Self-compassion. It took me more than 15 years after business school and some major setbacks to grasp this concept, a simple but powerful concept which would have made my life during that time so much happier and my struggles so much easier.
Vanessa Loder graduated exactly a decade later from the same school – Stanford University, but she learned this, and several other important things, much faster, which she writes about in this article below.
Not only that, she is bringing these lessons to other high-achieving women, teaching them “how to shift from overwhelm to ease”. After a highly-coveted career in private equity, she founded Akoya Power and later co-founded Mindfulness Based Achievement, the New MBA, bridging business and technology with mindfulness and personal growth, to support overwhelmed women in giving themselves permission to create a fulfilling life based on their passions and values.
Mindfulness Based Achievement is offering its next online course starting on April 28th and in person program in San Francisco starting on May 6th. Click for details.
7 Things I Wish I Learned in Business School
By Vanessa Loder
Would you spend $200,000 on something if it didn’t make you happier? As it turns out, you can invest over $200,000 all in on a top MBA program these days and while you will on average earn more and have a better network upon graduation, that $200,000 investment does not guarantee you will feel happier.
I had a truly wonderful experience at Stanford Business School and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. And, now that I’ve quit my “safe” job in private equity to run my own business teaching Mindfulness Based Achievement programs to people who want to create Success with Ease, I’ve learned that there are some universal principles that are highly effective at 1) increasing happiness and 2) increasing success – and, surprisingly, I was completely unaware of these concepts while I was at Stanford.
I believe learning these seven practices is the best investment any individual can make in her or his career, and the research backs me up:
Be kind to yourself, especially when you feel bad. Learning how to fail without hating yourself in the process is probably the best business skill anyone could ever learn, in addition to being one of the most important life skills. This is linked to happiness, a feeling of worthiness, success, and even will power. Being able to love and accept yourself or at least comfort yourself when you fall down is critical to taking risks with your business. It helps you bounce back faster from the setbacks and seek out new opportunities without letting fear get in your way.
How do you practice self-compassion? Simple: start talking to yourself the way you would talk to a good friend. When you mess up, instead of saying “I suck, I can’t do anything right. I may as well give up”, tell yourself “at least you gave it a shot, you’re only human, we all make mistakes from time to time. It’s ok.” Be kind to yourself, after all, we are in our own minds our entire life. There is no one else whose voice you’ll hear more than your own! If you think your Board of Directors has the most say, think again.
2) Visioning Your Future Self.
One of the best ways to make your vision a reality is to get clear on it and then see yourself in it as if you ALREADY are that future self. Most Olympic athletes incorporate this technique in their training. Ask any competitive swimmer about guided visualization and you’ll get a vehement “Yes, it works!”, and yet corporate athletes are completely under-utilizing this tool. If you want a promotion, see yourself already in that position. If you want to start a company, see yourself as that future entrepreneur. You will draw in people and opportunities that lead you towards your ideal life by visualizing it and feeling the feelings in your body as if you already have that life. You are also more likely to take action, despite fear, if you connect with your future self.
3) Appreciation & Gratitude.
The more you appreciate what you already have, the more you will get. Simple as that. If you want to grow your sales territory, appreciate the territory you already have, even if you were assigned the smallest, crappiest region at your company. Once you start to appreciate it, you will suddenly see a new opportunity within your little region that you hadn’t noticed when you were taking it for granted, or someone will give you a larger territory, or nothing will change right away but you will feel happier about your job in the meanwhile. Sounds like a win/win to me.
When you practice appreciation on a daily basis, you will shift your whole attitude. The next thing you know, when someone is being obnoxious in a negotiation, you will appreciate their point of view, they will soften and you will walk away from the table with a more successful outcome.
My favorite way to cultivate appreciation is by playing the appreciation game. My husband and I do this all the time. At night when we’re in bed, we take turns saying three things we appreciate about the other person. At first my husband would groan and complain when I asked him to do this, and now he likes it – I swear! A couple months ago he even came to me and said “hey, it’s been a while since we did that appreciation thingy, want to do it?”. It put such a HUGE smile on my face! You can also play this game with yourself by thinking of three things you appreciate about yourself or that you’re grateful for in your life.
