choice

The Illusion of More

Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little. Epicurus

 

A brand new college grad with his mortar board on says to me: Gotta get into grad school!

Comment to me after my 94 year old uncle passed: So sorry he did not make it to 95

Parents remark at their daughter's wedding: Now for my grandkids!

First question in an interview with me: How long do I have to do this job before I might get promoted?

Never enough. Never good enough. 

One of the greatest distractions in life is this uneasy and ultimately sleep depriving feeling. It can motivate and haunt you. It can dominate our thinking and our actions. We see it in our social media, we see it in our credit card statements, we see it at work and talk about it with almost everyone. It is a silent and powerful under current that defines our lives. Wanting MORE. More please

Some believe this constant desire and pursuit for more is rooted in our biology — that it helped us to survive. Some believe that this pursuit is fundamental to a capitalistic society that requires consumerism, propelled by the media, culture and of course, all of us aid and abet the crime of MORE

It is true that our survival instincts and competitive nature have brought us great progress and material luxuries. But when we lose ourselves to the MORE, that requires an intervention.

According to Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, income does predict happiness—but only up to $75,000 per year.

The infinite and never satiable goal of a bigger, better, and more expensive version. We do live in a Big Gulp, Super Size, Monster truck, Power Ball,  iPhone 10, All you can eat, Botox filled world that is relentless and unyielding. It is an epidemic.

The yearning for life and wealth shows no signs of aging even as a man grows old. It does not weaken with age. It is a lifelong disease. The man who gives it up finds happiness.  Dharmasutras

I have come to appreciate Marie Kondo's popular and simple advice about Tidying. I have read her book and saw her speak recently. For me the essence is--Look at your things, things you did not remember you have, so many things--Look at each one of them and ask, "Does this spark joy in me?" If it does not, then get rid of it. Give it away to someone who needs or wants it. We should be surrounded by things and people that spark joy in us, right?

A desire arises in the mind. It is satisfied; immediately another comes. In the interval which separates two desires a perfect calm reigns in the mind. It is at this moment freed from all thought, love or hate. Complete peace equally reigns between two mental waves.– SWAMI SIVANANDA

Regardless of what we believe to be at the root of this constant wanting, it takes a conscious and deliberate effort to experience contentment or satisfaction in our lives — to fully appreciate life, people, and the activities we engage in. To stop and smell the roses, as my Dad used to say. To interrupt the impulses and the continuous thoughts that undermine our sense of self and the present.

Yes meditation helps a lot. Anything to disrupt the pattern and bring the world back into focus.

One of my favorite books is Instructions to the Cook describes the Zen Buddhist concept for the supreme meal. The supreme meal is when we live our life fully, wholeheartedly---a fully expressed life.

So the first principle of the Zen cook is that we already have everything we need. If we look closely at our lives, we will find that we have all the ingredients we need to prepare the supreme meal. At every moment, we simply take the ingredients at hand and make the best meal we can. It doesn’t matter how much or how little we have. The Zen cook just looks at what is available and starts with that.

And we become what we say. We evolve into our narratives. So when we say MORE, to ourselves and to others, that's what we believe and that's what we become. 

Happiness will never come to those who fail to appreciate what they already have. Buddha

This is most evident in interviews and conversations. How people always tell me they are looking to make a change because they want more. The most over-used term is "growth" followed by "opportunity". I have learned these are code words for more money. Some souls are looking for meaning and fulfillment, but most want the "opportunity to grow".  Grow to do what or be what?!! We may never know. 

Here's what kills me. Many people have read the same blog posts :), received the same coaching and have the same routines, answers and presentations. And when the vast majority of the walking dead say, "I am looking for a place where I can (continue to) grow." I always ask, "What are your top priorities for personal and professional growth?" This is a stumper. The vast majority of people I meet say that the cause, the issue, even the industry "doesn't matter"!!! I wish I was kidding. They can't articulate what "more" they want. Money is embedded and hiding in these abstract thoughts of more. But what is most often avoided is any self awareness, authenticity, and or introspectiveness to identify what more they want to become.

More is superficial when disconnected from the "P" words of passion and purpose.

How much is enough?

 

The Illusion of More        

Don't need a thing
To do our thing
We have what we need
To pursue what we heed
Everything before us
Nothing between us
The more of our world
Is the distraction
The less of ourselves
Is the attraction
When we forget me
We build on the we

The more takes from the now
It carries us to the next
Without gratitude or grace
It abruptly changes our place
For here is this moment
So full and complete
It's a shame we might waste it
So we can compete
For the more of tomorrow
And miss this special time
Are we deaf to the music
And what's left of this rhyme

No things is our aim
In the end
We are all the same                                           jek

 

There are a few MOREs that deserve our attention:

More peace and social justice

More time with people we love

More solitude, silence, and soul nourishment

More effort to be kind and non-judgmental

More altruism where we give and help without any expectation

More joy, awe, and wonder.

Let's enjoy what we have . Let's find and nurture the spark of joy around us. Let's interrupt the nonsensical wanting impulses. No more. 

Thanks for reading. John

 

 


Your moment

As you may have noticed I have been slipping in my poetry into my posts. :) To be honest I am writing more poems than anything else. It is a cleansing, meditative process for me.  I know my work is personal. Yet I want to share it in the hopes it resonates with you. 

