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May 2011

Do you really want to know what I think?

Maybe it is the aging process or a deluded sense of maturity but being diplomatic seems less and less relevant. Certainly, there is a great value in packaging messages in digestible and palatable chunks. So how can we embrace an air of sensitivity for other people's feelings and on the other hand not let them get away with stuff? How do we answer questions with the greatest candor and frankness without hurting people?

"I want the truth. You can't handle the truth." Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in a few Good Men

If you have read my posts, you know I define mentoring as "a reality check". The obligation that we hold the mirror of truth so our friends can see themselves. And lastly, that mentoring can never be just encouragement and support. That effective mentoring is an exchange of truths based upon mutual benefit.

The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.  -Attributed to James A. Garfield

The classic question from a wife to a husband, that tests his manhood and his ability to stay married, "Do I look fat in this dress?" How can such a simple question conjure up fear, a furious internal debate about right and wrong and the origins of the universe? :)

But outside of these moments of marital imbalance, we need to be able to give and take the truth. How long should we go on with our little lives with a totally inaccurate picture of ourselves? You can't cut your own hair and you can't see yourself by yourself. The layers of denial, rationalization, self-defense, and sheer ego are thicker than the walls at Fort Knox.

The greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths.  ~William James

Let's be honest :), we each have skills, expertise, and personal attributes that are under-appreciated and should be honed and sharpened on a regular basis. But the only way we will grow is to confront our deficiencies, our bad habits, and our unfulfilled aspirations. You have to be surrounded by and gravitate towards truth tellers and shun and avoid the sycophants, the butt kissers, and any mirrors that reinforce self-deception.Reality-check

Working at a foundation you have to be extra vigilant. It is amazing how much younger, smarter and funnier I have become since I started working at CCF! In fact, a mentor of mine, advised me when I took this job, "You will feel like the buxom tall blonde when you go to parties." How about that for the truth! Drink that kool-aid and you will go on a hollow binge of self-importance.

Over an over again in my life adventure I have sought and received advice that pushed and pulled me. My mentors have shown me the inconsistencies of my words and actions. Helped me avoid career choices, preserve relationships, and build confidence in ways I can never could have done by myself.

People who avoid going to the doctors, financial planners, academic advisors, or career counselors to get an annual check-up on their lives are the people who like living in the ignorant space outside of the truth. "What I don't know will not hurt me." Yikes!

Take an inventory of the truthful mentors and mirrors you have in your life. Who can you depend upon to give you a reality check? Who makes you uncomfortable or even intimidates you? Who is a bit more like you want to be? (Not who you admire, but someone that you want to be like--there is a difference) Become a mentoring seeking missile. Stalk mentoring opportunities. Finding the right mentor(s) is a process of wanting to be mentored, being mentorable and knowing yourself.

While there is an intuitive focus on improving, we must also appreciate the good in ourselves and others. Being generous with the truth includes telling people in our lives how much they mean to us, that we love them, and expressing our gratitude for the gifts we receive from them.

"You know, that other dress shows off your sexy figure better", might be a better answer for the confounded husband. But we are confronted with these choices everyday as a parent, manager, colleague, and friend. Seeking more "mirrors" that won't lie to us has to be our goal. Being more and more truthful with yourself and with others has to be our goals.

Let's mentor each other with greater and greater dosages of the truth so that we reach our goals with a clearer picture of who we are.

Thanks for reading. John


Paper Tigers, Bamboo Ceilings, and the American Dream

The latest article about Asian Americans to cause a stir, Paper Tigers: What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers after the test taking ends. This 9000+ word opus by Wesley Yang describes his experience and the experience of other Asian Americans to find "success" in America. On the heels of the Tiger Mom article and debate, this is the latest example of the increased media attention Asian Pacific Americans (APAs) are getting. With less than 4% of the US population, APAs would be irrelevant if they were not "succeeding" on some levels.

A few facts pointed out in Yang's article: Asians graduate from college at a rate higher than any other ethnic group in America, including whites. They earn a higher median family income than any other ethnic group in America, including whites. This is a stage in a triumphal narrative, and it is a narrative that is much shorter than many remember. Two thirds of the roughly 14 million Asian-Americans are foreign-born. Tiger

Yang attempts to unravel and reveal the truth about the struggle many APAs face in their quest for "success". Frankly, while the article is provocative in asserting the inadequacy of the total education of many APAs, which is the plight of many immigrant populations. APAs are 67% immigrants. How do immigrants become Americans? What is the right formula to adapt to American ideals and culture? How do people "assimilate", acclimate, and advance in American culture? These are the questions that ALL immigrants face.

