fire in the belly

When do we (should we) get serious about the pursuit of joy?

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.  —Annie Dillard

The point here is that we all go through phases and cycles that determine our path, trajectory, and destination. Amidst the chaotic stretches where you feel like we have no control there are other moments of clarity, joy and  opportunity. Windows of time that give us the chance to make a change, shift gears, pivot—hopefully focus more on what we really want.

Age 26, according to the unscientific longitudinal Kobara study involving thousands of unsuspecting subjects, starts an 8 year time frame (until 34) where the brain starts to shift to serious things.

It all started some time ago…….

High school is a blur that is dominated by embryonic ideas of self and a confusing cocktail of peer pressure, parental expectations, promises and perfection. Angst over picking a college. The future is filled with questions and excitement.

Who am I?

College can be an awakening unless it was just an extension of high school Average college students change their major 2.5 times. Angst over a major that will connect to a career that cannot be predicted. New questions emerge.

What do I want?

Passion and purpose can be submerged to the realities of student loans and dental benefits.

Caring what others think can distract us from discovering ourselves, our purpose and our joy.  Finding-joy-in-the-journey

"Psychologists and social scientists have found that there are two kinds of popularity: One type suggests people like us, they trust us, they want to spend time with us, they enjoy their time with us. That kind of popularity is really important — it gives us a benefit in life in so many domains, for decades, whether we experience it in childhood or as adults. The second type of popularity is the one we remember from high school, that refers to our status; it reflects our visibility, our influence, our power — our celebrity, in some ways. There’s research showing that type of popularity — status popularity — does not predict long term positive outcomes. In fact, it leads to despair, addiction, and relationship problems. But most people are still confusing the two types of popularity, and searching for the wrong one."  Mitch Prinstein, Popular: The Power of Likability In A Status-Obsessed World.

And we can get focused on, even worship things, things we believe will make us happy and or successful.

“....pretty much anything you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.” David Foster Wallace

Am I where I am supposed to be? Am I having fun?

According to the annual Freshman Survey (20 years ago+), the three top goals of first year students in college, in order of preference, are authority in their field (don't even have a major :), raise a family and being very well off financially. The survey reflects the responses of 1.5 million college students from every state. These results have been relatively consistent for 50 years.

That's why I found it fascinating that they did a follow-up study 10 years later when these former 200,000+ freshman were now 28ish. They were asked the same questions. So what were their top three goals now that they have a degree and a healthy dose of the real world?

  1. Raise a family
  2. Develop a meaningful philosophy of life
  3. Become an expert in their field

Help others in difficulty was 4th and being very well off financially fell to 7th.

Develop a philosophy of life?!

Your heart has been giving you signals for a long time but you have muffled those messages by turning up the volume on your life distraction headsets.

You could have one of several "wake-up calls". The world around you starts to call out your name, you wonder how to become an agent of change.  You notice something entering or exiting your heart. A brush with death, yours or someone you love, a subtle or not so subtle connection with life's purpose. You get laid off, not promoted. Then the self-interrogator of life rises again with the blinding light of nerve wracking queries.

Is this all there is? What difference am I going to make? Where is my joy?

Graduate school? Graduate school again?

Marriage or kids or no kids? The initial formation of what I call "regret tumors" starts. Beginning with the abandonment of dreams or promises. Not malignant but ominous tumors.

Seeing the present for the first time instead of letting the next bulldoze the now

Most of you under-estimate yourself and doubt is your enemy.

A few of you over estimate yourself and arrogance is your enemy.

Both are necessary for success but you need more perspective, humility, grit and resilience.

Start re-booting your life--- a life that interweaves your passions and your goals. Start listening and trusting your heart. This is not easy, but it is rewarding.

What is meaningful to you? What gives you joy?

If you are over the age of 34, it is never too late. Your quest for greater fulfillment and your sense of contributing to something larger than you is growing within you. Time is fleeting.

Regrets age you. Regrets can kill you. Minimize regrets!

If your goal is to make meaning by trying to solve a big problem in innovative ways, you are more likely to make money than if you start with the goal of making money, in which case you will probably not make money or meaning.    Guy Kawasaki

The key is engaging others in your quest. In your journey. In your dreams. Getting help to pursue your ideas. Getting advice on what others have already learned and tried. Connect! Don't fall victim to the "do-it-yourself" trap. It never works! Listen to yourself! The you that jumps out of the passenger seat and takes over the steering wheel of your life! Start building a life that gives you joy!

So you are waiting for the right time. The confluence of great opportunity, financial security and a sign from the heavens.....

