Cabernet Coaches: Power of Consistent Connection

ccWBistro7.2014Cabernet Coaches

Power of Consistent Connection

I call them Cabernet Coaches. No, they aren’t highly specialized sommeliers or vineyard strategists—and some of them actually prefer the chardonnay. Rather, these are the loosely gathered and rather eclectic group of women I meet with for weekly Wednesday night happy hours.
It’s not about the drink specials. It’s basic elemental networking without the use of that stifling—and for some, intimidating—buzzword. It’s real grass roots relationship building. And it’s a concerted strike back at a world that would keep us too busy for connection beyond those coworkers, neighbors and team moms lying directly in our paths.

How, and more importantly, why do we do this?

It’s a conscious choice to maintain connection. This means that when one of us gets the big promotion or adds a significant other to her life, we continue to value our friendships by maintaining a regular time slot for them on our calendars. “Disappearing friends”—those who get swept away by a change to relationship status or a bend in the career path—can fade like a mirage in the rearview mirror, so we aim for consistent contact. Frenetic schedules may not allow for regular lunch dates with everyone in our expanding circle—but once a week, we purposefully maintain connection.

It’s a conscious choice to create new connection. We’re completely inclusive. Invites have been extended in groceries, at doctors’ offices and on Facebook. There is something to be gained and given in every encounter. “Loneliness makes fools of us all” (Date Like A Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt & Advice Between Friends, epigraph)—and as we grow connection, we stem isolation. With affirming friends, we are less likely to wither in bad jobs and relationships. We gain momentum from the good choices of others and gain resolve to affect change in our own lives. And, we expand our options by creating a larger pool of friends. Nothing pleases me more than to discover two previous strangers meeting for lunch following a Wednesday night meeting.

It’s a conscious choice to value self. Sometimes, driving across town and traffic to meet with a few friends amidst the pressures of a busy workweek takes significant motivation. Many of our conversations begin with “I should be…” but they always seem to end with gratitude for time well spent. Generally, two hours around a high top table won’t negatively impact the productivity of a week, but it will often reenergize us to better adapt and achieve what is required. And, happy hour appetizers always trump microwaved leftovers as a dinner option.

It’s a conscious choice to build a bigger, better life. Our Wednesdays are more of a flow than a settled gathering—with friends bringing friends, and built around the absences caused by travel, parenting our children and all the normal demands of life. But it’s a repeat calendar entry for many of us—an almost sacred appointment that we strive to keep regardless of changes to relationship status or career. It’s a commitment to growth and a leg up over the status quo. New faces, fresh ideas, divergent careers…our little group is far more intriguing than anything we might be missing on reality TV.

We consciously create opportunity while banishing guilt by utilizing “ish” time—meeting at “5:30ish until 7:30ish”—to minimize time pressures. The demands of careers and kids, along with the havoc divorce can wreak on a life, often lead to stress and isolation. Life can become task-driven—with pleasure buried beneath loads of laundry and sales goals. So no one’s early, no one’s late and any “disappearing friends” are always welcomed back with open arms, tissues if necessary, introductions to the newbies and a toast… Whether we clink water glasses, chocolate martinis or cabernet is irrelevant. What matters is the steady encouragement and affirmation that comes with the table space.

Shared joys are amplified, and empathy can buoy a sinking heart… Has a friendship ever surprised or delighted you? Saved you? How have you navigated the inevitable disappointments, friendship “drift”—or worse, a complete betrayal? How has Connection—or the lack of it—impacted your enjoyment of life? Do your relationships make you a better person—or make you want to be a better person? If you’re interested in contributing your friendship story to the book, please email me via the contact page to set up an interview. Thanks! Heather

 

How to Get Out of a Dead-End Job

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

How to Get Out of a Dead-End Job

If You Want Your Career to Change, You Need to Change

Dear Heather,

I really need to get out of where I’m working. It’s toxic and completely reactionary. My boss (whom I’d worked with elsewhere in happier times) just resigned after only one month in her position! Sandy is known for her skill in improving business infrastructure but couldn’t tolerate what she termed “arrogant” and “immature” behavior from management (they never listen to anyone and think they’re always right). I feel like I have no control over things, especially now that my old boss has left. It’s like I’m on an island all by myself. I’m single—no kids. All I really have to show for my life is my career, and it doesn’t look so great at the moment.

