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October 2010

Parents guide to your kids career development

"Would you mind talking to my kid?", maybe the number one question I get today. Responsible and/or doting parents want to help their children make the connection to find a job. I become an attractive resource when people find out I was an average student and a rebellious teen and young adult! And of course because I am free :) These parents perceive their kids to be stuck and need a bit of outside encouragement and motivation (every self respecting parent knows that advice from outside the family, even if it is exactly the same, has more truth and brilliance!) That's what parents want. That is not what the kids want. Although a few more doses of encouragement and positivity are welcomed, the new gen wants a safe place to discuss their often very mal-formed thoughts about their futures (that do not seem to be going over with the older people) As I have advised hundreds of times and in every speech I give, always and enthusiastically agree to help your close network"s family members in their search for life, liberty and the pursuit of a career. Why? because you will always, always, always, get more out of it than you deliver!Helicopter parents  
 
Back on parent front. This job of trying to steer our heirs into the "right careers", the "right jobs" and our obsession to make them happy (if they just knew what was good for them) is extremely challenging. Why? The whole parenting thing is based on how we were parented, good or bad. And we pass down whatever our notions of career development, job and life values, by what we do not we say. Your kids have watched you, idolized you (until they are 14), mimicked you, whether you like it or not. So now your offspring are facing the worst job market in memory and anxiety and stress are running high. Both parents and their kids are going a little crazy, maybe the parents a tad more! 

You have to invoke mentoring and networking to help your kids.

All of our kids need guidance from us to maximize their options and to realize their potentials. To be honest, we are over bearing as parents. We hover, we nudge, we complain, we want them to be like us OR avoid the mistakes we made. The nurture thing is really important but the nature thing is so much more powerful. Their chromosones give them choices. Their DNA give them decisions. What young people need after they get the basics from Maslow's hierarchy is to be loved and to be supported for who they are and what they were meant to do. There is a wonderful Nigerian word amachi, loosely translated to, "Only God knows what each child brings."

  1. Help your kids find themselves. What are their passions and interests? Not what you want them to know and experience. This applies to pre-teens, teenagers, picking a college major and even later. Met a guy in Baltimore last week, he was bragging about his two sons. The "genius" older son was admitted to Annapolis on a scholarship, but his mom forbid him to go into the military. So his son went to Cornell against his wishes, quit and joined the Navy! Spent 4 years in officer training and returned to Penn St to study nuclear engineering. Once he graduates he returns to the Navy. Mom is proud now. The book Hand Me Down Dreams by Mary Jacobson, describes how we try to control our kids. After I read that book, I became more conscious of my kids strengths. The other day, I advised my daughter to drop her initial major of biology and consider the classics or greek mythology, because she loves those subjects. She was surprised and said sarcastically, "What kind of Dad are you?! How am I going to get a job?" We discussed the merits of picking a major based upon a future job that may not exist or be of interest. We concluded that a college education is much more than a major. I meet dozens of kids who lie to their parents to keep them off their back. They aren't lying about drugs or their sexual escapades. The lie about their career interests so that mom and dad aren't mad and worse, disappointed. These bright and talented young people are so frustrated and anxiety ridden by the dreams that are being forced upon them by their parents. Such a shame.
  2. Help you kids become well-lopsided. I have written here several times about how top schools are now rejecting the "well-balanced" students. Students with good grades and scores and a couple years of community service, couple years of leadership/student govt, a couple years of art or music, a couple years of work experience etc. These applicants have become parent created "commodities" and are being rejected for students with deeper personal interests and passions.
  3. Help your kids meet other people and express themselves. Other people's parents, uncles or aunts, people who care about your kids can be wonderful sounding boards. Help them network, for college choices, for career decisions, for narrowing and focusing their job search. They need other people's opinions and perspectives to shape their search for meaning and a job. These are not necessarily interviews for an opening, these are informational interviews. People to review the resume and to hear the strategy. I never liked it when my Dad and Mom arranged these meetings in my life, but it always helped me see the possibilities. More important it helped me understand how I could discover things on my own and I know it made me a better parent.
  4. Sponsor a career tour. If your kids are younger, this is more important than the college tour-- the exposure to jobs, industries and employers. Meeting people in your network to see and hear what people do. It is amazing who you know and what they do. All of it is interesting. Sure not all of the jobs are super cool, but all offer insights into worlds they don't know. Again, if these jobs involve any of your kids interests that will make a big difference. It may be a product, or a service that your kids love. Meeting an exec, a manager, or another young person at the bottom of the org will be insightful and open their minds to new avenues.

