help others

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

Moving from Empathy to Altruistic Action

You know when you are thinking about something, then you seem surrounded by that idea. It appears everywhere. That's what is happening with me and the concept of altruism. It is emerging, at least in my worldview, as a trending solution for what ails us. I mean everything that ails us. I know, hang onto your hats and let me finish! :) We all know that in our hearts that caring for one another, unconditionally, is not only right but essential if we are to thrive. We all want to foster a sense of community with others. As Jeremy Rifkin says, a meaningful life comes from belonging not belongings!

No one we know is not empathetic or not compassionate--at least that is what we tell each other!

I had the extraordinary opportunity to meet and interview Matthieu Ricard, the respected scientist and Buddhist monk. His latest book Altruism, asserts that social change needs to start with each one of us. That if we each invoke the power of love and genuine care for one another we will change ourselves and the world around us. 

    To do this, we must cultivate altruism on an individual level, for that is where everything begins. Altruism shows us what is good to do, but also how one should be, and what qualities and virtues one should cultivate. Starting with a kindly motivation, altruism should be integrated into our everyday lives, and should reflect the unique quality of every being and every situation. We should promote altruism on the level of society through education, through institutions that respect the rights of every individual, and through political and economic systems that allow everyone to flourish without sacrificing the good of future generations.

Altruism is not just being good and doing nice things from time to time. It is a state of mind that grows and develops and is only strong when our self-centered individuality is secondary. You cannot be truly altruisitic if you are thinking about WIIFM (What’s in it for me)

Prior to meeting Ricard I confused the concepts of empathy, compassion and altruism. Ricard set me straight. While we need all of these perspectives and insights, we really need to adopt an altruistic lifestyle. An action oriented lifestyle of helping others without expectation.

Empathy is an act of humanity where we connect and relate with another. Empathy can lead to compassion and altruism but it can easily lead to distress, burnout and avoidance of action. Empathetic distress caused by the overwhelming dimensions of suffering can make us view suffering: abstractly, as disembodied needs, as nameless and faceless non-human objects and therefore not real. Ironically, empathy can push us towards greater isolation and selfishness. We do this to protect ourselves. And that leads to more concern for self—the enemy of compassion.

In fact new research from Paul Bloom and Richard Davidson contends that empathy alone can lead to less compassion. “The more empathy you have, the more violent you are—the more ready and willing you are to cause pain." This research shows that empathy for victims can create hate and anger

Reading Altruism and my time with Ricard shifted my views and assumptions in many ways. This is a book of philosophy and great stories. But this is also an in-depth book of scientific proof. Only a scientist Buddhist monk could write this. Here's what I learned:

  • Empathy is a vital human lens through which we examine ourselves and others. We need to feel for others and resonate with their circumstances. But empathy can be a step toward compassion and altruism. It is inadequate and even dangerous if it does not evolve into compassion and altruism. Change and action are not assured by feeling for others. So empathy can easily lead to isolation, burnout and empathetic distress. 
  • Compassion is the ability to see everyone as equals and worthy of our care, love and unconditional support. That we are all interconnected to each other. That our fates are tied together. And compassion alone is also inadequate without action.
  • Altruism is the unconditional assistance of "others". Altruism is relieving suffering without expectation. True altruism is not driven by an “ROI”, reciprocity, a quid pro quo, and/or personal gain.
  • Altruism is the antidote to empathetic burnout or fatigue. Helping others unconditionally—people we know or don’t know, feed our sense of purpose and gives us a physical and measurable neural lift. Altruism offsets the burden of need and the weight of guilt, and the stress from being unresponsive.
  • Mindfulness meditation are good if you want to rest and empty your mind. But what do we do with an empty mind before it gets re-filled with the congestion of life? Mindfulness and meditation have to have a purpose, a focus. Meditation focused on compassion fills your mind and shifts your brain toward positive action and behavior. As Matthieu warned us, a great sniper needs to be mindful. He needs to be present, breathe calmly, and reach a state of serenity before he kills people.
  • Purposeful meditation can change your mind and lead to physical as well as spiritual growth. At any age and at any stage, you can learn altruism and meditation is the path.
  • We have to see ourselves less as individuals and more interconnected to fates and destinies of all people and living things, including our environment and planet. Individualism is great for talent and competitiveness, but it undermines our compassion and altruism. Ricard 2

What I learned from Ricard is we have to add intentions, purpose, and then action to our feelings. We deceive ourselves that sympathy, empathy, compassion make us altruistic. In the end altruism is about action. Yes we should feel for others and resonate with their suffering (empathy and sympathy). Yes, we should want to alleviate the suffering (compassion). But without action these are selfish, self-medicating, self-absorbing thoughts that fall short of altruism.

