Liz Matthews is an endless well of insight and inspiration. Her reflections on leaning out, boundary-setting and adaptability are messages that can shift the way we live and work. Enjoy this week's Q+A with Liz below, and be sure to check out her feature in our October issue of En Root!
This month's theme is all about 'leaning out.' Tell us about how you interpret this theme, and how it has played a role in your personal or professional life.
I’ve given this theme a lot of thought over the years. Leaning out is about taking the time and energy to pursue interests outside of your traditional work, while maintaining a meaningful career. It’s about carefully choosing the projects and promotions you take on in order to create space for the other aspects of life that you find fulfilling. Years ago, I was on a work trip to Idaho and decided to get up early, ski a few runs, and return in time for an 11:00am meeting. When I was off the mountain, I slipped out of my ski boots and into my tall leather boots, put my hair in a ponytail, and was presentable and present for my meeting. Moreover, I connected with the people in the meeting because I could talk about the main attraction in their community, drawing on first-hand experience.
At OutGrowth, we believe in designing the space and time to reimagine the path forward. How do you believe the concept of 'leaning out' can impact our perspective and influence our future decisions?
When you have hobbies and other valuable ways to spend your time, you can experience clarity of thought, which can provide you with perspective on what is important and what is worth spending “stress capital” on. This can help influence your future decisions. For example, I am very aware of what my stress capacity is and as soon as I go beyond it, I know. I am short with my daughter and impatient with my husband. Everyone feels it in my house and I’m fairly certain no one likes it. In fact, my daughter calls me on it and says, “Mom, you’re doing that thing.” If I know that a project at work is something I want to do but has the potential to be stressful, I try to manage my time in a way that will absorb this level of intensity without putting me over “the edge.” For example, I will clear the decks of volunteer commitments and minimize social engagements around peak times. Everyone has a different threshold when it comes to how much they can take on – both personally and professionally. I have witnessed numerous friends push these boundaries and end up experiencing emotional breakdowns and, in some cases, get admitted into the hospital. Knowing one’s limits is important, and it takes pushing it at work, in school, and at home to understand what those boundaries are. But once I learned mine, I’ve become very protective of my time. Understanding your personal limits can help guide you on what projects you take on, promotions you pursue, and career paths you choose.
Tell us about your most significant professional moment since the start of the pandemic.
Pre-pandemic, my office was accustomed to using Zoom for our meetings because my employer has two physical locations. The fact that I worked at the “satellite” location was my number one challenge at work. Town Halls would take place at the main location, and while those of us at the satellite location gathered in a conference room to watch and listen, we couldn’t communicate back. The front of our building was not on the school brochures. We felt like an afterthought. COVID changed everything I didn’t like about this set-up. As soon as I realized this was our “new normal,” I was thrilled to participate in trainings and events that previously were not accessible because of logistics. Despite all the downsides of living through a pandemic, this was my professional silver lining. Our Town Halls are now on Zoom so everyone is equalized in viewpoint and can submit a question via the chat. We continue to offer events virtually, which enables students, alumni, and employers--from around the globe--to attend our events. And there’s no going back .
How did this experience change the course of your life, your career or your outlook from pre-pandemic times.
The pandemic reinforced some lessons for me.
First, the importance of patience in the workplace. I have found myself in positions where I really liked the work I was doing but there were external factors that made the job challenging, e.g. a difficult boss or co-worker. If there are enough good things about the situation, it’s often best to stay because sometimes those bosses or colleagues move on. By having patience, you can sometimes avoid quitting or making rash decisions based on external factors. Because of the shift to remote meetings and events, the biggest challenge I faced at my current job vanished overnight. You just never know.
Another lesson reinforced is the value of embracing adaptability and flexibility. Both are qualities coveted by employers pre and post pandemic. These soft skills are not taught. You learn them over time by dealing with adversity. Adaptability is the ability to adjust your situation to suit a new environment; flexibility is the willingness to do so. These two skills are both important and slightly different as explained well in this article from Indeed.com.
As we know, the pandemic unfortunately resulted in many lay-offs. If you were lucky and kept your job, you most likely had to take on additional duties and assignments. The willingness to add to your workload is an exercise in flexibility. A positive attitude – or at least one stemming from curiosity – demonstrates the skill of adaptability.
When you live through changes at work, you gain experience in what it takes to get through the challenges. It changes you. It helps you become a seasoned employee who understands the necessary changes that take place during economic downturns and unexpected circumstances.
Now everyone has lived through a universal challenge that has developed and/or strengthened the valuable soft skills of patience, adaptability, and flexibility.
What is one competency or skill you hope to develop/are developing in 2022?
I grew up in a household dedicated to the liberal arts and didn’t appreciate the importance and value of understanding finance. In the mid-aughts, I started my own yoga apparel business. It was up and running for about five years, but when the economic downturn of 2008 hit, I didn’t have the financial fluency to understand the numbers and figure out how to continue the business. I am tired of not understanding the world of finance, so I’ve signed up to earn The Executive Certificate in Financial Management through the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. The first course-- Finance for the Non-Financial Manager--is this September. I’m really hoping terms and concepts will start to come into focus.
What inspires you these days?
Professional growth spurts. I find that I go through “dormant” periods when work is particularly busy, it’s wintertime, or I’m just feeling overwhelmed. But when I have some time and space to pull back and reflect, I can think about what might be next. As I heard someone once say, “A flower doesn’t bloom all year round.” I am grateful for vacation days, sailing in the summertime, reading books that challenge my way of thinking (in addition to that beach read), and having time throughout the year for professional – and personal -- introspection.
At OutGrowth, we believe in preparing the next generation of leaders. What is one resource (book, podcast, article, anything!) you'd recommend to those looking to carve out the time for growth in the next year?
I recently listened to this episode of Glennon Doyle’s “We Can Do Hard Things” [Audio podcast] with guest Natalie Portman on: How to Know When to Say YES. She talks about learning how “to recognize a full body YES from inside of you,” when deciding on whether to do certain things. I think this is very on point to our topic of leaning out. I interpreted it as getting excited about something because it feels like the right thing to do.
What's next? What are your next steps toward growth in 2022-3?
Stay tuned. I’m in the midst of a growth spurt.
Liz Matthews has spent over 25 years working in the public, private, and government sectors. Liz has held communications, outreach, and marketing positions at two national nonprofit organizations, a tech start-up, a fortune 500 company, and in higher ed. Liz has a Global Career Development Facilitator certification and is a Certified MBA Career Coach through The Academies. She received her BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
When she’s not working, Liz can be found sailing, hiking, skiing, practicing yoga, reading, playing in Bitter Glynnis, or watching Modern Family at home with her 10-year old daughter and husband.