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A Success Story that will Amp Up Your Motivation

Photo courtesy of CR Artist

I’ve found that motivation is rather hard to come by this time of year, and that (ironically) was the catalyst for today’s post.

If you’re like me, then you’ve realized how difficult it is to overcome the emotional hurdles that come along with being in a slump – the biggest of which is a feeling of hopelessness. Luckily, motivation is something that comes and goes, and as long as you don’t give up on your goals, you will feel motivated again soon.

Along with staying focused on the end result, there are some other things you can do until your motivation returns, and some of them might even bring it back sooner. At times like this, choose one goal to focus on. Too many things on your To-Do list is a surefire way to overwhelm yourself. Spend some time with your negative thoughts; let yourself feel them without judgement. After a few days, start writing yourself inspirational notes, even if you don’t feel inspired yet.

You can also use this time to be inspired by other success stories, like the one that follows.

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When Howard was just 8 years old, his father lost his blue collar job due to injury, with no opportunities for sick leave or disability pay. Howard’s parents became unable to pay bills, afford healthcare, or even put food on the table. Howard wanted a better life, but he also wanted to make a difference for others. As the first member of his family to attend college, he earned a degree in Communications, after which he worked his way upward with sales and marketing positions.

His incredible drive and work ethic eventually got him hired as Vice President of a fairly large housewares company. Among his clients was a small company that sold coffee beans, loose teas, spices and beverage accessories. Howard became intrigued by this company when they began purchasing more and more of his company’s products. On a business trip to their location, he fostered a relationship with the company owners and eventually became their Director of Marketing.

Soon after, while Howard was on vacation in Italy, he noticed coffee shops on every corner, all brimming with customers day in and day out. People used the coffee shops as meeting places and hangouts. When Howard returned home, he pitched the idea to his bosses. However, the small coffee company owners wanted no part of the ‘restaurant business’ and they quickly dismissed his idea.

Howard was disheartened by their response to his idea, so he left the company to start a chain of coffee shops on his own, called Il Giornale. Two years later, he had enough capital to buy the rights to the small coffee bean company he had left. It cost him $3 million to purchase and he quickly rebranded Il Giornale to combine the two concepts into a colossal money making machine.

Of course, the name of that small coffee bean and tea company was Starbucks, and as of 2012, it is the largest coffeehouse company in the world, and Howard Schultz has a net worth of approximately $1.5 billion. True to his promise to himself when he was just a youngster, every Starbucks employee working 20 or more hours a week receives healthcare options, which are also extended to their spouses.

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I often think about Howard when my motivation is low, and I realize that if he can accomplish such amazing feats, having grown up in a housing project in the Canarsie area of Brooklyn, then surely the rest of us can find the motivation to accomplish our goals, too.

Until your motivation returns, let the stories of people like Howard stoke your fire. You only need one ember burning to keep your dreams from going up in smoke.

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Table for One: Ten Reasons to Enjoy Going Solo

Photo courtesy of Scott Swigart

“To be a star, you must shine your own light, follow your own path, and don’t worry about the darkness, for that is when the stars shine brightest.” – Napoleon Hill

Many years ago, I was young, naive, and engaged to be married. When that relationship ended unexpectedly, I found myself begrudgingly alone and completely terror stricken to venture out into the world with just my shadow for company. Amazingly, though, some of the things I learned during what I considered to be “The Aftermath” of the break-up were some of the most valuable lessons of my life.

  1. There is only one person who can validate your imporance in life: You.
  2. It’s better to a feel a little lonely sometimes with just yourself than to be with someone and feel alone.
  3. Somewhere, someone always has bigger problems than you do.
  4. You can make it through virtually any challenge as long as there is an end in sight.
  5. Nothing bad ever lasts forever.
  6. If you’re alone and sad, force yourself to smile repeatedly. After awhile, you’ll actually smile yourself happy.
  7. As a general rule, you have to work through the bad stuff to make it to the good stuff.
  8. Unanswered prayers go unanswered for a reason.
  9. Living in the past is a gigantic waste of time. Live now.
  10. Freedom is one of the most amazing gifts in the world. (Fifteen years later, this still holds great meaning for me.)

There are some wonderful things that can result from the healthy relationships that you cultivate with other people. However, your most important and longest-lasting relationship is the one you have with yourself.  Nurture it accordingly.

