comfort zone

Proximity to Reality: Somos Cubanos

One of the most remarkable things in life is how wrong we are about our perceptions. That almost everything upon closer examination yields insights and new truths. Especially people, places, cultures, religions, and lifestyles we are not familiar with. The constant process of learning what we don't know empirically. 

One of my newer heroes is Bryan Stevenson. He has devoted his life to justice. Called the American Mandela, Stevenson is ripping back the curtain of mass incarceration and the pernicious legacy of racism. His Tedtalk, his latest book Just Mercy are to be added to your must experience list. His acceptance speech earlier this year for the 2016 Public Counsel awards dinner is among the best speeches I have ever heard. And I have seen and studied my share!

His speech is anchored on four principles to pursue change and greater understanding of difference. A fabulous structure to test our thinking about worlds we think we comprehend, people we think we know, and places we think we understand. This is how I interpret Bryan's advice:

Proximate: We have to get physically close to needs, issues, and people to learn the truth through reality. I know this sounds obvious, but much of our perspective about "homelessness", "refugees", "poverty", "Cuba", "black people" and "socialism" are gleaned through abstract and "distant" information.

Narrative: We have a story running in our head about these issues, ideas and people. These stories are reinforced through selective consumption, our biases, and with the limitations of empirical data.  How do we disrupt this story with facts and experiences? 

Uncomfortable: When we disrupt our cranial narratives with facts then we get shoved out of our comfort zones--we get understandably uncomfortable. Truth is the greatest source of discomfort, especially when it conflicts with our long held belief system. Discomfort wakes us up and we have to use our brains and think and feel again. Being uncomfortable is a necessary step in our journey to learn and grow. 

Hopeful: Gaining new perspectives through experience, opening new parts of our minds to new truths, and seeing new possibilities expands our hopefulness. Because when we learn new things we see how change is possible and that expands the pool of hope.

(Yes I have changed the order of these principles for my own purposes :)

IMG_0181
Me and Congresswoman Karen Bass

I recently was included on a special study tour of Cuba led by Congresswoman Karen Bass (One of the most dedicated public servants I have encountered) It was a mind blowing learning experience that changed me. I reflect on Stevenson's principles that helped me re-think everything "I knew" about Cuba. Except the food, music, art, rum and cigars, which are exquisite and met and exceeded my expectations!

US-Cuban relations have been so tortured and convoluted through hundreds of years of American history. We have viewed and treated Cuba as a possession and territory for generations prior to the revolution which triggered the ongoing embargo. Then Cuba was perceived as a  threat. Not enough space here to provide or review history. Suffice it to say that the US has imposed its will on this island country for the last 50 years.

We rarely think about Cuba, yet the Cuban people are big fans of Americans. We were greeted by colleagues and strangers with open arms and warm friendliness. I know, it is about the historic antagonistic systems and governments. It is about capitalism vs socialism. And Fidel vs JFK. Here's the deal, that was then and Cuba does not resemble those caricatures of the past. Globalization is here and Cuba has been benched and ostracized. This embargo is not just a political war of words it has really hurt the people. 50 years of no access to anything from the US from anywhere. That includes school materials, medicine and food. I know it was meant to punish the country, but that time passed and it is harming people who pose no threat to us today. As an embargoed country, Cuba is in the same company with North Korea, Iran, Ukraine and Syria. It makes no sense now. It hasn't for many years.

Everything I knew about Cuba was transformed by a closer examination.

The President Obama lifted some sanctions, travel and certain goods are no longer prohibited, but we need to open up our relationship to take full advantage of what Cuba has to offer. Cuban medical training is the envy of the world. They have free medical care from pre-natal to hospice. For example, Cuba has a robust bio-tech industry and have developed a drug called Cimavax which attacks lung cancer cells. NY state now has a few trials of Cimavax, the first medical exchange in 50 years! 

IMG_0287Visited the education system as well, which is totally free. By the way, Cuba's literacy rate is about 97%. In fact they have a Museum of Literacy! We visited ELAM (Latin American Medical School) where students from 110 countries receive free medical training. Free room and board and a stipend! We met a number of US students there who are receiving a world class education centered on the patient. Cuba is famous for providing doctors to Haiti, Africa, and other disaster torn countries. 

As ethno-centric Americans we worried when every corner has a McDonalds, KFC and Starbucks....... It was interesting not to see Coca Cola there. We asked about these changes, which we thought were inevitable. We heard that they don't need Coca Cola, they have "sugar water". Or more burgers, chicken or coffee... They need infrastructure, pharma, hotels, car parts, educational materials---many many things. We want to get the things we need before we add things we don't. "We don't want to add to the war of symbols." Wow!! Television programs are not interrupted by commercials, except public service announcements and education--mostly health oriented. Yes I know, we have more choices. But we have a lot of noise and interruptive messages  too. How would we change our system if we could?

Cuba has many challenges. Poverty is rampant. Inequality is there. Sound familiar? The aforementioned infrastructure is in disrepair or non-existent. But there is a spirit of humanity, of ingenuity, of compassion, and of camaraderie that needs to breathe and grow. US Cuban relations can flourish with great reciprocal benefits to the US and the world. 

As Bryan Stevenson advised: proximity changed my narrative, made me uncomfortable, but even more hopeful. Like all life changing experiences you understand one another, you appreciate our interconnectedness and commonalities. Somos Cubanos!

I encourage you to test your own assumptions, by visiting Cuba,  or anywhere or any population you think you know, but don't. As John Wooden said, "It is what you learn after you know it all that counts."

Thanks for reading. John

 

 

 

 

 


Uncomfortable Comfort

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

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

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

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

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

Get-comfortable-being-uncomfortable-7

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

Perhaps my theme song! And definitely my favorite quote.

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

So here's my answer:

You should never be comfortable. Never.

In terms of life and career development.

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

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

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

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

We have to be uncomfortable with our comfort.

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

John Steinbeck 

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

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

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

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

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

Have I afflicted you?

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

 

A poem I wrote inspired by these thoughts:

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

Will this be the Year? For You?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Mary Oliver

Is this the year for your new life? The year you push yourself out and over the edge of your comfort zone.

Why can't this be the time? 

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

This can be the time to make your dent in the universe. To go into our garages and build the new mousetrap. To build the new you. 
 
One that expresses who YOU are. Don't confuse this with your FB, Instagram postings, or even your resume, where you look more like wanna-bes than the real YOU. 

The recipe is pretty straight forward. You take you with all of the expectations of others removed, add a big heaping tablespoon of courage, add extra chutzpah and then a pinch of regrets to taste and voila you get the real you.

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.  Seneca 49 AD

I have shared the following with thousands of people to remind them in a few minutes how precious life is.

What surprises you most about human kind?

“That they get bored with childhood, they rush to grow up, and then long to be children again.”
“That they lose their health to make money… and then lose their money to restore their health.”
"That by thinking anxiously about the future, they forget the present, such that they live in neither the present nor the future.”
“That they live as if they will never die… and die as though they had never lived.”

What are some of life’s lessons you want your children to learn?
“To learn they cannot make anyone love them. All they can do is let themselves be loved.”
“To learn that it only takes a few seconds to open profound wounds, and it can take many years to heal them.”
“To learn that a rich person is not who has the most, but is one who needs the least.”
“To learn that there are people who love them dearly, but simply do not yet know how to express or show their feelings.”
“To learn that two people can look at the same thing and see it differently.”
“To learn that it is not enough that they forgive one another, but they must also forgive themselves.”

(Excerpted from Interview with God.net)

How much time we waste. How our priorities are often upside down. How the most precious things we want get pushed into the attic and buried in our "hope chests". Hope Chest

We have to do the best with what we got and then do more!
  
I live completely in the present, released from the prison of the past with its haunting memories and vain regrets, released from the prison of the future with its tantalizing hopes and tormenting fears. All the enormous capacities formerly trapped in past and future flow to me here and now. Eknath Easwaran
 
Schedule little windows of time when you will develop your plans and yourself. Time to be focused and unfocused. Nothing will happen if you do not do this! What you need is inspiration. Which can come in a moment, any time, taking a shower, doing the dishes, taking a walk, meditating, reading. Fill your life with more stimulation, different voices, sources, points of view. Change it up. Shake it up. Find things that resonate with you that quicken your heart beat and put a lump in your throat. Then take notes and follow them.
 