Hate, ignorance, anger, indifference, neglect, are heavy burdens we suffer that dissipate when you are altruistic and express compassionate love. We relieve our own suffering through acts of altruism.

Ricard discussed the amazing work he is doing with school children, about 100,000 involved in compassionate meditation. It is having fantastic results. Calming our kids to focus on themselves and others. One of the stories he shared involved elementary school students, referred to as the “stickers test.”

On two occasions, at they gave each of the students a certain number of stickers they adore so much, along with four envelopes containing respectively a photo of their best friend, their least favorite child, an unknown child, and a visibly ill child wearing a bandage on his forehead. They asked each child to distribute the stickers in the four envelopes. They gave almost all of their stickers to their best friend, and very few to the others. After ten weeks of meditation and practicing benevolence, the students were asked to distribute the stickers in the same envelopes.  The students gave an almost equal number of stickers to the four groups of children: they no longer made any distinction between their favorite classmate and the one they liked least.

It has changed the way I talk and teach mentoring and networking. Mentoring and networking can be selfish pursuits of manipulation and self-serving activities without compassion and alrtruism. While I have been trying to counter self-centeredness with interconnectedness, I realize that I never explicitly embedded positive care, love and authentic regard for one another in my teachings. I assumed it was there. That was wrong.

We are not that far from becoming truly altruistic. But it requires us to train, learn and continue to evolve. Ricard really gave me new thoughts that help me understand my own shortcomings and growth opportunities.

Empathy is not enough. Mindfulness is insufficient. Inaction and apathy are self-destructive. We have to become more connected, compassionate and altruistic if we want to save the world and ourselves.

Thanks for reading. John


Put this on the Top of Your Wish List

Wishing is one of the most powerful forms of articulating our needs. Seems like the holidays and the New Year bring out our wishes more than any other time.  We hear a wish and want it to happen. Think Make-A-Wish Foundation. The idea that something hard to get might be attainable is hopeful and inspiring. Everybody has wishes. What are yours? And what are the people around you, people you care deeply about , wishing for? Not what we want! Not gifts, stupid. Not the PS4, the iPhone6, or a Prada purse or other meaningless stuff. But a true wish for our lives and well being that comes from our hearts and souls. Wish dandelion_wish_2-t2

When we blow out a birthday candle or throw a penny into a wishing well, we all revert to a childlike state of hoping for a millisecond that something magical can come true. Just before our cynical, impulsive and over-bearing brains take over--we express a real secret thought that has real meaning. But that beautiful moment is trashed by horrific sounds and images of reality!

Reality is the leading cause of stress for those in touch with it. Jane Wagner

This is not about you! It rarely is. So dial back the WIIFM (What's In It For Me). Think about people around you, people you love. Do you know their wishes? Really? When is the last time you talked about such wishful thinking?

I have the chance to meet hundreds of people every year through my work, my volunteering, and my presentations. Almost always, I confront people with the Wish Obstacle-something I learned from Barbara Sher. "I always wanted to_______, but__________ ."I ask people to fill in the blanks and articulate their wish to a stranger in the audience--What their wish is and why they don't have it or even pursue it. It always triggers a robust discussion. The stranger can't help but offer assistance and advice and genuinely wants to help this random and accidental new friend. But the other thing that happens is people blurt out wishes that they have never said to anyone and reveal highly personal thoughts to an innocent bystander! I have learned that we all have these pent up wishes.

Ask a child you will see over the holidays (under 10 years old)--what they are wishing for. After they give you a long list of material things, tell them not a gift and then be quiet-let them think. More often than not the child, oh to have the authenticity of a child, he/she will say something that will blow your mind. Here is a sampling of what I have heard: "I wish mommy and daddy would stop fighting." "I am scared to go in the bathroom at school. I wish they would clean it up." "I wish people would stop hurting each other." Be prepared to talk about their wish and not dismiss their moment of truth. Kids say the darndest things and are we listening?!

If we knew what people were truly wishing for to make them whole, to give them more fulfillment, even meaning in their lives, then we could help them pursue it--and that would be the greatest gift.

So what are your friends and family wishing for?

Mom santa fe
My mom and sister in Santa Fe

So a number of years ago I called my Mom and asked her the Wish/Obstacle. She gave me the classic mom answer, "Oh you know I don't need anything." As we all know it is impossible to buy gifts for your mother! But I pushed and told her not a gift, something she wanted. And immediately she said, "I always wanted to go to Santa Fe, but don't think I will ever get there." I had never heard this before and asked why she didn't go to Santa Fe. She said, "Your dad doesn't travel anymore and I probably won't see Santa Fe." That sent me into motion on a mission. I called my brother and sisters and we put together a trip. My sister Tomi went with my mom and they did Santa Fe! A wish fulfilled. Do we know what people are wishing for?!