There is no right time, just right now!

Thanks for reading. John


Optimistic Fatalism and my conversation with Leonard

 "I really do not like what I do but I am 10 years from retirement......."

"Gotta go with the flow."

"I just want to see if I make partner. I should be a partner by now, they owe me......"

"It is what it is."

"My values and my employer's values are diverging, but I'll figure out what I want to do later in my career....."

"Lucky to have what I have."

According to my unscientific survey, surrendering to the status quo starts earlier and younger. Settling sooner for what you can get and shelving what you wanted. I had a millennial call herself an "optimistic fatalist". "I really hope I am wrong, but I am not going to do what I want."  It depresses me.

I am constantly and irritatingly asked:

When do you move on to the next thing? At what point do I give up on my dreams? 

After one of my workshops I was pursued by an executive who sat at my lunch table. I'll call him Leonard. After listening to the small talk he blurted out some thoughts that were clearly percolating for awhile.

"So John, I get your message--do what you want and even love. I get it. I wish I could do it, I wish it was possible. You know most people just can't do that. People take the jobs they can get and they put up with the toxic worlds they enter to make a living. Having a job you love is a fantasy."

You can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love. Jim Carrey

"Leonard. Thanks for speaking up and challenging my words. I do not want to make any of this sound easy or simple. It isn't. Taking control of your life takes courage. Just to be clear, I was not suggesting that finding a job you love will be THE answer. But finding work you love, you believe in, that fulfills you is not a fantasy. It is achievable and doable. Of course, if you need a job to eat and survive, then you need a job and your tolerance for inhospitable environments is much higher. But I am talking about me and you. We are sitting in this nice hotel chatting about our futures. We are over educated and have choices. There are amazing things that people will pay you to do that may be more fulfilling and fun. But I was also talking about building a life you love. A portfolio of things that represent your passions, interests and dreams. That procrastinating these decisions into some sort of sequence of steps and chapters is crazy. There is little chance that one job will provide you all of the fulfillment of your life. But you will spend way too much time working, so how do we make it the best job, a job you care about, as the hub and build out great spokes from there. No one like us has to put up with a toxic job. Does that make sense?

Yin yang
Yeah, but I really thought you were just talking about a dream job, Leonard replied.

No. A dream life. A lot of people struggle with so-called "work-life" balance. This is a myth and a harmful way of thinking. People seek balance because something in their lives is not as good as other parts. What if all parts were good? What if you designed your life to give you the fulfillment, flexibility, and the time to "balance" your life? Wouldn't that be a better life? 

Leonard nodded, "I know people(most people say they have a "friend";) who are really unhappy and they just can't leave their jobs."

I hear a lot of people who want to blame everyone but themselves about the predicament they are in. Again, these are first world people with advanced degrees and great resumes. They have convinced themselves they are stuck--stuck like sea squirts.

Sea squirts are odd slinky-like marine life that swim in schools to find a rock or piece of coral to make home. They permanently affix themselves to the rock. Then they do something really odd, they individually eat their own vertebrae and brains. Because when you are stuck on a rock you don't need a backbone or a mind! 

I meet a lot of really smart sea squirts! No backbone to stand up for themselves and their lives. Who get shackled to a narrative of high consumption and higher expectations that makes them fall behind in their credit and their careers.  Sea squirts Bluebell

Just like moving from pensions and defined contribution retirement plans to 401K's , we have to run our own financial AND life portfolios. 

There is a materialistic and financial delusion that we need so much stuff. And that stuff puts us in debt and that starts the vicious cycle of compromises and postponed plans. We get burrowed and cemented into a rut that imprisons us. We want more and accept less.

By the way, all setting a pattern of optimistic fatalism for our kids.

Yet I watch a growing number of people emerge from the fog and break out of their cells of expectations by following their hearts. Huge changes underway where people are making choices about priorities, downsized lifestyles, and upsized lives. Finding work they love. In the four pay cuts I took for jobs that gave me a more flexible life, I never regretted it. 

I recently met a chef, who now has four restaurants. He was defense contractor engineer who was very well paid. He went to these gourmet dinners with wine pairings made by a friend. He loved these meals and quit his job to become a chef at 45. He would have made more money and had a bigger retirement fund, but he chose his heart over his financial plan.

When you're doing something you love and are drawn to it, you want to do it all the time. - Ra Paulette 

Or the financial planner who volunteered for the Special Olympics and now is a neuropsychologist. Or the night club owner who decided to give his excess food to the homeless and now manages a social enterprise that does just that. 

