ambition

Random Acts of Progress and the Drunkard's Walk

We unfortunately seem to be unconsciously biased against those in society who come out on top or the bottom. When we assess the world, we tend to see what we expect to see. We can equate degree of success with degree of talent and reinforce our conclusions of causality by noting the correlation. The worst type of confirmation bias. The " I wish more people worked hard, as I have"--myopic self-deception. In reality there is often little difference in ability/talent between the "successful" and the "unsuccessful". The biggest difference is how randomness impacted the outcomes and opportunities. 

In Leonard Mlodinow's insightful book: The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, he asserts how things that appear linear, cause and effect, and intentional, all the way down to the molecular level are random.

Whoa, I can feel I pushed your doubt buttons! Fair enough. But let me explain and allow some randomness to influence your thinking oh reader of great certainty ;)

The random motion of molecules in a fluid can be viewed as a metaphor for our own paths through life, and so it is worthwhile to take a little time to give Einstein’s work a closer look. According to the atomic picture, the fundamental motion of water molecules is chaotic. The molecules fly first this way, then that, moving in a straight line only until deflected by an encounter with one of their sisters. This type of path—in which at various points the direction changes randomly—is often called a drunkard’s walk, for reasons obvious to anyone who has ever enjoyed a few too many martinis (more sober mathematicians and scientists sometimes call it a random walk). If particles that float in a liquid are, as atomic theory predicts, constantly and randomly bombarded by the molecules of the liquid, one might expect them to jiggle this way and that owing to the collisions.

So many things we do are impacted by things we don't do and that sets us on a course--or a walk if you will. Things are always colliding with our direction and ideas and once in a while we see them or pay attention to them. We can take credit for these momentary and intermittent flashes of awareness. Our brains want to simplify the timeline so that we can take or give credit or issue blame.

Phone-whale_3188738b

Your place of birth, your parents, your health, your general DNA allocation was random. Even if you think that there was divine intervention or a pre-conceived destiny, there was a huge component of randomness that derived your 23 chromosomes. And all of the "decisions" you made or were made for you. 

What if I didn't accept my mentor's advice that led to a new career? Talked to that stranger who I married and have three kids with? Made that turn, or went to that event, or went on that date, or said yes, instead of no, or wore the red tie, or had Mexican instead of Italian...... Do you really know what would have could have happened? What we pay attention to makes a difference. 

For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

What we do know is not everyone is born into the same randomness, contexts for chance, opportunities for choice. There is great inequity in the sets of randomness we inherit. We all know the story of the immigrant who overcomes obstacles to become a billionaire. Or a blind singer who becomes a record breaking star. And if we are not careful we believe that random opportunity is out there for every immigrant or disabled person. 

We know the randomness at Exeter is different than at East LA Community College. The different molecules that are bombarding off of you will create different drunkard's walks. 

I don't think you can be deliberate about shaping your course forward because you then end up somewhere completely stale and expected.  

I think a lot about this relationship between cynicism and hope. And critical thinking without hope is cynicism. But hope without critical thinking is naïveté. Maria Popova

So I try to reside between the two to try to build a bridge, because blaming others and feeling hopeless about changing our course generates a feeling of futility. Then cynicism rises up to provide a false sense of protection while our dreams evaporate. We can restore our hope and energy by moving forward even if we are stumbling and failing along the way. 

But on the other hand, believing blindly that everything will work out just fine also produces a kind of resignation because we have no motive to apply ourselves toward making things better. And I think in order to survive, both as individuals and as a civilization, but especially in order to thrive, we need to bridge critical thinking with hope."

What appears random or "lucky" was usually right in front of you. You know when you think of something and then it appears everywhere--not talking about Google's algorithms :) Or the so-called Law of Attraction. But it is true when you think and discuss your needs your bucket list, your dream job, yes things "appear"

And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. Paolo Coelho

So two huge lessons I have learned. Help those with fewer choices and chances see the periphery, see the molecules around them, help them to allow life to happen and divert them from their unsatisfying pursuit of happiness.

Listen to your heart. Open your eyes. Let the paths that are there surround you and reveal themselves.

And for those with fewer chances and choices, those who are more bombarded by the molecules lower on Maslow's, help them have a better chance to see the molecules that are foreign and strange. Guide them to a space where they can see themselves. Where there is sufficiency of opportunity. Not a crutch but a helping hand to give them perspective.

Why? Because we need all of the talent we have to blossom. We desperately need more people to find what they want and to be less oppressed by what others expect. 

Randomness enables us to express things we did not know we had or wanted. Randomness awakens the genius in each of us. Randomness is the way of nature.

Not ignoring reality and responsibility, but being more aware of what interests us, taking chances, and eliminating regrets before they happen. 

The future is already here it just isn't evenly distributed. William Gibson

Life just appears before you. Choices, chances. Too often we try to take credit for what is and we forget how we got there. All of the advice, education, mistakes, mentoring, role models, and yes luck, should take a rear seat to our false and unfounded control over our destinies. 

Yes being focused helps immensely. Yes being planful is also very useful. But what are you missing while you plan? Is your plan and laser-like attention creating a myopia that ignores amazing opportunities or revelations.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. Emerson

Random acts of kindness and progress. Allowing the molecules of randomness push us on our own drunkard's walk and discover new people and places. 

Judy Rupp's excerpt from Old maps don't work

It is time for the pilgrim in me
to travel in the dark,
to learn to read the stars
that shine in my soul.
I will walk deeper
into the dark of my night.
I will wait for the stars.
trust their guidance.
and let their light be enough for me.

 Thanks for reading. John

 


The Key Connection to a More Unrealistic You

Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.  St Augustine

Maybe it is the new year, maybe it is my stage in life, maybe it is the truth that is emerging around me. While I have been saying this for many years, ...."the most important connection, the first connection you must make is to yourself," this idea has  Key-in-door-1024x685more meaning and power than ever before. Let me explain. 

I have always been drawn to thinkers and writers who have expounded on passion, meaning, and purpose. I strongly believe that without these elements driving one's life you will be lost in a series of transactional moments that may not add up to what you wanted. Life is not your resume. It is not a list of achievements sans failures and challenges. It is not a string of happy moments, interrupted by sad moments. Your life is a precious and amazing opportunity, everyday to do good as you define it. To do what you love to do. To make a difference. Intuitively I know you get this. But doing it is rough. 

So I am constantly looking for the clues, the inspirations, the insights of others who can show me the way. The way to more persistently becoming myself. Becoming and understanding myself so I can overcome so many self erected barriers to my own path.

Lot of popular notions out there that I am sure you have noted. The Ms are very popular:

  • Mindfulness
  • Meaning
  • Meditation

The Ps are also competing for your interests:

  • Presence
  • Purpose
  • Passion

So the M's and the P's are powerful words that are all on the endangered species list of words that become diluted through popular usage.

I have been recently  influenced by words and ideas from Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, Sherwin Nuland's The Way We Live (and Die), E. O. Wilson's The Meaning of Human Existence, Brene Brown on Vulnerability, anything from the Dalai Lama, Krista Tippett's show On Being, Bernard Glassman's Instruction to the Cook....

This is not a book list for you to buy. I am resisting giving you snippets and quotes here. You should subscribe to Brain Pickings for extraordinary summaries of important literature, including some of these sources I have listed. There are so many great sources of smart people thinking about these questions out there. Find things that speak to You. 

Engage and enhance your network to talk about these issues. 

Like you, I continue to find my place. Someone said to me the other day, "I wish I was like you. You have a purpose and a plan." Wow did I fool him :)

Tis one thing to speak and write about it, tis another thing to do it.

There is lots of research on life satisfaction. The work of Hannes Schwandt is particularly fascinating. Builds on research that spans 50 countries and many socio-economic groups. This is what I have interpreted. The peak of peak of happiness is 85. 85! There is this U shape to our life satisfaction. Starts high and goes steadily down until 45ish and then builds back up and reaches a high point in the mid 80's. Why?, Because when we are young we have "overly -optimistic" read unrealistic expectations about our lives. We want a lot. We have dreams and ambitions untethered to terra firma. This creates disappointment. College majors and aspirations turn out differently and life happens. In the late 40's and through the 50's we have another moment of reality. Expectations (different from aspirations) are super high. Was this what I was meant to do? Is this all there is? Financial realities take their toll. Each stage you shed more and more of what is unrealistic and our optimism takes a seat at the back of the bus. By the time you are in your 80's you simply do not care any more. This is the brutal phrase from the research, "...unmet expectations are abandoned and less regret is experienced..." Regrets evaporate. Time is very short so let's not waste any more. You are old and very happy. Is this maturity or the ultimate death of our dreams?

I am not saying this is going to happen to you, but it is happening. Apparently it happens like clockwork according to the researchers. I know you are not "average", after all you are reading my blog. :) And we can take the safeties off our blamethrowers and aim them many places. For me, shedding all of the expectations of others and society is a great starting point. If you are honest with yourself you have to sort through what is YOU from what is not. This is the ultimate preventive measure against the gravitational pull of the U curve. Turn this U into YOU.  As I said at the beginning, it starts with you, the key connection you have to make.

I know it can feel like a runaway train that does not respond to herculean tugs on the emergency cord. But you got to stop the train and take a walk with yourself. To listen to YOU. To hear your heartbeat and the voice within. There is a small penitentiary within you of trapped ideas, emotions, and yes dreams that yearn for your company, attention and the light of day.

I wish I could hand you the next three steps to You. I would if I had them. But you are unique. You are also on a human trajectory that has predictable elements and phases. Maybe true happiness is when we get to an age and stage where we have abandoned all unrealistic things, we regret nothing because we don't care any more, and we appreciate life because it is ending. Some research says so. I am not going to allow it to happen for me.

I want to eliminate regrets before they accumulate and take up precious shelf space and then I will have fewer "unmet expectations".

The Chumash native americans have a saying in one of their blessings that always jolts me:

"When you are born you begin to die."

Time is a luxury. Do not take it for granted. You never get it back.

I still believe in change. For me and for the world. I have research that says that it is possible. :)

I believe that you can change. I see it everyday. But no one can make the change but You. And there it goes again, we return to You and to see ourselves anew.

I am wishing You the greatest year of your life. Make it a bit optimistic and unrealistic. :)

 Thanks for reading. John


Like what you got to get what you like

People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives. J. Michael Straczynski

How do we take full responsibility for where we are? Embrace what we are doing to get where we need to go. See our current opportunity as the best step to advance our lives and the lives of others.

Put the victim, excuses, entitlement and blame game behind us and power ahead by embracing the present.

Not talking about "hanging in there" or "toughing it out" or certainly not "waiting for something good to come along."

You underestimate what you have and how it can help you advance.

How do we love what we do to do what we love?

What you say to yourself and others becomes who you are. Your story is what connects you to your future and to others.

You attract whatever negative and or positive vibes you give off.

"I hate my job." "I can't wait to get out of here." "I don't believe in what I am doing any more."

It's odd but very frequent when people tell me that they are basically unhappy with their jobs and their lives. By the way, 70% of Americans say they are disengaged from their jobs--70%! (Gallup State of the American Workplace)

People say the darndest things. :) They appear to have little pride in themselves. 

As the Mad Hatter advised Alice at the tea party:

Then you should say what you mean. 

I do,' Alice hastily replied; `at least--at least I mean what I say--that's the same thing, you know.

Not the same thing a bit!' said the Hatter.

You might just as well say,' added the March Hare, `that "I like what I get" is the same thing as "I get what I like"!

