How much is it worth?

I can only imagine what she felt like. A new job in a new country, thousands of miles away. And as soon as she arrives she’s forced into lockdown, alone and isolated.

This week’s story shows how, as much as Working Out Loud helps with business objectives, it goes far beyond that. It nurtures feelings of connection and confidence. It helps people thrive, even now.

Usually, when someone asks me about the value of Working Out Loud, I offer benchmarks and use cases and Net Promoter Scores. Now I will also talk about Maria Fernanda and the personal transformation she experienced in her Circle. I am grateful she shared her story with me, and allowed me to share it with you.

“How much is it worth for an employee to feel connected & empowered?”

“What’s the value of a happier, more confident person?”

***

“Hi John,

My name is Maria Fernanda and I am a first generation Mexican immigrant in the UK. I arrived, 24 years old, my first formal job contract, 2 bags and my cell phone on March 2020 to Heathrow airport, met my co-workers for 1 week, and then entered lockdown.

Even though I tried to train myself with all the vast material on the internet, I felt lost. Cultural work shock (imagine arriving to a new country and trying to understand the work culture via SKYPE), new methods of working for everyone, not knowing how to show my potential or how I could contribute to the team. 3 months passed like that and I couldn’t even unmute myself in conference calls without trembling.

But one day, a co-worker told me about a WOL circle, and that it might help us to connect and talk with more people. I joined because I was curious and craved for connection, but I didn’t expect to be touched the way I did. 

Apart from the fact that I was in a circle with truly remarkable women (5 of us), it was the highlight of our lockdown weeks. We all came from different places and different backgrounds, but all of that seemed to disappear, along with the worries of everything. It appeared like magic, a safe space; with time we realized we had deeply connected, we truly cared for each other and we could support our goals even though we are so different and we had never met in person. It helped us identify and concentrate in what we care about with all our hearts and how to track it in the middle of all the uncertainty and fear.

I was so scared to not be accepted the way I am, or to be rejected in a foreign country were I didn’t know anyone, but the WOL circle and the women that shared it with me made it go away with kindness. In the WOL circle I was accepted for who I am and that gave me the strength to show my abilities at work and in my personal life. The way the guides were written made me feel like I had a true friend that knew how to guide me, and I feel truly grateful. I now have the tools to make my life better John, and I promise I will make a difference with them, even a small one. I felt I was so alone in quarantine but I know I am not alone anymore.

Also, I can unmute myself and present powerpoints in conference calls which is a great step :-)

I hope you have been okay these last few months, and I wish you the best with all my heart. Everything will be better :-)

PS. My goal is to become a writer someday :-) so if life is kind, we might connect one day too. Thank you for all the hope and the support.”

Maria Fernanda - Thank you for the hope.001.jpeg

Investing in Yourself

Do you find that many of your friends are either looking for work or looking for a change? The only thing that seems certain at the moment is more uncertainty. 

What can you do?

“Simply astonished”

I found one answer in a student’s thesis that she shared online. Her topic was “Why is WOL accepted by employees?” and she interviewed dozens of people from 38 different companies. Two quotes stood out.

"Many are simply astonished by the number of opportunities that they were offered while applying their WOL practices." 

"The employees indicated that WOL has changed the way they approach and value others as well as the way they treat and value themselves." 

What Nadine discovered in her interviews is exactly what many people today are looking for today. Opportunity, Perspective. Connection.

“To connect on a human level”

This isn’t just an academic issue, of course, but something much more practical than that, something more personal. Andreas summed up his experience this way:

“Not only has it helped each of us to make a massive step towards reaching our growth goals, it also helped in times of remote work to connect on a human level.”

It isn’t selfish to develop yourself. Annette, for example, describes the benefits for her and her company, SAP. She calls it “the magic.”

Practicing WOL had not just an influence on how I approach goals, but how I approach people and challenges in life. It fosters cultural change and makes SAP’s values truly experienceable: tell it like it is, stay curious, embrace differences, keep the promise, & build bridges, not silos."

New Year. New You. 

The new WOL Membership Network makes it easy for you to take a step and realize benefits like these. Daniela described her experience in a Circle this way:

A profound program, the insights and tasks were an inspiring framework to our journey on which we worked, dreamt, and developed all together.