Now I am going to ratchet it up a notch or three. Now think about the person who you care about but with whom you have a broken relationship. The one that hurts you in your heart. We all have them. We have to repair this relationship for ourselves. We have to avoid the bigger regrets that just will grow over time. As I have said so many times, "Regrets become tumors!" Reach out to this person during the holidays. Why now? Because it is NOW and because the holidays open doors, windows and little cracks of light. So reach out and tell them your wish. "I wish we had a better relationship, but I need your help to make this happen." Don't apologize, don't bring up the past, don't waffle wiggle and wander. Just state your wish. The truth in this wish might re-kindle something, hopefully not more negativity. But you stepped up and out to meet your challenge. This is not a magical gimmick that repairs relationships. It is a starting point for you to take the next step. It is a way for you to say something good to somebody you care about. You need each other.

Wishing does not make anything happen. Helping people get their wishes is a mission. 

I wish for all of you to connect to the people you love. To connect to the people who you have lost touch with. To reduce your regrets by helping others and yourself. 

Making other people's wishes come true will restore your faith, your childlike faith, in the magic of possibility and the glory of the relationships which matter most.

Thanks for reading. John


Who got you here?

Yes, yes, yes--we all need to be more grateful, more thankful for what we have. Feel fortunate and blessed for the opportunities and people in our lives. Yes, and the research shows that if we do this we will be happier and healthier--and live longer. We all agree with this and most of us think we do do these things. 

But how did you get here, to this point in your life? To right now? 

There are still a few people out there that still believe that they have controlled their own destinies. That they pull the levers of their lives with no help from others and they alone are responsible for their successes. I know this is crazy, but we all know people like this. They live in a mythical  "I" world.

Linkedin JEK
My Linkedin Map

From the research of Robert Emmons, an expert on gratitude:

People who are ungrateful tend to be characterized by an excessive sense of self-importance, arrogance, vanity, and an unquenchable need for admiration and approval. Narcissists reject the ties that bind people into relationships of reciprocity. They expect special favors and feel no need to pay back or pay forward. 

Entitlement is at the core of narcissism. This attitude says, “Life owes me something” or “People owe me something” or “I deserve this.” In all its manifestations, a preoccupation with the self can cause us to forget our benefits and our benefactors or to feel that we are owed things from others and therefore have no reason to feel thankful. Entitlement and self-absorption are massive impediments to gratitude. You will certainly not feel grateful when you do receive what you think you have coming, because after all, you have it coming. Counting blessings will be ineffective because grievances will always outnumber gifts.

Were narcissistic entitlement a condition that afflicted only a small percentage of humankind, then there would be little cause for concern. 

In addition, to your mother who brought you into this world, nothing any of us have done has been done alone. We get help, support, mentorship, inspiration, and energy from others. I am not even talking about our ancestors who suffered and toiled to get us here. My focus here are the people that got you to this NOW.

I think about this everyday. Not because I am such a grateful person although I try. But because I wonder who introduced me to this person I am with?, who helped me get on this board?, who advised me?,  who invited me? who hired me? who referred me?....I can't stop thinking about it. It builds this giant ladder, scaffolding, this network  around me. The incredible accumulation of help, support, mentoring and ass-kicking I have been lucky to receive. 

Yes "I" have been ready for some of this help and support. "I" prepared myself for some opportunities. But if I am honest with myself, I realize that my Net enables me to Work. My Network is behind me, beside me, and below me to push. catch and pull me. Yes, I have to have goals and ideas and passion, but without the network I am not empowered to succeed.

We careen through life and our orbits, trajectories, and perspectives are changed by every encounter with people and experiences. But certain people have influenced you and helped you more than others.  

 I am because we are. I am what I am because of who we all are. Ubuntu

I am constantly humbled by these thoughts. (And some would tell you, that makes my healthy self concept more tolerable! :) So I try to let the people who got me here know how I am doing and to thank them for their help. When I do this, it always makes both of us feel good. Like a little life loop was closed. And I try to help anyone who asks for help, not because I expect something in return but because that's what people did for me. Pay it forward. Pay it back. But give thanks to the help we get and the help we give. 

This is what propels us. This is the fuel for our lives. 

But once you start believing your own bio, your own press releases, you can start to hallucinate that you have designed your own life.

