It’s Monday morning, and you’re already in chaos. You slide on your heels, toss your laptop into your bag and race out of your front door. You breeze into the nearest Starbucks, and grab your place in line as it stretches on behind you. “I’d like a Grande Triple Shot Caramel Latte with almond milk, please… and one of these,” you say, pointing to a muffin in the display case, while firing off a slew of text messages—to your mom, to your colleague, and then a snarky gif in the group chat with your girlfriends. As the barista announces your order, you hear a familiar voice call from behind you. It’s your roommate from college—provoking you to shove a groan all the way back down. You’d love to catch up, but there’s not a minute of time to spare.
“How are you? What have you been up to?” she asks with a squeal, embracing you warmly. “Oh, you know— just staying busy,” you say. “What about you?” She echoes the same, and the two of you fill the space between you with the state of your hectic lives, confirming that neither of you have fallen into the giant black hole of not-busyness. You have both colored your days with enough movement, and noise, and social media relevance, and can now wear your exhausting schedules like a badge of honor. As you dole out the obligatory small talk, your phone lights up with a stream of emails, calendar alerts, and Instagram notifications.
Half an hour later, as you near your office, your mind reaches back to that conversation. You’re haunted by it, even. You think of the person you were when you walked across the stage in that cap and gown. What have you been up to? How have you been? Did you finish writing that book? Launch that podcast? Acquire those stamps on your passport? Sometimes it feels as though you’re juggling so many tasks, putting out fires, spinning on a carousel of somebody’s else’s dream. The years race by without you ever having realized the goals you swore you’d have accomplished by now. But you just haven’t had the time for sounding off the big guns, right?
Enter Lauren Berger, best-selling author, career coach and savvy entrepreneur who says we need to get radically honest with ourselves and reclaim control over our lives. This, she swears, is the starting point to not only creating professional success, but personal fulfillment. Having devoted her life’s work to helping college students land internships that will launch them post-graduation, and young career women secure dream jobs that will propel them to higher positions, she is eager to address every go-getting Millennials’ most burning questions. And, no, she says, you can’t do or have it all, but you can, in fact, design a life more fulfilling that one you may have dreamt of.
It was a dramatically different world a decade ago when Berger launched her first business entity, InternQueen.com, after having completed 15 internships at the likes of MTV and NBC. She had so much gumption and generated so much buzz, BusinessWeek named her one of “America’s Best Young Entrepreneurs 25 and Under.” At the time, there was no Instagram, LinkedIn had only recently found its groove, and Twitter was still the kicking infant of the social media fairground. Most significantly, America was in the grip of an economic recession.
Countless wide-eyed college students were trampling through the possibility of being unemployed upon graduation. Berger channeled her efforts toward challenging clients to boldly step out into the world and get involved—in order to distinguish themselves from the other job seekers. But, now? Berger, who recently launched another leg of her business, CareerQueen.com, a job placement service and blog packed full of advice that transcends the typical lineup of resume tips, says Millennials (and beyond!) are doing way too much. We’re pulling too many things into our orbit—for fear of missing out, of being absent from the party, of appearing less influential than our competition. This hosts a whole new circus of problems, because we’re oftentimes entangled in a maze of things we don’t really want to do.“The right opportunities will come if you keep your eyes open and stay involved, but this means you must stop obsessing over every little thing that doesn’t reciprocate your attention.” – Lauren Berger
Berger asks that we all get serious about honing in on the goals that exist way up there on high—the ones that will most fulfill us, infuse us with confidence and allow us to cultivate magic from our innate talents. “We say ‘yes’ so much that we have forgotten how to say ‘no,’” she says. “We need to start committing ourselves to only the things that most matter. It’s time to start focusing on the quality of our experiences, not the quantity.”
This shift in the world, and thus, her paradigm, inspired her to write her third book, Get It Together: Ditch the Chaos, Do the Work, and Design Your Success. Its pages are crammed full of wisdom accumulated over her decade-long career, spent working intimately with an eclectic range of clients—ages 15 to 40, and covers everything from boundary setting, to time management, to showing your bad days who’s boss. She wants you to discover that magical zone in your workflow, but never at the expense of life’s pleasures.
Also, she says, it’s time you stop feeling bad.