In your annual membership, you get three chances to join different kinds of Circles. Each time, we’ll match you with others, help you with your goal, and offer you coaching & support throughout the entire year. All for less than the cost of a conference or course. 

When will it be the right time to invest in yourself? When will you deserve it? The answer, especially as we come to the end of 2020, is obvious:

“Now.”

When will it be the right time to invest in yourself? When will you deserve it?

When will it be the right time to invest in yourself? When will you deserve it?

The Goal Clinic

The first members of the WOL Membership Network signed up this weekend, and it’s already an amazing mix of people.

Creating this new network opens up possibilities for individuals as well as companies of all sizes. Here’s one of the first things we’ll do together, and the kinds of people who will benefit from it.

The Goal Clinic

All the Circle methods, including WOL Mindfulness, begin with a goal of some kind. It helps you orient your activities throughout your Circle and tap into your intrinsic motivation.

But what should you choose? Though there are instructions in Week 1, I’ve seen how people benefit from getting some coaching to help them choose or refine their goal.

That’s what happens in the Goal Clinic. Before our new membership Circles even form, we will give people the chance to share their goals, listen to others, and explore tips and possibilities with me and others in the network. That will help them get off to a great start with a meaningful goal they can make progress towards.

We’ve been doing this with our biggest corporate customers, and now we can do it for everyone in the new network. Even better, we can offer ways for members with similar goals to continue to connect and exchange throughout their membership, expanding our chances for learning and growing together.

The Goal Clinic.001.jpeg

Five Kinds of Members

Some of our new members work for themselves and some in big organizations. Some joined as part of their personal development program at work and had their company support their membership. Here are five types of members we’ve seen so far.

Career Builders who want to develop their skills and access more opportunities.

Joining my first Working Out Loud Circle was one of the best decisions I made.

- Lea on her WOL Circle experience

The Curious who are looking to explore new topics and make new connections.

[WOL Mindfulness gave me] a maximum outcome with a minimum investment of time. It helped me to reduce stress and to realize how much good is happening in my life. My new habits have become an integral part of my everyday life.

- Melanie on her WOL Mindfulness experience

Supportive Managers who want to offer their staff personal development and coaching opportunities that are proven, cost-effective, and easy to administer.

Many are simply astonished by the number of opportunities that they were offered while applying their WOL practices.

The employees indicated that WOL has changed the way they approach and value others as well as the way they treat and value themselves." 

- Nadine Skerlavaj, “Why is WOL accepted by employees?” [Bachelor Thesis]

Small Company Executives who would like the kind of employee and culture programs that large companies have, so they too can foster a more agile, collaborative workplace. 

An ideal method to further develop our learning and working culture.

- Dürr Systems AG, sharing their WOL experience on LinkedIn

Working Out Loud can provide some of that “social glue” that enables organizations to move forward cohesively. Whether it’s a virtual team or one physically together.

- Shirley on joining a Circle as a new joiner

Progressive HR Professionals who are looking for new ways to help employees collaborate and feel connected, especially in a time where more people are working remotely. Some are even looking for cross-company networking.

We are 70 leaders on a journey towards better collaboration culture and decided everyone should start a Circle. 

- Sebastian Kolberg, Leading Digital Transformation & Change Projects, Bayer

The future of corporate learning is self-directed and social. WOL is an important part of our learning strategy.

- Laura Krsnik, Head of Global Learning, Merck KGaA

Can you relate to these roles and these quotes? Are you looking for new skills, opportunities, connections, or ideas? The WOL Membership Network makes it easier than ever to invest in yourself. 

Learn more at: signup.www.africanmango-slim.com.

The WOL Membership Network

“For those who’ve felt there could be more to work and life.” That’s who Working Out Loud is dedicated to.

You know you have more to offer, but to whom?

You feel there could be more to work and life, but what?

You believe your company could be more collaborative, but how?

WOL helps you discover answers to these questions. Joining the new WOL Membership Network makes it easy, and gives you access to coaching, support, resources, and new methods you won’t find anywhere else.

Time to Invest in Yourself

For every person who has experienced a WOL Circle, there are dozens more who want to try it but don’t have the time or energy to do everything themselves: finding other Circle members, organizing meetings, registering for materials, and going through the process on their own.