So say what you mean but mean what you say! And like what you got to get what you like!

You got to embrace your circumstances, your current work, your employer and your life---because it's what you got. And you have to describe what you have by appreciating the positive and making lemonade.

I am not saying to stay at a toxic job. I am not saying to sugar coat your thoughts about your work and to lie about it. I am not talking about blind loyalty. I am speaking of a loyalty and commitment to yourself. This is your job. This is your life. And to the extent you allow your job to define you, you have to own it. 

And your narrative, your storyline, can't be just negative. What you say about your work reflects on you and impacts your buzz and your trajectory.

So many people sound like fugitives to me. They are fleeing something to find something better. They have a foot out the door and are seeking the next thing. They are not in the present but stuck in the past and scheming about the future. They are not in the now. Just finished the New New Thing by Michael Lewis. Your life can't always be about the new new thing but about the now now thing. 

Opportunities seek those that adapt and succeed and make the most out of what they have. 

First of all the pursuit of life driven by passion and meaning can only be partially satisfied by one's professional career. For some fortunate people, work life can generate the bulk of one's life satisfaction. But for many of us we have to adopt a portfolio approach to life. Like your investments you need an allocation strategy to create returns from multiple sources which can "hedge" the others. We need a constellation of interests to feed our great hunger and curiosity for stimulation and meaning. If we place all of our eggs in one basket, place all of our chips on one bet, invest all of our energy into our job, the result is predictably an insufficient life.

Life choicesPeople who are engaged in their lives. Who exude energy, confidence and positivity. These are people who by and large manage a broad and diverse portfolio of interests and activities. Their day job is but one source of their life force.

These are people who are busy, really busy. They make the most of what they have and they always seem in demand.

Get your story straight. What are you doing now that is interesting and engaging? Own where you are regardless of the challenges. Love it. Build on what you have to get to the next step in your plan.

What are you optimizing for?, asks Brian David Johnson, Intel's futurist.  How are you using the present to plan your evolving future? How are you spending your work time and non-work time to provide more stimulation and growth? What is energizing your progress and your momentum now? What skills, knowledge and abilities are you honing?

It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. Epictetus

One of the reasons why so few of us ever act, instead of react, is because we are continually stifling our deepest impulses. Henry Miller

Don't dismiss your life as "Not what I want to do" or "It's just a job" Talk about what's emerging for you. Talk about what you are optimizing for. That will help you and others see your path.

You are going somewhere, right? And this place where you are is the best place to get there--because that's where you are!

Be what you say and say what you are. Appreciate what you have and who you are. And do it with pride and energy. 

Success is going from one failure to the next with enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

Thanks for reading. John


Bonsai and the Elephant

BonsaiI have always admired bonsai as a living piece of art. The idea that you could miniaturize a tree was amazing to me. I visited bonsai gardens as a child and remember seeing a forest of cypress that were under 18 inches tall.

But when I heard Professor Yunus discuss Bonsai People, I started to think about the ways we miniaturize people's potential and their dreams. How we limit our own potential and dreams. How we bonsai others and ourselves. 

As Professor Yunus says, we do build pots around many people. Pots of stereotypes.  Pots of indifference. Pots of our lowered expectations. The poor lack the base or space to grow.

Sometimes well intentioned people try to "help" others by making their goals "more realistic". The parent who tells his daughter not to become an artist because there is no money in it. The college counselor who told me I was not university material. 

These are all root trimming activities. Ways of clipping the potential of another. 

THE STORY OF THE ELEPHANT   The elephant is the strongest animal in the kingdom. But it is very strange  the way circus trainers keep the elephants tied up. Wrapped around the leg of the little baby elephant will be a great big chain; but wrapped around the leg of the huge adult elephant will be a little flimsy rope. The elephant trainer will tell you that after a few months of straining against a big chain, the baby elephant will finally give up. After that, the trainer can replace the big strong chain with a weak little rope, and the elephant never knows the difference. Even thought the adult elephant could snap the rope with one mighty tug of his foot, he never even tries. Why? Because the long months of struggling against the chain have conditioned and convinced him to believe that it's impossible!

What imaginary rope or pot limits your thinking and your pursuit of what you can be?

Some people really believe that "somebody else" will free them from their self imposed bondage. Yes, it does take mentors, colleagues, coaches, sponsors and teachers to show you options, paths and opportunities to break free from the circus trainer and bonsai gardener. You do need a network or truth tellers to give you real feedback. But you have to be open to it.

When the student is ready the teacher appears.  Buddha

Do we maintain the pots we are planted in? Are others to blame for the pot we are in?  Yes society, your DNA and your environment contribute greatly to your pot. But what are you going to do about it? 

Love it or leave it?

Break out or break through? Elephant rope

Stop complaining about the pot or rope the supposedly holding you back. Take control of your career and your life.

Met this kid who grew up in the hood and will graduate from a prestigious private school. He convinced his parents that he needed more education. He got people to support him morally and financially. He is passionate about his future and difference he will make. Hard to count the pots he has broken and grown out of. He wanted more, pursued it, got some help and now can taste it. Nobody will ever miniaturize his dreams again.

In the same week met with a former colleague who has everything. She is well educated has money in the bank and many options. But she is stuck. Her pot has thick and high walls that she imagines. No vision for her future. No desire to improve. Just hoping to get "more". More opportunities and more responsibilities. I gave her advice but it slid off of her teflon coating. She does not want to make an effort to change. She is going to wait for the "right" time. Wow. Easy to predict that she will get root rot and her pot will continue to stunt her growth. A self made bonsai.

There will never be a better time than right now. I don't mean quit your job today, but to take serious and continuous steps to break free from the little rope that has conditioned you to stay put. Not even the proverbial golden handcuffs, but paper handcuffs that are forged from your fears. Your fear of your own potential.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.  Michelangelo

As I have said many times big difference between ambitious and ambition. Wanting "more" is way different than going after "more". 

More will not usually come looking for you. And if it does you have to be ready. 

Bonsai are the most cared for, pampered, plants in the world. They are so dependent on this care that they will not succeed without it. Maybe you really like where you are, then stop talking about a different future. Enjoy what you have.  

So either stay in your pot and become a beautiful groomed bonsai. Or get your Shawshank on!

Most people can become bonsai. Great seeds that yearn for the light but find that their pot is comfortable and ultimately restricts their mobility. 

We have an obligation to help others break free of their constraints to grow. And to not miniaturize other people's dreams.

Thanks for reading. John


Do I look like my next job?

Was watching the Golf Hall of Fame Induction ceremony the other night. Fred Couples was inducted and introduced by sportscaster Jim Nantz. Jim re-told the great story about the dreams they had as classmates and team mates on the University of Houston golf team. In 1978 Fred Couples and Jim Nantz, a broadcast journalism student at the time, rehearsed many times the scenario where Fred won the Masters and Jim interviewed him holding a fake microphone. On April 12, 1992 this very dream ACTUALLY happened, just like they had planned. Freddie won the Masters and Jim interviewed him in Butler Cabin fourteen years later! 

Fred and jim
Fred Couples and Jim Nantz 1992

Part of looking like your next job means you prepare for it, you envision it, and you have rehearsed it. 

But the salient point here is they had a dream. They knew what they wanted. Their vision proceeded their ambitiousness.

It's never foolish to begin preparing for a transition no matter how many years away it is or where you are in your career. Muriel Wilkins

Amy Gallo advocates these principles in her blog:

Do:

  • Look for every opportunity to demonstrate your leadership potential, at work and outside t
  • Support your boss in reaching her goals
  • Find people in positions you aspire to and study what makes them successful

 Don't:

  • Let your ambitions distract you from doing your current job well
  • Exert authority where you don't have any — use influence to prove your leadership chops
  • Find the right time to openly discuss your ambitions

I was sitting at a career event dinner and a young woman across the table from me blurts out, "Hey, is there any truth that I should look like I want my boss's job?" I paused and asked whether she was talking about dressing for success or was it more than that. She said, "Yes, what I wear, but also what I do." Now before all of you roll your eyes and groan--how naive this young lady is--let me tell you few people, young and more mature, get this. One of the funny parts of this story is I learned later that her boss was sitting next to me!

She clearly had thought about this question and showed some guts to ask it. Here's a brief synopsis of our exchange:

First make sure you know what you want and want what you know. Yes, how you look, act, talk, perform, shapes your brand within the organization. Your brand is what people think about what you bring to work. Your brand is where people think you are going. Your brand is the potential others, including you boss, see for you. (Not what you see for yourself) So, how you look matters. But what you say and what you do matters more. 

I mentioned the PIE research to her. Where your Performance is a given and is the least influential in your promotability. It is your Image (your brand) and your Exposure (your visibility) that dwarf your performance  in terms of your promotability. This surprised her.

We discussed her "managing up" skills. Does she help her boss beyond her job by making observations, preparing thought pieces, giving feedback, and anticipating her boss's needs?

A successful middle manager gets promoted when she takes the right amount of initiative, defers the right amount of credit and orchestrates success. That success might happen despite (not because) of who her bosses are, and that's just fine, because she's leading up.   Seth Godin

And then I said, "You gotta look like your next job." Meaning--if you dress down to your level then people may not see you as a manager or an executive. We all know the clothes don't make the person, but your brand is your brand. If the culture at your place of employment is managers wear suits, then you need to adjust your look. If your culture is the executives get in early or stay late. Or if the culture is reading certain publications or attending certain events. Then you need to adapt to these cultural norms and values.

My favorite story on this topic is when a gang member named Leonard came to Father Greg Boyle to seek his advice on getting a job. Leonard told him that he gets interviews but never an offer. Leonard had tattooed on his forehead in 3 inch letters F#@K THE WORLD. I met Leonard after he had that tattoo removed from his head and now he has more opportunities. 

I know this is extreme but I have seen, worked with, and managed people who discuss their lofty career plans out of one side of their mouth and then they come to work looking like they don't care. Their dress communicates the same phrase as Leonard's old forehead!

Management, the executive team, see potential in the performance and then the brand of the person. 

When the student is ready the teacher appears.  Buddha

Use your network and your mentors to  check your forehead. :) To check your vision. To check what you want. To check your brand. That will help you see yourself and find out if you look like your next job. 

Thanks for reading.  John


Want greener pastures but hate the weeding

Many of us have visions of ourselves and our futures that give us hope or delusion. We think about these visions and often make no efforts to purse them. Potentially dangerous stuff because we get mesmerized by our dream and get lulled to sleep.

Like Lenny in Mice and Men. We dream and then can literally squeeze the life out of our dreams by not waking up and taking action.

"One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is we put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon-instead of enjoying the roses blooming outside our window." Dale Carnegie

Rose garden

I hear a lot about these rose gardens or  "greener pastures" that exist in our dreams and over the horizon. Specific ideas and details of what lies ahead--in our imaginations. These roses are inviting and aromatic. The grass is green and lush. Green pasture

The trouble is we don't  actually visit these garden and pasture like places. Maybe we don't want to ruin the image and perfection. Maybe we are afraid of failure. Maybe we are too busy--yikes! Maybe we are waiting for the "right" time--double yikes!

I get exhausted from hearing these visions with no action. 

People ask me everyday, "What is a good mentor?" A good mentor pushes the mentee to start a rose garden or weed the pasture of their dreams. A good mentor will not tolerate hearing about the dream more than a couple of times without seeing real steps in pursuing that dream. I am trying to be a good mentor right now.

Stop talking about your dream and test it. Bring some reality to the dream by taking field trips to that place.

