Shake Hands Like You Mean It & Other Things I Wish I’d Known

Aug 13 2018

by Kate Spears

The Southern Coterie blog: "Shake Hands Like You Mean It and Other Things I Wish I'd Known" by Kate Spears (photo: Kathryn McCrary of a 2016 Summit networking event)
photo: Kathryn McCrary of a 2016 Southern C Summit social hour

I’ll never forget how excited I felt starting my very first big girl job as social media manager for a local public relations firm. On my first day of work, I got up super early and tried to dress for success. Parking downtown and walking a couple of blocks to the building where I would be working, I texted my dad to say that I felt like Mary Tyler Moore tossing her cap to the sky….I was thrilled to start this new adventure.

It wouldn’t be long before the bubble burst. It was not the job of my dreams as I’d thought it would be. There were some positive aspects, including meeting a colleague who became a dear friend. Plus I learned about the inner workings of an agency and gained valuable knowledge & experience that I still use today.

But the environment was toxic. Unrealistic expectations coupled with a lack of trust made me feel like I couldn’t succeed no matter how hard I pushed myself. I became cynical and negative, which is really unlike me. I used to daydream about having a health crisis or accident that would leave me hospitalized, i.e. unable to go to work. Crazy, right?

All that time, I wanted to quit so desperately but quitting didn’t feel like an option. I’d never quit a job without having another one to go to. And I felt like such a failure because this had been my so-called ‘dream job’ and I wasn’t able to make it work.

Ultimately, I was let go from my position. I didn’t fit the culture and the I’m sure the negativity it bred caused me to be a terrible employee. One thing that made me feel a bit better was knowing it definitely wasn’t the quality of my work. In fact, a few days before I was given the axe, my supervisor asked me to write and schedule about a month’s worth of social posts for a few different clients.

I had never been fired from a job before. Getting fired seemed like something that happened to other, less responsible people. It was humbling for sure. It was also a huge learning experience for me, and one I’m actually pretty grateful for. Plus being in a position where I had to sink or swim motivated me to pursue my own marketing consulting biz, which is going strong six years later.

When I jumped head first into the world of entrepreneurship, I was pretty clueless at first and made lots of mistakes. Even though I’ve learned a ton of things over the years, I still make mistakes. But there are a few things that I feel strongly about. Things I learned the hard way and wish someone had told me when I was starting out. So I decided to share those things in case they might be helpful to someone else.

Here goes, in no particular order:

Shake hands like you mean it. 

No matter how much technology has connected us, there’s nothing like meeting someone in real life. And I can’t tell you how often I meet ladies in the business world who give a little limp, floppy handshake. We can do so much better y’all. If we all started shaking hands like we meant it, everybody would get the hint. And men, we’re counting on your help too. Give us a real grown-up handshake. You don’t have to pulverize our appendages but we want to be taken seriously.

Never be late and never keep people waiting on you. 

Time is our most valuable resource. I totally believe the studies that say if given the choice, people would rather have an extra hour as opposed to hundreds of extra dollars. There’s just never enough time in the day to do all the things we want to do.

Of course things happen that are out of our control. Traffic jams, accidents, etc. But if you leave yourself plenty of time, you can adjust to even the most unexpected circumstances.

To me, being late makes it look like someone just can’t be bothered. That they don’t care about the others who put forth the effort to arrive on time. Do I sound preachy? This is one area in which I feel preachy.

Something else to consider is that you just don’t know what extra opportunities might come your way if you arrive early or at the very least, on time. I can vouch for this too.

Take your own notes. 

I was on a conference call recently with a lady who said, “Can you just write all of this down and send it to me?” It’s one thing to be of assistance and give someone a reference to something they missed. But it’s nobody else’s job to make sure you know what you need to know.

Never say you’re not. 

This is along the same lines as ‘fake it til you make it.’ I don’t mean that you should fake being able to do your job. That’s never good. Ask questions and get help with that! What I’m talking about is people who say things like “I’m just not organized” “I’m just not a good manager” or “I’m just not tech savvy.” If these things are true, take steps to change them. But don’t undermine yourself or cause others to wonder if you are qualified or deserving of the job you have.

Shoes on for a meeting. 

If you have the kind of desk that hides your feet and you can discreetly take your shoes off while at work, congratulations. But please do not attend a meeting and take your shoes off where people can see your feet. This is totally unprofessional.

Snip it. 

This one might seem ultra basic, but there are still people who forget to snip that little thread in the slit at back of a blazer or pencil skirt. When I see them out and about, I want to take them aside and ask to snip it….but they’d probably think I was a crazy person.

Lint rollers. 

Buy a bunch of those sticky paper lint rollers and keep them in your car, your house, your office, etc. You never know when the napkin you so politely laid across your lap at a business lunch is going to leave a bunch of white fuzz on your black trousers.

Taco Bell is the new Starbucks. 

Did you know that all Taco Bell locations have free WiFi? Sometimes when I’m running around from meeting to meeting, I just need a cool, quiet place where I can work on my laptop and drink iced tea. Hardly anybody dines in at Taco Bell so you’ll likely have the entire place to yourself.  And if you decide to indulge in the occasional quesadilla, I’ll never tell.

Enthusiasm is everything. 

Probably the best thing I’ve learned from real life experience that nobody ever told me in school is that enthusiasm is everything. I’ve gotten more clients on the basis of enthusiasm than anything else. I mean, I do know what I’m talking about but plenty of people know marketing. What sets me apart is that I’m really enthusiastic about it in a genuine way. Positivity goes along with this as does being consistently happy to help. Some people just can’t be bothered. Don’t be one of those people.

And there’s plenty more that I’ve learned, but these are some of the more important things. Finally, to thine own self be true. I knew pretty early on that my dream job in the PR agency was more of a nightmare, but I tried to force myself to make the best of it. Thankfully, it didn’t lead to me having an actual accident or health crisis out of wishful thinking. Life is way too short to force yourself to suffer through a bad situation like that.

There’s always another opportunity around the corner. Always. And there’s life after being fired too. If that’s happened to you and you feel shame about it, please don’t. Every awesome sweater I find at the thrift store isn’t a perfect fit for me. And every seemingly awesome job or client isn’t always a perfect fit either. Be discerning and be true to yourself. You won’t regret it.


Kate Spears View More Blog Posts from this Author

Kate Spears is a self-proclaimed Southern belle who grew up in a tiny town near Nashville, but now calls Knoxville home. She graduated from the University of Tennessee (Big Orange Country!) with an undergraduate degree in art history and a master’s in public relations & advertising. In 2009, she started her blog, Southern Belle Simple, with the simple hope of giving herself a creative outlet. She continues to be amazed each time it leads to a new opportunity and cherishes the relationships that are formed along the way.

Kate is passionate about family history, time-honored traditions, and her Southern heritage. Her people hail from across the South, from the Lone Star State of Texas to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. She grew up spending summers on her great-grandparents’ Tennessee farm where she developed a deep appreciation and admiration for people who could coax beautiful and delicious things out of a mound of dirt. She comes from faithful men, devoted women, hard workers and wickedly good cooks.

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