In the new WOL Membership Network, we do it all for you and with you. Once you sign up, we help you get started and get the most from your experience so your time is spent on the most important thing: investing in yourself. 

A Professional, Supported Coaching Experience

Your membership fee gives you access to a professional, supported, curated peer coaching experience. We:

  • Match you with Circle members

  • Get you organized & get you started

  • Offer live coaching sessions

  • Support you along the way.

It’s an annual membership, so for an entire year you can:

  • Join a WOL Circle or the new 8-week WOL Mindfulness Circle

  • Join multiple Circles over the course of your membership

  • Connect with people with similar goals & roles

  • Receive an official certificate for each Circle you complete

The Privileges of Membership 

So far, this kind of coaching and support used to only be available to big companies, with WOL Coaches helping them empower hundreds and even thousands of employees. Now you can experience it for yourself.

Maybe you’re looking for the next steps in your career or small business. Maybe you need coaching and development for your employees. Maybe you want to try WOL before introducing it in your company.

This is an opportunity to take a step you’ve been wanting to take.  

How do you join?

The first Circles will begin in January, including the new WOL Mindfulness Circles. (You can choose which kind of method you’d like to start with.) We will limit the initial group to only 100 people—and I will personally support you along the way.

This is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever worked on. After all that has happened in these past few months, I can’t wait to begin a new year helping 100 people invest in themselves and a better future.

To register your interest and get more details, visit signup.www.africanmango-slim.com?.

“A profound program, the insights & tasks were an inspiring framework to our journey on which

we worked, dreamt & developed all together.”

- Daniela, WOL Circle member in Germany

“We know that for the rest of our lives, all the gains we have achieved through WOL will be with us.

This is more than a 12-week process.”

- G?k?e, WOL Circle member in Turkey

Click on the logo to register for more details

Click on the logo to register for more details

The Metamorphosis

For those working from home it can be an isolating experience. For some it’s overwhelming. Sometimes, it feels like your goal is simply to make it through, managing as best you can. The idea of investing in yourself, of developing new skills and habits, can seem like a luxury. 

Here are three people—in Turkey, Brazil, and Germany—who chose to make that investment anyway, and an example of how such individual efforts can lead to greater collective possibilities too.

Turkey

G?k?e emphasized the bonds that developed in her Circle:

Ten weeks ago, I started the WOL journey with four women I had never met. The purpose of the journey was to set goals and try to reach the goal for 12 weeks. In this journey, we supported, helped and cared for each other while trying to reach our goals and we continue to do these things. 

We know that for the rest of our lives, all the gains we have achieved through WOL will be with us, this is more than a 12-week process.

As one of her Circle members commented:

I feel very lucky and happy to take part in this journey with you. It was a wonderful and meaningful experience that I will always remember.

“a wonderful and meaningful experience that I will always remember.”

Brazil

Fernanda described a feeling of personal transformation, both for her and others in her group:

It has been four weeks since a started my first WOL Circle. In this time, I could understand that the idea is to collaborate, share, create, change experiences, personal and professional growth.

But last week, I could see beyond. I realized how far my new friends and I were going. Each one in its own time but all are changing from the inside out.

More than that, all of us are having the humility to open up our vulnerabilities. Those movements made me realize that the WOL Circle as our Mother Nature turns us, through metamorphosis, into beautiful butterflies.

Germany

Daniela wrote about the power and magic of personal development and peer coaching: “we worked, dreamt, and developed all together.”

My last week of holidays marked also the last week of a 12-week Working Out Loud journey that began in the middle of the lockdown. I was lucky enough to join a carefully chosen circle of four impressive and inspiring women.

In John Stepper’s profound programme, the insights and tasks were an inspiring framework to our journey on which we worked, dreamt, and developed all together.

I am sure our journey has just begun and can’t wait to see you all - in person!!

Beyond the Circle

The kinds of connection and transformation they wrote about can extend across teams and departments and even across companies. When it does, that’s when you are changing the culture in addition to building skills and habits.