Asians in America, driven by their homeland cultures and their DNA have emphasized educational attainment as the recipe for success. Isn't it slightly ironic that we mock a group for doing this? Why is academic success questioned in a country that has fallen behind the rest of the world and still Waiting for Superman?

And this success has led to discrimination. Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade has calculated that an Asian applicant must, in practice, score 140 points higher on the SAT than a comparable white applicant to have the same chance of admission to elite schools. Is this fair?

Yang writes: I’ve always been of two minds about this sequence of stereotypes. On the one hand, it offends me greatly that anyone would think to apply them to me, or to anyone else, simply on the basis of facial characteristics. On the other hand, it also seems to me that there are a lot of Asian people to whom they apply.

Like all worlds, the truth lies somewhere in between. Both sides have serious blind spots. We can not stereotype all APAs as academic overachievers lacking social or leadership skills. APAs are so diverse they defy simplified "truths". Parenting, economic challenges, generational differences, and cultural values, varies greatly within the APA community. By the same token, parents who do not recognize the holistic development of their children and their unique skills by measuring success solely by an academic measure short changes their kids.

Through the generational maturation and development of Asian Americans (APAs), there is a realization that additional skills are necessary to succeed in life especially in America. As a sansei, third generation Japanese-American/APA, I have gained greater insight to adapt through my parents, osmosis, mentoring, and just paying attention. My Dad pushed me to become a "public person" when I was a teenager--to become a better public speaker and to network. I learned quickly that if I only associated with people that looked like me, my path would be limited. That feeling different and uncomfortable, even discriminated against, was part of the deal if I wanted to move up. I learned that education was crucial, but I had to have much more than degrees from schools people recognized. I had to have the ability to navigate, persuade, assert myself, and develop a broader set of relationships.

It has been estimated that full assimilation takes 4-5 generations.

In 1992, JD Hokoyama the head and founder of LEAP, asked me to talk about my career to a room filled with APA engineers who were colliding with the bamboo ceiling. The bamboo ceiling is the APA version of the glass ceiling erected by corporate culture to limit the diversity of its highest echelons of leadership--management, the C suites and the board rooms. These APA engineers did face out right prejudice and were struggling with breaking out of their imposed and somewhat deserved stereotypes. At that time APAs were a tiny but growing minority in colleges and in major corps. And engineers suffered from their super technical skills and their general lack in the soft skills. Long story short, JD asked me to do the same thing again and again. Through LEAP and other opportunities I have addressed thousands of APAs and I have seen the potential of APAs and it is awesome! Out of these experiences I developed my networking and mentoring workshop, this blog and a way of life. Like Yang, I have observed the growing friction between the bamboo ceiling and the obsession of academic achievement. While some progress has been made, new immigrants and more success have increased the APA community's challenges to break through.

Yang continues, The failure of Asian-Americans to become leaders in the white-collar workplace does not qualify as one of the burning social issues of our time. But it is a part of the bitter undercurrent of Asian-American life that so many Asian graduates of elite universities find that meritocracy as they have understood it comes to an abrupt end after graduation.

APAs are seriously under-represented in all forms and sectors of executive leadership.

To become a leader requires taking personal initiative and thinking about how an organization can work differently. It also requires networking, self-promotion, and self-assertion. It’s racist to think that any given Asian individual is unlikely to be creative or risk-taking.

So I agree with the much of what Yang writes. Success is built upon personal and professional risk taking, but not just by the APA individuals, but by the employers--the corporations.

Here's the reality. The larger society in America still does not know what to do with APAs. The mixture of the model minority myth, the diversity of the multiplicity of Asian descents and cultures, and the continuing lack of APAs in visible parts of our daily lives keeps APAs out of the consciousness of America. -With more APAs graduating from college than African Americans in this country. -With greater consumer and political power APAs should be viewed as a resource and a vital part of theis country's diversity. -With so many fully qualified APAs waiting in the wings. And with APAs unheralded contributions to so many critical elements of this nation's success. The future of this country will depend more on APAs than in the past if we can just open our minds.