Some of your kids are preparing for college, others will get their college degree soon, still others have returned to the nest to re-tool and find employment. While you can find a lot of things on the intenet, you have to use the power of mentoring and networking to make new connections. Frankly it gets much more difficult after your kids are in their late 20's. But before then, there is so much you can do. First back off your dreams and get tuned into theirs. Second, open up your network for introductions to opportunities. Lastly, connect your son or daughter to trusted members of your network to provide "external" advice and counsel.  

Being a parent is so tough. The tension between pushing and pulling is ever present. Once you start to fully appreciate the extraordinary and unique talents and gifts of your kids, the sooner you will be able to help them fulfill their dreams and find gainful employment. 

Thanks for reading. John. 

 


The Power of MOW

Vision without execution is hallucination. Thomas Edison

What do we see for ourselves down the road? What path and milestones do we expect? Not what we hope and wish for? Do we have a vision that we are working towards? Or just the vision?

If you don't know where you are going any path leads you there. Alice in Wonderland

Life is making your way down a dim path where unexpected detours and off ramps appear. Your choices are revealed by what you are doing, what matters to you, what you are thinking about.

In learning about my brother-in-law Andrew, I found out that the department he worked for at BNSF Railway was the MOW. I saw it on shirts and signs and I asked what it stood for. Maintenance of Way. Maybe it is just me but that is a very philosophical corporate department name! In fact, here is a website dedicated to it. Maintenance of Way IMG_0009_NEW_0002

You have to understand the MOW crew is a tough bunch of very physical and intimidating guys. So to hear that they work for the Maintenance of Way department, let's just say it surprised me!

The concept of keeping the tracks ahead clear and well maintained so it is safe to travel inspired me. We take these things for granted. MOW are the nameless faceless workers who make our lives easier, who quietly make our world safer, who without recognition, cleanup our messes and make sure our ability to do our work and advance our goals happens. We are so fortunate for the MOW crews!

But MOW is a powerful life guiding value, that we are all pathfinders. We take the beaten paths that others forged and maintained for us. We take new paths that we pursue because we follow our hearts and our calling.

We owe so many people from our past for making our lives and visions possible. People who sacrificed for the chances and choices we enjoy today. Our ancestors and our parents. We owe so many people from our present who guide us, mentor us, and show us the way.

Each of us has a great responsibility for the MOW. To see our opportunities and to choose our paths, so that others can pass here safely.

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

...Robert Frost

We never take these roads for our sole selfish gain. We always have others in mind. Our families, our friends, our communities.

It is how we teach and mentor. It is the method of creating our legacies. We lead by example. That is MOW.

Looking ahead to envision our destinations or at least the track we are on is vital to momentum and progress. We must have the drive but we must also arrive. Otherwise our journey is an hallucination.

Maintenance of Way is about leading so that those that follow have a clear and known path. So that they do not repeat the mistakes and suffer the consequences. So we can advance.

We all have to maintain the way. As a parent, as an Asian Pacific American, as a manager, I have responsibilities to MOW.

Thanks Andrew for your MOW. For showing us how to live life to the fullest while being generous. For being yourself and being proud of it. For loving people around you unconditionally. Thanks for maintaining our way.

