Career and Life Development

Uncomfortable Comfort

Words mean a lot to me. Perhaps more as I age. I value the meaning of the words we choose and use. People who know me well understand that certain words set me off. My bans on "busy", "when I retire...", "stability" are well documented. 

I push myself, and others who will listen, to "play out of bounds" and to not compromise our dreams. Why are we not pursuing what is most important to us? What obstacles prevent us to live the life we want? Am I where I am supposed to be? Are our networks diverse or a bunch of people who are clones --eating, voting, entertaining, agreeing, liking, the same stuff? 

My goal is to disrupt the mindlessness of our lives. Where we accept and tolerate what we have and don't want. 

I was conducting a session with graduate students about career transitions and got this question: "How long should I be uncomfortable?" It was a great question. Because it was honest. It was a vulnerable question. It was a question about the searching and certainty. After all when you are grad school procrastinating your future :), you think a lot about the land of career clarity. If we are contemplating change in our lives, if we are paying attention to the world around us, we all are trying to get to this mystical land of clarity.

When we are open to what we don't know, when we are open to opportunities that we had not considered, when we become vulnerable to questions and conversations that change us----we get uncomfortable.

Get-comfortable-being-uncomfortable-7

Comfort the Afflicted and Afflict the Comfortable. F. Peter Dunne

Perhaps my theme song! And definitely my favorite quote.

In other words, I am not where I want to be. I am not sure where I am going. I feel stuck or I crave more certainty about my path. I want more meaning, fulfillment and a greater sense of purpose. I need an answer to give me comfort.

So here's my answer:

You should never be comfortable. Never.

In terms of life and career development.

Yes, we should smell the roses, appreciate our milestones and yes let's have gratitude.

But before we get too caught up in our greatness, drunk with our achievements, and light headed with thankfulness--let's consider the infinite challenge of serving others. Let's pause and consider our ambitions for our families and ourselves. Let's truly understand that we are not satisfied with our inner or outer lives. So stability is a joke. Certainty is a unicorn.

How do you continuously pursue your own growth and that means your ability to help others?

You can join the growing NIMBY family or what I call the OIMBY tribe (Only In My Backyard)--where you take care of your immediate family and everyone else is on their own.

We have to be uncomfortable with our comfort.

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 

The status quo sucks! Am I right? The world is not quite right. We are still filling out the breadth of our potential. Our families are a work in progress. Our communities are in great need. The world is at the brink of challenge and change.

When we stop and think about what we can do, what we have to advance our lives and the lives of others, and consider the obscene abundance in which we reside----We can get uncomfortable. :)

Once you accept that our work is infinite. That our role is to advance the work and give the next gen a chance to continue the work. That can give you a modicum of comfort. But then you realize, as I do everyday, life is short. We don't know when our ticket will be punched. So what will I do today?

Don't misunderstand me. Lack of comfort is not lack of peace. Inner peace comes with understanding one's role and opportunity. Inner peace comes with serving others. True peace is the product of an altruistic life of compassion. And compassion literally means to suffer with others. So we come full circle to an uncomfortable peace. 

Our truth stands in the doorways in front of us, doorways that excite, invite, and frighten us.

Have I afflicted you?

Here's to your uncomfortable peace. Thanks for reading. John

 

A poem I wrote inspired by these thoughts:

Comfortable Conversation
Comfortable?
Very
Too comfortable?
Perhaps
Why do you ask?
Comfort is nice
When
When is the right time to talk?
To talk
About what I want
Now
Is this the right time?
Time
Time is the enemy
Got plenty of that
What
What does this mean?
Life is defined
By indecision
I know
I know what I want
But
Do I want what I know?
How
How do I get there?
Where
Where I am going?
This never ends
With a decision
Do nothing
Why
Why am I here?
Need time to talk about this
Need
That's what I am doing
Again

Best of SWiVELTime: 2012 Remix

These are excerpts from my fifty 2012 posts. My unbiased selection of my better thoughts and and attempts to push you further towards your goals. Enjoy! Best of 2012

To understand where you are going, talk to people who are going that way.

Stability is a mirage. In fact, you don't even want stability. Do you really want world peace, global warming to end, animals to be protected, cancer to be cured, a promotion at work, your kids to have better lives, your company's stock to rise, your home value to increase etc etc? Then you are very dissatisfied with the present. You want lots of change at the macro and the micro levels. On personal, professional and even global levels.

Miss Stability is a fleeting femme fatale that has no intention of marrying you.

I wanted to help people get back on the old networking horse and see it from a different perspective. That networking is not a selfish skill but a community building skill. That networking is not a technique but a lifestyle of engaging others and learning about oneself. 

Passion is an itch that needs to be scratched and never goes away. It feels good when scratched but just persists. It is not just the source of joy but the source of great discomfort. That is what surprises people. They are looking for happiness and they find passion and passion is not pure joy, it is the essence of your life. It usually is triggered by the needs of others. And all needs are painful. Passion is discovering who you are and what is your purpose.

What time is it? Time to move! Time to get off the road of self deception, procrastination and ambiguity. Time to help others make and take the time to get where they need to go. 

 I do therefore I am--makes no sense.

Becoming the accumulation of what you do is a resume not a life. Your storyline past, present and future needs to incorporate who you are not what you have done!

Nurturing and aligning your soul around your beliefs and your life portfolio is our challenge and should be our joy.

We will all be a "freshman" many times during our lives.

Today starts a new semester of study. What classes are you taking? And who are your professors? What do you want to learn? Life is an endless series of degree programs and commencements. When is your next graduation? Re-enroll today!

Everyone is busy and we are busy all of the time. We breathe air, gravity keeps us put, the earth circles the sun, and we are busy? Anyone not busy?!! The question: What are we busy doing? 

The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.

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. 
So think first to mentor, then to be mentored.
Mentoring gives the mentor  the courage to tell the truth and to open up and discuss how they are overcoming their weaknesses and foibles. And the mentee musters the courage to hear the truth, confront their own weaknesses and discover themselves.

I believe unlearning is as critical a survival and success skill as learning. Unlearning is literally and figuratively deleting "files", forgetting the past, abandoning assumptions, then learning again, by starting over. Unlearning is breaking off your rear view mirror and focusing on the new landscape in front of you and seeing it for the first time.

No matter what age you are. No matter what stage of your life. The advice is aways the same: Stay curious and pursue your passions.

Our networks also reflect our habits, our qualities, our pasts, and determine our futures. Our networks have also become obese. Generally, they are too big and have too "fatty". We add FB friends like junk food. Our time with others is increasingly superficial and transactional. We want a diet of deeper and meaningful relationships but we more often opt for the fast food drive thru lane of life. 

Get off of the junk food and unhealthful habits of hanging with the crowd that limits your ability to pursue your life. Go look in the mirror and meet the person holding you back. Make a deal with that person that your network needs a makeover!

Who do we know that needs our help? Who needs our help that we need to know?

Thanks for reading and for your support. Happy New Year!  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 


Stop Listening to Your "Asian" Parents!

Hard for anyone to miss this intense national discussion generated by Amy Chua's WSJ article, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior and her new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Yale prof Chua asserts her "Chinese" parenting and philosophy that includes rigid rules about discipline, academic success, and limiting social distractions. This has triggered crazy comparisons and accusations. The good news is people are talking about parenting.

We all know that engaged parenting may be the single most important factor in determining the development of children. Behind the greatest American stories both famous and obscure is usually a parent who sacrificed, who provided, who pushed, and dreamed. Respecting parenting styles can be very difficult when what is being done or not done conflicts with our values and upbringing. Asian parents

Asian immigrant families, like all immigrant families who came to this country to find a better life, were hungry to succeed. Hungry to build a better life for the next generation. These families pushed their kids using their own values and cultures to shape their children's futures. Invariably these parenting methods caused friction with the new world of American principles and the process of assimilation. As Americans, we are so ethnocentric, while we copy business ideas from all over the world, we believe our family values are second to none. The truth is most of the developed world has passed our kids in academic performance, including most Asian countries, (also Estonia by the way) in almost every category, except self-confidence! Do we think parenting is a factor in this difference?

We all have "Asian" parent stories. Stories of discipline, deprivation, and unreasonable standards. Stories of our mother and father's love and vicarious desire for our success that was translated into parenting and high expectations. So in a way, we all have had Asian parents.

My son Bobby is pretty funny and when we put pressure on him to study and make more academic progress, he sarcastically declares: "So glad I have ASIAN parents!" The stereotype of Asian students and their parents being so focused on education and academic achievement has strands of truth and fiction. Asian students have been characterized as "curve busters" hurting the chances of non-Asians to succeed. I remember when I was in high school and teachers expected me to excel in math and science just as the other Asian students who proceeded me. I never did and left a slew of disappointed teachers. I personally broke the stereotype in my high school!

I am invited to meet with and conduct workshops for Asian students and Asian employees all over the country. I often tell a story or two about how my parents formed my values and work ethic but then gave me choices.--An Asian American experience where Asian and American values were intertwined. Self reliance with family pride. Focus on academic and competency growth as well as social skills. Succeed AND fit in. Every succeeding generation loses more of the immigrant mentality and assumes more of the American mindset. Not good or bad just the reality of being integrated into another society. But how is hunger sustained? Still not doctor

Despite what these Asian students and professionals have achieved, their parents' expectations still rule their lives. Graduate school and the pursuit of a "better" more "prestigious", and higher paying profession are still unfulfilled goals their parents have for them. I recently saw Tony Hsieh and Jenn Lim from Zappos on their Delivering Happiness tour. Two very successful Chinese American entrepreneurs. Tony summarized his parents expectations into 3 categories: 1) Academic: Get straight As and go to an Ivy league school 2) Career: Become a doctor, medical or PhD. 3) Music: Play at least three instruments to impress parents friends. Both of them did all of these things, "We have been very successful despite our Asian upbringing," they told the audience.

I tell these groups I address, "First of all congratulations on what you have achieved and what opportunities lie ahead. But stop listening to your parents! Now is the time for you to pursue your ambitions and not theirs. Now is the time for you to control your destiny. In many ways, you have already impressed and disappointed your parents! Get over it and now become who you were meant to be!"

Countless 20, 30 and even 40 year old Asians have confided in me about their futures. The reveal how their parents' expectations follow and even haunt them. Despite the greater sense of themselves they now know their parents vision is in conflict with their own. We all want to please our parents, but like Tony and Jenn we need to make our own paths and destinies.

Being a good parent is such a tough job. Every parent wants their kids to have more and better. But whether Asian or non-Asian, every parent has to establish expectations. But eventually they must let go of the nurture and let the nature take over. Parents have to restrain themselves from trying to impose their dreams on the next generation.

So thank your parents for all they have done for you. Then stop listening to them and start listening to your own heart.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Doorways of Opportunity

What lies behind the next door? The next door you open or the next door that is opened for you? Sounds like a poor version of that great 60's show, Let's make a deal! Remember Monty Hall and the contestants discussing the options? Do you want the bedroom set or what's behind the door where Linda is standing? Are you a gambler? Feeling lucky? Greedy? Adventuresome?Lets make a deal

We enter and exit many doors everyday. I do not mean just the ones with hinges and doorknobs. I mean the metaphorical doors where opportunities and dangers lurk. We pass into or pass by many chances to explore ourselves, our passions and our professions. Relationships get advanced or ignored. Doors of opportunity are the conscious or unconscious choices we make. Sometimes we are surprised but most of the time we visualized the consequences of our actions. The question is did we make a choice? Did we take action?

The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind.  --EB White

In the martial arts or in police training you learn a lot about doorways, exits and entrances. There are ways you enter these places to minimize risk and maximize understanding and opportunity. You never enter a doorway right through the middle. It is the most vulnerable, the least aware, and really the most uninformed way to act. Think about someone who is not even aware that he/she is entering a doorway, to them it is just another unimportant action or routine. Have you ever entered a Japanese restaurant  where there is a cloth (noren) hanging down that requires you to bend or lower your head? That is a prop to make sure you humble yourself and that you are conscious that you are entering an other's place. While it may not change your ego, it will slow you down and give you pause. Naginata Back to the martial arts perspective. My mother told me about her naginata training. She was instructed NEVER TO ENTER A DOORWAY THRU THE MIDDLE. That it is critical to consciously choose a side to enter. It is your self awareness that will help you with what happens as you enter the doorway. Let's say you choose the right side. Instead of being mindless you become aware of what and who you see especially to the left which is unimpeded. You only have to worry about the right side. You can survey what is to your right. The point here is to choose a perspective to see what is in front of you and what is not. Going through the middle of doorways without perspective will lead you nowhere.