This country needs successes and to nurture successes. It is frustrating to me to see that some in this country do not see the greater untapped potential of APAs. It is a burning issue when potential is wasted. Some will mock the Tiger Moms and the Paper Tigers. I see enormous potential and opportunity to help a growing and under estimated part of our country continue to rise. To take the academic prowess, creativity, work ethic, and loyalty make it a more impactful and visible part of our country's leadership and her future.

Thanks for reading. John


The Habit of Commencements and Graduations

Tis the season where perfectly reasonable people put on gowns, funny hats with tassels and sit through processionals and listen to great attempts at inspiration. Yes, it's graduation season! You know that special time when we congratulate loved ones and friends for enduring blood, sweat, tears and financial debt to complete a degree. We witness the "commencement"-- the beginning of a new chapter where greater opportunity awaits. All of us know someone who is graduating from some school at some level. They may the first in their families to.......There are so many great stories of triumph, overcoming obstacles, and sheer determination that reinforce the value of education. Its a wonderful moment! The value of education, especially higher education or post secondary education comes to light. The research is conclusive that education can be the great equalizer and the ticket to the American Dream.Grad2

The ritual of graduations give meaning and importance to a specific milestone in our lives--the completion of a formal portion of our education. Celebration and congratulatory words and gifts are exchanged. The future seems brighter and yet daunting. Armed with a new sheepskin, some great courses, and experiences, the new grads have more confidence and a renewed sense of purpose. There is pomp, circumstance, and reason for celebration. (although I am not a fan of this "gap" year to "find oneself" or to "rest" after their educational "hardship" and tribulations. The whole idea of education is the opportunity to think--something few of us get to do in the "real world"!!)

It is just so weird how we stop our process of marking and celebrating our educational milestones once we have stopped our formal education. Some of you are still contemplating a run at graduate school. Well if you are in your 30s, chances are slim to none that you will. However, after we graduate from school and have our degrees, we abandon "graduations" and "commencements" for ourselves. Education becomes something we chase in the corridors of our busy lives--it's called keeping up! We might take an occasional class or read a book. We see a youtube or a Tedtalk and feel invigorated. If we are fortunate, these are moments of enlightenment and/or inspiration but usually not education.

Our thirst for learning is unquenchable. Yet, our forays to the pool of knowledge are intermittent and brief. We become complacent. We learn everyday how much we don't know and the obsolescence of our education becomes more apparent.

I may have been to 50 commencement ceremonies so far. Most of them I have been sitting on the stage in my silly mortar board listening to the speaker and watching the audience. A couple of times I have had the opportunity to address the graduates. Once I was asked to discuss "The relevance of a PhD" to 800 new doctoral grads, but that is a different story. A friend of mine is preparing a commencement address and asked my advice. I told her that the message is "You are not done". May sound trite, but education is a process that never ends.

I truly believe you have to treat every chapter of your life as a graduate degree. I often say as an MBA, because of the popularity of the degree. Every job, promotion, new opportunity is a chance to choose "courses", "professors", and "majors". Take 2,3,4 years to earn your next "degree". Use your time at work and while you are awake to focus your post-college educational journey. Its a mindset. Otherwise time marches on, and while we feel like we are learning everyday, we have nothing to show for it. We stay at a company for 6 years, the equivalent of 2-3 graduate degrees, and our resume looks hauntingly the same! The question is always, "What will you learn from whom and by when?"

I know I have stumped more than a few of you, so let me give you five ways to do this.

  1. Your employer as teacher--Fully utilize your employer's support for professional development, tuition reimbursement, conferences, and classes. Even if they do not have a policy, ask your boss about specific relevant opportunities and get her support.
  2. Volunteer work--Most of you give your time to important charities and causes. Be more focused on how to intertwine your educational goals with your generosity. If you want to learn more about say marketing, then volunteer to be on the marketing committee. People don't volunteer for the committees and if you show up twice you will be the vice-chair! Then you are vice chair learning about marketing for your favorite charity and your resume just evolved!
  3. Start-up something--One of the great advantages of being part of a start-up organization is you can do everything and anything. Job titles are irrelevant. There are enormous opportunities to take on functions and areas of responsibility. You have to learn and educate yourself because the team is limited and small. By the way, same goes for most non-profits as well.
  4. Josh Kaufman's Personal MBA--I really like what Josh is doing. His idea is you don't have to enroll in a formal program, take out huge loans, and make the sacrifice of trying to justify the cost benefit of interrupting your career to retool. Check out his blog and his bestselling book. There are many alternatives to a degree.
  5. Find mentors in specific subjects--You want to advance your understanding of an area of interest, a function or methodology. Find experts who will spend time in their "office hours" to coach you and answer your questions.