Thanks for reading. John


When you see the end you begin again

Stephen Covey in his great book, 7 Habits of of Highly Effective People, counseled us to Begin with the end in mind. This weekend we buried my brother-in-law, Andrew Kim Weaver, he was 53. He was taken from us too soon and his life was far from done. Death is the most sobering experience. It brings a  whirlwind of emotions punctuated by moments of inspiration, depression and self awareness. Listening to people who knew Andrew gave our family incredible insights into his lives. Yes, lives plural. We all have them. Our worlds of friends and activities that define us. A view into his generosity and his spirit. Some of the stories were truly surprising, most reinforced our view of him. But what emerges is a much more complex and accurate story of the man and his legacy. While we will never forget him and our pain will endure for a long time, we try and gravitate to the lessons in life we learn, especially when life ends prematurely.  Don't have the space here nor is this the forum to tell Andrew's life story. His life like all of our lives was unique and packed full of people, successes, failures, intentions and regrets.

When you see the end, you begin again.

In many ways Andrew lived a simple life but his life taught me some powerful lessons. I learned them from Andrew and the people who remembered him. I hope these three inspire you.

  1. Be who you are: Andrew lived his life the way he wanted. He cared little about how others viewed him and more about showing up everyday. He enjoyed life seeking joy and discovering new things.
  2. Never stop giving even when you have nothing to give: Andrew was very generous with his time and his resources when he was laid off. He helped other people financially even though he was broke. He helped people when he desperately needed assistance. He was unconditional with his love, support and friendship.
  3. Never give up: Andrew had many hardships, some of his own making. Yet he always battled back. He dropped out of college, but completed his degree 19 years after he started it. He was an alcoholic who was sober for more than 12 years until he died. He was forced to take a demotion to an administrative assistant position because of an injury and three years later became a manager and named employee of the year in 2009.

AKW Death is a mystical and elusive concept. It is inevitable, but we all think it will be further out there and we have time to "do what I want". We say things to ourselves and to others like, "life is short", "smell the roses", "have quality time" but we rarely do things differently. We live as if we will never die and die as if we have never lived. We see life like the mirage on the desert highway. We just keep driving at high speeds with no appreciation for the length of the trip or the scenery that rushes past. Not going to bore you with all of the trite exercises that ask you to write your obit, epitaph, or eulogy. However, defining what we want is paramount.

One of my favorite books, Einsteins Dreams, author Alan Lightman poses a number of questions and concepts about relativity and time. One chapter basically begins with the query, What if you knew you would die on September 29? It was such a specific date! It gave me pause when I first read it. No discussion of how I would die, (how I could prevent it was also irrelevant) but next September 29th I am gone! Your conception of life and what's important is transformed.

We need to connect with what we want and the people we love now.  I don't want to learn about people I care about at their funerals.

I met this incredible woman Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch (that's her real name!) She grew up in abject poverty and became Lt Colonel in the Army! Her life story is a classic immigrant American dream where a woman overcomes great odds. She implores people to"Live a legacy instead of planning to leave one."

Or as coach Wooden said,"Make everyday your masterpiece." Time and opportunity are finite and fleeting things. We have to go for it and minimize those brutal regrets.Thanks to Andrew, I realize how much more I could give and how much more I can do to be a better person. The time today is a gift. What am I possibly waiting for?

A post it note on Andrew's desk read, "If you are angry, fight. If you want to die, then wait until tomorrow. Today you may do some good for someone else."

I have seen the end and I begin again. And I am gonna fight and do some good. How about you? 

Andrew, thank you for living a legacy. Thank you for the lessons and inspirations then and now.

Thanks for reading. John


Lexicon of Life---Be defined by what you want not by the words you use

The word swastika is Sanskrit not German and is more than 3000 years old. The version on the right was high-jacked 70 years ago. Nevertheless swastika still means good fortune and well-being to much of the world.