Choice is the enemy of commitment. (attributed to Jerry Brown)

Just know many folks who are going through decision trees right now---school, career, family, relationships......Some dark decision jungles and others delightful and glorious forests. Nevertheless--Choices! First, always be grateful that you have a choice. Second, try to enjoy the process no matter how complex. Third, never look back and embrace the decision!  Chinese-Bamboo-Forest

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

Your moment
 
This may be a tough moment or a great moment,
 
It may lead everywhere and nowhere,
 
A moment that reveals the possibility
 
The possibility of change, of joy, of surprise
 
Not from a plan of specific steps
Not from a promise from the past
Not from the expectations of others
 
The possibility of what it can be
The possibility of what you can be
 
Seeing the now of it
 
Feeling the here of it
 
Breathing the you of it
 
Becoming the it of it
 
Make this moment, your moment
 
 
Thanks for reading. John

 


How Do I Know If I Am In Love?

Like when you are in the Maserati dealership, if you have to ask you are in the wrong place!
 
Had the great fortune of hearing this question from numerous younger people. Am I in love? How do you know? Love
 
I recently talked to a young man who asked me these questions. He then blurted out that he spent the last five years with this woman and he was going to marry her because he doesn't think he has another five years in him to meet someone else. Yikes
 
And I hear this same sentiment pertaining to career choices. 
 
Years ago, I was asked to address 500 PhDs at a career conference who no longer want to work in their fields of research.
 
I conducted a workshop called "Running from the Law" for 350 lawyers.
 
I think the analogies between love and life, dating and working are closely related. We seek companionship, trust, belonging, meaning, and mutuality in our lives. In everything. Not just for a soul mate or life partner but in our careers.We want our work to feed our insatiable desire for connection, emotional connection connection that matters and give us a deep sense of pride, security, confidence and meaning. We are lying to ourselves if we deny this.
 
Virtually none of us remember being in the sandbox as a toddler telling our friends and parents that we would be doing what we are doing now. Because life is a crazy journey of twists and turns, some say fate, others know its more about choices and chances. But I digress. 
 
Our jobs and internships, are our forays into our work /love life. We are "courting careers", we are scouring the match.coms of jobs, we are asking friends to set us up, we are constantly comparing our unrealistic list of needs/wants and even demands to our "dates". Is this what I want? Is this where I am supposed to be? Is this all there is? Is this how I am supposed to feel? 
 
We want to be in love and to be loved. 
 
In the hundreds of conversations I have had, it is the lover not the object of love who is the most challenged. We don't know what we want and therefore  our search is always one more of questioning than satisfying. We fall into things. We settle. We rationalize. Most of all we defer and wait.  Not sure for what.
 
Last week I talked to a newish non-profit leader who is questioning his career "date". Are you passionate about your work?, I queried. "No but I am working hard.", she said. Wonderful answer avoidance! Read: Not in a serious relationship yet.
 
Dating is not serious if there is not the possibility of marriage.
 
Met an executive in business and I asked him to tell me about his work. He looks at his shoes and says, "Just run a PR firm." Whoa, pride alert! Then he added, "I am not able to do good things like you." Major guilt exposed! Why not? Why does he think he is stuck in this bad relationship? Why does he accept not being in love?
 

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. Lao Tzu

We need strength and courage in our professional lives. We get it from our engagement intellectually and emotionally from what we do--paid and unpaid. 

But John, do you know how hard it is to find what you are talking about? Yeah I do. So when did you give up on things that were hard or even impossible? When did you push the auto-pilot button to give the controls of your life to "whatever"?

Some wake up and make changes. They are no longer in love and they get a divorce from their jobs. Some get dumped. because they waited too long. Still others stay in toxic, abusive relationships. 
  
Do we seek practical love? Or convenient love? Or do we pursue head over heels in love? Do we want love we rationalize or love we can brag about?

Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love. - Rumi

Time is not slowing down. Time is ticking. Like the maternal biological clock--When will you give birth to your dreams?
 
I am not saying to quit, divorce or bail, I am saying investing in the opportunity to make it work. A great and enduring relationship takes work. It doesn't just glide on the energy of puppy love. 
 
Are you in love with what you are doing, who you are becoming? Are you in love with the potential, the chance to grow?
 
Yes? Then, you understand. Keep working at it. If No, then you need to take control of the helm and get your little boat pointed in the right direction. Your compass is your heart.
 
Only you have formed the rules and boundaries of the current world. Only you can change it up and make it what you want.
 
Use your network of mentors and advisors to help you evaluate your choices. 
 
Last week I met a woman about her career. She said, " I am so overwhelmed. I am almost drowning. But it has been a long time since I felt this challenged, so connected to my work, forcing me to use my brain and everything I have. I am so grateful to be here!
 
It's a beautiful thing when people are in love.
 
You know if you are love. Only you do.
 
Thanks for reading. John 

Even our Networks are Obese

As we slurp up the last bit of the gravy and pumpkin pies, I want to talk about our weight---Thanks John!