You can work with the usual suspects, but find the new and different, that's connected to what we want, like or dream about. Meet with different people every week or month. Get disciplined about stretching your network. Use the existing connections to bridge to new tribes. Worlds that understand your unanswered questions, your "crazy" dreams and your insecurities and doubts. Tribes that will mentor you.
 
Still perplexed? Do you believe that every human is an infinite set of possibilities? Are you human?
My life experiences have shown me how people stop digging when they hit a few rocks. They stop peeling the onion when the tears start. They move away from the edge of the cliff when they see the rocks far below.
 
Get a jackhammer. Put on some goggles. Learn to para-glide.

Listen to what Alec Baldwin says:

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee "Alec Baldwin" 

I frequently worry that being productive is the surest way to lull ourselves into a trance of passivity and busyness the greatest distraction from living, as we coast through our lives day after day, showing up for our obligations but being absent from our selves, mistaking the doing for the being. Maria Popova

What I want for you is the delight that comes from doing what you want. Becoming you. Not merely the achievement of the financial or employment goals or even familial expectations. Yes do them. But make small, medium and large spaces for you. For when your passion bucket overflows everyone around you will get some. Whether you like it or not you infect others with your smile of delight, your glow of goodness, and your engaging enthusiasm for life. 

And when you are not yourself, when you are not smiling, and your passion bucket is empty--you also impact others, just very differently. 

Ripples flow from your life force either way.

So is 2016 the year of becoming you? Let's go!

To be and not to be, that is the answer. D. E. Harding

Happy New Year! Thanks for reading. 

 


Snorkeling through Life and Drive By Passions

Skimming the surface of the depths of life can be fast, exhilirating and fun. You value variety, changing scenery and the the sense of progress you get from constant movement. But snorkeling is a spectator sport. You see things, beautiful things, scary things, mysterious things which reside far below you--out of reach and out of harm's way. 

Distance always makes us brave and prone to an often artifical sense of courage. We can convince ourselves that proximity is experiential. Some of us even think that watching Youtube is interchangeable with real life. We assume things. We fill in gaps with what we think not what we have experienced. 

We scan, we surf, we get bits and pieces. And if we are not careful we make snap judgments, form strong opinions, develop personal narratives and even make life choices based on these fuzzy unexplored ideas.

Snorkeling-2

I had the chance to hear Eric Schmidt and his colleague Jonathon Rosenberg discuss their new book, How Google Works. I have always been interested in how Google builds and maintains its culture of innovation. They discussed their hiring process. They determined that 5 interviews yielded the best results in getting to know the candidate. They rigorously evaluate the interviewers for the quality of their hirings by comparing scores to hires and performance. But what was most interesting to me is that passion was the determining factor in their interviews. Here's what they do. They probe what the candidate is passionate about and then deep dive on that topic. Anything the candidate declares as his/her passion is fair game--Could be directly related to the job or an avocational pursuit. They look for depth of understanding, true emotional connection to the subject matter (afterall this is THEIR passion!) and evidence of their capacity for curiosity and learning. Not surprisingly, some candidates have no depth to their passions --"no depth means no passion". Saying so does not make it so. A strong candidate who displays depth of engagement, intellectual capacity, and personal committment to a passion has the potential to make it at Google. Either you got it or you don't. But Google ferrets out the snokelers from the deep divers!

I have been doing something similar for decades. I can not tell you how many times I have asked a candidate about THEIR passion and I am given this general drive by passion response: "Oh I am passionate about (subject) but I don't have the time now to pursue it." Like a secret admirer in middle school. "I love her but she does not know who I am." :)

Please do not use the "p" word like this. And don't let friends say such things. 

Things discovered during the snorkeling of life are potential passions. They are interesting things, curiosities, and maybe interests. They become passions through your relentless interest in them. You are quasi obsessive compulsiveness about them. You own these topics, you stalk them, you can't get enough to quench your thirst and hunger. What are your potential passions?

Deloitte has been studying the role of passion in increasing performance of companies. They concluded, "To address perpetually mounting competitive pressures, organizations need workers who bring passion to their jobs to navigate challenges and accelerate performance improvement. Yet only 11 percent of U.S. workers surveyed by Deloitte possess the attributes that lead to accelerated learning and performance improvement."

For those of us who have traversed start-ups, big companies, and non-profits, you know this. People with passion for life and their work make a huge difference. They perform at a higher level. This is what Google does at the front end--to find those with the capacity for passion. And Deloitte finds that deeper divers accelerate organizational performance. So passion is in demand!

Can passion be learned or acquired? Yes! You can have a small constellation of passions. Professional and personal. Things that you have made a committment to pursue and advance. Expertise, a cause, an issue, a hobby.  

I love Warren Buffett's advice to pick the top 25 things that you want to embrace in your life-potential passions. Then reduce it to the five most important. 

Once you have chosen the top 5, Warren then asked “but what about these other 20 things on your list that you didn’t circle? What is your plan for completing those?” Most people say “Well the top five are my primary focus but the other twenty come in at a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit as I’m getting through my top 5. They are not as urgent but I still plan to give them dedicated effort.” Warren responded sternly, “No. You’ve got it wrong.Everything you didn’t circle just became your ‘avoid at all cost list’. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”

Passion and life is about focus. The more divided your attention, talent, and time is--the less passion you have. 

Your passions define you, they differentiate you, they give you an edge. More important, they make your life meaningful to you!

So continue to skim, scan, and snorkle, but pick out a handful of things to explore and embrace. Dive and lose yourself to find yourself. And don't dive alone. Engage your network, seek and create new networks, to guide and accelerate your pursuit of passions. 

No time like the present to Dive! Dive! Dive!

Thanks for reading. John


Our Barbellion Choices

Each of us must experience one of two pains - the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. Which pain will you choose?  Robin Crow

Everything we do is a choice. Either we proactively act or the absence of our actions chooses for us. We want so many things. We act only on a few of them. We think we are lucky and we are. Mostly because we have choices. :) More often than not the luck of great fortune does not drive up to our door, ring the doorbell and present itself on a silver platter. We also want conflicting things. Things which counteract each other. Things that are polar opposites.

A few examples of things I hear every week:

WANT                                                  DON'T WANT

Fast track to the top                                        No overtime or weekend work

Learn more                                                      No more formal education

Entreprenuerial opportunities                        Security of employment

Not stuck behind a desk                                  Hate networking

Wants a mentor                                               No time to mentor others

New adventure                                                Stability

I have hundreds of these pairs. I try not to laugh or make a face when I hear them. I really think I could be at the final table of the World Series of Poker. Funny thing, the people saying these oxymorinic aspirations can't hear the grinding of the goals that are slowing them down if not derailing their progress. They do not realize that they maintain this career dissonance to forestall decisions. Young and old use these competing weights to wittingly or unwittingly hold themselves back.

My absolute favorite: Start-up with a retirement plan. :)

I call this the barbellion syndrome. Heavy weighted goals at either end of a spectrum that make progress overwhelming. They get stuck in their indecisiveness, ambivalence and lack of clarity. Barbell control

We have the capacity to make every decision complex. We play what if scenarios, imagine disasters that await, or accumulate excuses to immobilize ourselves. A pervasive form of self-sabotage. In the end we do nothing.

Until we embrace what we really want, who we really are--we reside in the comfort of "going with the flow." Life happens to us.

Every choice has risk. The more you embrace the risk associated with what you want the sooner you will act. Otherwise live with the regrets and for all of our sake, don't talk about it!

Look you can achieve many things  in your life. You can design and engineer a career that is customized around your needs. You can reach out to others who have done it before and they can show you the ropes and the paths. It is so much easier to lift the weights with others.

There is no gain without pain. The pain of discipline. And the pleasure of defining who you are. The pleasure of minimizing regrets. Because the pain of regret is so much greater. 

Then you will see why helping others lift their weights and avoid the barbellion syndrome of inaction, of worrying, and of letting life pass them by--will help you. 