More than a couple of times in my career I realized I was stagnating. That I was shielded from learning new things by my routines and habits. That I could just go through the motions and be successful. These were the signs that I had to take action to alter and augment my experience. I usually ended up pursuing a new "degree".

Little will happen without purpose and intention. What do you want? Where are you going? What "degree" will you earn in the next 3-4 years? Set commencement and graduation dates.

Once you do, your network and mentors have to be evaluated for their ability to help you. You reconnect with people with a new perspective. You help people around you continue their educations, because the best way to learn is to teach!

 Happy graduation!

Thanks for reading. John

 


Break out of your comfortable prison cell

The prison of comfort keeps our dreams locked up.

This prison of comfort has many amenities. Soft cushy habits that we know well. The warm feeling of certainty about what is right and wrong in our lives. And a furry blanket of our friends and family who agree with our view of the world.Prison

This prison has a huge impact on how we view our networking and mentoring opportunities and possibilities.

By the way, I am painfully aware of the size and dimensions of my own cell and I try to advance my escape plan everyday! It is hard work. What I have discovered is making a serious adjustment to the lens I employ makes a difference. How am I limiting my perspective of the world? Trying to switch from a telephoto to a wide angle lens makes a big difference for me. Yes, seeing the forest of life, rather than gazing at our own little tree.

My painful experiences as a counselor working with incarcerated youth for the California Youth Authority taught me about prisons. One of the impediments for juveniles to get out of the system was the certainty and comfort provided  by the system. --Their growing dependency on the structure of stability was way more powerful than any dream of a different tomorrow. Human nature makes us loyal to comfort.Our perception of certainty imprisons us to avoid change and stress.

This week I had several glimpses of the prisons we build:

  • Invited a colleague to hear Michelle Rhee speak about the state of education--She told me in declining my invite, "I don't agree with anything she says." (Btw, never heard her speak in person)
  • Referred an acquaintance to a job opportunity--"Not what I am looking for", I was told.
  • A psychotherapist told me (not mine:), "My clients are incapable of pursuing the desirable path of greater resistance."
  • Headline in the Pacific Citizen: "Asians do not make great leaders"

Reminded me of the exchanges in that extraordinary film My Dinner with Andre, like this one:

Andre: But, Wally, don't you see that comfort can be dangerous? I mean, you like to be comfortable and I like to be comfortable too, but comfort can lull you into a dangerous tranquility.

Andre: They've built their own prison, so they exist in a state of schizophrenia. They're both guards and prisoners and as a result they no longer have, having been lobotomized, the capacity to leave the prison they've made, or to even see it as a prison.

"No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or emotional appeal.”

Marilyn FergusonPrison door

I have had many hard yet gratifying lessons by "pre-judging" opportunities. The mistake of dis-associating myself from entire groups of people because of my experience with one or two. By limiting my experiences and therefore my understanding by defaulting to my comfortable certainty. These lessons have helped me traverse sectors and make career changes. It has shown me that I am the guard who has the keys to my own prison cell.

Here is one of the simplest keys to get you out of prison--Consider the possibility that you are wrong about your assumptions. Wrong about your assumptions about people, paths, possibilities, and opportunities. The very possibility that you could be wrong opens doors and maybe your mind.

Don't misinterpret me. This is not a command to turn your life upside down and abandon all of your comfortable people and things. But at the very least you need to take brief leaves from your prison cell to exercise your ideas about your present and future. See things before you dismiss them. Experience them before you avoid them. Don't limit your network or your mentors to your prison mates. And most of all listen to your heart, your calling. What is calling you? And why aren't you unlocking your prison door and going down the desirable path of greater resistance? The world outside of our prisons is vast and amazing.