A colleague of mine manages a large annual betting pool to see who will lose the most weight between Thanksgiving and New Years. A foolish incentive to eat a lot of turkey to establish the base weight and then the diet begins. We do over-indulge. And we do over-promise ourselves to get into better shape. The result is extra weight, from a little unwanted ponch to larger quantities of former food residing within us. As a country, we are weight watchers. We wait and watch our weight grow. We are bigger, slower, and unhealthier. Just saw this report that showed that new immigrants to the US are in better shape than the average American until they start eating like us. And then their BMI and health vitals begin to "normalize" and they become unhealthy too. Obesity

Its interesting that all of the medical studies show if we hang out with overweight people we have a strong tendency to eat too much and gain weight too. But if we congregate with slimmer folks we are only slightly more likely to lose weight and eat more healthful foods. The dark side is strong! Negative habits have a greater attraction than the positive ones.

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. 

It is time to evaluate our networks. Take inventory of how it reflects who we are and who we want to become. Discover the gaps in our networks. The gaps that relate to our goals. For example, you say you want to go back to grad school, start a business, write a book--connect with people doing these things to give credence to your words. 

Why do we waste time with people who neither support or stretch us? Because we are lazy. Because bad habits are hard to break. 

We need to exercise our networking muscles and get them into shape. Reconnect with people we know and have met. Here's the fix: Make a list of people who interest us, inspire us, and who we care about. Make that your new networking to-do list. Call them, meet with them, text them. 

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! Obese network

When you pursue people that advance your goals and your life, then you have less time for those who hold you back. It is not so much about losing the carbs in your network, it is about adding the protein in your network. And then get off the couch and connect!

Don't fall into the most common excuse--"I don't know any people that are good for my new networking diet." You do. You have met these people. You know them, but don't know them. People you want to meet. People you want to get know better. People you have lost touch with. 

An obese network is neither attractive or effective. 

It takes a village--is yours overweight? Take control of your network, trim it down and add some tone so that you can get moving on with your life. 

Thanks for reading. John

PS: Here is an interview I did recently for a national job network. It is one of the most succint interviews on networking I have ever given. Enjoy!


Networking Choices that Change You

What you choose changes you. 

We are confronted with many choices everyday. We select when to get up, what we wear, eat, and what we do. We decide what our priorities are, what needs to be done and who are our friends will be. While we can sometimes feel that life happens to us, we choose many of the details. Possibly the most important thing we do is decide where our attention is placed. What we listen to, look at, and understand. These choices have consequences.

For example, it is popular urban legend that men go deaf when they have a tv remote in their hands. They block their wives pleas, questions, and requests. It is indisputable that men tune out women voluntarily when watching sports. The inevitable and predictable ire that comes from our impatient partners was a matter of choice. :)

Anyway, let's look at what appears to be an innocuous decision--where to sit in the office lunchroom. Shall I sit with my three buddies or at a larger table where I don't know many or any of the people? C'mon John, why would this matter--it's just lunch!!  Lunchroom

Again, we make thousands of decisions based on gut feelings, reflexive thought, and sheer habit. The truth is we don't think, we choose without thinking. As the neuro-scientists say, we use the neural pathways not the brain. 

Back on my question: Sit with a few friends or join the larger less familiar table?

The research shows that even this choice has truly unexpected consequences.

"We found that the people who sat at the larger tables had substantially higher performance," observes social scientist Ben Waber. This is because they had created a much bigger network to tap into. Over the course of the week, they saw the same people again and again. Consequently, they often knew what these colleagues were working on and could go to them if they had a problem. The employees at the smaller tables, on the other hand, had smaller networks and less opportunity to interact.

In fact  he and his colleagues found that people who consistently chose the larger tables had up to a 25% increase in happiness and productivity!

One of the tallest soap boxes I stand on is to encourage you to get out of your comfort zone. To question your habits by paying attention to your choices. To choose the new. Choose the different. Choose the adventure over the same ole same ole. Networking is a lifestyle of choices. You choose to build and strengthen your community of connections to help each other--to pursue your common goals. 

Many longitudinal studies show that you will live longer if you have a more diverse--meaning diverse perspectives--network. 

The diversity within your network also matters, the research team discovered. Waber found that people tend to spend time with those who are similar to them. "Whether it's gender, race or the school you went to, there are many different ways we break ourselves into groups."

Branch out and talk to people in groups you wouldn't normally talk to, suggests Waber. It doesn't have to be through a formal mechanism. "It can be through bumping into people by the coffee machine. Just standing there and chatting gives you new perspective. Our research shows that chance encounters make people more effective."

It's kinda obvious. When you connect with people at work beyond your circle and your department, you develop a larger network of resources at work. You learn what is going on and how to get things done. When you are more connected you know more and you care more. In short, you are on a path of increasing your confidence and broadening your influence. And by the way, your connections are not only changing you, they change the lives of the people with whom you are connecting. The combination of your greater performance and visibility will speak volumes about you. And how do you think this will help your career?

Next time you enter the lunchroom, the Boardroom, a reception, a cocktail party or a family event--choose to mix it up. Choose to connect with people you don't know and people different than you. And don't forget the people you know but don't know! Pay attention, get uncomfortable and engage the people around you.

Your conscious choices have consequences. Need some incentives? You will live longer and do better at work!

Your choices will change you. 

Thanks for reading. John


Turn Regrets Into Resolutions

We must not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.  T. S. Eliot

We can not start a new year and just hope that it will be different. We have to know it for the first time. We have to think about where we are and where we came from. Who we are and who we want to be. We must own our actions, inactions and our reactions. We must take responsibility for all of our achievements both regretted and celebrated. All are worthy of our attention to gain insight into what we need to do.

