Charlene Walters: Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments; How To Relieve Stress, Clear Your Head, and Prepare Yourself For High Stakes Business Encounters
Fostering work-life balance. The more in balance you are in life, the better able you will be to deal with stress and to shine in those moments that really matter. So, make sure that, in addition to working hard and hitting career milestones, you’re also scheduling time for the other areas of your life that are important to you. This includes time with family and friends, and windows to do the things that you love- like reading, yoga or kayaking. Make room for whatever makes you happy and gives you peace.
As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlene Walters, MBA, PhD.
Charlene is a Business & Branding mentor, consultant, and trainer who developed a Digital Entrepreneurship MBA program. She is also a featured expert on Entrepreneur Magazine’s Ask an Expert platform, and an entrepreneur who has held a variety of sales, management and marketing roles at startups and larger corporations.
Charlene enjoys combining her knowledge and love of marketing and business strategy with her passion for innovation and desire to help others succeed. Her biggest fulfillment comes from working one-on-one with businesses and individuals to launch their startups, hone their personal brands and further their business strategies and personal/professional goals.
Charlene is also the author of Launch Your Inner Entrepreneur: 10 Mindset Shifts for Women to Take Action, Unleash Creativity and Achieve Financial Success, a guidebook for entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs to develop the mindset needed to successfully launch and grow their businesses (publication: Feb. 2021), and Own Your Other, a memoir about overcoming tragedy/loss and moving forward in life based on her own personal experience. As part of that, she serves as a speaker and mentor to others, and writes and contributes to numerous publications on business and motivational topics. Charlene also writes a blog called Entrepreneurship, Life Enthusiasm & Energizing Your Brand and has taught hundreds of business, marketing and entrepreneurship courses and workshops for businesses and universities.
Charlene is also an ambitious (and busy) single mom, considers herself a life and fitness enthusiast, and is currently living in Charlotte, North Carolina with her two beautiful daughters.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Sure, I’d be happy to tell you about it. I grew up in a small town in Connecticut- with only one traffic light and a pizza parlor- talk about excitement! But it’s because of that small-town background that I have always been one to seek new projects and adventures.
My mother was also a strong role model. After helping my father with his computer programming coursework (he eventually decided it wasn’t for him and dropped it), she made the decision to pursue a degree in the programming field during its infancy. We were even one of the first families to have a desktop computer. In fact, I can recall people asking what the box on the dining room table was (if you can imagine). So, I guess you could say, we were very innovative for living in a small town. This humble beginning, and having a Mom who was a technology pioneer, helped fuel my drive to continually learn and achieve as a woman in business and entrepreneurship.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
There have been so many people and things along my path that have inspired me- it’s difficult to narrow it down. I’ve always wanted to write and become an author (I was an English major undergrad.), but I would say that my entrepreneurial spirit probably first kicked into high gear when I landed my first sales position out of college. I loved the quick pace and the thrill of following the market and making commission.
Selling got me interested in business and led to my decision to get an MBA and then a PhD in Marketing. My career focus next turned to leadership positions, particularly those that made the best use of my marketing and business skills.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
There have been a lot of people who have contributed to my success in bits and pieces. I’d like to mention one of the first, though. It was a college professor who assigned our class a seemingly simple essay assignment. We were asked to write about what we wanted to be when we “grew up.” At the time, I was torn between several different, and what seemed to me diverse and unattainable occupations. I hadn’t yet grown into my confidence and wasn’t sure that I could actually be any of the things that I had listed in my essay. But then, my professor wrote a message in red ink on the bottom of my paper, “You can be all of these things- you are smart and capable- you don’t have to pick just one.” I was blown away! Here was this accomplished, important person who believed in me and thought that I could do everything that I wanted to, when I didn’t yet myself. This professor moved and inspired me- a young woman who hadn’t yet figured it out. Because of that brief, but powerful, interaction, I always endeavor to boost others similarly so that they will go for it along their journeys.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I’ve spent a decent portion of my career in higher education, but it was never really something that I’d initially aspired to. It happened almost by accident. After I completed my MBA, I began to look for a new position when I spotted an ad for an Associate Dean at a college. The ad stated that the candidate “must have an MBA.” I thought, well, there you go, I have an MBA, why not, and I decided to go for it despite my lack of experience. During the interview, my future boss asked me, “What will you do to become familiar with the curriculum?” For whatever reason, that question completely threw me for a loop, and I had no idea how to answer it. She ended up answering it for me because I was totally stumped.