I really want to work in a professional stable “team” environment as opposed to being in a small HR department. I took this job after being unemployed for an extended period. Really needed to replenish my savings and get benefits (this company offers a good package), but I keep wondering if I jumped too soon. I need room for growth and advancement. Not more drama!

I know my life needs change, but I keep hoping it will just happen. I keep dreaming that I get a ridiculous job offer and move to Hawaii and live happily ever after…but Monday comes and I’m still on my imaginary island in a dead-end job. Any suggestions?

~Mandy

Dear Mandy,

It’s a noun/verb issue, Mandy. You want “change” but haven’t changed anything yourself. This isn’t uncommon, but it is usually ineffective. Why not put your future into the hands of the one who most cares about it? This is your chance to make some active choices for yourself—the remote control is in your hand, and you have the power to change the channel.

Reality impacts valuation—and the truth of a situation can be a roller coaster drop from a much higher expectation.

Our jobs impact both financial and mental needs, Mandy. While your current situation fills the bank accounts, it is wedging a sizable emotional gap into your life. At some point, you’ll need to decide whether your contributions to date—and likely long-term payoff—are worth your further investment. If you can’t say, “this will (probably) be worth it in the end,” this job will continue to chafe like ill-fitting shoes.

The ability to self-launch is one of the most valuable skills we can learn. Without it, we float at the mercy of circumstance and other people and are more likely to land—and stay—in depleting situations. When self-launch is enabled, however, we can motorize the drifting and begin a more directed course toward our career dreams.

Toleration is a default position that will invariably entrench us deeper into substandard conditions. One has to hate a “rut” with enough passion to rev on out of it. If status quo seems preferable to taking steps toward change, you must identify the reasons or excuses for inertia in order to motivate forward motion.

1) Is it truly about the job? Dissatisfaction with one area of life will often bleed into the next. You mention being “on an island all by (yourself).” Workplace drama has greater impact when it’s your only regularly scheduled program. More than half of US adults are single per the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, and feelings of isolation are a growing problem worldwide. Regardless of your employment satisfaction, creating connection—via friendships and non-work activities—will provide stability, valuable perspective and an excellent counterbalance to typical job stresses.

2) Do you know what you want? Or is this more about what you don’t want? Without a target, you’re only programming your internal GPS to get you away from your current location. An “escape” goal can lead us to teeter on ambivalence—holding on to what we dislike because we’re uncertain of where to reach. What will a “professional, stable ‘team’ environment” look like? Develop this goal into specifics—a recognizable destination.

3) Identify the cost. Outline what you’re willing to sacrifice to gain this opportunity. Are you willing to move to another city, sidestep to another career or accept a pay cut in favor of giving yourself better long-term opportunities? Consider making a lifestyle job choice—aiming for a location (you mentioned Hawaii) or family and friends—that will grow your overall quality of life as well as your career.

4) Choose your next steps. Once you’ve picked a path and oriented your attitude toward a destination (rather than simply “away” from the rut you’re in), you have to start lifting your feet. Identify and address your roadblocks—lack of connection, confidence or up-to-date search tools…so that you can activate change.

5) Set calendar goals. Hold yourself accountable to short-term objectives that will equip you, and then mark goals for your actual job search. Include research and reflection time. Your overall discontentment is a message from you to You. Listen to your own voice.

~Heather

Originally published at Salary.com | Boost Your Work/Life Balance column.

5 Keys to Dating Like a Grownup

EonN5Keys5 Keys to Dating Like a Grownup

The Difference Between Dating and Dating Well

Single? Hello, your name is “Average American.” It turns out that there are a lot of us bypassing bulk food bargains in favor of single servings. In its August 2014 data report, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics revealed that for the first recorded time, more adults are unattached than married in America.

And often, the first instinct of the newly single adult is to be part of a couple again—maybe not in a marital, “let’s get this court-stamped” sort of way, but Dating? Sure. A new, better relationship? Please! And preferably, we’d like to be coupled up again before we’re passing green beans to Aunt Bev around the holiday dinner table.

But before you toss your online profile into the ring, it’s well worth gauging your dating readiness first. Otherwise, you risk treadmill dating—an emotional workout that will wear you out without moving your life forward.

