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February 2011

Chances are not your enemies, they are your change.

As I try to preach and practice: Make every effort to meet people. Go to events and gatherings with an open mind and most times you will encounter fascinating people. People who will reveal  something new to you about yourself. And more often than not, these ideas and people create opportunities in your mind and in your life. The opposite is even more true. When you limit yourself by not meeting people, hearing different perspectives, and ultimately not developing options and opportunities, your life can be so much less interesting and fulfilling.

I am invited to so many events or gatherings that my immediate instinct is to try and bail and to just go home and veg. The gravitational pull of a quiet night on the couch is powerful. But I try to remind myself of the incredible things I have seen, learned, and been inspired by, if I just elude the nearly overwhelming feelings of resistance. And every time I do, something happens. Chance-change

Last Thursday night was no different. I was out of town and flew home after a full day of meetings and travel. Somehow I agreed to a dinner on the other side of town that evening. As I was making my way from the parking lot to the restaurant, I was kicking myself for not saying "no". All the way into the restaurant I kept thinking, "How can I leave early?" "How can I get out of this?" Negative thoughts were darkening my mind and my outlook.

I break out of my foggy darkness to see my host Ted Habte-Gabr, who by the way I reconnected with a couple of months ago. Ted and I met in the good ole dot com days when he was running an extraordinary venture called Fathom and I was trying to advance the field of online education. We met in NY in what later was a failed strategic alliance. Lost touch with Ted for 10 years until he showed up on my radar screen and FB the end of last year. I remembered I was going to meet his girlfriend Lisa Napoli and learn more about newish book Radio Shangrila, her personal journey of self discovery in Bhutan. I smiled because I realized that my negativity was to be once again reversed!

I ask Ted where Lisa is. He looks at my quizzically and says she's back east promoting her book. And before I can digest this bit of off-putting news, Ted pulls me into a group and introduces me to Phil Bredeson, the former Governor of Tennessee (completed his second term 4 weeks ago). I am handed the Governor's new book Fresh Medicine. The black birds of regret return to my cranial roost and I begin to think about my exit again. How did I get into this situation? 225px-Governor_Bredesen

7 of us dined with the Governor and I quickly realized what a privilege it is to talk to somebody who was running a state , even one as distant from my world as the Volunteer State.

Over some very good food I heard another great American story of a boy who grew up in a small rural town in upstate NY and developed a healthcare company. He sold this company at the age of 46 and could have retired, but looked for new challenges. He followed his new wife and crossed the Mason Dixon line and moved to Tennessee. He decided he could run for office and apply his considerable business skills to politics. He becomes the mayor of Nashville on his second attempt and is easily re-elected. He runs for Governor in 1994 and loses. He runs again in 2002 and wins by a narrow margin. In 2006 he wins with almost 70% of the vote in a landslide. What is remarkable about this story, there are many things, but the fact that a "northerner" can move into a state, become mayor of one of its most prominent cities in less than 5 years after moving there! And then Governor!

Governor Bredeson is a humble guy. He has no aires or pretensions. In many ways, the anti-politician. What you see is what you get. He explained that his rural upbringing helped him relate to people at the  "Waffle Houses". He spoke plainly to them and he connected. He discussed how he did not let his mindset get in the way of his chances. For example, he successfully recruited the Titan NFL franchise to Tennessee by building a new stadium. Previously, he had never attended a professional football game!

What I loved most was his advice, "Chances are not your enemies." By keeping an open mind, listening to your heart and to others, you will discover new things and opportunities.

He also discussed his meetings that day with students at Claremont College. The Governor explained that he enjoyed these interchanges because he gets to hear the fresh ideas of the young and they get to see that a leader, governor, or someone who has enjoyed success is pretty normal. That up close and personal "leaders" are just people who have pursued their opportunities and chances. Governor Bredeson hoped that such exposure would give the students more confidence that they could do it too. He said that's what happened to him. When he was much younger he met leaders and big shots and learned how achievable those positions were. I had the same experiences many times when I meet and got to know prominent executives. The lesson repeats itself: meet people, especially people who are doing what you dream to do. When a long shot is brought up close, it becomes real and tangible.

I  was very grateful that I agreed to have dinner at an inconvenient time and place, with someone other than the person I wanted to meet. :) My mind was clear and refreshed again. I learned many things that evening from a regular guy who achieved extraordinary things. We were fortunate to have leaders like Governor Bredeson. If you have the drive and focus you can do impossible things. That being humble will always win out. And overcoming resistance to take a few chances usually pays off in ways you never expected. Chances are never enemies.  I recommit myself to befriend new chances that I encounter on my journey.

 Thanks for reading. John


My Top 10 posts

Here is my holiday weekend special, my top ten posts. These are the "best" of the 160+ posts I have made based upon an arbitrary, random and indefensible combination of my preferences, other people's comments and what continues to be the set of questions I receive. They are listed in chronological order. Enjoy!