In this lifetime, some of the greatest gifts will come to you when you least expect them, just as some of life’s most important lessons are the ones that come when you aren’t even studying.

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14 Better Ways to Express Yourself on Valentine’s Day

Photo courtesy of Kell

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that has mutated into a commercialized abyss into which many of us repeatedly toss scads of our hard-earned money. Besides the fact that we’re already a nation overwhelmed with material possessions (most of which we don’t really need), how about thinking outside the proverbial gift box this year?

Believe it or not, there actually are much better ways to demonstrate your appreciation and love than slapping a heart shaped box of calories onto the kitchen counter as you mutter, ”Happy Valentine’s Day, Babe,” before you scoot off to work for the day. Think you’ve done your job as one half of a relationship?  Think again.

Let’s take a look at some of the more creative ways to express how much you love someone. Although Valentine’s Day is typically for lovers, it’s also appropriate to celebrate your love for your children or other friends and family members who hold a special place in your heart.

For your significant other:

  • The snail mail - This idea is going to require a little bit of forethought, but you may be able to to accomplish it quite easily with the convenience of the Internet. Research a way to to get your hands on a postcard from the town, restaurant, or wherever the two of you happened to meet. You could try mailing it from the local post office, but you’d risk the postcard arriving on the wrong day. A better plan is to strategically place the postcard in with the rest of his or her mail on February 14th.
  • The Shades of Grey gift basket -  If you need ( or simply want ) to spice things up in the bedroom, create a gift basket filled with things meant only for your lover’s eyes. Some ideas include: a blindfold, handcuffs, massage oil, candles, a CD of romantic music, bubble bath, a sexy board game, and anything else that might turn your lover on!
  • The notebook -  In a luxurious notebook, write down one thing you love about your significant other every single day for one year. Present it to your partner wrapped in a bow on Valentine’s Day. If you like the sound of this idea, but haven’t had the necessary prep time, dedicate some time each day to create a similar list in the days leading up to the 14th.
  • The big favor -  Take over doing your partner’s most hated chore for a time period of your choice.
  • The scavenger hunt – Send your partner on a fun and exciting set of clues that ends with you waiting at your love’s favorite restaurant or store.
  • The recipePick a recipe that you can both cook and enjoy together. The time you spend together preparing the meal will be the real gift.
  • The adventure – Discover an unusual part of your city or town that you’ve never experienced before.  Take the day off work and explore it together.
  • The money saver- Create a fun basket filled with everything you’ll need for a fun and affordable date night in: popcorn, a movie rented from Redbox or your local library (look for free movie codes), a small bottle of champagne (optional), a deck of cards, a few chocolate-dipped strawberries. If you have kids, see if Grandma and Grandpa want to have a sleepover that night!

For your children:

  • The treasure hunt – Send them all around the house searching for new clues leading them to a fun, colorful box full of their favorite goodies.
  • The list – Make a fancy list of 14 things you love about your child and frame it. You could also include it in the treasure box above.

As a family:

  • The new tradition – Together, decide on a new family tradition that you would like to start. My husband, sons and I have a ‘Foovie (Family+Food+Movie) Night’ every other Saturday. We snuggle up as a family, enjoying delicious bowls of buttered popcorn and chocolates. No cell phones or other distractions are permitted, allowing us to focus on our time together. Perhaps you could start your first tradition on Valentine’s Day this year, or even the day after Valentine’s Day (since it will be the start of a weekend).
  • The walk - Set a family date to take a walk together on February 14 this year, if the weather permits. Walking together is a great way to spend family time because you can mindfully enjoy the outdoors and your loved ones simultaneously.
  • The project – Whether your family is into art, science, cooking, fixing, building or something else entirely, put your heads together and come up with a project that you’d all like to contribute to.
  • The helping hand – This February, make it one of your family’s goals to help those less fortunate around you. Not only will you be helping those in need, but you’ll be doing something really meaningful together.

By doing something a little off the straight and narrow this year, you’ll shift the focus from materialism to what really matters. And remember that any day is a great time to slow down and take the time to appreciate those closest to your heart.

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How Much are Your Hours Worth?