A big mistake is to forget the things you regret from the previous year. We all all want to avoid regrets, but stuff happens or didn't happen. So as we make our annual promises to excercise more and eat less, let's also take a quick inventory of what we regretted from 2011. Regrets are opportunities for reflection and enlightenment.  Tattoo-Regret

Regrets are sins of commission and omission. They are an essential component of our humanity. If we do not have the emotional and intellectual capacity to think about what we did or did not do, then we are socio-paths with no compass. We regret because we feel.  To regret is human.

The most helpful way to experience regret is to feel it deeply, get over it quickly and move on and use it to push you to new behaviors that are going to be helpful.       Dr. Neal Roese, Northwestern University

Always fascinated by people in job interviews who have no regrets, no failures, no weaknesses. It's not as suspicious, as it is telling of an emptiness. Our lives are filled with the good and the regretted. The only way we can improve is to be aware of our shortcomings ans our regrets. Awareness is always the first step. 

In a meta-analysis of many regret studies conducted by Neal Roese of Northwestern, here's what he found we regret most:

Roese2005_Fig1

These studies were biased towards younger persons and students. Earlier this year, Roese surveyed adults from across the country and got these results

Sources_of_regret
Romance, marriage and life partners topped the list, followed by family relationships and then education and career again.

What will I do differently in 2012 to push these regrets off my list? We know that doing the exact same thing you did last year is insufficient to address these areas of your life. Whichever you feel are important to you, need to go on the top of your 2012 resolutions list.

Relationships, education and career will always dominate your list. Relationships take great effort and time as they evolve and can not be neglected. Same for education and career. The world is changing and so must you, to stay fresh and sharp. These areas require your constant attention to continuously sustain them and improve. Ignore them at your peril. These regrets can turn into tumors if you give up. There are many sources of regret that have to be forgotten. Buyer's remorse, for example, is not worth your time--move on! And as you can see, financial decisions are not as important. But your primary human romantic and familial relationships are key to your life satisfaction. As well as your life's work and career.

Here's the intangible. Regrets of omission and inaction may be the most daunting because you do not know what those choices would have triggered. We know that each action generates a cascade of events and actions that can change your life. So hesitate less and go for it more. Take a chance. Feel the fear and be more decisive. Be first to connect and reconnect with people you care about or don't know yet. Mentor others. "Next time" rarely happens. Let life take you to uncharted waters and new territories. The only thing you may lose ----is a regret!

We need to learn to love the flawed imperfect things we create and forgive ourselves for creating them.  Regret does not remind us that we did badly, it reminds us that we know we can do better. --Kathryn Shulz

Happy New Year and thanks for reading. John


Innocence of the Bystander

Witnesses to tragedies, crimes, and unethical behavior are never innocent. They are changed by what they see even if they avert their eyes, minds, and consciences. Seeing and hearing bad things alters you, especially if you don't do something to stop, mitigate or report the event or behavior. Each time we "allow" something to pass as acceptable when we are offended, makes us a little more tolerant of such things. Over time a little callous can start to build up on our heart and our moral compass and we let more things pass without intervention. Initially we ask ourselves, "Should I have done something?"  or "What else could I have done?" Later, we can rationalize, "Maybe its me." "I don't want to be the only one who complains." Innocent bystander


Psychologists have tried to explain this phenomena:

1. The diffusion of responsibility: a bystander assumes that someone else has or will take action.
2. Pluralistic Ignorance: an individual looks around the group and because no one is doing anything to help, they assume that no one else perceives there to be an issue

In other words, "someone ELSE will or should do something."

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."  Mother Teresa

The Penn State allegations remind us all about our duties as a bystander. No one has been found guilty but heads are rolling. People allegedly saw horrific things and nothing was done. Children may have been seriously harmed. (the average pedophile molests 100-200 children, so the 8 victims may be the tip of the iceberg) An entire community will suffer and a university will be tarnished for years because of the inaction of a few. All in the name of football. Schoolroom teachers and medical personnel are obligated to report abuse if the suspect it. Military academies and other educational institutions uphold a code of ethics where if you witness cheating, you are a cheater--unless you come forward. We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. And not coming forward can be grounds for dismissal. But coaches, executives, priests, and others can view themselves as above the law.

Selfishness and self preservation prevent us from taking chances, from making changes, and from ruffling feathers/rocking the boat. When we place ourselves above the welfare of others, that's when the conflict occurs. It is a survival instinct. However, when that instinct interferes with the rationalization of crimes, especially crimes that physically harm others--children--all innocence is lost!

What would it take for you to step in and get involved? What level of harm, potential harm, suspected harm will make you act?

Tattle tales, snitches, stool pigeons have always been vilified. Upholding the honor amongst thieves seems to be a powerful moral prophylactic. But this is not about just whistle blowing, this about how we act upon our human instinct to assist an other.

As Americans we think that we are the most generous people on earth. We are quick to judge other cultures, China most recently, who appear less sensitive or even do things we find violating our sense of decency. Regrettably, we Americans do not have a corner on the market of "Thy Neighbor's Keeper." While we invented Neighborhood Watch, the Welcome Wagon and even foundation philanthropy, Penn State is an example that we are not always responsive or respectful of the needs of others.