  1. You Don't Know Who You are Sitting Next to. Contains a couple of my favorite stories about meeting people by getting to know the people around you.
  2. Weathering the Storm and Defining the Moment. How to convert serious challenges into opportunities to define your life and your next chapter.
  3. Networking with Top Management and Other Intimidating Species.Connecting and conversing with your boss' boss and other senior executives can be tough, but it's much easier than you think.
  4. Finding the Right Mentor. You need a mentor but want to find someone who can help you adapt and improve. How do I find that person?
  5. Telling My Story. All of our lives take twists and turns, but if we can not make sense out of our past and what it means to our future, no one else will. What is your story?
  6. Resumes that Get Interviews. A lot of conflicting and confusing info on this topic. How does your resume have the best chance to stand out from the pile?
  7. Starting the Conversation. You want to meet people, but just initiating the conversation can be hard. How can I make that process more natural, comfortable, and effective?
  8. The Art of Shaking Hands. In addition to what you say, the way you greet people says the most about you. No second chance to make a first impression.
  9. Ambitious without Ambition. We all want more in our lives and in our careers, but what do we want? Focusing your ambitiousness has to a goal.
  10. Amazing Who You Know But Don't Know. All of think "new "people will be key to our next opportunity. We all know so many people, but we don't KNOW them. Starting with your existing network is easier and more productive.

I continue to try and address what's on your mind and what's preventing you from moving ahead in your career and life. Let me know what other topics you want me to address.

All of these posts and much of what I discuss involves the following principles. The more you connect with others, learn about them and their needs, the more you learn about yourself. If you mentor others then you will be mentored. Making your network diverse in its points of view will give you new perspectives. Push yourself to reconnect with people you care about, people you work with and people that you see everyday but never talk to. The world becomes smaller and much more manageable!

 Thannks for reading. John 


5 Lessons on Connecting, Conversations and Courage

I try to push myself, stumble into, and/or be introduced to new ideas and people everyday. I have great weeks and less successful weeks. This was an especially good one. Things came together and I had many moments of inspiration and education. Over the years I have learned to say YES to invitations, to suggestions, and to introductions, especially if it will expand my thinking. It takes up time and energy, but I always get more than I invest. Let me share five lessons from the last 5 work days.

1. On Monday I watched this video by Brene Brown about connecting, vulnerability, and courage. The word courage comes from the Latin word for heart and is roughly translated into "the ability to tell your story with your whole heart." That is hard to do. To take a risk by revealing yourself and accepting who you are with all of your imperfections. "Being willing to let go of who you think you should be in order to be who you are." And she asserts that these traits are essential to connection and to be able to connect. By being "vulnerable" you will be more capable of meaningful relationships and a meaningful life. Powerful research, revelations and messages.  

2. I attended a webcast and panel discussion for the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, where 400 diverse people compelled by the injustices of the Jim Crow laws uprooted themselves and went south to join the fight to end segregation in public transportation. Whites, Asians, Jews, and others left their studies and their lives up north to help "strangers". These freedom riders felt deeply connected to these southern blacks and they took action to help them. Hard to believe this happened during my lifetime and I was so grateful to be reminded of this history and these acts of courage and sacrifice to connect and help others change history. Rosa_parks-1

3. Wednesday, I got the chance to hear Daniel Pink speak about his relatively new book about motivation--DRIVE. The main takeaway from his very engaging presentation was that financial incentives are not effective unless the work does not require a brain. In other words, incentives (including financial) rarely work for things where you have to think. That the most effective incentives come from within, There are three main motivators: 1) Autonomy--freedom to make decisions and the latitude to act independently. 2) Mastery--the ability to pursue personal and professional growth through improving one's skills and abilities, 3) Purpose--Work that is connected to something meaningful, something bigger and more important than yourself, engaged and sustained the employees more.

4. Thursday, I interviewed a candidate who surprised me. He dug down deep to tell us about himself. We asked what his former bosses would agree was the one thing that he had to improve. He had always been told that he was not living up to his potential (a curse indeed!). I asked him to tell us one part of his potential that HE wanted to improve. He paused and thought for a brief moment and said, "I need to believe in myself. I need to push myself beyond what I think my limits are. I need to assert myself to see what my capacity is."

5. Friday, I had dinner with my dear friend Nat Irvin. He is a business professor at the University of Louisville who studies and teaches about the future. He thinks about THE future all of the time. When you are with Nat you are immediately transported into his world of ideas and trends that boggle your mind. We discussed the origins of lightning, the state of technology, and geography of ideas. There is nothing calm or casual about our conversations. I love it when I feel my grey matter stretching in new ways. I reach out to him every few weeks to get an Irvin dosage of the future. During the last couple of days, I introduced him to several of my colleagues and friends to give him a flavor of LA people who think about and create the future. These interviews seemed to help Nat get new perspectives on the city of angels and what lies ahead. Nat knows that people like to talk about their futures and THE future and they open up to him. I received a bunch of follow-up e-mail and voicemail, thanking ME for the opportunity to meet Nat. Here is an excerpt from just one:

John, our conversation evoked so many emotions and insights about myself that I was completely blown away. I felt so comfortable being interviewed by him, the words that came out of my mouth literally flowed like a raging river.....ahh its hard to explain..I've never spoken to a close family member or friend, let alone a complete stranger about things so interpersonally deep. I am an open book with people around me, but usually I am the person trying to open other persons pages. LiveWholeHeartedly-wholeHearted