I recently was introduced by a friend in Barcelona to a new friend from Germany: Balazs. He has been dreaming about moving his family and business to LA. He had a short stint here in a study abroad program and a family member recently moved here. He was convinced that the pasture was greener in LA. He decided to pursue his dream. He researched the business environment, used his network--that's where I was contacted--and flew to LA. He gave himself a month to explore the pastures of LA and the limits of his dream. He immersed himself in a new place. Balazs is very bright and talented, but he is a reserved and trusting guy. Yet he pushed himself to network and jump into new situations, and literally knock on doors to conduct his research. He was like an amazing advance man for a big campaign. Testing messages, needs, and interest all the while selling himself. Hard stuff. I connected him to my network and he ran with it. He met hundreds of people, visited dozens of companies and in the end, conducted a thorough investigation of his dream. What he didn't expect was how this tour of LA was a tour of his soul, of his assumptions about his business and about his life. Because Balazs was open to the feedback, he learned that LA could work if he changed his dream. His dream has been tempered by reality and he can now decide if it is greener.

Reminds me of the two shoe salesmen who visited Africa many years ago. The first wrote back and said,"No one wears shoes here, no opportunities." The second one wrote back, "No one wears shoes, huge opportunity." Going to see things changes how you view things.

I have heard these phrases recently. I call them ambitiousness without ambition. 

I want to get an MBA.  What's the GMAT?

I want to own my own business. What's ebitda?

I want to run a non-profit without fundraising.

Who doesn't want the success without the work? The dream without waking up.

We say silly things and then dream about them. 

We need to know what we are saying and dreaming about. Reality can bring those pastures into focus and purse them. Or allow you to delete that dream and build a new one. What a waste of a life to regret a dream you did not want. 

Not trying to deter you from dreaming just dream in HD. Dream accurately. Understand the path to the dream. Every beautiful rose garden has thorns, bugs, and you have to bury some manure. Every picturesque green pasture has weeds, vermin, and requires a lot of work. 

Use your network and your mentors to visit the pastures and meet the farmers. Learn about the soil and seed. Wear the shoes. Is it still green?.

Curiousity may have killed the cat but it may breathe life into your dreams. 

Balazs traveled 6000 miles to test his dream. Odds are your dreams are so much closer.

Wake up, stand up, and smell the roses and run through those pastures. 

Thanks for reading. John


Jungle Gymnastics

If you always do what you have always done then you always get what you always got.  -Stuart Crabb, Director of Learning at Facebook

Had the chance to spend time with Stuart at an intimate conference last week. Facebook has invested  alot of time and effort to craft a learning culture at FB, from which we can learn a few things. Stuart went through the following myths that FB helps its employees overcome. Myths that can stifle career growth, mentoring, personal and professional development.

  1. I can learn most from those with more experience than me. --I learn from everyone around me. Age and tenure are not the only determinants of wisdom and relevance.
  2. Excellence is defined by what I know and what I can do well.-- excellence is defined by my strengths and what I ship-- not my efforts but what I deliver. Hone your uniqueness, your talents, and your strengths to set yourself apart.
  3. Effective learning is in books and classrooms.--Being more open to continuous education, than just formal education will make you smarter. Small bites of real time learning on the job are most powerful. 
  4. My performance review helps me stay on track and grow.--Annual reviews are archaic and too late. To grow and adapt you seek real time feedback and frequent feedback on your strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Progression in my company and industry is vertical and logical.--Career development  is more like a jungle gym than a ladder. You have to take risks and follow your heart. You have to gain lateral experiences to move up.

Jungle gym 4

The greatest skills are adaptability, flexibility, and resilience. Key skills for the jungle gym and the jungle of your career choices and experiences. No way to predict the future. No way to have certainty about your life. You will make mistakes. You will ascend and descend. You will fall. You will get back up. The questions are: How much do you learn through change? Do you lose or gain momentum at each of these junctures? 

I use to say that career development was more like Super Mario Bros, which shows you how dated, but yet relevant this analogy still is. The idea of jumping on and off of platforms. The courage to take chances on your passions. The concept of risk/reward. To have the resources, skills and "weapons" to overcome the obstacles, challenges and changes that are thrown in front of you.  

I like Crabb's jungle gym as a much better metaphor for life and career. It is more playful and accessible. It gives you a complete visual for the options you have. That there are many ways to successfully climb and enjoy your journey.

There is always someone who tries to go straight to the top. Some go up and down the slide. Others who look for creative and challenging routes and experiences. All of these paths are real and legitimate, as long as you do not believe that a linear path is your only route, it never is. Like the MD who is required to do "internships" on all aspects of medicine and the body before specializing. Having breadth and depth of knowledge and experience will always help you transfer those skills. And taking a less direct to the top enables you to discover your strengths and passions. We all know people who rise too quickly and fall just as fast. 

I meet people all of the time who want to run for-profit and non-profit organizations with little or no expertise except confidence and ambition. Real confidence comes from learning and understanding how things work. 

Jump on the jungle gym and explore it and see where it takes you. Have fun and discover who you are. Literally and figuratively learn the ropes and steps led by your passions. Then you will define the jungle gym instead of it defining you. 

Thanks for reading. John


Winning without being first

Opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat.--Napoleon Hill

Talked to a friend who saw his dream job in a passive Linked In message. He was surprised that a job like this existed and wasn't even looking. (amazing what happens when you are not looking) He applied and got to the finals and could taste it. But was told he did not have a little extra the #1 candidate had. He was deeply disappointed. Over the next few months. he licked his wounds and chalked it up as a lesson of life and was deeply grateful that he found an example of what his next adventure would be. But then time and a positive perspective yield benefits. Low and behold, he gets a call from the recruiter and the "better" candidate quit and my friend was being back if he was still interested! No other candidates will be interviewed so it appears he will get his dream job.Tortoise and hare

In my travels, I have heard this story over and over again. People who suffer the initial disappointing defeat of a door slammed in their face only to find a new window swings open through persistence and grace.

I truly believe things happen for a reason and if you don't give up on who you are and what you want, new opportunities are revealed. New paths appear. I have learned that there are many paths that can take you where you want to go and to wonderful places you did not know existed.

It's not what happens to us, but the response to what happens to us that hurts us. ---Stephen Covey

My career path is a road filled with potholes, detours and surprising off ramps. Not to mention the paths I chose NOT to take. While I'd like to take credit for my trajectory, the truth is I was rarely the top pick for anything. I have learned over time that my persistence and presence kept me in the process and sometimes, through a series of quirks and situations I was hired. I know that my mentors and network played a much bigger role than I ever did.

My hiring at the UCLA Alumni Association only happened after a series of candidates turned the job down. I was the "least qualified" of all of the candidates considered, according to the executive search firm in charge of the placement. My lack of university and alumni relations experience was considered a major deficiency. Once I became interested in this job, I waged a "campaign" to get it. During this time, unbeknownst to me, all of the top candidates fell away. I asked all of my references to advocate for my candidacy. As a result, I was politely asked, "please stop the lobbying". In the end, I believe expressing my serious interest in the position was the difference that got me the job.

Once you get it, what placed you finished in the original race is irrelevant.

Numerous times my hiring, appointment to a board, and selection as a keynote speaker came after the top candidates were considered. I don't have a complex about this! :) I have learned that the tortoise can win the race. That being available, qualified, well-connected, and truly interested in the opportunity has always mattered.

I love the story about how Dick Clark got his big break on the Bandstand television show, when the original host was arrested for drunk driving. While I am sure Clark wanted the job, he was never expecting that his radio career would become a tv career in an unexpected moment. Clearly he was ready!Paul macarelli

My fav story involves Paul Marcarelli, the "Can you hear me now?" guy from Verizon. Paul was filming one of his famous commercials at our house and talking to a group of my kids and neighbors. One of the kids blurted out, "How much do you make?" And after an uncomfortable silence, Paul told these mesmerized kids that he was living his dream and makes "millions", but that he was not Verizon's first choice.  As Paul tells the story, he was an understudy, who's primary occupation was a waiter. When the first commercial was to be filmed, the lead actor came onto the set heavily made up to conceal his new black eye. Apparently he had a rough nite which ended in a bar fight. The Director fired the actor and summoned Paul in front of the cameras--for the next 9 years. And the rest is history!

What does all this mean?

  • Always be ready. Always look like you are ready.
  • Every interview is important to build your brand, no matter where you end up.
  • Be open and ready for a new and unexpected opportunity.
  • Stay in touch with your "dream" employer. Stuff happens.
  • Continue building your skills and delivering the goods.
  • Keep your netwok engaged with your searches and your dreams
  • Never give up on your dreams or yourself.

It is not whether you win, it is whether you get the opportunity. And you get the opportunity if you are consistently ready, willing and able.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Your slice of life depends on your PIE

The PIE system to advance your career is something I have taken for granted. I have seen the truth of the PIE reveal itself to me through all of my experiences and through many other people. And in the last few weeks I have found myself talking about this PIE concept with colleagues, friends, and mentees. For most people, it can unlock the doors of opportunity and change assumptions and habits to get you on a better trajectory. Harvey Coleman first discussed the PIE in his 1996 book Empowering Yourself.

Performance: Your achievements and competencies at workApple pie

Image: Your "brand", how you are perceived--rising star? reliable but invisible? good performer with no ambition?

Exposure: Your visibility through collaboration, your network, your relationships with higher ups, your mentor/sponsorships, and your engagement outside your job and department.

I meet so many people that are frustrated with their careers, their jobs, and to a real and substantial degree, with their lives. Every story is complex and there is no one-size fits all approach. But as I have discussed in these pages ad nauseum, the pursuit of passion and the integration of passion into your lives is THE key ingredient for a fulfilling existence. That your compass is always pointing where your heart is beating fastest. So, I will assume you get this as the entree before your PIE.

Here are several types of employed people I meet who struggle with their careers and where the PIE can help:

  • Younger, ambitious types who want to know the quickest path to the top
  • People "stuck" in a role or a job and want to break out and make a change
  • Mid managers in big orgs who want to traverse to a different division
  • People of color and women who experience glass ceilings and walls.

Been in many sessions with young people (first job types), executives, managers and women of color to discuss these slices of the PIE. They are asked to estimate the percentage--the weight each component carries to propel people up the food chain. No one gets it right. In fact the estimates are almost always exactly the opposite of the reality.PIE To the right is what Mr Coleman and I have found to be true.

P      Performance     ? %

I      Image                ? %

E    Exposure            ? %

Performance: This is fundamental assumption. If you aren't performing at the highest level by exceeding expectations and goals, then you can't think about mobility. Mr. Coleman called this "your ticket into the stadium" of competition. People who are stuck in their careers always get this one wrong.

Image: Personal brand management is critical. How people perceive your work, your presence and your contributions makes a difference. Most people scoff at this. This is the trap door that many people fall through which derails their ambitions. The way you dress, what you are paying attention to, your, written and verbal abilities, what you read, your leadership skills--do you look and act like a future leader/executive? People say they want to be VP, then act, dress and comport themselves is ways that are anti-VP. These people wonder why they are passed over for promotions, really?!! Not talking about the "game" of appearance. I am talking about your persona, intellect, actions--whether the person looks and smells like someone who is interested in the greater good of the organization, who gains influence through their ideas and thoughts and challenges the system with innovation and efficiency.

