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The Absolute Best Salted Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever

I’m not going to lie to you – this is the best chocolate chip cookie recipe, EVER.

I know that’s a bold statement, but I’ve tried lots of chocolate chip cookies in my day. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but trust me, once you’ve tried this recipe, it will forever be your go-to recipe to impress, delight and devour.

For me, a great chocolate chip cookie is comprised of a few factors. Crispy around the edges with an irresistible chewy and bendy center, the cookie would have the perfect balance of buttery nuttiness, the right distribution of chocolate in every bite and the butterscotch, toffee-like complexity that comes from caramelization of sugar. While not the most beautiful cookie, it’s craggly texture and golden color flecked with bits of chocolate and a sprinkling of maldon sea salt that balances the sweetness.

This cookie is all that and more – it’s a grown up version of the traditional Toll House cookie. The additional step of browning the butter creates a warm nuttiness, adding to the complexity of the cookie. The bread flour makes the cookies extra chewy, and a combination of brown and white sugar provides caramelization, deepening the flavor. Using a kitchen scale to measure the ingredients provide accuracy and reliability, and resting the cookies allows the flour to relax – creating a deep, brown color and a more intense butterscotch flavor.

So I know what you’re thinking now. “This is too much work for a simple chocolate chip cookie! I can buy a package of cookie dough from my grocery store freezer and have amazing cookies in 10 minutes!” I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. If you think those cookies are good, just wait until you try these. I’ve made these cookies dozens of times over the years. For those who have tried it, they will forever remember it. It’s my go-to, all-occasion cookie. The recipe is adapted from the repertoire of a top secret pastry chef in San Francisco, where my sister did an externship after finishing pastry school. I’ve been asked for the recipe many, many times.  and I’m finally here to share it with you, so that you too can indulge in what I consider one of life’s greatest pleasures.

First, let’s start with the basics. You’re going to need some time and a few specialized tools and techniques to make these cookies at a highly professional level. Some of you might already own these tools, and some of you might want to consider purchasing these tools after reading this article. To make things easy, I’ll explain the tools first, then the techniques, and finally, I’ll share my top secret recipe for the BEST salted brown butter chocolate chip cookies EVER.

Tools

The first item you’ll need for this recipe is a kitchen scale. This recipe uses weight measurements instead of standard American cups. The reason for this is accuracy. When you measure ingredients using cups, you often incorporate air into the cup, resulting in a potential inaccurate measurement. Using a kitchen scale is easy, and you can pour ingredients directly into a bowl without using extra utensils. In fact, using weight measurements makes baking so much easier that I actually prefer them in recipes. Especially when it comes to 1-2 bowl recipes, being able to directly dump everything into the same vessel makes for easy clean up. They’re also extremely affordable, with most kitchen scales going for about 10-15 dollars.

Brown sugar is one ingredient that is difficult to get right with measuring cups. Should it be packed or unpacked? Doesn’t matter if you’re using a kitchen scale.

The second is a stand mixer. As a caveat, you can make this recipe without a stand mixer, but I highly recommend using one. Alternatively, you can use your strong arms, and the strong arms of your friends, family, or whoever happens to be around for turn-taking purposes. The reason for this is that you will need to cream the brown butter, water and sugars together until it forms a nice, creamy and soft consistency.  

Check out that creamy, smooth butter and sugar.

The third item is a small or large ice cream/cookie dough scoop. Using a scoop to measure out the dough provides consistency in cookie size, meaning that all of your cookies will bake evenly and uniformly. I have both the small and large sizes from Crate and Barrel.

Techniques

Now let’s talk technique. All chocolate chip cookies are not created equal. These techniques, validated by science from The Food Lab are serious game changers in the cookie world.

The first unique technique is browning the butter. Brown butter, also known as beurre noisette, has a rich, nutty taste and an aroma that is out of this world. It’s so potent that your neighbors might actually start to resent you. It requires some concentration and time to make, but it isn’t hard at all. This article really clearly lays out how to brown butter, so I won’t go into too much detail here about it.

The second unique technique is to scoop and then freeze the dough. Resting the dough after it’s been scooped helps the flour to relax and the flavor to deepen. Chocolate chip cookie dough freezes very well. In fact, I often will make a batch and keep the scooped cookie dough in freezer for unexpected guests or events. There’s nothing like the smell and taste of freshly baked off, warm, gooey cookies to wow your guests.

