Do What You Can From Where You Sit

This statement, credo, way of life was gifted to me over 15 years ago by a former boss. Without specifically naming him, I wanted to share how one person can change how you think about how you can leave your impact on the world...

I was doing what I do...working like a fiend! Burning the midnight oil.  Kicking butt on my day job of leading a complex business and team while also trying to launch a new diversity strategy for the company in my spare time at the request of my boss.    

The diversity work was important to me AND thankfully to him as well but not to many others.  We were making zero progress as we tried to influence change to an apathetic,  and in some cases, defiant audience.  

I couldn't get them to pay attention. His agenda was not their agenda. I'd go in to his office regularly whining about not being able to make progress; complaining about the invisible brick walls being erected around me.  I was surrounded by people who had no interest in being helpful.

On this one particular day, again there to report on the progress of our diversity efforts, he fiddled around the office as he listened to me speak.  When I paused for his response, he stopped, turned around, looked me dead in the eye and said...."Valerie, you are a phenomenal leader with the drive, skill and tenacity to do great things but you let other people frustrate you; you let other people get in your way.  Stop counting on other people.  Don't worry about what others think, do or say.   Focus on what YOU can control. Do what you can from where you sit.  Make a difference in the space that you own and others will learn from and begin to follow your lead!"

Too much to fully absorb in the moment, it took me some time to truly process all of the messages he meant for me that day. And his reference to "Do What You Can From Where You Sit...", no one had ever put it to me that way before.  

He had said so much but then again there was so much more that I felt he didn't say but intended for me to reflect upon.  As his words slowly sunk in over the following days and weeks they started to resonate with me.  I realized that he was absolutely right. There was feedback clothed in his words of coaching and guidance.  This was not only about how I approached the diversity work, it was how i approached ALL of my work. I would often get frustrated when I felt like others were getting in the way of progress. My type A personality wanted, needed to see progress to feel fulfilled.  No progress. No satisfaction. Set a goal. Make a list. Get it done. By any means necessary. That's ME!.  It never occurred to me that leadership was about more than my need to check items off MY lists.

I feel incredibly blessed to have had some wonderful and giving mentors, advocates and sponsors take me under their wings to help mold me over the years.  I was a lost, blank slate who has learned so many incredible lessons and I feel a duty to share as many of those lessons as I can with other willing, future leaders who have many years ahead of them still to grow and learn.

Here are a few of the unspoken lessons I took away from that experience and try to live each day:

  • Feedback is a GIFT!  It can come in many forms. Look for it. Listen for it. Ask for it.  Take it in any form you can get it. Reflect on it. Absorb it. Grow from it. Even if you don't agree with it!
  • I learned from that boss and experience to not stay frustrated.  You mustn't dwell in negativity.  We ALL get frustrated but you cant stay in that space.  While I still get frustrated (I'm human-:), I am also committed to waking up each day starting anew. If one approach doesn't work, let's think of a new one.  As my mother would say, "there are many ways to skin this cat"!
  • Don't nobody wanna hear your whining and complaint!  Stop talking, debating and analyzing what you want to do. Instead focus your energy and Demonstrate what CAN BE DONE.  You will influence others more quickly if you show them what success looks like and how to achieve it. Show them what's in it for them!
  • Rarely am I discouraged or deterred from a mission because in my way of thinking there is always SOMETHING that can be done to advance the ball forward; to demonstrate by actions and results what is possible so others can follow my lead.
  • Leadership is about bringing other people along.  Creating TEAM successes.  You can't beat people over the head to achieve your goals. No one wants to help the person who appears to only be looking out for themselves.

Because I listened to the feedback and changed my approach, together the team went on to create history for that organization.    We were able to do what many thought could never be done. We formed a Diversity Council of phenomenal leaders.  We introduced a firm wide diversity program. Hired a Chief Diversity Officer, the first in the firm's history.

So, for those of you who know me (and the many of you who don't), now you know why I will always jump at the opportunity to take on the tough assignment that no one else wants.  The thing that others think can't be done; the thing that hasn't been done in the past. It's because I believe in the ability to make the impossible, possible by working through and leading others.  To influence others to a win-win that works for ALL involved.

I'm leading a new opportunity just like that now and I cant wait to see what the team accomplishes together!

Lessons for a Successful Life

Each of these lessons is applicable to Life, Business and to Managing your Finances.  Master these and you will master life.


1. Know yourself and what situations you can thrive in

Avoid the situations where you have been unsuccessful; Learn from past mistakes and mis-matches. Ask yourself what worked (vs. didn’t) the last time.  Look for those things and situations that worked well and seek out more of those opportunities.

2. Be selective about where and how (and with whom) you spend your time (and money)

Managing your time well is a key characteristic of very successful individuals. Be disciplined and protective of your time. KNOW and MONITOR how you spend your time (and money).  Cut out those activities (people and expenses) that keep you from fulfilling your dreams.

3. Build Bi-lateral Relationships

Your reputation precedes you; Build valuable relationships through out your life that you can draw on during times of difficulty; Don’t wait until you need help to reach out and develop these relationships. Relationships should be bi-lateral; it’s not just about YOU.  Your integrity, credibility and reputation will follow you for life. Protect it!

4. Name your Goals

Identify a goal, name it, claim it, and share it freely.  It doesn’t have to be your DESTINY.  It can simply be a step toward your dream.  It can change over time. People won’t know what you want – or how they can help you - unless you tell them.  You will be amazed at the help you will receive and doors that will open when people know what you want and how they can help.

5. Be Selective About Who You Consider Your Friends

Not everyone is your friend.  You will have “acquaintances” and “colleagues”, but not everyone is your “friend” OR have your best interests at heart.  Friends look out for you, are honest with you, and are supportive of you and your dreams and you of them in return. Friends are hard to uncover in matters of money and even harder to nurture in life.  Having “true friends” is critical as rarely can we navigate life without them. 

6. Think Half Empty; Project Half Full

Always be thinking of alternatives to your current situation; Ask yourself, “What can go wrong”; (Inward and Outward) over-confidence in any one thing is a recipe for disaster.  Be prepared for bumps in the road.  Think of alternatives but be careful not to project paranoia.  Show confidence BUT not over-confidence.  Confidence can be a magnet but too much of it can be perceived as arrogance.

7. Trouble Don’t Last Always

Don’t panic. Stand tall during crisis; Focus on your ultimate goal; When others are scurrying during crisis keep a clear head to navigate the challenge; Expect that life is cyclical; Is a Test. Don’t dwell in the problem; Focus on the solution.

8. Have a Plan B (and C and D)

Not every thing in life is going to go the way that you want.  Expect bumps in the road.  Every problem has a solution. Think through your options in advance and be ready to execute on at least one alternative solution immediately.  If Plan A doesn’t work out, don’t give up, try Plan B. 

9. Focus on what you can control

Don’t try to control others, their issues and/or their problems.   It is not your job to manage other people’s lives, or their problems or their money. Rather be an example that others can emulate. Be a light for others, but don’t be a crutch for them.    

10. Everything in Life Happens for a Reason

It’s hard to see this in the moment but life should not be about regrets. Everything in life is meant for you. Every person you encounter is intended for you.   The key is to find the lessons in every experience.  That bad boss passes through your life to teach you how to deal with different personalities.