When I first started my business, before I had my first big corporate client, I often felt discouraged and thought “I don’t even have any clients yet, what is there to appreciate?” I forced myself to play the appreciation game about my startup and thought “well, I appreciate my logo. I’m proud of it” and before I knew it, I realized how far I had come and then I suddenly had a lot more strength to move ahead. Appreciation is like the gas that propels your business or career forward, and it’s Turbo Charged.
*For all you working moms: When I’m struggling with feeling guilty I haven’t spent enough time with my daughter on a given day, I’ll immediately appreciate three things about myself as a mother to counteract those judgments – and it really helps.
4) Trust and Patience.
I teach high achieving women how to lean in without burning out. What I’ve discovered is that you really can have success with ease, but it takes trust and patience. We are taught to be impatient, to get results FAST. But when you act from a place of impatience, fear, scarcity, or trying to be overly “strategic”, you often swim upstream and are ineffective. By being patient and trusting that the answer will come to you (and visualizing your future self in the meanwhile), the path will unfold with ease and the results will be even better than you could have predicted. The creative process is an example of this principle. If you design new products, you inherently understand the need to trust the process. Another great example is hiring employees – when we rush to fill a need, we often create a bigger problem by hiring someone who underperforms and needs to be replaced at a future date. I’m not suggesting you should always wait around, simply that you be aware of when you might benefit from slowing down, trusting your gut and being patient with the process.
5) Practice Mindfulness. Being is more important than Doing.
Being busy has somehow become a sign of prestige. I’ve learned that’s ridiculous and completely backwards. Being still and quiet can give us ideas for our business that have a much greater impact than when we run around like a chicken with it’s head cut off, firing off emails left and right and constantly multi-tasking without thinking about the big picture. Many of us act out without being mindful and this can lead to disastrous consequences in business. We literally become more stupid. They did a study and it turns out that when we are reactive, we lose 10-15 IQ points. Simply by stating “I’m feeling anxious”, we regain 10-15 IQ points.
The real work and the real results come from being mindful of our internal experience. By being aware of our inner state, we can name it and act from a place of greater truth and possibility. This leads to better choices and higher performance.
Here’s a link to a simple guided meditation for beginners, and it takes less than five minutes a day!
6) Follow your heart and intuition. Not your mind, ego or wallet.
I give this advice to all my clients, and it has really worked. When you focus on connection with others rather than your individual needs, it leads to greater fulfillment AND financial success. So many of us get caught up in trying to prove our worth to others (did I mention I went to Stanford?), and that rarely leads to us feeling good in the long run. We may get a short boost when someone validates our ego’s needs but it’s not sustainable. The real path to success and fulfillment is in following your heart’s desire. It will not only make you happier to follow your heart, it makes good business sense too.
7) Our thoughts create our reality
You write the story of your life, no one else. Believe it or not, the placebo affect can essentially be magnified and applied to all aspects of life. Here’s a deep truth I’ve learned: You become what you think about. Positive thoughts lead to positive results. Negative thoughts lead to negative outcomes. So what should you do? Put your energy towards what you DO want. Do not feed what you don’t want by thinking about it incessantly “I can’t believe HE got the promotion over me” or “my friends just don’t appreciate me” or “I’ll never meet my soul mate”. Carl Jung is famous for saying “What you resists, persists”. If you’re upset about an underperforming employee and you focus on it obsessively, you’ll start to see flaws everywhere you turn. If you instead focus on what is going right and take action to correct the underperforming employee, you’ll start to see more positive results. Mother Theresa used to say “I will never attend an anti-war rally. I will attend a peace rally”. It’s a subtle but very important distinction. Energy flows where attention goes. What are you focusing on? If you’re focusing on something negative like “I need to stop eating junk food”, start putting your attention on the positive aspects instead, such as “I am feeding my body nourishing foods”
I believe these principles should be taught at every school. The good news is you don’t need to go to a top school to learn and apply these tools. You can start small. Commit to playing the appreciation game with yourself right now and notice how you feel afterwards. Anyone can do it, and it’s free. So what have you got to lose?