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October 2011

Get Energized!

The other day, someone described me as the "Energizer Bunny". They meant it as a compliment. :)I like the word energy. It defines something I value and depend upon everyday. Like all of nature, without it, nothing is possible.  I don't think of energy as just "the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity." I like the physical science definitions, such as "the ability to exert pulls or pushes against the basic forces of nature."Energizer
As we all know, energy exists in everything and everywhere, but it needs to be focused and contained to be useful. Energy is like intention. We always have it, but do we fully engage it to make a difference?

"No steam or gas drives anything until it is confined. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated and disciplined." Harry Fosdick

It may be the number one question I get asked. "Where does YOUR energy come from?" I think they ask this because they see my energy as a positive or my energy bugs them. Never sure when I get the question which it is. :) The short answer that I give yields a wry smile, "I get it from my mom and dad!" While true, not a satisfying answer. But I know that the DNA plays a role.

My energy is within me and it drives what I do and who I am. I don't think of energy as a feeling. Do I feel energetic? No, I consider energy a deeper force that defines me, but more importantly, what I do. Never used "5 hour energy", Red Bull, or taken recreational drugs to increase my energy. I do have couple cups o java every morning though. I think energy is all natural.

While we are each unique, each of us has the same potential energy within us.

Renewing, preserving, caring for and investing in your energy sources is as important as it is for our planet's natural energy. It can not be taken for granted. It is so precious.

Energy has to be renewed everyday. Energy does not last. Like eating and exercise, you need to make re-energizing a daily routine.

There are a couple of pre-reqs

  • Physical and Fiscal Fitness: Yes, you need to be managing your physical and fiscal fitness and your level of stress. All are factors in your body and mind's ability to do things and to "show up" completely in your life of work and play. So you have to tend to these vital matters because they drain and undermine your energy. They keep you from your focus on what makes you unique and your overall ability to engage and deliver your talents.
  • Passion Alignment: Your work and your life have to have good doses of the things you care about. At work, as a volunteer, at church, in your spare time--you have to be engaging your passions.

5 Daily Steps to More Energy:

  1. Get Inspired: Seek out ideas and stories that give you a reality check on what's important to you. The needs of others is always a good place to start. No shortage of those stories today. Needs remind us of what we have and we have to help others get.

"Any time a thought, sentence, or a paragraph inspires you or opens up your thinking, you need to capture it, like a butterfly in a net, and later release it into your own field of consciousness." Steve Chandler

2. Get Connected: Engage people who can shift your perspective, push you out of your comfy box, and who help you think differently. Look for every opportunity to meet new and reconnect with existing network members. Other people's energy is highly contagious!

"Isolation is our problem, not our lousy attitudes."  Barbara Sher

3. Get Others What They Need: The satisfaction of helping others around you is so energizing. It gives you fulfillment, meaning, and energy! Do more than you do now. Volunteer! Go out of your way to assist and you will get a power surge!

4. Get Fun: Life is too short not to enjoy what we do. Get out of the toxic relationships and worlds around you. Get off the negative bandwagon and reinforce the positive.

"Laughter is an instant vacation." Milton Berle

5. Get Going!: Stop procrastinating. Start pursuing what you really want. Talk to your network about how to start or advance what you should be doing.

"Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass...it's learning how to dance in the rain." unknown

When you are just going through life without connecting with who you are, what you want to be, and where you want to go, then your energy can be easily sapped. Energy comes from your engagement with your life. The more engaged, enthused, and enriched by your work and your experiences, the less you think about time and regrets. You psych up for things you care about and it energizes you.

If you believe in energy as I have defined it, then the "pushes" and "pulls" of engaging your passions with others is a powerful source of energy. You get bits and bytes of energy by connecting with what's important, with the new, by rediscovering the "old" and by helping others.

Thanks for reading. John 

 


What We Can Learn From College Students

The allure of college still beckons. For almost everybody, going to college was the best of times. Every Fall we think of the good ole days of alma mater and some of us are yearning to returning to the learning. Our memories have smoothed over all of the anxiety, stress, financial and academic challenges and replaced them with nostalgia. :) But it is my experience that while many people think they have moved far from the days of the ivy covered halls, most still struggle with some of the same fundamental questions of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Questions like: What is the meaning of life?; What is my "major"?; and What do I want to be when I grow up?Animal house

I have three recommendations that come from college students. Recommendations that will hopefully reinvigorate your free thinking collegiate ambitions and your youthful ideals when the possibilities seemed limitless.