Photo courtesy of Saad Kadhi

While I was weighing whether or not to have the housekeeper clean my house this month, I remembered a conversation I recently had with a friend. Our chat was lengthy and had both of us taking opposite ends of a philosophical perspective, but I can actually summarize our conversation in a three-word question.

Does time = money?

This is, of course, something people have wondered about many times before. For me, it meant trying to figure out which was smarter. On the one hand, if I simply picked up a scrub brush and hopped to it, I could work around my clients’ needs and get the whole house cleaned in my spare time.

In that scenario, I’d have the same amount of money but less time in which to make more of it.

My other option was to call the housekeeping company and schedule a cleaning. They’d send out a crew and clean my entire house in a little over an hour, for which I’d pay them a pretty significant amount of money. While they sanitized my bathrooms and dusted all the knick-knacks I’ve accumulated (even though I once swore I hated those things), I could be working on paid projects, listing items in my eBay store, or coming up with my next big idea. Not to mention, I’d gain back the two hours (likely more) I would have spent cleaning the house by myself.

In that scenario, it seems that time does = money. However, as with so many things in life, it’s just not that simple.

When anyone is considering how to best spend the hours in their day, there are several things that must be taken into consideration. Primarily, you should have a good idea of what an hour of your time is worth to you in terms of income. Let’s use the cleaning company scenario as a hypothetical example. Hiring them would gain any of us three hours each month to do whatever we needed or wanted to accomplish, and for the sake of this argument we’ll stay focused on activities that have earning potential.

Would an extra three hours help you achieve important professional or financial goals? If so, think of hiring people to take care of some of your duties as an investment in your future. In order for it to be a sound investment, you’ve got to use that time wisely and not spend it surfing the Internet while eating Cheetos, though. If that’s the result of your investment, you’ve just flushed the entire cleaning company fee right down the drain, plus any potential earnings you could have generated by coming up with your next big idea.

So, if time really is money, then it’s clearly a good idea to buy more of it. At regular intervals, take stock of how well you utilize any time you were able to free up by buying more time. Did your investment in yourself pay off?

If it seems like buying time isn’t helping you attain your goals, spend some free time analyzing what you could do differently. Keep working at the time/money equation until you get an answer that has a big professional payoff.

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When and Where to Practice Unconditional Love

Photo courtesy of David Laporte

Unconditional love is considered by many to be the ultimate of all affections, a love that knows no bounds and cannot be broken. A concept sometimes referred to as ‘mother’s love’, this type of bond is typically only found in extremely long-term committed relationships and among close (usually immediate) family members.

Should we love our family unconditionally?

Of course we should. In fact, without the security of unconditional love, most children will not be able to thrive. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed that firsthand. I personally whole-heartedly adore the two beings I helped to create. Each one of them has flaws, but to me, the mix of all of their traits (the good and the less-than-good) combine to make two people I love without bounds.

That sentiment generally holds true for all family members. You can pick your friends and your nose, and you can pick many a rose, but you can’t pick your family. No matter how many fights you and your brother have, at the end of the day, he’s still your brother.

What about romantic unconditional love?

While it’s true that there are people involved in no-holds-barred romantic relationships, it’s also true that those relationships are undeniably doomed.  Those people who present others with the gift of their unconditional devotion often do so at the cost of their own emotional well-being. They can also lose their sense of self, making them dependant on their significant other for validation.

The bottom line is this: all healthy relationships must exist with some conditions and boundaries. In relationships with no boundaries, or where basic conditions like respect are missing, eventually the love vanishes and all that’s left are invisible lines that were crossed and unspoken needs that weren’t met.

Loving someone despite their physical appearance, ethnicity, financial status, medical conditions and other similar factors that may be out of their control is about as close to unconditional love as you should get. Instead, you should be on the lookout for some basic telltale signs that your relationship is headed in the right direction:

  • Mutual respect: You should give and receive respect in a sound relationship. If your significant other regularly disrespects you, your future together doesn’t look promising.
  • Trust: Neither party in the relationship should give the other one a reason to doubt their word. Period.
  • Compatibility: Do you have fun together (in and out of the bedroom)?
  • Good communication: Even solid relationships have bumps along the way. Happy couples have staying power if they can effectively share, listen, and problem solve together.
  • Equality: Resentment builds quickly when one spouse or partner feels overworked and unappreciated.
  • Room for personal growth: Healthy teamwork aside, the most satisfied couples are the ones who allow eachother to strive for and achieve personal goals.
  • Security: The ability to be your true self without worrying what your partner will think is one example of how happy couples make each other feel safe and secure.

