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October 2009

Net Assets, Net Worth, Network!

This economy has brutalized many families and fortunes. The world has been changed and especially whatever plans we had for the future. People who were going to retire- can't. People who felt secure- aren't. And at the lower of end of the economic strata the chances and choices are far worse. I have discussed these issues on these pages many times. Okay, I know any of you paying attention already know this. There is no reset button. There is no return to the good ole days of 2007! J0442414

So why do I hear so many people still talking about their losses, the changes, the altered plans, the anxiety over what could have been? The whole dissection of the spilled milk through your rear view mirror is such a useless and tedious process. You lost money-- the whole world did-- and you probably will not get it back. That time has passed and "the future is not what it used to be" as that famous NY Yankee catcher said. 

People say to me, I am going to wait until my "net worth or my net assets" reach a certain level, then I will explore new things and work I care about. Only then will I get married or take a chance at that new business idea. Not until my little safety net is repaired will I venture out of my cocoon and try my wings. Requiring financial certainty and safety is a fool-proof way of procrastinating.

Look you should be fiscally conscious. Yes, money matters and getting your financial house in order and having  a plan is the prudent thing to do--blah blah blah. But to let that plan and a specific dollar number take precedence over your life's priorities is crazy. 

I admit I did not lose millions or even a fraction of that amount. I never had a plan, much to the chagrin of my children, of leaving a large inheritance. Somewhat by necessity I believe what Andrew Carnegie said, who formalized philanthropy in this country, "dying with money is a disgrace." 

Most of us will never have "enough" money. That amount of money that will make us worry free. But how much do we really need? Like smart businesses we need to downsize/rightsize our financial and material goals. Why don't we free ourselves from the tyranny of the money and focus on making ourselves and the people around us happy? Seems pretty simple and straightforward, doesn't it? 

If you have the need to calculate your current net worth or estimate your future net assets, be sure to assess the most important investments you have--your network. Your family, your friends, your community. How do you value the returns on those holdings? Much harder to bail you out of significant deficits in your network than any monetary debts. Do I need to regale you with anecdotes of wealthy, successful people who are lonely, lacking meaning, and living without purpose? That the one thing that undermines happiness is the regrets over our relationships. Total success has always incorporated strengthening and maintaining those relationships. 

So re-value your portfolios of personal relationships. Look at your 401K and see if your family is okay. Take stock of the market and your circle of friends. Develop a plan to lower your debts and increase your credit within your network. 

Don't make any relationship or opportunity conditioned on your financial net worth. You risk losing things that money can never buy. Your total net worth is composed of all the important things that you value and all of the things you care about. Stop talking about, thinking about, what was and could have been. Start focusing on the future and how you will invest in your network. Your returns will be more gratifying and enduring. 

Thanks for reading. John


Ready, Interview, Aim!

First a couple of sources of information and inspiration:Brandyou

  1. A friend of mine Joy Chen is featured in a NYT piece on careers and Managing your Career like a Business. This is an old idea freshened up for today. You remember the Tom Peters piece on BrandYou, worth re-reading. One of the things that can be lost in this omnipresent social network is your brand, your uniqueness--what differentiates you from the pack. Anybody can be a video star, be their own publisher, even have their own blog :), but that's the point. The stakes just got higher and harder. You have to nurture your brand. Check out Joy's blog that does a great job of helping people think about personal brand building.
  2. Did you see this news report about possibly the youngest head of school in the world, Babar Ali?This is a lesson for all of us. Needs can be addressed. So easy to be numb from the quantity of challenges facing humankind and seemingly insurmountable odds. Babar ignored the rational and the possible and did the impossible. 

Was talking to a former colleague about her career aspirations. She shared compelling and exciting thoughts about specific jobs she wanted. It was clear to me that she was ready to test if not embrace her dream. And I began to share in her enthusiasm until she told me her plan. Being the over-achieving and overly competent person she is, she has figured out all of the things that diminish her qualifications and readiness. She went on to tell me about her 5-7 year plan! (Last week I discussed your 5 year VISION, big difference from your plan) During the next 5 years she would rigorously fill these gaps and address her deficiencies and then launch into interviews when all systems are go. For new entrants in the job market or others who are making radical career shifts this approach might make sense, but for those who know what they want in their chosen field, you have to be biased toward action not planning. Like all new inventions that solve a problem, choices have to be made on how many features and benefits are needed to roll it out. It can be an endless process where paralysis through analysis creates a fierce case of rigormortis. Analysis paralysis
And like a new career step, the "inventor' that would be you, has to test market the product. Meaning go out and talk to people in the field about what they do. Is it what you think it is, do you have what it takes? And more to the point here, do you even want it? Have you seen the body of research regarding people who want the top job only to find when they get there, they don't. But if you find you do, the question is how close are you to having what it takes? making assumptions is a waste of time. In my friend's case, I know she is not only close to being qualified, she is qualified--she just does not see it.

