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Overcoming Self-Doubt: Lessons from Taylor Swift

She is determined to offer a superior performance, or a superior album, every time

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Although I thoroughly disagree with her politics, the career of Taylor Swift has some noteworthy lessons for us all:

When she was 14, apparently she and her parents made the rounds to many TV and recording studios in Hollywood and Nashville asking if she could offer a live demo. Most producers said no and summarily dismissed her.

Intention Matters

The point is that at an early age she had already intended to be a star performer. Today, she’s living out her dream, but what captures my interest is her unflagging determination to offer a superior performance or superior album every time.

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I saw her for the first time on Saturday Night Live, 15 years ago. I only caught her performance midway, but was mesmerized. Here was a tall, slender, teenage girl, not with the greatest vocals, wailing away on a song called Forever and Always.

She had such conviction in her singing that I, apparently along with millions of others, was captivated. Among dozens of things she does to maintain high confidence, here are some worth contemplating:

Eight Observations

1. Taylor Swift’s stage presence is extraordinary. She most definitely owns the stage, and that is a personal choice.

2. Her energy level is extraordinarily high and focused. You could say this about many singers, but if you watch any Taylor Swift performance you’ll quickly notice that she uses all 5’10” of her height in her performance.

3. Her connection to the audience is amazing. Through gestures, eye contact, and a variety of other stagecraft techniques, you get the sense that she is totally there, in every performance.

Some singers and performers allow you to watch. Some induce you to watch. Taylor Swift performs in way that all you want to do is watch.

4. She is a student of performance. When asked to be a coach on the hit television show The Voice, she astounded the four regulars coaches at that time – Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, Pharrell Williams, and Blake Shelton – by instantly assessing their team members’ practice sessions and, in a matter of seconds, offering insightful suggestions that immediately improved their performances.

She has stated that she makes mental notes of every performance she’s seen and her unparalleled performance wisdom belies her tender age.

5. She is constantly evolving. Whether or not you like her music, if you take the word of top critics, it’s undeniable that each album has gotten better.

6. As far as one can tell, she is down-to-earth. During an interview on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, she stated that album reviews do matter, and any artist who says they don’t is not being honest.

How she maintains an air of humility, and that common person touch, probably can be attributed to her parents. At some point, however, you have to concede, that she has what it takes to make herself a star.

7. Because she is self-disclosing, many fans gave her an immediate pass. Today, it is understood that Taylor Swift writes songs from her personal experiences that have meaning for her and, happily, also have meaning for her listeners.

In for the Long Haul

Taylor Swift’s decision to abandon country for pop was done with the realization that she’ll be in the business for the long haul, and that the popular music route will enable her to grow and expand in novel ways.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®



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Business

Common ‘Wisdom’ that Just Ain’t So

Much of what we read, think, and repeat is not accurate, at all…

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Much of what we read, think, and repeat is not exactly so. For example have you encountered the phrase, “Those who give up liberty for security deserve neither”? Often incorrectly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the phrase is nonsensical. With no national security, soon enough you’ll have no liberty.

With complete security, you’ll have no liberty as well. A trade-off is always needed. For the record, Benjamin Franklin actually said, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to pursue a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” That makes more sense.

‘A penny saved is a penny earned’? Once again, Ben Franklin is in the mix. A penny saved is not a penny earned. A penny earned is a penny earned and even then it might not be a full penny depending on taxes, inflation, and other hidden costs and expenses. If you save your money in a long-term CD, you can’t have access to it months. If funds are tied up when you need them that is not a pretty penny.

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Not Actually

Consider the phrase, “Experience is the best teacher.” Perhaps, this is so, but not as a given. Generally, an excellent teacher is the best teacher. Experience might teach us the wrong lessons or send us down another blind alley. If we don’t fully comprehend the meaning of our experiences,we’re as likely to make bad decisions in the future and have unfortunate experiences as a result.