1. Write Your College Essay Over Again--Helping my son and his friends finish their college apps and their essays. Writing these essays are harder than calculus. If you use it to grow and discover oneself, it can be a painful and seminal experience. The essays either tell nothing about the applicant or reveal something special. The "prompts"/questions remain relatively unchanged. Here are the ones my son is addressing:

a. Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

b. Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?

1000 words for both. Try it. It is still very tough and if done well, very insightful. Nothing like writing down your thoughts, especially if you know someone will read it to decide your fate!What is your concise and compelling story? I meet "professionals" everday who don't have one! Your story matters and you need to craft it in writing to tell it!

2. One of the Worst Mistakes By New College Grad Job Seekers---A few months ago a survey of graduating seniors revealed what they regretted after confronting the challenges of this brutal job market. After all, they are just 21 or 22 years old, so of course they are under-prepared for the career/job search. There is a triad of culprits to blame. First, the parents are pushing their kids to pursue WHAT THEY THINK are "good careers" and have not let their kids develop their own paths. Second, undergrad colleges are woefully bad at career prep, it's embarrassing how new alumni are not "polished and finished" before they graduate. Lastly, the students themselves, take little initiative to get experiences, internships, develop a network, and start to define their own career trajectories while they are in school. So plenty of blame to go around.

Should have networked. The survey revealed this was one of the most regretted mistakes. "Students who spend their time trolling job boards should instead spend that time making solid connections with people who are respected and involved in the workforce, industry experts and alumni, and spend only 30% of their time looking at job listings." More than 70% of jobs are discovered through networking, so why don't students and all job seekers employ a networking strategy? Network as a life strategy, not just to find jobs.

3. Treat Every Job and Opportunity as a College Degree Program---Think about your career in four year chunks, just like your undergrad program (okay maybe 5 years;) The point is approach your work like college. Re-enroll every year. Think about what general ed and major requirements you have to complete. What professors will you take? What goals will you set? What weaknesses will you strengthen? What talents will you further? And maybe as important, what electives will you take?

Life goes fast and it blurs and runs together. College stands out as a distinct chapter in our lives. While we are grateful that we are not 21 today, we can use the regimen of college to focus our future chapters and to make them worthwhile and memorable. Otherwise jobs and time marches on and our present life continues to pale in comparison to our college days.

Re-live your college experience by renewing your urgency about the value of your time and the need to complete your next "degree". It is never too late to start.

College students today are smarter and more worldly than we were. They can teach us many things. Most important, how to be young and daring. How to reinvent ourselves. Yes there are many generational differences. But we are older and wiser, aren't we?

Thanks for reading. John


Overcoming Realism to CHANGE

I was with a bunch of colleagues recently. We were asked to think about the future and new possibilities. Always fascinating and illuminating to hear what others think, how they think, and what gets discussed. It was a tough conversation because the dominant theme became the safe, the certain and the least dangerous. It is so understandable why there is a such a strong gravitational pull in these directions. Hard to take risks in an environment that punishes failure. Difficult to go out of the box when resources and time are scarce. I get it. I really do.

When should we take chances? Assume more risk? Do what we really want to do? Resistance

Some people say the best time to venture out on the limb, tip toe onto the thinner ice, swing for the fences, and go for it---is when they feel safe. Huh?!! Yeah sure it is a lot easier to take a chance when there is little danger.  Make a big bet when the outcome is certain. C'mon, the people who say they are entrepreneurial, they are self-starters and like start-up environments, and they say they love risks. It has become one of the required and now meaningless self professed attributes like computer proficiency, collaborative, results-oriented, and possessing strong communication skills. The only proof of taking chances are evidence of the chances taken. Where you risked losing something. Otherwise you like the safety and certainty of what you have. That's human nature. Most people deceive themselves. Hanging on is their priority. Playing not to lose is very different than playing to win. Being afraid of making mistakes is not the mindset of an entrepreneur or a risk taker.

Talked to a long time colleague who has multiple job offers in this environment. They all will pay him well. He is leaning toward the one option that requires him to work for a start-up, 3000 miles away because it meets his goals to further develop his future marketability. He has always planned to "retire" in 9 years when he turns 50. Why should he abandon his plans if his family is up for it?

This is the difference between leadership and management. Adapting vs surviving. Seeing the possibilities vs the obstacles and dangers. The classic glass half full or half empty syndrome.

More than ever I hear the conforming chants of realism. The admonitions of potential jeopardy. The need for certainty and predictability. Let's be realistic. Let's focus on what is achievable. Let's not waste time on brainstorming. I try not to scream and run out of these rooms. :)

When most people stop innovating, stop brain storming, and stop envisioning their futures, huge opportunities emerge. When there is a traffic jam, some wait and wait--a few break out of the pack and find a way home.

