You’ve heard about our daily (and surprisingly enjoyable) morning huddle, the comfy couch and plush pillows, but what can four girls possibly have to talk about for a half hour every day, right? (Right…) For a group of twenty-something-year-olds (happy almost-30th, Lara!) who like to believe they have rich and intriguing personal lives, we’re surprisingly all-business and matter-of-fact when it comes to discussing the day’s laundry list of to-do’s and planning for those daunting and exciting projects on the horizon (can our second print issue really be coming out on November 3?!). Meticulous Emily, who always has her list prepared and enumerated in ascending order of importance (I’m almost certain she plans out her daily tasks months in advance), helps keep everyone on track at these daily get-togethers while Lara is unnaturally full of energy, enthusiasm and new ideas for a 10:00 a.m. meeting. By the time I’ve settled into my sugar fix for the day (think jumbo size bags of Sour Patch Kids or millions of tiny Nerds) and stifled a yawn, my co-workers have already launched into the official SW plan of attack: the blog needs to be updated, images collected for print, international photographers called for cover shoots and vendors consulted about tablescaping brilliance. We get things done.
If this sounds like a too normal, too mainstream morning ritual for Lara Casey, then you probably know our editor-in-chief pretty well. Sure, she’s all about getting things done and making things happen and, naturally, our morning meeting is the perfect place to get the ball rolling. But we don’t end the meeting and start the work day with mere to-do lists and a set schedule. “Who has reading prepared?” Lara asks, looking from me to Emily, over to Whitney and back to me. I feel like I’m back in school again (gulp) and, for a split second, I’m nervously panicking that I’ve forgotten my book (again), left my notes at home or, worse yet, missed the entire point of the assignment. Yes, we have assigned nightly readings; homework, if you will, that, at first glance, has nothing to do with the blog, the magazine or the day-to-day of Southern Weddings. Or does it?
We’ve just finished Seth Godin’s Tribes (more on that later!) and now have started on Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. We’re learning how to build a following, to perfect our brand and to set aside the fear that goes hand-in-hand with anything worth doing. We’ve seen that there may be no such thing as the self-made man (or woman, as politically correct Emily likes to remind me), that success is largely a product of our own individual environment, upbringing and personal history and that the bad is just as (if not more) important than the good in our lives. Best of all, I’ve come to appreciate now more than ever how intelligent, insightful and dynamic Lara, Emily and Whitney are, all thanks to a small daily huddle and a few chapters. Not your average morning meeting, huh?
While I’m starting to see the benefit of these nightly reading assignments, I’ve come to appreciate another aspect of our morning ritual: positive praise. If we’re being honest here (and I think that’s my main job: to give you and honest and unbiased glimpse into the real lives of the SW ladies), I’m not usually of fan of the sentimental, of talking about one’s feelings or of sharing details from my personal life. Though I consider myself a generally warm, friendly and empathetic individual, it makes me nervous to think that my co-workers are going to find out something that they won’t like or that they can’t relate to, and that they then might not like me as much as I like (love) them. So last week when Lara, sensing the group’s low energy and high stress, told us to take out a pen and started passing around multi-colored note cards, I wasn’t totally convinced that making a list about my problems was really going to solve anything. No offense, Lara, but isn’t the best way to solve any problem a matter-of-fact, all-business approach that gets things done?
“I want you to write down five things you know you’re good at and that you like about yourself,” Lara starts. Better, I thought, but how is this really going to help me get through my mountain of email or the pile of work starting at me from my desk? Don’t I have a deadline coming up this Friday? Despite the positive nature of the exercise (who doesn’t like thinking highly of himself?), I suspect there are very few people who actually would feel comfortable with let alone enjoy defining the five things they’re good at or like best about themselves. Trying to get through the assignment as quickly as possible, I jotted down the first things that came to mind: usually happy, like to write, try to have a good attitude, great personal life and family-oriented. Sure, I’d played it a bit safe when it came to brainstorming about the things I’m really good at or that make me an asset to SW, but this was something I felt I could rush through, set aside and then get back to my life.
“Now, write down the five things you like best about your co-workers.” Interesting. This I could do. Unlike the first task, Lara now was asking me to brag about the girls I respect, like and admire so much. Easy. (Or so I thought.) How do I put the best of Emily Ayer (and trust me, there really is a lot) on a tiny piece of paper? How do I express my appreciation for Lara’s taking a risk and hiring me, inexperience and all, directly out of college? Can five words really sum up Whitney Davis? I did the assignment, trying my best to praise my co-workers while being as sincere and concise as possible, all the while plagued by the nagging sense that I couldn’t possibly do the girls justice.
We generally never share the lists we make during our morning meetings but that day Lara asked us to give the cards we had just written to each of our co-workers. Apparently Lara knew something I didn’t: while I was afraid that this brainstorming activity was going to put me even further behind at work, Lara knew the impact five genuine and thoughtful comments can have, not only on someone’s day but on the rest of their week, month and maybe even on the rest of their lives. I’m not going to tell you what the girls wrote on my note cards; more important than the specific compliments they paid me was the fact that they had taken the time to say something nice and that they, for whatever reason, truly believed the things they had said. I’ve been blessed with many positive, happy experiences in my life, but there are few times I’ve ever felt better than I did in those five minutes immediately after receiving Lara, Emily and Whitney’s Five Things. They liked me! They valued me! They thought of me as a proficient colleague, as someone worth knowing and even as a friend!
Take it from me: as a skeptic and a pragmatist (my boyfriend’s euphemism for the pessimist he thinks I am), warm-fuzzies aren’t always my thing. But there’s something about the “5 Things Exercise,” especially when sent from individuals not bound by blood or romance to love me, that impacted me in a surprisingly profound a way. If I could recommend one thing, I’d suggest that you pick three people in your life and jot down the five things you like best about them. Then, if you’re brave enough, leave the list on their desk on in their inbox. Corny? Yes. Overly-sentimental? Maybe. Risky? Definitely. But imagine how it would feel to wake up to find someone’s five favorite things about you. It’s an incredible feeling and one that only breeds exponential good will, camaraderie and human connection. Remember: it’s not what you say but the sentiment behind what you’re saying that really matters. Do this and I promise you will love life.
And just to prove I, indeed, practice what I preach, here are the five things I like best about my job here at Southern Weddings:
(above: yesterday afternoon, across from our office, meeting with the brilliant author and speaker Simon T Bailey)
1. The people! In college, I was surrounded by some of the most intelligent and talented people in the world, but here, more so than ever, I am challenged, inspired and fulfilled on a daily basis by my talented co-workers. ps- welcome to our new interns, Alyssa and Sydney!
2. What I do. I get paid to write, to look at pretty pictures and to share my thoughts with all of you. That’s kind of a no-brainer, right?
3. Human interaction: If you’ve ever twittered, emailed or spoken on the phone with me, you know how often the SW girls get to interact with some of the best professionals in the industry. I’ve always wanted a job where I was working with other people and not in isolation by myself.
4. Lara’s humanism. Though definitely my boss in every sense of the word, she’s every bit a real person: kind, thoughtful and empathetic. It’s nice to work somewhere you are valued and for someone who tries to create an office environment that reinforces that sense of self-worth.
5. My quality of life. Sometimes I send my boyfriend, Kyle, random texts telling him how much I love my life. I think it’s hard to truly love your life if you don’t love your job. And you really can’t beat that!