Evaluate the following:

1) Who You Are Today. One of the worst bits of advice my widowed sister received as she reentered the dating arena was “don’t date anyone you wouldn’t have dated in high school!” Huh? While the intent was, perhaps, to encourage stability, the message—that we are somehow stuck in time with our “beginner self”—is ludicrous. You’ve changed. Picking someone who fits who you were will chafe against who you are now becoming.

2) Your Confidence. Have you brushed off the dirt and let the wound heal? A tumble in divorce court or the death of a spouse is trauma. There’s a rehab period. Racing back into dating too soon raises the likelihood of making need-based choices. These are non-sustainable space-fillers that will waste both time and energy. “I don’t want to be alone” decisions only create ruts from which to complain about our lack of good dating prospects. Using Dating as a life patch will work about as well as a spare tire on a road trip. Stabilize your vehicle before you begin the journey.

3) Your Financial Stability. Divorce rarely leaves us with a bigger bank account. Compromised goals and deferred dreams can be difficult to face—but do it. Come up with your own Plan B. If you’re aiming for a long-term sustainable relationship, don’t allow another person’s finances to impact their attractiveness. Your best insurance against using the dollar sign equivalent of “beer goggles” will be gaining traction on your own financial situation before you begin dating.

4) Acceptance. If the divorce playback still has a hero and a villain, you might want to wait for the remake. Rarely is a relationship breakdown a one-person debit. Most often, there has been an ongoing pattern—an accommodation of “unhealthy.” The divorce is either a continuation of the dysfunction or an attempt by one or both parties to break free of a rut-digging pattern. Bitterness and rearview regrets will sideswipe forward momentum.

5) Connection. “Great to meet you! Say, would you mind holding my hopes and dreams?” Yes, people do this. It most often happens with the disconnected as they mistakenly tie their future happiness to somebody else’s wagon. Guard against this by building connection—good old-fashioned, face-to-face friendships. Creating choices for yourself will allow you to say “no” without fear and “yes” without expectations. Life must be bigger than your next relationship for sustainable love to grow.

Originally published in Eyes On News | Lifestyle section.

 

Still Single? Resolve to Wait For the New Year

Christmas_Romance_by_amaya_chibiStill Single? Resolve to Wait For the New Year

“Last call…!”

For many adult singles, November is the cut-off. While most hope to meet someone special in time for mistletoe moments, integrating early dating with family gatherings is an added stress most singles would rather forgo.

We discussed the pursuit of relationship and the upcoming holidays at a recent Cabernet Coaches’ happy hour.

“It’s just awkward. You have to meet the whole family!”

“I’d rather wait until January at this point…”

Clink. Agreement.

If a certain level of intimacy isn’t achieved by the onset of turkey and tinsel, many singles wisely opt for a vacation from dating. Die-hard hopefuls and diversion-seekers may not be so seasonally sensitive. They run the risk, however, of getting a premature overload of personal information—or of being politely excluded from more intimate circles. While some harbor hope of gaining a toehold on love, the capacity for a fast flameout makes holiday “first-dating” a riskier, more pressure-packed venture than relationship starts at other times of the year.

My friend Kathy remembered a one-date wonder her daughter brought home who lives on as a ghost of Christmas past. While the brand new relationship didn’t last beyond the holiday season, the young man’s ever-present image has achieved family joke status. “I don’t want to be the nameless stranger—the “what was her name again” woman in somebody’s family photos!” Kathy laughed, explaining her decision to take a break from dating for the rest of this year.

It’s wise to wait. Dating a stranger during the holidays can actually amplify those feelings of loneliness—because you’re incongruently sharing significant events with someone who hasn’t yet earned significance in your life. And, even worse, sharing holiday events can unduly extend a space-filler relationship at the expense of maintaining a single’s availability for a “right fit” match.

Resist the urge to accelerate your relationship search when the Halloween candy hits half-price, and hit “pause” instead. If you can use November and December as a “reset” time in which to deepen existing connections to friends, family and to your own self, you’ll be in a better position to find love in the new year.

Originally published in Eyes On News | Lifestyle section.

 

How Can I Stop Hating My Job?

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

How Can I Stop Hating My Job?