People who have built happier and more meaningful lives around something that moved them.

What moves you? What is important to you that isn't getting your attention? Build it into your portfolio. Design a life that makes space for it.

 Be reckless when it comes to affairs of the heart.

What I really mean … is be passionate, fall madly in love with life. Be passionate about some part of the natural and/or human worlds and take risks on its behalf, no matter how vulnerable they make you. No one ever died saying, “I’m sure glad for the self-centered, self-serving and self-protective life I lived.”

Offer yourself to the world — your energies, your gifts, your visions, your heart — with open-hearted generosity. But understand that when you live that way you will soon learn how little you know and how easy it is to fail.

Clinging to what you already know and do well is the path to an unlived life. So, cultivate beginner’s mind, walk straight into your not-knowing, and take the risk of failing and falling again and again, then getting up again and again to learn — that’s the path to a life lived large, in service of love, truth, and justice. Parker Palmer

We have to wake up from the delusion that choice is a fantasy, clear the fog and take control!

Does this make sense Leonard? Now what? 

Thanks for reading. John

 


The Key Connection to a More Unrealistic You

Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.  St Augustine

Maybe it is the new year, maybe it is my stage in life, maybe it is the truth that is emerging around me. While I have been saying this for many years, ...."the most important connection, the first connection you must make is to yourself," this idea has  Key-in-door-1024x685more meaning and power than ever before. Let me explain. 

I have always been drawn to thinkers and writers who have expounded on passion, meaning, and purpose. I strongly believe that without these elements driving one's life you will be lost in a series of transactional moments that may not add up to what you wanted. Life is not your resume. It is not a list of achievements sans failures and challenges. It is not a string of happy moments, interrupted by sad moments. Your life is a precious and amazing opportunity, everyday to do good as you define it. To do what you love to do. To make a difference. Intuitively I know you get this. But doing it is rough. 

So I am constantly looking for the clues, the inspirations, the insights of others who can show me the way. The way to more persistently becoming myself. Becoming and understanding myself so I can overcome so many self erected barriers to my own path.

Lot of popular notions out there that I am sure you have noted. The Ms are very popular:

  • Mindfulness
  • Meaning
  • Meditation

The Ps are also competing for your interests:

  • Presence
  • Purpose
  • Passion

So the M's and the P's are powerful words that are all on the endangered species list of words that become diluted through popular usage.

I have been recently  influenced by words and ideas from Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, Sherwin Nuland's The Way We Live (and Die), E. O. Wilson's The Meaning of Human Existence, Brene Brown on Vulnerability, anything from the Dalai Lama, Krista Tippett's show On Being, Bernard Glassman's Instruction to the Cook....

This is not a book list for you to buy. I am resisting giving you snippets and quotes here. You should subscribe to Brain Pickings for extraordinary summaries of important literature, including some of these sources I have listed. There are so many great sources of smart people thinking about these questions out there. Find things that speak to You. 

Engage and enhance your network to talk about these issues. 

Like you, I continue to find my place. Someone said to me the other day, "I wish I was like you. You have a purpose and a plan." Wow did I fool him :)

Tis one thing to speak and write about it, tis another thing to do it.

There is lots of research on life satisfaction. The work of Hannes Schwandt is particularly fascinating. Builds on research that spans 50 countries and many socio-economic groups. This is what I have interpreted. The peak of peak of happiness is 85. 85! There is this U shape to our life satisfaction. Starts high and goes steadily down until 45ish and then builds back up and reaches a high point in the mid 80's. Why?, Because when we are young we have "overly -optimistic" read unrealistic expectations about our lives. We want a lot. We have dreams and ambitions untethered to terra firma. This creates disappointment. College majors and aspirations turn out differently and life happens. In the late 40's and through the 50's we have another moment of reality. Expectations (different from aspirations) are super high. Was this what I was meant to do? Is this all there is? Financial realities take their toll. Each stage you shed more and more of what is unrealistic and our optimism takes a seat at the back of the bus. By the time you are in your 80's you simply do not care any more. This is the brutal phrase from the research, "...unmet expectations are abandoned and less regret is experienced..." Regrets evaporate. Time is very short so let's not waste any more. You are old and very happy. Is this maturity or the ultimate death of our dreams?

I am not saying this is going to happen to you, but it is happening. Apparently it happens like clockwork according to the researchers. I know you are not "average", after all you are reading my blog. :) And we can take the safeties off our blamethrowers and aim them many places. For me, shedding all of the expectations of others and society is a great starting point. If you are honest with yourself you have to sort through what is YOU from what is not. This is the ultimate preventive measure against the gravitational pull of the U curve. Turn this U into YOU.  As I said at the beginning, it starts with you, the key connection you have to make.