Requiring your significant other to meet your needs is something that all smart, self-confident people should be doing. Be sure to honor your partner’s wants and needs, too. Save the unconditional love for members of your family tree. When it comes to romantic love, conditions are required.

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8 Ways to Get Rich Quick

Photo courtesy of Mark Becher

Now that all of the gifts have been opened and all of the gluttony is out of the way, we can begin to recover a semblance of normalcy and get back to our regularly scheduled lives. Last week, as I sat looking at the piles of opened gifts strewn all over my living room, I started making a mental tally of how much money I spent this year and why. It can be frighteningly easy to get a little bit too into the gift-giving spirit, and before we know it, we’ve got a room full of wrapping paper and empty boxes. At this time of year, the only thing emptier than those boxes is bound to be our wallets.

Unfortunately, some people are left with a certain sense of emptiness that stretches even beyond their purse strings after the holidays. This common occurrence is attributed to a phenomenon called the Post-Christmas Blues. Naturally, not everyone celebrates Christmas, but most Americans do celebrate at least one December holiday that gets hyped up all year long.  For those who are susceptible to emotional ups and downs, it’s easy to be left feeling blue after the holiday passes.

While your plan to right your finances may take six months or more, you can address the emptiness you’re feeling inside immediately by following most or all of the suggestions below. Luckily, it’s a lot easier to become an emotional millionaire than a real one. Bid a fond farewell to last year and begin looking toward a fresh start in areas of your life that could use a boost.

  1. Love and be loved. Spend time with those who love you back, and express your love. Tell them how important they are to you. Often.
  2. Accept life’s gifts. Devote more time to focusing on what you do have than what you wish you had. Many times, what we have right now is pretty darn great.
  3. Be the best person you can be and strive to live your best life. Be good to others - even those you don’t know.  Smile at strangers and watch as they smile back. Do your part to make the world a better place. It happens one person at a time.
  4. Laugh at yourself every day. I’ve always said that it’s extremely important to be able to laugh at yourself. Taking yourself too seriously gets old fast, and not only to you.
  5. The Beatles said, “Let it Be,” because you should. Let any past regrets or anger slip away. Dedicating time and energy to such negative emotions takes away from your ability to move forward and make progress.
  6. Know your worth. Be your biggest supporter and your loudest cheerleader. Don’t allow people to treat you like a doormat. People will see how much you respect yourself and follow suit.
  7. Goof off. In my family, we thrive on silliness. Singing made up songs in weird voices, doing funky hand jives, and creating homemade games are all a huge factor in how absurdly happy we all are.
  8. Indulge. – Let’s face it – none of us is perfect, and it’s high time we start admitting it. Indulge in your greatest pleasures from time to time, even if they’re not exceedingly good for you.

Paying off your financial debts is a necessary process that can lower your credit score if left unattended. Emotional debts, on the other hand, will slowly deplete your satisfaction with life, and repaying them becomes more complex the longer they’re left neglected. Sustaining financial stability is a prerequisite for adulthood, but when The Beatles crooned that being wealthy just wasn’t all that important, it seems to me, well… that they were right on the money.

 

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Create Timeless Rituals with Fun Holiday Traditions


Photo courtesy of Carrie Stephens

Every year I look forward to December 1st with great anticipation. On that day, our family decorates our home for Christmas. We make a huge event out of it – using teamwork to lug all of the dusty boxes from the attic, heaving and grunting under their weight, but loving the exertion because we know what their contents represent. My favorite part of the day comes when, after hours of deciding on the perfect location for all of the glittery snowmen and the mistletoe, we flip open the boxes filled with ornaments. Each tiny but ornate decoration reminds us of all of the happy Christmases we’ve spent together, and we reminisce about years gone by as we select the perfect spot on the tree for each treasured trinket.

Researchers tell us that the fun holiday traditions that our families enjoy every year are actually way more important than most of us probably ever realized. They’re so important, in fact, that families who establish and regularly carry out yearly traditions are stronger and have more tightly bonded members than other families because these rituals instill a deep sense of consistency and reliability in an otherwise hectic world. Traditions that we can rely on help us develop feelings of trust and confidence – two very important characteristics that aid in creating mentally stable and happy individuals.