Quit, Improve Your Lot, or Get a Hobby

As an advice columnist for Salary.com, I answer letters related to balancing and blending our work and personal lives for better overall living. It is rare that we can successfully relegate an office issue to “office hours,” so effective navigation of these situations is critical to our general well being and productivity. Read on for what happens when ophthalmologists lose sight of office management:

Dear Heather,

I read one of your articles on what to do about hating your job and it moved me to write you a message myself.

Like the woman in the story I too have come to absolutely loathe coming into work. I’ve been in my current line of work for close to five years, and to be honest I really enjoy what I do. In case you were wondering I’m an Ophthalmic Technician for an Ophthalmology office. At first my advice and actions were very respected and the rest of the office seemed to care about them. But as time slipped past the luster started to fade and the true beast began to rear its ugly head. We have two doctors here in the practice and they couldn’t be more opposite one another. One is very old school and is resisting the technological advancements we have to make with everything he has. The other couldn’t embrace it fast enough. Due to the intense nature of this job its imperative that we follow through with all the electronic issues that we face. And since I came from the computer programming/troubleshooting background I have even more knowledge and responsibility in the office.

There are three of us (technicians) in this office and we are all responsible for loading patients into exam rooms, working up their charts, doing the testing required for their exams, and getting them set for the doctor to come see them. However over the last 6 months the others have started slacking off their duties or “specializing” in one area over the other. I’d have no problem with this if the job titles were different. Instead I’m seeing more than my fair share of the load and still getting paid like the underling I was 5 years ago.

To combat this little problem we’re supposed to have weekly staff meetings to address our concerns in a professional manner. Instead weeks, possibly months, go by without said meetings even occurring. And when they do, it’s a blame-fest. No one likes to take responsibility for anything. The phrase “I was told” is used a lot when referring to the wrong way of doing a test, etc.

Basically the problem boils down to this. I’ve lost respect for this position because it doesn’t respect me. Too many times I’ve been walked all over and expected to pick up the pieces like nothing has ever happened. No one wants to man up and take charge, and the authority around here is terrible.

What can I do to stop (or at least limit the amount of) hating my job?

Thanks,
Jason

Dear Jason,

I’m sorry you’re in such a tough and depleting situation. It sounds as if divergent leadership has left your office with no leadership at all. Consequently, guidelines have been blurred and rules have grown fuzzy creating an “every man for himself” environment with lot of the unhealthy brand of competition. It’s no wonder you hate your job. I bet you aren’t the only one.

You have three basic choices in front of you, Jason:

1) You can muscle up your motivation and focus on filling your life outside the office with rewarding endeavors, amp up your business/social networking and simply wait out the current situation. Focus on the parts of the job you enjoy and your interactions with patients. What you’ve described is unlikely to last indefinitely. Either one of the partners will “win,” one will split, co-workers will quit or there will be a leveling process in which the technological advances take hold and positions realign to fit present need. There is no timetable, however, so this is an undefined period of stress. I’ve written elsewhere that the indefinite aspect of limitless stress can be a debilitating energy drain. These situations, whether an unfulfilling job, tenuous relationship or chronic health difficulty, can feel like an ongoing sprint with no finish line —and we need a finish line. So, I’d suggest that if you choose this route, you set a deadline at which point you will move on to option 2 or 3.

2) You can seek to create a resolution yourself. The main issue is the doctors’ opposing views and weak leadership. This has created opportunities for co-workers to basically redefine their own job descriptions. It has also fostered a defensive atmosphere in which office staff is unwilling to shoulder responsibilities. The randomness and combativeness of the staff meetings only magnify these issues and serve to etch those battle lines more deeply. You can’t fix the doctors’ dysfunctional partnership, but you can seek some clarifications. Ask to meet with both doctors (or the office manager if there is one) and share your observations regarding the shift in job responsibilities. Be careful to a) meet with both together (say that you have some ideas that you think could improve staff/patient relations) and b) avoid bad-mouthing co-workers. Instead, explain that responsibilities have become unclear and that you’d hate for there to be an error with a patient that would reflect poorly on their practice. Offer to take notes regarding proper protocol at the next staff meeting —this will at least start a paper trail to refer back to when disputes arise and will possibly provide a means from which to routinize procedures.