I love these Liberty Mutual ads. The idea that we should help strangers. That helping others is contagious and sets off a chain reaction of good deeds. One thing is certain, when you see good being done it creates a model of behavior. Everyone wants to help others. Seeing is believing. That is the power of role modeling and mentoring.

After the children who may have been injured, the assasination of the moral example and leadership of Penn State coaches and executives may be the second biggest victim on the Happy Valley campus. When leaders and mentors fall from grace, who or what fills that void? Communities of all sizes and shapes thrive when they have mentors and role models. In Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point, he discusses the studies that have shown that a community stabilizes when it has 5% of its population as role models. Just 5%. The point is, you don't need nor will you ever have everyone as role models. But without them the community de-stabilizes and deteriorates. What happens when some of our top role models fall from grace? Will this void increase or decrease people's desire to help one another and get involved to right wrongs?  

Everyday we are bystanders to the good, the bad, and the ugly. Our innocence will be determined by what we do and how we role model the treatment of others by standing up for what is right and just.

Thanks for reading. John


Connecting the Dots

Steve Jobs lived a life of great trials and tribulations, great victories and achievements.

He pursued his passions and his curiosities, not because it was part of a plan. Because it fascinated him. He found work he loved which he never considered work. He met people, had ideas, and pursued thoughts, not in an effort to reach a goal. He connected dots that made sense only in hindsight.Dots

Here's what he said: "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."

  

Even if you have watched this before, watch it again! It is so inspirational particularly that we have lost him.

Steve Jobs has been likened to Thomas Edison, but I have always thought of him as a combination of Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg. He was no angel, few geniuses are. But a true visionary. Never had the opportunity to meet him but like most of us I admired his insatiable creativity and pursuit of excellence.

Think for a second that his seemingly innocuous logo symbol –Apple with a bite missing—is the forbidden fruit. He always pushed himself beyond the garden of eden. After all one of his daughters was named Eve!

His story is an American fairy tale of the emergence of greatness from humble and “average” beginnings. Those of us who have been around lots of kids, if you look carefully, you can see the genius in each one of them. The genius of uniqueness and of their unfettered spirit of the possibilities. The DNA cocktail is powerful and if it is allowed to take root and grow, amazing happens. But all too often we try to conform and guide our kids to follow a formula, often the parents vicarious recipe, for success. We want the kids to fit in. Yet we simultaneously hold a contradictory thought---we believe each individual is unique and special. Why then do we try and smooth out all of the wrinkles, remove all of the weird, and push and pull our young ones into a regimented line?

I contend we lose a Steve Jobs like kid everyday to our well intentioned desire to make all of the unique birds fly in formation.

I am an addict for vision. For the people who can lift their sights from their footsteps, up to the horizon and beyond. It is not that I do not value the past or the present, but I have long understood that being satisfied with the status quo is foolhardy. That life is an endless journey about improving our lot and the lots of those that follow. In that vein, people who are restless and unsettled about the current world, yearn for the next iterations. Steve Jobs was relentless and never satisfied—that’s the way visionaries are.

We each have visions for our future, for our families future and for our sociiety. We need those visions.

One of his greatest lessons is his view of life as connecting dots. Life is the pursuit of things and people that fascinate you, that capture your imagination, that drive your curiosity and passion--with no guarantees. These are the dots that you should connect. But instead of myopically accumulating dots with a plan. Like a bad scavenger hunt, you collect interesting dots that connect you to new ideas about yourself and the possibilities.

If you can not make sense of the people and experiences you encounter except through hindsight, then how do you know if you are doing it “right”? A better question is, how can you reject the opportunity to meet someone or to experience something if you won’t know the value until later?

Actually that is what this little blog is about. Trusting yourself to take chances and to make leaps of faith. A lifestyle of connections not driven by selfish needs but a lifestyle of making connections to help people and to discover the world. A world that will teach us about ourselves by trusting our guts and our hearts to become the best of who we were meant to be.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Flash learning, Lightning talks, Fast pitches, and You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Mark Twain said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


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

 


Act your age, whatever that is. And is it time to upgrade your network?

One of your year-end inventory items, is your age and the age of your network. Hold old are you? I know you "feel" younger than you are. I know you can't believe how time has flown by and you THINK you are younger. One of the great challenges of life is to age gracefully AND maintain your youth. Becoming more mature while remaining open to change.

As a society we are obsessed at LOOKING younger or preserving our appearance. So much time is wasted on creams, surgery, potions, and pills. We are more concerned with our graying heads than our aging gray matter. Barber

I used to have this wonderful barber. When I started to lose my hair, I asked him what should I be doing? "he said, "What do you mean?" "Do I need to take something or use anything?" I sheepishly queried? He looked into the mirror in front of us and grabbed my face with both hands. He said in a grave and serious tone while staring into my eyes through the mirror, "Is your hair the source of your dignity? You look great and a little less hair will not make you any less of the good person you are, right?!" I looked back at him, nodded and smiled because I knew he was right. My barber was wiser and more profound than I gave him credit. My hair was shorter but my wisdom was lengthened. And my barber got a larger tip. :)

The barber was right in his Popeye-esque philosophy, You are what you are.

The sooner you accept the changes to your appearance, the more time you have to focus on important matters.