Thanks for reading. John


Networking is an Existing Contact Sport and not a Game

While this title may lead some to think otherwise, networking is NOT a game. It is not a technique that should be revved up out of sheer need and change. It is a lifestyle of connecting, helping others, and yourself that never ends. As defined in this blog, networking is a process of building trusting relationships that are mutually beneficial. It is a intentional system that fosters a sense of community and sharing between and amongst colleagues, family members, neighbors and friends. Therefore, by definition, it can not be done alone. Networks are composed of people you know and care about. And focuses on your existing network--the amazing people you know but really don't know. While being in charge of your career and life can be a lonely job, your network should be your source of support, guidance, inspiration, and connections that help you advance your life and career. It is not about just meeting new people and adding names to your FB friend list. Networking is about relationships that help one another and should start with giving without an expectation.Contact sports

---I am reiterating this definition because I realized some of my newer readers have not heard me speak or read my earlier posts.---

People confess that the hardest part of networking is the meeting people part. However, what I am emphasizing here is for people to reach out to people they know, to reconnect with people that may not currently be part their active network. This is so much easier than approaching strangers at a cocktail party and frankly less risky. But why should I reconnect with people I know? What value does that have for me? I need new people and energy.

By reconnecting with people you like and trust, you start from a common basis for sharing and caring. You will be able to talk about things that matter in frank terms and consider ways of helping one another faster. I guarantee you that these people have influence and connections you never considered or under-estimated. And by the way they have networks!

We all know, worked with, went to school with: people who we have not been able to keep in touch with. These are great people we liked and even admired, but the busyness of life have pulled you apart. You may even have a twinge of guilt about not staying connected with them. :) These include relatives!

In addition, there are people you know now and like, who you have not made time for. You'd love to know them and their families better. You say to yourself, "I wish I could spend more time with this person/people."

Again, questions emerge in your brain. But why John will these connections help me with my immediate goal/challenge/need? I don't have time to reconnect or connect with these people I know. (Are you listening to yourself?) The greatest regret, bar none, is the regret that comes from these lost moments of connection and relationships abandoned.

Here's an excerpt from a young man who heard me speak a few weeks ago:

".... you talked about not underestimating our peers in terms of networking and building relationships. Ironically, the previous week I ran into an old acquaintance I had not seen since 2006. We caught each others eye at the elevators and instead of passing him by, like I normally would have, we stopped to chat. It's not that I don't enjoy being social, but I have 3 part-time jobs, and am generally too exhausted to hang around any longer than necessary. But I stopped this time. We chatted and set up a lunch date for the day that you came to speak. I was planning on canceling the lunch. Why did I need to talk to him anyway? He's just an old friend who isn't in my field. It's not like he's going to give me a job. Well, needless to say, your message hit me hard and I had lunch with him after all. We had a great time and reconnecting with him will be socially and professionally beneficial to both of us, even if the dividends don't pay off immediately. Thanks for urging me to follow through with that." At the elevator

Go back to the first paragraph and remember,

" Networks are composed of people you know and care about. And focuses on your exisiting network--the amazing people you know but don't know. While being in charge of your career and life can be a lonely job, your network should be your source of support, guidance, inspiration, and connections that help you advance your life and career."

The only way your network grows and evolves is by reconnecting and connecting. Yes, it is possible that you magically sit next to someone, or meet someone randomly, who possesses the answers to your dreams and prayers. Why couldn't that special person be someone you know but don't know? YOUR network only gets stronger through your investments in it. And the strength of your existing network reveals itself in surprising ways. And winning a lottery ticket is still a possibility :)

Think about it, when you reconnect with someone you care about, you lessen guilt, you reduce regret and most important, you make the world a bit smaller and more hospitable. Never underestimate the people to whom people you are connected. I am surprised everyday, by re-connections I make that add unintended and substantial dimensions to my life.

Said another way, meeting people to just meet people for their influence and connections is a superficial game. It is the classic, disposable, me-oriented process that has given networking a bad and nausea producing name .

The point here is there are few quick fixes in life. Miracle 6 week exercise programs or diets don't generate lasting results or increase your health metrics. When we desire fast results for little effort, we know that our gullible persona has take over the steering wheel. Networking takes persistent time and effort and the benefits will be returned to you manifold.

Of course, what you say or do when you make these connections is crucial and the subject of many posts here. But I wanted to reiterate that networking is a lifestyle that is a very accessible process. So much easier than people think, because it all starts by contacting people you already know!

What are you waiting for?

Thanks for reading. John