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August 2013

Suffering Indifference

Total humility comes from when you have nothing. When you are without your status, your stuff, and your pretentions, you are reduced to the real you. Not just being devoid of your material things. But when you have lost your self-confidence, your self-esteem, your hope for the future.  I know I protect myself with many trappings, devices, and artificial comforts. Some of you have been there and know the truth about this basic suffering. I can only imagine this scenario—which means I know really nothing about it. Most of us are fortunate to live far from this level of humility. Far from the bottom or middle of Maslow’s. We take for granted what we have need and want. As a result,  our ability to be compassionate---literally--with suffering—disappears. We are numb to what separates us from the real and genuine feelings of others—especially those in need.

Like me, I am sure you appreciate the opportunities you have been given and the good fortune that has smiled on us. We all know that a few fine twists in our storyline and things would be much different.

It is a brutal world filled with heartbreaking images and ideas. We have to cloak ourselves in emotional Teflon so that we can function, right?

Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike. - J.K. Rowling

So we become very adept at faking our emotions. We are skilled at pretending to care. Our compassion banks only can dispense so much otherwise we will be bankrupt. We have to use our emotional outlays sparingly—reserve it for the people close to us. Isn’t that right?

Some people say, "I know what you are going through?" “I can only imagine how you are feeling?" “I know what you mean.”

Not sure most people do. We mean well but we are not well meaning. We say these things in the transaction oriented speed of life. We do not have time to care. Few of us have the capacity to engage ourselves emotionally in every tragedy, every hardship, so we get very adroit at feigning sympathy, empathy, and compassion.

Zen Buddhist monks in training have a ritual called takahatsu. These young monks must beg for food on the street to learn their role, to understand who they are, and to learn humility.

So we build our defenses and protect ourselves. We even get uncomfortable when we and/or others show their emotions. We find it hard to look at people who are suffering. We avert our eyes when we see nameless homeless people. As if our eye contact will hurt us. We know in our hearts, that indifference will hurt us more. Blessings

I was struck by this blog by Optimus Outcast, an anonymous film exec who sat on a freeway onramp for a day—his takahatsu. Here is an excerpt from his observations:

Why is it so hard to make eye contact with someone in less fortunate circumstances? Why is it so scary just to look? We lock ourselves away in our fortresses with the openings sealed tight. A you-can-sleep-peacefully-at-night guarantee that the outer edges will be kept safely at bay. We will never be required to be uncomfortable. Our cars, our houses, our offices all offer these qualities. But, then if you think about, so does a coffin.

Maybe the scary part isn’t just to look. The scary part is to look and then look away.  A reminder that, in all of our professed capabilities, sometimes we are still helpless to change things. If we look away, is this our own cardboard sign that reads, “I have given up.”?

I am a born sucker. I take some pride that I have not lost all, but I have lost a lot, of my trust in strangers.  I give time and money to almost anyone. I have incredible and disastrous stories of my unsuccessful attempts to help others. I was regaling some colleagues about how I have been duped by panhandlers.  This resulted in a spirited discussion with a colleague who said, "There is no doubt what happens when you give a panhandler money. No doubt." She won't give panhandlers money because she is convinced that ALL panhandlers are addicts of some type. The money goes straight to drugs or alcohol.

I understand this logic. And I know that it is mostly true. But this logic becomes part of the thickness of our Teflon coating. We begin to make generalizations about “those people”. But don’t we need as much pathos as we do logos? I also believe that we cannot dismiss an entire group because of a theory, even a “factual theory”.  Because we are wrong too many times. I have seen and continue to seek out the people who have beat the odds. They renew my faith in the great potential of all people. The hundreds of death row inmates who have been exonerated through the Innocence Project. The countless kids from the ghetto who have succeeded in school and life. The online teacher I met who typed with her toes because she has no hands.

But how much effort should we expend to save the few? Remember the old story about saving the starfish? It does make a difference to the one.  StarfishBoy

Sometimes it is easier for us to give up on each other than a product. How many times has a product or service not lived up to the hype or advertising? I know. Yet we still buy. Maybe a bit more warily and carefully. But we buy.