I know it can feel like a runaway train that does not respond to herculean tugs on the emergency cord. But you got to stop the train and take a walk with yourself. To listen to YOU. To hear your heartbeat and the voice within. There is a small penitentiary within you of trapped ideas, emotions, and yes dreams that yearn for your company, attention and the light of day.

I wish I could hand you the next three steps to You. I would if I had them. But you are unique. You are also on a human trajectory that has predictable elements and phases. Maybe true happiness is when we get to an age and stage where we have abandoned all unrealistic things, we regret nothing because we don't care any more, and we appreciate life because it is ending. Some research says so. I am not going to allow it to happen for me.

I want to eliminate regrets before they accumulate and take up precious shelf space and then I will have fewer "unmet expectations".

The Chumash native americans have a saying in one of their blessings that always jolts me:

"When you are born you begin to die."

Time is a luxury. Do not take it for granted. You never get it back.

I still believe in change. For me and for the world. I have research that says that it is possible. :)

I believe that you can change. I see it everyday. But no one can make the change but You. And there it goes again, we return to You and to see ourselves anew.

I am wishing You the greatest year of your life. Make it a bit optimistic and unrealistic. :)

 Thanks for reading. John


How Do I Know If I Am In Love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ambition to Walk the Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oren Yakobovich: Exposing human rights violations through innovative surveillance.

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

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

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

antonio machado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ambition is connecting and ambitiousness is isolating. 

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


I Am Generic to Keep My Options Open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Thanks for reading. John

 


Pursuit of Passion Formula or Folly

There are a number of authors and bloggers selling books and their points of view that "follow your passions" is the worst career and life advice. They argue that focusing on the development of your expertise, skills, and competencies is a much surer way to "success". Is this a great debate? Not to me. I believe it is folly to argue, either or, in matters of the heart and the mind.

Cal Newport (So Good They Can't Ignore You), Bassam Tarazi, Ramit Sethi, and most recently Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) have jumped on the anti-passion bandwagon.
Scott Adams:  "For most people, it’s easy to be passionate about things that are working out, and that distorts our impression of the importance of passion. I’ve been involved in several dozen business ventures over the course of my life, and each one made me excited at the start. Success caused passion more than passion caused success. The few that worked became more exciting as they succeeded. But the ones that didn’t work out—and that would be most of them—slowly drained my passion as they failed.”  Van Gogh

Scott, that's not passion. That's rationalization and self-justification. And that's how you deal with failure?! How about trying to cure cancer, solve poverty, bringing education to the inner city? Wow if we could all just dispose of things we were not good at. Imagine if we could all accept the "drain of passion" because things did not work out! Such a selfish and narrow view of passion.

Cal Newport:  "Passion is a side effect of mastery."

Really Cal? Passion only comes from what you are good at? So passion can't drive mastery? I guess Cal has not met the hundreds of non-profit leaders I have. Or spent time with artists. Or with immigrant entrepreneurs who don't have anything but the burning desire to survive and flourish. Nor with foster youth who have been abused and now in college repairing their lives. These types of passion do not exist in the ivory tower, they thrive in the community of need. These people use their passion like fuel. Yes, their passion propels their mastery. It is the expression of who they are.

Of course, telling people to  just Follow your passions! Blind to who they are. Deaf to what their heart says. Dumb to their education and expertise--Yes of course this is foolish advice to chase rainbows without a toolbox of skills and expertise.  Passion and success

As Daniel Pink asserts in his book Drive, true motivation comes from Autonomy, Mastery AND Purpose. These intertwined concepts engage people in fulfilling lives and work. 
Many people approach love and even mentoring in this way. "Love will conquer all." That if they find the love of their lives it will make everything in their lives better. Love does not pay the bills or complete your degree. People approach me in search of mentors as if the "right" mentor will magically guide them to the promised land. Are you prepared for a serious relationship and commitment? Are you mentorable? Are you ready for guidance and direction? Follow your passion(s) is relevant for those who, like all successful people, are working on their whole selves--on their mastery and their purpose. You have to be prepared to do what you love, be who you want to be, and follow your passions. And live passionately.

