asking if they could sit with me. I looked up, and saw it was a male classmate that I had only spoken to a few times in my school life. He sat down and we made small talk about the ice rink, the lodge and the mountains. It all felt like a dream. We laughed and talked like we had known each other much better than we actually did. As we finished up one topic and looked out over the rink, it began to snow. The snow made the moment feel like a fairy tale. We sat awhile longer in silence. It’s one of those moments that I think back to as a ‘happy place’. We didn’t talk much after that, but sharing that moment confirmed it not just a dream.

The next three days and nights were spent similar to day one; views from the lodge, gatherings each night, and self-reflection. I learned a lot about myself in those quiet alone time moments. When I got back home I was different, maybe it wasn’t visible to others, but I was more me than I had ever been. I knew that personal reflection time was something I wanted to keep in my life even if I didn’t have a perfect mountain view or sit in the snow with a boy near an ice rink.

That trip allowed me to realize a few things about myself, that there was more to the world than a small country town and it helped define who I am today. I can’t imagine how differently my life would have been if I had chosen another elective or never had the nerve to talk to my mom about the trip. I would have missed out on a life defining moment just by making a couple of different choices or keeping my excitement to myself.

Life leads us where we need to be professionally and personally. Faith and hope allow us to embrace life’s crossroads and provides us with the tools and resources we need to make the decisions that define our future. We have to trust ourselves and take action toward our goals. If I want something or find myself daydreaming I think back to the courage my 15 year old self had and the obstacles that were overcome because I spoke up and had an amazing circle of support.

What moments have helped define you, your path, your career, your outlook?

Thank you for reading and allowing me share.

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More than just skills are required

An interaction last week reminded me of the importance of personality shining through rather than just skills listed in sequence on a resume. I assisted with an interview for a temporary worker for an employee that was going to be off for a couple of weeks. The resumes for two prospective hires looked similar, well written, good experience, etc. The two interviews could not have been more opposite though!

The first was energetic, saying good morning to everyone she saw as she checked in for the interview, and presented herself in a very confident manner. The second was quiet and almost rude to the person she checked in with, she did not look anyone in the eye as she barely answered questions and she did not allow any personality to shine through at all.

This is what reminded me of how important being confident in your skills, sharing some of your unique personality and showing every employee, throughout the company, the same common courtesy you show the actual interviewers. A lot of employers ask the receptionist, security, maintenance, etc. how the interviewee interacted with them.

It should be common practice to be well-groomed, no sunglasses inside, no gum chewing, don’t bring friends or family (or strangers for that matter) with you, be polite, etc. With that said, I have listed a few more tips below that I hope help you relax and feel confident when preparing for an interview.

  •  If you check in with a receptionist or front office support person, get their name. When you are introduced to the interviewer, turn to the person you checked in with, call them by name and thank them. Also, include their name in the thank you letter you send as a follow up to the interviewer(s), especially if they are extra helpful with something again don’t make up something, but just be perceptive
  • Speak to everyone you encounter; saying hello, good morning or good afternoon, etc. Be yourself. Don’t force interactions, but be polite to those you meet or see even if briefly
  • Know your resume and the job descriptions; highlight your skills required for the position – study your own resume…sounds simple, but try to focus on the skills you have that relate to specific requirements the prospective job requires. If one requirement is multitasking or handling a busy front desk give examples from past experience that relates to that. For example ‘while at my previous employer (or current position) I supported a department of ten and have formulated a system for prioritizing deadlines…’
  • Don’t be too serious, be respectful, but also allow some of your unique personality to show through. Incorporate personal hobbies or a personality trait in an answer. For a simple example if you have an antique coin collection that you have had for years, maybe it was passed down through your family, you could say that collection has helped you learn to pay attention to detail, research, etc.
  • Practice interview questions with a friend or even with yourself; review average interview questions and be prepared to answer. Even if you are asked ‘if you were a cereal what kind would you be and why?’…Yes, I had that asked to me once. Seriously. My answer? “Granola, I realize it’s not a standard cereal like corn flakes, but I’m unique, not standard either, I like to try and be healthy, but I’m not always, and I think granola is a little bit of a nature lover and so am I.”….the man said it was better the last person’s answer of ‘Apple Jacks…because I like apples’ (insert a giggle here)….I think that is a unique question, you can’t really be prepared in advance to answer it, but be ready to share a little about yourself!

Have you had a unique question? Any tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you!

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