I can reduce this to a simple networking application. You are about to enter a cocktail party. You can just walk in and see what happens. If you are fearless and super social, then this can work well. But for the other 90% of us, we need a bit of a plan. So, you approach the doorway of the cocktail party and you begin to focus and think. You choose the right side of the doorway to heighten your awareness and look to the left and scan the room for friends, acquaintances, the host etc. You look to the right and also spot the bar. You enter the room thinking and aware and armed with some basic information. You have identified a few starting points for your encounters, and at the very least you know where to get a drink! :)

For me this metaphor of naginata and doorways is much more than networking, it is about making conscious choices. To choose your path and your perspective. To pick sides. To be alert and on guard. Neutrality, the middle of the road, to be ambivalent, yes, gives you options but few opportunities. What do you care about? What matters to you? It has been my experience that knowing people has been very helpful, but knowing where you stand has been the most important. Doorways open to those who make choices, have points of view and take actions. One of my fav anonymous quotes: If you do not stand for something you will fall for anything. Making choices makes connecting with others so much easier and more rewarding.

Think about the doorways, literal and figurative, you pass through everyday. Make an effort to be aware of where you are going and where you are leaving. Select a side to gain perspective and to focus on the unknowns. You will draw people to you and your network will grow. Going right down the middle of life is tantamount to being average---half way from success and halfway from failure. Make a deal with yourself, choose to open and enter more doorways for yourself and others!

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies with in us." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks for reading. John

 


Waiting for Weekends---TGIF, Hump Day, Monday Morning Blues and other forms of Resistance

These strange cultural anachronistic phrases can prevent us from seeing the opportunities in every week. We make cute little monikers for every other day in the week to make time go by fast and give us wimpy little breathers. It's like we are still in 5th grade staring at the second hand of the clock as it ticks off seconds in slow motion and we crave a snack or a nap to get us through the day. Really?! Breaking time into these little digestible chunks takes our eyes off the prize. We focus on the short sprints instead of the marathon and the finish line.

 I get it, if you are stuck in a hard labor, assembly line, toxic job where you have no intellectual or emotional connection to the meaning or purpose of the work. Somehow, you took a job in some sort of prison camp. :) YOU have to plot your escape plan. I'm talking to the rest of you who put in your exhausting 40 hours a week (national average is closer to 35) as a runway for the weekend or evening pursuits. :) And then of course, Mondays and Fridays are the most frequent "sick" days. They still recommend that you avoid purchasing cars made on those days!Weekend So a three day work week for a four day weekend.

I see tremendous waste in talent and potential everyday. People who say they want to excel in their lives but who have erected so many barriers to their own success. Yes, they sabotage themselves! One of the greatest psychological syndromes that we impose on ourselves is our perception of the work week and weekends--How we view time. We inherited or invented rules and mythology about these artificial time lines. Times when we "work" and times when we "rest" and times when we "play". The irony is we know these distinctions do not make sense. We know that life and work get intertwined and interlaced whether we like it or not. We can't turn off our brains or put parental locks on certain of life's channels. You can't compartmentalize your life--"weekends are for me" or "once I leave the office I stop thinking about my career." These are ridiculous ideas if we care about your work and you have ideas about our contribution to the world. Because life happens. Or as the the Southwest flight attendant said, "Be careful when opening the overhead bins, because shift happens." It takes relentless pursuit to catch our dreams. And the clock ticks on..... Photo-clock14

Some of you have heard me rant about the fallacies of a well-balanced life and that we need to pursue a well-lopsided one!

Your minimal 40 hours of work is out of a possible 168 hours a week. If I give you 8 hours of sleep and 4.5 hours of free time everyday. That still leaves you with another full work week!

Yogi Berra said, You give 100 percent in the first half of the game, and if that isn't enough in the second half you give what's left. 

I know some of you moonlight, go to school, pursue your "art", work at non-profits. Fewer of you have set goals and milestones that will define your life--places to see, experiences to attempt etc. But most of you get arrested by the powerful gravitational pull of the couch! Author Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance. Resistance or friction in your life that impedes the development of your uniqueness and greatness. Some of you smirk or roll your eyes. But your life is different and whether you want to admit it or not you have very tangible and special ideas about you future. Your legacy is still being written.

I met a guy on the golf course who told me he would play 3000 rounds of golf before he died. At first this doesn't sound like much. Do the math. He is 62 and he already racked up 500 rounds. So if he plays until he is 75, he has 13 years of golf left. If he plays 4.5 times a week almost every week he barely makes it! Once you start quantifying your goals into years, months and weeks, I know you will view time and Mondays and Fridays differently.

Once I came to these conclusions about time, I re-arranged my whole life about 20 years ago. The difference between Mondays and Fridays melted into days, just days. I started waking up earlier on weekends, earlier than I did for work at that time. I realized how precious time was. I put in more time into every phase of my life. But especially into my career. I realized how I could be more exasperated with myself and others if I did not make more progress towards my goals. Goals that got re-defined by what I valued, enjoyed and loved. That's how I came up with my Download SWIVEL_new_2009 document to help people prioritize these goals.

I must tell you that once I came to this epiphany about time. That I was the master of my time. I am more satisfied and fulfilled with what I am doing and the progress I am making. I am more engaged and focused on who I am and where I am going. And I am told, I am more pleasant to be around. :)

My mother used to say every morning, "Let's get going. Your life is wasting away!" Like so many pieces of advice I was given as a child, I now understand these words.

As Coach Wooden said so well, "Make everyday your masterpiece." And he was definitely talking about weekends too!

Thanks for reading and for your time. John


Parents guide to your kids career development

"Would you mind talking to my kid?", maybe the number one question I get today. Responsible and/or doting parents want to help their children make the connection to find a job. I become an attractive resource when people find out I was an average student and a rebellious teen and young adult! And of course because I am free :) These parents perceive their kids to be stuck and need a bit of outside encouragement and motivation (every self respecting parent knows that advice from outside the family, even if it is exactly the same, has more truth and brilliance!) That's what parents want. That is not what the kids want. Although a few more doses of encouragement and positivity are welcomed, the new gen wants a safe place to discuss their often very mal-formed thoughts about their futures (that do not seem to be going over with the older people) As I have advised hundreds of times and in every speech I give, always and enthusiastically agree to help your close network"s family members in their search for life, liberty and the pursuit of a career. Why? because you will always, always, always, get more out of it than you deliver!Helicopter parents  
 
Back on parent front. This job of trying to steer our heirs into the "right careers", the "right jobs" and our obsession to make them happy (if they just knew what was good for them) is extremely challenging. Why? The whole parenting thing is based on how we were parented, good or bad. And we pass down whatever our notions of career development, job and life values, by what we do not we say. Your kids have watched you, idolized you (until they are 14), mimicked you, whether you like it or not. So now your offspring are facing the worst job market in memory and anxiety and stress are running high. Both parents and their kids are going a little crazy, maybe the parents a tad more! 

You have to invoke mentoring and networking to help your kids.

All of our kids need guidance from us to maximize their options and to realize their potentials. To be honest, we are over bearing as parents. We hover, we nudge, we complain, we want them to be like us OR avoid the mistakes we made. The nurture thing is really important but the nature thing is so much more powerful. Their chromosones give them choices. Their DNA give them decisions. What young people need after they get the basics from Maslow's hierarchy is to be loved and to be supported for who they are and what they were meant to do. There is a wonderful Nigerian word amachi, loosely translated to, "Only God knows what each child brings."

  1. Help your kids find themselves. What are their passions and interests? Not what you want them to know and experience. This applies to pre-teens, teenagers, picking a college major and even later. Met a guy in Baltimore last week, he was bragging about his two sons. The "genius" older son was admitted to Annapolis on a scholarship, but his mom forbid him to go into the military. So his son went to Cornell against his wishes, quit and joined the Navy! Spent 4 years in officer training and returned to Penn St to study nuclear engineering. Once he graduates he returns to the Navy. Mom is proud now. The book Hand Me Down Dreams by Mary Jacobson, describes how we try to control our kids. After I read that book, I became more conscious of my kids strengths. The other day, I advised my daughter to drop her initial major of biology and consider the classics or greek mythology, because she loves those subjects. She was surprised and said sarcastically, "What kind of Dad are you?! How am I going to get a job?" We discussed the merits of picking a major based upon a future job that may not exist or be of interest. We concluded that a college education is much more than a major. I meet dozens of kids who lie to their parents to keep them off their back. They aren't lying about drugs or their sexual escapades. The lie about their career interests so that mom and dad aren't mad and worse, disappointed. These bright and talented young people are so frustrated and anxiety ridden by the dreams that are being forced upon them by their parents. Such a shame.
  2. Help you kids become well-lopsided. I have written here several times about how top schools are now rejecting the "well-balanced" students. Students with good grades and scores and a couple years of community service, couple years of leadership/student govt, a couple years of art or music, a couple years of work experience etc. These applicants have become parent created "commodities" and are being rejected for students with deeper personal interests and passions.
  3. Help your kids meet other people and express themselves. Other people's parents, uncles or aunts, people who care about your kids can be wonderful sounding boards. Help them network, for college choices, for career decisions, for narrowing and focusing their job search. They need other people's opinions and perspectives to shape their search for meaning and a job. These are not necessarily interviews for an opening, these are informational interviews. People to review the resume and to hear the strategy. I never liked it when my Dad and Mom arranged these meetings in my life, but it always helped me see the possibilities. More important it helped me understand how I could discover things on my own and I know it made me a better parent.
  4. Sponsor a career tour. If your kids are younger, this is more important than the college tour-- the exposure to jobs, industries and employers. Meeting people in your network to see and hear what people do. It is amazing who you know and what they do. All of it is interesting. Sure not all of the jobs are super cool, but all offer insights into worlds they don't know. Again, if these jobs involve any of your kids interests that will make a big difference. It may be a product, or a service that your kids love. Meeting an exec, a manager, or another young person at the bottom of the org will be insightful and open their minds to new avenues.

Some of your kids are preparing for college, others will get their college degree soon, still others have returned to the nest to re-tool and find employment. While you can find a lot of things on the intenet, you have to use the power of mentoring and networking to make new connections. Frankly it gets much more difficult after your kids are in their late 20's. But before then, there is so much you can do. First back off your dreams and get tuned into theirs. Second, open up your network for introductions to opportunities. Lastly, connect your son or daughter to trusted members of your network to provide "external" advice and counsel.  

Being a parent is so tough. The tension between pushing and pulling is ever present. Once you start to fully appreciate the extraordinary and unique talents and gifts of your kids, the sooner you will be able to help them fulfill their dreams and find gainful employment. 

Thanks for reading. John. 

 


The Power of MOW

Vision without execution is hallucination. Thomas Edison

What do we see for ourselves down the road? What path and milestones do we expect? Not what we hope and wish for? Do we have a vision that we are working towards? Or just the vision?

If you don't know where you are going any path leads you there. Alice in Wonderland

Life is making your way down a dim path where unexpected detours and off ramps appear. Your choices are revealed by what you are doing, what matters to you, what you are thinking about.

In learning about my brother-in-law Andrew, I found out that the department he worked for at BNSF Railway was the MOW. I saw it on shirts and signs and I asked what it stood for. Maintenance of Way. Maybe it is just me but that is a very philosophical corporate department name! In fact, here is a website dedicated to it. Maintenance of Way IMG_0009_NEW_0002

You have to understand the MOW crew is a tough bunch of very physical and intimidating guys. So to hear that they work for the Maintenance of Way department, let's just say it surprised me!

The concept of keeping the tracks ahead clear and well maintained so it is safe to travel inspired me. We take these things for granted. MOW are the nameless faceless workers who make our lives easier, who quietly make our world safer, who without recognition, cleanup our messes and make sure our ability to do our work and advance our goals happens. We are so fortunate for the MOW crews!

But MOW is a powerful life guiding value, that we are all pathfinders. We take the beaten paths that others forged and maintained for us. We take new paths that we pursue because we follow our hearts and our calling.

We owe so many people from our past for making our lives and visions possible. People who sacrificed for the chances and choices we enjoy today. Our ancestors and our parents. We owe so many people from our present who guide us, mentor us, and show us the way.

Each of us has a great responsibility for the MOW. To see our opportunities and to choose our paths, so that others can pass here safely.

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

...Robert Frost

We never take these roads for our sole selfish gain. We always have others in mind. Our families, our friends, our communities.

It is how we teach and mentor. It is the method of creating our legacies. We lead by example. That is MOW.

Looking ahead to envision our destinations or at least the track we are on is vital to momentum and progress. We must have the drive but we must also arrive. Otherwise our journey is an hallucination.

Maintenance of Way is about leading so that those that follow have a clear and known path. So that they do not repeat the mistakes and suffer the consequences. So we can advance.

We all have to maintain the way. As a parent, as an Asian Pacific American, as a manager, I have responsibilities to MOW.

Thanks Andrew for your MOW. For showing us how to live life to the fullest while being generous. For being yourself and being proud of it. For loving people around you unconditionally. Thanks for maintaining our way.

Thanks for reading. John


When you see the end you begin again

Stephen Covey in his great book, 7 Habits of of Highly Effective People, counseled us to Begin with the end in mind. This weekend we buried my brother-in-law, Andrew Kim Weaver, he was 53. He was taken from us too soon and his life was far from done. Death is the most sobering experience. It brings a  whirlwind of emotions punctuated by moments of inspiration, depression and self awareness. Listening to people who knew Andrew gave our family incredible insights into his lives. Yes, lives plural. We all have them. Our worlds of friends and activities that define us. A view into his generosity and his spirit. Some of the stories were truly surprising, most reinforced our view of him. But what emerges is a much more complex and accurate story of the man and his legacy. While we will never forget him and our pain will endure for a long time, we try and gravitate to the lessons in life we learn, especially when life ends prematurely.  Don't have the space here nor is this the forum to tell Andrew's life story. His life like all of our lives was unique and packed full of people, successes, failures, intentions and regrets.

