be specific

What is Your Realm?

A close colleague of mine was discussing the future of an unemployed at-risk youth we had just met, "We can not just dress up these young men and teach them how to get jobs at fast food restaurants. We must help them understand their place in the realm of their world. Their role in society. Then and only then will they help themselves and their communities."

Realm: Noun. Meaning: domain, activity, sphere, knowledge, interest

Aren't we all "at-risk" of not knowing our role, our realm? 

Each of us has a "realm".  A place which inspires us. An environment that brings out the best in us. Work that is meaningful to us. Our realm nurtures our sense of duty and commitment to what we do.

What is your realm? Your realm of possibility and responsibility?

I am often in debates and discussions about being a king or a kingmaker. But why aren't we talking about the kingdom and its needs. The kingdom is the community--your realm. 

If our realm is only about ourselves, tis a small and selfish realm indeed. 

Big hat no cattle.  Big Hat

Becoming a better person, a more educated person, a more mature person, a more successful person--always starts with the realm---How that person contributes to things beyond themselves. So a realm is unique and specific idea, cause, skillset, space that you embrace, protect, invest in and stand for.

We now face the danger, which in the past has been the most destructive to the humans: Success, plenty, comfort and ever-increasing leisure. No dynamic people has ever survived these dangers. John Steinbeck  1962

Our own comfort and happiness can limit our realm. Jim Collins, business guru, called it the "undisciplined pursuit of more". More for what? Most of us need little, we want a lot! Yet we know others who need what we have.

It is human nature to start with oneself but where is the humanity in this?

What should I be? vs How can I be useful?

Who I am vs What I do?

I am good vs Good I do

People tell me everday they want to be entreprenuers, or start non-profits, they rarely say what they want to do for the world and how they will change it. I never hear "I want to cure cancer", or "Mentor at risk youth" or "Increase the quality of STEM education" or "Alleviate the suffering of the homeless"

I hear selfish, often innocuous and mostly meaningless general thoughts about their futures.

  • "I want to make a difference." Huh?
  • "I want to do something I believe in." What?
  • "I want to make money." Become a counterfeiter!
  • "I am going to retire soon to rest." Another act of procrastination.
  • "I don't want to make other people rich." Yikes!
  • "I want to help people."  OMG!
  • "I want to grow." Who doesn't?!

Remember the emperor with no clothes? That's what we sound and look like when we say these things. When we care more about what others think and have no realm. If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything! Or wear anything! Or say or do anything or nothing at all.

Without a realm it is near impossible to network and be mentored. 

But John I have no realm, but want one. What do I do?

  1. Self awareness is the first step and now your eyes are open
  2. Listen to your heart and take notes. 
  3. Explore what seriously interests you and drives you. Use your network.
  4. Your realm is not just your job. You can have multiple realms. Start small and grow.
  5. Do not wait. This is the best time to start.

#1 myth in Greg McKeown's terrific 12 myths that lead to a busy and unfulfilling life:

"I'm too busy living to think about life." This is a huge blamethrower. It's not my fault everyone else expects so much of me. 

I always wanted to be somebody, but I realized I should have been more specific. Lily Tomlin

Been mentoring a young man for years. Tried to get him to focus on life instead of his ambition. His goal was a title not a mission. He talked of promotions not deeds. Tried to engage him in the work vs his own welfare. He is just emerging from that super selfish time that I have blogged about between 24-30 years old. Finally he has emerged from the fog of self absorption and saw his realm. I had to wait this one out. Not entirely his fault he was a Me Myself and I kinda guy. Recently the fog cleared and he can see past his own shoes and the path has emerged from the darkness. He thinks I made the fog disappear. He doesn't realize that when you are looking at yourself you can't see anything or anyone else. And he is now pursuing his usefulness in his realm.

Refine your sense of how you will do something about what you care about, what angers you, what vision you have for your communty what gives you joy and how you can help others. Before you refine your resume and interview skills! 

A focus on just building yourself without context is a form of naricissim that can lead to a life of disappointment and unfulfilled potential. This is the leading cause of a life of regret. 

Call it maturity. Call it fate. Call it career development. Self awareness leads to enlightenment if you let it. 

Your realm is waiting. You are the king or queen but how is your kingdom doing? We are at risk of being too busy to think about life. So find your realm.