When you truly connect with people and you open your mind and your heart, you become vulnerable and courageous--you speak with your "whole heart". You learn about yourself and appreciate yourself. And yet you feel more connected to others. As Dr. Brene Brown says, we must let go of what we should be and become who we are. We all have the human need to connect, but we have to make the connection and then share and learn from each other. We see our imperfect potential and embrace it. When we do, our view of ourselves becomes clearer, the world becomes smaller, and the needs of others grows in importance. This is the most fertile soil to cultivate the seeds of meaning, purpose, passion and how we will impact the future. We realize that we have more control over our futures than we thought and our obligation to tap into our potential becomes more urgent.

I wonder what next week will bring and whether I will be open to the possibilities and opportunities.

Thanks for reading. John


Are you hungry? Is your belly full of fire?

If you are like me, when I am awake I am hungry! Food is very important to me. I love to eat and cook. But I am not talking about those pangs of hunger. I am talking about your hunger to succeed. Your internal desire to grow and to make a difference. Your ambition to become the best you can be. I have blogged about being ambitious without ambition. I see that way too often. Great plans and no action. What do they say in Texas, "Big hat no cattle." People who talk about what they are going to do and don't.

Hunger drives action. How hungry are you?

I remember when I was graduating from UCLA and Arnold Schwarznegger's movie Stay Hungry came out. One of my advisors referred to the film and said to me always "stay hungry." Like many wise words, I did not understand this until much later. The value of constantly and consciously avoiding complacency and reminding yourself of what motivates you. The process of never becoming satisfied with the status quo, because every achievement is a step towards goals that are always larger than self. Goals that will never be accomplished by you alone. Hunger is that raw and burning feeling that keeps you real, focused, and actively engaged.Heart fire

Some call it Fire in the belly.

William Safire wrote: "an unquenchable thirst for power or glory; the burning drive to win a race or achieve a goal. As a political phrase, the expression is usually used to indicate a Presidential candidates' desire to win, particularly the willingness to endure the long contest. It first appeared in print in 1882, in an essay by Robert Louis Stevenson, in which he compared historians Thomas Carlyle and Thomas Babington Macaulay.The source of the expression is not known. Perhaps this metaphor for ambition comes from stoking a potbellied stove or from the fiery sensation of heartfelt heartburn."

The hunger to which I refer, the fire in the belly, goes well beyond hard work and commitment. Those are valuable and valued traits. But hunger is a sustained drive that pushes you to do your best in every situation. As Safire wrote it is an "unquenchable thirst." Passion can fuel your hunger, your fire, as long as one of your passions is tending to the fire. Passion can have cycles. It can rush in and subside. We need passion. But I am talking about the internal awareness and energy that moves and motivates. This hunger never gets sated. You may be reading this and not know what I am talking about. Sorry about that. You probably don't have it. It can be acquired by a combination of life experiences, connections with others, epiphanies of self destiny and of course great effort. What stokes the fire? What kindling and embers turn into a wildfire that propels you to make a meaningful difference to you and for others?

Some may confuse people who are super competitive, super ambitious, workaholics, Type As, or even the competent with the truly hungry. Many times this hunger and desire can be taken to extremes. The hunger and fire are most effective when they are continuous and constant sources of energy. Like the sun burning hot everyday, giving us more light than heat.

If this is something you want, then surround yourself with people who have it. Our teams, our networks, our mentors, our organizations, and our families need people that have this inner drive. Help others build their fires.Eye fire

When you meet people who have it, it is obvious. The fire is in their eyes and in their energy for their words. Sometimes harder to tell the people that don't. Because they say things that give you the impression that they do. And they believe they do because they have said it so many times it has become their truth. But actions will always trump words. Later you find that they have unwittingly deceived themselves and others. They say they are hungry but the fire has never been lit.

Some may be born and/or raised to be hungry. Their life circumstances. Their DNA. But most learn to acquire the fire. They accumulate an understanding of what they want, how they want to define their lives, and that wasting these opportunities are foolish.

Your understanding of your strengths and what is meaningful to you can ignite and sustain your belly fire.

Strengths: The more you learn and nurture what you are good at, what you love doing, the more you see your potential. Your potential, based on your strengths, can be the biggest log in our fires. Always need to work on our weaknesses, but advancing what we do well will give us pleasure, great satisfaction, and the desire to continue.

Meaning: Your daily time and effort have to be connected to meaning in your life. Making money to get your kids through college because you did not. Leading a non-profit Board to make a difference in the community. Mentoring your staff to make them better employees, citizens, and human beings. What you do has to be meaningful to you. And that meaning has to be tied to a cause, a goal, and/or a reason that is more than you.

Avoid being someone with big logs, no fire. Seek out and connect with people who are hungry. Pursue your inner gifts and talents. Hook your great locomotive to a train full of meaning and your fire will keep you on a track that goes higher and higher.

I am still hungry. I need to eat! :)

Thanks for reading. John