When you see the end, you begin again.

In many ways Andrew lived a simple life but his life taught me some powerful lessons. I learned them from Andrew and the people who remembered him. I hope these three inspire you.

  1. Be who you are: Andrew lived his life the way he wanted. He cared little about how others viewed him and more about showing up everyday. He enjoyed life seeking joy and discovering new things.
  2. Never stop giving even when you have nothing to give: Andrew was very generous with his time and his resources when he was laid off. He helped other people financially even though he was broke. He helped people when he desperately needed assistance. He was unconditional with his love, support and friendship.
  3. Never give up: Andrew had many hardships, some of his own making. Yet he always battled back. He dropped out of college, but completed his degree 19 years after he started it. He was an alcoholic who was sober for more than 12 years until he died. He was forced to take a demotion to an administrative assistant position because of an injury and three years later became a manager and named employee of the year in 2009.

AKW Death is a mystical and elusive concept. It is inevitable, but we all think it will be further out there and we have time to "do what I want". We say things to ourselves and to others like, "life is short", "smell the roses", "have quality time" but we rarely do things differently. We live as if we will never die and die as if we have never lived. We see life like the mirage on the desert highway. We just keep driving at high speeds with no appreciation for the length of the trip or the scenery that rushes past. Not going to bore you with all of the trite exercises that ask you to write your obit, epitaph, or eulogy. However, defining what we want is paramount.

One of my favorite books, Einsteins Dreams, author Alan Lightman poses a number of questions and concepts about relativity and time. One chapter basically begins with the query, What if you knew you would die on September 29? It was such a specific date! It gave me pause when I first read it. No discussion of how I would die, (how I could prevent it was also irrelevant) but next September 29th I am gone! Your conception of life and what's important is transformed.

We need to connect with what we want and the people we love now.  I don't want to learn about people I care about at their funerals.

I met this incredible woman Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch (that's her real name!) She grew up in abject poverty and became Lt Colonel in the Army! Her life story is a classic immigrant American dream where a woman overcomes great odds. She implores people to"Live a legacy instead of planning to leave one."

Or as coach Wooden said,"Make everyday your masterpiece." Time and opportunity are finite and fleeting things. We have to go for it and minimize those brutal regrets.Thanks to Andrew, I realize how much more I could give and how much more I can do to be a better person. The time today is a gift. What am I possibly waiting for?

A post it note on Andrew's desk read, "If you are angry, fight. If you want to die, then wait until tomorrow. Today you may do some good for someone else."

I have seen the end and I begin again. And I am gonna fight and do some good. How about you? 

Andrew, thank you for living a legacy. Thank you for the lessons and inspirations then and now.

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

  


The Sources of Inspiration--The Network of TED

We obtain our ideas, inspirations, and aspirations through our experiences and our interactions with other people . We find these people through our quests for meaning or through the serendipity of life. People with purpose, people with needs, people who overcome their challenges, people like us and very different from us, who are making a difference in the world. Pretty obvious, but without making connections to others we will miss many sources of inspiration. The result can be a life less fulfilled. Regrettably, I meet these people all of the time. People who are competent, educated, and confident, and who lack passion. Who see life as an accumulating list of obligations and tasks. Time is a burden. They either think that there will be a pot at the end of the rainbow or worse, have settled for the "hand they were dealt". We have to see the opportunity ahead. Inspiration can shake us from our slumber and awaken our potential. Inspiration does not make an appointment or wait in line. Inspiration has to be pursued.  Inspiration_quotes_graphics_c2

I have been a semi-obsessed fan of TED and TedTalks. If TED was a person, I would have been subjected to a restraining order many years ago. TED was started by Richard Wurman 25 years ago. He hosted a private almost secret salon of thinkers and doers in Monterey California. I read about it in Wired Magazine in the dot com era. In 2002, Mr. Wurman ceded control to Chris Anderson and then TedTalks was born and distributed for free. TedTalks are a weekly routine for me. I use these talks to inform me, to open up my world to new things, to inspire me, and to push me. While I am not rich enough or famous enough to be invited and pay to attend the annual TED conference, I get a great view from my iPhone and iPad! Probably watched 125 talks so far. 

I elbowed my way into the first TEDx conference in 2009, a local version of TED organized by community members under the umbrella of TED. Thousands of TEDx events have been hosted around the world. Like American Idol and all of the other reality talent shows, there is so much talent and so many inspiring stories out there. TED shows us there is so much good being pursued by good people all over the globe--you would never know if you watch the nitely news! Watch a TedTalk and/or attend a TEDx event and be inspired. 

Last week I spoke at TEDx Santa Monica. I was asked to talk about "education". Education is the great transformer. However, I decided to not address the important trends and solutions I see in the educational institutions around us. Instead, I focused on what I see as the greatest tragedy, the waste of human potential. When people never find meaning and a connection to what they care about and what they were meant to do. In my opinion, the top educational priority is understanding ourselves so we can apply our uniqueness to the ideas, issues and causes we care about. To live with passion!

Here's my talk entitled Find Yourself by Losing Yourself.  The video production value is lacking but the good news is the dark setting makes me look better!

 

Please explore TedTalks even if you did not like my speech. :) Hopefully it becomes a source of education and inspiration to discover and apply your greatness. We need you to be the best you can be.

Thanks for reading. John


Back to School: Enroll in your Continuous Education

I get to meet so many interesting people. How?---because I talk to them! :) Picked up by a taxi driver named Ed at the airport this week. (the most interesting source on what is going on, are the drivers of yellow cabs) I ask him about his family and we launch into a 30 minute discussion about education. He tells me all 5 of his children are back in school. His youngest is 25! He went on a fascinating and long winded description of all of his children's efforts to re-certify, re-position, re-invigorate, and re-fresh their careers. All face or have faced turmoil, change, layoffs, and obsolescence in the last few years. His middle son wanted to be a butcher, but abandoned that line of work because there is a 5 year apprenticeship requirement. His older son works for Amgen and applied to med school, but is now going to enroll in an MBA program. His third son is getting certified as a physical therapist. His daughter is taking online accounting courses to complete a business degree. His youngest son is enrolled in his third community college after finding out yet again, that the lack of a degree has hurt his job prospects. Not an atypical story but illustrative that the path to the next level nearly always requires ascending the educational steps to more knowledge and new expertise.

 Back to school  
To keep up and get ahead, you have to adopt a lifestyle of continuous education. Education that comes from many formal and informal sources. Training that addresses weaknesses, shortcomings as well as areas of new competency. It is not your passive openness to new ideas or change, it is the active and never-ending acquisition of new skills. You have to enroll yourself into continuous education!

Education is the great transformer. I used to have this quote pinned to the bulletin board in my office,

If it works, it is obsolete.

Some of you want to go back to school to get or finish a degree. No time like the present. Waiting makes no sense. Just talked to a young couple who both enrolled in different grad programs this Fall. They considered the typical polite approach of taking turns. They concluded, if they both enrolled they could study together and would not have to defer their plans for a family. They enrolled and jumped into their education with both feet!

I was helping my kids with their class schedules. Remember that chore of picking dates, times and subjects? Thinking about the general ed and major requirements? Considering the quality or reputation of the professors/teachers? I used to see this as a hassle. I try to help my kids see the enjoyment of choosing what you are going to learn and from whom. It was a stretch for them. Youth is wasted on the young!

This ritual of picking classes and professors is a wonderful model for continuous education that should never get old. Think about the next three years of work and life as your new masters degree in (fill it in). When you do that, you have to think about what "courses" you will be taking and who you want to teach you. Like my kids you have freedom of choice. Who at work can help you learn? Who at your volunteer workplace can teach you something new and needed? Who at your church can share their knowledge and expertise? You are surrounded by potential professors!

And how can you enhance your day job with outside activities to continuously learn? Love to write, then write. Have a favorite charity, volunteer. Have a business idea, develop it. Use these goals to guide your class schedule and professor selection. Build your continuous education with real-life experiences. Experiences that are driven by your passion and curiosity. That way enrolling in your continuous education curriculum will be easy and natural.

The alternative of resting on your past achievements and waiting for weekends to rest even more, is the best way to watch your career circle the drain accompanied by all of your regrets.

Here's another benefit. Once you enroll in your course work, you meet others with similar interests. You start connecting with people you know in different ways. And encounter new people along the way as well. Continuous education is a wonderful way to strengthen your network and your relationship with your mentors.

I was in the classroom as a student for many years, 22 to be exact. Partly pursuing my calling and mostly procrastinating my future. Studying with others, led by an expert, did help me think about my life and what I wanted. Having multiple degrees has never hurt my job prospects. However, what I learned is the classroom education was dwarfed by my experiences, training and continuous process of updating my skills. The moment you rest on your sheepskins is the moment you lose your mind. Stephen Covey preaches that sharpening your saw is a critical habit of effective people. Honing the edges of your brain and keeping your skills sharp takes ongoing effort and attention. As soon as you leave the ivy covered halls, close your last blue book, and turn your tassel on your mortar board, you have to re-enroll in your continuous education. The two online courses I am currently taking are so eye-opening! The world just keeps changing and an unattended toolbox gets antiquated.

My driver Ed's "kids" are all enrolled in their next classes, what are you doing? 

Thanks for reading. John


Networking with the Headhunters

Love the term "headhunters" because it sounds so ghoulish, mercenary, and a bit scary. Of course, we politely call them executive recruiters and talent recruitment. Back in the day, these firms were considered pretty elite and mysterious. Don't call us we'll call you! Hired by larger institutions and corporations who paid at least 30% of first year comp--so very expensive. The key advantage is the good firms have robust databases and can call currently employed people and get them to consider career moves. And at the very least, they network with these people to get referrals. Like great sales people, recruiters network like no others, because searches cross sectors and industries, so meeting great candidates can always be useful for a future search. But the economy has hit these firms too. Searches are down and the pool of highly qualified candidates are way up. While the advent of the web and career search sites has reduced the influence of headhunters, they are still important--especially as you climb the career ladder. Puppet-heads-l

Not talking about the firms which try to place temps or fill vacant entry level positions for a fee. Although some of my advice applies to them.

My best opportunities have come from headhunters. I have been placed by some of the largest firms in the business. Korn Ferry, AT Kearney, Heidrick and Struggles, Spencer Stuart, but there are zillions of small specialty boutique local firms as well. And the giant companies like Google have their own internal search "firms". I probably have a conversation or e-mail from a head hunter every week. So I have cultivated relationships with many firms over my career and many view me as a hub for contacts. This has served my network well. Like all firms, the quality of the firm is measured by the quality of the rep and there is a range of talent in the best and small firms.

In general, head hunters are akin to commission salespeople. They need to produce and they need to think about the next gig. So if they are any good, they will be a bit pushy and want to know if you need their services, that's their job. Passive recruiters will be looking for new work. You accept that as part of the conversation.

I was given advice early in my career to treat inquiries from headhunters as special calls. Like warm network calls, make time for them. Why? Simply put, brand management and development. Your reputation and thereby your potential is sculpted by others, by the marketplace, by the 360 degrees of your sphere of influence. And headhunters can play a role in the shaping of your brand. What if every headhunter had you on their list? Remember the general rule of networking that I preach here ad nauseum:The more people who know you, your skills, your helpfulness, your career trajectory, and your smiling face--the better! 

But is your head worth hunting?...........Let's assume it is :)

By the way, headhunters call about specific searches and call people they are recruiting who also know candidates. They don't call the unemployed very often. So thinking, you will talk to them when you need them is the dumbest thought. Breaks the cardinal rule of networking: Give first, then receive. And besides you know that desperation networking or emergency job networking are the most dangerous varieties.

I was talking to a close friend who has an amazing background and career. Her reputation and brand are spectacular, better than she thinks. She is very successful, but has a disdain for headhunters. She is a linear career planner. She does not look at new opportunities to remain focused on her current role. Therefore headhunters are distracting. She does not interview or talk to recruiters, until she needs to. This approach has worked for her, but as you might suspect, I disagree adamantly with this mindset. Despite her personal view, I have pushed her recruiters and opportunities on a regular basis. I see her potential as much bigger than she does. Finally got her to pursue a few leads. I got her to consider these in the context of brand management for the FUTURE. I am trying to help her see beyond her current horizon, because the future is not predictable. And luck and certainly the past are not guarantees of what could happen tomorrow.