Because traditions create a sense of unity among family members, it means that people in families who practice yearly traditions will be less likely to seek out feelings of belonging elsewhere in other (potentially negative or dangerous) social circles. This naturally adds even more strength and importance to the familial bond. Family traditions help build a sense of identity in all members of your family, because the customs you create will be special and unique, ranging from the timing of certain events to inside jokes. The youngest members of your family can even gain a connection to their ancestors through rituals that have been passed down through the ages.

Traditions and rituals don’t have to involve a holiday, but as we are currently right in the middle of the holiday season, it just so happens that most of us are spending lots of time preparing for and enjoying holiday traditions at the moment. Because of the emotional connection that is tied to the events, foods, songs and rituals that surround holidays year round (but most significantly the holidays in December), it’s important to be aware of just how important these moments are to your family as a whole, and to your family members as individuals.

In today’s modern society, as we are constantly confronted with the interference of technology and with the advent of an ever-changing definition of “family,” it can be challenging to honor traditions that many family members have strong emotional connections to. We must all work to find a way to put down our electronic gadgets and make compromises that will enable us to keep our time-honored traditions alive. Even as family structures shift, the stability of practicing family rituals will keep any family strongly bonded and emotionally sound.

We here at TinyShift would like to take this moment to wish all of our readers Happy Holidays.  We sincerely hope your family traditions go off without a hitch.

 

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A Real Life Report Card: Making Changes for the Better

Photo courtesy of Hannah Swithinbank

As December is getting ready to melt into January, I’ve started taking note of the good habits I’ve formed in 2012.  In the past year, I’ve become mindfully aware of the power I have over my own life. The last thing I want to do is slow or halt the progress I’ve made in areas that are very important to me. Since I started making a conscious effort to break a bunch of bad habits and replace them with new ones, I’ve experienced some extremely positive changes in my life.

Being aware of your progression toward the kind of life you really want is crucial to your success, but being immersed in your day-to-day life can sometimes blur your perception of the big picture. And with that line of thinking, I had an a-ha moment.

In your school years, you always knew how well you were doing in a multitude of subjects all at once because you were given tangible evidence of your success every marking period.  Now you’re trying to master a much more complex subject: Life. Here in the real world, you’re the only one who can determine how close you are to achieving your goals. As both the student and the teacher, you’re pretty much left to your own devices when it comes to assessment. While most people have a pretty good idea of what it means to ‘Fail at Life’, it seems much more difficult to ascertain exactly when you’ve passed with flying colors.

What we could all use is a real life report card – a tangible way to measure the progress we’re making toward our goals. Succeeding at life isn’t something that’s easy to measure, though. And since we’re all improving in a wide array of different ways, I’ve compiled a few suggestions you can use to create an assessment that’s appropriate for your life.

  1. Put it in a jar.  Start each year (or other predetermined length of time) with an empty jar or other container of your choice. Whenever you reach an important milestone in your Happiness Journey, write a short note about it and place it folded in the jar. At the end of the year (or the real life ‘marking period’ of your choosing), read all of the notes aloud to give yourself recognition for making positive changes. Another possibility is to make a second jar for any setbacks you’ve experienced.
  2. Cross it off. Before implementing the above idea, write the small changes you hope to make in a notebook. List style works best for this assessment tool. When you empty your jar, cross off all of the accomplishments as you read them aloud. If you incorporate two jars, make notes under each item that still needs work.
  3. Blog it. Whether you prefer electronic posts or the kind you make with pen and paper, start a Journey Journal. This acts as a running record of your self-improvement, and can replace both #1 and #2.
  4. Reflect. Mentally assess where you are now versus where you were last year, or six months ago.  How do you feel?  Ask yourself if you are coming closer to ultimate happiness or veering off the path.
  5. Snap it.  Get into the habit of taking pictures of happy/momentous occasions so that you can refer to them later as you self-assess. Pictures can really jar the mind, and they will remind you of everything you’ve accomplished.  Conversely, photos can also help you remember moments that were low, giving you a reality check about how far you’ve really come.