GOT realm? For the good of your realm!

Thanks for reading. John  


The Commodity of Crowds

We are a product of our environment, right? No doubt that everything we do and everyone we encounter changes us a little or a lot. But how do we take advantage of the crowds arounds us? How do we avoid being dragged down by the crowd? And regressing to the mean? Everyday we can be pushed to realize our potential or pulled to be like everybody else. 

The nail that sticks out gets hammered.  Japanese proverb

It is human nature to to fall in line. the Asch conformity experiments demonstrate that we will lie about what we see to conform. 

I meet thousands of people who are in the federal witness relocation program. No not real former witnesses hiding out. But people under assumed identities--identities that they assumed from the advice of others. People told them what they should be, what they should study, what jobs made financial sense. They ignored their own interests to make the crowds around them happy.

Don't accept hand-me-down dreams. 

If we were a product how would we market ourselves? How would we promote our brand? What would differentiate us from the other products? Your resume? Your job? You?

Fear, the change around us, doubt about our chances, make us conservative and practical. We pull back our dreams, our aspirations, and our talents. We accept less of ourselves. Less of who we are and what we want. Not talking about our personal budgets. Financial prudence should always govern. I am talking about carving out a life and career that truly reflects you.  Fish

If you always do what you have always done then you always get what you always got.  Stuart Crab

Finding what makes you different requires hard work, experimentation, fast failures, iteration, and certainly not settling. To live an authentic life you have to pursue who you truly are. So the journey is a self discovery of what you love doing, what defines you, what your talents and strengths are. Your network and your mentors can help guide you through this journey if you open your mind and heart.
A true life starts with talking straight about who you are and who want to become. Taking chances to become your best authentic self. Stop using false statements---the use of other people's words that mean nothing to you but satisfactorily answer the question of "Where are you going?" Or "What are you doing with your life?" Glib but disingenuous answers that are meant to stop the conversation. A great mentor would never let you get away with such answers. 
It would be much easier to live a life that "happens". You take what comes to you. Settle for what others want for you. The authentic life is the opposite, you chase it. You hunt it down. You stalk your passion and purpose. 

Why be a commodity of a crowd?  Are you different? Are you average? 76% of Americans say they are above average. So I guess above average is the commodity. :) We can't accept that. 

I leave you with a wonderful Carlos Casteneda quote: 
All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. ... Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.

There is wisdom in crowds but don't get lost in them.

Thanks for reading. John

Losing our minds by getting stuck

As we get older we tell jokes about "still being upright", or "nice to be seen" or "still breathng".

We know the moment we can't move is when we are dead. We all know about that many sharks have to swim to breathe and live. Humans stop moving and their spirit can die.  Our ability to see ourselves evolve, adapt, learn, and engage is essential to living and to life.

I meet zombies all of the time. Lifelike forms who go through the motions. They are usually good people who do no harm but lack purpose and deeper fulfillment. Many of them have given up on the future. Life is what happens and they make the best of that. Getting by and getting through the day, week, month.....is the objective. All of the obstacles, shortcomings, and challenges have beaten them into a corner of settling for "what it is". It is sad when you see this in a boomer but depressing when you see it in a 27 year old!

I am obsessed by understanding how people untangle themselves from their own web of self-imposed constraints. We all lose so much energy, talent, and ultimate creativity in our society because of this malady.

Daniel Pink studies what motivates us in his terrific book, Drive. He said that we all need Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose to keep us motivated and moving.

Po Bronson who chronicled his interviews with almost 1000 successful people in his book, What should I do with my life? He found that all obstacles in people's lives were surmountable. That with very exceptions they were excuses.

Sharks teach us much about the life giving forces of "movement". The need to keep active,  open,  and curious about what lies ahead. Moving to connect to people and ideas. The need to renew one's spirit and goals by forging ahead.