Here are my quick tips on head hunters:

  1. Do some research on headhunters: Find out who and what firms are considered the best in your field and which ones are not so well thought of. What firms would you hire if you ever needed one?
  2. When they call or e-mail, respond--Be a resource. Don't just reject this as a nuisance because you are not interested. Find out about the opportunity, get the job spec, give them advice and then try and refer them candidates. I usually give my network contacts a head's up and send them the spec vs just giving the recruiter a name.
  3. Refer great candidates to headhunters unsolicited. Not desperate unemployed friends. But terrific people you meet and know that are gainfully employed and should be on the talent radar screens. Encourage them to meet and try to make that connection. Not all firms will do this, but again based on your relationship with a specific recruiter, it can work.
  4. Meet with a recruiter face to face--After you get to know the recruiter or you sense some chemistry, meet with them to better understand their business and for them to get to know you. You know that every informational interview IS an interview, so be prepared.
  5. Invite recruiters to events to meet your circle of people. This can be a win win.
  6. When do I call the recruiter for myself? Almost never. I call them to get advice on career moves, on their take on certain employers and to get insider info on that sector/company/industry. You don't call them to announce your general availability. No No.

Building your brand is a full time job. Part of that process is engaging headhunters proactively to help them. Instead of viewing them as annoying salespeople, see them as part of a larger network that can assist you and your network. Like all great networking that is driven by helping, the benefits can be career changing.

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


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 


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


The Power of Following

As humans we follow. The concept of leadership is only valuable if there are followers. It is just another version of followership. CEOs, US Presidents, Ministers, Generals, all follow somebody, all take their orders from someone, all succeed another leader. We follow--We all move in accord with a model. Another way of saying mentoring, isn't it? We are all mentored and we follow that example. So great leadership is great followership? Great leaders are great mentees too. You follow? :)

I think we can easily get caught up in our own press releases and start to think that we, alone, invented our leadership abilities. That we were born with innate skills to lead. We know that batch of kool-aid is spiked with self-deceit and blind egotism.

And even if that was true, you need followers to make any form of leadership relevant and effective. Again, without followership you got no leadership.Fish followers

Most of us do not want to be at the bleeding edge of trends or ideas--too much risk and controversy. By the same token there is nothing worse than being at the end of a trend or a cause, that makes you out of step, out of touch and un-hip. So we follow our instincts and check our risk dashboards before following.

You know the questions we ask ourselves---Will I raise my hand and ask the "stupid question"? Will I speak out when something offensive has been said? When will I evangelize about my ideas and beliefs? At what time do I express a contrarian view? These are the day to day forms of followership/leadership that emerge. Sometimes we act and sometimes we regret acting or not acting.

It is rare and I would assert non-existent, to start something entirely new, that was not inspired or motivated by something/someone else.

I love this video


Let me reiterate the lessons here:

  1. Leadership is defined by the followers
  2. The leader needs to nurture the initial followers
  3. The first follower transforms a lone "nut" into a leader

Don't get caught up in just becoming a leader. Start leading by following. Look for ideas, mentors, role models, profiles, case studies, stories, that resonate with you and where you are going and who you are becoming. Talk to your network about these ideas, follow their leads. Invariably, what you want and seek is being done or being pursued. Who is doing it well? Who is considered the best? Who do you know that has these answers?

It all starts with what you want and what you value. Following is not a sign of weakness. It is a necessity. Follow something and/or someone to bring the best out of you.

By the way, maybe more than any other person you have been following, is your mom. :) Hope you acknowledged how much you appreciate being her follower this weekend and everyday.

Thanks for following along and reading. John


Wait and See---The Worst Strategy

What will it take for you to make a move? Take the chance? Do what you have wanted to do? Have the network and mentor you always wanted?

The worst thing is to just wait for the"right" time. The time when all of the conditions are ideal.

It is the most common thing I hear. "I think I am going to wait and see." Wait until.....things calm down, I am not as busy, until the kids are out of/get back to school, until-----WHAT???!! Stop the madness. Stop the irrational indefensible excuses.

It's May 2010. Let's reflect on the promises you made to yourself just 4 months ago. Remember? Waiting clock

We are always in a marathon. It is a long race that requires great effort that is sustained. But like all races you have hills and you have slopes. You have weather and you have wind. You have competition and you have your body's responses. Stuff happens. My point is, what is the best time to start making your move? Nowis the only time you have. It is always now. As Eckhart Tolle says, yesterday is a former now and tomorrow is a future now.

 "The challenge is in every moment and the time is always now." James Baldwin

Yes, the economy is showing signs of recovery. And the stock market is returning to its previous form. Yet, the jobs and the opportunities have not mirrored theses economic measures---they never do. There is always a lag effect. Jobs will follow. So you wait. For what? Certainty?

There are many flaws with the waiting strategy. When times are good, whatever that means, most people (present company excluded :)) tend to get comfortable with their lives and feel less motivated to make a change. Second, waiting til its warm and safe to dive into the pool of opportunities is when everyone wants to go swimming and the waters are crowded and unwelcoming. Lastly, how long you willing to wait? Years? Because it will be years.

What do you think the sheep-like masses are doing? Your competition? Yes, they are waiting too.

Waiting is just a euphemism for procrastination. Procrastination is another word for laziness. Laziness is the most dangerous mode because it robs the individual and everyone around her from the benefits of talent and passion fulfilled.

So stop waiting. What are you waiting for? A sign? This is your sign. :)Waiting

If you know what you want, go for it! If you aren't sure then start exploring!

If you don't want to do it for yourself, do it for us. We need everyone to push themselves to contribute more to our society and to our world. Hard to imagine a world with more needs and challenges than we have today. The only thing worse will be if people decide to be bystanders, unwilling to give their all.

Waiting is a waste of time and talent. Push forward and make it happen.

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


Networking to our Future through our Past

Re-acquainting ourselves with ourselves can be the most powerful experience. Clearly the elements of your uniqueness, your passions, and but it may be your story and your genealogy that paves the most revealing paths to expand and diversify your network. We are all multi-faceted, multi-talented multi-racial----we are all immigrants, we are all diverse---probably more than most of us understand or know. Just the discovery process of asking your parents, grand parents or any relatives will give you insights into who you are--and I promise will set you on a new networking journey.

Went to the opening of Kip Fulbeck's new exhibit called Mixed Race. Check out the book. Multi-racial Americans are the fastest growing demographic/ethnic group--that will be again confirmed by the 2010 Census.

My mother's family traced her family back 1100 years! And in Japanese families, these family trees always lead to a famous Samurai! And of course so does ours. That inspired my own roots search. I went to Japan with my best friend Willie Banks, who happens to be African American and is more Japanese than me. I wanted to find Kunta Kobara.:) Believe it or not Willie was my interpreter, like a sitcom, quite the site! Just imagine Japanese people talking to me, my mouth is not moving, and a perfectly accented response is coming from Willie's lips towering above me. We traversed my grandparents homeland and met some of of my Samurai relatives. I confronted my past and my friendship with Willie deepened. My view of myself was altered.Samurai

In Hawaii, most everyone is "hapa" meaning part Asian and other races. On the islands, there is a pride in the number of ethnicities one claims. Some used to say they are chop suey like the made up Americanized Chinese dish that combines many ingredients.

One of my parenting goals is instilling pride in our children about their heritage. My kids are hapa. Half Japanese, a quarter Korean and a quarter Irish, Welsh and German. Kind of a sukiyaki, kim chee, irish rarebit stew with a splash of sauerkraut.

We want them to appreciate their lineage, but if you have kids, their identities are their own.  They care less about race and ethnicity than us adults. They are smarter! No matter what you do, birth order matters. Our oldest daughter Jenna enjoyed a comprehensive education about her histories. And my youngest Bobby, also got a good dosage to help him form his self-concept. This story tells the tale of our middle child, Malia. For and knife

I took my three heirs to a local Mexican restaurant. We are munching away quietly and Malia, about 8 or 9 years old, says, "Dad this food is really good, what is it?" "Malia, it's Mexican food! We have it many times", I retort. ","Oh yeah," she says, "because we are Mexican." My brain freezes and instantly turns to panic. I have done such a bad job as a parent! I quickly recover and assert, "No no no, we're not Mexican. Nothing wrong being Mexican but we're not." I pull my plate to the center of the table in front of Malia and Jenna knows what I am going to do. Jenna takes over as the big sister. She takes her knife and lays it down the middle of the plate and says, "Malia this is you", pointing at the plate. Malia looks on with curiosity. Jenna points to left half of the plate, "this half is Japanese, you are half Japanese", picking up her fork. She lays the fork across the knife to form a cross on the the plate. Malia points to the other side, "What's over here?" "This is you too", pointing at the top right quadrant, "You are also a quarter Korean." Jenna's forefinger glides down to the bottom right corner and finishes, "Oh this is you too, you are also a quarter Irish, Welsh and German." Malia was carefully following Jenna's place setting lecture and a look of understanding washed over her face and she exclaimed, "So we are not Mexican!"

Parents can only do so much and frankly are only one source of information! The process of discovering who we are forces us to network beyond our parents. To network with our families. Network with people we truly care about or relatives we don't know. Those discoveries will trigger conversations, questions and inevitably interests that will expand our universe dramatically.

And those discoveries lead to new interests and other networks you previously were unaware of.

Right now your concept of yourself is limited. It always is and always will be. Because the process of understanding who we are is never ending. I meet people who settle on their identities, on their possibilities, on their destinies and it makes me crazy. They don't even see the incredible potential others do. Part of that process is the comprehension of where our chromosomes have been. Not to understand our differences but to fully appreciate our commonalities. Do you really know who you are? Make this discovery part of your life's quest to understand your history and your network will expand in ways that will open your eyes to the future.

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 

Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome--A veteran's career strategy

As we all try and sort out the senseless Ft Hood tragedy, my perspective was seriously altered this week. A few hours before the horrific news from Texas, I was in a briefing on a report on the state of veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. It was sobering and inspirational. Sobering to listen to the data and the stories of how we as a nation treat the men and women who return from war. The extent of their physical and their mental traumas. While they have endured unimaginable pain and suffering, their pride in serving their country and their ability to adapt and overcome their challenges was truly inspirational. Paul Rieckhoff, founder of IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America), used the unofficial mantra of the Marines, Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome, as a call to action for the veterans of today. These three words represent powerful advice for all of us to survive and thrive. But back to the plight of veterans.

A few facts about these wars that I think need to be emphasized: 

War

Deployed

Ethnicity

Gender

Ave. Age

Married

Deployment

Iraq or Afghanistan

1.8 million (to date)

Volunteer

71% white

16% Af.Amer

10% Hispanic,

3% Asian

89% male; 11% female

27

50%

Multiple tours

Vietnam

3.4 million

Draft

88% white,

 11% black,

 1% other

99.8% male

19

Mostly unmarried

1 year tour

  1. 600,000 troops have gone on multiple tours--some as many as 5
  2. 380,000 returning vets have traumatic brain injuries (TBI) according to Rand
  3. Veteran suicides are at record levels
  4. More than 2 million children of active military and veterans have been affected
While I personally know a few folks who were deployed through the national guard and reserves, I have thankfully never received a call or e-mail about the death of a soldier. Many of us have been protected and shielded from this brutal experience. Instead we are numbed by the violent scenes on tv and the stream of obituaries of local enlisted servicemen and women, now nearly 5200. 

Listening to the graphic stories of courage and personal injury that Ocatvio Sanchez (marines), Michelle Saunders (army) and Derek McGinnis (navy) told. Each of them suffered extraordinary pain and loss. They still struggle with their injuries. But each of them has made their experience and the cause of veterans a defining moment for advocacy. As Derek said, losing his leg was nothing compared to the inner pain and internal maladies he battles everyday. This is an amazing story about Operation Mend that does magic in the repair of soldiers' faces including Octavio's. Please watch it!

These brave souls who return to a less than hospitable homecoming, have been turning to the internet to seek support and network. Myspace and facebook have become the new American legion community halls. Community of Vets and other wonderful resources for veterans who want information and help confidentially. Did you know that a returning vet will not receive any services without applying for it? So connecting to other vets is pretty critical to compare notes and experiences. 

I will never see vets the same. I used to view them as the brave and the unlucky. I used to see them as a group of other people, like an esoteric profession that was outside of my interests and needs. I am ashamed of myself and now realize how wrong I have been and how much my respect for these soldiers has grown. But that has to be the starting point. It is a national disgrace. I think we all have to reach out and assist our vets, bring them into our networks. Make their care, education, and employment a priority. Make their homecoming commensurate with their courageous service. Not just on veteran's Day but everyday.

I learned many life lessons in a very compressed time frame. We all need to learn how to Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome in our lives and appreciate that we have the freedom to do so because of our veterans. 

Thanks for reading. 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


Patient and Passionate Persistence

Be quick, don't hurry. Coach John Wooden

I have learned over many years that the achievement of important personal and professional goals take much longer than I think or want. Part of being young or stubborn is impatience--being in too big a rush to see the outcome. J0314296 Golfers know that you can not peek to see where your ball is going until well after you have struck the ball. By peeking, you reduce your concentration on making the most of your time, attention and energy to do what has to be done to get the outcome you want. 

Please do not confuse patience with complacency or a lack of urgency. Effective patience is where you have clear goals--the vision of your destination-- an inner sense of passion drive you to that vision, an openness to experiment and have fast failures to learn how to achieve the vision, adopt the best practices of others, and take pride and enjoyment in the progress and process. All of this takes time and patience. 