In a recent post, for example, the Head of Global Learning at Merck, Laura Krsnik, celebrated a rare kind of collaboration across Merck, Novartis, and Roche, where more than a thousand people are in Circles. Inspired by their own experiences, they set out to exchange ideas and see what they might do together,

A team with a joint passion to support others in a world where the only constant is change through Working Out Loud and building relationships that matter—across companies. 

One of the participants commented:

What a pleasure being with like minded people who share a passion to cultivate a culture of collaboration, generosity, purpose and lifelong learning.

Whether you’re seeking connection or metamorphosis, whether it’s for you or your company, the growing set of WOL methods can help you make the change you aspire to make.

Next week, I’ll describe a brand new way to experience the full power of Working Out Loud for yourself.

Still … LIFE! “we worked, dreamt, and developed all together.”

Anja’s Story (from the new edition of Working Out Loud)

This story is from the first chapter of Working Out Loud. (Which is now available for pre-order in German too.)

Like other stories in the book, and thousands more in WOL Circles globally, it is about the power of making contributions and connections, earning you access to more possibilities. It’s about self-determination, exploring ways to make more of all you have to offer and realize more of your potential.

I hope you enjoy it, and that you will use Working Out Loud to write your own story.

Click on Anja’s photo to see her LinkedIn profile

Click on Anja’s photo to see her LinkedIn profile

***

Anja earns access to more possibilities

Anja grew up in a picturesque small town of fewer than fifteen thousand people. Upon graduation from the local high school, she applied for an internship at a savings bank about fifteen minutes away. She got the job. 

After four years, Anja knew she wanted more from work but didn’t think she could get very far without a university degree. So she enrolled in a college with an evening program, and for several years she juggled working during the day with going to classes and studying at night. Meanwhile, as it became clear that a career in a local bank wasn’t going to be enough for her, she moved to a large company in a nearby city and got an entry-level job as a clerk in the Purchasing Department. 

When she finally graduated, though, after all those nights and weekends of extra work, she was offered a role as a secretary. It was disappointing. She said, “All that effort to get a degree just to sit there in the end and stick receipts on my boss’s expense report made me more and more frustrated every single day.” Then she paused and slowly repeated that last phrase, as if reliving it: “Every. Single. Day.”

It wasn’t that she thought being a secretary was beneath her or was necessarily a bad job. She just felt she could contribute more. “I wanted a job where I could bring in my passion, where my talents could be seen, and where they would be useful for the company at the same time.” Although her new company had many, many jobs that might be more meaningful or fulfilling, she had no idea how to show she was qualified for them, or to get any extra experience she might need. Although Anja was only in her early twenties, she began to feel stuck.  

Being a secretary is usually a behind-the-scenes kind of job, where few people other than your manager know what you do, how well you do it, and what else you’re capable of. But Anja figured out a way to make herself and her work visible. She had seen that the company was promoting their internal collaboration tools and that a “digital transformation” was part of the corporate strategy. So, she started a blog and called it “How to work digitally as a secretary.”

She began by writing about the tools and techniques she used to be more efficient and effective. The point wasn’t to show off, but to be genuinely helpful. A few people read her first posts, then a few more.

She started to get comments thanking her for the tips she was sharing, and wanting to know more about her approach and how she handled her work. Gradually, her writing began to attract thousands of views, and was shared by colleagues she didn’t know. Her network started to grow. “People started to consider me an expert,” she said. One of the people who took notice of what Anja had to offer was her boss, who offered her a different role.

Anja moved from being an assistant in the Purchasing Department to being a community manager for two online groups in the division. From there she took on the title of “agile coach,” conducting training, coaching individuals, and facilitating workshops. Now she regularly acts as a mentor for teams, departments, and leaders, and she actively promotes digital collaboration and networking throughout the division. Recently, she organized a huge cross-company conference, and shared the stage with two board members. 

“It wasn’t easy,” she said. “But it was worth it. I can now show my talents, and live my passion, in my new job.” Anja no longer feels stuck or invisible. Instead, she has found a way to realize more of her potential, and it feels like a new beginning.

Anja is on the far right, together with board members and other managers from Bosch & Daimler, celebrating the WOL Conference she co-organized.

“How can it be done?”

Today, the new edition of Working Out Loud is available, and there are new ways to help you spread the method. These comments from practitioners offer the best reasons for why I keep developing and spreading WOL. 