Exposure: After the first two steps are secured then exposure, your visibility, as a leader, as a person of action, as a connector is the difference maker. This is where adopting the lifestyle of mentoring and networking pays off! In your cubicle, your team and even in your department--there is a limited amount of impact you can have to advance goals, strategies, and RESULTS! Future managers, leaders, and executives have to bring together resources, ideas, and solutions outside of their domains. Exposure shows off your ability to succeed with others. It is easy to meet your personal goals by yourself. But engaging others shows you can manage and perhaps lead. Do you have a network of advisors, mentors, and sponsors within the organization and outside of work to guide you and provide truthful feedback? Exposure is not publicity or public relations--that is superficial stuff. It is not brown nosing or sucking up. It is the hard word of earning and gaining the confidence of others through relationships and results. It is not the ability to meet and greet a lot of people. It is not someone who becomes friends with the boss. It is the day in and day out proof that you are growing your influence and competence outside of the limits and confines of your job.

A few suggestions to advance your PIE:

  1. Self assessment--Rank yourself on these attributes. Be honest and write down strengths, gaps and opportunities.
  2. External assessment--Seek mentors or other confidantes (could be your boss) on your promotability. What does she/he see as your SWOT.
  3. Find a role model(not necessarily a mentor)--Someone who you see as doing it right. Someone who is achieving success or has reached your goal and to whom you can relate. Research this person(s), reach out to them and meet with them. Think outside of your environment and employer.
  4. Make changes--Based on the above, start a persistent process to do a make-over. Strengthen each slice of your PIE.

We all want a bigger slice of the pie of life to give us purpose and meaning. Many of us want more responsibility, growth opportunities, promotions, pay increases, and higher level jobs. Some of this is blind ambition, hopefully it is driven something more personal than "more is better." That is a recipe for unending dissatisfaction if there is no passion. So PIE is a good tool to confront your strategy to advance your career and your life and to get a much more fulfilling slice of it.

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


What triggers change?--My week long journey to the center of meaning

Last Sunday, I got the chance to catch up with Glenn, my best friend from high school. We met out in Palm Springs to golf and to, as they say in Hawaii, talk story. Our friendship has spanned 45 years and endured many challenges and been punctuated by many adventures. Anyway, as we age, Glenn I end up talking about serious things. The meaning of our lives. Our kids futures. The future of the world. As we looked out onto the Palm Desert landscape, Glenn asserted that the "next generation is not as motivated" to put in the effort and sweat equity to obtain the lifestyles and more important the type of country we all want. This is partly the classic and inevitable discussion of all older generations complaining about the next generations. But it was also a conversation about what will it take for young people and all of us to return to the basics, set aside our cushy expectations and entitlements, and actually invest time and energy in work. Glenn and I believe that you learn about yourself, you establish values, you appreciate what you have, by working and literally and figuratively making a living. I can hear the, Typical Boomers! chant. It is true, we are creatures of our upbringing and OUR parents lives.

We came to many conclusions on how the world could be a better place--of course if Glenn and I ran it! :) However, one of them was really disturbing to me. Only hardship, tragedy, and the threat of either will get people to change. Change, meaning people engaging in the fundamental process of taking responsibility for their own destinies. For people to work at their lives instead of hoping something good will happen. For people to commit to new goals, values, habits, new skills, strengthen relationships and to become who they were meant to be. To take responsibility for their own lives and fully understand that they can drive their own destines.Carrot

So the stick is more powerful than the carrot?!! Really. We can not be motivated to take action with inspiration alone? It takes an "enemy" and fear for us to change? It is well known that money will never sustain our motivation or ever truly inspire us. The research on that is conclusive. Daniel Pink's new book Drive reviews 5 decades of research on this subject if you have doubts. But I was unsettled by the fact that I could not refute this conclusion: That fear may be the greatest and most effective motivator.

"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."  Samuel Johnson

Losing our job, getting cancer, death of a loved one, and bankruptcy force us to take inventory of our lives and potentially change. Learning about somebody else's misfortune is not the same. It gives us pause, but we always think WE are different. So we only redefine our lives when tragedy befalls us?

I attended a community meeting where the subject was the future of at risk youth. It was a robust and emotional discussion of the causes and consequences of "the system" vs the individuals. One mother asserted that her kids had no chance with the "institutional discrimination" and "economic racism" that is embedded in our society. A man stood up and said, "My track coach taught me to focus on the finish line. And if there are hurdles in the way, just get over them. The more we feel like victims, the higher the hurdles will appear." We know there is truth in both perspectives. The challenges for the poor and vulnerable are daunting. And without a mindset of self determination and self-reliance no one can succeed. The finish line can provide focus, but the hurdles can add motivation or they can deter.Hurdles  

On Wednesday I led a workshop in Plano Texas for a group of FritoLay managers and leaders who were tracked for accelerated paths. My job was to help them think about their opportunities and what they wanted. I used the carrot of the chance their employer was providing them. We discussed career and life strategies. We reflected on where they were going and why. One of the participants came up to me after our 4 hours together and said, "How will I know who I am? And what I want? I want to change, but there are so many expectations of me." I marveled at his candor and his moment of wonder about himself. I simply said, "Keep listening to yourself. Keep listening to your heart."

My week ended up at a celebration of the life of a dear friend who is dying. While we all are dying, few of us really live. A group of us did not want to wait until her memorial to express our gratitude and appreciation. For me, it is too late. I hate learning things about people at their funerals. We spent a wonderful afternoon learning and celebrating her diverse life. It was inspirational. It was uplifting. It gave all 120 of us a view of what is possible if we live to our fullest. It reminded us of how precious life is and how brief our time together can be. So were people inspired to change their lives by a great role model or by the fear of their own deaths?

I know it is both. And it really does not matter. Whatever helps us re-define our lives to push us to improve is great. We need examples of what life can be and we need the whack in the head from fear. We need to let people hit some hurdles so they can get back up and re-focus on the finish line. I am so optimistic about the future and the next generation. However we must guide, not coddle, our young people to let them find themselves so their dynamic DNA can flourish. We need to actively seek ways we can motivate ourselves and each other through the amazing blend of fear and inspiration that life gives us everyday.

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 


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


Network with your Boss: Manage, influence and challenge up!

There are so many misconceptions and myths about networking and mentoring. One of the most ignored and neglected networking opportunities is with your boss. Many people mistakenly think that relationship development is aimed at only new, external prospects, and higher ups outside of your work environment. Those of you who have followed my principles and posts know that the key to effective networking is to focus on your existing network. People that you know and are comfortable with are the keys to your success. And your boss is one of them. Bob Beaudine in his book The Power of Who calls this "The Who". The people in your inner circle. We tend to neglect people we know, or think we know. And one of the most neglected and overlooked targets of networking is your immediate supervisor. I can hear you loud and clear! "That relationship is not going to yield the sort of benefits I need!" "I need new inspiration and new ideas." Perhaps. Perhaps not. Nevertheless, your current boss can determine your fate, your greater influence as an employee and undoubtedly your future path. And if you have invested a great deal of time and energy in understanding your boss and his or her perspective, background and connections, then you are the exception. My experience tells me you just haven't. By the way, this applies double if you do NOT have a great relationship with your manager!  Managing up

Somehow you got this boss. You had something to do with it when you got hired or promoted or transferred. You picked this employer and supposedly evaluated the organization's capacity to nurture your special and unique gifts. You must have conducted some due diligence on your hiring manager, right? It is well understood that the professional development culture, your specific boss' desire and capacity to grow talent AND your chemistry with this person is worth 20%+ of your comp. But hopefully you already knew that. If not, make a pledge to do it in your next transition, especially if you are making a career shift. Really young green inexperienced people do not assess the quality of their supervisor and get distracted by the reputation of the employer (I want to work for Disney for example) or the initial salary and often a not so helpful boss. Your ticket to a sustainable and growth filled career trajectory are placed in the hands of your immediate supervisor and his/her boss.

Marshall Goldsmith in his book Mojo recounts many stories and case studies about these challenges. Here is an excerpt from the book where Goldsmith gives his advice:

Every decision in the world is made by the person who has the power to make that decision--not the "right" person, or the "smartest" person, or the "most qualified" person, and in most cases this is not you. If you influence this decision maker, you can make a positive difference. If you do not influence this person you will certainly not make a positive difference. Make peace with this. You will have a better life, help your organization in positive ways and be happier.

Goldsmith is referring to your supervisor! And the power and choice you have to influence your boss and manage up!

We have all  dealt with difficult and important "customers". Quirks, attitudes, and personalities that we had to endure to get the job done. Just holding our nose, doing the minimum, or avoiding contact would be career suicide. You had to use your full complement of powers and talents to make it work with grace and with professionalism. And many times you would actually enjoy it, the process of the relationship. Yes, there are the jerks that we have encountered. But most people, once you get to know them are decent well-intentioned, and often very interesting. Your boss is your most important "customer". He/she needs TLC but also expects great work and service.

Don't respond like a sitcom husband whose brow beaten wife wants his attention, "I am here everyday ain't I, I do what you ask---that's how I express my love."

The point here is turning your impressive research, charm, attention and relationship development skills on your boss. Not to suck up and kiss butt. But to manage up, influence up and challenge up. How do you develop a more trusting relationship with your boss? How do you generate a more conducive environment to have conversations about your future, the future of the department and of the entire organization? How can you help your boss succeed and add real value to the department and the organization's goals?

Some boss basics:

  1. Do some basic beyond the bio research on your boss? Do you know his/her interests, family, charities, and ambitions?
  2. 360 degree network with other colleagues---How are others relating? What works for them?
  3. Make additional to time to meet to share thoughts and compare notes outside of your regular meeting as often as you can.
  4. Get to know your boss' asst. How else will you know when he/she is in a good mood or how to get on the calendar?

Here are some tips on managing up:

First of all bosses need and want to be managed. It may come from on high, from their assistant and or from their subordinates (that's you!). They need help to do everything that's expected of them, which takes your insane job duties to another level of craziness. In this light here are a few recommendations that have worked on me:

  1. Meet and exceed your job duties: This gives you the opportunity to be influential. A slacker with great ideas is still a slacker.
  2. Prepare solutions to problems: Always have an way to solve a problem, otherwise you join the whiner's chorus line.
  3. Submit new ideas: New ideas are great, but writing them down shows you are serious and your written ideas will be treated as such.
  4. Give honest feedback: Be a source of accurate feedback on presentations, speeches, e-mail announcements from your boss. Few employees provide advice and counsel on how to improve these leadership initiatives and therefore things don't evolve.
  5. Don't gossip or feed the rumormill: Be smart about what you say about your boss, your employer, and your colleagues.
  6. Step up and jump in: Be among the first to volunteer for new opportunities.
  7. Make your boss' world simpler and easier: Advise on systems, processes, and methods to make his/her work life more efficient. Young tech savvy employees have an advantage here!

Do some or all of these things and your influence will rise and your ability to effect change in your workplace and in your career will also increase. Managing up gives you much more to say about your achievements in your job. Building more trust in your relationships, especially with your boss can be very rewarding.

Thanks for reading. John


The Failure Option--Succeeding through mistakes

Think it was Winston Churchill who said, "Success is going from one failure to the next, with enthusiasm." And wasn't it venerable and victorious Vince Lombardi who said, "Either get fired with enthusiasm or get fired with enthusiasm!