Sea squirts, of all creatures, teach us something fascinating about human behavior. Sea quirts are these simple opaque tube-like tunicates or urochordates that have been swimming in the oceans since the Jurassic era. They swim in schools and like sharks filter water through their bodies to live and survive. But sea squirts do something bizarre, oh so it would seem. They find a place to attach themselves as a group. They then proceed to digest their own brain and nervous system because they will no longer need them! Now attached to a rock or coral, they can survive by merely filtering water without thinking (not that the sea squirts were solving algebra equations or having deep thoughts!)Sea squirts Bluebell

Does this sound familiar? It does to me. Once attached to a comfortable place, way of thinking, surrounded by others who are almost identical, the need for a brain and new thoughts are rendered obsolete. I know and have met permanent and temporary sea squirt humans! People who settle. People who give up. Non-profit board members who eat their brains once the meeting commences. People who are so stuck in their ways, their assumptions, habits, and their networks----part of them dies. Their spirit and energy about change and the future goes into a deep sleep. Their minds are not engaged or necessary!

For the sea squirt, eating your brain et al is an irreversible act. Hope you like the rock selected because that will be your final resting place! But for us humanoids, we still have brains and can choose to keep moving our lives forward. Whether you are 40 or 60 you have a lot more to give and live for. Certainly if you are 27 or 37, you can not be stuck yet. 

Are you a sea squirt? Have you lost your mind because you are stuck? Have you settled into your piece of coral and decided that this is all that life can be?!

One thing I have seen is that the network, the school you swim with, can hold you back. Maybe its time you evaluated the people around you. Maybe you are holding yourself back. Maybe you need a different perspective. Maybe you need different priorities. Maybe more connection to your values and loved ones.

You are not done yet. You still have a bunch of ideas about the future, your future, your family's future, your community's future. We need you to move. Don't eat your brain. :)

As you can see a sea squirt can be quite beautiful. But as we all know, true beauty lies within and we can not allow that beauty and potential to wither because we are anchored to an immobile rock.

Thanks for reading. John


Lessons and reminders from reality

Congresswoman Judy Chu's office called me and asked me to offer my workshop to her Job Hunter's Job Boot Camp last week. I commend Judy and her team for their leadership in helping people get their careers and lives on track.

I got there early, as I always do presentations to get the lay of the land. I attended a "Hot Jobs" workshop that was sparsely attended. There were three panelists who gave a wide range of advice on jobs from IT to construction. One thing that struck me is that there ARE jobs. Unfilled positions with futures. They all require more certification and training just to apply and get to the entry level. I am talking about answering the phone and laying cement certifications! But between the three presenters they had hundreds of openings. Looking around the room there was limited interest in these new fields. You can see the questions in people's faces---Should I re-tool for a new career? Shall I invest in a change at this stage of my life? Only a few seemed encouraged.Unemployment  

Even though the focus of this session was entry level, the lessons and advice apply to all. Just a few of the words of wisdom I heard:

  • "No longer are we "break and fix" guys. Help desk staff have to have deeper knowledge, be great communicators, and work collaboratively."
  • "Don't burn any bridges so you have good references--we check them all."
  • "If you are not arriving to work early, then you are late. If you arrive at work one minute late, we send you home. It shows you are not serious."
  • "We fire people who say "that's not in my job classification!"

My session was filled with a very diverse array of human beings from 20 to 60 years old. I introduced some fundamental career change and networking essentials. I pushed them through a few exercises to get them to understand. It was one of the most energized groups I have encountered in years. One thought seemed to perplex  people the most. The contradictory notion of openness to opportunity and the specificity of a job search.

I always introduce the seemingly conflicting concepts of defining your goals with specificity and being open to discovery and serendipity. I make fun of people who are open to anything to not eliminate any possibilities They usually have such general job/career goals that no one can help them. What I call the Rose Parade Theme goal. Here are few of my favorites from the last week: "I want to work with people." "I can't be stuck behind a desk." "I want to do something I believe in."  Huh?

Here's the rub. What you want has to be honed down to reflect your personal needs and interests. If you can't articulate what you want no one can help you find it. Networking is impossible and mentoring is frustrating. When you say you can do anything, most people hear nothing and they do the same.

Once you focus on what you want and say things people can understand, they can provide assistance and support. And, here's the kicker when you get focused and are pursuing and doing what you want--it shows in your energy, effort and passion. This is when others offer you new opportunities. People see you in another sector or field. People see your talent transferring into something else.

New offers and opportunities don't arise when the people around you have no idea what you want.

So specificity breeds success and success enables new opportunity. Get it?

