What is the best piece of advice you’ve received about your career/ work path? What is your favorite advice to give to other people on their career/ work paths?

Barry Crossno, Friends General Conference

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten was in graduate school. Dr. Hopkins, my advisor, asked me to meet with him and he said, “You’re struggling a little bit, right now. I think it’s because you’re suffering from an illusion.” I said “What’s that?” He said, “I think you’re suffering from the illusion that graduate school is about being brilliant. Graduate school is really about perseverance.” It was another one of those moments where I really understood the truth of what he had shared, and it has stood me well over time. There’s that saying that 90% of success is just showing up. I find that to be true, especially at times when the outcome is not at all guaranteed. That you just keep showing up, keep persisting, keep working, being open, listening. There may be something different that needs to happen. Just keep at it. It makes all the difference in the world.

For more of Barry’s story, click here

Diane Randall, Friends Committee on National Legislation:

I got typical advice which just seems kind of canned now, but I think it’s very true, which is to follow your heart. I think there’s some truth to that. And I think — there’s a Biblical reference to this — don’t be afraid. Be not afraid. I think about that, when I think about what either intimidates me or puts me off. When I think about it, I have had people who say, “Don’t be afraid of this. Just do it.” A lot of it has to do with speaking to power, and leveraging my own power, which comes from a sense of groundedness and purpose. So the advice is to use that power, and go to the highest level. If you have the opportunity to talk to the person in charge, go to that person, don’t go to the three people underneath them.

There’s not one send-off thing I say to everybody. Here in this work, I definitely encourage people to network, and that is not a natural thing for many people to do, particularly people who are introverts. That’s a hard thing, to walk up to strangers, people you’ve just met, and stick out your hand and say, “I want to talk to you.” But I do think that’s the way we make connections like that across social media and we should be doing it in person. I think now, actually, I would advise people: put your phones down and look people in the eyes and have conversations. I think there’s something completely powerful about that. That’s the way the world changes, where you can have an effect that other people might not be able to.

For more of Diane’s story, click here

Jen Karsten, Pendle Hill:

Don’t settle into something that’s not fulfilling for you. Don’t hesitate to pursue an opportunity, even if it seems beyond your grasp. There’s a lot to be gained from the asking. Sometimes trying on a fit too big can reveal growth opportunities, and most anything can be worked on and practiced through, until it becomes a skill. There are some innate characteristics that might not sound like leadership skills, but that executives would name as leading to their successes, and which can be really helpful to have in your bag of tricks. I’ve mentioned a few times the value of learning from other people’s life experiences, but I don’t mean that to imply that only people who’ve had longer lives than mine are wonderful resources. They often are, but I think it’s helpful  to have a social life with people who are like me and dissimilar to me, so that I don’t fall too much into a self-affirming groove of friends. Being around my daughter and her friends, and the older students at her school, and high school and college students, and grad students, and people and leaders from different camps around the country, I’m reminded of the potency and relevancy of different stages of life.

Do your best to know yourself. Not just the self that you were five years ago, or yesterday-but knowing yourself in this moment, and knowing yourself in general is a responsibility that we have if we want to be in leadership. Knowing myself prepares me to share my stories and make my requests for support, pass on the benefits of things that have come easily or been granted to me, so that that could be shared by the community, as well as the places where I’m deficient or limited. When I know that, it makes it easy for me to specify what I could use in order to be strengthened. When I’m with others who are doing the work of knowing themselves, I can respond with tenderness and gladness to their requests, because part of knowing myself is knowing the struggle of being human, the emotionality, and where my different reactions and responses are coming from. That’s something that makes us all so able to relate to one to another, that emotional experience. So, how to join with that connection? Find those people who, like you, are waving the flag of self-discovery pointed towards beloved community building, and when you find those others, join with them and dedicate yourself to doing good work with them.

For more of Jen’s story, click here

Gretchen Castle, Friends World Committee for Consultation:

We only have a few years in which to do what we want to do. So if I’m feeling called to my work, I want to give it my all while I’m here because I’m not sure how long one can sustain it. I want to offer what I can. They hired me in this position in part because of my organizational development experience, and so I want to be effective and useful as best I can to the organization. It’s that servant leadership way of, “How can I best serve your organization?”