Fear of failure or the perfection complex is one of the greatest obstacles to career and life development. Taking risks that lead to mistakes that lead to innovation, that lead to new opportunities, that lead to new relationships that lead to greater fulfillment and impact. Sorry do not know the stories of success that are not peppered with blunders, embarrassment, and yes, failure. DefiningMoments

Excerpts from Joey Green's the Road to Success is Paved with Failure:

  • Michael Jordan did not make his high school basketball team.'
  • John F. Kenendy lost his bid to be president of his freshman class at Harvard.
  • Thomas Edison was expelled from school and invented the light bulb after 2000 attempts.
  • Marilyn Monroe was fired from her first film contract for being unattractive.
  • Abraham Lincoln lost 9 elections
  • Coca Cola sold 400 bottles its first year.
  • Douglas MacArthur was denied admission to Westpoint, twice.
  • Elvis got a C in high school music and was told he could not sing.

Failure is the challenge to keep on keeping on.

I have endured some pretty crazy interviews for jobs. But my favorite of all time was the one conducted by the iconic Vinod Khosla. The interview which consisted of two questions and 90 minutes of conversation. He started the interview with, "John, how do you define meaning in your life?"  This was like a verbal brick wall for my twin turbine engine interview prep to slam into. Had to down-shift into a gear to answer that question thoughtfully. That prompted an amazing give and take on regrets, family, relationships, what really matters, and what we hope to to accomplish before we die. Whoa! Then he asked his second and final question: "Take me through your resume in reverse chronological order and tell me the biggest failure at each of your jobs. Don't tell me what you learned, just the failure." I literally laughed out loud. Never heard that question put that way. We all know that a resume hides more than it reveals so when someone rips back the curtain like that it either evokes a primal scream or pure joy. It's amazing how big the mistakes I made were. Some haunt me, some give a prurient source of pride, and still others remind me of how I did grow. I regaled Mr. Khosla with horrid decisions, immature ideas, and blind-sightedness. It was obvious he wanted to see my risk tachometer and how far beyond the red-line I would and had gone. Not reckless, ethically edgy stuff, but what was the appetite for change and challenge? This interview reminded me of my fallibility but also how far I had come. Guess my failures impressed him enough to get the job.

Don't confuse this type of interview with the trite and predictable attempts by interviewees to convert their "weaknesses" into strengths. Very few people reveal any self awareness of their own failings in the interviews today. As if they have read the same stupid script from Interviews for Dummies (I hope this book does not exist). The robotic answers to the question, "What are your weaknesses or areas you need to improve upon?"

  1. Theatrical pause, with no specific answer.----Never hire!
  2. "I guess I work too hard and just can't stop working." ---- Really? Popular but meaningless response.
  3. "I am a perfectionist."----So how's that working? :) Stupid!

When the eyes and answers provide no windows to the soul, then I yank the reject cord! The ability to articulate what you are working on and trying to improve as a professional, as a family person, as a human being is relevant. Pretending that none exist by using party manners and memorized answers is a recipe for failure.

Being laid off is a failure. And while all too commonplace and often not the full responsibility of the employee, it represents a mistake. Was it a real surprise? Why did you wait to be laid off? So you did not have a Plan B or C, why not? You knew it was not going to be your last job, so how long did you think it would last? And what was your plan after that? And what has this failure taught you about your next move?Yes, there are victims of black fridays with no notice (that's how I was laid off), but most "lay-offs" are foreseen or suspected.

Failure to prepare is preparing for failure. Coach Wooden.

Last week I met Cheryl Dorsey, president of the Echoing Green Foundation. She was the commencement speaker at Walden University's graduation. Her speech was a riveting auto-biographical sketch of her failures and the need for the next generation to "embrace failure". I was surprised to later learn it was her first commencement speech, but it was perfect. One of her many "failures' was her choice to become an MD. Her parents encouraged her and she graduated with honors from Harvard Medical School and became a successful pediatrician. Her parents beamed with pride over the family's first doctor. But Cheryl soon realized she made a huge mistake. She found out that becoming a doctor was her mom and dad's plan, not hers. Sound familiar? So recognizing her long standing failure, she followed her heart and became a social entrepreneur. Despite the monstrous investment of time and money, it was not too late to push the reset button. And her failure showed her the way. Bunko

We all fail and therefore we all learn. Failure is the greatest teacher. Failure triggers course corrections that lead to change and new perspective. Failure forces you to change your network, maybe even your mentor. Failure can redefine you. In Daniel Pink's wonderful The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, the last career guide you ever need, lesson 5 is Make Excellent Mistakes. Most of us say we take risks, or we venture out of our "comfort zones" but we really don't. Fear erects strong boundaries that can imprison our dreams and our successes.

Here's to your next fantastic failure.

Thanks for reading. John


To What Do You Give Your Intention and Attention?

Had the great fortune of attending a terrific workshop on the principles of grant making, the art and science of giving away money from foundations. I know it sounds like an easy and enviable job, but much harder than you think. Anyway, had the pleasure of being trained by Bob Long, former VP of the Kellogg Foundation and Ken Gladish, former national president of the YMCA and president of the Austin Community Foundation. Both are faculty at the Grantmaking School. (Yes there is a graduate level school dedicated to this work!)

Over time I have learned that all "best practices" for effective work,  regardless of sector or industry share the same basic principles. And that these principles are often wonderful guides for your life, your career development, and your relationships.

Bob introduced us to the concepts of Intention and Attention.

  • Intention--What are/were you intending to do? i.e. Goal

  • Attention--What are you paying attention to given that intention? i.e. Measures of progress

Remember, he was talking about grants from foundations. And the point was to articulate your grant making goal and identify measures of progress. Then constantly remind yourself of that intention and those measures. Why? Because we digress, we drift, we lose focus. Like right now when your mind is wandering, finish reading my blog! :) In non-profit work we often refer to this as "mission drift". Straying from your goal AND from what you are good at. You can see the broader applicability of these ideas already.

Coach John Wooden's used the word Intentness. It was a word he made up, always apologized for this by the way, and it resides in his Pyramid of Success. The Coach taught us all that paying attention to your intentions leads us to the actions that determine success in everything we undertake.

Take these very simple and important questions and apply them to your life, your job, and your career. Apply them to your faith, your volunteer work, and your hobbies.

What is your intention? And what are you paying attention to to see that you are making progress toward your intention?

Please do not say, "I am just trying to enjoy what I do and see what happens." Because you think you are either lucky or lazy? You may be niether. As I have opined, a Wait and See strategy is the certain path to disaster.

Don't be confused. What's nice about the word intention is it is what you want and hope for. It is as macro or as micro as you desire. It is personalized and customized to you. It is as ambitious and achievable as you want. To be ambitious you need ambition.

Here's the kicker. When you have clear or clearer intentions, to which you are paying attention, you will attract opportunities and people. The gravitational pull of commonalities is powerful. Not always positive though. Negative intentions are just as sticky as the positive ones. You saw the studies of obese people and the likelihood they are connected to other obese people. Smokers too. Aimless, goal less, ambitionless people also connect and friend each other. Why hang out with people that are the same as you if you are lost or unhappy? Your network spirals up or down depending on your intentions and actions.

I am constantly monitoring my kids' friends. I love the diversity of interests and backgrounds they represent. But I watch for too much group think/peer pressure about school or courses. I want my kids to always be exposed to smarter, more ambitious, harder working people. Not everyone they know, that would be irresponsible and ineffective. But enough exposure to see different intentions and paths through their own experiences and contacts, not because their sage father says so.

And such is life, your intentions and attentions determine your networks and ultimately your mentors. The Buddhist saying applies, When the student is ready, the teacher appears. No way your teacher/mentor will appear with out clear intentions.

Your conversations, engagements, and encounters are greatly influenced by what you focused on. Without these concepts mentoring and networking are non-substantive and frustrating exercises.

What is your intention today? Tomorrow? And are you paying attention to your progress?

Thanks for reading. John



Think Out Loud and Connect!

I do this exercise with new college graduates or graduate students. They are the most confused, especially these days. I hold up my fist and point at it. And then I tell them, "I have your ideal job in my hand. It will engage your heart and your brain. It will pay you comfortably. Good dental benefits. Commute time is reasonable. It will help you grow and develop as a professional. Just tell me what it is and I will give it to you." 99% of the time they don't know what it is. That's not the point. The surprise is they don't even know what to say. They start mumbling things but almost always end with a joke. Because that's what what we all do when we don't know what to say. We try, I say try, to be funny. One of those slapstick defensive reflexes we verbalize to deflect the attention from our brain freeze. Similar to when we jokingly say, "No I meant to that," when we trip on ourselves or spill a drink. Brainmouth

It's really funny how our brain and our mouth are not connected. Accessing the grey hard drive, get the binary codes to come out of the speaker system and make sense is not always easy.

We harbor many ideas and thoughts in our minds about what we want and who we are. They rattle around between the neurons and the synapses. In the brain they seem comfortable and clever. In fact sometimes in our minds we are geniuses. However, when we utter some of these ideas with words and phrases they get garbled. We rely on our mouths to translate our elegant brainstorms into eloquence. Often it does not work and can be quite embarrassing. We forget the lips and the frontal lobes are not always directly linked.

I remember when I was talking to a very ambitious employee about her hobbies. It was a fun and light hearted, easy going conversation. I started thinking about an opportunity for her. It occurred to me that I did know what her ambitions were. So I asked somewhat abruptly, "By the way what do you want to do next?" She was horrified, froze and became inarticulate. She told me this was not fair and that questions like that could only be asked in a formal review session! I was not expecting THE answer. But to start a robust conversation about the options, pros and cons. To hear her thoughts, but I never did.

Pat head rub tummy Thinking and talking on our feet can be the equivalence of patting our heads and rubbing our stomachs simultaneously. Not easy. With practice it is always easier. With preparation it looks like it is second nature. Robin Williams' "ad libs" have been tested in private, honed in comedy clubs, and tweaked by his writers. It is the delivery that matters. But I am not suggesting you memorize anything, the best speaking is extemporaneous. Your preparation allows you to share thoughts that have been considered and certainly are not alien. 

The ability to think out loud is a lost art. When you don't know the answer, especially if it is personal, you have to demonstrate your thought process, display that you have considered the subject matter--such as your life's direction!--and honestly share a little of yourself. That would be refreshing. An authentic discussion of the challenges and issues the question or the dilemma conjures.

This is where mentoring comes in to save the day. When can you trot our your intimate thoughts? Where can you conduct your dress rehearsals and get feedback? And not be instantly criticized and judged. Mentors are the greatest sounding boards. They expect to talk to you about these raw and mal-formed concepts. Share your thoughts, questions, quandaries, and curiosities with your mentor. Expressing these thoughts as wishes, things you want for yourself is also very effective. Think out loud with your mentor, often and then listen for the feedback. Just the practice of converting your neural sparks into words will do wonders.

Doing this in isolation, by yourself, never works as well.

When people ask you things all of the time? When you know people will ask you the same questions over and over. Or questions that you ask yourself repeatedly. There is no excuse for not having answers or well-formed thoughts about your quest for answers.

In my intermittent posts on questions, I urge the readers to work on their answers. Literally verbalize them to get them to sound like YOU. To convey what you are thinking. Like an artist who dreams up new images, getting it exactly right the first time is rare. It takes a series of trials and errors to have the canvas look the way you imagined.

Last week, I asked a grad student what type of job and career he really wanted after graduation. After an awkward pause he replied, "Nothing but happiness." He looked at the ceiling and then at his shoes and then smiled impishly. He knew he was being funny, wasn't he? Just wanted him to think out loud with me and maybe we could work together on refining those thoughts and actually discover a path to his happiness.

Thanks for reading. John 


If you are down, you have to look UP!