The third and final technique is to bake the cookies straight from the freezer with a sprinkling of maldon sea salt. Because of the brown butter, the dough tends to get pretty soft at room temperature. Freezing the cookies not only makes them easier to handle, it also spreads more evenly and holds a tighter, more compact shape. Sprinkling maldon sea salt prior to baking (and after, if you desire), adds that bit of crunch and salt that balances out the sweetness of the cookie.

Okay, enough talk about tools and techniques. Let’s get to the good stuff – the recipe.

Salted Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yield: approximately 35 large cookies or 90 small cookies

 Total Time: at least 2-3 hours (for resting, freezing and baking)

 Active Time: 30 minutes  

Difficulty: Easy – Medium

Ingredients

  • 3 sticks unsalted butter (12 oz or 339g)
  • 45g water
  • 80g granulated white sugar
  • 380g light or dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g whole milk
  • 10g vanilla extract (I prefer Nielsen-Massey)
  • 470g bread flour (I prefer King Arthur)
  • 10g kosher salt
  • 7g baking soda
  • 700g chocolate chunks, chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
  • Sprinkle of maldon sea salt

 

Note: you can vary the type and amount of chocolate that you use. You can also substitute other ingredients. I’ve used pistachios, dried cranberries, almonds, walnuts, white chocolate, toffee bits, etc)

Directions

  1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Gently swirl the pan constantly for about 5-7 minutes. As the butter continues to melt, it will bubble and foam. When the foam particles turn brown and a nutty aroma emits from the pan, remove from heat and allow the browned butter to cool completely. Transfer the warm butter to the mixing bowl of your stand mixer and cool in refrigerator for about 5 minutes, so that some of the butter becomes solid.
  2. While the brown butter cools, measure out all of the dry ingredients: bread flour, baking soda, and salt in one bowl. In another bowl, combine the eggs, milk and vanilla.
  3. Once the brown butter is slightly chilled, add the brown sugar, sugar and water to the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on medium-high speed for about 2-3 minutes until the mixture becomes light and fluffy and lighter in color.
  4. Add the wet ingredients and mix for another 30 seconds on medium-high speed, scraping the bowl down as you go, then add the dry ingredients all at once. Be careful not to overmix once the dry ingredients are added.
  5. Add the chocolate chunks, chips or chopped chocolate (or any other inclusions), Mix on low speed for about 15-20 seconds, then remove the bowl and continue to fold the mixture with a rubber spatula until fully combined. Set the dough in the fridge to chill for about 20-30 minutes.  
  6. Using a small/large ice cream/cookie dough scoop, scoop out the chilled dough onto a sheet tray covered with parchment paper. It doesn’t matter if the cookie dough is tightly packed as the cookies will be frozen prior to baking.
  7. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Set the frozen cookies on a parchment covered sheet tray approximately 1-2 inches apart. Sprinkle each cookie with a generous amount of maldon sea salt, and bake for 8-11 minutes for small cookies and 13-16 minutes or large cookies until the edges of the cookie are golden brown, but still very soft.
  8. Remove the cookies from the oven and cool slightly for about 2-3 minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack. Devour immediately or cool completely before storing in an airtight container or plastic bag. Cookies will remain fresh for about 4-5 days.
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Positive Relationship Building: Surround Yourself with People who Get Sh*t Done

Have you ever noticed that some people energize you while others drain you? In some groups, you feel smarter while other groups make you feel less intelligent? Perhaps your productivity differs depending on the type of company you’re with.

So I’ll just come out and say it – yes, your friends matter.

In the 1950s, a psychologist named Solomon Asch did an experiment with a group of volunteers to study group conformity. Imagine that you, a participant in the experiment show up to the experimental room where there are seven other participants. You don’t know this at the time, but the others aren’t actually participants, but co-conspirators of the experimenter. You’re the only real participant. The experimenter tells you that the study is about visual judgments, and places two cards in front of you. One card shows one straight vertical line, while the other card shows three lines of various lengths, labeled A,B, and C. The experimenter then asks each person to indicate which of the three lines matches the length of the card with only one line. You’re the last person to answer. You can tell that line that perfectly matches is obviously C, but one after the other, the “participants” say that it’s B.

What would you do in this situation? Would you conform? Or stick to what you know is right?