How much of our humanity dies when we come to these conclusions that ALL of somebody is not good or able to be helped or have ulterior motives? 

We lose a little of ourselves every time we think and act this way.

We must have the ability to understand the suffering of both sides.  Thich Nhat Hanh

In my professional world of philanthropy, we talk about those who need our help. We rarely talk to those we want to help. It's crazy. Our ideas become so sterilized from reality. So intellectual. So safe from the truth. 

How do we renew our sense of reality by visiting the suffering we are trying to address or lessen? How do we truly get into the shoes of our colleagues, neighbors, brothers and sisters? How do we help our network by allowing ourselves to suffer with them---to have compassion? To listen, to learn and to love. To have the vulnerability and humility to know.

I write this not to preach but to confess. I write this not to inflict guilt but to remind. I write this to help me suffer with you.

Thanks for reading. John


The Strongest Weak Tie: Cousins

Just got back from a reunion of our extended family. I do mean extended! It was extraordinary to dive into the gene pool forawhile and explore my roots and my wings. Energized by my younger cousins who represent the Yonseis--4th generation Japanese-Americans a rainbow coalition of beautiful multi-racial and multi-ethnic backgrounds. This weekend I met a national surfing champion, a violinist who played at Carnegie Hall, an actress--and these were among my cousins under 19! Amazing who you are related to and don't know.

We all have cousins. From real cousins to people you are somehow related to (e.g. people married to your cousins, all the way to strangers you refer to as "cousins". In fact we are all cousins in one way or another. Read that Prince William and Kate are 12th cousins (once removed) and Brad Pitt and President Obama are 9th cousins. The further we go back our family lines converge and we are all related. But I digress. 

When we think of our networks, we usually think about the inner circle of our close friends, relatives and confidantes. Mark Granovetter referred to these as our  Strong Ties. In general, we take care of our strong ties. The challenge with strong ties is they usually are not that diverse. We tend to hang around and seek the time and attention of people like us, religiously, politically, and financially.  Therefore a network composed just of your strong ties is limiting. You need people in your network that will transport you out of the box of your limitations to introduce you to new networks. You need a diverse network of opinions, viewpoints and connections. Granvetter called these your Weak Ties

Weak ties multiple groups
Sample Network

Granovetter defined ties: a combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie.

He concluded that some of the the most important ties are the ones which "bridge" you to new connections, new networks, and new opportunities. His research showed that "no strong tie is a bridge." That weak ties are much better bridges.

One of my mantras is: It is amazing who you know who you don't know.

Great and beneficial networking focuses on your existing network before new connections. The key is reconnecting and deepening your relationship with people you know, especially weak ties--like your cousins--to expand your network.

You want your network to grow, but organically and warmly. Your existing network is a catalogue of warm calls, much different than the icy world of strangers that you don't know. 

Second mantra: Being introduced is the most powerful form of networking.

The most potent network development comes from your existing contact list. Meeting new people through others. 

Get over the "embarrassment" of the time lapse between contacts. Stop letting your benevolent disregard for them stop you from reaching out and re-kindling a good conversation. This is why some gravitate to the casino of meeting new people, rather than than apologizing to an old friend and starting anew. Can you hear the crazy that screams out of this convoluted logic?

Yeah, but we are all guilty of this. It took a reunion for me to reconnect with my cousins.

Focus on making your weak ties stronger and then seek the diversity of other people's networks. 

It is one thing to say you are open to new things and new opportunities. That you believe in serendipity. Everyone does. But it is a giant leap to actively cultivate weak ties, like your cousins, to truly encounter the serendipitous. 

Sometimes you meet  people that appear in your life. I know you are lucky but not that lucky---you are not the magnetic center of the universe. You must make your magnets, your luck, and the effort to make new connections.

Call or e-mail a cousin today. Listen to them. Tell your story. Help each other. The world will become smaller, warmer and bit more interesting. It has for me.

Thanks for reading.  Your cousin John  ;)

 


Don't Let Your Resume Dictate Your Career Path

Wouldn't it be nice if our next career adventure would magically present itself just when the challenge and growth runs out of our current gig? And how will you be spending your lottery ticket winnings? ;)

But most I meet wait until a crises hits and act surprised when a different adventure ensues. An adventure for which they are ill prepared.