3) You can set your sights on greener pastures. You sound like a smart and capable man, Jason. It is to your credit that you have tried to keep your focus on maintaining quality patient care within such turmoil. If you don’t feel you’ll be appreciated or allowed to grow where you are, consider searching out another office. Chances are you can list half a dozen reasons why this is a bad idea: lack of job opportunities, seniority, location or benefits to name a few. But consider the toll that stagnating in a contentious atmosphere will have on your career and mental health. Your present situation is creating drag and wasting a lot of your energy. The mere act of choosing to take control of this area of your life by creating some new possibilities will generate positive energy and be a reminder that your world is bigger than the one you’ve live in these past five years.

It may be that a combination of all three strategies will be your best course, allowing you to take action in the present as you also plan for the future. Best of luck to you, Jason.

~Heather

Originally published at Salary.com.

How Can Busy Parents Get Ahead at Work?

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

How Can Busy Parents Get Ahead at Work?

Climbing the Career Ladder is Difficult With Children in Each Arm

Dear Heather,

Hello, you don’t know me, but I saw your profile on Salary.com. You look so happy in your picture and I would love to see myself so accomplished in the near future! Do you have any advice for a hard working creative woman like me? I’ve been designing and managing at the same stable, but unfulfilling job for the past 8 years. I need a kick in the a** to make a move to senior management ELSEWHERE, but I have little time with a toddler underfoot? Please help!

~Mindy

Heather: What a compliment! Thank you. But make no mistake, that photo was cropped to exclude unfinished laundry, a carry-in dinner and the pile of work sitting in my office! It is hard for working parents –especially in that “it’s a good thing you’re so cute” toddler stage.

The first thing is to identify what is truly holding you back from surging towards a senior management position. Exhaustion? Understandable. Or, is it a lack of time or confidence? It’s time to invest in yourself.

Once you’ve identified your particular barrier, purpose to chip at it until it’s a pile of rubble on your Cheerio-strewn floor. You may or may not be able to combat exhaustion. Your vision of your dream job needs to be tangible enough to wake you up to opportunities even with a standing sleep deficit.

If you’re battling a complete lack of time, you’ll have to break down each necessary task to toddler bite-sized pieces. “Find management job” is overwhelming, particularly with a two-year old eyeing the viability of an applesauce launch. So, write down each step of the process and visibly mark off your progress (I even write things down after I do them for the pure satisfaction of crossing them out). Instead of burdening yourself to “do your resume” when your child has perhaps a ten minute attention span for coloring, plan to tackle a single resume section at a time. Research your job opportunities one company at a time if need be. Dedicate ten minutes on other days to renewing old contacts via email or on a business site such as LinkedIn. Moving forward slowly, ten or twenty minutes at a time, is better than getting comfortable in a rut.

If you want that next job, know you can do the work, have identified the necessary steps and are still hesitating? Encourage yourself. When my energy flags, I send myself a short affirming email, most often with nothing more than a positive quality, quotation or truth as the subject. There is a benefit in both recording and reading such a positive message. Be your own fan. Self-affirmation along with a step-by-step checklist to guide you to your goal will give definition to the dream. Then, it becomes a matter of tackling those details one at a time. Nothing is out of reach for a determined toddler. Tap into some of that focused energy. Good luck, and please keep me posted!

~Heather

Originally published at Salary.com.

It’s Not About the Muscles

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7 Benefits of the Fitness Lifestyle

Not entirely, at least. I admit a tendency toward sleeveless that adds extra value to those triceps extensions, but for me, regular gym workouts and trail running are simply the most effective way to maintain forward momentum before normal aging can create drag.

Yep, I’m over fifty—and have the college-aged kids and shredded AARP mailings to prove it. But, I’m in prime shape, physically and mentally, thanks to my daily fitness appointment with myself.

The proven benefits—protection against myriad diseases and depression—would be plenty of motivation to get me moving, but I’ve found other immediately tangible ones that enhance my resolve with almost instant positive rewards. Besides and beyond the ability to fit into last year’s jeans, here’s what I value about my fitness lifestyle:

Improved focus. Mental block? There’s nothing like a little cardio to get the blood flowing and creative thoughts gelling again. Shifting gears on a bike or at the gym allows the brain to reset and blaze in new directions. Some of my best stuff gets written in my head when I’m a couple of miles into a trail run—and having to remember what I’ve “written” until I get back to my laptop is compelling incentive to focus well and completely.