While in the control condition, where participants did not have pressure to conform to a unanimous answer, only 1% chose the wrong answer, yet in the experimental condition, over 1/3 of participants chose the unanimous and obviously incorrect answer.

What happens in our brains from a neurological perspective is that when we have an opinion that matches those of people around us,  our brain’s reward center releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which gives us a jolt of pleasure. We feel good, validated, and closer to others. Yet when our opinion differs, we feel bad. The area of our brain responsible for pain is activated, and we can either pretend to agree with others but secretly hold onto our own thoughts, or more likely, our brain will actively change how we think and molds our thoughts to align with those of the crowd that surrounds us.

When we choose to hang out with those who bring us down, the naysayers and pessimists, who tell us “no” and rain on our parade, we get less done. Misery loves company, and people who don’t get sh*t done don’t want you to either! Our brains are rewired to say, “it’s okay, I don’t have to do it.”

But yet, if we choose to spend our time with high achievers, people who are dreamers and more importantly doers, they inspire us and supercharge us to do even more than we ever thought we could. If you surround yourself with like-minded people, who are full of energy and ideas, are excited to put themselves out there and to make things happen, you will too. While misery demands company, so does success. People who are successful actively surround themselves with people who also successful. When we spend time with these people, our brains are rewired to say, “They did it, and you can too.”

“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

— Richard Tirendi, CEO and Co-Founder of VisionQuest

So how can seek out mutually beneficial relationships with other successful people to help us achieve more?

Who You Should Spend Time With

Spend time with people who inspire you. Have you ever looked at a friend and thought, “Wow! I wish I could be more like you in ___ area?” Spend more time with people who inspire you to be a better person through their own behaviors and examples. Ask them their secrets to success and pick up a few life hacks!

Spend time with people who share your values. Authenticity matters in friendships. When you spend time with people whose values differ vastly from your own, you not only run the risk of setting off your brain’s pain receptors (ouch!), you also might end up changing your opinion to match theirs.

Spend time with people who you can learn something new from. I love having friends who come from different backgrounds and have different skill sets. It not only makes life more interesting, but it also gives me the opportunity to learn something new.

Spend time with people who make you a better person. Real friends who will call you out on your BS are gems. They not only tell you the truth, but they will also continue to raise the bar on your personal growth. Treasure them!

Who You Should Not Spend Time With

What you don’t want to do is spend time with people who are consistently negative, who aren’t achieving their own goals, who don’t share your values and are constantly dragging you down with drama. This person doesn’t have much to offer you but is always asking for help. They spend a lot of time tearing others down, gossiping and complaining. If you have people like this in your life currently, make an active choice to minimize their role in your life.

What About Networking?

The word networking is intimidating, but it shouldn’t be. People who are getting sh*t done are all around you, and in fact, are likely your friends, family, and colleagues. Take a look at your personal network. Are there people who you would like to be spending more time with, but you aren’t currently doing so? In this day in age, where we have social media, email, and more importantly, smartphones, your future cheerleaders are often just a few clicks away. Notice that they’ve done something extraordinary lately? Send them an email of congratulations and let them know how much you admire their achievements, then simply ask if they would like to grab a coffee or drink sometime. After all, the worst they can say is no, and more often than not, people are usually quite willing to spend time with you.

Another idea is to host informal gatherings or parties to bring people together. Do you have different groups of high achieving friends who might benefit from getting to know one another? Make the introduction simple by inviting a curated group to happy hour, or perhaps an intimate dinner party. The activity of breaking bread tends to break the ice, and to me, people who eat together often also achieve together.

Ultimately, it’s scientifically clear that you are the people who you choose to surround yourself with. According to the motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, “The law of averages says that the result of any given situation will be the average of all outcomes. Therefore, you are the average of the five people you most associate with.” So take a good look at your innermost circle. Are you associating with those who are bringing you up, helping you become a better person, and get sh*t done?

An Italian Inspired Elegant Afternoon Brunch with Great Friends

On Saturday, I hosted a get together for amazing friends. When you work closely with people for several years day in and day out, you develop a very special relationship that often extends beyond your tenure at the organization. I changed jobs about 9 months ago, and since moving on I’ve rarely had the chance to connect with three of my close ex-colleagues. These guys had contributed significantly to my professional growth and we have so many amazing memories of not only working hard, but playing hard together. Since it’s been a while since we’ve all spent time together, I wanted to make something really special for them and their spouses.

