It's that time again, the season of year-end recognition, and with that comes lots of questions:
Should I get gifts for my coworkers?
How can I recognize my team in a way that will be meaningful for them?
Will I get a bonus? Did they even notice how I rocked it this year?
Last week, I met with my mentee, a senior at Brown University. She is preparing to transition to life after college, and asking so many thoughtful questions about what that will be like. As she heads into finals season, this was the doozy that she threw at me: What is life going to be like when I don't get grades?
Her question brought me right back to having the very same conversation with my internship supervisor during my own senior year: "But who will give me an A in life?" I asked her. Up until that point, I had been conditioned to perform for that letter grade feedback—figure out what the teacher wants and do the assignment to please them, be perfect, get an A.
It's been a long period of de-programming ever since. Once I moved on from gunning for an A, I latched on to titles. That's how you feel recognized and know you're successful—an important job title! I went from Assistant to Coordinator to Associate to Director and got a rush of approval each time. It was more of an addiction than fulfillment. Each time that initial rush wore off, I was already aiming for the next title, always chasing but never ever arriving at success.
It's taken time, but I've come to understand the ultimate indicator of success is actually alignment: knowing deeply who I am, what I stand for, and what drives me, and building a life and pursuing opportunities that align with that.
When others reflect back to me that what I'm doing matters, that it resonates, that they see me living in integrity—that is the kind of recognition I care about. It's not about striving or achieving. It's about dialing in to the truth of who I am.
So this was the guidance that I passed on to my mentee: As you begin to gain work experience, tune into what truly matters to you at work. What makes you feel recognized? What motivates you? What kind of acknowledgement really resonates with you in particular?
We all have our own ways of recognizing others and receiving recognition that matter to us. I used to have a direct report who loved to be recognized in staff meetings; if I said a few words about something he did well in front of the full team, that meant a lot to him. For my other direct report, that same action could not have meant less. She thrived on something else entirely—me jumping in to help her with tasks that were in my wheelhouse so that she could focus on hers. If I printed up her mailing labels, she really felt my support.
Here are some key modes of workplace appreciation, adapted from Gary Chapman's work. As you look through the list, ask yourself: What form of recognition is most meaningful to me? What is meaningful to my team/manager/colleagues?
Gifts: Give a meaningful little something that shows that you see who they are and what they enjoy.
Words: Write a hand-written note celebrating them for their achievements this year, or give a shout out at the next staff meeting to really put into words what that person brings to the team.
Time: Ask them out to lunch or offer some 1:1 meeting time to invest in your relationship and give them your undivided attention.
Service: Grab an extra hot chocolate for them when you're out on your afternoon walk, or take on an office task that you know will support them (come along to their event, make the copies, set up the meeting room).
Opportunities: Ask them to be part of a committee or give them an assignment that will help them to stretch and grow.
As you begin to deprogram the definitions of success and modes of recognition that have been ingrained in you, get curious about what authentically resonates with you.
YOUR NEXT STEP: Explore your personal definition of success. Download your free copy of the Lead Your Career Workbook to dive in.