If I didn't know better, I would accuse these passion naysayers of wanting us to just suck it up and work for the man. To accept the tenets of the industrial/educational complex that all promotions and success are based on meeting and exceeding the job descriptions. We know that is absurd. To not bring our hearts to work, just our lunchpails. There is a conspiracy to tell you just to bear down and do your jobs and avoid the distractions of your inner calls for purpose and meaning from the quarterly goals of shareholders. I spent several careers making others wealthy. I know this philosophy of the owners and the holders of the equity---"Do your job and make it your life! And you will gain some valuable experiences!"
Living a passionless life and career is a waste and empty.

Even these writers who want to sell books and gain attention would agree that passion makes a difference in the success of individuals and organizations. But their perspective only helps the extremely naive and confuse the sophisticated.

Consider these thoughts:
Follow your bliss. Joseph Campbell

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.  Bertrand Russell

Passion and expertise are siamese twins. They feed each other. Success is tied to both. 
Passion is what animates, energizes, and actualizes our skills, talents, abilities and expertise. 
Passion is the suffering we endure in trying to become the best we can, the way we interpret our purpose in life, and the focus on the needs of others. Passion drives our best work.
Yes we all need to hone our hard skills but we have to nurture our soft skills as well. For those of us who aspire to lead and make a difference, it will be the soft skills that will enhance careers. And at the core needs to be a fire of passion that stokes our desire to do something that matters to ourselves and others.

If you do not build a life, not just your job, around your passions, you will wither from the quicksand of settling for what comes to you and not pursuing what you care about. 

It is true that a "follow your passion(s)" advice to the uneducated/unskilled is unadvised and dangerous. But to condemn this advice for those of us searching for meaning and purpose is criminal.

 Thanks for reading. John


Applying Your Passion to College and to Life

I was with a donor at a Hollywood eaterie. We both ordered ice teas. The waitress asked if we wanted regular or passion. I said regular and my guest ordered passion. The teas came and neither of the teas were passion. We called over our beautiful wannabe actress to correct her inadvertent mistake. The donor said, "Hey I ordered the passion ice tea and got regular." She leaned in close to him without missing a beat and said, "Didn't I serve it with passion?!" He reflexively said, "You did!" Glasses-of-iced-tea

Is our tea of life supposed to have passion it? Do we have to order it or make it ourselves? Or do we merely have to serve it with passion? 

I am pretty obsessed with living life with passion and helping others find their passions. To be perfectly honest, I help myself by helping others. Other people's passions get me psyched to be more diligent about my own. I use other people's passions to add to my passion river. Kind of a passion junkie. I must confess, I am trying to inspire and motivate yours truly. I have  learned that successful networking, mentoring, and careers are based on this principle of engaging  others' passions and defining my own.

This was a big week for the topic of passion: 

  • I gave a short speech on passion for my colleagues at a national conference of community foundations to add a little kindling to their belly fires. 
  • I led a  session for a giving circle to re-energize their collective passion around community needs and their personal definitions of meaningful giving. 
  • Lastly, I appeared on a friend's local radio show to discuss how the true passions of the students applying for college admission make a difference.

You don't need to be applying for college to articulate your passions. We all have a constellation of passions within us that we nurture and ignore. That we pursue and neglect. True passion involves others and the needs of others. It starts with the pain of our lack of personal fulfillment, the suffering of others we care about, and the the unmet needs of people we may never know. It can come as easily from disappointment or from total engagement. It is the basis of your emotional connection to what you do and WHY you do it. 

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. Mark Twain 

You can discover it and have an aha moment. Or it can sneak up on you and scare you into understanding yourself.

Always taken by my mother's story of the moment she knew painting would define her life. She was 49 with 4 kids under the age of 10 she decided to take a sumi-e Japanese brush stroke painting lesson. She lifted the brush with fresh black ink on it and struck the canvas and she was transformed in that moment. She remembers it like it was yesterday, "I said to myself, "Where have you been?" She found herself and has been painting ever since. Her ability to express herself through oil paints changed her and everything around her. It centered her. Gave her energy and vitality. She had a purpose like no other. 

Sumi eWhen you share or when others share their passions it shines out of the eyes, the body language and the voice. We exude an extra energy when we connect with passion. It is when we present our best selves. You have to help others recognize this when they do it!

It is when work and play blur. When Mondays and Fridays are exactly the same.

I try to find and associate with very competent people who are also passionate about their lives. You have to have both! Because competence in the absence of passion is not only boring but is limited to mediocrity. And passion without competence is shrill and a waste of time. I look for both in every hire I make, every board I join, every job I take, and every one of my relationships.

A job is never just a job. A life is never just a life. We can't be waiting for something better. Or to do it all when we retire. How will we leave our imprint?