Closely related is, ‘practice makes perfect.’ Practice does not make perfect. If your practices are off the mark, then you will continue to be imperfect and you might be reinforcing a bad habit. As they say in Tae Kwon Do, “Practice makes permanent.”

On my daughter’s softball team, a young girl named Whitney was regarded as the star pitcher. Yet during the pregame warm-ups, time after time, she could barely throw a strike. With luck, she averaged 20% strikes out of all her pitches thrown. Sure enough, when the game started, she was no better. Why would anybody expect the outcome to be different?

The best chance for you to excel is to have perfect practices. An array of imperfect practices leads failure.

Lemons and Life

‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ This sounds like good advice, but to actually make and sell lemonade, you’d also need to have clean water, a good lemon press, some type of sweetener, a paring knife, a pitcher, an implement for stirring, and cups. Such bromides leave out 90% of what else you’d need.

Periodically, I encounter authors and speakers who write or say ‘to live life more fully’ by pretending that “you have six months to live.” If you had six months to live you’d engage in behaviors different than now.

You might sell your house. You might go on world travel, or at least travel more than you’ve been doing. You might dissipate your assets. You might spend your money down to nothing, or give it all away. Then, when you undoubtedly live beyond six months, you’re likely to be penniless!

Thank You For Sharing (!)

‘Think outside the box.’ What does the “box” even mean? The phrase has been so overused that it is now rendered meaningless. Would it be better simply to say “expand your thinking,” or “brainstorm,” or “reach beyond the norm”?

‘There is no ‘I’ in team.’ Michael Jordan once remarked that while there is no “I” in team, there certainly is a “me.” Acronyms and creative word use might have their place in a corporate pep rally, otherwise let them be.

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Ten Ways to Overcome Information Overload

How do we narrow down thousands of journals, magazines, newsletters, emails and blog posts at our disposal?

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We are confronted by staggering amounts of new information every day; some of it valid, some of it contrived. Career professionals in particular can be easily overwhelmed by the wealth of information related to competitor data, new product and service launches, market changes, and industry trends and wind up with information anxiety.

Although we have access to a variety of information and communication tools, how do we narrow down tens of thousands of journals, magazines, newsletters, and blog posts at our disposal and manage information coming in? How do we flourish amidst thousands of printed pages, not to mention millions of pages on the web, and hundreds of emails, phone calls and text messages?

More Information, More Confusion

While we enjoy a growing capability to extract relevant information that supports our careers and our lives, most of what we encounter is of marginal value, at best, and often stands in the way of our goals and objectives.  We don’t have hours on end to contend with everything that competes for our attention; most days, it feels as if we don’t have sufficient time at all.

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Fortunately, we can employ 10 strategies in a manner that will be productive and even enjoyable and fight that information overload:

  • Contemplate in advance the kind of information you seek.
  • Identify the vital information carriers.
  • Streamline your intake capability.
  • Beware of information crutches.
  • Establish a distribution system.
  • Be thoughtful when sending information.
  • Design responses.
  • Do away with paper.
  • Constantly review and update.
  • Acknowledge the benefits of remaining organized.

Contemplate in Advance the Kind of Information You Seek 

Have a reasonable idea of the type of information you want and need to gather. Such information encompasses news about your industry or profession; notable product and service developments; significant regulations and new legislation; client, customer, or consumer-related information; special applications; intelligence on competitors; and emerging trends and prospects.

Identify the Vital Information Carriers 

Identify the small number of key information sources, including publications, websites, blogs, and hard news sources, that cover what’s occurring in the field. You’ll really only need three to four sources; you’d be surprised at the amount of coverage overlap you’ll see.

Streamline Your Intake Capacity 

Once you recognize the kind of information you require and a handful of the best sources, you need to establish a methodical way of receiving, synthesizing, and applying such information that will benefit you, your team, and your organization.

Staying attuned to your goals and objectives and focusing on the kind of information that supports your efforts gives you the best chance to accomplish what you want. You might consider reducing social networking, depending on your job. Your quest is to maintain a constant inflow of relevant information in as simple a manner as possible. Yes, on occasion you can give attention to peripheral issues. In general, however, focus on the information that will make a difference in your effectiveness.

Beware of Information Crutches 

Many people have a predisposition to collect and retain information that confirms what they already believe or know to be true. They don’t need to save such information; the practice is more like a reflex action. With the vast amounts of information on the Internet today and the power of search engines, it’s not necessary to hang on to much.

More vital is the ability to find what you need in a hurry, which often requires only a few keystrokes. Retaining piles and files of hard copy information is of diminishing value and can impede your effectiveness. Moreover, files and information that you retain for more than 18 months often can be deleted with no detrimental effects.

Establish a Distribution System 

As you rise in your career, don’t spend inordinate amounts of time gathering information. Much of what you seek can be identified, collected, and disseminated to you by junior staff. You can use them as information scouts and as a clipping service of sorts to pre-read for you.

Once freed from the constant task of identifying and assembling information, you’re better able to think conceptually in ways that will help to propel your team, division, or department forward. This is especially true when introducing a new product, service, or delivery system.

Be Thoughtful When Sending Information

Sometimes the staggering amounts of information is due to our lack of organizing guidelines. Such guidelines could otherwise spare us from unnecessary, excessive exposure to information that does not support our current challenges.

Learn to be more discriminating when exchanging information. Eliminate acronyms, abbreviations, and jargon that can lead to misunderstandings, and limit the length of your correspondence with others by including only what is necessary to know. Overwhelming our recipients with information is no more welcome to them than when they overwhelm us. We also must encourage one another to stop CCing and BCCing when it is not necessary, and avoid submitting “FYI” kinds of messages.

Design Responses

Throughout the workweek, you’ll receive many different types of requests. Many are routine, so you can automate your responses by using your email’s signature function. Most email software programs today support at least 20 different signatures. You can create and save signatures by category that enable you to respond promptly and effectively to customers and clients. The signatures that you’ve developed can also be personalized to address the particulars of a specific inquiry.

What kinds of signatures might you create in advance? Rosters, standard letters, product and service descriptions, price lists, team or organizational descriptions, credentials, etc. The more signatures you establish, the quicker and more productively you can answer questions from inquirers.

Do Away With Paper (When Practical) 

A variety of hard copy files and documents will need to be retained. Nevertheless, you can undertake a campaign to reduce the volume of paper you’re retaining, whether it’s in filing cabinets, desk drawers, or storage bins.

Evaluating each document you receive and consider whether it merits saving. Will a scanned version of said document suffice? If so, scan it and recycle the hard copy. Yes, scanning requires extra time and effort, but in the long run the payoff is more than worth it. When you effectively label each of the documents you’ve scanned, you enhance your ability to quickly locate them on your hard drive or online. Finding such e-documents is generally easier than finding the hard copy.

Constantly Review and Update 

Periodically review your documents. Is the information still relevant? Does it need to be combined with something else? Should it be reclassified? Your goal is to keep your holdings to a minimum.

Tackle only a handful of file folders at a time, so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Ask yourself, “What can be deleted? What should be merged? What can be extracted so that the few gems of wisdom crucial to my success can be applied as needed?” Think of this task with a project management hat on and take it step-by-step.

Acknowledge the Benefits of Remaining Organized 

Staying organized might make you anxious. Organizing is certainly not a glamorous task. Yet, in a world that overwhelms us with the volume of information and communication, becoming the master of your files, and maintaining them so they serve you, is more important than ever before. Information overload occurs when we let things pile up. The people who become adept at recognizing, gathering, retrieving, and applying the right information at the right time are valuable to their organizations and their teams.

The future belongs to ultra-productive people who understand the importance of information and communication management. Regardless of the obstacles they face, these adept information managers are capable of pointing their team or organization in the appropriate direction. Why? They have a well-developed ability to identify, assemble, and impart knowledge that they extract from information.

Ultimately they can draw upon their knowledge to lead with wisdom.

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