As a hostess, I knew that I wanted to make sure that my guests felt especially cared for. Even though all of us live relatively closely (with the exception of one person who moved out of state), our lives, work, extracurriculars and family often take up our free time. Knowing that my guests had to make special arrangements to travel to Queens, I wanted to create a really relaxing yet elegant vibe, where deliberate mindfulness and hospitality appear effortless.

The start time for the party proved to be challenging in setting a menu. With one person traveling from out of state, we decided to start at 2 pm, for a late afternoon brunch that went into the early evening. I took some time to think about the menu, and decided to break the meal into three distinctive parts – appetizers and salad, main course and dessert.

To prepare for the party, I decided to batch a cocktail earlier in the morning so that as my guests arrived, I would be able to greet them with a drink. I had an amazing tiki cocktail at our local favorite bar a few weeks ago and loved the beverage and the presentation. I ended up purchasing the same glasses and created a similar drink.

 A special homemade welcome cocktail made with dark rum, spiced rum, amaro, lime juice, simple syrup, pineapple juice and orange juice.  A special homemade welcome cocktail made with dark rum, spiced rum, amaro, lime juice, simple syrup, pineapple juice and orange juice.

To create a comfortable environment, I set up the appetizers on our coffee table, on a neutral toned tablecloth. Using slate boards and a slate and wood stand created both an elegant yet modern appearance, and the dark backdrop really helped to make my colorful crostini pop!

 Great parties start with a great cheeseboard. My favorites: truffle gouda, wensleydale with cranberries, cave aged cheddar, creamy goat cheese, truffled marcona almonds, dried apricots and cranberries, fresh strawberries, fresh figs, fig jam, and wildflower honey.   Great parties start with a great cheeseboard. My favorites: truffle gouda, wensleydale with cranberries, cave aged cheddar, creamy goat cheese, truffled marcona almonds, dried apricots and cranberries, fresh strawberries, fresh figs, fig jam, and wildflower honey.    A little tower of crostini: pea pesto with baby tomatoes, ricotta with lemon zest, strawberries, basil and honey, and ricotta with figs, pistachio and honey.  A little tower of crostini: pea pesto with baby tomatoes, ricotta with lemon zest, strawberries, basil and honey, and ricotta with figs, pistachio and honey.   Pro-tip: use the same base (in this case, ricotta cheese), while varying up the toppings makes it easy to serve different types of crostini without a lot of extra work!  Pro-tip: use the same base (in this case, ricotta cheese), while varying up the toppings makes it easy to serve different types of crostini without a lot of extra work!   Providing a few printed menus on the table helps to let guests know what they're having while you make drinks, greet new arrivals, cook hot dishes, or deal with last minute details. This also gets them excited for the next course!  Providing a few printed menus on the table helps to let guests know what they’re having while you make drinks, greet new arrivals, cook hot dishes, or deal with last minute details. This also gets them excited for the next course!   My husband called this the best bacon he's ever had. It's called Praline Bacon, and it's an easy recipe using thick-cut bacon, pecans and brown sugar. Alton Brown has really perfected this, so if you want to try it out, check out his recipe here . I would recommend checking the oven often - mine didn't need as much time to crisp up.  My husband called this the best bacon he’s ever had. It’s called Praline Bacon, and it’s an easy recipe using thick-cut bacon, pecans and brown sugar. Alton Brown has really perfected this, so if you want to try it out, check out his recipe here . I would recommend checking the oven often – mine didn’t need as much time to crisp up.   These pretty little mushrooms taste even better than they look. I learned about these after having dinner at the recently crowned #1 restaurant in the world, Eleven Madison Park. These are organic maitake mushrooms. They're fluffy and woody, and all you need to do is slice them up, add olive oil (a little more than you think you need, mushrooms soak up oil), salt and pepper, and pop them into a hot 400F oven for about 15 minutes.  These pretty little mushrooms taste even better than they look. I learned about these after having dinner at the recently crowned #1 restaurant in the world, Eleven Madison Park. These are organic maitake mushrooms. They’re fluffy and woody, and all you need to do is slice them up, add olive oil (a little more than you think you need, mushrooms soak up oil), salt and pepper, and pop them into a hot 400F oven for about 15 minutes.   While my guests settled in and enjoyed their first appetizers, I threw together a quick salad of oranges, blood oranges, grapefruit, avocado, arugula, microgreens, fresh mozzarella, pistachios and lemon zest. I had prepared the fruit in advance by removing all of the skin and slicing it into rounds. A quick dressing can also be made in advance - mine was a citrus wildflower honey vinaigrette with a little bit of balsamic vinegar that I brought back from my trip to Italy last year.  While my guests settled in and enjoyed their first appetizers, I threw together a quick salad of oranges, blood oranges, grapefruit, avocado, arugula, microgreens, fresh mozzarella, pistachios and lemon zest. I had prepared the fruit in advance by removing all of the skin and slicing it into rounds. A quick dressing can also be made in advance – mine was a citrus wildflower honey vinaigrette with a little bit of balsamic vinegar that I brought back from my trip to Italy last year.

