Amy Schneider may be untouchable on the "Jeopardy!" stage, but she has one relatable bad habit she's trying to break: over-apologizing in emails.
The first woman to win $1 million on the game show says she recently got great career advice from a friend and is already hard at work applying it.
"A friend of mine, who is also a manager at a tech company, said that about a year ago, she stopped apologizing in emails," Schneider, 43, tells CNBC Make It.
"She said, 'Even when it's an email that's a week late, and I don't really have an excuse, and I feel bad about it — I just say, 'Thank you for your patience,' and go on with the email.'"
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The simple change shifted how Schneider's friend felt about herself and how other people interacted with her. Communication experts say over-apologizing can backfire in the workplace: It can make others think less of you, lower your self-esteem, and water down the impact of future apologies.
The advice "kind of blew my mind," Schneider says. "The next day, there were three different emails where I caught myself apologizing in them and stopped."
Schneider has plenty of emails to attend to these days. In the last year, the history-making "Jeopardy!" champ ended her record-breaking 40-game hot streak with $1.4 million in earnings; quit her job as an engineering manager; married her wife, Genevieve; visited the White House; became the first openly transgender woman to qualify for the game show's Tournament of Champions, and took home the $250,000 top prize in November.
She's now writing a book, working on a podcast and preparing for the upcoming "Jeopardy! Masters" tournament.
Schneider says embracing the twists and turns of life is something she hopes to impart on younger people, particularly young women interested in starting careers in tech. She recalls planning to go into civil engineering but then "cut my losses on that and found something else to do."
"Be open to the idea that what you're planning isn't actually going to be what's best for you. Be ready to change paths, especially early," Schneider says. Talking to other people in tech, she adds, "You'd be surprised how many of them started out somewhere else, didn't major in it in college, and were doing a different thing. So don't get locked into this idea that the only way to succeed is to do whatever your plan was starting out."
To figure out what new challenges you want to take on, Schneider says it's helpful to figure out your own mission statement, which is a piece of advice she got from a former boss.
"As an employee, I always found mission statements to be fairly ridiculous," Schneider says. "But he was making the point that you're going to have to make so many decisions, and you need to have something that you can refer to in your mind to say, 'OK, is this hitting the mission statement or not?'"
That mission statement can keep you on track with projects and goals you've set out for yourself. For her part, Schneider says her mission statement is to "one, advocate for curiosity, for learning, for openness to new experiences, and two, to do what I can to help my trans community in a way that does not turn off people outside of it, and in a way that is welcoming and open."
In recent years, state lawmakers have advanced a historic number of bills that limit gender expression for transgender youth. Still, Schneider remains relentlessly optimistic about progress and focuses on what she can do to help. In November, the Ohio native testified before an Ohio House of Representatives committee meeting against a bill that would restrict gender-affirming medical care for minors.
"There are so many people, more than you probably realize, that are with you and fighting against these things as best they can," Schneider says. "They may not be winning every battle, but they're winning some. Pay attention to that."
"What's happening is a backlash because trans people are visible now," she adds. "And that's upset people. But the nice thing about trans people is that we pop up everywhere. We're in every community. And once you have gotten the message on trans people, once you have met one and realize that they're just people like anyone else, that's a one-way street. You don't go back. Everyone that changes their mind on the issue is a permanent addition on our side."
It can also help to stop doomscrolling and seek out stories of achievements within the trans community, Schneider adds. Make a conscious effort to look for good news, she says: "There's always trans people breaking new ground, so keep that in your balanced diet of the news."
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