Defining what you want will give purpose to the weight and pain of the path you choose. But you must choose.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Observations about my Globalism

Each of us prides ourselves on our worldliness. We have traveled a bit and met and know people from around the globe. But few of us are truly global in our thinking and our understanding. I certainly am not. The truth is we cling to our nationalistic perspectives. It is human nature to see others through the lens of our home cultures. 

Network intelligence 2
Courtesy of Start-Up You

 

I get sensitized to this collision of perspectives when I travel. I see the "ugly Americans" who loudly and indifferently run roughshod over their hosts. I also cringe when I see the giant influx of Asian tourists who seem oblivious to the world around them. 

For I can be mistaken for either of these groups! Not good.

You have undoubtedly heard about the promulgations from the Chinese government to encourage their citizens who travel to be more polite and respectful. Can you imagine if the US government did this? The videos would become a reality show instead of a teaching moment. But I digress....

Chinese tourism alone accounted for 83 million trips abroad and spending of a dizzying $102 billion up 10000% in 12 years! So before we criticize the Chinese, they are our customers.

So the opportunities and challenges from the increased globalization is seen on both sides. The hosts and the visitors have so much to learn about each other. Both sides have to be more sensitive to their in-sensitivities.

As a funny aside--we visited Scotland, my wife Sarah and I were buying gifts for family and friends. We decided on Scottish wool scarves. Sarah asked the saleswoman where the scarves were made. She said, "If it just says "Made in Scotland" then it is made in China. (Huh?) But if it has a brand label it is probably made in Scotland." She showed us the pricier scarves and whispered, "These are made in Scotland, but they are exactly the same as the Chinese made."

My trip abroad was centered around a couple of speeches I delivered at an international conference of universities held in the UK where representatives from 28 countries and 6 continents attended (no attendees from Antarctica:)! Making sure that my presentation was scrubbed for Americanisms, US references, nationalism was so so much harder than I thought. But it was a mind expanding exercise to question words, examples, jokes, images that would literally translate to a global audience. 

I had mind altering conversations about philanthropy and education with people from South Africa, Spain, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Greece and Australia. 

For example, I asked one of the attendees about the "diversity" of the conference. She asked me what I meant. I noticed how ethnically un-diverse the audience looked to me. She pushed back hard. "That is such a US perspective!" We don't think about that type of diversity. We never think about that. We think about nationalities but not ethnicities."  Whoa

Everyone I met was so knowledgeable about the US, our politics, culture, and issues. They were all multi-lingual multi-cultural and multi-talented people who seemed to traverse these differences with ease. While I struggled with one language and the ability to remember the location of some of the countries.  Talk about a competitiveness complex.

It is always humbling to realize how much I don't know. Without this exposure my view of the world, my globalism, remains myopic and limited. 

Yet the whole world faces change and the challenges of addressing that change with agility. That is what we have in common. The issues of career pathing, networking, mentoring, and fulfilling dreams are a very similar human condition around the rock. 

I was grateful to have my mind and my network expanded. It taught me how much more I need to stalk global experiences at home and abroad. To strengthen my globalism muscles I need to engage and confront my limited perspective more often. 

I learn over and over again. That our networks define us. That the people and ideas that you encounter change you. And by talking to people with the same perspective will always limit you. That there is a global networked brain that we all have access to, but few of us are connected to. The world is literally passing us by. We are only using a small part of our brain.  That I have to read more, listen and understand context, and worldview more, to communicate and operate globally. I need to continue to expand my global networked intelligence. How about you?

Thanks for reading. John

 


Add Some Grit to Your Diet

No I did not say "grits". And this is NOT another rant about Paula Dean. :)

I said grit--"The perseverance and passion for long term goals." Or the "abrasive particles or granules that facilitate grinding."

I think both are needed. A persistent attitude that pushes you to practice and to improve. And friction of reality along the way to keep you focused.

So grit plus grit equals success. Grit squared. GRIT

The path to success is a grinding process of honing, of shaping, of refining your skills knowledge and abilities. Without the friction of reality and the dogged persistence.

Grit 1

Deliberate practice, operationally defined as studying and memorizing words while alone, better predicted performance in the National Spelling Bee than being quizzed by others or reading for pleasure. Rated as the most effortful and least enjoyable type of preparation activity, deliberate practice was increasingly favored over being quizzed as spellers accumulated competition experience. 

Deliberate Practice Spells Success:
Why Grittier Competitors Triumph at the
National Spelling Bee Anglea Lee Duckworth et al

 

This grit comes from your heart your commitment to pushing the rock up the hill and understanding the purpose. It is the alignment of your heart and your work. You know when you are out of alignment. You know when you start packing your bag at 4:50pm everyday. You also know when you are energized and exhausted at the same time. This grit can not be purchased. It is acquired and reinforced through your wholehearted engagement. This grit emerges from the work to extract the beauty and meaning from your efforts. 

Does not necessarily or exclusively come from your day job. But you have to exercise and grow your grit muscles. You can get your grit on in your volunteer life, at your church, at your kid's school. Where is your grit and how can you make a bigger part of your life?

Grit 2

One of the most influential ways to re-activate your grit is to dive into the need. When you see how your product and service is used. When you talk to the people who need your solution. When you feel the emotional connection people make to your work, it reconnects you with purpose. "Ahhh, that's why I do this."

Make time to visit your "customers", hear their stories, see their faces, and re-immerse yourself in mission. 

This is grit that wakes you up from the monotony of your routine and your habits. This is the grit with friction that afflicts the comfortable.

It is a virtuous cycle of grit begets grit. To get grit you give grit. 

Got Grit? 

Thanks for reading. John

 


Your Boat and the Immensity of the Sea

It is so easy to let the currents of life just take us to interesting places and to life's milestones. It is understandable that we surrender to the forces of change, nature, and circumstance that can seem so outside of our control. So our little boat can get stuck or drift to uncharted or even unwanted destinations. 

In my travels and encounters, I find most people trying to trick out their boats. They invest in their little sea craft so it can provide comfort to them. They are more interested in how their boat looks than where it is going.

If you want to build a ship, don't dispatch people to collect wood, don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.  Antoine St. Exupery

Boat

Think about the "immensity of the sea" as your life's work and your personal legacy. What is the contribution you are making that is greater than you and your little boat? Yes, yes, why are you rowing so hard?! Why are you in such a rush to go further and further? Where are you going and why?

We do need bigger boats. Not because we need more luxurious space and amenities. Because we have to bring as many people along as we can. Not just our friends and families, but others who need our help. 

Remember this scene from Jaws?

More people need our help than ever before. People you know and care about. People you don't know and should care about. We need bigger boats.

If we fully understand that while we don't control Mother Nature, we have great influence over how we react to her. And where we are going? Our boat attracts to it whatever we invest our time, attention and talent to. 

When the wind dies, row!    Portuguese proverb

As you know, I do believe in serendipity and the minor and major course corrections that life presents, but your boat needs to be propelled by what you believe in and care about. Yes, your boat runs on your passions and your values. 

Many of you have either put these passions aside and others have yet to fully discover them. How you approach the sea of life matters. You need to be going someplace that resonates with your heart and then be open to what the sea presents.

I meet teachers who don't like teaching. Lawyers who don't like the legal work. Business execs who need more meaning. They have lost the joy of sailing. They need new boats and navigational plans.

Why suffer in a life that is not feeding your soul? Why sail on waters that have no appeal? Because it is the best you can have?

Many of these folks have defined their lives by their professional boat. Everyone, regardless of income, stage in life can have a small fleet of boats. Trying to jam everything into one boat is foolish and dangerous. You can launch other boats to new parts of the sea through your avocations, interests, volunteer work, causes, and side businesses. You should have several boats exploring and testing the waters. 

Ships are safe in harbor, but that is not what ships are for.  William Shedd

Whether you like it or not, you are connected to many other boats. Boats following you. Boats dependent on you. Boats you depend on. etc etc

Got way too many boats in this post now :) And I have avoided any references to the Life of Pi---ooops. The point is you are the captain of your boat. Point it in the RIGHT direction, a direction that is based on who you are and who you want to be. Then keep your eyes open to the great immensity and amazing bounty of the sea. You are not headed to shore, your destination is the sea of possibilities. 

