As part of Real-time Perspectives’ ongoing blog series focusing on millennials, we sat down with Shannon Cunningham, 30, director of marketing and business development at Grand Rapids law firm Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge, and Eastown resident.
RTP: What do you spend your days at work “doing”?
Shannon: It’s difficult to explain. I would say the majority of my day is spent navigating various pathways with the end goal of connecting our firm to the community and to the various industries throughout the state, working with individual attorneys to help grow their practice, as well as working to grow our firm’s presence throughout the cities in which we reside. Pretty much all marketing, communication and branding efforts, any avenue you can think of within that realm.
RTP: In a nutshell, why did you initially seek coaching with Barbara?
Shannon: I had first met Barbara through my time in Leadership Grand Rapids. She did kind of a mini-coaching session during our last session of the year and I was absolutely intrigued by everything she was working with us on. I wanted to dive further into that conversation we’d had as a group. Next I had taken a class that CCL offered for alumni, and from there, when there was an opportunity for one more person in a small group coaching session, I could not have passed up that opportunity.
In the little time I had spent with her I realized she had the ability to pull things out of me and out of other individuals that I didn’t know were there, issues I’d been wrestling with or an ability to see things from a different perspective. She has a good way of meeting people where they are and helping them explain and understand why they’re there, and then helping individuals work through that – what does this mean and how do I get where I want to be?
RTP: How would you describe what it’s like to work with Barbara this way, in a coaching capacity?
Shannon: I’d say it’s very raw. You dive right in but you’re immediately comfortable with the level that Barbara takes the conversation to. It’s a very raw environment but also a very safe environment at the same time. In my small group, there were women I’d never met before but Barbara sets the tone where everyone feels safe and comfortable almost over-sharing; these are the issues we really want to share with our peers, whether personally or in the workplace, but we don’t necessarily have people to have that conversation with. It’s also – I hate to use the word thought-provoking, but that’s what jumps out at me. It provokes these thoughts and ideas and emotions I didn’t know were there to begin with.
RTP: What’s an example or two of something you’ve changed – a habit, a communication tool, the way you think about something – since working with Barbara?
Shannon: I would say the number one thing for me has been something I’ve always struggled with: separating the emotional tie of situations I find myself in in the workplace. It’s always been very difficult for me to separate immediate emotions in conversations and not take things so very personally. And it’s very easy for me to continue to live in that, which therefore affects every interaction and relationship I have going forward.
Going through this small group, Barbara really worked with us on not only how to let those things go but to always have in mind that no one else controls the way that you end up feeling – it’s not fair to say she makes me feel this way. It’s the way you handle a situation vs. the way people place things on you. That has literally changed every interaction I have on a daily basis and has been really good for me mentally, to know I’m more in control of my environment. It’s been very difficult, but that’s a tool that’s changed my perspective a lot and I feel much more healthy in that sense.
RTP: You’re a member of Gen Y. What do you think your generation is doing particularly well, professionally?
Shannon: I think my generation is really pushing … this hot topic of work-life balance. We’re constantly reading all the stats and articles about how Europe does it right. I think for a long time in high school and college, that seemed really unrealistic. People complain a lot about millennials and how we feel entitled, but this is an aspect of life that we’re not going to be phased out of. It’s really important to my generation and I think in the long run it’ll make a big difference in the workforce if we can have some sort of influence along those lines. Mentally and physically it’s important for employers to offer employees the ability to maintain home, family, and extracurriculars and give them the space to perform well in the workplace. I don’t think we need to stick to this set standard model of 8-5 in front of a screen all day and that’s something my generation is really pushing.
RTP: What advice would you give to other millennials looking to move ahead in their careers? What advice do you wish someone had given you when you started out?
Shannon: Something I think we’re struggling with is a lot of millennials have grown up with social media at their side. It’s always been a part of their lives and this whole “grass is greener” effect is really starting to weigh on people. I do think that millennials stay in certain positions or jobs for a short time; we’re tempted by what’s next, I see so and so doing abc, why am I doing xyz?, and I think that’s one aspect.
What I wish someone would have told me out of college as a deer in headlights was that not every available opportunity is the right opportunity. You come out in this state of panic, thinking you have this ladder you have to be climbing, constantly looking for the next rung, and I think we grab at positions in work or in life that we think have to be next and it’s not always right for us. It’s different for everyone and it’s really important to reflect on what will be the best fit for each individual.
RTP: Any last bits of wisdom to share?
Shannon: Oh, to be honest, it feels so pluggy but anyone who has the opportunity to work in a group or one-on-one with Barbara, I challenge them to take that opportunity. It can be uncomfortable but it’s very effective and it challenges you personally and professionally. It’s a ripple effect – I find myself having conversations with friends and family and I find myself having the tools to help them. It’s certainly a step forward in becoming a more effective leader.