More than a few times I have gravitated to early stage ideas and visions that captured my imagination. There was always the visionary who so clearly and passionately painted a picture of the ultimate goal. We know that only a few ideas take off instantly. And even those seemingly over night viral successes have long struggles that preceded their debuts and meteoric rises. The Twitters, Facebooks, iPhones have to be contrasted with the landfills of ideas that never made it or had 15 seconds of fame. Anyway, I have taken some pleasure out of watching how ideas that have hordes of early critics eventually find their place in the sun. Either by the shifting needs and circumstances or by sheer persistence and incremental progress over many years. 2 examples:

  • Online education: I was fortunate to have been recruited by visionary founder Alan Arkatov to lead an online education company called OnlineLearning.net, now part of Walden University, one of the largest online universities in the world. Anyway, back in 1996, online education was decried as "diploma mills" as a cheap imitation of an education institution. As an early pioneering company, we took the slings and arrows of these higher ed hecklers. Fast forward, 3 years ago online courses for students ON college campuses surpassed face to face classes. Look at this report in the NY Times and the Dept of Education's comprehensive study:
    • Students who took all or part of their class online performed better....
    •  Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction...
  • Virtual/digital textbooks: In late 2006 I was recruited by Neeru Khosla, one of the most passionate and visionary people I have ever met, to join a team at CK12.org. CK12 is a non-profit org that endeavors to create virtual/digital standards based no-cost customizable textbooks for the K12 classroom. The ways books are published and selected is so archaic, not to mention costly. Pluto is downgraded as a planet and it would take up to 7 years to update the textbook given the system in place! And the naysayers about virtual books, even at no-cost, were there to block the doors. Now that the budget crisis is forcing schools to defer expenses and make impossible choices, the allure of virtual books is dramatically increasing. This will be good for the school coffers but even better for the students and teachers. So no-cost books are becoming quite popular! Check out this article NY Times that describes the promise and need for this service. 
My roles in these organizations were at the margins, but I got a view of the power of patient and passionate persistence. Early on, It would be easy to give up or give in. 
J0424372 Just like running a race, the early aches and pains can be a deterrent to keep on, but every long distant runner knows the strength that comes from fighting through it all. I have drafted off of the energy and vision of these marathon runners. I admire the Alan and Neerus of the world, for they and many others have inspired me with a model of passion and patience that drives and energizes me. 

In our lives we must remain persistent, passionate and patient. But, we are not getting younger! Engaging your talent, time, and soul in things you care about and things you see as important is crucial. This is where your urgency has to kick in. Finding your place. Finding a vision for yourself and for the world around you that will sustain and nurture you. I meet hundreds of people who think another university degree, taking a workshop, or finding a great mentor will unlock the doors. They might, they might not. Most of these people think they are being patient, but often they are procrastinating their confrontation with what they want. And if too much time goes by, it will be too late. The regret matrix is a deep and dark pool of quicksand that does not let go. And the greatest tragedy is we lose your ideas, genius, and contribution.

Coach Wooden's quote at the top of this blog guides me everyday. I am moving quickly and urgently, but patiently. And that has shown me that visions for new products, services and for oneself can be realized. 

Thanks for reading. John


Shaking the hand that needs you

I went to a fundraising dinner for Coro in Los Angeles where a a couple of my friends were being honored. Rick Tuttle one of my long time mentors who helped me see my potential and think out-of-the-box regarding my career. And Steve Soboroff a colleague of mine from Big Brothers Big Sisters and now in the philanthropic world. Steve has inspired me with his dedication and commitment to helping others and to showing up. 

Steve turned his acceptance speech into a micro workshop on how to shake hands and hand out your business card. He aimed his remarks at the graduating Coro Fellows who are now traversing the job market for employment. However, his animated how-to session was entertaining and instructive for all of the 400 attendees. 

Have you ever had a lesson on handshaking and handing out your business card? We all know how important these things are in forming or giving a first impression. We all have experienced when it has gone badly. Yet, most of us have never received a primer on these basic social skills.

Steve told a great story about when he was the Chairman of the LA Parks and Rec dept and arranged for then President Clinton to play golf at one of LA's nicest public golf courses, Rancho Park. Steve was invited to play with William Jefferson! And during that round of golf, Steve was treated to-"the most engaging person I have ever met." Steve asked the President how he coped with shaking so many hands. At the time Steve had just started a hotly contested campaign for mayor of LA. The President stopped in the middle of the fairway and gave Steve a lesson on handshaking.

Bill and john 001

 Here's what he told Steve:

  1. Slow down and take your time
  2. Direct eye contact and smile
  3. Firm grip and little or no shaking 
  4. Take the other hand and grab the forearm or elbow of the other person 

This last one is the key. The other hand adds an extra dimension of enthusiasm and trust to the shake. And Preident Clinton added that this also prevents the other person from pulling your arm out of the socket, especially if you have to shake a lot of hands. :)

Lastly, everyone wants to be remembered including you. So say your name slowly and listen and repeat the name of the person you are meeting. How you introduce yourself really matters--know your BIT (brief introductory talk) and then the experience will be memorable.

I got to meet President Clinton a couple of times and shake his hand.

 He is a master at focusing on you and making you feel special. 

By the way, I guess Bill Richardson, the former Governor of New Mexico, owns the Guinness record of number of handshakes in a day at 13,392! Ouch. 

This is a nice video on the dos and dont's on handshaking:

Now for the business cards: J0424431

Steve went on and showed everyone at the dinner how to give out your card. Actually this was the first time I ever heard anyone talk about this. These are great tips!

  1. Hand your card face up so the person can see it. Say what you do.
  2. When you receive a card, look at it. Be respectful and read it, make comments, or ask questions.  


This is also part of your first impression. Don't be a Vegas dealer and just hand your cards to everyone. Unless it really does not matter who you meet or who meets you. I guess stapling your business card to bulletin boards has a place in a mass sales effort. However, in networking, business cards are valuable and should be treated that way. 

  1. Keep your business card to yourself until someone asks for it.
  2. Only ask for cards or contact information for people with whom you intend to follow up.
  3. When someone offers you their card; the courteous thing to do is to thank them. Take it and read it. Reading what is printed on it, enables you to make a connection with the person giving it to you. It also says  that you care and respect the card that has been given to you.  
  "You can't shake hands with a clenched fist." - Indira Gandhi

Lots of debate about the origin of the handshake. Generally agreed that it started in midieval times when knights greeted each other with open hands to show they were unarmed. Even in this hyperbolic swine flu world, shaking hands is an essential form of communication and first impressions. 

Thank Steve Soboroff for helping all of us remember that the little things that make a difference. Now get moving and shaking. Thanks for reading. John

  


How Do I Help Others Network? The Conveyor Belt of Life

In the final analysis, I think we all will be judged on how we help one another. Have we unconditionally and effectively assisted our friends, colleagues, and family members, especially in times like these? Everyday I receive a request of some sort--regarding a job, a reference, looking for a new career, trying to connect to a new network of opportunities, review a resume etc etc. I am sure you are getting your share too. Usually the person in need (PIN) connects to me through someone else. And that person knows me somehow. I make a quick determination whether I can help the person and take next steps in my process--more about that later. People are eager to hand off the PIN in a quick transactional way. Like a hot potato, the PIN is quickly tossed to someone in the network, sometimes with care and sometime recklessly. Hot potato Sometimes with a nice intro and warm request. Often with a pretty inelegant hand off, leaving the PIN to say, "So and so said I should contact you." Hopefully I know or like so and so.:)

In sports, life,  and work---the art of of the hand-off is a valuable and necessary skill. On a relay team, how well the baton is exchanged determines how well they do at the finish line. Passing baton When a huge corporate sale is made, how well it is turned over to operations will create results for the customer and generate great word-of-mouth and more sales. On the assemblyline of life we must depend on the work that precedes us and hand off to the "workers" after us a better product otherwise the end product suffers. What we do builds on what others do. Otherwise life is like a giant Lucy Ricardo conveyor belt of chaos and lost productivity. 

 

If there is an evil conveyor belt operator, all bets are off. :) Seriously the only way the system of life works is when we each do our part and do it well. The probability of the quality of the end product goes up with the diligence and competency of each step. This goes for parenting, the education system, or project management or architecture. But it definately applies to networking.

I am the victim of bad hand-offs at least once every week. They go something like this: 

  • The voicemail message squawks:"Hi John, so and so said I should talk to you about my career/job search/resume." I think to myself I wonder who so and so is.
  • A friend calls me and says, "My wife's sister was just laid off and is going to connect with you. Can you help her find something in LA?"  I think what a very unfocused request.

Bad, bad, bad, hand offs! A disservice to me and especially the PIN. Here's how to prevent bad hand-offs and actually help the PIN. 

  1. Prep the PIN--When we agree to help someone who is connected to someone we care about, we have to help them. Meaning--Help the PIN think about their strategy, their resume, their approach and goals. Hold up the mirror to them and tell them what you see. Do their goals match their experience and resume? If not tell them. Do you know how much time the PIN has to find a new job or career? Makes a huge difference in what kind of assistance they need. What are the requirements for the next gig? Salary? Location? Don't put them on the assemblyline without your honest advice and assessment.
  2. Give them my SWIVEL Download SWIVEL new 2009. I provide this to almost every PIN who is referred to me. It causes them to stop and slow down
  3. Prep the Network--At least make a call or send an e-mail alerting the network that this PIN is coming down the conveyor belt. A brief note on how you know them, their resume , and what you think they need (as opposed to what the PIN thinks)
  4. Follow-up with both--Touch base with both via e-mail. Did you connect? If so, how was it? Thank the network!
Yes, I know this takes more time, but we are dealing with human beings not widgets on this assemblyline! This is a full service networking site not the cheap imitations. :) Seriously, that's why it is a lifestyle and not a hobby. How we help PINs in all walks of life shape who we are and our sense of fulfillment. Nothing like an assemblyline that cares about the quality of its production.

Thanks for reading. John 
  

Reconnecting with your "old" network

"We strive, all of us for excellence. We want to be the very best we can be. It’s axiomatic— if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you most often get it. If you are willing to accept less than the best, you’ll get that too. And that’s the point. If you work to your highest potential, do all you are capable of doing, you will literally astound yourself.

General George Patton, no shrinking violet, said it well: “The most vital qualities a successful person can possess is self-confidence— utter and complete heart, spirit, and audacity. You can have doubts about your good looks, your intelligence, about your self-control— but to win, you must have no doubts about your abilities.”
Moby dick

You need to be the kind of person who would go after Moby Dick with a row boat, a harpoon, and a jar of tartar sauce."    Jerold Panas

Not sure why you would use tartar sauce, but love this quote.

There was a tie in the poll and therefore I choose. :) There are two reasons why this topic is relevant to you:
  1. You NEED to connect with old colleagues, bosses, acquaintances etc, because you are pounding the pavement or need a reference.     
  2. You were just reminiscing about an "old friend" but you have neglected keeping in touch (no holiday cards have been exchanged) and you wanted to catch up.  
In either case you feel a bit awkward and a tad guilty. 
This is why adopting the mentoring and networking lifestyle is so important. Staying connected is hard work but less uncomfortable later. No worries. There are a host of strategies to ease your pain.

Before you go off and reconnect with all previously known humans--get your act together, do a little homework. Be prepared to articulate what you are looking for and what help you can provide. Remind yourself that reconnecting with "old" friends will be fun--even if you have an agenda. It will fill a small whole you have in your heart and in you mind and that will fill good. The more this feels like a chore the more tedious and anxiety ridden the process will be. 

Once you are ready and you have a list of "old friends, take the following easy steps:
  1. Google them. Find out what you can through available resources. You may snag their contact info. It will also give you the background on them so you do not sound so out of touch when you connect. BTW, you should Google everyone you meet with!
  2. Talk to mutual friends. Do some investigation through mutual contacts to understand how your lost contact is doing. He/she may be worse off than you!  
  3. Contact them.  Pick up the phone, bang out an e-mail, just re-establish a connection as directly as you can. Meet face to face if possible. The closer you were to this person, the easier it will be to start over. 95% of the time the other person feels guilty too and they will be thrilled to hear from you. Just apologize for the time that has elapsed and reconnect. The point here is make the connection! 
WARNING: If you come off too desperate or too pushy then you poison the reconnect. On the other hand, take the time to get through the "catching up" phase before you blurt out your need. On the other hand, if this person is a senior exec, then come straight out with it. They expect your call and are ready to support you as a reference or possibly to refer you. 