Who got you here? The list is long. Take a moment to appreciate your Network. Then drop a few of them a note, a text, an e-mail, a call to thank them for helping you get here. Not just this week, but anytime you think of it. This not a holiday thing, this is a gratitude thing. This is a network thing.

There is no "I" in network. (sorry could not resist)

Yes let's be grateful and filled with gratitude--then let's acknowledge and thank the people that got us here--everyday!

Thank you for helping me get to this point in my life by allowing me to express myself and to connect with you. Thanks for reading. John


What Would the Wolf Do?

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.  John Muir 

This video beautifully and inspiringly tells the story of trophic cascades, basically where the top of the food chain is disrupted and the changes that follow. In this case, the re-introduction of the wolves into Yellowstone National Park dramatically shifted the course of the entire eco-system from the migration pattern of the elk to the height of the forest to the direction of the river. A great and visual lesson on the unknown consequences of changing things in our environment, in our worlds. We know everything is connected to everything else. We intellectually understand that at the atomic level we are in an infinite sea of life. We are part of this connectedness. What we do matters. There are immediate and unseen impacts from our actions and our in-actions that reverberate out and into the future. 

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. - Mother Teresa 

We also know that we have to do what we were meant to do. We can not hold back. Yes to be fulfilled and to feel purposeful. But we need to do it because of the ripple effect. The waves it sends out to others. We want to help others. We do. That's why I have advocated a lifestyle of networking and mentoring to help others. If we make it part our lives, part of the way we think and act, then it is not special, it is routine. And the ripples reverberate your righteousness. 

When we are wolves seeking our habitat and doing what wolves need to do. We change the world.

When we are not wolves we suppress nature, and the world changes anyway, often without us. 

Intuitively we think we know what happens when we do something. The cause and effect. We naively imagine a linear relationship of our actions and the intended consequences. But what really happens and what happens if we do nothing?

The world without wolves?

But too often we wait. Wait for a sign, for the "right time". We contemplate our navels and consider our options. We take chances or we balk at choices. We embrace the fear or we regret it later. We show up or don't. We say what's on our minds or we shrink from the truth.

There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.  James Baldwin

Consider, if we do not act or speak or assist someone. Consider what happens if we do not build relationships, connect, network and mentor each other. Consider the cascade of events that would happen if you do or do not.

We have many excuses. We tend to think about obsess about what will go wrong. How I will be embarrassed. The inconvenience of the time. 

What if:

If I did not talk to this woman on a plane I would not be married and have three kids!

If I did not take a pay cut for a job I loved I would not be in this career.

If my mother had not encouraged me to be a YMCA counselor I may not have become a Big Brother.

If I did not become a Big Brother I would not be writing this blog.

I am sure you have  a longer and better list, if you think about it. We can think of these as special even magical moments. They are. And they aren't. The more you do the more that these moments occur. And best of all it triggers consequences well beyond you. 

We know your very presence makes a difference. But we forget. 

You avoid talking about politics, religion, or anything controversial or revealing about you, for fear of judgment or being politically incorrect. And your voice is silenced. People that look to you for guidance hear nothing and they adopt silence and neutrality as a mode of living. And your silence begets silence.

It is the slipperiest of slopes. You do less and less to protect what you have.

What our peers do matters. We crowd source. We pride ourselves on individualism but we can default to the lemmings. We follow and fall for what others around us do.

Maybe you need a different crowd. 

We have to be ourselves. Our best selves. Our most generous, compassionate and empathetic selves.

You agree to mentor someone even though "you are busy" and there is a cascade.

What happens to everything around and after you, if you are not you?

Nature abhors a vacuum. So when you fail to act, to show up, to do what you want to do the world changes anyway. The cascade of events that follow your absence is different. 

All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you.  Octavia Butler 

But will you be the change that starts a beautiful cascade of events that you can not predict and only your presence generates? 

It all starts with giving without an expectation. 

The future is helping children you will never know. 

Give up on your dream and your instincts and you mess with the cosmos. 

WWWD? The world needs your ripples. 

Thanks for reading. John

 


Give AND Get

We have all been told that it is better to give than to receive. I know as a kid this was never intuitive. We constantly wanted to receive. We had so many needs and wants. As a child, receiving was way better. But as we grew and matured we understood the wisdom in this maxim. You realize that you Get what you Give. That sharing is not an act of generosity but a necessity of the soul. Material things fade in importance and meaning replaces money. We understand that we have much more to give from our wealth, our wisdom, and our work. Guilt can motivate but gratitude sustains our generosity. We learn the intrinsic benefit of giving that redeems us as givers.