Strange thing about human nature, we tend to seek the status quo and resist change when we have free choice or if we are coerced. If times are good, then we think times will continue to be good and even get better, so we stay the course. And when times are bad and things around us are failing, we tend to hunker down and pull the covers over our heads and hope the clouds pass. Complacency is homeostasis for many. The power of resistance to change can never be underestimated. 

Am I saying that you can never be satisfied and where you are? Am I arguing for a nomadic existence where dissatisfaction is a way of life? Kinda. Of course we have to find the joy in everyday and everything, but I have adopted a view that if you are not obsessive about improving and advancing, you will end your life drowning in dissatisfaction. The evolution of nature, of the marketplaces, of even outer space is inexorable and unstoppable. So what is the argument to stop our own personal progress, development and evolution? How can we justify resisting change?

Unlike nature, the marketplace and space--your time is finite.

Realism erodes and corrupts vision and ambition.  It sucks all of the future out of the work and opportunities.

I have worked with visionaries who have dared to pursue the steep part of the curve when the easy way out was always available. Big ideas, new ideas are easier to pursue when risk is manageable--when  the economy is stronger--when confidence is higher. Those that succeed never think that way.

Here's the rub. There is this nasty consequence to this type of thinking. Opportunity cost. What we lose when we don't think bigger. And who loses. Not just what the risk averse person or organization might gain. Most notable is how the improved benefit to the customer/beneficiary is ignored. This makes me crazy. In the name of self preservation we set aside the reason we exist--our mission. We were established to make people's lives better. Realism tells us we have to accept the status quo and good enough becomes our new goal!

Waiting for any nightmare to end requires us to wake up.

We have to help each other combat the epidemic of realism and resistance. We have to inspire ourselves to pursue our visions for change and fulfillment.

Thanks for reading. John


Connecting the Dots

Steve Jobs lived a life of great trials and tribulations, great victories and achievements.

He pursued his passions and his curiosities, not because it was part of a plan. Because it fascinated him. He found work he loved which he never considered work. He met people, had ideas, and pursued thoughts, not in an effort to reach a goal. He connected dots that made sense only in hindsight.Dots

Here's what he said: "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."

  

Even if you have watched this before, watch it again! It is so inspirational particularly that we have lost him.

Steve Jobs has been likened to Thomas Edison, but I have always thought of him as a combination of Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg. He was no angel, few geniuses are. But a true visionary. Never had the opportunity to meet him but like most of us I admired his insatiable creativity and pursuit of excellence.

Think for a second that his seemingly innocuous logo symbol –Apple with a bite missing—is the forbidden fruit. He always pushed himself beyond the garden of eden. After all one of his daughters was named Eve!

His story is an American fairy tale of the emergence of greatness from humble and “average” beginnings. Those of us who have been around lots of kids, if you look carefully, you can see the genius in each one of them. The genius of uniqueness and of their unfettered spirit of the possibilities. The DNA cocktail is powerful and if it is allowed to take root and grow, amazing happens. But all too often we try to conform and guide our kids to follow a formula, often the parents vicarious recipe, for success. We want the kids to fit in. Yet we simultaneously hold a contradictory thought---we believe each individual is unique and special. Why then do we try and smooth out all of the wrinkles, remove all of the weird, and push and pull our young ones into a regimented line?

I contend we lose a Steve Jobs like kid everyday to our well intentioned desire to make all of the unique birds fly in formation.

I am an addict for vision. For the people who can lift their sights from their footsteps, up to the horizon and beyond. It is not that I do not value the past or the present, but I have long understood that being satisfied with the status quo is foolhardy. That life is an endless journey about improving our lot and the lots of those that follow. In that vein, people who are restless and unsettled about the current world, yearn for the next iterations. Steve Jobs was relentless and never satisfied—that’s the way visionaries are.

We each have visions for our future, for our families future and for our sociiety. We need those visions.

One of his greatest lessons is his view of life as connecting dots. Life is the pursuit of things and people that fascinate you, that capture your imagination, that drive your curiosity and passion--with no guarantees. These are the dots that you should connect. But instead of myopically accumulating dots with a plan. Like a bad scavenger hunt, you collect interesting dots that connect you to new ideas about yourself and the possibilities.

If you can not make sense of the people and experiences you encounter except through hindsight, then how do you know if you are doing it “right”? A better question is, how can you reject the opportunity to meet someone or to experience something if you won’t know the value until later?

Actually that is what this little blog is about. Trusting yourself to take chances and to make leaps of faith. A lifestyle of connections not driven by selfish needs but a lifestyle of making connections to help people and to discover the world. A world that will teach us about ourselves by trusting our guts and our hearts to become the best of who we were meant to be.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Networking Tips from Beggars

My boss has a little ceramic plaque in her office that she bought at the 99cent store.  Raisins
Life is about raisins:

Raisin children!