The more specific you can be with your request the better. 
  • I am getting close to a couple of offers, will you be one of my references?
  • Just wanted to let you what I have been up to and to see if I can count on you as a reference.  
  • I am in the running for a few positions, I was wondering if you know anyone at ABC, XYZ or 123 companies?   
  • I am trying to make a career shift and I'd like to meet someone in the XXXXX field. Do you still know so and so or someone at XYZ company?  
Make sure you update them on your qualifications and your recent professional experience. Don't assume they still know you and know what to say. 250px-Social-network.svg
One easy strategy is to establish or invest time in the social networking sites. Facebook, Linkedin 
and many others are fantastic ways for you to reconnect effortlessly. Some of you think you are too old to have a facebook, think again. Linkedin is a bit more serious and less fluffy site. Nevertheless, sign-up, register and input some basic info and you are off to the races. Once you have a facebook and or Linkedin pages, you can connect to groups and look up people. Then you will have people trying to connect with you! You are always in control to confirm these requests. Investing time on these sites to nurture your network is time well spent. Once you find a few folks you can read their bios and what they are posting. And you can see the connections they have! This gives you a head start on the reconnecting process. 

The big question is : Why do we let some people slip into obscurity? I am not talking about people you had to work with or people you need for references. I am talking about those great friends and confidantes with whom you shared your personal stories and dreams. Make the time and effort to re-establish these relationships and I guarantee you they will bring you joy, new perspectives, and new opportunities. 

A key premise of mentoring and networking lifestyle is start with your EXISTING network! reconnecting is so much easier than establishing new relationships. 

The question is not how to reconnect as much as when. And the time is now! 

Thanks for reading. John

How good is my network?

I know I am getting old when people ask me to help their parents network! This economy is brutalizing families and their futures. Yet, there are opportunities and jobs. The question is trying to help people connect with others who can help them with these opportunities. It is virtually impossible to go online and find a job. We need to help each other by connecting our networks to one another. You visually can see it on Linked-in. There is untapped power and influence when we plug our networks together. 

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“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.”
Epictetus, Greek philosopher

Like looking in the mirror, we don't see ourselves any more. When is the last time we reflected on the quality of our networks? Have you ever spent a few hours doing a full SWOT analysis?--thinking about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your networks. No wonder our networks seem a bit limited. Without such an evaluation, there is little chance your network will adapt to your needs and your future goals. You may take comfort in the stability of your network or feel burdened by how stagnant it is. In so many ways we end up in habits and routines that make us very comfortable. This is reflected in the circle of friends, our cliques, and certainly our confidantes with whom we surround ourselves. Just how our personal kitchen cabinets are formed is a unique process to each of us. 

Most of us have developed or find ourselves in a constellation of connections. At the core is our trusted friends and family--the ones we turn to for unconditional support and advice. Then we are connected to groups of others from work, church, hobbies, fraternities, alma mater etc. These networks rarely connect, despite overlaps, and serve other professional and personal needs. This conjures up our multiple networking personalities and the different ways we interact with others. ZodiacYour network can look like a zodiac constellation of stars and planets Complex molecular structure
 or a molecular structure. Your network starts with you and the closer points represent your inner network and then there are nodes and hubs representing your connections. The point is we are part of unique networks that often happen and we rarely re-engineer them. We think we are stuck with these structures and there is little we can do about it. 

As Epictetus queries, Is your network uplifting? Our networks can be formed through obligations, duty, responsibility, and sheer luck. We may not notice how bound we are to history. We can't tell if our network is a hindrance or a help. Our well-meaning parents, even best friends may be holding us back. I recently had someone ask me if they could remove themselves from their own network because it was "toxic" to her new goals. Just this act of stopping and considering who is in your network and how it is doing are huge steps. But let's go further and take 2 more steps:

  1. Map your network. Use concentric circles, or a constellation of circles. You are at the center and use proximity to determine the strength or the trust of the relationships. Just list your most trusted network members to start. Feel free to map as much as you want!How does it look? Are you happy with it? 
  2. Rate your network. Give 1 pt for each question you answer yes.
  • Do you trust your network to give you the truth about the real you? (not stuck on an earlier version of you)
  • Does your network challenge you as much as it supports you? (diverse points of view, not a bunch of cheerleaders)  
  • Does your network feel vibrant and dynamic? (Are you adding new and different members on a regular basis?)
  • Does your network represent your future goals as much as your past? (Can your network help you with your future goals?)  
  • Are the networks connected to your network strong? (Your network has strong hubs that are connected to other strong networks)
  5 pts You can stop reading.  Your network is in great shape!
3-4 pts You need to enhance your network
0-2 pts You need a makeover!

If you feel your network is out of date, then its time to upgrade! The consequences for a stagnant network are considerable. Dr. Lisa Berkman of Harvard University, mapped the social networks of almost 7000 people over a nine year time frame. She found that "isolated" people were 3x more likely than the "well-connected" to die---Die!. There have been a dozen studies that have shown that greater health, happiness, and success come from better, slightly bigger, more diverse and active networks. 

Additional research reveals we have "strong" ties and "weak" ties. Simply put, strong ties occupy that inner circle and weak ties are less established. Adding people to our networks is time consuming, especially strong ties. It requires an investment of time and energy to have multiple "best friends". Trying to stay in touch with new acquaintances is just as challenging. But adding new weak tie members to our network gives our networks vitality, new connections, new opportunities, and even more cognitive flexibility--the ability to consider new ideas and options. Put another way, if you are not adding new members to your network you will deprive yourself of information, trends, viral impact, and greater possibilities. 

New relationships invigorate the network by providing a connection to new networks, ideas, and opportunities. Mark Granovetter's ground breaking work The Strength of Weak Ties and many other social scientists have shown conclusively that adding new ties enables new "communities of interest" to be formed. This is the premise of facebook or linkedin. Connect to people you know and then the people they know and so on. You start with strong ties that logically and trustingly lead to new weak ties that build a stronger network. So you do not need to hand out your business cards at street corners, use your existing network to add members and reconnect with people.

What do you want? Your networks have to reflect where you have been as much as where you are going. I am always surprised that new graduates or career changers have not joined the professional associations that represent their future career paths. Hanging around with, attending conferences, reading the journals, keeping up with the lingo of your future self is so easy-- yet often overlooked. I just advised my daughter Jenna to join the Occupational Therapy Association, her presumed career path. She will experience what her profession does and try on for size her future world. Adding people to your network who reflect issues, jobs, industries, areas of interest is essential. Again, by probing your strong ties you find new ties (or old ties you have lost touch with) that relate to your future destinations. This will help you hone down your job search, clarify career aspirations, or help others. 

Taking inventory of your network and where it is lacking is time well spent. Engaging your trusted inner circle in filling these gaps is a good place to start. Your mere awareness of your needs will connect you with new and more relevant networks pretty quickly.  Your network will become more more powerful through the strength of weak ties. Here's to a network that give you a more uplifting and longer life!

Thanks for reading. John



Attention Deficit NETWORKING Disorder (ADND)

Thank you for your off-line comments and encouragement. But I really want to know what you want me to blog about. I put up the poll to get your input, but not very many vote --so I will blog about what I am thinking about until the vote count grows or a better alternative is suggested. So, please post your comments on how I can engage your ideas! Thanks. JK

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Normally, we do not so much look at things as overlook them. — Alan Watts.

BLOG Roll Call!  I am going to call out your name to see if you are here with me. Ready? Are you with me? Present? Our hyper-busy, multi-tasking lifestyle is creating a bunch of bad habits that detract from our ability to connect with others. On one hand we have never been as connected to one another, but our tendencies is to have quick exchanges IM, SMS, text, twitter, facebook, etc are now the dominant forms of communication. Love the innovation, the serendipity, the new possibilities that are emerging. One of the unintended victims is our attention. Our ability to be present in a moment that has many distractions. Like many things we begin to get into micro-routines of behavior and we can miss the context, the environment, the unexpected, cues of communication, and opportunities. While we get focused the world is evolving, our worlds. Watch this video to see if you are paying attention. Three points I want to make:
  1. The Power of NOW: We avoid the present by thinking about what could have been and what could be. The past gives us identity and the future opportunity. But if that's what we focus on we get stuck in the past or the future--and miss the now. The Eckart Tolle tells us there was never a time that was not NOW.  "To meet everything and everyone through stillness instead of mental noise is the greatest gift."Eckhart Tolle  
  2.  Multi-tasking Myopia: Our lives are a series of transactions coming one after the other. Like an assembly line worker, we focus on the incoming work, tasks, and connections. But life is going on around us. You may miss an extraordinary sunset, your kid's moment of need, or an opportunity to connect. We miss the bigger picture and/or do not hear and see what is really being said because we are distracted. Check out Derren Brown's experiments in attention in London. We hardly notice people we talk to! 
  3. Put the Device Down!: Robotically we have acquired this new tic, this nervous gesture of looking at our devices often for no reason. Like someone who looks at their watch every 15 seconds, as if they forgot the time from 15 seconds ago. Others of us not only look at our device, but start responding when we are with others, in a movie theatre, or in mid-sentence when we are talking to someone else. The impression is something else or someone else is way more important than the present. The only way to achieve the above goals is an increasing awareness of the cyber leash. 
Text love


  "I am so into you.....type type type..........."
 
 
 
 
 
Believe me, I am as distracted or pre-occupied with the past and the future as any of us. I struggle with staying present--by being in that moment and giving the things and people the attention they deserve. It has been my growing awareness that has saved me and gives me a chance to be present. Most times
 
I know when I am not present and I can re-focus. When I was a time when I had no ideaI remember when I was a young young corporate VP feeling and acting "very important". I stopped by the receptionist of one of our operations to announce my arrival. The receptionist, who I had seen dozens of times looked up at me and said, "Do you even know who I am? You seem so busy that I guess I am irrelevant." Wiser than her years, I was shocked into focus and I saw her for the first time. I apologized to her and confessed my lack of attention. Since then, I try not to be like that--that rude and insensitive.
 
I have a young mentee who asked me the other day, "To what do you attribute the opportunities you have been presented?" I said, "I was lucky I was paying attention. I have learned that there are opportunities all around us. And people who crave and need our attention. But do we see them?"
 
Let's holster our devices--at least a few times during the day, refocus, feel and see the NOW, and your world will expand before your eyes.
 
Thanks for paying attention and for reading. John

Multiple Networking Personality Syndrome

Consider for the moment that more Americans are enrolled in outplacement services than in MBA, Law, and Medical graduate programs combined! For most participants this is a brutal wake-up call and hopefully they find a new and prosperous path. But the biggest obstacle to their awakening is their resistance to learning who they are and what they want. In the end they have to adopt the networking and mentoring lifestyle--the best inoculation against the plague of an unexpected job interruption and not working is networking!

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All of us have Sybil like qualities of having multiple personalities, many faces, and many dimensions. That does not make us candidates for elecro-shock therapy! :) It is normal and makes us interesting. However, where did these personalities come from? Why do we have these facets and what makes them shine? Hopefully, I have not lost you already. I am referring to how we each act in our multiple roles. As a parent, a wife, a subordinate, a child, as a guest, or a host. You know, the way we switch instantaneously to a new persona based on expectations, history, or what we think is right. This is a giant topic, so I will discuss how you recognize the way you are presenting yourself in the world of networking and mentoring.

I meet so many people across the demographic and economic spectrum who are unwitting members of the Federal Witness Relocation Program! They have assumed new career identities. Often, these identities have been foisted upon us like second-hand Halloween costumes. In most cases this costume has been sewn together by the advice and guidance of well meaning people who have told us what we should do, what we are good at, and what we should not be. The classic, "You can't make money as a (fill in the blank art career)." And needing an identity, we slip on the costume and it is better than nothing. And over time we think the costume fits and like many things we adopt it as our own. Mary Jacobsen's book Hand Me Down Dreams discusses this topic in depth on how others shape the dreams we have. Our parents have aided and abetted the crime of identity theft. Parental expectations can govern everything. Pleasing our parents is an innate desire. What they said to us about our dreams and what our choices should be can be lifelong incentives or burdens. Asian parents are notorious, as are many different types of parents (I just happen to encounter many Asians in my worlds) in setting specific and non-negotiable goals. Like the old and stereotypical story about the Jewish kid who pursued law because he could not stand the sight of blood! Asian parents push academic achievement, brand name colleges, and the specific professions of medicine, law or engineering. In addressing Asian American young people, I usually start by giving them permission to think outside of the Asian parent box. Tell the parent you are going to be a doctor--maybe that turns out to be a PhD in literature! 

You blend this costume wardrobe with the requirements of social etiquette, brown-nosing at work, first date party manners, familiarity, respect, political correctness and the costumes keep on coming!

Context changes how we act. Sometimes that is nice and sometimes it is stupid. Here's one example that befuddles me. When bright competitive and hard-nosed executives, entrepreneurs, and successful people join non-profit boards, they become imbeciles. They don their nice and gentle costumes and bite their tongues because they assume new identities and not themselves. They think that a non-profit is a sanctuary from their cut throat worlds. While the mission and bottomline of a non-profit is doing good, non-profits need the tough acumen and decisiveness of the business world--but more often than not they don't get it.

Being authentic, being you--the real you, has to be your goal. Hiding who you are or suppressing your interests and needs will only hurt you in the long run, because you will eventually land in the land of regret--the most painful land of all. And while being yourself requires the discomfort of removing some of those now form fitting costumes, we all know being real does not require you to remember anything. Pursuing what you want and not what you think others will like, or what your parents desire, will always be more fulfilling. Authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one's own personality, spirit, or character, despite these pressures.

