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April 2014

Ambition to Walk the Talk

How do we become who we say we are? Is aspirational language how we grow into our lives? We often describe ourselves in generous terms. Are we who we say we are?. 

I call myself a social entrepreneur. I say I am one so it is so, right. Not so fast. We are not what we say we are!

We are certainly not what our bios say! :) Footprints-in-The-Sand-

I attended the spectacular Skoll World Forum a couple of weeks ago to meet with like minded people from around the world--so I thought.  

For me it was the Skull Forum, because I felt my cranium get filled up!

In my skull sized kingdom, ala David Foster Wallace, I am pretty good at what I do. A legend in my own mind! I know this is not true but I deceive myself by saying things and going to places where I look good. I joke I have always been in the top 10% of the bottom half of my class. :) Never fully convinced I belong or deserve to be there.

So at the Skoll conference I pushed myself to meet real social entrepreneurs. People who put their careers on the line for their ideas, to help others and solve a problem. It was so refreshing and humbling.

There were some sages on the stage--from Richard Branson to Malala who made me think. But the real impact of the conference was in the aisles and in the conference rooms where I sat with people from all over the planet who are dreaming and doing amazing things. (Did meet some wannabes like me too :)

Martin Burt: Changing the definition and solutions for poverty in Paraguay.

Dina Sherif: Growing the social entrepreneur community to energize the evolution of Cairo, Egypt.

Oren Yakobovich: Exposing human rights violations through innovative surveillance.

Monica Yunus: An extraordinary opera singer, daughter of Muhammad Yunus, who is changing the world through the arts.

They reminded me what social entrepreneurs look like, what they sound like, and what they do. Without role models we have nothing. Great inspiration for what I have to do--where I have to walk. Not to be like them, but to become who I am. Make sense?

Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the way is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing behind
one sees the path
that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road–
Only wakes upon the sea.

antonio machado

Walking the talk is ultimately about authenticity. Who am I and where am I going? What do I stand for? How do I learn? How do I make a difference? The truths.

Once we get real and stop believing our press releases we have a chance at becoming something. 

Ambition, if it feeds at all,does so on the ambitions of others.  Susan Sontag

If you allow it your ambition is altered by others. Your best ambition is open source and needs inputs and energy. It can not be static. And developing your ambition takes effort. When we are younger we just want more, more opportunities, more growth, more responsibility, more titles, more influence, and more money. As we mature, we realize that more is undefined and this type of amorphous ambitiousness is aimless and meaningless. That we must have purposes that energize us. Our paths will be defined by what we do versus what we want. And when we are fully engaged, wholeheartedly entwined, then we see the benefits of connecting to and learning from others. That our mission is not a solo flight but a community fight. Iterating requires the ideas and inspirations of others, not to get there first but to make progress towards the goals together. 

Walking the talk requires walking. Walking down the path of others, with others. Walking in their shoes. Walking to make progress and to push forward. Talking is never walking. Let your walking do the the talking. 

When you walk you meet people, especially if you are not following a single route, but a meandering path to your ambition. That way you can't just walk with your friends or family. You must walk with new sources of ideas and perspectives. 

When you learn new things you change your path, you alter your gait, you become less certain about your original destination and your ambition grows.

To some this sounds wish-washy and unfocused. But to me and others, it is the path to clarity.

When you go through the turnstile to enter the library of ideas-- to check out every aisle and every book--not to peruse the aisles and books you know, then you will confront new sources of truth and reality. 

Ambition is connecting and ambitiousness is isolating. 

Everyone says they want to change the world. But we all know that saying things and doing things are two entirely different universes. Walking your talk does matter. That's your ambition. Change your talk by walking. 

Think about what you say to yourself and to others. -How you define yourself and your future. Then start walking. 

Thanks for reading. John


Networking with Humility

Some of you that know me are wondering how I could write such a post. Humility has not always been my most evident trait. (That would be an understatement John!) But as they say, those who can't do, teach! :)

But my ego and self obsession have been down-sized over the years. I have been humbled by the world around me. Not sure it is seen by others, not sure I truly care. But I have made a concious effort to keep my hunger for self adulation in check. 

I am humbled every day by the needs of others, by the potential of the human spirit, by the unknown and the unknowable. I am in awe of everyone I meet for their uniquenness. For I used to under-estimate others and over-estimate myself. If I am aware I am filled with humility. Humility

As I started to become more self-aware, more authentic with myself, and more open to the world around me--I could not help but see how insignificant I am. That my relevance is tied to others. And to my pursuit of larger purposes and questions than myself. That the truth about education is the more you learn the more you discover what you don't know.

Always cracks me up, that some people think that getting another degree will clarify things for them--that they will obtain more certainty about their lives (not just their jobs/careers) If done well, education confuses the student more, in a good way. Education enables you to ask better questions. But I digress....

Don't be so humble you are not that great. Golda Meier

True humility is not an act. It is the real sense of your self importance in the bigger scheme of things--however you define it. It is toning down our arrogance and our sense of certainty. It is a realization that you are not the center of the universe.

I remember when I was 19 years old and I was completing a medical intake form for the first time by myself. It asked for my religion. I thought that was irrelevant, so I wrote "Protagonism". To my surprise the doctor inquired about my stated faith. I said. "I believe I am the main character of my story." Another failed attempt at Kobara humor:)

But we can be so deluded by our own individual perspective.

David Foster Wallace mused about this in his famous commencement address:

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

One strange manifestation of this  self-centeredness, is our unwillingness to reveal what we need to work on in our lives. Our inability to embrace what we need to know, learn and understand-- the way we are taught to address our weaknesses.

Popular career guidance sources preach "turn your weaknesses into strengths". When you network or interview you are supposed to provide these types of answers or assert these types of thoughts, when asked, "What areas are you trying to improve upon?" 

"I am a perfectionist. I want work to hard and too long to get things just right."

"I love to work too much. I am a work-aholic."

"I let others take the credit for the work I do. I don't assert myself enough."

For whatever reason, this is now SOP for many folks. They robotically say these things that have been commoditized and therefore regress to the mean instead of differentiating themselves.

I have found that more than 50% of students, networkers, job seekers--in my unscientific networking study--say they are stumped by a direct question about their "weaknesses". They literally say, "I don't know what to say." "I'll have to think about it." "Wow, that is a good question."

To have no weaknesses is not a sign of strength, but a sign of ignorance and even arrogance.

To me, this shows a hollowness, an emptiness, an immaturity and an abject lack of self awareness that repels potential opportunities.

A truthful, insightful answer that reveals the person's desire to improve is an endangered species.

Showing our vulnerability to others is seen as a weakness, but we know the opposite is true.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. Brene Brown 

How do I balance my strengths and show my upside as well? 

How do I express my qualifications and my competencies as well as my desire to learn and improve?

That they need me as much I need them.

How can opportunities be mutually beneficial arrangements where all parties have clear objectives to help each other?

This is the way the best networking and mentoring work. The reciprocity. The trust that exposes the needs and resources of both sides.

Humility is grounded in the understanding that the tip of the iceberg of your knowledge is dwarfed by what lies around and beneath you.  

When people know what you need and want, they can help you. 

It takes courage to know your needs. It takes real courage to ask for help.

More David Foster Wallace: Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

Listen more than you talk. Be prepared to give without expectations before you self promote. Put the needs of others before your own.

Then you will see that you are not the center of the universe but at the center of opportunity. 

Thanks for reading. John