Building something meaningful – whether it be a business, a relationship, your health, whatever – takes time. You can’t rush it because you want it now.
Anne has worked in Higher Education for almost 20 years. She is passionate about helping people – especially students – grow and develop into their authentic selves. She’s seen students, faculty, and staff struggle because they haven’t found their voice, discovered their strengths, or learned how to use them. Anne has coached and trained countless students, student leaders, administrators, faculty, and staff about assertiveness, interpersonal communication, engagement, and teamwork. After helping to implement a Strengths program at her last institution, Anne left her job of 12 years to create Strengths University with her friend and colleague, Alicia Wojciuch, to bring their power of strengths to even more students, faculty, staff, and even parents through coaching, training, and consulting. Anne’s Top 5 Strengths (CliftonStrengths) are Ideation, Context, Adaptability, Input, and Strategic.
Anne has a B.A. in History (#context) from Illinois Wesleyan University, a M.A. in Higher Education from Texas Tech University, and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. Anne is also a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach and Engagement Champion.
Anne grew up and lives in St. Louis, MO, but had the opportunity to live in work around the country in Alabama, Texas, and North Carolina. When Anne isn’t helping people invest in their talents or growing Strengths University, you might find her watching documentaries, painting – both abstract and friends and families’ walls, hanging with her dog, cooking, or hanging with her nieces and nephews.
Where did the idea for Strengths University come from?
My partner, Alicia Wojciuch, and I were working at a local college that had an active Strengths initiative (StrengthsQuest/CliftonStrengths for Students from Gallup) on campus. The campus culture started to change in a not so great way and it became harder and harder to stay. For me the idea started as a lottery winning fantasy – what would I do if I won the lottery? Start a Strengths coaching and consulting business. It slowly dawned on me that you can actually start a business without winning the lottery. LOL. I knew I wanted Alicia as a partner, so one day I said, “what do you think about starting…” and she finished “our own Strengths business?” (You should definitely find a partner who can finish each other’s sandwiches.) Boom. Done. We decided to focus on education, so Strengths University was a perfect name.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
It varies. One of the reasons I wanted to be an entrepreneur was to have flexibility in my schedule (#adaptability). I wanted to be able to walk my dog and work out in the morning without rushing or go to the store in the middle of the day to avoid the crowds. I’m currently living with my sister, Kate, and her family (husband and nieces aged 5 & 8), so there’s a lot of chaos that comes with that. I often help around the house to earn my keep – help get my nieces ready for school, do the dishes, grocery shop, watch the girls, etc.
I used to try to get all the chores and other things out of the way in the morning, so I could “focus” on my work the rest of the day but that just ended up with time slipping away from me. I realized that I’m most productive if I work on things for an hour or two then take a break to do chore, errands, or even just relax. I know that if I’m tired or distracted, me sitting and trying to focus is just a waste of my time. It’s better to take a break and start up again when I can really put 100% into the task at hand. If I’m sitting for more than 10 minutes without being able to think or produce something, I go do something else. I typically am working on something until about 7PM or 8PM but have had breaks throughout the day.
I also have quickly come to realize that with so many things to do, I can’t realistically focus on or worry about everything. That just causes frustration and anxiety, which doesn’t help anyone. I chose my favorite quote (below) because it reminds me that all the small things I work on every day will eventually add up to success not just for Strengths University, but for all the people we empower through Strengths education.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My #1 Strength is Ideation. I love brainstorming and connecting things in a new way. I also have Input and Strategic in my Top 5, so I don’t just get stuck in an endless brainstorming loop. As I’m creating, I think about what resources and information I have and research to find what I don’t – including getting input from key stakeholders. From there, I start making decisions about which idea(s) are the best ones to accomplish our goals and the best way to implement them. That’s where my strategic comes in. I want to be creative, but also make sure I’m achieving all the objectives we need to accomplish. Sometimes that means cutting things. Sometimes it means tweaking the original ideal. I’ve definitely been bummed out before when I have an idea that I’m super pumped about and it gets altered drastically or rejected outright because it doesn’t seem like the best option, but I quickly rally because ultimately, I want what I do to be effective.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I see more and more schools investing in strengths-based programs and cultures. I’ve seen so many students – of all ages – be unsure of themselves and not be able to find their unique voice. This lack of confidence and self-awareness is linked to poor decision making, anxiety, loneliness, academic issues, etc. I have always tried to give students – and faculty and staff – whatever opportunities I could to help them become more authentic versions of themselves. When I found Strengths, I was so excited to be able to bring such a well-researched framework to those efforts. Now more and more colleges and universities are realizing that it’s an incredible tool to help their students be more successful and help their retention! Now it’s trickling down to high schools and younger. I’m excited to see more and more students starting to understand that they already have the talents within them to be successful – they just need to learn how to harness them. Strengths education (coaching/training) can do just that.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I would say self-care is incredibly important – sleep, eating right, taking care of my health, taking brain breaks, etc. I want my business to be successful. I want to reach as many people as possible to help them become the best versions of themselves as possible. If I’m not operating at 100%, I know that I’m not producing my best work. It’s challenging because I know how much I have to get done, and as an entrepreneur with a relatively new business I don’t have the resources to hire people to get it done for me. But I know if I don’t have enough sleep, or if my health is suffering, I’m not going to do anyone any good.