When you give, you feel generous, you feel powerful. When you think about others you strengthen yourself. While we may give to get these benefits, we need to always remind ourselves that we have the precious opportunity to give--we get to give.  Give-get1_11-282

For it is in giving that we receive. Francis de Assisi

As a country we are generous. We have been a model of philanthropy and giving of time and money for the world. But when we measure our efforts not as a comparison to other nations but to our own expectations we might come to different conclusions. 

The average US household gives about 4.2% of their income. Most of it goes to church , alma mater and to the hospital, about 67% of all giving. *

Wealthier people give less. Households making over $200,000 a year (top 5% of earners) who live in really nice neighborhoods give 50% less than the average American household. In fact only one zipcode of the top 20 wealthiest zipcodes (where average income approaches $500,000) is in the top 1000 zipcodes of giving %. *

So it is also surprising how little we give. Aren't you surprised? What should we give 5%, 10%, more? 

If we moved the needle to 5% fo all Americans individual giving would increase about $60 billion a year!

Each of us can give more. We can. 

But why do we give? What motivates us? 

In a newish book by Adam Grant, Give or Take, he details the benefits of giving. With decades of research he concludes there are three types of people. 

Givers: They give without expectation and make giving a priority. They look for giving opportunities not just react to them. 

Matchers: They keep track of the score. Who owes whom. They believe in full reciprocity and equity. I scratch your back......

Takers: They always make out  in all transactions even in giving. They are Me first.Only give if they gain.

Of course, few admit they are Takers, but we all know them. I meet gobs of them. They try to be subtle and sly but you spot them a mile away. Their favorite radio station is WII-FM. What's In It For Me! Giving to them is a deal where they reap the profit. Most people think they are Matchers, some are disguised Takers. Matchers see equity in giving. Matchers beleive in equity and that they should always get their fair share. Givers trust others intentions. They believe in giving first and last. Givers are represented at both ends of the barbell. Super successful and failures. People who give generously ascend their worlds or they foolishly give everything away without any self-interest. But givers who are not fools are the most successful.

Grant makes many surprising findings that basically reinforce the idea that unconditional giving to those in need, to a cause greater than themselves, builds a base of support and connects them to new worlds. In other words, it strengthens your network! A network that is diverse and "touches multiple domains and worlds."

Grant asserts that giving always helps the giver most. He describes many studies and cases here. Once the Giver understands the need, meets the people with need, connects with the need, then the Giver benefits more. Givers think of themselves as role models. They think about the consequences of not giving. Givers care. 

So as a fundraiser, I have met all types with every conceivable motivation and angle. In the non-profit world there is usually a "Give or Get" requirement for members of boards of directors. Meaning you have to give or get money for the non-profit with some $ minimum. Even though this is a "requirement" many do not meet it. I prefer Give AND Get--meaning you must give something personally to have "skin" in the game. The amount is what you can afford, but you need to be personally invested. My experience is that few board members meet and exceed these duties. They refuse to give. I have watched hedge fund managers whine like babies. Super wealthy folks give more excuses than a tardy teenager. These are phony givers. They masquerade as givers but do not give. They are Takers who are not truly committed to the cause or the organization they brag about serving. 

Some jaded and cynical people tell me that rich people got rich by being Takers. But as Grant shows in his book, true Givers are the ones who go to the top. 

On the other hand, I have met so many truly generous people who I aspire to be like. To always help. To always give. To always personally invest myself. These giving mentors have shown me the way. Taking is short term, and matching takes a lot of effort to keep track.  I have learned that my capacity to give can grow with practice and exercise. I can and must give more. 

So in life you have to Give AND Get. We all want to be givers. The more you give proactively the more you get. Your giving and the way you give mentors your children and everyone else who looks up you. If you give more without an expectation, without listening to WII-FM, you will receive so much more than you imagined. 

We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give. Winston Churchill

Thank you for giving me your attention. And for what you give to others. John

*Chronicle of Philanthropy study of giving 2013


5 Years of Blah Blah Blog

I started this blog in 2008, just before the collapse of the economy.  350 posts, more than 30,000 words and 120,000 page views later, I never dreamed it would have taken me on this journey. I guess it is like life, if you trust yourself and push ahead then it will take you to amazing places. And it has. I really started SWiVELTime for me. I wanted the discipline of researching, writing, and thinking every week. For me it is an enjoyable struggle to come up with material every week that allows me to express my observations and learnings. (I am in awe of the Seth Godins who post every day.)