Imagine for yourself a character, a model personality, whose example you determine to follow, in private as well as in public. Epictetus

I am not saying just blurt out your inner thoughts or to be so honest that you offend every person in your path! Mutual respect and being aware of your surroundings remain essential. That being said, you need to find ways to pursue your authentic self. Martin Seligman's authentic happiness site has a variety of free self assessments

Authentic Networking:

  1. Setting your real goals, not the ones that sound good to others
  2. Practice articulating what you want and who you are, not the words you have been saying as a placeholder.  Love when people introduce themselves as "Director of sales and an artist."
  3. Asserting yourself by asking the questions on your mind. Pursuing your true curiosity by asking the questions and getting the answers.
  4. Enhance your network with people that are real and model this behavior. Surround yourself with people who inspire you and like the real you.  

  Authentic Mentoring:

  1. Find a mentor who you can really talk to--Let loose and take intellectual risks with.
  2. Define and refine this real plan for you with a mentor co-architect. 
  3. Openly discuss your weaknesses and seek feedback from your mentor and others.  
  4. Conduct your own self assessment and get your mentor to evaluate it.  

Not saying that we can shed all of the costumes, but living exclusively in the Federal Witness Relocation Program will never work out. Like everything, your self-awareness about who you are, what you say, and where you are going are the best guides up the mountain of authenticity. That will determine who's in your network and who your mentors are. Then you can return many of the costumes to the goodwill shop. 

Sometimes we define ourselves by a job title or a role-- I am VP of the company or a homemaker. That is not you, that is only a part of you. Don't be defined by a role, you are an incredibly unique and talented person who is much more interesting and complex than any day job. And in the end, the only personality that counts is you.  

Thanks for reading. John  


What is your story? Developing an authentic and compelling story to advance your career

Your story is the truth, wrapped with your hard work and passion, guided by your dreams, that helps people understand who you are where you are going.

 

Your story is so much better than you think. The crazy way our lives evolve, the experiences we have encountered, the things we have learned, our achievements, our failings, our dreams--are unique, intriguing and much more interesting than we acknowledge. In fact we tend to conclude that our stories, our lives, are pretty much the same as other people's--translation--AVERAGE and BORING.  I constantly hear this from young and old, new graduates and PhDs, sr execs and mid-level managers. The result is we don't tell our own stories at all or well. This is more than tooting your horn without blowing it. Really this is about pride in who you are, how you got to this wonderful or challenging chapter in your life. As a friend of mine says, "It is what it is." Necessity is a virtue!Tell your story and tell it well.

It ain't brag if you done it. Walt Whitman

As the interviewer, I usually say, "tell me the (your name) story." It is my version of tell me something about yourself. This is where most people do something really dumb they begin reciting their resume or look like the question is about astro physics. They think this is an innocuous question, but it is the easiest sounding hardest question of all. 
 
Putting together your story takes a lot of work and practice. However, the benefits to you and to your career are enormous. Your stories:
  • Give you confidence through self knowledge and awareness
  • Bring humanity to your resume  
  • Make you memorable 
  • Set you apart  
By understanding your story you will be able to talk about the themes, values, and goals that weave together your life so far. When you reflect and remember, the reasons why your life and your career have evolved are clearly understood. Your answer to the question, "Tell me about yourself." Is not a spur of the moment or robotic response--it is your personal and compelling story. 
 
Here are the basic steps you should take to write and tell your story:
  1. Take a comprehensive inventory of the chapters of your life---Chronological may be easiest. Major events, memories, and turning points that began in your childhood. Times you recall that shaped who you are. Make notes about your feelings, expectations, your frustrations. Each of these chapters may contain multiple stories. Of course, list your jobs/positions, your volunteer gigs and what you learned, accomplished, and experienced. These stories need to have vivid dimensions so people will experience that moment with you. A young lady I work with, described the lessons she learned doing insect research standing in cranberry bogs.  When I heard her say this my mind immediately formed a picture and that significantly enhanced our conversation. It may have been a moment with your mom on the porch, or a trip you took to a far away place, or what a boss or mentor told you. Aha moments that reveal you and that revealed clues to your journey/path. They do not have to be dramatic, just meaningful to you. I use a simple excel spreadsheet and start listing things under a time period or a job. Not complete sentences, but attributes and lessons that trigger that story.
  2. What are the themes that emerge from the inventory?---Are you an educator/teacher, a leader, an entrepreneur, a risk taker? Has technology, metrics, research, and/or presentations been your competency? What emerges as your passion(s)-- mentoring your subordinates, pro-bono work, helping a specific type of client, advancing knowledge in your field? What gives you joy?
  3. What defines your career path?--- How did you choose the opportunities and who helped you? What motivated you then and now? Have your motivations been consistent or evolving? Are you someone who likes new projects? Or executes the details of someone else's vision? The SAR method of discussing a situation, action, and response is a great structure to tell your stories. 
  4. Practice Practice Practice---What begins to emerge is your story and an inventory of other stories. Now you have to begin using your story---saying it out loud, ideally to others. You can recite it into a tape recorder or tell it to a confidante for feedback. The ultimate test will be the next time someone says, "Tell me about yourself." 
Storytelling for a job interview
Specifically applying your story to a specific employer or job is the next step. Interviews, if you are lucky to get one, get right to the point now. They are competency and behavioral in the questions. Yes, they are also looking for fit with the team and the culture of the employer. But does the candidate have what we need in skills, knowledge and abilities and can he/she apply them is the focus.  
 
Joe Turner in his article about interview stories recommends you use these questions to shape your story inventory: 
  • Examples of when you either made money or saved money for your current or previous employer.
  • A crisis in your life or job and how you responded or recovered from it.
  • A time where you functioned as part of a team and what your contribution was.
  • A time in your career or job where you had to overcome stress.
  • A time in your job where you provided successful leadership or a sense of direction.
  • A failure that occurred in your job and how you overcame it.
  • Any seminal events that happened during your career to cause you to change direction and how that worked out for you.
You now have a work in progress story about you and a growing list of other supporting stories. Lining up the stories that apply to the employer and the specific position is critical. You know about the job duties and required qualifications, you have networked to learn more about the culture and environment, you have networked further to get an internal recommendation to insure you get a look and hopefully an interview. Put yourself in the interviewers shoes and pose the questions you would ask the candidate and align your stories. Which ones are relevant to this opportunity? Especially revealing to employers are personal stories about how you handled change, made choices under pressure and lessons learned from mistakes and failures.
 
For the more confident and sophisticated, you will have stories about different aspects of management that reveal your skillset. For example having a stories about strategic plans, financial models, HR, marketing, change management, dispute resolution etc will be extremely helpful for follow-up questions and when you have committee interviews. To be able to relate how you worked with the various types of departments represented in the room of interviewers can be very persuasive. 
 
There are a lot of resources out there for you. Here is a comprehensive online resource that will give you much more help and guidance on how storytelling propels careers. Get over your feelings of story inadequacy or thinking that a job well done speaks for itself. Hah! Learning and appreciating your story is a pre-requisite to to any interview process. You can not always rely on your improv skills or "thinking on your feet". You can anticipate the questions and you can have the stories at the ready. In the end, this is about making a great and memorable impression that demonstrates competency and ability. As you become more comfortable in how to tell your story, you will see that your life has not just been a string of randomness and serendipity. Your story has a past and it has a future and the road ahead becomes more clear when you understand where you have been. 
 
We need your story. Tell it!
 
Thanks for reading. John
 
 

Networking with golf balls and bucket lists

Every year I try and accomplish something I have always wanted to do. I have kept a list of places to go and experiences to attempt. Sort of my bucket list, from the great film with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. The bucket list comes from the phrase "kicking the bucket", which refers to the moment the bucket is kicked out from under a hanging man. Despite its morbid beginnings, a "bucket" list is a wish list of things you'd like to see and do before you expire. There is the whole genre of 1000 places to see before you die etc etc. Anyway, I have a list and I recommend you make one too. I have already checked off the typical things like skydiving, race car driving, traversing the Great Wall, repelling a cliff. But it has also included riding the Goodyear blimp, a hole-in-one, attending the world's greatest sporting events.....My golf list included getting a hole-in-one, playing Pebble Beach, and someday going to Scotland to play St Andrews. The list serves as a road map of my incentives for good behavior, something to look forward to AND taking advantage of opportunities when they arise. This last week I played famed Pebble Beach golf course. Glenn bob and jk pebble

My best friend from high school, Glenn Carpenter and I (Glenn's in the middle and that's his Dad Bob to the left) have been conspiring to play the number one course in the world for a couple of years now. Glenn was able to get us on for a good deal on 10 day's notice. So we walked the historic links along the Carmel coast last Monday. Glorious time, no words can suffice! The actual game of knocking the ball around was very challenging, but the vistas and camaraderie were phenomenal. 

Golf has been one of the most powerful forms of networking for me. I feel very fortunate that my Dad taught me the game. Thanks Dad! I have played at least one round of golf with my father for the last 35 years. It is something that binds me to him. All of my kids have had golf lessons, my son Bobby plays and I hope we share this crazy game for the rest of my life.  

Golf has been the subject of great books and movies, Legend of Bagger Vance, Tin Cup, Caddy Shack. Tiger Woods has captured the imagination of the world. It is an unnatural game that either repulses or addicts. It is a game where the ball sits still and motionless and you struggle to hit it. It is a game, like no other, that tests your ability to concentrate, focus, and ultimately to execute. Robin Williams gives the best description of this confounding game and how the Scots invented it. (Warning the routine is filled with profanity)                       

When I was young I never realized the social power of golf. I have met and gotten to know thousands of people on a golf course. Whether planning a round with friends or relatives, or being matched up with a random "stranger" at the course. It is different than many other sports and hobbies. You are outside with nature--you and your colleagues share a desire to conquer the sadistic design and hazards of the course. (This excludes any distracting betting.) And there is always the 19th hole (the after match conversation/commiseration) So you could spend 4-6 hours together. It can be meaningful time. Golf, like no other activity, is part of doing business and fostering business relationships. Every industry I have been associated with (as you know that is a bunch) golf was there and it has helped me. 

Learned a few life lessons from golf that have translated well to my non-golfing life.

  1. Got game?--Golf is about what you have to offer that day. No team to make up for your weaknesses or mistakes.  
  2. We all start out equall--Computerized systems provide each player with a "handicap" based upon their ability and the course. At the outset, we can gauge our progress against ourselves and others.
  3. Positive pre-swing thoughts--The only way to succeed in golf is to envision the best outcome. If you focus on the hazards in front of you, your outcome will fulfill that vision. In other words, the law of attraction, that positive makes positive and negative attracts negative, is a certainty on the golf course.
  4. Etiquette matters--Being polite and respectful of others is an essential part of the game. 
  5. Sportsmanship and the honor system--You have to know the rules and follow them. And at the end of the day you are accountable for your actions. In what other sport do you have a player calling a "foul" on themselves?
  6. The course is not the range  (map is not the territory)--Every course, every shot is different because of the weather, the terrain, the lie of the ball etc, so you have to adapt your swing, your stance, your weight to the circumstances. 
  7. Can't be bad and slow--The two worst things on a course are slow play and bad play. But if you are both, you can ruin the game for everyone around you. 
  8. Keep Score--The only way you know if you are progressing is to keep track of your strengths and weaknesses and how you can improve. 
  9. Get over your mistakes--Have a bad hole, put it behind you as quickly as possible. Tiger takes 10 steps on the course and then forgets the last shot.
  10. Enjoy the walk--As I said golf is outside and usually, like this last Monday, I saw things I will never forget. Nature is so profound and so inspirational. Regardless of the score, you must constantly remind yourself about the special things around you and how fortunate we are to play the game.                                                                                                                               
Golf is a lot like life to me. I think I am a better person because of it. Sounds like a cheezy way for me to try and play more. Seriously, it has helped my career and my networking. You may have seen this one before but it serves as a good reminder to make room for the golf balls first--life, golf balls, and a beer  

What will rise to the top of my bucket list next year?
Thanks for indulging me this week. I will address the topic of "meeting people when you don't know anyone" next week.  Thanks for reading. John
  
  
  

  


Is time managing me or do I manage it?

Thanks again for your votes. Keep voting or make requests!

Both Darwin and Lincoln celebrated their bicentennial birthdays this week Feb. 12, 1809! So I begin with quotes from the evolutionist and end with our 16th President.

“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” Charles Darwin

Time is the most elusive of things. Time is relentless, it just keeps going with no regard to what is happening or not happening. It is indifferent to the quality or quantity of our lives. It just marches on to infinity. Seems to me that we characterize father time in such unflattering ways. Time is not our friend, in fact often described as the enemy. We may think that time is not fair and that our shortcomings can be blamed on the clock. If only I had more time....I need more time, there is not enough time in a .......

The fact is we do not value time and treat it as a precious commodity. What if we spent time like it was a finite and valuable resource, instead of taking it for granted? Somehow many of us make this ridiculous leap in logic: Time is infinite, therefore my time is infinite. Huh?!!  