So how old are you? If you want to know what your real age is check out  realage.com I like the way they ask you intrusive questions about your health and well-being to determine your real age. Questions that if answered truthfully yield a more accurate picture of yourself. Is the result true and accurate? You will know. Like in anything you can lie and get a more acceptable answer. Self-deception must be like smoking, you enjoy the immediate gratification even though you know you are killing yourself.

I  have been exercising my pre-frontal cortex with brain games for many years. My current brain age is 21! I know that is not true, but I also know it has kept my synaptic activity a little more lively.

We all know your age is a state of mind. It is how you live and what you think. Are you optimistic? Are you positive? Are you resistant to change and new ideas? How cynical are you? What kind of mental shape are you in? How are managing stress?

Your physical condition also matters. Your resting heart rate, your blood pressure, your diet, and exercise regimen make a difference in how old you feel.

These are all things you control. You do.

There are so many reasons to not take care yourself or think about these questions. After all we are so busy. We have so many things to do. We have many demands on our lives. We seem to be spinning our wheels in a quixotic quicksand in a timecapsule of futility. Really? Cue music for the smallest violins. 

So when were you going to address these issues and make some changes?

Our attitudes and our outlook on life need to be seriously tweaked. What used to work 5-10 years ago, won't work today!? Our young feeling needs to be  accompanied by a healthier lifestyle AND new and fresh sources of information and ideas.

Your network can be an important anti-aging process. Is your network tired and increasingly irrelevant to your future? Does your network have different perspectives and diverse view-points represented within it? Are there younger members? Are there people at work, at church, at your volunteer organization who can open up your mind and give you a dose of new thinking? How can I improve my network of advisors and supporters next year? Meet new people. Your age will be reflected in your network. Oldman to baby

My work on university campuses gave me a boost of youthful energy. Being around younger minds can innoculate you against the weight of rational and practical thinking. Being a parent is an opportunity to regain sanity by reflecting on your childhood and the future of your offspring. Young children are so free from all of the issues we older humans have. They act and speak without the baggage and parameters of adults. Their imagination is pure and unfiltered. That's why I continue to teach. Not so much to transmit knowledge as to seek the energy of fresh minds.

In my first job, my new boss told me he was hiring me into this new field of cable tv because I knew nothing about it. "Anyone who thinks they know cable tv will have to unlearn it, because the future of this business will be so different. "

Hard to unlearn things. Easier to learn new things. In many cases, different people and younger people can be your faculty. Learning will rejuvenate you.

Your age is also a function of your regrets. Stuff you have not done but wanted to. Your fading hopes and expectations for yourself. Things you wanted to experience and see, but are resigning yourself to never do. That pile of dreams that you are discarding--those would be regrets. The more you get the older you become. Have no regrets.

So take a look in the mirror and see the dignity that is you. Is the routinized slide down and over the hill of life acceptable? Then make a change. Take inventory of your literal and figurative vital signs. Think less about how you look and more about what you have left to give your family and your community. Start pushing back father time with new energy and ideas that come from not becoming complacent and settling for a growing pile of regrets. Plan to turn some of those almost regrets into memories and milestones.

What age will you be in 2011? It could be an extraordinary year. Will it be for you?

Thanks for reading. John


Reflecting on our glass barriers and the road beyond

Starting my own process of reflecting on the last year--what I accomplished and what did not get done. Always like to start BEFORE the year end, to get a running head start on the new year. I have been blessed to encounter many new people and ideas during the last 12 months. These experiences have revealed many things to me about myself and the world around me. Most prominent to me is the amount of talent that is wasted or untapped. Talent that is obvious to everyone except the person with the talent. It is easiest to observe in children. You see their genius manifested in little things they do or say. Moments of brilliance, of enlightenment and joy that speak volumes about their essence and their possibilities. Then, over time layers of experience and nurture can suffocate the nature. External limits, preferences and rules unwittingly strangle that potential. As people grow up, this pattern continues and many enter the Federal Witness Relocation Program of assumed identities, where they adopt a life path that others give them. They become who others want them to be and accept somebody else's dream for themselves.This road rarely leads to a life fulfilled. Why does this happen over and over again? One less travelled

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 have to break the cycle, the habits, and the routine of traveling a road that is too comfortable and too predictable.

But practicality and reality form glass walls between our current selves and parts of our true selves. We see them but can't get to them. We know these limitations are mostly self imposed. We have conditioned ourselves to keep these goals and visions of ourselves distant. Not big crazy dreams, but our own progress towards our health, education, family matters, financial fitness--things we can achieve, but don't. If you will, new year's resolutions unfulfilled.

There have been many experiments with fleas and pike fish that show that conditioning limits their abilities. Fleas trained in a glass container for flea circuses would only jump at 50% of their ability after the lid was removed. Fish separated from their prey by a glass wall would not pursue the prey even after the glass wall was removed. Conditioning and doubt are both self imposed "glass impediments" that limit us.

So the glass walls and barriers don't really exist, we imagine them.

And for myself, I have a much better fix on my potential. I see the talent that I have not nurtured and cultivated. Partly due to sloth, partly due to priorities, partly due to chances and choices. All glassy excuses of different names. I have gotten great snapshots of that potential through my community of support. They give me pieces of feedback and guidance that when assembled, reveal a work in progress puzzle picture of my potential. I am so grateful that I have people in my life that give me these perspectives and insights.