My content moved over time from the common myths and tools of networking to a more macro perspective on the potential of the individual. Over the years I have lost readers due to this change. They wanted tools and techniques. Something they can put to use right away. It is a perfectly rational and reasonable expectation. But I have always felt the need to lay the context and conditions of personal and professional growth before discussing the how-tos. And you and this blog have pushed me deeper into my root structure of understanding so I can grow. I am more consumed by my obsession about the human potential and the distractions and resistance we encounter preventing us from becoming who want to be—who were meant to be. I am more convinced than ever that we are interconnected and interdependent. That our destinies are tied to one another. That WE is so much stronger than me. That's why I have become more focused on the why over the what.

Chinese-Bamboo-Forest
Chinese Bamboo Forest

 Mentor and network for the greater purpose of helping others rather than the acquisition of an infinite and unfulfilling more for oneself.

Reminded of the amazing story of a particular strand of Chinese bamboo which only develops its roots for 5 years and then in the 6th year it breaks the ground and grows 75 feet high! (cited in Paulo Coelho's book Aleph)

This blog has refined and sharpened my presentations and vice versa. A great dance of learning and understanding between my readers and audience members. A dance of possibilities.

If I had a tatoo ( I have none:) It would bear my favorite quote that symbolizes this blog:

Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. F. Peter Dunne

I have tried to do both. As John Wooden told me, "Sometimes you have to slap people on the back and sometimes a little lower."

The feedback I have received from you has humbled me. It has taught me many lessons. It has guided and mentored me. People have revealed themselves to this obscure blogger and it has energized my belief in the incredible potential that we all possess.

Despite the millions of resources on the web, there seems to be a need for these conversations, for these explorations of questions that define our lives. Few places espouse the adoption of a lifestyle of mentoring and networking. 

Like all good teaching and mentoring, the teacher and the mentor benefit most. You have changed my trajectory, my orbit, and my path.

As my mother says when I thank her---Okage sama---Thanks to you!

Thanks for your indulgence, for your readership and for helping me continue to learn. This is not a trite way to fish for congratulations or gratitude. It is merely an acknowledgement of my deep appreciation for your contributions in making this blogger a better person and better at his job.

In this sixth year and in the spirit of the Chinese bamboo, I wish for you a great growth spurt in your opportunities and prosperity.

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

 


Gluten-Free Alumni Network

I recently attended an informal and delightful gathering of my former colleagues from my previous life as an alumni director at UCLA. It had been about 15 years since we had all seen each other. I learned early in each of my careers: seek out the influencers, the leaders, and the potential mentors in the industry. Connect with the people who will facilitate your education in that field. Alumni work was no different. I found a group of remarkable mentors. These gentlemen continue to be industry thought leaders and helped me define my life beyond my stint in alumni work.

Eustace Theodore at Yale: He taught the importance of understanding your institution's history. He characterized alumni work as continuing a great conversation.

Steve Grafton at Michigan: He taught me that nice guys do finish first. And how to honor traditions and evolve beyond them.

Bill Stone at Stanford: Bill mentored me in many ways, but the value of the words we use to articulate mission may be the most lesson. He also told me, “never have people who make less than you on your compensation committee.” :)

Doug Dibbert at North Carolina: Generously shared his wisdom with me. He humbled me to enjoy the journey more than my career aspirations. Sage advice.

Photo
Doug, me, Steve, Bill and Eustace

 

We ended up meeting up at Roy’s Restaurant in San Francisco where Bill’s wife Debbie Duncan joined us. I opened the menu and saw that they had a gluten free menu. We have recently come to expect this offering as we have become hyper aware of food allergies and celiac in particular. This menu triggered a conversation about Debbie’s gluten allergies, and the precision or the lack thereof, with these “gluten-free” offerings. She warned us that relying on the special menu needs to be accompanied with instructions to the kitchen to insure a more gluten free meal. For those with an intolerance for wheat, gluten can be dangerous.

This reminded us of a story about Bill and Debbie’s daughter Molly. Molly has endured gluten allergies her entire life.

Gluten freeMore than 20 years ago, when celiac and gluten were not in our vocabulary, Bill was commiserating with me about the fate of his daughter Molly. Molly was very sick, not able to eat and was dangerously losing weight. He was a bit emotional, and I could tell that he feared the worse. He asked for my help.

The week before I was at a picnic with some UCLA alumni and a couple of parents were talking about their daughter and how she was not able to eat and lost a lot of weight. They found out that she had “a wheat intolerance”. Once they removed wheat products from her diet she gained weight and was back to normal. I saw her little daughter running around the park as proof of what seemed like a minor miracle to these parents. Never heard of anything like it before.