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be patient. I actually have to remind myself of that frequently now, as well. Building something meaningful – whether it be a business, a relationship, your health, whatever – takes time. You can’t rush it because you want it now. I was slightly delusional when I quit my job to start this business. I figured I’d take a week off to relax, jump in feet first, and in a few months – BAM! I’d have a flourishing business. That did NOT happen. I’ve always been a fan of the quote, “And whether or not it is clear to you, the universe is unfolding as it should,” from the Desiderata by Max Ehrmann. If I’m being honest, it was something I believed but mostly thought applied to other people who were struggling. Now I realize that’s true for everything and everyone. I am confident in my abilities and my plan, but I know things will unfold when it is time, not when I want it to or because it would be more convenient for me for it to happen now.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Work smarter, not harder. People may say they believe it, but few people actually do it. People think that if they just put enough time into something, they’ll succeed. Yes, you do need to put time and effort into accomplishing things, BUT I’ve seen students sit and study for endless hours in the wrong environment, completely ignoring how science says we learn, using the wrong study skills, working against their strengths, copying something that worked for someone else. Even worse, they see other people sitting there for hours so they feel pressured into doing the same thing even when it’s a huge waste of time. You need to identify your talents – aka strengths – learn how to maximize them, which includes figuring out the BEST way for you to accomplish something, then put your Strengths into action. How many hours you put into something is irrelevant. Being efficient with your time and effort is what leads to being more productive and successful.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I love collecting information that will help me, my business, and people I want to help (#input). I think it’s so important to always be learning and growing – whether it be for your business, your career, your hobbies, your personal life, relationships, anything really. There’s so much information available to us, but we get stuck in the daily grind and keep doing things the same way with the same mindset. Admit you don’t know everything and that maybe someone else has a better way to do things. Get that information. Read/listen to a book. Google it. Talk to the people involved. Get a coach. Get a therapist. Learn to see things in new ways. Get new information to incorporate into what you already know.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Talking to a social media expert, specifically Dustin York.
I was never really into the whole “social media thing” personally, so when I started Strengths University I knew I had to do something social media related because everyone was. It wasn’t until I spoke to Dustin that I started understanding exactly how important this was. I better understood what to do but also started researching more information about it through experts like Gary Vaynerchuk. We’re still in the process of getting our social media going full throttle, but I have a much better appreciation for these tools now.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When I started working on Strengths University full time, I knew we needed a website. We didn’t have much capital and I consider myself to be pretty darn smart, so I figured I could learn how to do it myself. Those website companies make it sound so easy – “create a website in just 20 minutes!” Well turns out you can, but that doesn’t mean it’s very good or functional. Ironically, I did the very thing I tell others not to do – I ignored my strengths and wasted months trying to figure out website design and SEO and who knows what else! I finally reached out and asked for help. A friend of my sister does this for a living and was very willing to help. I was so relieved. Instead of killing myself – and feeling like an idiot – worrying about technical things that were not in my wheelhouse, I could focus on writing the content and doing the things that were my strengths.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A restaurant with childcare! IKEA has a playground that parents can leave their children at while they shop. I’m single, but most of my sisters and friends have smaller children. If I want to have dinner with them (or if they want to have dinner with their spouse), good luck! We either have to get take out or go somewhere quick because kids aren’t going to sit there long without getting bored, which means temper tantrums and mischief. There needs to be restaurants that have an activity room or childcare that kids can go to once they finish dinner – or maybe their dinner is in the activity room. IDK! I just never realized how hard it is on parents and families to go have a nice meal out without a lot of preplanning.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
On my therapist. He’s a successful entrepreneur as well, so he provides me with a both emotional and business support.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I use Canva to design our print materials and social media posts. I have a pretty good eye for design anyway, but never took the time to learn all those fancy programs by Adobe. Canva is great because it makes things way easier than doing everything by scratch, but you still end up with a fresh, modern looking marketing piece without having to hire anyone.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Really anything by Brené Brown, but specifically, “Rising Strong”. Deciding to follow your passion and dreams by starting your own business takes courage. I honestly thought that was going to be the most difficult part – just deciding to do it. But after I quit my job of 12 years – excited about the future – I quickly realized the hard work had really just begun. “Rising Strong” really helped ground me and helped me understand that this was a process. Act II is even more challenging than deciding to take the plunge, but it’s not the end of the journey.
What is your favorite quote?
“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent van Gogh
• Instead of working on something for endless hours, increase productivity by working in blocks of time. Take breaks to work on other things, run errands, or even just relax to maximize your efforts when you’re focusing on the task at hand.
• Identify, understand, and maximize your talents. When you use your strengths to accomplish your goals, everything becomes easier and you become more productive.
• Work smarter, not harder. The hours you spend on something doesn’t equal your level of success. Productivity trumps time. This includes committing to self-care to ensure you’re always operating at your best to produce the best work.
• If you’re still in the process of creating a new business – or any major life change – read Brené Brown’s “Rising Strong”.
• Take the time to learn more about whatever you’re passionate about. There’s a wealth of information available in books, online, and in person that can help you see things in a new way and help you make better decisions than just using the same information you have tucked away in your brain now.
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Anne Brackett on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/annebrackett