What’s funny about this story is the fact that curriculum ended up being my specialization- one that I really excelled in. Back then, I knew nothing about it at all. You just never know- a career, after all, is never a straight line, but a series of stepping stones leading you to where you are meant to be (which is, at this moment, here talking with you).
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
People often ask me how I’ve achieved what I have, or how I’ve gotten some of the cool projects and experiences that I’ve worked on, and how they can replicate those accomplishments. I always explain that everyone’s path is unique. They could never copy exactly what I’ve done and have it work out in the same way for them. But there is a consistent, underlying factor behind all success- hard work and persistence. In fact, if I had to come up with an equation for it, I’d say it’s about 90% hard work, and about 10% timing and luck (i.e. being in the right place at the right time).
You have to commit to your goals and keep trying different avenues until you achieve them, embracing resilience and formulating plan B, C, D, E and F on your journey. There will be lots of no’s, but, even more importantly, some yesses along the way. Learn from the no’s, and grab the yesses and run with them (while focusing on your next big move).
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
A book that I have read recently and really recommend is Unscaled: How AI and a New Generation of Upstarts are Creating the Economy of the Future by Hemant Teneja with Kevin Mahey. I love this book, particularly for entrepreneurs, because it gives a tremendous amount of insight regarding the future outlook of specific industries and the entrepreneurial opportunities that will present themselves as a result. It also includes examples that are related to disruption, innovation and the upscaled phenomenon.
Unscaled resonates with me because it is about constant innovation and improvement, and about how our economy will continue to morph which is specifically impactful now due to the changes we’ve seen related to COVID-19. It’s definitely one that everyone can get a lot out of.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I have two that I always share: “Own your other” and “Keep moving forward.” These lessons apply to business, entrepreneurship and life. What I mean by “own your other” is that sometimes life doesn’t turn out how we planned and we end up outside of the norm, or in a place different than what we’d originally envisioned. In those moments, we mourn the loss of the experience or opportunity that we’d originally hoped for. It happened to me when my husband passed away suddenly (when my children were only two and four). I abruptly became a single mother with a full-time job, mid-PhD, dealing with unexpected grief and juggling a lot. I fought my new reality at first, but it wasn’t until I fully accepted and owned my “other,” that I began to thrive on my alternate path, going on to achieve many things that I hadn’t originally imagined.
My strongest advice to anyone who finds themselves as an “other” for any reason, is to embrace it and realize that being an “other” is okay and often has a bright side. Whether you feel like an “other” in a company, situation, or group, the sooner you learn to own your alternate situation, the sooner you will thrive on your new path.
Right now, many people have been laid off or furloughed due to the shifting economy, and will need to accept and own their “others” to launch businesses, land even better positions, keep moving forward and ultimately go on to achieve their dreams.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am launching a book called “Launch Your Inner Entrepreneur: 10 Mindset Shifts for Women to Take Action, Unleash Creativity and Achieve Financial Success.” It will be published in February 2021. I love this project because I want to help the many women who are the main breadwinners for their families (like myself) as well as the multitude of women who are dissatisfied with the corporate world, or have recently been laid off or furloughed, and want to get control over their earnings, their potential and their lives. Entrepreneurship is a fantastic avenue for women to do so and I am happy that my book will help them get into the right mindset to achieve entrepreneurial success.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
We all certainly feel stress and pressure in business so it’s critical to establish strategies for dealing with and alleviating that pressure. My top tips for doing so include:
1) Fostering work-life balance. The more in balance you are in life, the better able you will be to deal with stress and to shine in those moments that really matter. So, make sure that, in addition to working hard and hitting career milestones, you’re also scheduling time for the other areas of your life that are important to you. This includes time with family and friends, and windows to do the things that you love- like reading, yoga or kayaking. Make room for whatever makes you happy and gives you peace.