Happy sailing and thanks for reading. John

 

 


The Riskless Rewardless Life

The other day I was insulted by someone who heard me speak. He said, "You are a great motivational speaker." I learned a long time ago that motivation is an ephemeral state of euphoria unless you change. Unless you alter your mindset. Unless you act! I know he meant well, but I aspire to be a catalyst for change. I have this crazy ambition to help people become the best they can be. And that always requires pursuing opportunities, shaped by passions, and taking risks. Not personally dangerous choices. But choices not taken that endanger your sense of fulfillment and life satisfaction. Few rewards without risks. 

Risk mouse
courtesy of Start-Up of You

 

Here are a couple of radio interviews I did on the subject of risk--career risks. Please excuse my poor grammar and stammering, but I think I make a couple of relevant points on this topic.

When do I become who I am meant to be?

Interview part one

Interview part two

Think about whether you can attain your goals without confronting your aversity to risk?  

As the famous philosopher Ben Stiller said, "Do it!"   :)

Thanks for reading. John


Re-awaken Your Possibilities

In the measurement world, you set a goal and strive for it. In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold.   Ben Zander Zander

We invent so many reasons why we can't do things. Some of them are the familiar demons of our habitual laziness, our busy-ness, or our fear of failure. We can see the world as a narrowing set of choices, options and opportunities. Yes, I know we are getting older and we need to act accordingly. I get it. But we also have to make the most out of the time and chances we have left. No matter if you are 25 or 65, you can't make decisions soley based on risk management or let the practical be the enemy of the possible. 

I engage hundreds of people every year in the exercise that Barbara Sher developed--The Wish Obstacle

I always wanted to ________, but__________.

When you fill in the blanks you will be surprised at what you say and why you have not done it. Usually what stands between you and the possible---your wish--- is YOU. Not much else.

I had the great honor of meeting and hearing 74 year old Ben Zander--the mercurial and magical maestro for the Boston Philharmonic. But to think of him as just a conductor is like saying the Beatles are just a rock band. He is an extraordinary teacher, author and motivational speaker. He lives in the world of possibilities and pushes anyone in his path to awaken their possibilities. 

Here are some of the nuggets I got from him: 

On leadership: The conductor does not make a sound he depends on the orchestra to perform.
On negative thinking: You can make everything in your life seem like a downward spiral. It is up to you to see the possibility.
Evaluating others: Give everyone an A. Start with the possibilities and give everybody a chance to be their best. 
On doubt: Don't let that nagging voice in your head eliminate your possibilities--your potential.
On vision: A true vision includes everyone. It is not a win lose proposition.
On failure: Raise your hands and say "How fascinating!"
On the language of possibilities: What if? What's next? 
On reality: Everything is invented. All of the goals, standards, and metrics in our lives are self imposed. They limit what is possible. 
A rule for life: Don't take yourself so seriously!


There is no time like the present to consider and stand in the possibilities. That nothing but our attitudes egged on by the voices of doubt in our heads stand in our way. Otherwise we are trapped in a prison we built. Walls and bars that we invented block  the way of our freedom to do what we want. 

Possibilities are sleeping inside each of us. They are the beautiful sculptures trapped in the marble of our minds. They are dormant, latent, and restless seeds that yearn for a moment in the sun to sprout and grow. Let's set them free! Let's re-awaken these possibilities within us and in others. 

The neglected passions, interests and ideas that turn sour and fester will burden us with the weight of regret. Do you want regrets or possibilities? 

Need I regale you with the countless people who on a daily basis overcome their physical, financial, mental challenges that dwarf yours, and excel? If we consider ourselves lucky, then let's see what's possible.

I really got a dose of energy and motivation from Ben---to be more positive, to live more in the land of possibilities, and to help others awaken these great attributes in others. Did it work a little for you? 

Thanks for reading. John


Headline: Your World Begins!

We are so obsessed with negativity, with the horrific, with the tragic, and especially with the potential for horrible and threatening endings. The end of the world? The fiscal cliff? Remember Y2K? Or Nostradamus? Yes, it is sensational and fun to discuss. But we tend to see the bad that could happen and that prevents us from the good that could occur. If you are truly realistic about the risks you take, then you would not be afraid. 

I love talking to newish grads who are unemployed or even better, dissatisfied employed people searching for more "meaning in their lives". Both of these groups need to fully assess the risks of their indecision and the risks of their choices. If you do not assert your needs, engage others, and take baby steps or giant strides toward things that you want in your life, please stop complaining.

The risks of inaction are always greater than the risks of action. 

I recently looked at a resume of a person who underestimates his qualities and therefore his dreams. I listened to his story and it was a dry regurgitation of "facts". Clearly uncomfortable telling his less than compelling story that was muddled by his mouth full of humble pie. So I said to him, "Oh so you are a creative person, a person with great interest in aesthetics, and you have adapted to many very different circumstances. You need to use these themes to punctuate your story, your resume and your networking." 

He looked at me and said, "How did you get that?" I just listened and tried to listen for the good not try and pick apart what he delivered. It can be difficult to see the threads of your life to weave your story. You need a confidante or mentor to give you the unfiltered feedback and help you identify the threads.  

Your storyline past, present and future needs to incorporate who you are not what you have done!

Disaster, failure, and the risk of looking stupid are on your mind. It would be really stupid if you do not move your carcass toward your goals and articulate your story this year! Headline

Waiting for New Years? Really? You need an official start date and time when everybody else is doing the same thing? Sorry, I thought I was talking to an individual with ideas, and courage. Mistook you for someone who was going to live with fewer regrets. I hoped you were the person who was going to change things this year.

There is no other time but NOW. 

Tired from all your shopping and eating..........You just need a little down time........ C'mon!

Get Ready: Your World Begins Today! Won't make the headlines but it is certainly a storyline that  should capture your attention. 

No YouTube. No Powerpoint. No Visual Threats. Just the amazing things in your heart and mind that need to be done. 

Focus on the positive and the opportunity and the risks will fade.

Here's what Bassam Tarazi says:

To understand the worst means to write out our real-world worst-case scenario. Not the death, fire, and brimstone stuff we like to make up but that actual worst-case scenario: money lost, opportunities passed up, family we may disappoint. Write it down. Bathe yourself in it. Understand it. Acknowledge it.

Now, write down how you would bounce back from that worst-case scenario. Who would you contact? What skills could you put on display? Where would you have to live? How long could you live off savings? How could you earn money?

Got it? Good. You’ve understood the worst-case scenario, and now you can use the rest of your energies (and there should be a lot of it left) to fight for the best.

Start a conversation with yourself. A real conversation about what is important. Write it down. Document what you are thinking. Look at your resume and at your network and examine the gaps. Start talking about this path of passion or curiosity. Use this new storyline to engage others and seek advice and counsel.

It is your choice: you can see the cliff and the potential fall or take advantage of the glorious view. You can see the clock as winding down or starting up. You can avoid the risks or avoid the regrets.

Yes, the End of the Year nears, but the beginning of your next chapter starts any time you want.

Thanks for reading. John


Sculpting your Career and your Purpose

Great art is mesmerizing. It boggles the mind how the artist converted the idea of the art into the physical manifestation. We can dream great thoughts and ideas, but it is not easy to make them happen. 

While I would never count myself amongst the artistic community, I believe I must create. My mother taught me that "art" is within me and that I must learn to free it from my own self imposed limitations--like a sculpture that needs to be freed from the granite. I have ideas and inner desires that I want to experience, express and execute. Not fantasies but thoughts about my life and how to give meaning to it. We all struggle with this pent up or hidden potential to contribute our uniqueness to our community and our worlds. Some may say we have little to give and others have a sea of molten potential that needs to be delivered to generate new islands of creativity. Some think this is the province of the young and the restless. Others believe they do not have the gene to express. That youth and the "talented" are the only harbors of inspiration and invention. But we know that neither age or stage have anything to do with inner potential. That each us has a unique set of gifts, that we know, secretly covet and or yearn to discover.

I always have to remind myself that my mom decided to "become" an artist at age 49! And the nearly 1400 originals that have flowed since are proof of the talent within.

