career alzheimers

Ambition to Walk the Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oren Yakobovich: Exposing human rights violations through innovative surveillance.

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

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

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

antonio machado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ambition is connecting and ambitiousness is isolating. 

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


I Am Generic to Keep My Options Open

I am seeing a rise in generic humans. I am meeting them at events, they are connecting with me on Linkedin, they read my blog --they are everywhere. I used to spot this species mostly at undergraduate institutions where undeclared majors evolved into generics. But today I meet them in all stages of life. Apparently the current brutal  job search world squeezes out any differentiating attributes, any passion from their personalities. They are like walking dead who are indiscrimnate about their employment. And they are multiplying! 

Sorry let me back up and describe this human who is proliferating among us. 

Generic humans are brandless, non-commital, dispassionate, and directionless bags of protoplasm that are doing everything possible to be open to any and all jobs opportunities. It is FOMO for jobs. So they have become Spock like creatures devoid of their emotions, dreams, and passions. They are the cowardly lion on the yellow brick road of life. They are mercenaries who will work for any army. Free agents who just want dental benefits. Generic

Last week a thirty-something year-old guy, well dressed, well spoken was referred to me by a former colleague. He wanted an informational interview to understand my world. I always say yes to my former colleagues requests! Anyway, this guy has a good resume and is looking for a job. Unclear where he is going on his resume, but that doesn't bother me (especially if you look at my resume!) I learn a lot about him and his quirks in the first 90 seconds.

He started off like this: "So glad I am meeting with you because I really want to work for a non-profit. I want to help other people and when I have volunteered I have been the most fulfilled, so I decided that choosing non-profit work would center my life around what matters to me. But everyone keeps telling me that I have to have a cause or a specific issue to focus on. But I tell them that doesn't matter. I have decided to work for a non-profit--a good non-profit that is making a difference. With good leadership and management. A stable non-profit, not too big not too small. I have a lot to offer in terms of skills and experiences. The right non-profit would be lucky to get me. So am I wrong? Am I doing something wrong? Do you think I need a cause or an issue? What do you think?" Whew!

He is Generic with diarrhea of the mouth! It is like putting "non-profit job" in the Google search bar to find employment. So you have narrowed your search to 1.6 million non-profits in the US! 40,000 in LA!

I said, are you single? He said, "Yes, what of it?" Is this how you date?, I said. No preferences, no dimensions of compatibility, no emotions? 

He said "No way!" Okay, then why don't you look for a job the same way?! You have to express what you want and you have to have causes or issues that matter to you more than others!

If you do not stand for something, you will fall for anything. 

ColaA 28 year old woman recently told me that the industry, the product, the service of her future employer was irrelevant. She winked and told me, "Well I wouldn't work for a firearms manufacturer." We laughed and laughed, as I screamed inside. 

These Generics think they are being smart and clever. Everyone except them knows that their pitch, elevator speech, or BIT leads nowhere. "If you do not know where you are going, every path will lead you there." And mostly in vicious circles where you end up at the beginning again. And no one can help a Generic because their search is undefined. 

Generics would not buy clothes, pick a restaurant, or buy a car this way. They would research what they WANT, what they PREFER, and what they DESIRE. They would shop and compare before they buy. They would have lists of prospective employers without regard to openings. In short, their search would be informed by their values, needs and wants. 

Generics say, "I just want to keep my options open." Like the open sea or deep space. Open becomes infinite. Yeah yeah we want options. But it makes you sound indifferent to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness! We have to link to things we care about. We always have preferred industries, preferred jobs, and preferred employers in mind. Then others can help you!

Today's job market actually requires the opposite. People who care about the product, service and or purpose are a better fit than generics. Competence and adaptability, and energy are a dime a gross. With fewer open positions , the new filters from the employer side is FIT. And FIT is directly linked with an emotional and intellectual connection with the organization's purpose. Someone who loves the work will be more engaged, more loyal, stay longer, and work harder. Non-profits, for-profits, public sector, private sector--doesn't matter.

As a Generic, you should be fired as your own brand manager!