2) Become a Master Time Manipulator. By getting a solid handle on your time and scheduling, you will be more productive, less stressed and better able to deliver when preparing for high stakes conversations. Schedule every aspect of your day including work, sleep, recreational activities and even social media scrolling.
3) Incorporate Stress Relief Moments Throughout Your Day and Before Impactful Events. These best practices include getting enough rest, eating well and establishing regular fitness routines. Other strategies such as taking small breaks, getting outdoors from time to time, and taking a moment for things that bring you joy will also go a long way. Sometimes it’s even as simple as closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. Additionally, you can turn to others for a boost or do an activity that you love to adjust your mindset.
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
1) Preparation is Key. Proper groundwork is at the heart of any successful outcome, whether it’s for a negotiation, presentation or difficult conversation. Know what you hope to get out of the experience, what you might be willing to give in return, and what your audience wants from you and the interaction.
2) Practice is a Must. Practice and envisioning yourself doing well will lead to a prosperous experience (and less stress while it’s underway, too).
3) Visualize Your Success. You have to be able to see it to get there so imagine yourself landing it perfectly. Can you picture it? I can.
4) Remind Yourself. You are amazing. You are confident. You are the right person for it. You’ve got this.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
I personally like to have some alone time to prepare before any major situation- to get into the zone. I review my notes and put in some last-minute review and practice, reminding myself that I have done the groundwork necessary to be impactful.
I am also sure to get a little break beforehand- whether I play a favorite song or phone a friend to help calm my nerves- something to give me a little boost before I’m on!
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
I give myself a pep talk, turn off notifications on my phone and spend the time focusing inward. I also remind myself that I’ve got it, visualizing a positive outcome all the while.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
I am a big-time planner and try to get ahead of absolutely everything. If I have something major coming up, I get the presentation and research completed right away. Then, I practice multiple times so that when it’s time to deliver, I’m 100% ready to go.
I also schedule my day in chunks so that I can focus on and complete several larger tasks every day. Productivity is the key to continued success, as well as trying to minimize distractions as much as humanly possible. I have also gotten really good at balancing which is a must for any high-achieving person.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
The best way to develop good habits is to get started! The more time you devote to it, the more of a routine it will become. Forming good habits takes practice and attention- make it your goal. Ensure that getting enough sleep and exercise are a part of it, too.
Stopping bad habits is similar and involves a routine. Give yourself reminders and gentle nudges, like hanging simple reminders around your office, or setting notifications on your phone, to thwart any negative behavior.
As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
Business professionals and entrepreneurs can achieve a state of flow at work by implementing scheduling techniques and incorporating things that they are passionate about within their roles. They should also take steps to make sure that they are at their most productive and balanced as they will better be able to achieve their many tasks and goals, and have time for other areas of their lives that are important to them. The happier and more productive they are, the more successful they will be in business. One areas spills, or flows, into the other.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
There are so many worthy causes, and it’s difficult to narrow it down, but I am very passionate about helping women elevate themselves through entrepreneurship and education, particularly single mothers who are the sole breadwinners for their families. I understand what they go through because I have lived it myself. Women are at a disadvantage and typically have to juggle much more than their male counterparts so they would really benefit from some extra backing.
I would love to start a movement to help support these women, providing them will the tools to develop the mindset and the skills that they need to be successful in business, and to foster work-life balance which is more challenging for women, and again, single mothers in particular. This movement would also benefit their children, through positive role modeling and support, and therefore clearly impact future generations.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)
Wow! Anyone? I would love to have lunch or dinner with Oprah Winfrey. It wouldn’t have to be anything fancy- the experience itself would be so amazing- a picnic, fast food drive through, anything- you name it. I can’t think of anyone who has done more to help or have a greater impact on women. She has really owned her “other,” overcoming a number of obstacles, and setting a positive example for female leaders, and aspiring leaders, everywhere. I adore Oprah! Imagine everything we could talk about, and how much I could learn from her to further help people while also learning more about her experiences.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I want to thank you, and your readers for taking the time to learn more about me. I am so appreciative and humbled. They can further follow me on my website/blog: www.ownyourother.com, by reading my book Launch Your Inner Entrepreneur or by connecting with me on social media:
LinkedIn- @Charlene Walters, PhD
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.
Thank you so much! I so appreciate it.