I can't settle for what is. I sincerely believe that we are never done developing ourselves. Never. That the road of self discovery and self improvement is infinite. When you understand this, it is neither frustrating or exasperating. However, you do realize how precious time is.

So how do we break this cycle? How do we develop our own talent and the talent of others? We must focus on our strengths. We surround ourselves with people who know us and stretch those strengths. We connect with people who can help us identify our hidden goals and visions. There is a tendency to surround our selves with clones, with similar people, with similar perspectives, abilities, means, and backgrounds. That is human nature. Likes do attract. But when you see, experience, and learn from more divers and talented people, you can see the potential you have more clearly. Am I bumping up against a glass ceiling or wall of advisors and/or colleagues who no longer force me to see what is possible and focus on the status quo? How will I change this? Broken glass

We articulate our goals, visions, and even dreams to others to help us achieve them. Secret goals never get accomplished.

Reconnect with your dreams for yourself, your family, your community, and beyond. Reinvigorate your understanding of your great talents and find ways to nurture them. Expand your network of peers and mentors to include people who will push you and pull you through the glass walls and ceilings to attain your dreams through your talents and strengths. And help others do the same.

The sounds of "breaking" glass ceilings and walls makes glorious music. Lot easier to break the glass with others than by trying to do it yourself.

As I continue to reflect, I have a lot of glass to break, roads to travel, people to help and dreams to fulfill. Next year is shaping up to be pretty interesting. :)

Thanks for reading. John

 


When will my luck change?

Had the great opportunity to hear Tony Hsieh of Zappos fame speak about his new book Delivering Happiness. He is a very inspirational and passionate speaker about how to achieve increased meaning and fulfillment in life. Topics that I constantly try to advance in my work and words.

Tony talked about the role of luck in his life and the lives of others. It is something people have said to me too. "Wish I was as lucky as you!" I am offended by this on one level and deeply understand it at another. How much does luck play into our chances and choices? Where does this luck come from?  

 Fortune cookieTony cited the well known research about how "lucky" people perceive things so differently than "unlucky" people. One of the questions they ask all Zappos candidates is, "Are you lucky or unlucky?" And then they listen. People start to describe their good or bad luck. Some say, "Not sure why so many bad things happen to me." "Or I just seem to be at the right place at the right time." Zappos never hires the former. He said, "We just don't want that bad luck to come to Zappos." :) He went on to say that "lucky" people see opportunities in challenges and change. And the "unlucky" see the problems and the negative. And we all know that what you focus on, give attention to, attracts more of the same. Complainers attract more complainers and hang out together. While the "lucky" people just seem to get luckier.

My mom taught me this point of view by the way she lives and the way she sees the world. Her glass is not only full, but the glass is crystal and the water sparkles. It is not enough to be positive. No one will admit to being negative! You have to see the upside and the path to extend your sense of challenge and meaning. The "unlucky" get caught up in the whirlpool of obstacles and see a conspiracy of bad fortune. But the lucky just move beyond the stuff that holds them back, they regard it as inconveniences rather than the focus of life. 

Professor Richard Wiseman executed a ten-year study of the dimensions of luck, and published his findings in a book called The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind.

In his famous test, 400 participants of all ages were asked to count the number of photographs in a newspaper, and subjects who described themselves as "lucky" were much more likely to notice a message on page two, disguised as a half-page advertisement with large block letters: STOP COUNTING–THERE ARE 43 PHOTOGRAPHS IN THIS NEWSPAPER.

This experiment and many others have led Wiseman to conclude that a significant portion of one's good fortune is not random, but rather due to one's perspective.

He concludes that luck is not because of cosmic accidents, but because one achieves a particular mindset which amplifies "lucky" events. Here are my interpretations of his conclusions:

Lucky People

Unlucky People

Encounter opportunities, people who help them

Rarely have these experiences, attract negative people

Listen to their intuition and their hearts

Make decisions without these influences

Expect luck and have self-fulfilling prophecies

Do the opposite

Turn ill fortune into good, do not get overwhelmed

Get overwhelmed and things get worse

I have said over and over again, that depending on "luck" is the most foolish of career strategies. Luck visits those with their eyes open for opportunity, those who are not focused on their next step but the next horizon and those who take chances and push themselves outside of their comfort zones. If luck happens at all it will occur when you fully explore, experiment, and engage the world around you. 

The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity and the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.  Winston Churchill

Want some more luck? Look up instead of down. Collaborate instead of comiserate. Push yourself out of your current world and meet and reconnect with people and you will be surprised how lucky you are. 
 
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


A network of friction: The human particle accelerator

Traction is gained when points of friction – even small ones – push off against one another and enable movement. Until there are two opposable surfaces, there will be no traction. Our goal in developing an action plan is to place strategic points of friction in our life so that we are gaining traction on a regular basis.  Todd Henry (Accidental Creative)

Traction comes from friction. And friction comes from differences. People talk about oil/water or black/white or positives/negatives. We all know you need to mix these ingredients in reality to produce necessary and important nuances, shades, and indeed solutions in our lives. This is the crucible of art and science. Of invention and true creativity. The collision of opposites in the super collider/particle accelerator of life generates new paradigms and ideas that advance our thinking and our perspectives. Without these collisions and encounters ideas become isolated and insulated. Cooking would be utterly boring. Art would be bland. We would all be clones. Life would be predictable and dull.Particle accelerator

Over the last 40 years, scientists have been accelerating atoms and atomic components at super high speeds to reveal new components, understand space and time dynamics, develop new sources of light and energy.