After seeing a screening of Waiting for Superman, (which is a must see when it comes out in September) I started to think about looking up into the sky for help, super or not. We all have looked to the heavens for an explanation of a baffling situation or for some divine guidance. We also may look to our parents, our bosses or others above us in the food chain for answers or wisdom. Superman

The point is we have to see where we are going and seek assistance. Stop what we are doing to pause, reflect and think it through. Talking to somebody who understands and maybe has faced the same circumstances always helps.

Finding a true role model can make a difference. This person seems to have been able to balance the things that are important to you. Parent and career, community leader and accomplished professional. We meet, read about, and sometimes know these people. Call them mentors, call them role models, call them inspirations. You can admire them, but you need to study and ideally understand them. Understand the costs, the requirements, the support systems, the sense of fulfillment. You have to get beyond the gloss and the press images of success.

I have found that some people are born into success, others were inspired, and most worked hard to get there. None of the models I have followed have had it easy.

Keeping your eyes up and your mind on what lies ahead is more more important than ever. The writing on the wall, the signs of change, the risks and choices, and the opportunities. Imagine how dangerous it would be to drive by only looking at your dashboard. Looking up will tell you so much more.

I talk to people who loosely fall into three large groups these days. Group 1 is hanging on to what they have. Group 2 is making a move to the next chapter. Group 3 is hedging their bets, uncertain and or paralyzed. They are the worst off. At least Group 1 is loyal and committed. Group 2 is committed to change. Group three, like all groups who wallow in indecision, their careers have reached the ceiling and they only have a down button on their elevators.  

Looking up is not getting lost in the stars and distant dreams that seem improbable. It is not comparing your current circumstance to another greener pasture you have not visited or studied. It is keeping an eye on the horizon to see your options and next steps. It is looking up to those that can show you what you need to do. Looking up is making sure you are a couple steps ahead on the chess board of life. Role models, mentors and other confidantes can keep your thinking fresh.

In BreakingThrough, the Harvard Business Press examination of minority hard driving execs, found that a notable percentage who reached the top of their professions, did NOT want it. It was not as attractive as it looked from afar. They set a goal and spent years focused on the steps and strategies to get to that destination, without regard to what it takes to do that job--the sacrifices, the "costs", the travel, the politics, the distance from the customer. These ambitious people rarely looked up to question their goals. They became blindly committed to a path and their daily lives revolved around making progress to that end.

Again, we are all guilty of self deception. We make up stories about our paths that lead up to our goals. They sound good, but we have not mapped out these paths to the ends. 

Looking up Looking up is the recognition that our lives are moving toward a destination, intended or unintended. And it is never too late to make changes and course corrections.  Some people think this is the time to stay focused. I agree. Being focused is not tunnel vision. Staying focused means not giving up on your goals and the steps necessary to achieve them.

Things are looking up. Keeping your head down insures that inspiration, help, and your future will be out of sight. Looking up from our busy lives, looking up to people who can help you, looking up the path to where you are going and where you want to be--that is a strategy that will not require the services of a caped crusader.  

Thanks for reading. John


One degree that will advance your career and your life

In the frenzy of admission and graduation season, I am reminded how often I am engaged in what seems like America's second favorite pastime, "The Graduate School Game." There seems to be an obsession with getting another degree. Have you seen this 212Movie?


What's the difference between 211 Fahrenheit and 212? That one degree is the difference between hot water and BOILING water! That's how a lot of people regard the next degree they want. They think it will take their luke warm careers and make them hot!. It could. It might. Might not.

When first year college students are surveyed every year, nearly 100% say they will earn a graduate school degree. Yet fewer than 30% ever enroll and much fewer earn a post-graduate degree. That aspiration does not die easily. And as time marches on that goal can grow into a tumor size thought that festers and evolves into a nasty regret. Worse case scenario is that elusive degree becomes the reason and crutch for a stalled career.

Po Bronson in his seminal book, What Should I Do With My Life?, concluded that another degree was NOT a factor for people who found fulfillment and success in their careers and lives.

Many people keep talking about this mystical magical degree even when the likelihood for them to start one is almost nil.

If you are serious about another degree, stop talking and thinking about getting one and take some steps to apply!Mortar board

As someone who endured and completed three post-graduate programs, mostly because I was constructively procrastinating my life. :) Let me add quickly, that having grad school degrees on your resume can help you get interviewed, but it can never replace real experience and achievements. And after you have a graduate degree or two, then what? PhD?

When I was in the cable tv industry, I met people with Masters in Cable TV. When I was running an online ed company, I met people with Masters in Educational Technology with a specialization in online education. Recently I met people with Masters in Philanthropy. First of all I give great credit to the universities that have diversified their product lines and are meeting customer demands. But the reality is a degree in fill in the blank, gets you some credibility and a limited view of the real world.

Life is my college, may I graduate well and earn some honors!    ~~Louisa May Alcott 

Basically, to keep up in this world you have to be in graduate school all the time. Face it, if it is in a textbook and a course it probably is obsolete. So let's talk about continuous education. Learning to adapt, evolving one's toolbox of experiences focused on expanding one's skills, knowledge and abilities. Formal or informal, you have to adopt this mindset if you want to evolve, grow and succeed. Enrolling in a formal degree program can help if you know what you want and NEED. But I think you should be earning a degree every 2-3 years at work! No, I am not specifically talking about a tuition reimbursement program or going to school at night. I am talking about your intentional educational advancement at your job and in your life.

I just completed my 2nd year in my newest career and I have definitely earned a reality based Masters degree in Philanthropy. I am far from done. As usual, I have learned enough to be intimidated by what I don't know. My goal is to re-enroll myself into a new degree program every 2-3 years and earn a new diploma outside of the classroom.School_of_hard_knocks_2

This mindset of continuous education can be powerful if you are purposeful. Here's how you can make your next 2-3 years on the job a degree program. Imagine you were enrolling in a grad school and choosing your area of concentration and now perusing your schedule of classes, investigating the qualifications of the professors, talking to others about their views, and ultimately making decisions. It would be daunting and fun. All of this would be driven by your strengths and weaknesses, your gaps, your needs, and your interests.

You have those same choices at work and in your life right now. Design your on the job degree program. The great news is you have already been admitted! Take all of the reflection you have done about your next university degree and what you wanted to gain from that experience and apply it to your life and work. What are your gaps and desired areas of concentration that you want to address? What core required courses are you missing and what electives have you dreamed of taking? What does your faculty at work look like? What departments/divisions have courses you need, have the best faculty? And what is your class schedule--how long will it take you to complete this degree?

In the next 2-3 years at work you will spend more time than at any equivalent grad school program. How do you carve a path through the next 24-36 months that make it transformational for your career and your life? Do you want to move into finance or out of finance? Do you want to gain management experience? Are you preparing to run your own business or organization? You have a lot to learn.

So your work world is limited or is not where you want to end up. Consider the full spectrum of options in your life. Again, based on your game plan of needs and desires, you volunteer, you moonlight, you educate yourself by seeking classes and professors who can guide you outside of work. All driven by your degree requirements.

Once you have a basic plan for yourself that is an honest reflection of what you want and heavily influenced by what you need, then you can begin to assemble your degree program.

Put both of your hands on your career's steering wheel and start to drive down the road that will give your more traction toward your goals.

If you believe that small changes can make big differences, then get that extra degree that will heat up your enthusiasm for where you are and where you going.

Thanks for reading. John


If I don't, I will regret it!: Avoiding the Regret Matrix

 
No Regrets!
Make service to others, relationships, passions, your priorities, and success will follow.
j.e.kobara
 
No regret I have finished my last 100 presentations, workshops and speeches with this quote. I have believed for a very long time that the number of regrets--what we wish we did, chances we did not take, things we should have done--are a much better measurement of our age than the clock. You know the "shoulda, couldas." Not talking about the micro regrets of daily transactions like buyer's remorse over the cell phone you purchased. Or the tiny faux pas or thought about how you could have done something better. I am really not talking about anything you have done. I am talking about the heftier regrets of not acting, of not doing something that we regard as important or now see as an opportunity lost. I once asked Guy Kawasaki what his greatest regret was. He told me about a company that was formed by some nerdy Stanford students in Mountain View, who wanted Guy to be their CEO. Guy turned the job because the commute was too long and the name of the company was silly. It was Yahoo. Fortunately this is one of many stories that Guy does not regret! But if we accumulate many regrets, then we become old because we are not as fulfilled or satisfied with our lives. We are also not happy, especially when you look in the rear view mirror and keep asking, what if? Once you have a box filled of these regrets, you have the tendency to give up on your goals and dreams. You start to settle. You doubt yourself. You accept your fate and the rest of your story is predictable. And we lose the best you have to offer. And that's why this is the slipperiest of life's slopes. A slope that not only treats your personal and professional expectations as mirages but accelerates your life satisfaction on a downward aging spiral.
 
Met with a former colleague last week who has made great contributions to society and to our community. I like meeting with her because she is a source of strength and inspiration. She is going to complete her 14th year in the same line of work and I began to probe what was ahead. She started telling me how old she is (I already knew this) and how her options have narrowed. Saying meaningless things like, "I am not as young as I used to be." What?!!! She sounded tired and resigned to her choices. She is 60. While controlled, I was furious with her. Not because she is lacking great ambition at this stage of her life. Not because she is thinking realistically about her last few chapters of her life. But because she is starting to give up. In a last ditch effort, I said, "What do you have to do in the next 5 years, or you will regret it?" She began to regale me with her plans with her kids and family, travel that was important, and the specific goals for her organization. Her eyes became the windows to her soul again and were filled with the verve and intensity upon which I have become dependent. How can our ambitions evolve with our lives but continue to energize us? How do we continue to minimize our regrets?
 
Like exasperated fans who leave well before the game ends, their concerns start to turn to the traffic rather than on what they think is an unlikely chance to succeed. After all, giving up is the definition of death, isn't it?Regret
 
What is not understood is if you try things and they do not work out or even if you fall down on your face, these items do not turn into these aging burdensome regrets. Those were opportunities that we did not pass on and we stuck our little necks out of our hard turtle shells and took a chance. As the baseballers say, hard to get a hit if you don't swing the bat. So to be clear, regrets, the ones that grow into tumors and weigh a life down like a bad set of samsonite are the regrets that resonate from chances not taken.
 
There is a great body of mathematical and probability research on decision making based on payoff or regret matrices. On the consequences and antecedents of decisions we regret. Most have to do with consumer behavior. One study published in the journal for the American Psychological Association (2002) concluded, "As a consequence, decisions not to act that are followed by a negative outcome result in more regret than do decisions to act that lead to outcomes." But while regret may be informed by the numbers it is ultimately a matter of the heart.
 
As a parent and a manager of people and someone who tries to lead others for a living, I have experimented with the proverbial carrot and have also deployed the stick. Can you get more from sugar than vinegar? Is a pat on the back as effective as one a little lower? Do bonuses work better than fines? Is pleasure a greater incentive than the pain of the consequences? Shouldn't a dream be more powerful than regretting not pursuing the dream? These debates about human nature have raged on for centuries. Like most complex processes, it depends. But one thing is certain, most people have thoughts about their futures. They can say they want to be happy and have meaning in their lives. They always say this. Inaction, by not doing something, is the source of regret. And considering in advance that regret may be the greatest motivator. Otherwise, life happens and those notions of the future get supplanted by the traffic jam of life rather than what they see down the road. 
 
