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3 Things They Don’t Teach in College (but should)

Last month our daughter graduated from high school.  It’s been an emotional ride filled with pride, excitement for what’s ahead and a touch of sadness when I contemplate her goodbye. When she heads off to college in the fall, it will be a big transition for us all.

I find myself thinking about my own college experience.  What I learned in and out of the classroom, lasting friendships as well as the recognition that I could make a difference in the world. My small, private liberal arts school engrained in me their motto,  “ Not unto ourselves alone are we born” and for that I’m grateful.

There are a few things, however, I wish would have been taught back then….lessons that could have saved me time, lowered my stress levels and improved my overall well-being.

1. Trade “perfect” for “good enough”

I’m a performance-oriented person and for the longest time this meant delivering 100%. Research shows that perfectionism starts in childhood.  My father always held the bar high. When I announced in 8th grade that I was elected class secretary, he asked “why not president?”  I know dad meant no harm – he thought it was an encouragement, but I translated it into an achievement paradigm that encompassed school, work and life.

This is not a tale of how I beat the perfection bug, but in my 30’s – working full time and trying to raise a family I cried “uncle” to the voice in me that obsessed over being perfect.

Driven by necessity, I learned to assess a situation and determine what would be “good enough”. 

In most instances delivering 90%, 75%, or even 60% is good enough.    It’s a technique I still apply when I get stressed and find myself obsessing unnecessarily.

If you struggle with perfectionism,  it might be time to embrace “good enough”.

  2. Tune-in to your emotions

Recently our family saw the movie Inside Out.  In this adorable film, the emotion “Joy” is the de facto CEO in the headquarters of 11-year-old Riley’s brain.  Through a series of events Joy and her antithesis Sadness are displaced from headquarters and Riley’s other emotions –  Fear, Disgust, and Anger try to avert what they believe will be a disaster if Joy does not return. Without providing a spoiler, we learn that all of our emotions work together for our benefit.

That notion was a far cry from what I perceived as a child.  The contrast of my stoic Dad and ultra-sensitive Mom left me confused about emotions.  So I stayed neutral.

As I now know, one can’t be neutral when it comes to emotions.  Emotional Intelligence, the concept introduced by Daniel Goleman,  suggests that when we are unconscious of our emotions they manage us.

Research by TalentSmart points out that only 36% of adults are able to accurately identify their emotions as they happen.  Yet emotional intelligence, labeled the “other kind of smart” by Travis Bradbury, is acknowledged as a predictor of workplace success and higher rates of overall satisfaction and well-being.

We can monitor our emotions and use them to help guide our thinking and actions in positive and productive ways.

The first step in strengthening one’s emotional intelligence is to tune-in to our emotions. My coach, EQ mentor and author of Smart isn’t EnoughDr. Kenton R. Hill devised what he calls the Self Awareness Check-in.  Simply put, it’s a tool for developing the habit of being emotionally aware. It goes like this: when under stress or (even when all is well) ask yourself, What am I feeling? What are my senses telling me? What am I telling myself or what am I doing as a result? And most importantly, what are my intentions? 

My clients report that the “check-in” helps them head off conflict before it bubbles over as well as keep them focused and productive.

3. Learn to take risks

In my case, perfectionism plus neutral emotions produced a low risk mentality.  One can’t seize an opportunity when the conditions have to be perfect or a choice needs to be rooted in practicality.  Rather than seeing risk as a strength defined as “ takes a chance on losses for risk of high gain”,  I avoided risk.

In 2013 an artery burst in my husband’s brain, setting into motion events that changed my perspective about risk.  Five months into his recovery I decided to quit my job and join him at Iron Coaching. It was a decision that didn’t make perfect sense, that’s for sure!

How did I overcome my risk aversion?  

First, I checked in with my emotions.  I recognized fear played a bigger role in my life than I wanted to admit, and it was time to put my self-confidence and courage to work.

Next, I defined my purpose – what was I hoping to accomplish with the risk?  After all that occurred, having more time to nurture my most important relationships and do what I’m passionate about were my priorities.

That realized – I looked at the facts.  I’m naturally analytical (and made a living by being a strategic thinker) so doing the discovery and putting together a plan was surprisingly simple.  Each time I’d get a little nervous (and I did) I’d circle back, acknowledge the emotion, remind myself of my goal and continue to work out the plan.

When I finally resigned from my job it came with a sense of euphoria, hope and optimism.

Will these topics make there way to my daughter’s college syllabus?  Probably not, but I can hope.  I’ve been teaching them to her as best a mom can…now she’s on her own (sniff, sniff).

I love to hear what others have learned by sharpening their Emotional Intelligence. Please share your story.