Berger recalls a fairly recent encounter that followed her around for weeks. A girl at a coffee shop shouted her name upon recognizing her. “I heard someone say, ‘Oh my God are you Lauren, the Intern Queen?’ It was this young girl, and she was so excited, but then she said, ‘By the way, I sent you an email a while back and you never responded. I thought you hated me.’ I sort of panicked and found myself thinking about it long after,” Berger says. “Then I realized something: we have so much information thrown at us every single day, so we cannot physically respond to every email, and we cannot expect to hear back from each one we send.”
Berger’s ethos is that we need to be less bashful about following up—perhaps multiple times—on the things that most beckon for our attention, while letting go of the expectation that we will ever get a response. “The right opportunities will come if you keep your eyes open and stay involved, but this means you must stop obsessing over every little thing that doesn’t reciprocate your efforts,” Berger says. “And stop wasting your time on the things that won’t serve you long-term.”
So, how then, does one sift through the piles of inquiries, projects and opportunities, in order to find the ones that will be most rewarding and lucrative? How does one find the treasures in a chest full of glittering distractions?
In her decade of coaching entry-level hopefuls to seasoned professionals, Berger swears the answer is the same for everyone: Know thyself. Get crystal clear about visualizing the direction you want your life to take, anchor that image and hold it in your mind. Oh, and most of all, stop subscribing to the idea that more hours invested equals more productivity. It never has, and never will.
Having become somewhat of a buzz phrase, the “work smarter, not harder” ideology is something Berger wishes to start a deeper conversation about. It’s not as simple as making a hashtag out of it or declaring its mantra over your day. With so many appearances, speaking engagements and meetings inundating her calendar, she was forced to explore the nuances of this concept a couple of years ago. Through some incredibly defeating moments, she developed several rules for maximum productivity—ones she now devoutly lives by.
Lauren Berger’s Chaos-Ditching Rules for Designing Your Success
First—blind working is strictly forbidden. This means Berger never positions herself in front of her computer without a specific intention set for the hour, morning, or day. Otherwise it’s like driving your car with no destination in mind. This also means that, before conducting a conference call, or a marketing strategy session, or a staff meeting, a clear agenda must be outlined beforehand. “Before every day or every task, ask yourself, ‘What do I wish to accomplish in doing this? What do I need to learn, resolve or understand?” Berger says.
Second—claim your focus zone, build walls around it and protect it fiercely. Berger says she pulls away from Snapchat, Instagram, and text messages during peak working hours. “I tell everyone, ‘OK, I’m going into my cave now. No interruptions!’ You have to set boundaries with yourself and others, and protect your workflow if you want it to work for you,” she says.
Third—it’s all about showing your mood who the ringleader is, as opposed to letting it run the show. We are all met with stressful moments that blindside us. The rain pours down over our big event, our tire goes flat on the freeway, or our best friend has a meltdown on our couch the night before our make-or-break presentation. Our moods are often so full of whims that whisk us far away from the things that will serve our goals. Knowing this, Berger developed a mood-proof tip she now swears by.
“When I sat down to write Get It Together, each day I used my blank word document as what I called the ‘vomit draft.’ I quickly noticed patterns that needed my attention,” she says. “One of them was how easy it was to make a plan, but follow-through was another story.”
Her struggles with execution, she realized, could mostly be attributed to making decisions off of being tired, or grumpy, or so deliriously happy that adventure tugged at her, luring her away from her desk. She began to strong-arm her moods into their rightful place, almost in a way one would discipline a child. “I realized that, once a plan of action is set, you sort of have to ignore your own whining. You have to have this attitude like, ‘OK, onward. I’m doing what I said I was going to do, even if I’m not feeling it right now.’”
And, finally, but perhaps most importantly—drop the comparison saga. It’s a buzz kill to your precious momentum, and you have no way of knowing what’s really going on behind the scenes with that person you so admire. Berger admits to having ventured down this rabbit hole a time or two during late-night scrolls through her social media feeds, and nobody ever improves their life in doing so. “The only thing comparison accomplishes is making you doubt your own success. Before you know it, it’s midnight and you need to be asleep—so that you can actually wake up with the energy to execute your own goals,” she says. “Because, at the end of the day, the only way to get it together and design the success you want is to begin.”