Back to my distressing conversation with Bill about his “emaciated” daughter Molly. I said, “Bill, I heard about this ailment of “wheat intolerance” over the weekend. I am just repeating what I heard but it sounds strangely like what Molly has.” Bill was desperate to give the stumped Stanford Medical Center team any new leads. “I am going to tell them to check it out.”

Long story short, it was “wheat intolerance”. Today, Molly is a “perfectly healthy” 23 year old.

Debbie turned to me during our dinner, “You saved her life.”

Soon after Molly’s diagnosis, Debbie wrote a MY TURN column in Newsweek entitled, “What’s wrong with my baby?” This was one of the beginnings of the awareness of celiac and the seriousness of gluten allergies. She later wrote a best selling book to help siblings cope with an ailing brother or sister--When Molly was in the Hospital: A Book for Brothers and Sisters of Hospitalized Children.

I did what any friend would do. Tried to help with anything I had—even a bit of well-timed hearsay.

The lesson for me is to speak up and share what I know. Lead by helping people. Connect prople to other experts. Don’t pre-judge what you know or what others know. As Debbie pointedly described in her column, it was hard to believe that the battery of tests conducted at Stanford did not uncover the allergy.

My little water drop of seemingly innocuous advice was one of the many influences to push Debbie to write and help thousands of others---perhaps thousands of Mollys. Ocean drop

I am constantly reminded how much people help me with insights and “obvious” advice. How I try to help others with the same. Very little is universally understood and most people are unaware of where they need help.

I am constantly amazed when people write me or mention words I said that made a difference to them.

When your network asks for help you respond. You give and give generously without expectation.

Say what you are thinking, don’t hesitate. Yes, try to package it in a way that is digestible and palatable. But share what you know and what you see. This is how we help each other.

It could save or change a life. One thing is certain, it will change yours.

Thanks for reading. John


The darkside of reciprocity

When I first got into the networking game and tried to define what I was doing and why--I was drawn to the research on reciprocity. That reciprocity and mutual obligation are the most powerful sources of influence in the world. I was very influenced by Robert Cialdini's body of work, his lectures and my conversations with him.

The idea that networking and later mentoring revolved around creating mutual obligation. In fact I used to tell a long and very popular story about how we do favors for others--favors we don't want to do, but we don't know how to say "no".  When you are thanked for a favor you did not want to do, I counseled people to say, "I know you would do the same for me." And like you did the favor against your better instincts, the person who received your generosity will unwittingly say how they "owe" you. This gimmick "proved" our inner desire to help one another. That's what I thought and that's what I taught.

Expectations are the ruination of the individual.  Tomi D. Kobara

Iou

What I have learned since is that auto-reciprocity syndrome (I made this up), the robotic, sub-conscious process of responding to one another and owing one another is not a reflection of our true selves. 

The idea of expecting a return for our generosity is the darkside of reciprocity. That giving that is conditional, is really not giving. Once you plant the seed of obligation, the main growth comes through your selfishness. 

This conclusion generates all sorts of questions:

  • Giving for the tax deduction?
  • Giving for recognition?
  • Giving for personal gain?
  • Giving to create obligation?

Not saying that these forms of gifts are not good or needed. I think we would all admit that unconditional giving is different. Is any giving unconditional?

Yes! I have seen it. People who give freely and quickly. You have witnessed it too. Now do these people give to feel good and to feel good about themselves--isn't that a selfish need?

I am not counting this as reciprocity.

I love Steven Levine's distinctions about three types of giving. 

  • Beggarly Giving:  When we give with only one hand, still holding onto what we give.  In this kind of giving we give the least of what we have and afterward wonder whether we should have given at all.
  • Friendly Giving:  When we give openhandedly.  We take what we have and share it, because it seems appropriate.  It's a clear giving.
  • Kingly Giving: That's when we give the best of what we have, even if none remains for ourself.  We give the best we have instinctively with graciousness.  We think of ourselves only as temporary caretakers of whatever has been provided, as owning nothing.  

Are you a beggarly, friendly or kingly networker?

I mentally and intellectually made this shift from reciprocity in my giving awhile ago. I truly try to give unconditionally especially in my networking and mentoring. I have found it is so much less complicated when you don't keep score. Give first, give often, give without expectation. That is my goal.

Like everything in life the more often you do it the easier it becomes. 

Some people say give first and then get. I am going much further here. Just Give. Give because it reflects who we are and what we want to be. Give because it makes us feel good. Give anonymously. Give because we care. 