Try this exercise. Count the number of times you will do things you enjoy, cherish, and covet before you die. Yes, you have to assume your age at death. For example, how many more Christmases will I celebrate? How many weekends do I have left with my middle daughter Malia before she goes to college? How many more rounds of golf with my Dad? We just don't appreciate the time we have unless we come to grips with its limits and how to maximize the amount remaining.

Ten years ago I was interviewed by the LA Times (Download LAT article on time mgmt) to reveal my secret in time management. I said that I did not have any secrets, but that having 59 weeks a year helped and that comment triggered this article. After fighting resistance and time deficits for years, I made a commitment to wake up between 45 to 90 minutes earlier everyday. Do the math I gained at least an extra 7 working weeks a year! With kids, I could not stay up later, so I decided to reverse my nocturnal clock and use my extra time to pursue my outside interests and ideas. It forced me to be more disciplined and it has opened up so many new worlds for me. Time to write. Time to reconnect. Time to explore ideas. Time to network.

Three things we have to overcome to make the most of our time.

  • Got Goals?

 Without goals and a vision for the future, no matter how clear, life is either a death march or a unfulfilling hyperspace ride.

  • I am so busy, I don't have time for what I want to do!

Regardless how non-sensical this sounds, it is uttered to me every week. Being busy is the lamest excuse. We are all busy. What keeps you so busy? To paraphrase John Lennon, Life passes you by while you are busy.

I was in Manhattan giving a talk on Mentoring and Networking in a fancy conference room high above the city lights. After years of doing this you have to focus on people's faces to make sure you stay connected with the audience. Near the back I noticed a tall attractive woman dressed in a full Armani/Prada uniform. She was clearly not enjoying herself and shook her head in disgust every time I looked her way. I had to avoid looking her direction to minimize her negative vibes. I finished my session unscathed and was answering a few stragglers questions. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the designer girl critic making her way to the front armed with her scary Italian stiletto heels. I pretended not to see her as she moved into my little huddle. "I have a question for you", she barked out without regard for the conversation that was taking place. The others looked at her with a combination of sneers and disbelief. "Okay," I said sheepishly acknowledging her. She continued without missing a beat, "This networking and mentoring stuff takes time. And I have little time, I work for Towers Perrin as an international consultant and I am traveling around the world saving companies." She was like some kind of designer super hero. ;) I looked at her and took the offensive and said, "You must be single." "What does that have to do with anything?", she snapped. "Because you don't have time to be with anyone, yet you want that if you could find the right guy, am I right?" She reluctantly admitted I was. I went on. I held up a closed fist and said that I had the name of the perfect guy for her in my hand. "Would you make time for him?" Ms. Armani melted into normality, smiled for the first time, and confessed to all of us, that she would make time for that! A goal and a vision can do wonders even for wonder woman. :)

  • Irresistible Resistance.

Like gravity, our internal inclination is to procrastinate our inner goals and to seek immediate and simpler gratifications. How important are these dreams and ideas you have? How much would you regret if you did not pursue these things? Read Steven Pressfield's War of Art Here are a couple excerpts:

Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn't write, a painter who doesn't paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.

The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don't just put off our lives today; we put off our lives till our deathbed.

I have learned that time management starts with not letting time manage you. Managing time around what you want. Reminding yourself that time is special and to try and make the most of it by setting goals. Usually, the time to stop procrastinating is NOW!

In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.  Abraham Lincoln

Thanks for the time and for reading. John


Breakthrough questions

Btw, finally saw Slumdog Millionaire--Wow. Loved it. While it's a ride off into the Indian sunset type flick, it is very entertaining. 

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When you are lost in the forest stand still! 

Challenging and interesting times should trigger questions. My current daily encounters with people and groups increasingly starts with questions. "What do I do to prepare for the worst? How should my org re-focus on new realities? How long should I/we wait to make a change? "What are the opportunities that emerge from this crisis?" 

Self reflection is a process for all times. Thinking about where we are and where we are going need not be a response driven to the environment. But human nature generates a swift, strong and automatic reflex to fear and to danger. Regardless of the circumstances, asking questions or better said, questioning the path we are on, is a necessity. Btw, if everything is perfect for you--stop reading this! :)

Remember when we were kids, or if you are around kids, the questions children ask? Silly questions and profound questions. How high is up? My favorite example came from my 10 year old Little Brother (when I was in the Big Brothers program), "Does God exist if everyone in the world stops believing in him?" Impossible questions that come from sheer curiosity. Kids, unlike us, do not employ all of the filters of socialization and self consciousness. So their questions are very real. They think about things and then want to understand them. They aspire to be astronauts and presidents, NBA stars, and celebrities--as they should. They do not see limits, boundaries, or certainly obstacles. The beauty of this innocence is the infinite imagination of what is possible. Regrettably, over the the years, we lose this ability. It is the steady and imperceptible erosion of this innocence, emboldened by norms, conformity, cynicism and doubt. Archaeological layers of moments, memories, and experiences thicken our personal lenses and cloud our ability to see ourselves and our possibilities clearly. Others around us warn us not to leave our little myopic world. Consequently, our adulthood realism and practicality form questions that limit our possibilities.

First let's examine a few examples of these questions that you must AVOID:

  1. Don't I need to wait for the right time?  
  2. Should I discover my passion(s) before I make any moves? 
  3. What will my parents and friends think?  
  4. How can I be certain that I am doing the right thing? 
  5. Will a change hurt my resume and my career? 
  6. Shouldn't I just do my job and not make any waves?  
  7. Isn't another academic degree required? 
  8. Doesn't make sense for me to wait until I feel better about myself? 
  9. Don't I need a financial reserve to pursue my dreams?   
  10. If I am patient and attentive, won't my destiny reveal itself? 

How about this one, "How long should I procrastinate my dreams?" Of course these questions have some merit, but as a group they are excuses not to pursue something better. Po Bronson in his book What Should I Do With My Life? found that people who found success ignored these types of questions. These queries present obstacles and do not assist us to address the real questions. 

Let's return to doubt and cynicism. They can be powerful allies in your quest to ask yourself and those around you thought provoking questions. Questions that truly seek real and fresh answers. Think like a child. I did not say be childish! Think about the unfiltered big questions inside of you, that are bigger than you. 

Here are 3 questions that have helped me and the people in my network:

  1. How do I love what I am doing to do what I love?
  2. What do I want to accomplish with my life that would be most meaningful to me?  
  3. I have always wished I could.........., but.....................? 

How do I love what I am doing to do what I love? How do I take full responsibility for where I am and make the most of it? If you are satisfied with your current role but want more, then how can your current employer help advance your goals? Optimize your current experience with your next step in mind. Even if you have decided to make a change, it is very hard to make a transition without some planning. Somehow you got yourself into this place and time. Many people and things can be blamed, but at the end of the day, you have to extricate yourself on your terms. In my recent encounters with people, this question gets skipped. Just talked to an old friend I had lost touch with. She was just laid off, but she has 60 days transition with a remote possibility there would be an opening at that time. She could quit. However, she needs the time to look for a new job. We also talked about her need for a great reference from the current employer. She decided to give the next 60 days her all and go out on a good note. She had been angry and depressed. Now she saw there was going to be a new chapter and she embraced it. As the old adage goes, when you got lemons, make lemonade! 

What do I want to accomplish with my life that would be most meaningful to me?  This is the ultimate question. What will give your life "the most meaning"? This question requires thought and contemplation. It has to include an inventory of the issues and causes you care about. The hidden talents you have wanted to develop. Some people misinterpret this question. They think there is just a single answer, a single profession, a single career track. You are complex and have multiple interests and ideas. You may have a constellation of passions and goals. Can you find a job that aligns with your goals, become a volunteer with a charity that gives you meaning, and start taking piano lessons? Yes, yes, yes! Building a total portfolio of interests and goals may be much easier than finding a career that satisfies all of them. 

I have always wished I could.........., but...................? This is Barbara Sher's wish/obstacle phrase from here work on Wishcraft . The beauty of this question is it isolates the reason that you have not pursued something. The premise is that people are drawn to other people's wishes more than their wants. It is a very powerful way to network for connections. This phrase will trigger other people's desire to assist you when you articulate what you want in the form of a wish. But this question releases its power when you ask others about their wishes. Try it. Ask people you care about what they are wishing for? Ask kids you know. Just tell them not to answer with any material objects. They will reveal many things you did not know. I tried this on my Mom a couple of years ago. My mother Tomi is an accomplished artist and has traveled the world. Surprisingly, she told me she wanted to see Santa Fe New Mexico. She described Santa Fe's importance to the art world and went on and on about things she wanted to see there. I told her I never knew about this wish. I immediately contacted my brother and sisters and we put together a small fund to send my Mom there with one of my sisters. Every year we struggle to get Mom a Christmas or birthday gift, but this is something she wished for! I put my network to work and got her a VIP tour of the Georgia O'Keefe Museum and to meet other Santa Fe artists. 

Here's a photo of my Mom and sister in Santa Fe. Santa Fe

We have to open up our minds to questions that cause us to think beyond our growing adult cynicism. Questions that help us reflect on what we want for ourselves and for those around us. Questions that force us to stop running around and stand still in the forest, to enjoy the greatness of the trees, and then explore the paths out of the forest. 

Thanks for reading.  John


Pursuit of happiness and the science of getting it

So the voting in my poll was lighter this week so I broke the tie and selected this topic. Please vote or make comments to help me make these posts as responsive to your needs as possible. Thanks!

President Obama's inaugural speech last week, which now seems like a lifetime ago, (because some of us have waited a lifetime for this moment!) was a great call to action. It was a repudiation of our collective dis-engagement from our local, national and global interests. It was a wake up call to get us re-engaged. Regardless of your political mindset and allegiances, all of us want our citizenry to participate in public and community service. We all want to serve, to come together and use our talents and resources to combat the issues that we face as a society. But to date, we have been lulled into an apathetic, NIMBY, cynical hypnotic state of how irrelevant our actions and opinions are. We have forgotten what a people inspired people can do. I am reminded of what Margaret Mead said, "A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."  This is truly a new day and we must all find our places to contribute. 

Here are a few selected passages of Obama's speech (read the whole thing a few more times!) that are worth further examination:

The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

....what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

I have dedicated this blog to connecting people to one another, to strengthen our sense of community and to helping one another by thinking about others first. Our President rallies our intellects and our spirits to think about how we can pursue "happiness", through "selflessness" and to our "duties" to the greater community. (Did I tell you I was enrolled at Occidental College the same time as Obama? Never met him but, aren't we "classmates"? :-))

So let me briefly address this "happiness" thing. In this context, happiness is not merely our disposition, how we feel, it is our holistic sense of our well-being and our satisfaction with our lives. It seems like human nature that if we do not feel personally fulfilled, or that our personal lives are not satisfying then we will struggle with adopting a lifestyle of helping others and deepening our relationships. Right? 

The Founders of our country, especially Thomas Jefferson, showed their brilliance in wordsmithing when he wrote that Americans were born with "certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." (italics added) It is this word pursuit that is so wonderful. Not getting, obtaining, achieving, or entitled to, but the right to pursue it. Also, remember that the original language that inspired this used the word property instead of happiness! Think about that. While for many "property" is an avenue to happiness. Most of us know that the road to true fulfillment is not paved with material things. After all how much stuff can you accumulate? 

Thomas Jefferson also said, "Virtue is the foundation of happiness." That exposes the myth. The truth is that by becoming the best we can be morally (by being virtuous) and professionally, then helping others and deepening our relationships is what will makes us happier. Happiness is not a pre-requisite to the other. Happiness is the by-product. 

But what is "happiness"? 

Just came back from an all day conference on Applying the Science of Positive Psychology. Some world re-known scientists and professors discussed the current progress of research about measuring well-being, life satisfaction, or forms of happiness. What are the factors that shape our well-being, a positive disposition? And does a positive disposition make a difference in our achievement of goals and becoming successful? And how can we use this knowledge to improve our health care systems, our schools, and our workplaces? 

At this 9 and 1/2 hour conference we were treated to a dizzying array of data and studies on "happiness".  Here are a few examples:

  • Study of nuns from the time of their acceptance into the convent to their deaths showed that 3X the "most cheerful" nuns lived to be 90 yrs or more than the "least cheerful" and lived 9.3 years longer!
  • Entering freshman at 18 years old were measured upon admission and then when they were 40 years old. the "happier" students made an average of 30% more money than the "less happy".  
  • Well being and "happiness" are being measured in 140 countries Gallup world poll  The US is relatively better off, but Denmark is happiest.  
  • The ideal ratio between positive and negative emotions is above 3 to 1 for humans to flourish. 

But how how happy are you? Check out authentic happiness, register and take a few of the free tests. At the very least take the Brief Strengths Test, the Authentic Happiness Inventory, and the Optimism Test. 

Some may think all of this is mumbo jumbo, but there is a science around how you perceive yourself, what strengths/virtues drive your sense of happiness and optimism. And maybe most important, how to focus on learning about what makes us happy, than trying to undo our unhappiness. 

Thanks for reading. John