I recently heard the remarkable Howard Bloom speak about the brain and our views of the world. He exhorted the audience, "To see everything as you never seen it before!" Why? Because we do not see things as they really are. We scan and assume. We pre-judge, we are governed by our habits and our moods. We gravitate to the easy answers that we often know are under-informed and possibly wrong. We rely on our instincts and intuition way too much. Ultimately, we see things, have thoughts and feelings, convert them to words and vice versa. Words generate thoughts/feelings and our perception is framed. Sometimes we let words drive our thoughts. And a bunch of swastika like words can get embedded in our mouths and our minds. We get off track because we don't question what we say and see. How we see our selves and our opportunities matters. So the words we use to describe our futures make a difference. Right?Dictionary

Last week I met with a group of grad students. I ask them, as I always do, what career/job/position do you want when you graduate? This is not a trick question, nor hopefully, a surprise query? :) But it always seems to startle these post-graduate recipients. Often I get a litany of buzzwords, jargon, and phrases intended to impress. Words such as CAREER, PROFESSION, JOB, and OCCUPATION are bandied about. Loose words and even looser thinking. Yet these immature thoughts are guiding behavior and establishing unintended goals. Sound familiar? Easy to make fun of grad students, but the lesson here is examine our words to keep us focused on what we want.

Words are so important. What they mean and how we use them. Most words we rely upon like the oxygen we breathe, we don't think about them or question their origins. Do we say what we mean or mean what we say?

Here is the John Kobara lexicon watch list of words to keep you on your toes:

CareerFrom the French word Carriere, which means two-wheeled vehicle like a chariot, a racecourse, similar origins as careen, so out of control. Supposedly became a "course of life". But it began as a vehicle going in circles very rapidly nearly out of control! Lily Tomlin said, "Even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat!" A career can seem cyclical and circular, speedily heading to a finish line that looks very much like the starting point.

Profession: Originally the "professing" of one's vows to religious faith. An occupation requiring specialized knowledge and training.

Job: A regular activity in exchange for payment.

Occupation: Process of filling up time and space. To be busy. To have a job.

Vocation: From vocare or vocatio, meaning summons or calling. Originally, a divine calling to the religious life. This is what your heart whispers to you or you have heard in the back of your mind, the work or activity that you prefer and like doing--even love doing, including your so-called passions. Are you heeding the calls? I have had many vocations and that's all I want!

Amateur: From the Latin word amator, meaning lover or someone in avid pursuit of a goal. A person who does an activity for the love of it.

We all want more than a job or an occupation. Do you want to be an amateur or a professional? To have a career or a vocation? Like the swastika, the words can limit what we see.  And our perceptions can deceive us. 

When you come to a fork in the road, take it!     Yogi Berra

Our questions have to be guided by what we want. Do we really want a new or different career or job? Or are you deeply and seriously interested in linking who you are to your like, your work, and your achievements?

A report by the British think tank Demos describes the rise of what is called the ProAm Revolution. There has been an increase in the number of amateurs who excel, rival and even exceed the standards and achievements of the professionals. People with day jobs who are accomplished in other areas. People who have dual careers, one paid and one un-paid. They are lawyers who paint. Doctors who volunteer. Teachers who write textbooks. Accountants who play the french horn. My blog and speaking have become my amateur work. This career duality helps them feel fulfilled and challenged. Finding one job that will totally encompass the needs of a person is far fetched. Therefore it has been my experience that this strategy is not the exception but the essential one. 

Our jobs can be what we do to pay the bills, hopefully it is work we care about and that makes a difference in the world. Most of us will need to be an amateurin something else to give our life well-lopsidedness. We have to have multiple interests and work to meet our different needs. Ideally these worlds can help each other. Being a tri-athlete, sing operas, coach at-risk youth.... 

Seeing your life as big enough to include your ProAm strategy is the start. And begins with the words and thoughts that describe your vision for yourself. How about a Vocational Amateur? :)

 Thanks for reading. John

  


The Art of the Intro---Do you have a Hype Man?