I am constantly inspired by the people that are trying to make changes to get a job and find a new career to be fulfilled. My goal is to just try and give people a little different perspective to get them to accelerate the changes they know they have to make. In the end I get re-charged by their desire to advance their lives.

Every encounter and experience provides lessons, so......

Be specific. Get to work early. Adapt faster. See your job as bigger than the job description. And don't burn your bridges. Some real lessons from real people looking for and offering work.

Thanks for reading. John


Flash learning, Lightning talks, Fast pitches, and You

Our ability to communicate quickly and effectively is more valued than ever before. If you use twitter, you know the limit of 140 characters and that all texting and social media require brevity--Driven by our shorter attention spans and our multi-tasking lives. We can futilely bemoan this inexorable trend toward speed and all of dire consequences. But we all agree on one thing, we want people to make their point. What are you trying to say?, and spit it out! :) We want people to articulate their thought with a bit of substance and a little style, right?Blah

The issue here is not just attention spans, it is our choices. As I say all the time--we have more choices and less time. So if you do not say something interesting quickly, people will shift their precious bandwidth to something that is more engaging. Imagine the challenge facing older middle school teachers today who don't have a Facebook page and never played a video game since Pac Man--and their up hill attempts to sustain interest in the curricula from a group born and bred on social media--WHEW!

All learning is going through massive change, especially outside of the ivy covered walls. More content on college campuses is delivered online than face-to-face. In other words, students can take more of their classes from their dorm room than in a lecture hall! The real and interesting change is occurring in training workshops, presentations, conferences, and informal education. Generically called "flash learning". Delivering interesting and compelling content in very compressed and often structured chunks. There are many movements, organized systems and events that feature and celebrate this form of learning. Consider the following:

  1. Ignite--5 year old global event where you have 5 minutes to present your thought/idea/theory. 15 seconds for every powerpoint slide, auto advanced. You have a max of 20 slides and you have to be well rehearsed.
  2. TEDtalks--My primary addiction :) TED may have been the inspiration for much of these changes. Started in 1984, TEDtalks have become a worldwide phenomenon with over 11,000 events. In a Tedtalk you are roughly given 3 minutes, 8 minutes or 18 minutes to make your presentation with or without slides, no auto advance requirements.
  3. PechaKucha--Developed in Japan by architects and designers to share ideas. Literally translated as "chit chat". Like Ignite you have 20 slides and 20 seconds, auto advanced. So, thre are 6 mins and 40 seconds max to do your thang.
  4. Fast pitches--Los Angeles Social Venture Partners and others developed this program to coach and mentor non-profits on how to pitch their stories to raise money and support. The winners get cash prizes for their orgs. Non-profits are notoriously poor at concisely communicating their mission and their need.
  5. Lightning talks--Developed in 1997 for techies to share ideas, speakers were given 5 minutes max to convey their newest project or solution.
  6. Speed Challenges--Just learned about these and I love the idea. This is a timed brainstorming exercise to help individuals in a group. Person with idea, problem, goal gets no more than 2 minutes to say their piece. The group has a max of 2 minutes to clarify and understand the concept. Then the group goes for 5 minutes in generating help, resources, and further ideas. So in 10 minutes you get great feedback and support. Brainstorm 

We all understand that the brain can only endure and absorb so much. Brain scientists have shown that 5-7 minutes is our ideal attention span. Think about the length of a song or a poem.

We have heard of, maybe even participated in, speed dating and other networking events that try and accelerate opportunities. Ice breakers are one of these old school devices.

My work on live tv and radio taught me quickly how being clear and fast is essential. Because the opposite is deadly. It always is.

So what does this mean to you and to networking. Everything!!!!

We all have heard of the elevator pitch that originated with the venture capitalists to engage and secure investors in the span of an elevator ride. But today every organization and everybody needs a brief, well thought out message. No matter what you are selling, trying to get a job, pushing a cause, raising money or just trying to make a point.

As Mark Twain said:

"It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech."

“I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Nothing replaces preparation, brevity and putting a little of yourself into your communication. It takes a great deal of work to say something that makes a difference.

What is your ignite, PechaKucha, fast pitch, or TEDtalk about yourself or your cause or your idea or your organization?