As I have mentioned on these pages, I am the king of being "unqualified" for almost every job on my resume. That's what the headhunters told me. That's what friends told me. What I learned is few people have all of the required skills for a job. That people hire people--profound isn't it!:) And those hiring people value chemistry over some qualifications. They seek commitment and passion for the mission over a set of impressive graduate degrees. I said some qualifications. You have to have the basics and often a lot more. But after you make the cut, we are talking about fit and the intangibles. C'mon most of these job descriptions, especially higher up the food chain are almost laughable in terms of the litany of requirements that are poured into them. They are a wish-list to frighten off the timid and the non-serious. 

So back to my friend. I told her to start interviewing right away. I know she is very close to being "qualified" and I know that the marketplace would be more generous than she is to her background. The questions that have to be tested are:

  1. Do you really want this "dream job"?
  2. What are the gaps, if any, in your background and resume that need to be addressed?

Much to the consternation of my wife and sometimes my employer, I accept invitations to interview frequently. I learned that it can be the most interesting time to think about my trajectory and what else is out there. I always learn something about myself and something about the world around me. I am straight forward and tell them that I am not looking for anything. And while employed, most people are amazing interviewees! The seller becomes a buyer and that makes a difference. My friend is gainfully employed so this applies to her too. 

Going in to your lab to tune up and re-calibrate your qualifications in isolation from the real marketplace forces is not very smart. And opportunities can arise at inopportune times. Don't you hate that! But when opportunity knocks you got to answer the door. Maybe in your heart you know you have shortcomings, but this is the job you want. If you get the interview then you can reveal your gap analysis and why you may not be fully qualified. And if done well, it can make you the most honest and most transparent candidate. Reflecting on your weaknesses, something conspicuously absent from your resume, can be dis-arming and refreshing. Of course, having a response on how you plan to address these weaknesses is a must--but you knew that. Interviews

Back on my friend. So she was not planning to interview for 5 years! Does she really think the stars will align on her timetable?! Seriously? Either she is the most powerful person in the universe, the luckiest human, or  she is wrong. She has to start now. When an attractive opportunity arises, she can unleash her considerable network to conduct due diligence and pave the way. We discussed the reasons and she finally agreed that there were opportunities out there and that her confidence about her gaps was based on a bunch of assumptions. 

Some dreams need to be tested and others must be abandoned. Should we wait 5 years to know--no way! If you are your own brand manager, then you have to take charge of understanding that brand and what will make it competitive and successful. That is what Babar Ali did. Waiting is never an option. 

Thanks for reading. John


Are you mentor-able?

First like to share two quick but potent sources of inspiration I had this week in the hope that vicariously it inspires you.

  • Saw Gustavo Dudamel's debut, the new 28 year phenom conductor, lead the the LA Philharmonic at Disney Hall. Words fail me. He was frenetic and energetic. He got lost in the music as all of us did. He used hand gestures and leg movements that would have made accomplished hula dancers and choreographers envious. He is and will become a new rock star and more important role model for a new generation of music lovers. By the end of the concert the audience was fulfilled and exhausted! To get a sample of his captivating style watch this video and the tribute to his mentor.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, heard Sirdeaner Walker (watch this video), who courageously spoke at the GLSEN Respect awards ceremony about her 11 year old boy Carl who hung himself because he was bullied about being gay or looking gay. Already 3 documented instances this year of 5th graders taking their lives for similar reasons. 4500 suicides a year amongst 10-20 year olds and the third leading cause of death for this age group! Saddened by the unthinkable tragedy of losing a child but inspired by the courage and the hope that Ms. Walker voiced about our collective need to stop bullying and to support the great efforts underway to bring mutual respect and civility to our schools and communities. 

More than any topic the selection and acquisition of a mentor uses my cycles and time. People are confused, stymied, and yet greatly desirous of having an all-knowing mentor. There is just a world of misunderstanding , mis-information, and mythology out there. I have spent hundreds of hours on this topic and devoted several posts on this. But I want to turn my attention to what makes someone mentor-able

This general idea that everyone needs a mentor, pushes the acquisition of such a life counselor before the preparation to be mentored. In other words, having a mentor means being prepared to be mentored. Here's where we often get confused. At places like Big Brothers Big Sisters, where an at-risk youth, who usually do not have both parents, live in poverty, and have multiple other challenges, is paired with a caring adult who is compatible. This is a wonderful and incredibly effective model where the transformation of both the mentor and the mentee are well documented. However, this model is very different and not transferable to the professional arena. Many large and prestigious organizations have made this mistake in designing their mentoring programs. But I digress. What a professional needs for career guidance around life's choices is entirely different. The objective, the structure, and the mutual benefits only resemble one another.

I asked one of my mentors to tell me how she chooses mentees. She went off! She has been exasperated by the stream of goal-less, ambition-less, and track-record-less people who want to be mentored by her. She said, "I mentor causes and individuals who have shown me their potential. I choose the mentees they do not choose me. I do this out of my selfish interest to help the causes and organizations I care about grow and improve. Why waste our time on people or issues who have not expressed their potential?"