Social network. As a solo entrepreneurial type whose daily interactions may or may not include a greeting to the UPS guy, it’s essential I build in daily social connection. Many of my gym buddies have become outside-the-gym friends. “Networking”—or as I prefer to term it “relationship building”—is a lifestyle choice, not a 9 to 5 business card exchange. It happens at the grocery, in parking lots and over weight sets. And it works. My previously unemployed best friend landed his current “right fit” job via a fortuitous gym encounter. Your results may vary…but the results will be real and valuable.

Affirmation. Want to generate some good self-talk? Watch yourself improve your stamina on the elliptical machine or increase your bench press over a couple of weeks. And you will be amongst other like-minded folks who might throw a “nice job” at you when you drop down from the pull up bar. Not ready for all of that quite yet? Simply joining a fitness class will provide instant commiserating comrades—a sweat drenched, endorphin-rich connection that is as genuine as you’re willing to be and on a regular schedule.

Daily discipline. Discipline begets discipline. It’s a muscle just like that newly budding bicep, and exercising it in one area of your life will help you to use it in others as well. Want to be more decisive and action-oriented at work? Join into the disciplined mentality of prioritizing daily fitness. It’s a transferable membership.

Guaranteed “good.” There will be days when you lose clients, patience, car keys and perspective—days when you swim against the current and grimly note that the view isn’t changing all that much. Without a channel, free flowing adrenaline—our natural “fight or flight” response—will drain productivity. So when negatives are on virtual assault, fight back by planting a guaranteed “good” into the day. A workout qualifies—at the very least; it’s time away from stewing, losing it or succumbing to food cravings that have nothing to do with hunger.

Turns back time. Getting serious about a fitness commitment will change your life. Faithfully setting—and keeping—regular workout appointments with yourself carries a guaranteed ROI. Actively creating muscle and maintaining body health will mark you as younger than your counterparts who don’t—and physical vitality and strength brings youthful vigor to mental health as well. Here’s my own firsthand report: For the past ten years even as my children grow older, I am most definitely growing younger. Through multiple deaths and a divorce—traumas that often show up as additional pounds on a body and lines on a face—regular exercise has been a stabilizing, rejuvenating force. Simply stated, it works—from the inside out.

Inspiration for others. Life lives larger when we look beyond ourselves. Some of my best workouts have been the ones that help launch others onto a path toward physical fitness—older women with lapsed or newly awakened motivation, younger ones recognizing that “thin” is not the same as “healthy.”  When ankle reconstruction forced me into eight plus weeks on crutches, I remained a gym regular. Many confided that the sight of me doing pull-ups with a leg cast obliterated their own mental excuses and sparked motivation. Those revelations imbued my temporary setback with meaning beyond my own body’s healing.

Resolve to Build Connection

A bigger life. No, this isn’t a reference to carbo-loading before your next triathlon. Nor is it a call to upsize your house, number of dependents or credit card bill. Towards the end of holiday grazing season, it’s easy to focus on dress sizes over life sizes. But a bigger life, one that is rich in connection, will enable traction on long term goals such as legacy-building and dream achievement, creating credible paths to fulfillment and success.

People generally trek into one of two camps as January approaches: either methodically listing their New Year’s resolutions or categorically shaking their heads at such unmeasured optimism. But the majority of us will at least pause for a brief moment of reflection as we cross the border into a new year. For it’s a marker. A roadside sign that shows how far we’ve traveled and how far we’ve yet to go.

Every other “put your best foot forward” article is going to tell you to set goals for your health, finances and career —which is great advice. So do that. But consider that most of these laudable choices will be more effectively achieved with a powerful interpersonal support system.

So pause and measure. How connected are you? Forget the obligatory work comrades, neighbors with whom you have a nodding acquaintance and those sideline parents who are more of a “familiar face” than functional friend. Consider whom you interact with as opposed to those you stand or sit alongside. A life webbed with strong interpersonal connections holds more opportunities and is worthy of your time and effort to build. If you have a lengthy list of “should call” and “should do lunch” names buried under good intentions —it’s grow time.