All of this has to start with knowing who you are and what you want?

I developed the BIT, (brief introductory talk) to focus us on how we even introduce ourselves.

I love flash learning opportunities. I have long believed that if we pay attention and assert ourselves there are moments, events, and people that will teach us and change us in an instant. Life is so fast and we have to see the choices and the chances we get everyday.

Yes, we should slow down. We should savor long walks on the beach, enjoy a good book, and smell the roses along our meandering journey of life, as long as we know what we want and how to articulate it. And did we meet someone on the beach, learn something from the book, or did the sight and scent of the flowers make us think about someone else? How will our experiences advance our learning and our goals to help one another.

Thanks for reading. John


Lexicon of Life---Be defined by what you want not by the words you use

The word swastika is Sanskrit not German and is more than 3000 years old. The version on the right was high-jacked 70 years ago. Nevertheless swastika still means good fortune and well-being to much of the world.

I recently heard the remarkable Howard Bloom speak about the brain and our views of the world. He exhorted the audience, "To see everything as you never seen it before!" Why? Because we do not see things as they really are. We scan and assume. We pre-judge, we are governed by our habits and our moods. We gravitate to the easy answers that we often know are under-informed and possibly wrong. We rely on our instincts and intuition way too much. Ultimately, we see things, have thoughts and feelings, convert them to words and vice versa. Words generate thoughts/feelings and our perception is framed. Sometimes we let words drive our thoughts. And a bunch of swastika like words can get embedded in our mouths and our minds. We get off track because we don't question what we say and see. How we see our selves and our opportunities matters. So the words we use to describe our futures make a difference. Right?Dictionary

Last week I met with a group of grad students. I ask them, as I always do, what career/job/position do you want when you graduate? This is not a trick question, nor hopefully, a surprise query? :) But it always seems to startle these post-graduate recipients. Often I get a litany of buzzwords, jargon, and phrases intended to impress. Words such as CAREER, PROFESSION, JOB, and OCCUPATION are bandied about. Loose words and even looser thinking. Yet these immature thoughts are guiding behavior and establishing unintended goals. Sound familiar? Easy to make fun of grad students, but the lesson here is examine our words to keep us focused on what we want.

Words are so important. What they mean and how we use them. Most words we rely upon like the oxygen we breathe, we don't think about them or question their origins. Do we say what we mean or mean what we say?

Here is the John Kobara lexicon watch list of words to keep you on your toes:

CareerFrom the French word Carriere, which means two-wheeled vehicle like a chariot, a racecourse, similar origins as careen, so out of control. Supposedly became a "course of life". But it began as a vehicle going in circles very rapidly nearly out of control! Lily Tomlin said, "Even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat!" A career can seem cyclical and circular, speedily heading to a finish line that looks very much like the starting point.

Profession: Originally the "professing" of one's vows to religious faith. An occupation requiring specialized knowledge and training.

Job: A regular activity in exchange for payment.

Occupation: Process of filling up time and space. To be busy. To have a job.

Vocation: From vocare or vocatio, meaning summons or calling. Originally, a divine calling to the religious life. This is what your heart whispers to you or you have heard in the back of your mind, the work or activity that you prefer and like doing--even love doing, including your so-called passions. Are you heeding the calls? I have had many vocations and that's all I want!

Amateur: From the Latin word amator, meaning lover or someone in avid pursuit of a goal. A person who does an activity for the love of it.

We all want more than a job or an occupation. Do you want to be an amateur or a professional? To have a career or a vocation? Like the swastika, the words can limit what we see.  And our perceptions can deceive us. 

When you come to a fork in the road, take it!     Yogi Berra

Our questions have to be guided by what we want. Do we really want a new or different career or job? Or are you deeply and seriously interested in linking who you are to your like, your work, and your achievements?

A report by the British think tank Demos describes the rise of what is called the ProAm Revolution. There has been an increase in the number of amateurs who excel, rival and even exceed the standards and achievements of the professionals. People with day jobs who are accomplished in other areas. People who have dual careers, one paid and one un-paid. They are lawyers who paint. Doctors who volunteer. Teachers who write textbooks. Accountants who play the french horn. My blog and speaking have become my amateur work. This career duality helps them feel fulfilled and challenged. Finding one job that will totally encompass the needs of a person is far fetched. Therefore it has been my experience that this strategy is not the exception but the essential one. 