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.  Jack London

Help your son or daughter see their inner strengths and talents before you tell them what their career will be. Explore with your friends why they aren't doing more of the things they say are important to them. Assist people who are nearing retirement age to explore their passions now. Make the pursuit of passions

This is the hardest work we can do--to help others and ourselves find passion. For there is no other work. We need people's passions to engage our total selves in our work and our lives. We need passion to innovate, to solve problems, and to wring out the potential in our world. 

There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. Nelson Mandela

Move passion up on your to-do list. Serve and live with passion!

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

 


Bonsai and the Elephant

BonsaiI have always admired bonsai as a living piece of art. The idea that you could miniaturize a tree was amazing to me. I visited bonsai gardens as a child and remember seeing a forest of cypress that were under 18 inches tall.

But when I heard Professor Yunus discuss Bonsai People, I started to think about the ways we miniaturize people's potential and their dreams. How we limit our own potential and dreams. How we bonsai others and ourselves. 

As Professor Yunus says, we do build pots around many people. Pots of stereotypes.  Pots of indifference. Pots of our lowered expectations. The poor lack the base or space to grow.

Sometimes well intentioned people try to "help" others by making their goals "more realistic". The parent who tells his daughter not to become an artist because there is no money in it. The college counselor who told me I was not university material. 

These are all root trimming activities. Ways of clipping the potential of another. 

THE STORY OF THE ELEPHANT   The elephant is the strongest animal in the kingdom. But it is very strange  the way circus trainers keep the elephants tied up. Wrapped around the leg of the little baby elephant will be a great big chain; but wrapped around the leg of the huge adult elephant will be a little flimsy rope. The elephant trainer will tell you that after a few months of straining against a big chain, the baby elephant will finally give up. After that, the trainer can replace the big strong chain with a weak little rope, and the elephant never knows the difference. Even thought the adult elephant could snap the rope with one mighty tug of his foot, he never even tries. Why? Because the long months of struggling against the chain have conditioned and convinced him to believe that it's impossible!

What imaginary rope or pot limits your thinking and your pursuit of what you can be?

Some people really believe that "somebody else" will free them from their self imposed bondage. Yes, it does take mentors, colleagues, coaches, sponsors and teachers to show you options, paths and opportunities to break free from the circus trainer and bonsai gardener. You do need a network or truth tellers to give you real feedback. But you have to be open to it.

When the student is ready the teacher appears.  Buddha

Do we maintain the pots we are planted in? Are others to blame for the pot we are in?  Yes society, your DNA and your environment contribute greatly to your pot. But what are you going to do about it? 

Love it or leave it?

Break out or break through? Elephant rope

Stop complaining about the pot or rope the supposedly holding you back. Take control of your career and your life.

Met this kid who grew up in the hood and will graduate from a prestigious private school. He convinced his parents that he needed more education. He got people to support him morally and financially. He is passionate about his future and difference he will make. Hard to count the pots he has broken and grown out of. He wanted more, pursued it, got some help and now can taste it. Nobody will ever miniaturize his dreams again.

In the same week met with a former colleague who has everything. She is well educated has money in the bank and many options. But she is stuck. Her pot has thick and high walls that she imagines. No vision for her future. No desire to improve. Just hoping to get "more". More opportunities and more responsibilities. I gave her advice but it slid off of her teflon coating. She does not want to make an effort to change. She is going to wait for the "right" time. Wow. Easy to predict that she will get root rot and her pot will continue to stunt her growth. A self made bonsai.

There will never be a better time than right now. I don't mean quit your job today, but to take serious and continuous steps to break free from the little rope that has conditioned you to stay put. Not even the proverbial golden handcuffs, but paper handcuffs that are forged from your fears. Your fear of your own potential.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.  Michelangelo

As I have said many times big difference between ambitious and ambition. Wanting "more" is way different than going after "more". 

More will not usually come looking for you. And if it does you have to be ready. 

Bonsai are the most cared for, pampered, plants in the world. They are so dependent on this care that they will not succeed without it. Maybe you really like where you are, then stop talking about a different future. Enjoy what you have.  

So either stay in your pot and become a beautiful groomed bonsai. Or get your Shawshank on!

Most people can become bonsai. Great seeds that yearn for the light but find that their pot is comfortable and ultimately restricts their mobility. 

We have an obligation to help others break free of their constraints to grow. And to not miniaturize other people's dreams.