A particle accelerator[1] is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams.

We all want to accelerate our goals into more well-defined beams, don't we?

I know some of you want predictability, at least you think you do. Others say they also want stability. You really don't, but you say you do. Besides being distracting and self deceptive, it delays reality--the reality of what you REALLY want. What you really want is an inner feeling of engagement of your talent and your potential. Challenges, chances and opportunities. A sense of purpose and meaning. These require changes and dare I say, instability and unpredictability.

Traction requires friction-- not controversy, anger, and animus, but tactile and intellectual differences to push up against one another. That creative tension between perspectives that yields a different thought or point of view to  advance. To move forward whatever that means to you. A feeling of uneasiness that makes you uncomfortable because it rings true. The truth about your deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. 

But what are the sources of productive and creative friction, besides our inner gnawing desire to reach our potential?

Isolation is your problem, not your lousy attitude.  Barbara Sher

It's time to question your network, your sources of support and inspiration. Often your current kitchen cabinet, also accepts you as you are. Apparently, many of them think the status quo is fine. Or maybe you are fortunate and you have a friction network that pushes and pulls you to be your best. Not dissatisfaction with who you are but who you could be--and want to be.

For me and my experiences, you have to seek differences, new ideas, and different points of view through the people you meet, confide in, and learn from. You build your own human particle accelerator/collider of friction that literally forces you to confront yourself in a collision of expectations and perceptions. Re-investing in your network, by assessing your current network, by going to people you know (but don't know), and by seeking new vantage points, will ultimately pay off in opportunity dividends. It will be people you know and meet who will help transform you and give you traction. You can not do it alone. If the status quo is satisfying, then enjoy it. If it isn't, then make a concerted effort to diversify and expand your portfolio of advisers.

Just learned from my cousin that this speech I gave was posted online. It describes part of my particle accelerator/collider network that created friction in my life that continues to propel me forward. The human source of the traction, chances and opportunities I have been fortunate to encounter and take.

 

John Kobara Honored by Coro from Edward Headington on Vimeo.

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


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


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 

MLK's Dream about Mentoring and Networking

“America is essentially a dream, a dream as yet unfulfilled. … Through our scientific and technological genius we have made of this world a neighborhood; now, through our moral and spiritual development, we must make of it a brotherhood. In a real sense, we must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools.”  Martin Luther King Jr. 1967250px-Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTS

My week was filled with inspiration and sobered by empathy and responsibility. As we celebrate Dr King's 81st birthday, I was reminded of these inspirational words that are still so relevant and timeless. The images and news from Haiti humbles us and triggers our human desire to help. We all think about our common bond with each other, whether from Haiti or next door. The acts of kindness and generosity that are now occurring restore our faith in humankind. People from around the world are giving of themselves in selfless ways. Why does it take a tragedy to bring out the best in us?

It now appears that Haiti death toll may approach 30 Katrinas! It's hard to fathom. (If you are still looking for charities to help Haiti CLICK HERE)

I was with a number of UCLA students this week, trying to help them examine their options for life after college. Trying to assist them think through the relevance of college majors and career paths. Ahhhh to be a student again, safe from the realities of the cruel world. I never discount the anxiety of youth struggling with uncertainty and debt. But we concluded that ultimately listening to your heart and not your parents will help define one's life path. :)

"But listening to their heart may be too abstract. How can I help the students calm down and be less stressed out about their futures?", asked a student peer counselor. There needs to be pragmatism and focus to our education. All of us worry about whether what we are doing is the right thing. Whether what we are "majoring in" will give us the best outcomes. However, students and just about all of us need to ingest the same advice on a daily basis. Watch the tv, read the papers, pay attention. No matter what our circumstances, we see how fortunate we are to have choices and chances. We are so blessed to have the freedom to think and act. And to have the  great response-ability to help others. As students of life, we need to appreciate what we have not what we don't. Young people often think that choice is the enemy of commitment. And do not find joy and enjoyment in choice, and get caught up in the drama of it all. Choice is the goal of a democracy. Choice and freedom come with an obligation to cherish them and make the most of them. What we "major" in is of lesser consequence than what we decide to to do with our lives. Neither our majors or our jobs define us. How do we express our love and care for others? How do we help one another? In the end, that is how we will evaluate our lives and our level of success.

Social-network Lets take this frame of mind to be generous and supportive of the people of Haiti and also apply it to our networks, our offices, our churches, our circle of friends, and our families--everyday. Lets continue to reach out and mentor each other. Help each other find meaningful work and fulfillment. Assist one another to get through these trying times. Turning these neighborhoods into brother and sister hoods will take a lot of work and effort. As our hearts and minds go out to our brothers and sisters in Haiti, it should embolden our resolve to also help our brothers and sisters at home. As we listen to our hearts, we must get well beyond our feelings of empathy and goodwill, we must act upon them. Lets translate the emotional connection we feel to "strangers" in a foreign land, to people we know and love. It is this ongoing process of strengthening our relationships and connecting to new ones that will make Dr. King's dream a reality.

Oh deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome some day.

Thanks for reading. John