Building trust

Ricarda joined a Circle in a technology company and wrote that, “In these challenging times I read a lot and talked to different people about networking and building trust in the digital space. Is it possible at all? How can it be done?”

“Although I haven‘t met my Circle mates in person, they know more about me, my personal life and my work than most of my direct colleagues. Although we come from different fields of study and work on different projects, we created a space where we can grow and where we absolutely trust and support each other in reaching our goals. 

For me this is a really eye-opening experience and it shows me that creating trust and team spirit is definitely possible in the digital environment.”

Ricarda’s Circle at Voith

Humanizing the workplace

Christyl is in a Circle in a bank in New York City, and she shared how they use it to cultivate meaningful, purposeful connections. 

“How Do You Nurture Real Connectivity at a 250,000+ Firm? I  LoVe how the VP Academy Family breaks our Alumni into small “Working Out Loud” groups who Meet Virtually weekly.....to Connect, Learn and Grow TOGETHER!”

Christyl’s Circle at JP Morgan Chase

Surfing the uncertainty

Aneliya emigrated from Bulgaria and joined a Circle in her new company. She said, “We are constantly surrounded by change in our world. Who helps us to build our safety net in a life of uncertainties?” She decided to try and spread Circles in her company and they shared it on their official LinkedIn account:

The Working out Loud method combines many principles of agile work. It makes agility tangible. But it is also a mindset and a way to collaborate by building and using a reliable network.

Aneliya’s Circle at Metronom

Making the most of what we have

Building trust and connections. Navigating uncertainty. These are good reasons to Work Out Loud. One more reason—perhaps the one that most inspires me to do what I do—is that WOL can liberate people. It can, as Elisabeth writes, help them “develop more of that they have to offer.” 

That feeling of self-determination is powerful and freeing. My friend Daniella from Brazil describes it beautifully: “WOL gave me back my wings ?????♀?????”

To help more people have this experience

As of today, there are new web pages in English & German where you can schedule a conversation, download information on WOL Programs, and register for the free Corporate Starter Kit. Please go ahead and try them!

Next week, I will announce the best version of the Circle Guides yet, one that makes the method even more effective and easier to practice.

Turning vegan at 55

“How can you tell if someone is vegetarian?” begins an old joke. “Don’t worry,” starts the punchline, “They’ll tell you.”

It’s funny because it’s true. There’s a certain righteousness associated with being vegetarian or vegan. Here’s why I’m sharing my new habit anyway.

Old dogs, new tricks

My business is based on helping individuals change their behaviors and helping companies change their cultures, but I know it’s easier to advise others than to change myself. So, as a kind of research, I regularly try to develop new habits—how I work & how I exercise, learning to meditate, play piano, and speak Japanese. In some areas, I made tremendous progress. In others I’m more of a work in progress.

For example, I gave up meat eight years ago. I had thought of going further, but the prospect of doing without foods I love plus the difficulties of eating out (“Are there eggs or butter in that?”) seemed too…distasteful.

Alas, just as watching “Food, Inc.” eight years ago led me to stop eating meat, watching “The Game Changers” last week made me rethink eating other animal products. (I highly recommend the documentary. The high-performance athletes made vegan seem so cool that even my burger-eating young son wanted to be vegan after watching it!)

The Habit Checklist

To help me make progress, I’ll use the Habit Checklist that’s in Week 8 of the WOL Circle Guides. I’ll structure my environment so it’s easier to fulfill my intentions. I’ll celebrate successes (and expect setbacks) along the way. I’ll remind myself of the long-term reasons for attempting such a change and find family and friends to support me.

And on Day One, I created a progress chart.

“If you want to change the world…”

Part of the reason for developing my latest habit is to learn more about the process of change. Yet I also believe eating a plant-based diet is the right thing for me to do, and that the world would be a better place if we relied less on animals for our food and products. But we won’t get there through judgment and shaming, or through argument and debate. There’s a much better way, as Dan Pearce says:

“If you want to change the world, first change yourself, then tell others how you did it. Never demand that people change. Inspire them to change using your own change as an example instead.”