In my encounters with many, very diverse people--current students to retirees. I see and hear about these dormant, latent, and subordinated ideas and desires. The unexpressed wishes of a person within a person. Sometimes this is a discovery of joy that liberates the person. And other times it is a confession of simmering regret. Not a fully formed regret but an emerging and growing regret. 

I see these shared ideas and desires as sculptures within the person. We all have a gallery of them. Sculptures that represent the person we want to be --the experiences we long for--things we have always wanted to express--creations we want to create. Some of these sculptures are fully formed, honed and smooth. They are completed and beautiful. Others are still locked inside of the stones. And some are half done works that continue to emerge through our work and inspiration.  Michelangelo

We learn that life, like this gallery, is never done. It is a labor of infinity. But our satisfaction, fulfillment, and ultimate sense of purpose is defined by the attention and work we put into each of these sculptures. How we tend to these sculptures and the concepts of these sculptures matters. Our habits and ability to overcome our excuses and internal resistance are the keys to advancing our works of art.

I love what Amy Hoy wrote about blacksmith students and startups:
 People are obsessed with “expressing themselves” instead of following the brief (the job specification). They waste precious time in “creative” noodling instead of actually getting shit done. Others indulge themselves in childish boredom and rebellion when it comes to the repetition of early stages of learning, instead of committing to the basics with all their hearts.
Several more wield perfectionism as a weapon against their own achievement… a weapon, and an excuse. Several show a great deal of self-importance, unwarranted — they talk themselves up, they expect they’ll win, they treat the advice of the master as irrelevant, or they crumble at the slightest criticism. Others engage in bitter self-denigration, unwarranted — fatalistically wailing, “I’ll never be able to do this,” when experiencing the simplest of setbacks. They want to throw in the towel at the first bump. And the second. And the third. Finally, and perhaps most fatally, many of the students seem to have zero patience whatsoever. They expect to jump straight to results, straight to the fun stuff — the creative stuff. They don’t want to put in their dues. They think they’re special. So they stamp their foot petulantly when their shortcuts fail. These people claim to want to master a craft, but they resist the very nature of “craftsmanship.

Sculpting is hard work that requires a chisel and hammer. It takes courage to swing the hammer. And lots of persistence. It is from this hard labor that you discover who you are and what you want. Yes you set a goal but the work defines where you are going. Sparks fly from the hammer and chisel. Sparks of passion where you lose yourself to find yourself. I have learned that when you surrender to the process, letting go of control, you gain a sense of yourself and more control of your life--and of your art.  Hammer-and-chisel

Let's sculpt more and dream less. Let's engage the mind and our heart in the work that interests us and care about. Let's engage the people around us in helping us sculpt and become. We can never do it alone. And it is never too late. Let's stop wasting time neglecting our art within us. Your gallery awaits.

You need the sculptures, we need your sculptures. 
Thanks for reading. John

 


Overcoming Realism to CHANGE

I was with a bunch of colleagues recently. We were asked to think about the future and new possibilities. Always fascinating and illuminating to hear what others think, how they think, and what gets discussed. It was a tough conversation because the dominant theme became the safe, the certain and the least dangerous. It is so understandable why there is a such a strong gravitational pull in these directions. Hard to take risks in an environment that punishes failure. Difficult to go out of the box when resources and time are scarce. I get it. I really do.

When should we take chances? Assume more risk? Do what we really want to do? Resistance

Some people say the best time to venture out on the limb, tip toe onto the thinner ice, swing for the fences, and go for it---is when they feel safe. Huh?!! Yeah sure it is a lot easier to take a chance when there is little danger.  Make a big bet when the outcome is certain. C'mon, the people who say they are entrepreneurial, they are self-starters and like start-up environments, and they say they love risks. It has become one of the required and now meaningless self professed attributes like computer proficiency, collaborative, results-oriented, and possessing strong communication skills. The only proof of taking chances are evidence of the chances taken. Where you risked losing something. Otherwise you like the safety and certainty of what you have. That's human nature. Most people deceive themselves. Hanging on is their priority. Playing not to lose is very different than playing to win. Being afraid of making mistakes is not the mindset of an entrepreneur or a risk taker.

Talked to a long time colleague who has multiple job offers in this environment. They all will pay him well. He is leaning toward the one option that requires him to work for a start-up, 3000 miles away because it meets his goals to further develop his future marketability. He has always planned to "retire" in 9 years when he turns 50. Why should he abandon his plans if his family is up for it?

This is the difference between leadership and management. Adapting vs surviving. Seeing the possibilities vs the obstacles and dangers. The classic glass half full or half empty syndrome.

More than ever I hear the conforming chants of realism. The admonitions of potential jeopardy. The need for certainty and predictability. Let's be realistic. Let's focus on what is achievable. Let's not waste time on brainstorming. I try not to scream and run out of these rooms. :)

When most people stop innovating, stop brain storming, and stop envisioning their futures, huge opportunities emerge. When there is a traffic jam, some wait and wait--a few break out of the pack and find a way home.

Strange thing about human nature, we tend to seek the status quo and resist change when we have free choice or if we are coerced. If times are good, then we think times will continue to be good and even get better, so we stay the course. And when times are bad and things around us are failing, we tend to hunker down and pull the covers over our heads and hope the clouds pass. Complacency is homeostasis for many. The power of resistance to change can never be underestimated. 

Am I saying that you can never be satisfied and where you are? Am I arguing for a nomadic existence where dissatisfaction is a way of life? Kinda. Of course we have to find the joy in everyday and everything, but I have adopted a view that if you are not obsessive about improving and advancing, you will end your life drowning in dissatisfaction. The evolution of nature, of the marketplaces, of even outer space is inexorable and unstoppable. So what is the argument to stop our own personal progress, development and evolution? How can we justify resisting change?

Unlike nature, the marketplace and space--your time is finite.

Realism erodes and corrupts vision and ambition.  It sucks all of the future out of the work and opportunities.

I have worked with visionaries who have dared to pursue the steep part of the curve when the easy way out was always available. Big ideas, new ideas are easier to pursue when risk is manageable--when  the economy is stronger--when confidence is higher. Those that succeed never think that way.

Here's the rub. There is this nasty consequence to this type of thinking. Opportunity cost. What we lose when we don't think bigger. And who loses. Not just what the risk averse person or organization might gain. Most notable is how the improved benefit to the customer/beneficiary is ignored. This makes me crazy. In the name of self preservation we set aside the reason we exist--our mission. We were established to make people's lives better. Realism tells us we have to accept the status quo and good enough becomes our new goal!

Waiting for any nightmare to end requires us to wake up.

We have to help each other combat the epidemic of realism and resistance. We have to inspire ourselves to pursue our visions for change and fulfillment.

Thanks for reading. John


Expecting Less to Get More----The Ruination of Expectations

Many of you know the role my parents have played in my life. They continue to inspire and mentor me. As we all age, I try to seek their perspective and counsel. They have both seen and learned so much more than me. There is no substitute for experience, for the maturity which comes from living, and the awareness of self that only comes with time. You can't presume what it is like to live 80 years. Like a giant oak tree or a aged cabernet, time passed is the only thing that generates the uniqueness of the shape of the branches or the taste of the finish. So when they tell me things I have learned to listen regardless of my first impression.Oak tree

"Expectations are the ruination of the individual," my mom asserted last week. This triggered several conversations to explore what she meant. Here's what I learned:

Think for a second about your expectations of people and life. What you expect at the restaurant. What you expect from your kids and other people's kids. What you think others should be doing or becoming. We are all guilty of maintaining a closet full of expectations which contains the uniforms or costumes we think others should be donning. I call this "the script" of life. You know, the script of what you expect people to say and do. Like a veteran film director, we can go through life seeing things and comparing them to what they should be, according to the script. What a frustrating experience it that would be if we only monitored the script in everything we do.

As we mature, we learn that the world will always surprise you if you let it. These unexpected occurences are what makes life interesting and enjoyable. Imagine if everything was predictably pleasant. Remember Gary Ross' Pleasantville, where happiness prevailed, no basketball player missed a free throw and the weather and everyone's disposition was always sunny. Would total predictability be insanity, monotony, or idyllic?