After appetizers and catching up, we all settled in for a bit of competition. Using the Jackbox Party Pack, we played a few games that involved using our phones to come up with lies while discovering truths, and others on trivia. After the second quick game, I excused myself to cook the pasta dishes, which were the main course.

 Making pasta for a crowd is really challenging! Timing is key. You don't really want pasta sitting out for a long time as it loses its al dente texture. Since I was using fresh homemade pasta, I started by making the sauce and kept it on a low simmer on the stove while I boiled the pasta. Here is a fresh pasta dish of homemade garganelli, proscuitto, fresh shelled peas, arugula, microgreens, cream, lemon and parmesan.  Making pasta for a crowd is really challenging! Timing is key. You don’t really want pasta sitting out for a long time as it loses its al dente texture. Since I was using fresh homemade pasta, I started by making the sauce and kept it on a low simmer on the stove while I boiled the pasta. Here is a fresh pasta dish of homemade garganelli, proscuitto, fresh shelled peas, arugula, microgreens, cream, lemon and parmesan.   For the main course. I wanted to feature two different types of homemade pasta. This one was a sweet sausage, tomato and ricotta ravioli with cacio e pepe sauce. I had made the sauce the day before and put it in a squeeze bottle. Warming it up in the microwave took about 1 minute. This made it really easy to serve! I set out plates on the kitchen peninsula and once the ravioli were cooked, spooned them onto each plate. Then I topped each with warm sauce, a few sprigs of microgreens and a healthy dose of freshly ground black pepper.  For the main course. I wanted to feature two different types of homemade pasta. This one was a sweet sausage, tomato and ricotta ravioli with cacio e pepe sauce. I had made the sauce the day before and put it in a squeeze bottle. Warming it up in the microwave took about 1 minute. This made it really easy to serve! I set out plates on the kitchen peninsula and once the ravioli were cooked, spooned them onto each plate. Then I topped each with warm sauce, a few sprigs of microgreens and a healthy dose of freshly ground black pepper.   These little ravioli pack a serious punch. The squeeze bottle and microgreens take this dish from deliciously homemade to top restaurant quality.  These little ravioli pack a serious punch. The squeeze bottle and microgreens take this dish from deliciously homemade to top restaurant quality.   Both pastas!  Both pastas!

After letting our pasta digest briefly, I served an Italian pear almond cake, which I had baked the night before. I found the recipe on Pinterest from a popular Canadian food blog, Seasons and Suppers. Served with a simple cream of mascarpone, marsala wine and orange, it was more fruity than sweet, yet still very decadent.

 My light and fruity pear and almond cake. Unfortunately we didn't snap one of the cream, which was delicious and totally made this simple dessert shine!  My light and fruity pear and almond cake. Unfortunately we didn’t snap one of the cream, which was delicious and totally made this simple dessert shine!

So there you have it! It was an absolutely lovely afternoon-evening where we shared great food, lots of laughs and made memories that will last a lifetime.

The One Social Media Habit That Will Make You Feel Better, Not Worse

Study after study has shown that social media makes us feel bad. Whether we browse through Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat or Pinterest, we get the sense that other people are more successful than us, look better than us, are having more fun than us, or even just living a better life than us. Social media has been linked to higher levels of loneliness, envy, anxiety, depression and decreased social skills. It’s all about that comparison – and usually, we’re comparing our real lives to the highlight reels of others.

