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Can You Be Sweet and Still Be Successful?

It begins with making waves.

I grew up being told by my mother that I was the petunia in the onion patch. I’m the youngest of three girls behind my oldest sister, the trailblazer, and my middle sister, the free spirit. It was brilliant programming on my mother’s part. At wits end with raising two challenging children, she knew a third detractor just might put her over the edge. And so, it began. To be the petunia was good—pretty, fragrant and sweet. To be the onion was bad—pungent, spicy and bitter.

But there was an inherent flaw to her method. Petunias are a genus of 35 species of flowering plants in the same family as deadly nightshades and chili peppers—not exactly pushovers of the plant world. It took me decades to fully embrace my inner bite and express my spicy. I discovered the pathway to success requires being both the onion and the petunia. Here are 5 key principles to striking that balance…

1. Make Waves

We are taught early on not to make waves. Nice people don’t disagree, speak their mind or create conflict. Nice people follow the rules, do as they are told and hold their tongue. Not wanting to make waves is at its core self-defeating and stagnating. Quite literally, if you are not making waves, you are not moving. There is no effect to your cause, no reaction to your action. I’m not suggesting that we bulldoze our way through life, but in order to make an impact we need to make waves and those waves are bound to bounce some buoys along their way. Make waves anyway.

2. It’s Okay if They Don’t Like You

Wanting everyone to like us is a trap. Spending effort focused on people’s opinion of us sucks energy away from the goals we are trying to reach.  As we move forward through life, the point isn’t to disregard the feelings of others, but to understand that regardless of how hard we try to work diplomatically there will always be those who don’t approve, agree or simply resent our success. It’s okay if they don’t like you

3. You Will Likely Not Receive Without Asking

I was thrilled to land a dream gig right out of college as radio producer for ABC in one of the hottest markets in the nation. I soon realized I was grossly underpaid and that no amount of “cool” factor outweighed the fact I was being undercompensated. This is where you think I’m going to tell you that I asked for a raise and my wish was granted. Not so. I was told there was a cap and that earning would increase through tenure on a percentage scale. I worked the numbers, gave my notice, jumped over to a television producer role at NBC increasing my salary by $10,000. Since then, I’ve asked for what I’ve wanted in each job. I’ve backed up my requests with extensive research and come prepared with market comps. Almost always, I was granted my request or given very specific guidelines for achievement. I am certain that I would not have received without asking.

4. Failure is Mandatory

Fortunately, early on in life I came across a quote from the winning NCAA coach John Wooden: “If you are afraid to fail, you will never do the things you are capable of doing.” The quote made its way onto the wall of my bedroom where it reminded me daily to take risks, get out of my comfort zone and not let fear prevent me from pursuing dreams. Nearly every single great achievement of my life began with fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failing, and, in many cases, fear of succeeding! Being fearful is paralyzing. The greatest companies and people are built upon failure after failure. Failure provides lessons that propel us forward. Failure is mandatory.

5. If It’s Tough, You’re Growing

Think back to every big achievement in your life and consider what predated that success. I would guess that in every instance grit, determination, and hard work were the foundation of that benchmark. The analogies to this fact are endless, the illustrations powerful. You don’t reach the top of the mountain by walking downhill. To climb, achieve and progress you need to push yourself and pushing yourself can be tough. A mindset that tough is good—that tough is progress—is powerful. This mantra has carried me through some difficult life trials. If things are tough, you’re growing.

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