Our jobs can be what we do to pay the bills, hopefully it is work we care about and that makes a difference in the world. Most of us will need to be an amateurin something else to give our life well-lopsidedness. We have to have multiple interests and work to meet our different needs. Ideally these worlds can help each other. Being a tri-athlete, sing operas, coach at-risk youth.... 

Seeing your life as big enough to include your ProAm strategy is the start. And begins with the words and thoughts that describe your vision for yourself. How about a Vocational Amateur? :)

 Thanks for reading. John

  


Your path to the future is paved with questions

One of the most powerful resources in your career and networking toolbox is curiosity. Yeah, the insatiable desire to try to understand how things work or don't work, what is success or failure and how is it measured?; what are the best practices?; who is considered the best or the leader?; what are the trends and therefore the scenarios of the future?

Questions shape our understanding and define our thoughts, opinions, and our preferences. Good questions lead to better conversations. And great conversations generate important relationships. Questions matter. Questions

Question authority. Did he pop the question?

Yet, there seems to be a dearth of well formed questions. You would think that learning would motivate our questions, wouldn't you?

We all evaluate dozens of organizations and individuals every week. Vendors, partners, colleagues, friends, restaurants, product providers, etc. We accept and tolerate many issues and challenges in our daily experiences. Often they trigger questions about how to improve something, somebody. Questions about the goals or expectations of a service, a project, or an organization.

There are the profound questions we have to ask ourselves everyday, every month, every year:

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I going?
  • Am I on track?
  • What is meaningful to me?
  • What do I want?

Questions are the lifeblood of the conversations that make mentoring and networking relationships work and thrive. What you want to know, what perplexes and stymies you, where you think there are gaps or weaknesses--this is the fuel that powers the engines of personal and professional change. But they can not be questions just about you and what you want.

We seem to be more interested in using our questions to purchase a car or a new computer than to choose our next job or career? We invest more time and energy into the quality of our material possessions than the due diligence of the work we do and how it will help us grow and advance.

Not having answers should motivate us instead of depress us.

I meet a lot of people. People who want to find jobs, people who want something, people who are searching, people who are lost, and people who want to partner. And overall, the quality or in some cases the absence of questions is surprising.

I look at resumes the same way I review business plans, or grant application. Where have you been, where are you going, why did you make changes, where have you succeeded, where have you failed, what makes you unique, why should I affiliate with you?

I could not make up the stuff I hear and see in interviews. Sometimes it is a reality show of outtakes from American Idol or America's Got Talent. Once in awhile it is invigorating and inspiring but that is the exception.

Here are my top five favorite meaningless questions that I have been asked by job candidates in the first interview?

  1. How many days off will I get?
  2. How much do you love working here?
  3. Are the dental benefits any good?
  4. How soon would I be promoted?
  5. Do you have a strategic plan?

It's like, "Did you just say that out loud?" There is zero interest in how the employer is doing or what is going on? Are you so self absorbed and ill-prepared that you have no genuine interest in the business, the challenges, and the results?

The most irritating sound outside of the vuvezelas at the World Cup is the worst radio station in the world, WII-FM. What's In It For Me. When this radio station plays so loudly that it drowns out even the semblance of what others want, then failure and rejection will be your listening mates. WII-FM makes one's questions seem self-absorbed and selfish.

We all know that asking questions has to be accompanied by thoughts on the answers. You can't just verbalize queries without ideas. Otherwise you are just another whiny solution-less member of the chorus of complainers. And there is little room in our crowded lives for this irritating irrelevant noise.

All of us have an exaggerated level of confidence in our ability to ad-lib, address impromptu situations, think on our feet. In general, when we rely on this non-existent skill, we look stupid. The only way to avoid this embarrassment is to prepare questions. Writing down questions. Thinking about what questions you would ask yourself if you were hiring you.

Our quest is looking for special people, special opportunities, special moments, and ulimately a greater sense of fulfillment--the diamonds in the rough, the needles in the haystack. We find these things by following our hearts, our intuition and our questions. We discover these things by being insatiably curious.

What are your questions?