Clear Space. 
Who has the time? None of us. And yet making strong connections will actually save time in the long run. Your more fully developed network will provide you with recommendations for mechanics, accountants and new hires. It will be your backup when you have a sick child or “not-as-advertised” blind date. Your network will be both your sounding board and your fan club. Admit it. You need this. So it is well worth devoting calendar space to some connection time.

Choosing Connections.
If all your friends work in HR or have matching company logo coffee mugs, you need to diversify your friendships. This is like having a team of quarterbacks. Who’s going to catch the ball? Surround yourself with women with varied careers and pursuits. You aren’t going to learn anything new from a high-heeled clone of yourself. And if you don’t know how to throw a decent dinner party—and hang out with similarly stunted friends— you aren’t going to eat very well on the weekends. Seek passion, conviction and commitment. Encircle yourself with accomplished and motivated-to-accomplish women. Energy sparks energy, so look for inner momentum. Solid positive connections will create bridges to anywhere you want to go.

Family Focus.
Juggling too much? That sounds about normal. Brian Dyson, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, once described multi-tasked living as a process of keeping rubber and glass balls in the air. While our tasks will differ, prioritizing our families requires that we designate them as one of the glass “do not drop” balls. Redesigning your kitchen is a rubber ball that will bounce. You may even be able to double dribble some of your lower priority social connections as well. But bubble-wrap your spouse/significant other and children and keep an attentive eye on that ball.

Two for One.
One terrific strategy for creating connection time is to incorporate another tangent goal. You plan to hit the ground running in January? Literally? Then seek out a running buddy. But don’t stop there. Regular gym workouts with weight work will make the difference between getting older and aging gracefully, and may actually hold the process at bay for a while. Do your weight sets with a female friend to build in accountability and connection. Split the cost of a trainer and you’re making a more economical financial choice as well—all while growing a relationship with a like-minded friend.

Face-to-face.
Phone calls don’t count unless they’re punctuated by actual face-to-face communication. Choosing to create time for someone establishes esteem for both the individual and the relationship. Value your friendships, old and new, by scheduling regular coffees, lunches or happy hours. Aim to create at least two one-on-one friend spaces in each calendar week. And be open to spontaneous opportunities. Maintain growth by seeking out potential friends and business contacts and following through with at least an initial coffee. A certain number of relationships will fade through job, life or location changes—so continue planting seeds to maintain a continuous harvest of connection.

Group Gigs.
Growing your connections can be as easy as setting up a regular, open-to-all happy hour meeting. Encourage friends to bring friends to multiply new mutually beneficial links. This low pressure, two-hour commitment will allow you to sift through “contacts” to choose “connections.” And by encouraging an inclusive atmosphere in which all are invited to invite, you create an infinity pool of professional and social possibilities.

Networking Events.
Yawn. Yes, sometimes. But it is difficult to grow a diverse network from an insulated workspace where time constraints force most of us to focus more on culling the flow into inbox, voicemail and calendar than on expanding our sources. Filtering is a necessity, but closing off the stream will eventually dry up the pond, so aim to schedule regular business/social networking events. Remember that you don’t have to score a direct association at an event for it to be construed a success. Contacts have contacts (who have contacts) who could become a connection.

Be the Mentor.
Remember those early job interviews when you agonized over resume wording and sending the right message via your choice of pumps? There are women—on this very day—laying out conservative earrings and practicing firm-gripped handshakes and friendly greetings for tomorrow morning. Help them. You’ve earned your confidence. Share it with another. What’s in it for you? Connection to someone who will birth new ideas and improve what you’ve begun—and chances are quite good that you will learn something in the teaching of another.

Resist Connect-the-Dot Thinking.
It’s tempting to view connection as a connect-the-dot sort of endeavor, achieved by working a room with a fistful of business cards augmented by quick phone call “check-ins” between appointments to fan the flame of friendships. But it can—and should—be so much more. Instead of doing the time saving, quick tie knot—”Here’s my card. Let’s connect on LinkedIn”—focus on weaving connection into the fabric of your life. People themselves are the discoveries that lead to innovative ideas and solutions. Your key connections, male and female, will provide valuable support, provide affirmation, spark ideas and help you along the path to being your best self. Having reliable connections—ones you can occasionally lean on and, often, laugh with—is that valuable extra layer that will enable you to weather personal and professional squalls with dignity, grace and assurance. Building a bigger life through connection will perpetuate a better one.

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