To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly moden intellect.  Oscar Wilde

I did not realize it but I have been in expectation rehab for a long time. After so many years of the highest expectations of everything, I have begun to understand what my mom is saying. If you evaluate everything that happens and are preoccupied with a set of expectations, you lose so much of what happens when it happens.Expectations1

You also become negative. We all know people who start off every conversation with the shortcomings and weaknesses of people and experiences. People with these unmet expectations have come to expect a world that is inadequate. Their negativity and complaints become expected. They are never satisfied with restaurants, movies, or jobs. Unmet expectations becomes their expectation. And it can be a spiral down. I am booting these people out of my network.

The law of attraction tells us that we attract to our lives whatever we give time, attention, and focus to--negative or positive.

I have discussed the power of serendipity on these pages. Surrender to the experience without expectations. Daniel Pink's book the Adventures of Johnny Bunko provides insightful career/life planning lessons. Lesson #1 is "There is no plan." That your pursuit of fulfillment and meaningful work should be driven by who you are. That the process of understanding who you are will take you on a boundless journey that will only be limited by expectations and a plan with a bunch of steps.

I have learned the hard way how nature is so much more powerful than nurture. That the DNA of people makes us truly different, in addition to the demographic and psychographic attributes. That expectations need to be intertwined with the person's needs and interests to work. The most dangerous expectations are those we have of others. Helping people become the best they can be versus who we want them to be is enormously different.

My first rule/principle to adopting the mentoring and networking lifestyle: Give first without expectations.

Aren't we supposed to have SMART goals? After all the first letter is Specific, right?!! Yes Yes. You must have goals--milestones that define a path to what you believe leads to success. It's just that we can not get so caught up in such a focused pursuit of these goals that they become expectations. And when we don't get what we expect--what happens? We get disappointed and lose confidence. The best goals are flexible and adaptable not only to the changing context (which changes the second you ink the plans/goals) but more importantly, your goals need to adapt to the changing you.

Employers can tell you what they expect, but a mentor will awaken your expectations of yourself.

Often we can lock in on our expectations, even if they are obsolete or irrelevant. That is human nature to get comfortable with things that are familiar. Where do those expectations lead us?

As always my mom and dad keep me thinking about what I don't know and what I need to learn about myself. I am beginning to understand the ruination of my expectations.

As I expect less I am experiencing more.  Thanks for reading. John


What is your Change Reaction?

If we all lived in an idyllic Pleasantville where things were predictably good, then we would not want change. We would not have expectations. We would never be dissatisfied with ourselves. We would never worry about the future. But even in the film the desire for change and difference was too great to sustain the utopian world.

Change requires a change reaction. We envision macro changes in the world. Changes that right a wrong or to relieve pain and suffering. We align ourselves with organizations to address these changes. We volunteer, give money, work for orgs that want and work toward change. And as individuals we want change in our own lives. Changes in our diets, in our kids' study habits.....Changes in our workplaces. These micro changes can align or distract us from these worldly changes. So change is dependent on other changes and so on and so on. The chain reaction of change, if you will.  Some people can separate change at these different levels and pursue them all simultaneously. Others are more linear and will not think about others until they change their immediate worlds. I need to love myself before I love others. Or I need to work on myself, while I change the world? Or By changing the world I will be changed? Any of these sound familiar or resonate?

Be the change you want to see in the world. Gandhi

Bottomline is the diet of the status quo is inadequate on almost all levels. We are hungry for change. Our appetites are great. So change is a regular dish on the menu. But what are we cooking up to feed our need for change?Change

It requires transformation by the change agents--that's us. We have to change.

This goal for change is less attainable because of the reverse change reaction. Individuals and organizations that can't adapt quickly enough to employ methods, processes and solutions to address the evolving context. Their bad habits and stubbornness tethers them to assumptions and premises that are no longer true and real change becomes academic.

Often, we are the problem that prevents the change.

The speed of our change reaction is essential. How fast is our feedback loop to digest the realities of the world we want to change, develop a strategy, and implement the fix?

Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans. John Lennon

People who resist change are either in the wrong place or need to change.

If there is not a feeling of constant change, then you have no chance at improvement, because improvement requires change. Otherwise you live in Pleasantville!

If you don't adopt a philosophy of trying new things your obsolescence is assured.

If it works it's obsolete. Marshall McLuhan

Thinking about change is very much like imagination. We can imagine things, but we have to do things.

The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind. Maya Angelou

Almost all of of my conversations are about change. How to improve, eliminate, alter, move themselves/something/someone else or a cause. Never had a conversation with anyone that starts, "How do I keep everything the way it is?" Never.

Here are three quotes I heard from people this week:

1. I know this career change makes no sense financially but it will give me more flexibility.

2. How do I leave my job, change careers and preserve my current lifestyle?

3. Aren't we going through too much change?

I think one of the benefits of talking to someone else is to hear yourself! You can not change by yourself. You need to connect to the real needs of others and the world. The more you do that, the more you will be inspired, and the more you will change.

How do you start change or a movement? You act. You take a risk and become one of the first. You express yourself even if it looks "silly". In short, you lead. Lead yourself, lead your team, your neighborhood, or your community.

Expectations drive our change and could drive us crazy.

So if you don't want change then you don't have any expectations

As you read this blog you are changing imperceptibly, you are aging, your brain is adjusting to thoughts, and inputs, your weight is shifting to your movement etc etc

Change is life. Life is change.

Change is inexorable. The problems we face will change and not be solved but we will address them and make progress. But the work and the change never ends.

An issue I hear expressed is I am not in charge or in control of the change. If I was in control of the change, I would do it differently. That position in life, of complaining about lack of control, is an excuse and basically a lifetime license to whine. Until you become the supreme ruler of the universe, you will be subjected to change. Your choice is adapt or quit. Challenge the change or surrender. Lean into the change or run.

I suggest altering your change reaction.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Break out of your comfortable prison cell

The prison of comfort keeps our dreams locked up.

This prison of comfort has many amenities. Soft cushy habits that we know well. The warm feeling of certainty about what is right and wrong in our lives. And a furry blanket of our friends and family who agree with our view of the world.Prison

This prison has a huge impact on how we view our networking and mentoring opportunities and possibilities.

By the way, I am painfully aware of the size and dimensions of my own cell and I try to advance my escape plan everyday! It is hard work. What I have discovered is making a serious adjustment to the lens I employ makes a difference. How am I limiting my perspective of the world? Trying to switch from a telephoto to a wide angle lens makes a big difference for me. Yes, seeing the forest of life, rather than gazing at our own little tree.

My painful experiences as a counselor working with incarcerated youth for the California Youth Authority taught me about prisons. One of the impediments for juveniles to get out of the system was the certainty and comfort provided  by the system. --Their growing dependency on the structure of stability was way more powerful than any dream of a different tomorrow. Human nature makes us loyal to comfort.Our perception of certainty imprisons us to avoid change and stress.

This week I had several glimpses of the prisons we build:

  • Invited a colleague to hear Michelle Rhee speak about the state of education--She told me in declining my invite, "I don't agree with anything she says." (Btw, never heard her speak in person)
  • Referred an acquaintance to a job opportunity--"Not what I am looking for", I was told.
  • A psychotherapist told me (not mine:), "My clients are incapable of pursuing the desirable path of greater resistance."
  • Headline in the Pacific Citizen: "Asians do not make great leaders"

Reminded me of the exchanges in that extraordinary film My Dinner with Andre, like this one:

Andre: But, Wally, don't you see that comfort can be dangerous? I mean, you like to be comfortable and I like to be comfortable too, but comfort can lull you into a dangerous tranquility.

Andre: They've built their own prison, so they exist in a state of schizophrenia. They're both guards and prisoners and as a result they no longer have, having been lobotomized, the capacity to leave the prison they've made, or to even see it as a prison.

"No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or emotional appeal.”

Marilyn FergusonPrison door

I have had many hard yet gratifying lessons by "pre-judging" opportunities. The mistake of dis-associating myself from entire groups of people because of my experience with one or two. By limiting my experiences and therefore my understanding by defaulting to my comfortable certainty. These lessons have helped me traverse sectors and make career changes. It has shown me that I am the guard who has the keys to my own prison cell.