Pick and choose some (or use all) of the above methods, but make sure you stop to take inventory of your satisfaction with life every now and again.  There’s a reason we had report cards in school, and although we shouldn’t spend too much time assessing ourselves (that would be too time consuming and detract from living mindfully) - if we don’t check in, we’ll be much more likely to check out, ending up right back where we started.

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Can You be a Leader and a Teammate?

Photo courtesy of myheimu

When it comes to working collaboratively in teams, keeping everyone on task and maintaining productivity levels are important responsibilities.  Without a leader, most teams would end up as vacillating mobs of confusion, resulting in wasted time and fruitless efforts. As a general rule, highly successful teams are led by ambitious and motivating leaders.

Most of us are quite familiar and comfortable with letting others fly the plane (proficient pilots preferred).  Some of us ride in coach with others making it up to first class. A select few possess the right skills and end up as co-pilot. Moving toward the cockpit is by and large the direction of choice.

If we go by that logic, what happens when the captain decides to switch on auto-pilot while he ventures back to first class, or maybe even coach? Can the leader be an effective member of the team?

To be a leader and a teammate simultaneously takes a person who possesses a specific set of characteristics. No leader works totally separate from his team, and vice versa, but a leader who either has to or wants to do some of the ”grunt work” must be absolutely certain he maintains his authority while doing so, or retaining his leadership role will be impossible.

At times it can be unsettling for team members when their leader suddenly wants to be an active participant rather than a supervisor. As leaders are often (but not always) Type-A personalities, they can be a bit overwhelming in the team environment, where the rest of the teammates are more even-keeled.

If you are in a situation where you must switch between the two roles of leader and teammate, it is crucial to remember several key points in order to do so swimmingly.

  • Always keep the team’s goals in mind rather than your own personal agenda.
  • Show your team members respect at all times. In order to eventually return to your role as ‘leader’ you must be careful not to lose the support of your team. Disrespecting someone is a surefire way to lose any respect they at one time held for you.
  • True teammates will ‘take one for the team’ when they have to. When you work as a teammate, be sure that you are willing to do everything you would expect other members of the team to do.
  • When you work as team leader, keep your interactions soft and keep the environment collegiate.  This will allow you to move easily between the two roles.

Keep in mind that the best leaders don’t create good followers – they create other leaders because they lead by example. To be an extraordinary leader means keeping your focus on the success of the team and doing what it takes for the team to thrive. If you keep your eyes on the runway, you’ll be able to keep your team on track for a safe and sound landing every time, whether you’re in the cockpit or sitting in the very back row of ‘coach.’

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7 Steps to Becoming a Better Team Player

Photo courtesy of Gavin Llewellyn

As we were coordinating a recent event here at the TinyShift offices, there were quite a few details that we had to iron out in short order. Just like our readers, we’re learning everyday, and this time we were learning how to produce a pretty substantially sized project by working together as a team.

Whether you’re just starting your self-improvement journey or if you’ve been walking down the path for awhile now, remember that being a good team player is a skill that you’ll use in multiple areas of your life. Make sure you can hold your own when it comes to the areas listed below, and you’ll see the payoff in your work life, your friendships, your family life, and even your love life.

  1. Effective communication skills – Speak your mind and know when it’s your turn to listen to others’ ideas.
  2. Unique knowledge base  - Bring a skill to the table that your team values, and keep honing it so that your value doesn’t depreciate.
  3. Dependability – A functional team needs all of its members to do their part well and on time.
  4. Team loyalty - If you don’t believe in your team and the projects you’re working on, you might as well quit now.
  5. Strong work ethic – Don’t let anyone walk all over you, but be willing to push your limits when you’re asked to.
  6. Openness to new ideas – A person who is ‘always right’ will never make a good team member.
  7. Willingness to ask for help – While they need you to be able to pull your load, being part of a team means you all help eachother anytime you can.

If you think about it – all of the skills or attributes listed above apply to many relationships in your life. Sure, we usually associate working well as a team with our professional lives, but truth be told, old fashioned teamwork is what makes the world go ’round. And when there’s a lack of teamwork, chaos generally ensues in short order.

Keep your team-building skills on the burner at all times. Let them simmer, but make sure there’s a steady fire under them. That way, you’ll never have to attend a team event empty handed, and you’ll be sure to impress everyone!

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