Stop keeping your options open. Stop saying that. Start expressing what you want, what you care about, who you are and what you need. Stop being generic! And friends don't let their friends become generic.

If you were hiring wouldn't you always prefer an employee who cares about the work and the mission? Be that candidate!

 Thanks for reading. John

 


Avoid Career Alzheimers--Reconnect to Your Purpose

Through luck, fate and my own assertiveness, I meet incredible leaders and people who have achieved success. In these encounters they have said things that have altered my life. They have mentored me. Things I adopted as models for my own trajectory and just as often, things that frightened me. I have learned as much from those I want to emulate as from those I want to not be like. Just as in art you gravitate to the positive spaces because of the negative spaces. People's lives have become my yin and yang of life. Yin yang

Here are several of my favorite true encounters (some details were altered to protect the innocent):

  • After losing the vote to become Prime Minister of his country, he was stripped of his executive privileges, "How in the @&!# did I think I could run this country, I didn't even know what it costs to park in my building." 
  • 6 months before he was fired, this prominent Div 1 coach said to me, "I don't have time to go to practices as much as I should." 
  • After declaring bankruptcy, this owner of a chain of restaurants told me, "It had been a long time since I had eaten at one of my restaurants." 
  • A colleague of mine worked for a hyper wealthy family and was seeking permission to spend $100,000. She was told, "Why are we wasting time on this? I made this much money in the time we have been talking."

"Success" can breed an over confidence that can ironically lead to an utter disconnection from the very work and people that generated the success. That form of arrogance almost always leads to disaster.

Every week I meet executives and managers who have early onset of what I call Career Alzheimers. These are people who are getting tired (not necessarily old!) of their work. Yes, we all want less hassle, fewer people issues, and more theoretical work. Here's the rub. Once you lose connection with the customer (not the data), the staff (not the metrics), the community (not the view from your office), you have lost your way. You have Career Alzheimers!

Here's my mythical wikipedia post for Career Alzheimers:

Career Alzheimers (CA) is a common form of professional dementia. It worsens as it progresses, and eventually leads to career termination. Although Career Alzheimers develops differently for every individual, there are many common symptoms. Early symptoms are often mistakenly thought to be 'age-related'. In the early stages, the most common symptom is difficulty in remembering what they love about their job. When CA is suspected, the diagnosis is usually confirmed with telltale statements that rely too heavily on abstract concepts, theories, and metrics demonstrating a growing disconnection from real things and people. Some show confusion, irritability, mood swings, trouble with language, especially concerning their passion for their work. As the sufferer declines they often withdraw further and further from the day to day work, from colleagues and from the society. Gradually, these conditions worsen often leading to end of career. Since the disease is different for each individual, predicting how it will affect the person is difficult. CA develops for an unknown and variable amount of time before becoming fully apparent, and it can progress undiagnosed for years. The cause and progression of CA are not well understood. My unscientific research indicates that the disease is associated with the increasing depersonalization of the success metrics of work. Fortunately, CA is curable. Self awareness is the first step and then to seek mentoring help to confirm the disorder and treatment. Treatment is simple—take steps to humanize your work. Get out of your office. Get tactile, visceral, palpable stories about the solutions you are providing, unmet need, nuances and challenges of the execution of the work your department/team/company does. Regular doses of the humanity of your work will immediately combat CA and can keep it from reoccurring. 

I love that Warren Buffett drives his own car and talks to his shareholders and people in general. He may be elderly but he is still grounded to the basics of what makes him a success. He will never have CA!

Carve out more time to meet with the beneficiaries of your work. Make scheduled and unscheduled visits to partners, customers, offices, and even competitors. It will shift your perspective every single time. It will energize you! It will trigger a small and sometimes large reminder of the purpose of your work that too often gets boiled down to a "bottomline" that has sucked all of the humanity out of our existence. Yes, we need to measure things, but we also have to remember the measure of our purpose. 

Self diagnose. Ask people you trust. Early signs? Late stages? Re-engage or retire--and find something new to reinvigorate you. Never too late. You hold the cure. 

Thanks for reading. John