It’s easy to forget about the promotion we just got, the vacation we just took, or even just the nice dinner we just had, even if we did post it to social media, and got a thousand “likes”. You know what I’m talking about here. It’s when you save up for some type of large, extravagant purchase that you’re absolutely sure will change your life for the better. Or when you’re chasing that goal achievement of making a certain amount of money. Or perhaps getting to your goal weight. The, “If only I…” creeps into your mind. If only I had more money. If only I could lose those last 10 pounds. Yet when we actually reach those goals, our happiness is rather short-lived. We forget about it and move on to the next thing.

This is because of the phenomenon of the hedonic treadmill. The hedonic treadmill is a term coined by psychologists Brickman and Campbell to describe the tendency of people to keep a relatively stable baseline level of happiness despite external events or changes in our demographic circumstances. This is why lottery winners aren’t happier months after their big win, and people who go through difficult times tend to often bounce back to their former disposition. Rather than changing our circumstances, we need to change the way that we look at the life that we’ve already experienced. Instead of chasing the next dream all the time, what if we were to spend some time re-living, or savoring our memories of the past?

“It’s not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.”

— Charles Spurgeon

The good news is while changing our external circumstances often doesn’t lead to increased happiness, changing our internal circumstances does. According to Martin Seligman, one of the founders of the field of positive psychology and a past president of the American Psychological Association, “there is quite a number of internal circumstances (…) under your voluntary control. If you decide to change them (none of these changes come without real effort), your level of happiness is likely to increase lastingly.”

So here’s my suggestion for the one social media habit that will make you feel better:

SAVOR YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA MEMORIES. 

That’s right, instead of going through the social media feed of others, go through your own highlight reel. Connect with the good memories, those moments where you felt pride and joy. The moments that are a part of your past, but rarely a part of your present.

According to Denis Waitley, author and motivational speaker, “a good life is a collection of happy memories.” Well luckily for you, you’ve got that collection in your hands right now.

How to Have a Positive Career Development Conversation with Your Boss

Last night, I sat down to dinner with my husband in a busy restaurant in Manhattan after a long day of work. It was Korean restaurant in the heart of midtown down the street from my office, and at 7 pm, crowded full of young professionals. As I was telling my husband about my upcoming annual performance review, I overheard the couple sitting next to us discussing the very same thing. “How do you think I should talk to my boss about my career development?”, the boyfriend/husband asked his girlfriend/wife. “I think you should start with asking for their feedback,” she replied.

This quick exchange suddenly got me thinking. At my current organization, I spent some time surveying leaders and employees on the biggest challenges that they face. Time after time, having career development conversations come up. It seems like we often get mixed messages – do we appear too forward if we ask for a promotion? Should we wait for our manager to approach us first? What if my plan isn’t to stay with the organization for the next 5 years? Should I be honest? Will that prevent me from getting that raise?

“Career development, like dating, is messy. But just like dating, the best policy is to not play games; but to be honest, authentic, and assertive about what you want.”

— Nikki

According to Gallup, 87% of millennials rate “professional or career growth and opportunities” as important to them in a job, and 59% of millennials report that opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them when applying for a job. Knowing just how much we prioritize career development, why do we oftentimes leave this important task in the hands of others?

If you have regular one-on-ones with your people leader, you should be having career development conversations. And if your people leader doesn’t bring it up, you most definitely can! After all, it’s your career we’re talking about here.

Here are my top suggestions for having a positive career development conversation with your boss:


Plan for the conversation and start with a positive atmosphere. The last thing you want to do is to catch your boss off-guard. If you have regularly scheduled one-on-ones, let your leader know that you’ll want to spend some time during your next meeting to discuss your career development. If you don’t, ask to schedule a meeting. Before the meeting, find a quiet place, an office, or even a casual coffee shop to have the conversation. Limit distractions by putting away your cell phone or closing your laptop to demonstrate a commitment to the conversation.

Be honest about both your short-term and long-term goals. You don’t necessarily have to put time stamps on each of those, but giving your boss the bigger picture of where you want to go in life helps set the foundation for how he or she can best help you to develop. Be open about wanting something different from your current position in the future. If you have a supportive leader, chances are, they will be able to help you get to your next step in many ways. Down the line, they can give you stretch assignments or challenges to help you meet your goals, and potentially introduce you to your next role, whether it is in a different department or even outside of your organization.

