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October 2009
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November 2009

Food Networking or Cuisine Convening

Our lives are dominated by so many myths. For example, the whole idea that the holidays are the worst time to network and look for a job. First of all, most people fall for this myth so the competition is seriously lessened. Secondly, employers continue to have needs that are not interrupted by the holidays. Lastly, often there is more time for interviews during the holidays so response times can pick up. The point is that it is utterly dumb to stop your search or your process to advance your career due to the holidays. It may be the most convenient excuse to procrastinate.

One great thing about the holidays is the food. There is the over-eating thing, but that's a different challenge! I am talking about the great magnetic pull of the holiday meals that bring families and friends together. The traditions of food are so important to us and they create so many ways to connect and reconnect. Not just the big meals like this Thursday, but throughout the year.J0422843  

Here is one of my greatest pet peeves. The non-sensical conversation that takes place when people are trying to decide where to eat. This is especially irksome when the point of the mealtime conversation is to network! What you eat impacts how you feel. How you feel determines how you come across. That all translates to the quality of that exchange and the impression you leave. So the responses, "I don't care or It doesn't matter" give away your power and your influence. 

You don't have to be a full on foodie or a gourmet. But you have preferences and interests that you can share and lead with. Why not pick a restaurant that no one has been to?Why not share a favorite place or dish you like?

Breaking bread with others is a powerful form of networking--There are many origins and meanings of this phrase. It is based on the idea that eating together is very valuable time. It also refers to the pulling apart of the bread to share it with others in need and with close friends and family. Breaking bread is a metaphor for living. C'mon how many of your greatest conversations have been with food and a great meal? Remember the award winning film, My Dinner with Andre?

So use these times together as opportunities to catch up and learn. Use these times to listen to the conversations around you and connect. Use these times to savor the flavors and nuances of the conversations and the food and drinks. You can nourish your hunger for a more fulfilling life if you do more than eat. Bon Appetite!

Thanks for reading and not over doing it. Cheers. John


Opening Cliques, Circles, and Closed-mindedness

Some habits are ingrained in us at such an early stage of our lives. We try to change some of these things we do but change is tough. When we look back at our childhoods we can laugh at our immaturity and our uninformed ways. But if we are honest and take a comprehensive look at our upbringing and our early experiences, we can see how some persistent habits in our lives formed long ago are still with us. What am I talking about? How we relate to others and others different than ourselves. The formation of our circles of friends. The creation of our networks. The ultimate membership in our communities. All can be heavily influenced by our childhood experiences. Who we are, who we like, who we are comfortable with, who we trust.....

Remember when we were in junior high (middle school) and then high school? We had to start choosing the groups of friends that would define us and sometimes categorize us. Jock, preppy, brainiac, emo, stoner...the ethnic clusters and any other attributes that could determine where you sat at lunch or who you were seen with. Circle of ceramic friends And once you self-selected or where peers pushed you, it was hard to be a part of multiple cliques that crossed groups. It was especially tough on those who were un-affiliated--the loners. We now know that most of these choices had little impact on our success or future paths. Or did they?

A number of school districts, including Hawthorne California, are attempting to disrupt the formation of these cliques they see as reinforcing stereotypes and even bigotry. Before we discard this as another liberal initiative to have political correctness in our schools, read on. Well established that cliques or friendship circles are essential to the normal development of a kid. You play soccer, therefore you hang with the futbolers. You are academically oriented so you cavort with scholars. You think looks determine success so your crew is "beautiful". etc etc. No program is going to change these natural gravitational and centripetal forces. But taken to the extreme, say in prison, your "clique" is an ethnic gang and you have to maim or kill a rival prisoner as part of your initiation. I am still personally distraught over a white kid I was counseling 30 years ago who had to join an Aryan prison gang that guaranteed his life imprisonment. And today, the sophistication and the segregation by gangs and ethnicity is out of control. Regrettably some of these prison behaviors start to manifest themselves on our school campuses. In diverse communities in LA and other parts of the country, young students may have to bond with their ethnicity over their interests. So segregation around race, income etc starts to show up. Yes, yes, this starts with parents, but our schools are where peer pressure plays out.  

Don't get me wrong, cliques can create structure and reinforce the good and the moral. But they can also do the opposite. 