So in networking and mentoring, you give time, connections, and knowledge unconditionally. Generosity

I know I am not the only one who is thinking this way. I know that each of you is giving a lot of yourselves. And I truly appreciate how generous you are with your time and your resources. I am writing this as a confession about what I have learned about networking and mentoring over these decades. I am writing to remind me and anyone else that the greatest ROI is to the preservation of your authentic self. Becoming a "kingly" giver and networker is our goal.

People who view life as a zero sum game, they believe that every gift must be replaced. That every commitment generates a commitment. This is pure reciprocity.

Generosity is unlimited. You always have something to give. You have more to give.

I have had the great pleasure to hear Muhammad Yunus speak and he reminds me of this goal. He speaks in absolutes and I think purely about what we need to do as fellow human beings. His mission in life is "When poverty is in the museum". I love the vision of visiting a museum in the future with a comprehensive display on poverty! But he also talks about social business. Business that has no profit and gives its returns to the community and the customers. He was asked why a business that limits its profits would not qualify as a social business. He said, "When you get 1% in profits, it is human nature to try and make it 2%. Not having profits you focus 100% on the business of helping people." 

Likewise, when you think about what you get first or what you are owed, you put yourself before the gift. It compromises your generosity, your networking and your mentoring. 

How can we all give more freely because we are merely temporary custodians of possessions, connections and knowledge?

Life is not about trades and transactions. Not about IOUs. I have traded reciprocity for generosity.

Life is about being the best you can be and helping others be the same.

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

 

 


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


Help Other People Get What They Want

You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.  Zig Ziglar

(If you don't know who Zig is, research him, read him, listen to him. We lost him late last year. He was one of the greatest motivational speakers ever.) Zig

People who don't understand this quote do not understand the true power of their lives--they do not understand the power of a networking lifestyle. I have met thousands of people who think networking is a process of take and give. For these people they loathe networking because it feels so disingenuous. But Zig has captured it perfectly in his quote. You help other people get what they want first and you get everything. Skeptical?

Networking is always about giving without an expectation.

It's not about you, it is about WE. 

It is turning off the most popular radio station in the world WII-FM. What's In It For Me. When that station dominates the thinking process you will never get what you want or you will settle for short term gains that are neither sustainable or rewarding.

We want the same things. We want a sense of purpose. We want health and well-being. We want happiness and fulfilment. We want meaningful relationships. And we want to be financially comfortable. 

When we see our selves as helping others, we achieve all of these things. We see our connection to one another. We see that our destinies are tied together. That our purpose, our health, well-being, our relationships and ultimately our financial success is linked. Sure if you just want money this is the worst strategy. Focusing on money first inevitably means that some or all of the other things you want will suffer. 

Yes, you should be compassionate to others who have less and you should give generously of your time and resources to others in need. But I am talking about your network. So besides responding to requests for help affirmatively, what do you do to help others--people in your network.

Here are fundamental ways you can help others in your network. Four proactive ways that strengthen your connections. These are habits that the best networkers practice.

  1. Refer: Send information about potential clients, partners, vendors to your network. Refer people directly to them. Connecting people that can help one another. Everyone is grateful for a warm reference for a service provider. Be the Yelp for your friend network.
  2. Share: Send your network articles, research, and books that you think will advance their thinking for their businesses, careers, and avocations. Amazon loves me. I send out a couple books a week. Few things can link people like a book that can be shared. 
  3. Compliment/Congratulate: Send notes, posts, and tributes to people for no specific reason except that you were thinking about them. This is more random than birthdays, Xmas and new jobs. Send them a note about good things you have heard or how you refer to them to others. I make dozens of donations every year "in honor of the leadership and commitment of ______"--I send it to the favorite charity of people in my network. People are hungry for compliments, especially from a friend or someone they respect. I was asked in an icebreaker once "who my hero was". I did not hesitate I said the principal at my kids' school. She was a force for good. I later told her what I said. This was twenty years ago. I recently saw her by chance and the first thing she said to me was how much that story meant to her.
  4. Introduce: One of the most powerful things you can do is introduce people to one another. Not a romantic matchmaker but a connector of human spirits that could help one another. Different than referrals, this is the active process of linking people in your network to one another. One of our roles as networkers is to make the world smaller. So introduce people at receptions, at meetings, and online. Be a connector. 

If you go out looking for friends, you're going to find they are very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you'll find them everywhere. Zig Ziglar

Like everything, your perspective matters most. If you see making friends as a hassle and time consuming and distracting from your real goals, then you will not have complete success. If you see the world as a bunch of potential friends and connections, then you will meet many people and your life will be richer. And when you help those people proactively, then your life will reward you in all the ways you want. 

Choose the lifestyle of networking and helping others and you will get everything you want.

Thanks for reading. John