How to Say Yes

The title sounds like a self-help book, I know. But hear me out.

My new commute affords me plenty of time to read each day, and I’ve enjoyed taking full advantage of that quiet(ish) time. Interspersed between fun fiction and travel tales, you’ll find me reading a number of books related to success, leadership, leaning in… you know, those.

It seems that a running theme in many of these popular reads is the power of saying no. Evidently a lot of powerful, successful women have learned that a healthy ability to say N-O at work is crucial to maintaining both their status and their sanity.

I don’t disagree.

But some of these fine ladies gloss over the fact that to even get where they are now —  and have the ability to say no with authority — they first had to learn something else: how to say yes.

I don’t mean the kind of yes-ing that leads to overwork and underpay. I definitely don’t mean the kind that can cost you more than your career.

But as a woman who is perhaps a shade too comfortable, too quick to say no to things outside of my comfort zone, I’m working on a process to teach myself to say yes.

Yes, I can handle that report. Can you show me how to format it?

Yes, I can take the lead in that conversation. Let’s go over an agenda.

Yes, learning to do that is important to me. Are you available on Thursday?

Yes, I will join the team after work for some social fun time. How do I sign up?

For my fellow actors, this is my version of “yes, and.”** It can ease my way into saying yes to things that might otherwise intimidate me by asking a follow-up question. This lets the other party know I’m involved, but doesn’t force them to assume I know everything and won’t need any guidance.

Yes, that big sale was mine.

Yes, I know how to do that.

I’m also learning not to apologize for my success, which is another way of saying yes to myself. It used to be my habit to downplay the sales I made when I was selling jewelry, because the experience I received from it always seemed to trump the actual fact. I’ve since learned to value the more cut-and-dry factors in addition to the less tangible gains. Dollars and… sense!

For me, saying yes has been as challenging to embrace as saying no can be for others. There’s a freedom to it I hadn’t anticipated, almost like that feeling I used to get while on stage — embracing a feeling, committing to the scene, making the magic happen. How nice to see that play out in real life.

**When you take a class or perform improvisation, it’s crucial to move the scene along by always saying some version of “yes, and…” You don’t want to be the one to kill the momentum of the scene by refusing to go with the flow.

The Missing Mentor

Conventional wisdom states that in order to be successful in business, a person with little experience should seek out a person with lots of it, in order to obtain some sort of magical guidance/tutelage/oracle cocktail that will propel the budding young star into a galaxy far, far away.

Or something like that.

The truth is, long-term mentoring relationships are both rare and difficult to come by, particularly for anyone working as a minority of any kind in his or her field. Those partnerships take time, patience, and dedication to build and manage; the mentor and mentee need to feel equally invested in each other in order to sustain a mutual professional bond.

As a writer, I’m fortunate that many of my role models are relatively accessible people, at least in the sense that some of them are public figures and active industry leaders — I can always find their work, and with a bit of effort I can occasionally meet them in person at trade events. This doesn’t make them mentors in the traditional sense, but it provides some building blocks for my career direction that I wouldn’t otherwise have.

In addition, I find the good folks of the jewelry industry to be pretty forthcoming with advice, all things considered. There is the sense that a rising tide will lift all boats, and as I make forays into the realm of connection-building with an earnest desire to learn, I’ve received mostly warm welcomes from both men and women. (Mostly.)

Unfortunately, my immediate work sphere has no such people available. First of all, are exactly zero female “higher ups” at my current company of about 150. Nada. Goose egg. I work in an environment that is totally dominated by Category: Straight White Male, Subcategory: Privileged Millennial, and it shows.

You’d have to be fortunate enough to live off the grid in order to escape the genderized buzzwords of the modern tech world. I can #PowerPose, #LeanIn, #AskHerMore, and go #AllInForHer to my little heart’s content (I could even be married to a man who’s #HeforShe), but would Tweeting any of those get me closer to a tech exec? Unlikely.

In an odd twist, I’ve had about a half-dozen women at my own company go out of their ways to discuss this very issue with me. Keep in mind, I don’t work in HR or People Operations. Either those power poses are really working, or I’m simply much more outspoken against the downright absurd lack of women in general and in leadership in particular.

(True story: when I paraphrased The Notorious RBG’s famous quote about the number of women on the Supreme Court it will take to satisfy her — all of them — I got laughed at. Actually laughed at for daring to argue that all-female anything is not a crazy idea.)

So what’s the deal? There are many theories, but right now I’m eyeing the thoughts laid out in this post. Essentially, we might need to rethink our approach to the mentoring function entirely. While building a solid connection with a few select people should still be on the radar, it may be more beneficial to “create mentoring moments right around you.” This means paying attention to the people who are most easily accessible — yes, including your peers — and seeking out a more impromptu mentoring dynamic, easing some of the pressures that come with long-term relationships. This advice is founded in a pragmatic approach to the ways and means of business today.

My personal preference is still to pursue a more lasting bond, one that must be built on developing trust and a deeper understanding between the people involved. But perhaps it’s in my best interest (and the interests of women everywhere) to take the growth opportunities when we can get them.

P.S. The header photo is proof I’ve been Power Posin’ since 2008, folks.

No Dinosaurs Here

My dear jewelry friends and colleagues, I think it’s time we had a talk. A serious talk.

But first, please read this article, and take a few moments to give it some thought. Don’t worry, I’ll wait right here.

… All set? Welcome back. Now, let’s have that chat.

Did you notice the emphasized pull quote? If not, please go back and read it again (carefully this time).

In a single sentence, the primary issue facing the industry has been neatly summarized. The cause of those staggeringly bad statistics is staring us in the face. Few seem willing to admit it, and as Ms. Graff points out, nothing is going to happen unless businesses”change their business model to adapt to the demands of retail today.”

Are you paying attention, yet? Have you taken a long look at the sustainability of your current plan, your client base, the increasing demands for innovation? Most importantly, have you decided what you’re going to do about it?

I have long been known as a realist, with very little patience for a glass-half-full outlook (cockeyed optimist I am not). But I’m going to break from my own tradition here, and tell you all that this is not the end of the world. Well, it’s the end of the world as we’ve been operating it for the past several decades, but that not a bad thing. It’s a very, very good thing.

The jewelry industry is not going to die off in the manner of the dinosaur, comically staring down destruction as it hurtles towards us in a fireball of death. If we were to go, it would be by way of slow, painful starvation, the way endangered species dwindle and die off in depressing groups of hundreds.

I’m not going to let that happen. So, forget about it. I joined a company that can will help bring about great innovative changes to both the retail and wholesale/manufacturing side of things, but I don’t intend to simply sit back and watch it trundle along. This is not a time for ponderously slow growth, it’s absolutely time to seize the future with both hands and maybe a foot, dragging it along if we must.

Observe your business. Talk to your sales staff, bench workers, designers. Hell, sit down with the interns and the secretaries if you have them. Ask these interested parties what they love about what they do, then ask how they can personally help make things better. Consult your colleagues, and you’ll find willing listeners with wonderful, creative ideas. Talk about change and growth and new technology with some excitement in your voice, rather than the timid fear that so many feel when bringing up anything new.

I’m here to talk about this, too. I have so much more to learn, and I can only do that by being open about what I still don’t know (and need to know).

This post had a lot of talk, and maybe a call to action (can you here me now?). As jewelers, we are all keenly aware that under-promising and over-delivering is the only way to live — so now it’s time for me to do that. Let’s have breakfast at the shows, or Skype over coffee, and let’s begin to adapt and solve problems.

We’re too awesome to die out, people.

Note: not a real picture of a dinosaur. Photo credit to J.