Here is one of the simplest keys to get you out of prison--Consider the possibility that you are wrong about your assumptions. Wrong about your assumptions about people, paths, possibilities, and opportunities. The very possibility that you could be wrong opens doors and maybe your mind.

Don't misinterpret me. This is not a command to turn your life upside down and abandon all of your comfortable people and things. But at the very least you need to take brief leaves from your prison cell to exercise your ideas about your present and future. See things before you dismiss them. Experience them before you avoid them. Don't limit your network or your mentors to your prison mates. And most of all listen to your heart, your calling. What is calling you? And why aren't you unlocking your prison door and going down the desirable path of greater resistance? The world outside of our prisons is vast and amazing.

Thanks for reading. John


5 Lessons on Connecting, Conversations and Courage

I try to push myself, stumble into, and/or be introduced to new ideas and people everyday. I have great weeks and less successful weeks. This was an especially good one. Things came together and I had many moments of inspiration and education. Over the years I have learned to say YES to invitations, to suggestions, and to introductions, especially if it will expand my thinking. It takes up time and energy, but I always get more than I invest. Let me share five lessons from the last 5 work days.

1. On Monday I watched this video by Brene Brown about connecting, vulnerability, and courage. The word courage comes from the Latin word for heart and is roughly translated into "the ability to tell your story with your whole heart." That is hard to do. To take a risk by revealing yourself and accepting who you are with all of your imperfections. "Being willing to let go of who you think you should be in order to be who you are." And she asserts that these traits are essential to connection and to be able to connect. By being "vulnerable" you will be more capable of meaningful relationships and a meaningful life. Powerful research, revelations and messages.  

2. I attended a webcast and panel discussion for the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, where 400 diverse people compelled by the injustices of the Jim Crow laws uprooted themselves and went south to join the fight to end segregation in public transportation. Whites, Asians, Jews, and others left their studies and their lives up north to help "strangers". These freedom riders felt deeply connected to these southern blacks and they took action to help them. Hard to believe this happened during my lifetime and I was so grateful to be reminded of this history and these acts of courage and sacrifice to connect and help others change history. Rosa_parks-1

3. Wednesday, I got the chance to hear Daniel Pink speak about his relatively new book about motivation--DRIVE. The main takeaway from his very engaging presentation was that financial incentives are not effective unless the work does not require a brain. In other words, incentives (including financial) rarely work for things where you have to think. That the most effective incentives come from within, There are three main motivators: 1) Autonomy--freedom to make decisions and the latitude to act independently. 2) Mastery--the ability to pursue personal and professional growth through improving one's skills and abilities, 3) Purpose--Work that is connected to something meaningful, something bigger and more important than yourself, engaged and sustained the employees more.

4. Thursday, I interviewed a candidate who surprised me. He dug down deep to tell us about himself. We asked what his former bosses would agree was the one thing that he had to improve. He had always been told that he was not living up to his potential (a curse indeed!). I asked him to tell us one part of his potential that HE wanted to improve. He paused and thought for a brief moment and said, "I need to believe in myself. I need to push myself beyond what I think my limits are. I need to assert myself to see what my capacity is."

5. Friday, I had dinner with my dear friend Nat Irvin. He is a business professor at the University of Louisville who studies and teaches about the future. He thinks about THE future all of the time. When you are with Nat you are immediately transported into his world of ideas and trends that boggle your mind. We discussed the origins of lightning, the state of technology, and geography of ideas. There is nothing calm or casual about our conversations. I love it when I feel my grey matter stretching in new ways. I reach out to him every few weeks to get an Irvin dosage of the future. During the last couple of days, I introduced him to several of my colleagues and friends to give him a flavor of LA people who think about and create the future. These interviews seemed to help Nat get new perspectives on the city of angels and what lies ahead. Nat knows that people like to talk about their futures and THE future and they open up to him. I received a bunch of follow-up e-mail and voicemail, thanking ME for the opportunity to meet Nat. Here is an excerpt from just one:

John, our conversation evoked so many emotions and insights about myself that I was completely blown away. I felt so comfortable being interviewed by him, the words that came out of my mouth literally flowed like a raging river.....ahh its hard to explain..I've never spoken to a close family member or friend, let alone a complete stranger about things so interpersonally deep. I am an open book with people around me, but usually I am the person trying to open other persons pages. LiveWholeHeartedly-wholeHearted

When you truly connect with people and you open your mind and your heart, you become vulnerable and courageous--you speak with your "whole heart". You learn about yourself and appreciate yourself. And yet you feel more connected to others. As Dr. Brene Brown says, we must let go of what we should be and become who we are. We all have the human need to connect, but we have to make the connection and then share and learn from each other. We see our imperfect potential and embrace it. When we do, our view of ourselves becomes clearer, the world becomes smaller, and the needs of others grows in importance. This is the most fertile soil to cultivate the seeds of meaning, purpose, passion and how we will impact the future. We realize that we have more control over our futures than we thought and our obligation to tap into our potential becomes more urgent.

I wonder what next week will bring and whether I will be open to the possibilities and opportunities.

Thanks for reading. John


Are you hungry? Is your belly full of fire?

If you are like me, when I am awake I am hungry! Food is very important to me. I love to eat and cook. But I am not talking about those pangs of hunger. I am talking about your hunger to succeed. Your internal desire to grow and to make a difference. Your ambition to become the best you can be. I have blogged about being ambitious without ambition. I see that way too often. Great plans and no action. What do they say in Texas, "Big hat no cattle." People who talk about what they are going to do and don't.

Hunger drives action. How hungry are you?

I remember when I was graduating from UCLA and Arnold Schwarznegger's movie Stay Hungry came out. One of my advisors referred to the film and said to me always "stay hungry." Like many wise words, I did not understand this until much later. The value of constantly and consciously avoiding complacency and reminding yourself of what motivates you. The process of never becoming satisfied with the status quo, because every achievement is a step towards goals that are always larger than self. Goals that will never be accomplished by you alone. Hunger is that raw and burning feeling that keeps you real, focused, and actively engaged.Heart fire

Some call it Fire in the belly.

William Safire wrote: "an unquenchable thirst for power or glory; the burning drive to win a race or achieve a goal. As a political phrase, the expression is usually used to indicate a Presidential candidates' desire to win, particularly the willingness to endure the long contest. It first appeared in print in 1882, in an essay by Robert Louis Stevenson, in which he compared historians Thomas Carlyle and Thomas Babington Macaulay.The source of the expression is not known. Perhaps this metaphor for ambition comes from stoking a potbellied stove or from the fiery sensation of heartfelt heartburn."

The hunger to which I refer, the fire in the belly, goes well beyond hard work and commitment. Those are valuable and valued traits. But hunger is a sustained drive that pushes you to do your best in every situation. As Safire wrote it is an "unquenchable thirst." Passion can fuel your hunger, your fire, as long as one of your passions is tending to the fire. Passion can have cycles. It can rush in and subside. We need passion. But I am talking about the internal awareness and energy that moves and motivates. This hunger never gets sated. You may be reading this and not know what I am talking about. Sorry about that. You probably don't have it. It can be acquired by a combination of life experiences, connections with others, epiphanies of self destiny and of course great effort. What stokes the fire? What kindling and embers turn into a wildfire that propels you to make a meaningful difference to you and for others?

Some may confuse people who are super competitive, super ambitious, workaholics, Type As, or even the competent with the truly hungry. Many times this hunger and desire can be taken to extremes. The hunger and fire are most effective when they are continuous and constant sources of energy. Like the sun burning hot everyday, giving us more light than heat.

If this is something you want, then surround yourself with people who have it. Our teams, our networks, our mentors, our organizations, and our families need people that have this inner drive. Help others build their fires.Eye fire

When you meet people who have it, it is obvious. The fire is in their eyes and in their energy for their words. Sometimes harder to tell the people that don't. Because they say things that give you the impression that they do. And they believe they do because they have said it so many times it has become their truth. But actions will always trump words. Later you find that they have unwittingly deceived themselves and others. They say they are hungry but the fire has never been lit.