If you believe that your success is tied to others, then you have to connect. Connect with people that help advance your thoughts and ideas. Connect with people who show you the paths to greater fulfillment. Connect with people who give you validation and an important sense of community and belonging. You have to understand that doing it alone is impossible. That isolation and insulation are your enemies. Once you accept this, then you have to engage others in your quest to become the best you can be. The best way to meet people is to be introduced to them.  Properly-introduce-yourself-572x297

As I have said many times, networking is a contact sport but it is also a team sport. In that vein, working with a partner or a team makes it so much easier to meet people. Meeting people at a social gathering, corporate reception, or other general networking opportunity is so much more fun and productive, if you are being introduced to others. No one is truly comfortable with the solitary process of "cold calling" and walking up to people we do not know and introducing ourself. The process of having someone else pave the way by making the connection is always more elegant and effective. If you want to meet new people or a specific person, form a pact with a person or people you know going to the event, to introduce one another to people they meet/know to each other.  This can turn these often anxiety ridden moments into a pleasure.

After I gave a presentation on networking and the power of the introduction recently, a young, very hip African American man approached me. He thanked me for the idea of "being introduced" to others. He was very excited and animated and told me that it was like having a "hype man". "You know, a hype man, the guy who promotes the rapper", he said (he crouched down starts shaking his dreadlocked head and pointing at an imaginary rapper and rapping) "He's the greatest rapper!" Yes, we all need a team of hype men or women. Advocates to give us third party endorsements. Someone else to talk about us, instead of ourselves. My best friend Willie used to call me his "Press Asian" when we were students. :) I was trying to help him get more visibility on campus. I was unwittingly a very early version of a hype man! We need others to refer us, promotes us, and introduce us to "audiences" and opportunities.

The old maxim holds true, " Could not have said it better myself."

But the art of the introduction goes beyond the sometimes superficial event scene and can be more targeted than general hype and promotion of your brand. You also need people on your hype team who know you well to partake in a much more strategic form of introduction. An introduction to others who you don't know that the team thinks you should meet. Others you have identified and want to meet. In either case, a warm introduction that gives you more credibility and enhances your value can make all the difference. 

The answers to these questions will help determine your strategy to meet people through introduction to advance your network and your career. 

  1. What are your goals, your priorities, your needs? What are you looking for? In other words, you have some direction that guides your networking. Otherwise, you foolishly think opportunity will come up and throw you a surprise party. 
  2. Who do you want to meet? Who do you want to talk to? Have you identified specific individuals, experts, executives, potential mentors/sponsors that you want to meet? There should always be people that you have respect, have a valuable perspective, or could help you-- people you would like to talk to.
  3. Which organizations, companies, non-profits do you admire? At some point you want to know these entities better, understand them, and perhaps be affiliated with them? Like individuals, you should be tracking organizations that you think are leaders, innovative or just plain intriguing. 

With these goals and targets in mind, you need to unleash your hype team. Talk to your inner network and pick their brains on who knows the people and organizations on your list. Start recruiting your hype team members. Make sure they are up to date on your resume and your skills, knowledge, and abilities. And then push them to find connections and introduce you.

These referrals are not a list of names and contact info given to you---that is bad form. There must be a warm hand-off, which requires a personal and professional introduction. In some cases you may want to draft an intro, just as you would do for a letter of reference. What do you want the intro to say and sound like? Why leave it to chance?

Of course, this only works because you are the hype man for your network too. You have to be willing to refer and introduce your network to others. 

Lastly, if you are ever going to be introduced as a speaker, or recognized at an event, make sure you provide some guidance. Often, people will ask you to draft the public intro. Don't just give your resume and cross your fingers--provide the intro and shape your brand!

Use the team concept of networking to meet people and uncover opportunities through introductions. Get a hype team and join a hype team or three. Make every introduction count. You will see that networking can be more enjoyable and successful when you work together. 

Thanks for reading. John