For more of Gretchen’s story, click here

Gabe Ehri, Friends Journal:

I’ve been reading Seth Godin lately, and what he advises is to figure out what you’re good at, and what you alone see, and find a way to turn that into something that works. The tools and technologies are out there now, in a way that is without precedent in human history, to allow you to find an audience and do the work. You don’t need to get picked to do the work you’re meant to do. Society now rewards people who take initiative to do something rather than follow all the rules and become selected to do something. Figure out what you’re good at, and figure out a way to make that your life.

For more of Gabe’s story, click here

Christina Repoley, Quaker Voluntary Service:

Don’t be afraid of asking for help, asking for mentors, and doing that networking and reaching out. Especially for young people there can be a tendency and it was for me, too, to wonder why this person would want to spend time with me or not think I’m important enough to ask this person. Generally, everyone likes to be asked for advice. Just say, “I think you’re interesting, would you have lunch with me?” Who is going to say no to that? So that’s advice I give, especially to young adults. If there’s something you’re interested in, seek out those people that you think are going to be useful to you, good mentors and good connections. A lot of what I did in the early days of QVS was think: who do I need to know, to build a relationship with, to talk to and convince about this vision? Think about how you build relationships and seek professional networks and connections and support outside of your organization. How do you build relationships with other executive directors, or other people in leadership positions, who are in similar situations?

For more of Christina’s story, click here

Drew Smith, Friends Council on Education:

I always encourage people who have questions about themselves and about whether or not they want to be leaders–it’s the Jan Brady thing, sign up for every club. Do something, because if you don’t, you won’t know. Sometimes when I say it to people, I say to them, “This is going to seem really simple, but tell me what you could do with your school right now, that you could initiate?” It’s, “Let’s figure out a way to put yourself in some positions to try.” And again, it’s part of that advice to practice. You won’t know until you’ve tried it out. The second thing I tell people who are aspiring is, I always like to connect them with someone else other than me. I’m like, “You need to talk to a few of us, and then let’s circle back around and tell me what you’ve learned.” And nine times out of 10, leaders give similar advice, “I didn’t know I could do this until I tried it,” and in a couple of cases they’ll say, “I tried it because I asked.” In some cases, you’re lucky enough to be asked, but if you’re not, you need to push and ask.

I think with me, it relates back to the “getting out of your own way.” There were a couple of teachers I hired who were my students–they graduated from school and became teachers, I was a middle school principal–who sat down with me and gave me important advice about talking less and listening more, and they were very good about it. They came together. They could see that I was trying to engage better level of conversation at our middle school staff meetings, that I was trying to get out of the way and encourage them to talk, and they helped me see that the kind of talking I was doing was kind of in the way of that, and that helped me redesign. So it was pointing out an opportunity to get out of the way, and encouraging me in ways that I could practice. It opened up a really important path that I’ve been on ever since.

For more of Drew’s story, click here

Doug Bennett, Earlham College (Emeritus):

The best advice I think is to try to get anybody I work with is to set things in context, to see the whole picture, to think about it in the hackneyed strategic planning language: strengths, weaknesses, opportunity, threats. Never lose sight of those questions, and understand there are a lot of things that are going to bedevil you, but there’s only one or two things that will kill you, and you better understand those and how to avoid them. There are probably a lot of good things that will happen that you must be aware of, but only a few really big possibilities, so if you ever had a glimmer of hope, you should grab them. Think about the bigger plan.

For more of Doug’s story, click here

Colin Saxton, Friends United Meeting:

The best advice was really about staying focused on the mission of the organization you’re serving. Always keep that in mind. Why does this group exist, and what would it look like for this group to be faithful to that sense of mission? Wherever I’ve been, that’s the thing that I’ve tried to keep in mind, as sort of the steward, helping to care for or cradle that sense of mission.

In terms of advice for others, in some ways it’s parallel to what I just said trying to help the person to really think, “What is your sense of call? What is it that you really feel called to do, and does that connect with what this opportunity is for you?”

For more of Colin’s story, click here


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