So back at Hawthorne public schools. These schools are trying gentle and innovative ways to get students to mingle and to connect to different students. I guess early childhood education now includes early networking education--love it! They sponsor "Mix-it-Up Days", a national project sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance Program Mix it upthat encourages social boundary crossing. But also helps many students form new social connections. The disconnected are as worrisome as the exclusively connected. So starting in elementary school, Hawthorne has provided the Mix it Up sessions with good success as reported by LA Times reporter Carla Rivera this week. One student, Paige(11)said she was not able to join groups with the wealthy kids. Shayna, another student, "Before I might have chosen to sit alone rather than with new people because it felt safer." So at an early stage young people recognize and start to internalize where they belong or not.

I hear the exact same things In the workshops I do for adults that have been out of high school for 20 years+!!  Making connections outside of our comfort zones that expand our networks is an elusive goal because of our learned and comfortable habits. Introducing ourselves to people we interact with on a daily basis--like our neighbors or work colleagues, remains a challenge for mysterious reasons. I have written and spoken about the proven health benefits derived from forming diverse relationships that test your thinking and challenge your assumptions. Yet, our habits, our socialization and our own fear keeps our orbit close to the planets we know and further from new discoveries. So, if we don't make an effort to connect to new and different people, our personal and community healths are at stake.

My parents helped me understand how important it was to learn new things and to meet new people. It has never been easy, but the benefits of expanding my horizons, disabusing myself of stereotypes and old falsehoods has kept me going back for more. Never too late to learn a lot from kids and our children. Mixing it up has to be the never ending goals of avoiding the complacency of settling for the status quo of our existing clique or circle of friends, strengthening our sense of connectedness by meeting new people AND rejecting our limited world views as the truth. It all starts by sticking out your hand out and introducing yourself

Thanks for reading. John


Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome--A veteran's career strategy

As we all try and sort out the senseless Ft Hood tragedy, my perspective was seriously altered this week. A few hours before the horrific news from Texas, I was in a briefing on a report on the state of veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. It was sobering and inspirational. Sobering to listen to the data and the stories of how we as a nation treat the men and women who return from war. The extent of their physical and their mental traumas. While they have endured unimaginable pain and suffering, their pride in serving their country and their ability to adapt and overcome their challenges was truly inspirational. Paul Rieckhoff, founder of IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America), used the unofficial mantra of the Marines, Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome, as a call to action for the veterans of today. These three words represent powerful advice for all of us to survive and thrive. But back to the plight of veterans.

A few facts about these wars that I think need to be emphasized: 

War

Deployed

Ethnicity

Gender

Ave. Age

Married

Deployment

Iraq or Afghanistan

1.8 million (to date)

Volunteer

71% white

16% Af.Amer

10% Hispanic,

3% Asian

89% male; 11% female

27

50%

Multiple tours

Vietnam

3.4 million

Draft

88% white,

 11% black,

 1% other

99.8% male

19

Mostly unmarried

1 year tour

  1. 600,000 troops have gone on multiple tours--some as many as 5
  2. 380,000 returning vets have traumatic brain injuries (TBI) according to Rand
  3. Veteran suicides are at record levels
  4. More than 2 million children of active military and veterans have been affected
While I personally know a few folks who were deployed through the national guard and reserves, I have thankfully never received a call or e-mail about the death of a soldier. Many of us have been protected and shielded from this brutal experience. Instead we are numbed by the violent scenes on tv and the stream of obituaries of local enlisted servicemen and women, now nearly 5200. 

Listening to the graphic stories of courage and personal injury that Ocatvio Sanchez (marines), Michelle Saunders (army) and Derek McGinnis (navy) told. Each of them suffered extraordinary pain and loss. They still struggle with their injuries. But each of them has made their experience and the cause of veterans a defining moment for advocacy. As Derek said, losing his leg was nothing compared to the inner pain and internal maladies he battles everyday. This is an amazing story about Operation Mend that does magic in the repair of soldiers' faces including Octavio's. Please watch it!

These brave souls who return to a less than hospitable homecoming, have been turning to the internet to seek support and network. Myspace and facebook have become the new American legion community halls. Community of Vets and other wonderful resources for veterans who want information and help confidentially. Did you know that a returning vet will not receive any services without applying for it? So connecting to other vets is pretty critical to compare notes and experiences. 