Raisin money!

Raisin hell!

The wisdom you can find for under a buck! Those of us who have had to raise money/fundraise for causes for a living and a lifetime, consider ourselves beggars. While we may not use a tin cup and squat on a street corner, the process of getting people to part with THEIR money to fund your organization and cause is one of the most humbling and challenging tasks in life.

I was invited to be part of a prestigious panel of "begging" experts last week to help provide non-profit fundraisers and leaders gain a few insights into the current world of fundraising that is dripping with economic uncertainty and a receding donor pool. Stewart Kwoh, the founder and head of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the leading civil rights organization for Asian Americans in the US and winner of a "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation in 1998. Stewart is a big time beggar. Kafi Blumenfield who leads the very progressive and effective Liberty Hill Foundation, is a consummate beggar. And Gayle Yamada, who leads the fundraising for the Little Tokyo Service Center, one the region's most innovative local cultural preservation and development non-profits. She is a professional beggar. I know what you are thinking, what was I doing with them?!!

They shared some insights, how-tos, and ideas that seemed to be very helpful to the audience. I think these lessons will help fundraisers but also apply to anyone interested in deeper and more fulfilling networking and relationships.

  1. Not about you: Never forget that you are representing a cause and an organization that are bigger than you. Many people will reject your proposals and your requests, but you can not take it personally. Learning from each rejection is critical to get better at pitching and begging, but don't waste time with how bad you feel. Yes, people give to people. But you are not representing yourself but the greater mission of your organization.
  2. Listen! What do they want?: Find out what makes people tick, who they are and why they are interested in your organization. What triggered their first gift? Eventually, you might get to a story that is very personal that tells you more about them and their motivations. Don't just show up and throw up your latest and greatest propaganda, find out what they think.
  3. Not just when you need something: Cardinal sin of all networking but especially fundraising. Reach out only when you need money or help. Bad form. Contact "important" prospects and supporters to check in, for advice, to share an article on something they care about (not your newsletter), to congratulate them on an achievement and then listen!
  4. Treat everyone like they are important: Many of the largest donors start off very small. They often don't look wealthy and may not even think they are wealthy. People are also connected, related to, know other donors, foundations, corporations--ones you are cultivating now. The moment you decide to treat a person with less importance, is the moment you find out her uncle is a billionaire! A story was told where a quaint elderly gentleman was a volunteer janitor at this struggling homeless shelter. He overheard the Ex Dir worrying about meeting next week's payroll. To the shock of the staff, the old man wrote a check for $20,000 to help them bridge the gap. When he died a few years later, he left them an endowment of $10 million! You never know who can help you.
  5. Passion to passion: Have to assume that you are passionate about your organization, not just interested or supportive. When a passionate fundraiser meets a passionate donor and they can find their common ground, great things happen. Connecting passions is the soul of relationships and of fundraising.
  6. Your existing donors are your best donors: No better donors than your existing ones. Don't ignore them for the newbies. More than likely you don't know them and your some of your donors would love to give more. Start with who you know before you just leap to people you don't.
  7. Short term needs with a long term focus: Our jobs as beggars is to help our organizations have a better future. Yes, that means meeting payroll and keeping the doors open. But some relationships need to be nurtured for the longer term. Your job is to meet you goals but to also seed the path for your successors who follow you.
  8. Make the ASK!: Number one complaint of donors, "Nobody ever asked". I am serious. Most supporters of organizations have not been courted or asked to give more. No an e-mail or a direct mail solicitation does not count. There is no substitute for meeting your donors face-to-face and asking them for more help. The ASK is a conversation about support and matching the donor's interests with yours. It is a logical consequence of the relationship. Blurting out an ASK when you don't know them can freak out everybody. But once you make the ASK, be quiet and listen!
  9. Say Thank You: I know this is really basic stuff but make calls and write notes. Make it as personal as you can. Thanking people is a lost art.
  10. Keep track of your relationships: Even if you only have 100 donors you have to have a shared system to document the relationships. A database that allows everyone to input info, facts, that help the organization understand the status, experiences, and opportunities of each donor. People in your organization have different interactions with donors/prospects and you want the current and future organizational team to be understand what the latest info is. Great networkers also have a "database" of notes to remember things and events.

Life is about raisins! Great begging and networking have the same assumptions at their core. It's the relationship, stupid! The opportunity to get to know people, really understanding them, and what they care about, is a priceless opportunity. It will reveal things that will help advance your organization and help you.

Thanks for reading. John