Many chroniclers of life have documented what people say at the end of their lives. Just finishing John Izzo's Five Secrets You Have to Know Before You Die. Like Po Bronson's book, What Should I Do With My life? or Habits of the Heart, by Robert Bellah. People tell us what they wanted in their lives and where they came up short. Regrets play a big part. Those that are the least happy have an unchecked bucket list. The top of the list is filled with relationships that were never consummated, reconciled, or handled well. Then there are a few other regrets. These are passports or experiential tickets that were not stamped. They failed to visit places and try things. They are often described as chances, as opportunities, as things that were vital to them but were never done. Now just a collection of "youthful" impulses that are no longer practical and gather layers of regret dust. Feel the gray hair and wrinkles growing uncontrollably?
 
How do we minimize or avoid this fate? Or how do we stop the slide down this depressing mountain? Pretty easy. Start acting on your ideas, aspirations, experiential wish lists, AND your relationships now! You have heard the ole questions: What will you say to those you love when you are on your deathbed? And why are you waiting until then?
 
Having no regrets, is regrettably a negative way of acting. But I think it works and it is powerful. It is the best way to make decisions of consequence that require your instincts and intuition. Which decision would we regret more? This can be very telling. Graduate schools, jobs, travel destinations. The one, if you did not have it, you would regret the most, is always your first choice.
 
Start listening to your heart and as I like to say, take great notes. Understand what you will regret and act to avoid it. A life without regrets is more meaningful and happier. And you know what you are like when you feel that way and the impact that has on everyone around you. And when we have more people taking chances and pursuing opportunities, we have a more vibrant and dynamic society. So minimize regrets in your life for yourself and for the rest of us too. It is a fool proof way to make you younger and happier and that is something you will never regret.
 
Thanks for reading. John 

Your Career Kitchen Cabinet

We all know that any great organization, company, even celebrity, certainly political leaders need a small circle of trusted advisers. And as we see in the news headlines everyday, if that counsel is not real and provides only encouragement for the wishes of the leaders(s), then trouble is imminent. --Like the old drunk who relies on the lamp post more for support than any illumination. True advisers provide accountability and a reality check on actions and plans. Who advises us? The regular folk who are not famous, rich or elected? We all have goals and dreams, but many of us need help to keep us on track. Otherwise, we can get away with saying and thinking things we never do. By the way, thathabit will give you a monorail ticket to a very undesirable place called Regret City!

Less than a couple of weeks into the new year you are probably still committed to your resolutions -- please say you have not bailed yet. :) One way to insure longer term success is to form a "kitchen cabinet",a group of your trusted advisers to monitor your progress and hold you to your goals. Similar to a board of directors, your cabinet knows your goals and asks for status reports. Like a a good board they are not interested in effort and activity, they want results. They are interested in a better you. BoardBoard room

However, unless you are such a popular person where you can attract people to serve your needs and you alone, then you should build a different structure based upon reciprocity. A group, no more than 6, that agrees to help one another. This kitchen cabinet gets together on a regular basis for the expressed purpose of advising and assisting ALL members succeed. This is a group of serious colleagues that care about each other and are committed to helping one another. Career guru Barbara Sher calls these success teams. It is a mentoring seance, where you are joined by the futures you see for one another.

Here are some basic tips on how you get started buiding your career kitchen cabinet:

  1. Forming the cabinet--Clearly, picking the members of your cabinet is the toughest part. Start with a couple of the people you know well. People you trust and getting together with them more frequently would be fun. If they know each other that is even better. Meet with them and broach the idea. I advise against couples only because invariably it introduces elements that can distract from the group goals. Things like chemistry, candor, and buy-in can be factors. If you are daring, each of your closest associates could invite one person that would add new dimensions and breadth to the group. And there is always something about having new people there to make you more attentive to the process. The key is getting people that have rapport, agree on the group goals, and are committed to mutual success. Try to avoid a group that all have the same backgrounds, political beliefs, or industry connections. This is where diverse thinking is powerful.
  2. Convening the cabinet--Without consistency this will not work. Sher recommends weekly meetings. I think monthly will work. But like a good book club, you got to prepare and show otherwise all is lost. Each member rotates to convene the group by choosing the location and date and time (if you have not settled on a regular date and time which is recommended.) You can set standards about the quality of the establishment, cuisine, newness etc to add a little incentive for the group. One group I was in required the host to cook "extraordinary" food so at least the food might generate thought. The group should make a one year commitment--12 meetings.
  3. Common ground for the cabinet--This is critical. Getting everyone familiar with the bios and backgrounds of each member is essential. So spending time on the introductions, in-depth and revealing understandings of one another will generate a new network of opportunities. Next, everyone needs to write down their goals. Use my SWiVEL or devise one based upon the needs and interests of the group. Having a common form that gives everyone a starting point for the conversations that will ensue.
  4. Cabinet sessions--After the intros and written docs, the sessions just have to make time for every member to report on their progress and allow for feedback. Not so formulaic that it feels too structured but focused on your purpose as a group. The assumption is every member is there to offer advice, expertise, and their network.

Hands together
But this is not a business as usual approach that helps one another achieve mediocrity. The secret to this concept is others will invariably see your potential more than you do. Your ideas become more polished or get abandoned because of the feedback. And when the group gets some momentum built on respect and trust, then the cabinet can become an incubation lab to explore new ideas and aspirations.

The reality is WE is always better than ME. We have to work together to refine our ideas about where we are going. A kitchen cabinet can be a powerful advantage that strengthens your network and your path to achieving your goals.

Thanks for reading. John


We begin again to renew our network of commitments

 

Every new year I share this thought. Back in 1999 I found a website called Interviewwithgod.net. The host claimed that God visited him and answered all of his questions. This posting left an indelible impression on me.

What suprises you most about humankind?  God allegedly replied:

  • That they get bored with childhood and rush to grow up, then long to be children again.
  • That they lose their health to make money, and then lose their money to restore their health.
  • That they think anxiously about the future such that they forget the present and live neither in the present or the future.
  • That they live as if they will never die and die as if they have never lived.

Lanikai steps

I can scarcely wait till tomorrow when a new life begins for me, as it does each day, as it does it each day.--Stanley Kunitz

When we sense a beginning, we tend to get more focused. A chance to start over and do better. We push the magical reset button to get a do-over. As long as you do not get caught in the vicious cycle of the same old resolutions that are so familiar that they become meaningless. You know the ones--"I need to exercise more." "I need to eat more healthful food." "I need to spend more time with my family." Lily Tomlin said, "I gained and lost the same 10 pounds so many times, my cellulite has dejavu!" According to the University of Scranton, making new year's resolutions increases your chances of accomplishing a positive change by a factor of 10! However, without specific goals, dates, times, and metrics, only 1 out of 5 keep their resolutions. So prevent your annual vows from becoming the broken record sounds of insincerity. But you knew that!

I will avoid all of the overused metaphors and analogies that depict the year past. You've heard them all, WEATHERING THE STORM, BEEN A ROLLER COASTER, OR NAVIGATING THE ROUGH SEAS. This year will not be a CAKE WALK by any stretch. Still a lot of challenges remain in the economy. Even though it feels more comfortable. Comfortable, the most dangerous place to be in the world. Don't let your guard down. Don't even let a sliver of complacency enter your mind. This has to be a time when you increase your resolve to continue your journey to strengthen your position in your life. Or to make new huge strides towards a new destination. You can start with baby steps if you increase your momentum with each step. This somewhat quieter time is when you make your move. Small and fleeting competitive advantage to move right now. Don't put off what you have to and need to do.

Here's a few thoughts to shape your new year's strategy:J0443793

  1. Make this a defining year and time. How will you remember this year? When you look back upon it, what made it unique and meaningful?
  2. Don't define your goals by what you do NOT want. Follow your heart and your head. Envision  the way you want your life to be. Not a default position based on what you want to avoid.
  3. Don't be the smartest member of your network. Assess your network. If you are the biggest fish in your pond, then move into a great lake, your network is not helping you. You are helping everyone else. Upgrade your network to challenge you and push you. Break out of the groups that hold you back. Your network has to inspire you and breed success.
  4. Schedule your mentoring physical.Get an appointment with your mentor(s). Renew your openness to confront a truthful and trusted evaluation. Test out your new goals to get constructive criticism. If you need one, get on your horse and find a great mentor.
  5. Reward yourself.What can you weave into your calendar that you will look forward to? Is there a special trip? A favorite activity or hobby that can interrupt your hard work with delight?
  6. Meet up. Beyond your transactional postings on FB, reach out and engage those you care about in serious exchanges about their goals and your aspirations. Arrange, dare I say, face to face conversations. Figure out how you can assist them achieve their new year's resolutions. It will make you and your network stronger.
  7. Conjure up the child within. Let down your guard a little. Beckon the creativity and genius that resides inside. Let it out. Take some risks and most of all have fun!

To accomplish these goals or any goals for 2010, the experts say dumb things like lower your expectations and be realistic. If you want to settle for what happens or accept the status quo, then be my guest. I say, get inspired. Renew your passion for the things that matter to you. Then you will see something that might surprise you -- a glimpse of who you really are and were meant to be.

2010 could be just another year that comes and goes and we will ask where it went. You and your cellulite will have been there before. Or it can be an extraordinary chapter in your life that is filled with chances and changes. You choose.

I wish you a prosperous and fulfilling year. Thanks for reading. John


Reflections of 2009--Your career and your network

So as 2009 winds down, we naturally and inevitably reflect on the past and look ahead to the future. Our evaluation of the past can focus us on what was not accomplished. I suggest you take the remaining days and hours to make a list and appreciate what you did. Yes, this was a tough year, aren't they all in their own ways?!! Think about the progress you made especially in your mentoring and networking. No matter how small the steps, you advanced your career, your family life, your relationships, your network, your commitment to your passions, and your pursuit of becoming a better you. I can sense that many of you are dwelling on the negatives or the missed opportunities. What could have been. Take a break for a moment! Let's reflect on the best of 2009 and give yourselves credit for the range of creative and even courageous things you did. Think back over the year and search for the highlights. By the way, this is a great exercise for your resume too! Stay positive and see and appreciate the progress you made in 2009. You did a lot more than you think!J0443096

For you so anxious to move into the critique of 2009. Okay have at it! Consider where you fell short in the promises you made just 53 weeks ago. What had you envisioned for this year that did not happen because of disruptions, shifts, and/or procrastination? Make a list if you must. Think about the reasons for these gaps in how you defined success for this year. Look in the mirror, not literally--you will get distracted on your vanity :), and take responsibility for what you failed to do. And think about your network and how you could have done more to support them. One of the greatest challenges is our tendency to make relative comparisons to evaluate success. "2009 was good given what it could have been." Or "I am better off than others." These are poor substitutes for a true assessment of how we did vis a vis our expectations. Relative success is the safe and comfortable way to measure. Don't settle for that. Don't make excuses. Be honest, if you are going to evaluate your shortcomings. Compare you to the you you want to be. 

The point here is take inventory of this year now, because in 2010 you can hit the mythical reset button and start with a cleanish slate. A new chance to make new promises and resolutions. You will have much time for that. Focus on went well this year and how you can build on it for the new year. Understand what you did not achieve and move on. When you are honest with yourself, you did some amazing things, you know some incredible people, and you have a great opportunity to roll out the new and improved model of you for 2010!

Thanks for reading. See you next year. Cheers. John


Ready, Interview, Aim!