I will never see vets the same. I used to view them as the brave and the unlucky. I used to see them as a group of other people, like an esoteric profession that was outside of my interests and needs. I am ashamed of myself and now realize how wrong I have been and how much my respect for these soldiers has grown. But that has to be the starting point. It is a national disgrace. I think we all have to reach out and assist our vets, bring them into our networks. Make their care, education, and employment a priority. Make their homecoming commensurate with their courageous service. Not just on veteran's Day but everyday.

I learned many life lessons in a very compressed time frame. We all need to learn how to Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome in our lives and appreciate that we have the freedom to do so because of our veterans. 

Thanks for reading. John


The Scariest Costume of All -- The Pretender

First a shout out to my workshop attendees from Pepsi. I spent a half day with some of Pepsi’s hand picked rising Asian American star employees. They are members of PAN (Pepsi Asian Network) one of Pepsi’s many multicultural employee groups. Some large corporations form “affinity” or “resource” groups to assist employees with their integration and assimilation. However most companies still labor under the erroneous and archaic assumption that there will be a "natural" diversity that will emerge in a truly merit based and competitive environment. Logo_pepsico But Pepsi is different. They recognize that creating and growing a multi-cultural team requires leadership and investments of time and resources. Pepsi nominates talented team members and invests in their development. This kind of investment generates loyalty and retains the very top performers. The PAN leaders were primarily first generation Asian immigrants from Pakistan, Thailand, China, India, Korea, Taiwan who are ambitious and passionate. What a joy to facilitate a workshop for them on networking and mentoring. Being around competent, curious, and energetic people is always inspiring to me! It is no wonder that Pepsi is such a world leader that continues to be a model for others.

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Saw some pretty impressive costumes this week. One of the most popular costumes of the season is--being somebody else—being somebody that other people want you to be. These people assume the identity, the career interests, and the dreams that other people want for them. I jokingly call this the outfit of the Federal Witness Relocation Program. Taking on a new identity can be easier and safer. This happens when other people tell you what you SHOULD do, what is BEST for you, what you are GOOD at, and who you are NOT. And not having an answer, you are gradually fitted with somebody else’s life, a frighteningly phony costume!  

Like Jeff Bridges in the 1984 film Starman, where as a space alien he becomes human and normal by copying what other people do and say. Or like Jeff Dunham's lifeless ventriloquist’s dolls that come to life with someone else’s words and actions. 

Where do these costumes come from? How does this occur? Sometimes this happens because of over bearing parents who do not nurture inherent and innate talents. Instead they impose their own dreams on their kids. Others of us fall into jobs and positions that are placeholders until we decide what we want to be when we grow up. Then one day we wake up and we start feeling the pangs of regret. Still others of us feel guilty pursuing our secret passions and interests when being rational and practical is the expectation. In any case we defer our needs and dreams. We assume comfortable identities, costumes, and lives that are not truly our own.

Everyone has hidden talents, submerged career urges, inner callings, unrealized natural genius skills and abilities. We all do. We really do. And when these pent up passions and curiosities get mummified by layers and layers of identities that are projected on us and assumed by us, a life that is true to itself can be lost. And worse, we as a society lose that genius. We as a community lose real passion and inspiration. We as a family or a team lose a role model. Being who we were meant to be is selfish and generous.

For those of you, who are just befuddled by this, count yourselves amongst the fortunate.  Be grateful somebody helped you find yourself or let you become who you are. Your job is to free the others from their suffocating costumes.

For those of you who know that you are wearing a nice looking but totally poor fitting costume, it’s time to look in the mirror and inside. If you do, you will be greeted by a sense of freedom and fear. Free to do what you want and fear of failure. Either way it will be exciting. You can either strip off the costume in one act of courage if you know what you want. Or visit the career wardrobe shop and try on as many new yous as you want. You can rent or borrow new career and life costumes to see if they fit. You are in control. It never has to be all or nothing. But doing nothing is never an option.

Bottomline: Really hard to be mentored or to network when you are an impostor!

Stop pretending. Abandon those scary inauthentic costumes. Escape the Federal Witness Relocation Program. Don’t allow others to design your dreams. And let that amazing you reveal itself. We all need you to be who you were meant to be.

Thanks for reading. John