Be clear about what you want to learn and how it will help the business. Spend some time thinking about areas in which you could either improve on or new skills you can build to get better at your job. Identify one or two concrete plans – whether it is a course offered internally or externally, a conference that pertains to your profession, or a book that you want to read. Make a strong connection of how the learning plan ties into your role and how it will enhance the business. Don’t be afraid of rejection. You don’t get what you don’t ask for, and the worst he/she can say is “no”.

Ask for actionable positive and constructive feedback. Once you have clued your leader in on what your short-term and long-term goals are, show that you are ready to take initiative to learn and grow. Ask for open and honest feedback about your performance. If the feedback seems vague, dive deeper and ask your leader to provide you with specific examples and ideas on how you can improve. Remember that feedback is truly a gift. Take on a positive growth mindset and see constructive feedback as a reflection of your performance at the time, not a reflection of you as a person or your character.


Having a career development conversation with your leader can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be hard. The most important thing to remember is this: be honest and authentic with yourself and your leader. Take the time to really imagine the life that you want for yourself and make bold steps towards those goals. You are in control of your career development, so don’t dream your life, live your dream.

More than Listening to Understand, We Need to Listen to Connect

 Sometimes when people are speaking, this is what we hear.  Sometimes when people are speaking, this is what we hear.

A few years ago, I started to work with leaders to develop their ability to communicate better to drive engagement and results for their teams. When these leaders would show up in my classroom, often times, they bring with them their struggles and challenges to get their message across. “They just don’t listen”, exclaimed one exasperated leader after the other. It seems like they faced an impossible challenge every time – whether it was getting their direct reports to show up to work on time, or whether it was convincing their boss to adopt a new strategy. Several mentioned the difficulty of having to deliver tough feedback. “I don’t know what to say,” one manager said to me, “so I just don’t say anything at all.”

The misconception in communication is just this – that to be a good communicator, you need to be able to speak well. To most of us, it’s simple to imagine that getting our message across involves some sort of magical persuasion or influencing tactic. We have to be inspiring, to use the right words and grammatical structure, we have to elevate our tone, our posture, our gestures. In fact, there are so many “tricks and tips” all over the internet on how to say anything to anyone. From using “we” language to asking the right questions there are endless examples of how we can “say” the right thing to finally get our message across to the other person.

In exploring how to help these leaders develop their communication skills, I stumbled upon a new concept – listening to understand. It was a huge light bulb moment for me. I tend to think quickly on my feet and react immediately to conversations, that is, I have a tendency to listen to respond. In fact, I typically don’t even wait for the person to finish speaking before I formulate my thoughts on what to say next. What happens for me is this: as the other person talks, the wheels in my brain continue to spin, just waiting for the right moment, the moment where the other person takes pauses for one breath, and then I swoop in to say my piece, whether it was warranted or not.

Listening to understand is all about being generous with your attention. It is about truly focusing 100% of your attention on what the other person is saying. It’s taking the time to learn about the other person’s perspective. When you listen to respond, you can miss important details, facts, and cues. When you listen to understand, you zone in, rather than zone out on what is said, giving you the advantage of truly hearing what the other person is saying, so that what you hear, is what you understand.

Yet having a conversation, especially a difficult one isn’t a one sided process. In fact, conversations are two-sided, they are didactic and dynamic. While listening to understand is a critical skill to great communication, I would argue that listening to connect is even more important. Listening to connect builds trust, and trust breaks down conversational barriers. According to Judith E. Glaser, author of best-selling book, Conversational Intelligence, in order to build trust and get extraordinary results, leaders need to listen to connect, not judge or reject. This involves taking listening one step further. Instead of trying to understand what the person is saying, try to relate to it. See the way they see, feel the way they feel. Observe the little nuances of what is said vs. unsaid, what lies beneath the surface or between the lines. Be intentional about looking for opportunities to understand and relate to the other’s perspective. Focus on being non-judgmental, and open up the conversational space for creating greater connections, sharing perspectives and discovery.

When we choose to listen to connect, we become better communicators. In the end,  it’s not about word choices or persuasion. It’s about making a connection, caring for and bonding with another human being.

