On being … authentic and…

By Ingrid Sapona

Here it is the end of January already and I’m still thinking – and writing – about New Year’s resolutions. I know, I know, it’s even odder given my earlier admission about not being big on NYRs. (See, I can’t even stand typing the phrase out in full!) But, a conversation I had with a friend (I’ll call her Leanne) last week about a resolution she’s made has been on my mind so much, I can’t not write about it.

On a recent weekend trip Leanne booked a place to stay using Airbnb. For those not familiar with Airbnb, it’s an on-line marketplace that lists accommodations offered by people (hosts) who have a couch, spare room, or more, to rent for short periods of time. After a stay, Airbnb asks guests to rate the accommodations. They publish the ratings for other potential guests to get a sense of what that host’s accommodations are really like.

Airbnb hosts also rate guests. The rationale is that Airbnb is creating a “trusted community” and, since hosts have a lot on the line, they want to know who they’re dealing with too. As an example, if a person using Airbnb gets a reputation as someone who makes reservations and then cancels, potential hosts may decide not to accept a reservation from that person.

At the time of our conversation, Leanne hadn’t yet written her review about her Airbnb stay. She was still thinking about what she’d write. It seems there were things that didn’t quite live up to the way the place was described, but it wasn’t horrible by any means. At the same time, she said that it seemed to her that most reviews she’d seen on Airbnb were so effusive and gushing they were often unhelpful and perhaps a bit suspect, given that guests are reviewed too.

She went on to explain that her hesitation in terms of what she might say in the review wasn’t because she was worried about the light it might cast on her as a guest. Instead, it related to her decision to work this year on cultivating being “authentic yet gracious”. In other words, she was trying to figure out how to provide valuable, honest information about the place but in a way that’s kind and thoughtful.

I was very struck by the idea of “authentic yet gracious”. It immediately occurred to me that it’d be a useful approach to take as I implement changes I’ve begun making in my business and personal life. The changes revolve around disengaging from activities I no longer find interesting or fulfilling. I don’t know if you’ve ever found yourself in this position, but I’m involved in a number of things, especially on the professional side, that I simply am no longer particularly excited about – or, worse, that I really don’t enjoy at all any more.  

My unsubscribing from various LinkedIn Groups, which I mentioned in my last column, is a simple example of clearing out things in my life that waste my time or take my focus off things I’d rather spend time on. I found doing it surprisingly liberating, but at the same time, I realize that was the easy stuff. After all, no one in those groups necessarily even realize I’ve dropped out. There are other things, however, that I can’t just quietly disengage from – like volunteer activities, and social invitations that people generously extend but that I’m not inherently interested in. So, finding a way to be true to myself – to be authentic – and yet gracious, can be tricky.  

Though many people throw around the term “authentic” these days in ways I’m not comfortable with (much the way they talk about “their passion”), I could relate to the way Leanne was using the term. We’re both in business for ourselves and so we’re pretty practiced at being tactful and polite. But the idea of being authentic yet gracious isn’t necessarily the same as being tactful and polite. To me, authentic yet gracious involves being honest with myself about my intentions and feelings and having the courage to express those, but taking care to not be presumptuous, overbearing, or self-important.

So, I guess I’m adopting yet another resolution this year: striving to be authentic yet gracious in all my dealings. Seems a worthy goal… Indeed, just imagine how different society might function if more people took care to be authentic yet gracious…

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


On being … a new year?

By Ingrid Sapona

January has never felt like a new year to me. September – now that has always felt like the start of something. Sure, it probably goes back to all those years of school (K-12+ for those of us who continued on to university). Even when your school years are long behind you, the academic calendar still matters if you have kids or colleagues whose life revolves around the school year.

Since January 1st just feels like the start of a long month of short days, I never really got the idea of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve also found it odd that people decide that at one point in the year they’re going to focus on all sorts of behaviours that they realize probably aren’t that helpful and they resolve to change them – or work on them. I’m all for introspection, but who needs the added pressure of a deadline? 

So, 2016 started for me much the way most years do: resolution-free. Actually, that’s not totally true. Sometime last fall, after finding a couple new recipes that I really liked, I realized my cooking repertoire could use some more new recipes. So, I decided that in 2016 I’d make a concerted effort to try new recipes for mains and sides (I’ve never needed an excuse to try new dessert recipes). I even set a measurable goal: by the end of 2016, I want 12 new recipes that I enjoy making, eating, and sharing with others. Mind you, that’s not as easy as it sounds because I’ve got pretty high standards when it comes to what I’d serve guests. (If it goes well, I’ve already got a plan for 2017: finding the perfect wine to go with each of 2016’s new dishes!)

Anyway, after returning from celebrations with my family, I was back to my usual routine. Then, about the third day back at work, I checked in with a client to see where things stood on a project we started just before Christmas. In an e-mail back, they explained what they’d like me to do. But, it was so vague and jargon-laden, I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do.

My first reaction was to feel stupid. Given that I’d already done some work on the project, shouldn’t I understand what they’re talking about? Then, without my usual hesitation and fear of looking dumb, I wrote them back and simply said I didn’t understand what they were talking about. As I sent it, I felt oddly transformed. I realized I’m tired of feeling like I’ve got to take sole responsibility for not understanding what clients want. After all, I’m not a mind reader.

The client promptly wrote back, apologizing for being vague and then they more clearly set out what they want me to do. An interesting and eye opening exchange, I thought… And with that, I decided to put the responsibility on clients for clarification from now on. No more feeling like I ought to figure it all out by myself!

Then, on another day during that first week of January, I was reading my e-mail in box and one item was from a LinkedIn group. It was one of many such groups I belong to that focus on some aspect of what I do for a living. I opened the e-mail, quickly confirmed that it was a typical self-promotion-type comment, and went to delete the message. But, for some reason, rather than merely deleting it, this time I scrolled to the bottom and clicked “unsubscribe”. It felt empowering – like I was taking back control of my in box. No more inane messages from that group!

Over the next couple days, I decided to try that approach with the myriad of other e-mail messages I get daily. Unless the message is from someone I really want to hear from, or is about something I’m really interested in (like recipes, given my 2016 goal), if there’s an unsubscribe option at the bottom, I clicked it. You know something – it’s been great! My in box is no longer full every time I return to my desk, and I’m not wasting time on BOGO promotions for things I don’t need or seat sales to places I’ll never go.

By the end of that first week of January, I realized that maybe the quiet of a long winter month is a good time to try some new approaches. In fact, I even think I’ve stumbled on a workable approach to New Year’s resolutions. The trick is to not think too much about them – just give them room and time to find you. Go ahead – it’s definitely not too late – give it a try!

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona