Editor’s note: Grace Ueng is CEO of Savvy Growth, a leadership coaching and management consultancy founded in 2003. Her great passion to help leaders and the companies they run achieve their fullest potential combined with her empathy and ability to help leaders figure out their “why” is what clients value most. Grace will be writing a regular column for WRAL TechWire. Watch for future columns.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – In continuing my positive psychology research for this Happiness and Leadership column that I bring to you each week, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on key learnings from my prior year long journey.
Seven years ago, in anticipation of becoming an empty nester and fearful of falling into despondency, I delved into a year of positive psychology studies. I came up with 7 themes that I entitled Project Peak: Climbing the Mountains of Life, Business and Beyond that I’d like to share with you.
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take
Many of us struggle to have the courage to take a chance on an idea. Idea generation is the easy part. Taking action is the hard part. You can’t cross the finish line if you don’t start.
While on one extreme, some people have the “shiny object syndrome” and detour constantly and lack focus on new adventures, most people have several focused bucket list items, and some of these people year after year, keep putting these adventures off. And on their deathbed, they still have not yet attempted. They had thought, just when my kids are grown, when I get this promotion, or when I have saved enough money for retirement, then I will do it….
I learned early on to journey on the path not taken. While I was a junior at MIT, I interviewed for a pilot program at Bain and Company, a smallish strategy firm at the time that has since grown to become a leading global management consulting firm. To my surprise and delight, I was selected to be an Associate Consultant intern. I loved this summer experience – as we were treated to the most interesting work and summer outings – exposed to the best that Bain had to offer as part of this summer recruiting experience.
I had such a positive internship, that I decided to return upon graduating from MIT. When I went back, I didn’t like it nearly as much – the very long nights crunching numbers and early morning flights with little sleep. Given I had deferred admittance to Harvard Business School, I thought to myself, “What do I love more than anything?” “What shot would I like to take?”
I loved magazines and media and began a letter writing campaign to companies I found interesting in New York City and scheduled several days of back to back meetings to explore a new career path. After several intense days of meetings, I walked away with offers from Sports Illustrated, Vanity Fair, and Time. Never before had I read Sports Illustrated. But I loved the passion of the Sports Illustrated consumer marketing team and its leaders, so I said YES! I think I must have been the first MIT graduate to work at SI!
Taking my shot gave me the opportunity to do intrapreneurship– being innovative within a Fortune 500 setting. I loved that work and was able to do similar innovation a few years later at General Mills and then a few years later, take the full plunge into entrepreneurship.
Shots you take now will determine your future. What shot do you want to take this year? 5 -10 years from now? As I advise my coaching clients, the shots you take today directly determine what future shots you will have the chance to take.
2. Failure is a good thing
First-time success is lucky. First-time failure is the norm. Give yourself permission to fail. Few failures are fatal. In fact, many companies now seek those with a resume that includes failures as well as successes. The most successful people in the world are those who have failed and then reflected on their learnings.
My lead Happiness teacher seven years ago was Tal Ben Shahar, the creator of Harvard’s most popular course ever, on Happiness. He often told his students, “Unless we learn to fail, we will fail to learn.”
For years, I would review my week and topline my successes. As I progressed in my Positive Psychology journey, I started tracking a new metric, ‘Return on Failure.’ When something doesn’t go my way, instead of being down, I do my best to think positively, that failure is a good thing. I remind myself that if I don’t have a lot of failures, I am not stretching myself and stepping outside of my comfort zone, and that will limit my success.
3. Speak the future now
Visionary entrepreneurs have the talent to speak their future vision as being reality today. They “will” the future to happen.
I vividly remember my first week on the job at OpenSite, a startup which ultimately had a very successful exit. I sat in a key meeting with our co-founder, Michael Brader-Araje, who was to be interviewed by our leading industry analyst, which my marketing team had sourced for him. This analyst asked many probing questions about our product and what we were enabling.
Michael confidently answered all the questions talking about our product as if it were already mature doing XYZ, when it barely did ABC! True, XYZ was in our product roadmap, but even though I was only a few days into the job, I didn’t think that we could quite do what our founder was saying.
Well, I found myself and my marketing team in the months that followed ‘willing’ the vision that our founder pronounced in the analyst call to happen. That perseverance is why our CEO, Kip Frey, had so much trust in me and my marketing and product teams.
Visionary entrepreneurs and leaders have the confidence to speak their future vision as being reality today. They “will” the future to happen! And inspire those around them to make sure their vision becomes reality.
4. Power of Visualization
When I became suddenly single in my early 30s, my family counselor would often say to me that being single with a baby son was not the “picture” I had for my life. While this situation was unexpected, I thought, “How I can I make the most of the time my young son is with his other parent?”
I joined a group and started training for endurance events. Since the furthest I advanced in my athletic career was a junior varsity high school cheerleader, starting out later in life was not easy.
When I was preparing for my first marathon, my coach told me to make posters with the caption ‘Grace the Athlete’ and put them throughout my house. Top athletes visualize every detail of the “perfect” game to yield winning outcomes. Instead of looking at all the obstacles that become so big in our mind to inhibit us, visualizing success is powerful in moving us forward.
The way the brain is shaped with the visual cortex, sometimes it does not know the difference between real and imagined things. You may have woken up suddenly from a nightmare in a panic and then said to yourself “thank God that was just a dream…” You can trick your brain!
I often keep visuals on my office wall and bathroom mirror of people I admire or situations I hope to find myself. I still have ‘Grace…the Athlete’ posters. Over the years, I’ve posted pictures of the commencement speaker at UNC, given my love of motivational speaking, and also Oprah, given I love being the ‘Chinese Oprah.’ I encourage my clients to do the same!
What do you want to become? Make a poster!
5. Channel Fear to your advantage
I was having lunch many years ago with a friend and mentor, Randy Myer –a successful entrepreneur who has climbed four of the seven summits, the tallest mountains on each of the continents. He asked me if I had a long held fear. I gave it some thought and while it may sound silly to many, I had a fear of diving head first into a swimming pool. I didn’t have to face this fear in triathlons as we jumped into open water or swimming pools!
Given how much I respected Randy, I decided to take his question very seriously and address this fear. I hired the swimming coach I was working with at the time, a competitive Ironman athlete, and she took me to an aquatic center that had a well laid out deep end where elite athletes train, and she taught me the proper technique. I realized with the right coach, the proper facility, and the right mindset, diving head first is easy and elegant!
Stepping back, I realized that my literally learning to dive into a swimming pool could help me figuratively dive into any challenge that I feared!
I now ask my clients: “What are your greatest fears?” Fear increases when unaddressed and can paralyze you. When they share their fear of taking a certain action or making a key decision in their life, I ask them “what is the worst thing that could happen if you take this action?” Framing their fear in this way usually makes them realize the worst thing is not that bad, that they can definitely survive. And that the best thing could be very good. So that helps them to overcome their fear.
6. Bias for action.
There are two types of people in the world. Those that make things happen and those that let things happen to them. Which type are you?
Research shows that those who are successful are those that have a bias for action. They are clear on their values and what they really want for their lives, make decisions and stick with them. The same studies show that on the other hand, people who fail usually make decisions slowly and change their minds quickly, always bouncing back and forth. Just decide!
I often say that as consultants, my firm is paid to have the right answers and as coaches, we are paid to ask the right questions. Asking the right questions increases bias for action by 80%.
7. Enjoy the journey
Why are so many entrepreneurs serial? It’s the journey, not reaching the summit that entrepreneurs enjoy. Success does not bring happiness. Happiness brings success.
Tal Ben-Shahar shares: “Attaining lasting happiness requires that we enjoy the journey on our way toward a destination we deem valuable. Happiness, therefore, is not about making it to the peak of the mountain, nor is it about climbing aimlessly around the mountain: happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak.”
Just as entrepreneurs enjoy the journey more than reaching the summit, don’t forget to enjoy your journey in climbing your mountain. Most people get stuck in the “OK” zone where their positive experiences outweigh their negative by about 2 or 3 to 1. Research shows that Peak Performance happens just past the 3 to 1 ratio.
My wish for you is to enjoy more of life, be happier, and thereby achieve your fullest potential.
About Grace Ueng
Grace is CEO of Savvy Growth, a leadership coaching and management consultancy founded in 2003. Her great passion to help leaders and the companies they run achieve their fullest potential combined with her empathy and ability to help leaders figure out their “why” are what clients value most.
Grace’s core offerings are one on one coaching for CEOs and their leadership teams, leading workshops on Personal Branding, Happiness and Speaking Success, and conducting strategic reviews for companies at a critical juncture. She is also a motivational speaker on the topic of Happiness, as interest in mental well being has grown in recent years.
A marketing strategist, Grace held leadership roles at five high growth technology ventures that successfully exited through acquisition or IPO. She started her career at Bain & Company and then worked in brand management at Clorox and General Mills. She is a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School and holds a positive coaching certification from the Whole Being Institute.
Grace and her partner, Rich Chleboski, a cleantech veteran, develop and implement strategies to support the growth of impact focused companies and then coach their leaders in carrying out their strategic plans. Their expertise spans all phases of the business from evaluation through growth and liquidity.
More from Grace Ueng:
Do you have a best friend at work? Workplaces are changing – and bosses must adopt
From technology marketing leader to starting a new venture: Lessons from an entrepreneurial journey
From depression to gratitude and happiness – how a three-decade journey changed me