So what makes you mentor-able? What signs of potential do you have or do you express? How will potential mentors know you are ready for mentoring? J0433167

Never sufficient to just say "I need a mentor!" It can actually sound very greedy and self-centered. But like most things in life the preparation for opportunities and mentors takes some effort and focus. 

So far away from the great needs of at-risk youth are the needs of professionals who need feedback, advice, and wisdom. In the Darwinian world we reside in, the people with raw talent and who exert great effort and display passion for their work--make the best candidates for mentoring. Unless you are under the age of 25, you need to be figuring out who you are and where you are going. You need to be focused on what you want. 

Don't get me wrong, you can find mentoring and mentors in many places around you. Mentoring sources are plentiful. But this quest for a game-changing mentor, THE mentor, someone who will be a longer term confidante--that requires you to get your act together. Think about it, as my mentor says, why expend energy on professionals who are truly lost ?, when there are so many others who may not even be actively seeking help who have displayed their promise. To alter a famous quote, "The door to mentoring opens from within.

I can hear some of you saying--"But that's why I need a mentor!" I know I know. Get mentoring through your network, through trusted people you know. Test your ideas, nurture your curiosities, follow your heart. When you do these things you become more mentor-able. Potential  mentors will see what you are doing, but more important, you will be pursuing your inner interests and talents. You become who you are. People who do that not only get more mentoring but mentor us all. 

Thanks for reading. John


Ambitious without Ambition--An epidemic of the SWAYING FLU

One strange indicator of the weakness of our economy is the quantity of conversations I have about jobs and careers. The volume is overwhelming and probably is telling about the length of our recovery period going forward. People are not finding jobs. There are so many people chasing too few jobs. It makes it hyper competitive and people's actions are becoming irrational. Causing many souls to just apply for virtually any opening anywhere. They discover that the are not well prepared for change. 

So there is one thing to be out of work with little time, you have to be partly selfish and partly expedient. But for those that have time through severance or who are employed contemplating a change, I am witnessing an epidemic of the Swaying Flu. The symptoms are severe wishy washyness, indecisive behavior, frequent procrastination, and outbreaks of apathy. J0321197

So if you are chugging along in your work world, wouldn't this be the time to focus and invest in your job and your career?!! Do you need more motivation than this economy and what millions of our colleagues are facing? For some, these times mesmerize and hypnotize. We fall asleep. Myopia sets in that blinds us to our futures. In fact, there is a general atmospheric cloud that surrounds our judgment that erroneously tells us to be still and not stand out. That this is the absolute worst time to invest in our careers. We all know that education and formal degree programs are counter-cyclical. Meaning when people's jobs/industries are threatened then they go back to school. When people are laid off or out of work, there is a sharp increase in small business formation and enrollments at colleges and universities. Talked to a friend that manages an esoteric degree program at a major university and their enrollments inexplicably tripled in the last year. Some of you know, I sit on the board  of Walden University and they are seeing record enrollments. These new students have had to endure great pain and suffering to now confront their choices and chances. They are re-visiting goals and have decided to make a career switch, start a business, or seek greener pastures. They do this in the worst economic climate in history. They dive into the deeper end of the pool to learn a new stroke. But do we have to be motivated by fear or unemployment?

People who are employed seem to be frozen in their tracks. They are ambitious without ambition. They expect to ride out the storm when when the world around them is not only shrinking but only exists in their optimistic minds. They have no plans to make the most of their current positions and opportunities, but rather seem satisfied with mere survival. How can I strengthen my resume NOW?

Love this video. It frames the question around your next 5 years. My view is three years is better. 

"Shouldn't I wait until things get better?" So you are going to wait three years! You think the job market is going to be better next quarter or next year? Have you seen the predictions, the projections for jobs? Very few economists predict unemployment to return to pre-recession levels and many see this level of unemployment continuing through the middle of next decade. Waiting is not an option, it usually isn't.

Take a moment and read this brief account of unemployment and reflection by Jennifer Williams, Hard Work No Pay, just to give us a jolt of reality, if you have never been out of work. 

So we hate planning our lives when things are good--and for many of us they were pretty good (seem better now, don't they?) and we can not plan our lives when things are bad. So must be our aversion to planning! The Swaying Flu strikes again. 

Let's put some ambition in our ambitiousness. Wake up. This is your life and it is happening now. If you feel it is out of your control, then you have not grabbed the steering wheel: you are the driver, the pilot and the navigator of your career. If you believe in destiny, luck and/or miracles, then having a plan will make you that much better off, right? Confer with your network, your mentor, what do they think?  Take steps to re-evaluate your plan for the next 3 years. How do we envision ourselves three years from now? See that perspective; and look back at the three years that lead to that vision, to see the steps, the decisions, the process and trajectory to get to that vantage point. One thing is certain, in three years you will be three years older. Maybe it will be easier and simpler then or maybe it won't be. I say why wait? J0442372

Thanks for reading. John