 

The Character Strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence

Winter in New York is a dark and deary time. It’s also relentless – in that winter can last from October to May, bringing howling winds, bitter coldness and snowstorms. For that reason and many others, New Yorkers tend to spend most of their winters indoors. Especially after daylight savings hits, the days become rather short, with darkness falling around 4:30 pm. When the workday ends later than sundown, New Yorkers bundle up to leave their concrete jungle, putting on layers upon layers – scarves, hats, gloves, boots, and thick winter coats. There are no rooftop happy hours, no walks in Central Park, and strolls through SoHo. Just a quick hustle towards the closest train station, and then a miserable and bitter-cold walk home.

As a former California girl, I didn’t realize how deeply winters in New York affected me. Without access to sunlight, that sweet, sweet, vitamin D, I was feeling worse by the day. Whether it was with friends, colleagues, or even complete strangers, we complained about the weather. We lathered our skin in excessive amounts of lotion to combat dryness, wore a lot of black sweaters to cover our pale tones. Getting dressed for work felt like getting dressed to go into battle.

One day, a few friends and I were chatting, and we decided that enough was enough. If the weather wasn’t going to change as yet another nor’easter was going to be upon us, we would do it ourselves. We impulsively booked a long weekend trip to Bermuda.

 Horseshoe Bay Beach was secluded in off-season, perfect for us.  Horseshoe Bay Beach was secluded in off-season, perfect for us.

It wasn’t until we arrived, and I dipped my toes – actually I practically ran into the ocean, embracing 65F, which Bermudians consider “too cold to swim”, that I realized just how much nature meant to me. I was in complete awe of the beauty of what surrounded me. The pink sand between my toes, the cold, clear ocean waves upon my skin and the open, salty air. I felt connected to all of it. Gratitude, peace, and joy swelled in my heart. I was WOWed. I loved every moment of being on that beach. I felt a thrilling sense of overwhelming awe. At that moment, I recalled one of my top character strengths – Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence.

Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence is a character strength that has been studied by psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, the pair who developed the VIA Institute of Character Strengths. Defined as “the ability to find, recognize, and take pleasure in the existence of goodness in the physical and social worlds,” it falls under the virtue category of Transcendence. Transcendence describes strengths that provide a broad sense of connection to something higher in meaning and purpose than ourselves.

Peterson and Seligman have determined that there are three types of goodness for which individuals high in Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence are responsive to:

Physical beauty. This may be visual, auditory, tactile, or abstract. This type of goodness produces awe and wonder in the individual experiencing it.

Skill or talent (excellence). This is often energizing, and makes the individual want to pursue their own goals. It produces admiration.

Virtue or moral goodness (moral beauty). Virtual goodness makes the individual want to be better, more loving, and produces feelings of elevation.

Unsurprisingly, I respond to all three. Feelings of awe and inspiration are absolutely critical to my well-being, and I need these moments to be happy, just like I need air to breathe. Now you might feel more drawn towards one or two types rather than all three, or you might find yourself like me – drawn to all of them.

Remember when you were a child? You probably experienced this type of awe and wonder all the time. Whether it was something new and novel, something that was physically beautiful, or seeing excellence in performance or art, you audibly exclaimed “WOW!” What does that for you now? Taking the time to cultivate the character strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence makes our lives better, more meaningful, more worthwhile. By reconnecting with the beauty of nature, we are able to get in touch with our sense of inspiration, awe, and wonder.

So here are some quick tips to help you reconnect with nature, even if you live in the city and it’s winter, like I do.


1. Get out. Go for a walk. Do something else that’s a change in routine. Whether you live in the suburbs or the city, take a moment to enjoy your surroundings. Make it a slow stroll, and be mindful of the little bits of beauty and joy around you.

2. Make time and effort for little pleasures. Buy yourself flowers, plant a little garden (even an urban garden), and watch those documentaries on Netflix about people who have done extraordinary things or have excelled in their fields. Print out vacation photos and put them in your office to remind you of times where you truly were connecting with nature.

3. Travel. Traveling is one of the best things to do to open up our minds and explore new things that can lead to that sense of wonder and awe. When traveling, fully engage with the experience of being somewhere novel and new. Lose yourself in the experience and take full advantage of any nature experiences that are afforded by that location.


I’m not going to lie, coming back to yet another nor’easter after a beautiful 3 days in Bermuda wasn’t easy. But I came back with the new perspective of making time and effort for reconnecting with nature. And though it’s not completely the same as being in Bermuda, I ended up visiting the Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Gardens, and it was amazing! Who knew that just 30 minutes away from my apartment in Queens lies a wonderful world of natural beauty.