Thanks for reading. John


The Women Who Have Mentored and Inspired Me

Last week I was honored to be the keynoter for the Professional Mentoring Luncheon for Women in Cable Telecommunications. Here's an excerpt from my speech: 

My career and success since my early days in cable have been disproportionately influenced by women. Women who taught me what was important and how to understand my own potential. Women who were role models for me. Women who helped an average guy succeed!

I think of my wife’s mother Youngsook whose family escaped North Korea. She became a Korean War bride and entered the US not really speaking any English. She went on to earn her BA, MA and PhD in Anthropology and wrote a textbook that is still used in colleges today. Her story is another reflection of the American dream. Her wit, intelligence, and love for life are legendary. I never met her before her untimely death at the age of 49, but her memory mentors me.

Youngsook
Youngsook circa 1957

My mother spent 4 years in the internment camps during WW2, then became an American mom of the 50’s confined to the home in a male dominated world of limited choices. At the age of 49, she decided to take a painting class. Last year she was on the cover story of American Artist Magazine. Her lessons about how to use the right side of my brain, the importance of community service and that it is never too late to change, mentors me everyday. 

After I left the cable world my boss at the UCLA Alumni Association was Bea Mandel who became the first female alumni regent of the University of California in 125 years. Bea was a tough no-nonsense leader who taught me about focus and results. After I left UCLA, I was involved in a pioneering effort to develop online higher education. I ended up reporting to Paula Singer when my little venture got merged into Sylvan Learning Systems. Since 2003 I have been a member of the Walden University Board which she chairs. Paula teaches me how to blend an uncompromising standard of ethics and extraordinary growth with candor and charm. When I led Big Brothers Big Sisters here in Los Angeles, I met hundreds of mothers who wanted a mentor for their daughter or son. And there is nothing like the commitment and desire in the eyes of a mother who wants a better life for her children. My work was re-energized each and every time I looked into those eyes. 5 years later I met Neeru Khosla and learned about CK12 and her vision for free virtual standards based textbooks.  I was treated to her passion that knew no boundaries and always focused on getting to the goal no matter how impossible it may seem. From there I was hired by Antonia Hernandez for my current job. Antonia is a true leader who provides clear direction and gets out of your way. She employs a wonderful concoction of passion, charm, and influence to make things happen. She teaches me everyday to appreciate and respect the purpose of our work.

Lastly my wife  Sarah, and my daughters Jenna and Malia have have taught me to be more patient, loving and how to lead with my heart. When you are a minority in your own family you either adapt or you suffer!

I have learned and continue to learn the most important life and leadership lessons from women who have mentored me.

We are all role models. We mentor people who watch us. All of you are helping other women or other men by the example we set, by revealing our possibilities. 

What is our role and our obligation to make a difference, to help others, to become the best we can be? I submit to you that we each need to do more.

Deepak Chopra and Dave Ramsey--Why do we take jobs we don’t want, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.

We have to move from transactional to transformational lives.

We have to move from lives of busyness to the business of our lives.

We have to move from lives of indifference to making a difference.

 Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable

For the afflictions are great and we are far too comfortable.

We should be more uncomfortable.

In all my experiences I have learned that mentoring is a lifestyle that engages others in a compassionate act of tough love to get to our truths

To awaken the possibilities in each other

To help each other make courageous decisions

To solve problems by putting the needs of others first

To answer the question What do we want? Really? 

Choices: The Path less traveled, The Path of least resistance, or The Path with your heart?

 “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” Michelangelo

I meet a lot of people that say they are so busy that they just want stability. They want things not to change. They want to keep what they have. They deceive themselves. No one who is ambitious and wants a better life for themselves wants stability. No parent who loves their kids wants things to stay the same. Nobody who is alive, who is conscious of the needs in our community, of the inequities in our society wants things to stay the same.

"Life is not easy for any of us, but what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained." Madame Marie Curie

Great mentoring is getting to our truths, to our passions-- to our true selves.

Mentoring is not shoulding on each other.

 Three Mentoring Goals for Your Work Together

 First: It is not about me it is about WE. We can’t do it alone. We need to help each other, understand one another. Get out of our bubbles of commonality and diversify our life experiences. We have to embrace our common destiny. That our hopes and dreams all linked, connected, networked together. We have to get beyond me and strengthen the WE.

 Second: Align our lives with our passions. What do we really want? What inspires us? How do we awaken the spirit within each of us that we have a lot more to give? Pablo Casals Takes courage to listen to your goodness and act on it. Locked inside each of us is our truths—like a sculpture locked inside the granite. It takes a hammer and chisel to sculpt. Freeing our passions from the stone of complacency is hard work.