First a couple of sources of information and inspiration:Brandyou

  1. A friend of mine Joy Chen is featured in a NYT piece on careers and Managing your Career like a Business. This is an old idea freshened up for today. You remember the Tom Peters piece on BrandYou, worth re-reading. One of the things that can be lost in this omnipresent social network is your brand, your uniqueness--what differentiates you from the pack. Anybody can be a video star, be their own publisher, even have their own blog :), but that's the point. The stakes just got higher and harder. You have to nurture your brand. Check out Joy's blog that does a great job of helping people think about personal brand building.
  2. Did you see this news report about possibly the youngest head of school in the world, Babar Ali?This is a lesson for all of us. Needs can be addressed. So easy to be numb from the quantity of challenges facing humankind and seemingly insurmountable odds. Babar ignored the rational and the possible and did the impossible. 

Was talking to a former colleague about her career aspirations. She shared compelling and exciting thoughts about specific jobs she wanted. It was clear to me that she was ready to test if not embrace her dream. And I began to share in her enthusiasm until she told me her plan. Being the over-achieving and overly competent person she is, she has figured out all of the things that diminish her qualifications and readiness. She went on to tell me about her 5-7 year plan! (Last week I discussed your 5 year VISION, big difference from your plan) During the next 5 years she would rigorously fill these gaps and address her deficiencies and then launch into interviews when all systems are go. For new entrants in the job market or others who are making radical career shifts this approach might make sense, but for those who know what they want in their chosen field, you have to be biased toward action not planning. Like all new inventions that solve a problem, choices have to be made on how many features and benefits are needed to roll it out. It can be an endless process where paralysis through analysis creates a fierce case of rigormortis. Analysis paralysis
And like a new career step, the "inventor' that would be you, has to test market the product. Meaning go out and talk to people in the field about what they do. Is it what you think it is, do you have what it takes? And more to the point here, do you even want it? Have you seen the body of research regarding people who want the top job only to find when they get there, they don't. But if you find you do, the question is how close are you to having what it takes? making assumptions is a waste of time. In my friend's case, I know she is not only close to being qualified, she is qualified--she just does not see it.

As I have mentioned on these pages, I am the king of being "unqualified" for almost every job on my resume. That's what the headhunters told me. That's what friends told me. What I learned is few people have all of the required skills for a job. That people hire people--profound isn't it!:) And those hiring people value chemistry over some qualifications. They seek commitment and passion for the mission over a set of impressive graduate degrees. I said some qualifications. You have to have the basics and often a lot more. But after you make the cut, we are talking about fit and the intangibles. C'mon most of these job descriptions, especially higher up the food chain are almost laughable in terms of the litany of requirements that are poured into them. They are a wish-list to frighten off the timid and the non-serious. 

So back to my friend. I told her to start interviewing right away. I know she is very close to being "qualified" and I know that the marketplace would be more generous than she is to her background. The questions that have to be tested are:

  1. Do you really want this "dream job"?
  2. What are the gaps, if any, in your background and resume that need to be addressed?

Much to the consternation of my wife and sometimes my employer, I accept invitations to interview frequently. I learned that it can be the most interesting time to think about my trajectory and what else is out there. I always learn something about myself and something about the world around me. I am straight forward and tell them that I am not looking for anything. And while employed, most people are amazing interviewees! The seller becomes a buyer and that makes a difference. My friend is gainfully employed so this applies to her too. 

Going in to your lab to tune up and re-calibrate your qualifications in isolation from the real marketplace forces is not very smart. And opportunities can arise at inopportune times. Don't you hate that! But when opportunity knocks you got to answer the door. Maybe in your heart you know you have shortcomings, but this is the job you want. If you get the interview then you can reveal your gap analysis and why you may not be fully qualified. And if done well, it can make you the most honest and most transparent candidate. Reflecting on your weaknesses, something conspicuously absent from your resume, can be dis-arming and refreshing. Of course, having a response on how you plan to address these weaknesses is a must--but you knew that. Interviews

Back on my friend. So she was not planning to interview for 5 years! Does she really think the stars will align on her timetable?! Seriously? Either she is the most powerful person in the universe, the luckiest human, or  she is wrong. She has to start now. When an attractive opportunity arises, she can unleash her considerable network to conduct due diligence and pave the way. We discussed the reasons and she finally agreed that there were opportunities out there and that her confidence about her gaps was based on a bunch of assumptions. 

Some dreams need to be tested and others must be abandoned. Should we wait 5 years to know--no way! If you are your own brand manager, then you have to take charge of understanding that brand and what will make it competitive and successful. That is what Babar Ali did. Waiting is never an option. 

Thanks for reading. John


Are you mentor-able?

First like to share two quick but potent sources of inspiration I had this week in the hope that vicariously it inspires you.

  • Saw Gustavo Dudamel's debut, the new 28 year phenom conductor, lead the the LA Philharmonic at Disney Hall. Words fail me. He was frenetic and energetic. He got lost in the music as all of us did. He used hand gestures and leg movements that would have made accomplished hula dancers and choreographers envious. He is and will become a new rock star and more important role model for a new generation of music lovers. By the end of the concert the audience was fulfilled and exhausted! To get a sample of his captivating style watch this video and the tribute to his mentor.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, heard Sirdeaner Walker (watch this video), who courageously spoke at the GLSEN Respect awards ceremony about her 11 year old boy Carl who hung himself because he was bullied about being gay or looking gay. Already 3 documented instances this year of 5th graders taking their lives for similar reasons. 4500 suicides a year amongst 10-20 year olds and the third leading cause of death for this age group! Saddened by the unthinkable tragedy of losing a child but inspired by the courage and the hope that Ms. Walker voiced about our collective need to stop bullying and to support the great efforts underway to bring mutual respect and civility to our schools and communities. 

More than any topic the selection and acquisition of a mentor uses my cycles and time. People are confused, stymied, and yet greatly desirous of having an all-knowing mentor. There is just a world of misunderstanding , mis-information, and mythology out there. I have spent hundreds of hours on this topic and devoted several posts on this. But I want to turn my attention to what makes someone mentor-able

This general idea that everyone needs a mentor, pushes the acquisition of such a life counselor before the preparation to be mentored. In other words, having a mentor means being prepared to be mentored. Here's where we often get confused. At places like Big Brothers Big Sisters, where an at-risk youth, who usually do not have both parents, live in poverty, and have multiple other challenges, is paired with a caring adult who is compatible. This is a wonderful and incredibly effective model where the transformation of both the mentor and the mentee are well documented. However, this model is very different and not transferable to the professional arena. Many large and prestigious organizations have made this mistake in designing their mentoring programs. But I digress. What a professional needs for career guidance around life's choices is entirely different. The objective, the structure, and the mutual benefits only resemble one another.

I asked one of my mentors to tell me how she chooses mentees. She went off! She has been exasperated by the stream of goal-less, ambition-less, and track-record-less people who want to be mentored by her. She said, "I mentor causes and individuals who have shown me their potential. I choose the mentees they do not choose me. I do this out of my selfish interest to help the causes and organizations I care about grow and improve. Why waste our time on people or issues who have not expressed their potential?"

So what makes you mentor-able? What signs of potential do you have or do you express? How will potential mentors know you are ready for mentoring? J0433167

Never sufficient to just say "I need a mentor!" It can actually sound very greedy and self-centered. But like most things in life the preparation for opportunities and mentors takes some effort and focus. 

So far away from the great needs of at-risk youth are the needs of professionals who need feedback, advice, and wisdom. In the Darwinian world we reside in, the people with raw talent and who exert great effort and display passion for their work--make the best candidates for mentoring. Unless you are under the age of 25, you need to be figuring out who you are and where you are going. You need to be focused on what you want. 

Don't get me wrong, you can find mentoring and mentors in many places around you. Mentoring sources are plentiful. But this quest for a game-changing mentor, THE mentor, someone who will be a longer term confidante--that requires you to get your act together. Think about it, as my mentor says, why expend energy on professionals who are truly lost ?, when there are so many others who may not even be actively seeking help who have displayed their promise. To alter a famous quote, "The door to mentoring opens from within.

I can hear some of you saying--"But that's why I need a mentor!" I know I know. Get mentoring through your network, through trusted people you know. Test your ideas, nurture your curiosities, follow your heart. When you do these things you become more mentor-able. Potential  mentors will see what you are doing, but more important, you will be pursuing your inner interests and talents. You become who you are. People who do that not only get more mentoring but mentor us all. 

Thanks for reading. John


Ambitious without Ambition--An epidemic of the SWAYING FLU

One strange indicator of the weakness of our economy is the quantity of conversations I have about jobs and careers. The volume is overwhelming and probably is telling about the length of our recovery period going forward. People are not finding jobs. There are so many people chasing too few jobs. It makes it hyper competitive and people's actions are becoming irrational. Causing many souls to just apply for virtually any opening anywhere. They discover that the are not well prepared for change. 

So there is one thing to be out of work with little time, you have to be partly selfish and partly expedient. But for those that have time through severance or who are employed contemplating a change, I am witnessing an epidemic of the Swaying Flu. The symptoms are severe wishy washyness, indecisive behavior, frequent procrastination, and outbreaks of apathy. J0321197

So if you are chugging along in your work world, wouldn't this be the time to focus and invest in your job and your career?!! Do you need more motivation than this economy and what millions of our colleagues are facing? For some, these times mesmerize and hypnotize. We fall asleep. Myopia sets in that blinds us to our futures. In fact, there is a general atmospheric cloud that surrounds our judgment that erroneously tells us to be still and not stand out. That this is the absolute worst time to invest in our careers. We all know that education and formal degree programs are counter-cyclical. Meaning when people's jobs/industries are threatened then they go back to school. When people are laid off or out of work, there is a sharp increase in small business formation and enrollments at colleges and universities. Talked to a friend that manages an esoteric degree program at a major university and their enrollments inexplicably tripled in the last year. Some of you know, I sit on the board  of Walden University and they are seeing record enrollments. These new students have had to endure great pain and suffering to now confront their choices and chances. They are re-visiting goals and have decided to make a career switch, start a business, or seek greener pastures. They do this in the worst economic climate in history. They dive into the deeper end of the pool to learn a new stroke. But do we have to be motivated by fear or unemployment?

People who are employed seem to be frozen in their tracks. They are ambitious without ambition. They expect to ride out the storm when when the world around them is not only shrinking but only exists in their optimistic minds. They have no plans to make the most of their current positions and opportunities, but rather seem satisfied with mere survival. How can I strengthen my resume NOW?

Love this video. It frames the question around your next 5 years. My view is three years is better. 

"Shouldn't I wait until things get better?" So you are going to wait three years! You think the job market is going to be better next quarter or next year? Have you seen the predictions, the projections for jobs? Very few economists predict unemployment to return to pre-recession levels and many see this level of unemployment continuing through the middle of next decade. Waiting is not an option, it usually isn't.

Take a moment and read this brief account of unemployment and reflection by Jennifer Williams, Hard Work No Pay, just to give us a jolt of reality, if you have never been out of work. 

So we hate planning our lives when things are good--and for many of us they were pretty good (seem better now, don't they?) and we can not plan our lives when things are bad. So must be our aversion to planning! The Swaying Flu strikes again. 

Let's put some ambition in our ambitiousness. Wake up. This is your life and it is happening now. If you feel it is out of your control, then you have not grabbed the steering wheel: you are the driver, the pilot and the navigator of your career. If you believe in destiny, luck and/or miracles, then having a plan will make you that much better off, right? Confer with your network, your mentor, what do they think?  Take steps to re-evaluate your plan for the next 3 years. How do we envision ourselves three years from now? See that perspective; and look back at the three years that lead to that vision, to see the steps, the decisions, the process and trajectory to get to that vantage point. One thing is certain, in three years you will be three years older. Maybe it will be easier and simpler then or maybe it won't be. I say why wait? J0442372

Thanks for reading. John