Some may be born and/or raised to be hungry. Their life circumstances. Their DNA. But most learn to acquire the fire. They accumulate an understanding of what they want, how they want to define their lives, and that wasting these opportunities are foolish.

Your understanding of your strengths and what is meaningful to you can ignite and sustain your belly fire.

Strengths: The more you learn and nurture what you are good at, what you love doing, the more you see your potential. Your potential, based on your strengths, can be the biggest log in our fires. Always need to work on our weaknesses, but advancing what we do well will give us pleasure, great satisfaction, and the desire to continue.

Meaning: Your daily time and effort have to be connected to meaning in your life. Making money to get your kids through college because you did not. Leading a non-profit Board to make a difference in the community. Mentoring your staff to make them better employees, citizens, and human beings. What you do has to be meaningful to you. And that meaning has to be tied to a cause, a goal, and/or a reason that is more than you.

Avoid being someone with big logs, no fire. Seek out and connect with people who are hungry. Pursue your inner gifts and talents. Hook your great locomotive to a train full of meaning and your fire will keep you on a track that goes higher and higher.

I am still hungry. I need to eat! :)

Thanks for reading. John


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

 


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


New deadly STD: OMBYism

In my recent encounter with Father Greg Boyle, the famed gang interventionist and founder of Homeboy Industries, he quoted Mother Teresa. "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." He said the measure of our ability to care about one another will be realized "when we love more than who loves us." He has spent most of his life loving gang members and helping them put their lives back together.

In contrast, many people overwhelmed by the world around them have decided that taking care of themselves and their own immediate families is all they can do. And they have convinced themselves that if everyone else just did the same then the world would be a better place. This way of thinking has led us to a number of socially transmitted diseases. (STDs)

NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) is one of the long standing STDs.These infected people want everything just not in their neighborhood. Freeway off ramps, trash disposal, mass transit, homeless shelters, commercial development, schools, elder care etc. I remember well the families that appeared at a local City Council meeting to protest a Montessori pre-school operated out of a Victorian home for more than 100 years (Julia Child went there). The school served 76 kids! "The sound of children" was just too much for these sensitive and angry neighbors. Ultimately, the school had to build higher walls around it to better contain the laughter and pitter patter of little feet. These NIMBYists wanted better schools in the neighborhood but not next door, even when that school was there decades before their homes were built. I know it makes no sense, but that is how toxic the seemingly incurable NIMBYism disease can be. Backyard

I have discovered a vicious new strain of NIMBYism and the fastest growing STD--OMBYism--Only My Back Yard--this deadly disease triggers several brutal symptoms causing the sufferer to experience extreme self-centeredness, myopia, and ethnocentrism. These are followed by an uncontrollable penchant to live in gated communities, a significant decline in empathy for others, and an obsessive desire to maintain the status quo. OMBYists are devoted to only taking care of their back yard and their family. They have very stunted and homogenized networks. Their credo is: Love only who loves you, especially if they are like you.

The infuriating flaw with this selfish approach to life fails to recognize that a pampered family will have to live in a real  world that looks nothing like that back yard. The OMBYists superiority complex and self righteous attitude are artificial prophylactics against reality. And that the children of these infected parents breed unnecessary prejudice between their kind and the rest of the world.

Only loving who loves you is the breathing standard of living a meaningful life. Of course we love our families! Yes we love people back. But our lives will be defined by how we pro-actively broaden that circle. How we embrace others outside of our families and our clone communities. Father Greg Boyle talks about how learning to love gang members has deepened his perspective to see the other side of the tracks literally. There is no purely good and purely bad when it comes to humans and the human struggle. The world is becoming more complex. The easy way out is to define the limits of our spheres of influence as our family, immediate circle of friends and the edge of our fence lines. To over simplify the world into the good and the evil by deluding ourselves that somehow we are better than the others.

I recently met a man who wanted to make a shift from working at an elitist and highly privileged institution to a community based organization. He said his life goal is to help the "under-served" and the "less fortunate" people in our society. It sounded a bit insincere, but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. So I said, "That's a wonderful life mission. So how do you help the "under-served and less fortunate" now?" He looked at me like I called him a dirty name. He was flustered and said, "That's my goal, not what I do now!" He went on to explain how busy he is, how demanding his job is, that he has a couple of teenagers, and he likes playing golf occasionally........His words faded as I saw the letters O--M--B--Y appear on his forehead. In other words, he has no time for others outside of his backyard. No time to do anything except take care of thyself and thy heirs. He only thinks about the "under-served and the less fortunate",when he is trying to impress others and feel less guilty. Kid

Adopting the mentoring and networking lifestyle is an antidote to the onset of NIMBYism and OMBYism. While we should take care of and enjoy our verdant back yards, the world outside of those walls is so much more beautiful and filled with real people who are under-served and less fortunate. We have to break down those fences and walls. We have to create connections and relationships that add value and build  broader communities that can confront and overcome the challenges we face, by loving many more than love us.

Thanks for reading. John

 


The Ubuntu Networking Strategy

Familiarity and predictability make us comfortable. Nothing wrong with comfort. But sometimes comfort can breed resistance. The resistance to making changes in our lives. People know what they have to do to improve themselves. The really do. They need to lose weight, become better public speakers, learn more about their computers, develop their hobbies, and connect with others aka network! But life, our habits and change get in the way. Some of us call these excuses. :) Comfortable

How do we get unstuck from this comfort zone. This zone of "I am okay" or "Things aren't so bad" or "What difference will it make?" and "Not sure where to start"

These are the mantras of complacency and resistance. The forces that keep you on that monorail chugging along to your familiar network of stops and destinations.

Our confidence soars when we do things where the outcome is predictable, where our view of the world is affirmed, and where our anxiety levels are low. But this can turn into your personal version of the movie Ground Hog Day and such comfort can create monotony. Your confidence will also rise when you accomplish something new and different. Both life experiences are needed to move ahead. But living only in the comfortable routine will limit your network. Hard to meet new people or be introduced to new perspectives when you rely on your circle of comfort. And the limits of your network will set boundaries around your opportunities.

If you are satisfied with your life and your ambitions are sated, then the strategy of nurturing who you know and care about has no limitations, it is a blessing. You have the great luxury of not being distracted by new horizons or goals.

My view is you have to continually renew your network. Not suggesting you dump your friends for new ones, but just enhance and diversify your sources of inspiration and guidance.

Ubuntu, is a wonderful African thought and philosophy that means many things but it conveys "that a person only becomes a person through others."I think we all believe this. That who you know seriously influences who you are. Does your circle of friends reinforce your worldview or does it challenge/improve it? This is a very hard question, because to understand the limits of your worldview is to know outside points of view. But it is a question we need to ask ourselves over and over to keep us honest and grounded. For me the spirit and essence of ubuntu is to add dimensions to our thinking through the help of others. The world is not simple. By meeting and listening to others we begin to appreciate this complexity. For me, ubuntu means the more people you meet, especially if they add new perspectives to your life, you become more conscious of your strengths, weaknesses, talents, dreams, and opportunities and a lot less comfortable!

Take inventory of your network. And target the gaps. But then also just commit yourself to seeking out people different than yourself. Whatever that means to you. There is a rainbow of possibilities here. Political, religious, ethnic, geographic, sectoral, educational, age, gender, sexual orientation, and your hobbies. Let this carry over into your other habits such as your reading, your musical selections, your dining, your work collaborations etc etcConnections

John Izzo set a goal to make new friends, so he carried a 3x5 card around with him everyday to remind him of this goal. He committed to look at it 10 times a day! He carried it not as a burden but as a precious commodity that he valued. You could have a card that says, "Meet new and different people" It's a pretty anal approach but it  will remind you everyday to reach out and connect.

For me, I have set a goal of meeting one new and reconnecting with one person a week! And it is a joy. It is a new habit that is addictive and so beneficial for me. Every person adds something important to my perspective and understanding. Once you get started, it's hard to stop seeing the world through others and becoming more informed and more of an ubuntu person. You will be inspired in countless ways. You will appreciate more about the world and about yourself.

Being comfortable is a wonderful thing if you have reached your potential as a person. But if you are like me, getting uncomfortable through ubuntu networking has clarified what my potential could be.

Thanks for reading. John