What change do you want to see in the world? Whether it’s about food or climate or how people talk to each other, what action could you take now? What habit could you change that, through your own example over time, could ripple out and influence others?

“Why not me?”

I didn’t mean to judge her, but when she told me her goal it seemed like an uninspired choice. Given all her experience and skills, surely she could aim higher? I know her well enough that I asked her, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

She sighed. Then, in almost a whisper, she described an aspiration that would be challenging and fulfilling. But as soon as she gave voice to it, she gave up on it.

“Perhaps in a future life,” she said. 

1000 reasons not to try

Five years ago, I was working in Deutsche Bank and my career was in a long, slow death spiral. I had joined a WOL Circle with two friends who had started multiple companies, and in one of our meetings they asked me, “Why don't you do this Working Out Loud thing full-time?” I immediately started listing the reasons. 

I’m too old. 

I have five kids. 

I’m too conservative.

I’m not like you.

I’m not that kind of person.

Step by step, though, with the help of many people, I gradually wore down my resistance to the idea, and I began erasing the labels and limits I placed on myself. Two years later I was on my own. Three years after that I enrolled in Start-up School. Today, I am (finally) comfortable saying, “I’m building my own business.” 

2020 vision

As this year draws to a close and we anticipate another, it’s a good time for taking stock of what we’ve done and what we have yet to try. 

For many of us, the saddest words can be “What might have been…” Do not wait for “a future life.” Reflect on what might give you a sense of greater purpose and fulfillment, and dare to ask yourself, “Why not me? Why not now?”

What ever happened to the piano teacher?

More than three years ago, I told the story of Mari, a piano teacher, in a TEDx talk about Working Out Loud. What she experienced back then was wonderful. What she’s done since is remarkable.

Click to view the TEDx talk. Mari’s story starts at 04m:24s

Click to view the TEDx talk. Mari’s story starts at 04m:24s

3 Years Ago

Mari is a piano teacher in New York City, and she’s extremely good with children. She’s also an extraordinarily talented musician. Yet one night as a group of us were talking about work, she shared something that surprised us.

“My world is too small.”

How could that be? The students adore her, and she seems to enjoy her work so much. But she told us she yearned for interactions with people beyond the same families she met each week. What she most enjoyed doing, she said, was composing, and she wanted to do more of it. As much as she liked teaching, she wanted to have people hear her own music. I suggested she join a WOL Circle. 

Mari wasn’t comfortable with being visible or talking about her work. She was shy and felt her English wasn’t good enough. (Her native language is Japanese.) The prospect of writing a blog post or starting a YouTube channel was too foreign to her, and she felt she “wasn’t that kind of person.”

In our Circle, she started with small steps, writing down the names of people from music school she had lost touch with and re-connecting with some of them. She played Internet detective, searching for people who might be interested in her music. 

That’s how she discovered independent filmmakers who needed musical scores. It took her several weeks to work up the courage to reach out to a particular director via email, sharing a piece she created. “I’ve enjoyed your films, and I thought this music I composed might be useful.” That led to an email exchange, and then to working together. I was with her when she got the news, and she lit up.

“You made my world bigger,” Mari told me, and that’s how I ended her story in the TEDx talk.

Now

For Mari, progress in her first Circle was being able to voice a goal she cared about and take small steps toward it. In the years after our Circle ended, those small steps made other, bigger steps, possible. 

She created a website - marikotskyy.com - and began experimenting with recording and publishing her music using iTunes, YouTube, Spotify, and other tools. She released an album online, and submitted her music to different competitions and publishers. One of her pieces, a trio for piano, was performed by a youth group in Boston. A solo piece won an international composition contest for “The contemporary piano.” Yet another has been selected by RMN Classical to be included in a new compilation album.

I asked Mari if I could write about her, and she replied right away:

“OF COURSE!!! WOL is amazing. I used the method you taught me, and now I have many connections with other composers and musicians."

More than just building a network, she shaped her identity. She is still a piano teacher, but she is not defined or limited by that label. If you search for “Mari Kotskyy” today, you’ll find “Composer,” “Pianist,” and “Musical Artist.” Sometimes all it takes is a small step to set people in motion, and set them free.

Mari’s music is beautiful. Click on the image to play.

Mari’s music is beautiful. Click on the image to play.