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. Albert Einstein

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


Career ESP---Extra Specific Please

I start out one of my presentations with an attempt at ESP. I try and predict the audience's mindset and what they are thinking about their career futures. I start out with what they DON'T want, because people tend to define where they are going by avoiding the least desirable paths. Anyway, here's what I say: "So you want to do something you believe in, feel good about what you do and how it benefits humankind. You do not want to be confined to a "conveyor belt" of meaningless and repetitive tasks,  and you want to work with people, because you are a people person. And you don't want to be in sales! You want an organizational culture that values your unique talents and will help you grow." Usually, this is followed by, "How did you know?!!!" This always applies to new graduates, young alums, but today this is the view of many career changers who are looking for the next thing. Lily Tomlin said, "I always wanted to be somebody but I realized I should have been more specific." What I try and coach people to do is to zoom in on what they want-- to be more specific!Crystal ball

Besides the crucial error of driving your career defensively versus asserting and pursuing what you want. Let's break this mindset down:

I want to do something I believe in -- In the lexicon of the 90's Duh! Yes make missions or causes an essential part of your life! But what do you specifically believe in? What are your values and principles that you will use as search filters for your next career? It would be lovely if you could satisfy all of them in a job. You need to find a job, an employer, an industry that fits your needs, including what its products and services do for the world. It does not mean that your day job will fulfill all of your passions. Never stop pursuing your passions outside of your employment, that will help keep your rocket ship in orbit. Your constellation of passions is complex and finding a sole source provider is illogical. In the end you have to believe in the opportunity for you to grow your talents and your prospects in this new career. So your employment has to be focused on real skill developmetn and experience acquisition. In this case you are obsessive about developing yourself and your prospective employer supports your quest. Now that is doing something to believe in.

I want to avoid a job with repetitive and meaningless tasks -- Unless it pays $100 an hour! :) I get to visit and talk to people in every sector. The new world order has redefined everything, no job is confined to a series of predictable tasks any more. Everybody is doing more with less. Sure every job has administrivia, grunty work, the chores of the job, but the work of a receptionist, financial analyst, assistant, project manager etc have been expanded and are changing. So expectations and opportunities increase in worlds that need more done. And all jobs matter more. What you really want to avoid is an environment that regards your work as meaningless. But if you agree with #1 above, then you find a place where you can grow. Nothing wrong with a bit of repetition, it will give you a great chance to hone your skills and develop confidence.

I want to work with people -- This one always kills me. What is the alternative here: zoo-keeper! Yeah you are going to work with people while we are on earth. Do you mean you want to work with people "outside of the office"? Customers? Vendors?  What type of people? How? And by the way, are you good at working with people, building relationships, engaging teams?? The real question is how good are you with people? Can you lead, inspire, counsel, serve people? We know what you want but can you deliver value to your employer and ultimately to the customer?

I want an organizational culture that values my unique talents and will help me grow -- See #1 again! By the way, what are your specific unique talents and strengths? Hard to appreciate them if you do not know what they are. And if you know those talents, then find an environment that will use them. Do you know where you are generally or specifically going with your career? Do you know what skills you want sharpened or developed? If you do, then growth can be measured. If you don't then this notion of "growth" will frustrate you and your employer because it is a mysterious and illusive set of feelings and ideas that no one knows. The very popular and ugly dance of under-utilized employer provided growth opportunities and employee dissatisfaction with their growth is commonplace. Successful people do not rail against or depend on the system, they figure out how to make the most of the opportunities that are there and make new ones. One of the most popular but mis-placed expectations is that the employer has an obligation to develop my career and mentor me. Employers can coach, lead, support, but mentoring and career planning are always the employee's job.

Maybe this raises more questions and some answers for you. The hope is to get you more focused on what you really want, in Tomlinesque specificity. Then you can start talking about it to get feedback. You can network with it. You can seek mentoring and guidance. Your plans will gel and your focus on what you want will get sharper. However if you continue to use generic phrases to describe what you want, then your search for the next great thing will be lost in a sea of non-specific candidates.The idea that you do not want to eliminate possibilities by being too specific is a certain sentence to the penitentiary of the average. Or your search for meaning and meaningfulness can be driven by the unique interests and talents that make you specifically who you are and separate you from the predictable masses.  

Thanks for reading. John