But when is the right time to leave, change, or quit? Time 2

Some measure it by time. "Gosh it's been 5 years, I guess I need to move on." Maybe. Maybe not. Jobs don't have an expiration date. Resumes do not require advancement in set increments. If you are so linear and myopic you might employ this approach.

The other one I hear al lot is, "I don't like my job, but I better stick it out for 2 years so my resume doesn't look weird." 

Really? It is your story. You are the writer and the main character. But what is the plot and where are you going?

I always think about jobs like relationships. Few are forever. Almost all take hard work and you can't give up on a whim. And toxic ones need to be abandoned.

Don't let your resume dictate your career path.

As I have said ad nauseum, "To be ambitiousness you need an ambition." Meaning--just wanting more without a concept of success is purposeless and direction-less. 

Just talked to a young rising star executive who was working for a big movie studio. He had a cushy job, nice work-life balance, and was well compensated. He and his wife recently had a baby and he woke up to his new responsibilities. Yet he also started to confront his age and stage in life. Most people reach this moment and they recoil from change and hunker down to retain the staus quo. But this young man realized that he was settling. That he was not growing or even contributing to the end product. He had been with this employer for awhile and could easily stretch it out a few more. Nevertheless, he decided to make a career change. He left for a start-up. 

Not because he was fired but because he was fired up. Not because he hit a ceiling but because he saw the door to his own future. Not because he had a bad boss, but because he realized he is in charge of his own destiny. 

This is the key to a life of satisfaction. Make your own path. Determine your own trajectory.

Some would say he was crazy. He should have waited until the baby was older. (They are planning to have several kids) Others understand that you have an internal clock. What other people think is irrelevant. It is your clock and your sense of timing that matters. Not what looks right but what feels right.

Timing is everything and the time is always now. This is the time to think, plan and execute on your plans.  

Know when it is time. Listen to your mentors and those who care. But then listen to your heart. Like this young exec, you realize you want something different, then you start to define what you want, and then you seek it. 

Being restless is not a career plan. "It just seems like a time to change." Is a bizarre feeling to risk your career. Great yiddish word: shpilkes. "ants in the pants" state of impatience and/or agitation. 

Shpilkes is not sufficient to re-write your resume.

I remember I was sittiing in my office--an office I designed. I was so comfortable. I was large and in charge. I had a team of assistants and many "yes" people. I suddenly woke up from my self admiration and I realized I was becoming a bit of a fraud. (I found later that almost 75% of execs feel this way) I was further and further removed from the purpose of our work. I was no longer challenged. The depth of my knowledge and expertise was becoming a Wizard of Oz show. Admittedly, I had a good show, but only the showman knows what's backstage.

Anyway, I realized I was getting soft. That my creative muscles were not being exercised. That my competence was relying on others and my expertise was fading. I learned I had to re-engage with the details. Craft the words, understand the code, feel and see the purpose of our work. It is why I gravitate to start-up environments, so I can stay fresh and challenged and avoid getting too comfortable.

But you are different. You have to design your own path. You gotta know what you want. Do you? 

If the "perfect opportunity" walked up and tapped you on the shoulder would you recognize it? Would you be ready to leap?

Very likely that you will leave your current position. Will you be the one making the decision about the timing of your transition? 

A few destination check questions:

  • What would make your next job/position more fulfilling?
  • Have you made a list of the things you want to sharpen and add to your toolbox?
  • Have you fully explored options to take on new duties, challenges, growth opportunities at your current position? (This assumes you know what you want)
  • Have you fully explored acquiring these skills and experiences outside of your day job?
  • Is your next best job up the ladder, down the ladder or somewhere else?
  • Have you talked to your mentors about these answers?

A few things are certain. Change will continue to grind away. Your expertise will become obsolete. You can let others decide your fate or take control of the steering wheel of your career and guide it to the path that reflects your goals and your needs. The path with your heart.

The real question is when will you do that? Your resume does not get a vote.

Thanks for reading. John