 Third: Lead by example. We have to mentor and help one another. Each of us is a role model whether we like it or not. People look to us as an example of what to do and how to live. They need to see what is possible. What example are we setting? Who are we mentoring? What difference are we making? We each have to live our legacy. Our legacy is the example we set. That is the legacy we leave.

 This is our time. There is no other time.

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

Right now. Lean in, but stand up, stand for something, otherwise we fall, we fall for anything.

We have much for which to be grateful. But what will we do to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

Thank you for asking me to share my thoughts.

Thank you for being here and being you.

Thank you for what you will do for each other.

Thank you for not giving up on yourself, on your dreams and the dreams of others.

We need your dreams.

Thanks for reading. John


Avoid Career Alzheimers--Reconnect to Your Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

Here's my mythical wikipedia post for Career Alzheimers:

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John 


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


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

 


Breaking the addiction to Zoloft for our souls

Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. H L Mencken attributed.

Used in the 1960 Oscar nominated film, Inherit the Wind, where a newspaper editor says, "It is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

I think this is everyone's job. This is why we exist. To care for those suffering and to make those not suffering to care.

Harvard released a study that shows that the protesters for the Occupy movement represent the top 1% of the world's population in wealth! We are all too comfortable!

More than ever we medicate our soul to avoid feeling for others. In order to focus on our needs we turn a blind eye to those in need.  

Nature abhors a vacuum. None exist.

Our  souls despise emptiness. Yet many seem to be.

We fool ourselves into to thinking we are caring and empathetic. We wear colored ribbons, and stand when the military is present, we buy products that support our causes, and we talk/complain about the needs of the poor and down trodden. These are all commendable gestures but we know they are insufficient. We know in our hearts that we should do more. We know that our actions are passive and not confronting the real problems. We make excuses that the issues are complex, overwhelming, and beyond our expertise. So we do nothing. It is zoloft for the soul. Each time we fool ourselves by doing or thinking something "good" we take a swig of anti-depressants to numb us from the reality. Numb is dumb. And we know it.Zoloft

We know that all problems are addressed one person, one family, one, neighborhood, and one community at a time. Taht one person can make a difference. But we can easily hide in the shadows of the enormity of the issue or problem. "My kid's school is bad, but it is the system that fails our children, so my involvement with the PTA will do nothing." "Homelessness is primarily caused by mental illness, so what can I do?" "I really do want to volunteer, but I am very busy right now." I remember asking a man on my board at Big Brothers Big Sisters, why he was involved. He said. "I am here for the kids." I told him none of the kids will ever be at a board meeting you have to come to our events, to the schools, or to our offices during the work day to see the kids. He told me he was too busy for that. Our soul cries out for a more fulfillment and more humanity in our lives and yet we pretend, procrastinate and hesitate.

The map is not the territory.  Alfred Korcybski

We have to deep dive into these issues we care about to understand them. We have to pursue them with passion and compassion. We have to see and experience the issue first hand. What is the truth about my kid's school? Or about the homeless in my area? Which organizations are devoted to this issues? How can I help? What are others doing? Does my charitable giving follow my heart? We have to answer and pursue these questions with our network and our mentors. We have to advance our thoughts to test our convictions and our commitments.

We talk more about the next product we are going to buy, the video we saw,  complain about our dental benefits, or feed the rumor mill with our gossip. All of these diversions are part of the way we medicate ourselves.

Many people I meet talk about "helping others" or "changing the world" like it is a European vacation they will take upon retirement. They envision themselves having more time and flexibility in this utopian time ahead. That's when they will take the off ramp from the medicated freeway and put what they care about in the center of their lives. We know it is a lie. I get so depressed when I hear these false promises to become more altruistic and caring in a future time. It makes me want to take Zoloft, but  don't. :)

What people don't understand is we don't have much time. If you are 25 or 65, your time to define your life by your deeds and not just your thoughts is limited. You have to care AND act on those feelings now. Maybe you feel guilty. Maybe you are "doing enough". The truth is each of us can and should do more. We have to detox our souls from the comforting meds of avoidance and emptiness and replace them with heavy doses of the the realities of the opportunities to reduce the suffering that surrounds us.

The irony is once we do this, we fill our soul and we become more engaged in our lives. We meet people who share this lifestyle. We become more successful because our lives are more aligned with who we are, they become more reality based and less numb. We do it not just to comfort the afflicted but to afflict our souls with the comfort of truly being human.

 Thanks for reading. John


Lessons and reminders from reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


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