listen to your heart

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

 


Cooking up the Supreme Career

How did we end up where we are, right now? What were the thousand of unmemorable decisions, influences, strokes of luck (bad and good), right place right time circumstances that conspired for you to be right here. Some of you are smiling and others are not. We all have stories, do we not?! While our resumes and bios give certainty of credit and trajectory, we all know better. In fact we have forgotten most of the things that really contributed to our successes. Bits of advice, mentoring moments, what friends said or did, a death, a birth, a movie you saw, a speech you heard......hundreds of things that shaped your point of view and pushed and pulled you to where you are.

Are you noticing what is influencing, could be influencing you now? Emerson

In the last 72 hours I was reminded of the subtlety and fragility of those moments and messages. When I was younger I was "too focused" too ambitious" to see so much. I was lucky to have gained anything--and I did. I feel like I see and hear so much more today. Yeah, the clock is ticking but I am paying attention with a heart and mind that knows how much I don't know. That I still have unexplored talents and potential hidden within me. 

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

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

  • I lead a workshop for 74 newbies in the field of philanthropy. We all paused to reflect on the unpredictable circumstances that pushed us into philanthropy--a field none of us "majored in" or can explain to our parents! So is this a way-station to something else or is this the most important opportunity of our lifetime so far ?(choose #2). How do we make the most out of what we have and where we are?
  • Visited the incredible Frank Gehry exhibition at LACMAThe genius of Frank's architecture could have easily been lost to his stronger interest in becoming a pilot. His ceramics class unexpectedly led him to architecture. He ignored his professor who told him that architecture was not his field. And later after he designed a typical shopping center in Santa Monica, a mentor asked him if he was happy designing for others. Frank quit his cushy job and took a giant leap--and the rest is history. How do we respond to self-criticism and the judgment and discouragement of others? How do we do what we love?
  • Saw He named me Malala  film where a 14 year old girl literally gets shot in the face with her destiny and becomes the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Her unique parents, her name, her incredible personality, the influences of the needs around her and the Taliban forged her destiny. How do we uphold our values and the rights of others? How do we react to tragedy, pain and threats? 
  • And then to top it off I saw Lost Angels, a gritty documentary about the fates of regular people who end up on skid row. Poignant stories of choices, challenges, misfortune, and the ovarian lottery. How do we manage our balance, sanity, finances, addictions, and demons to stay on the straight and narrow?  How do we make the most out of what we have?
  •  

Stuff happens. Switches get flipped. New paths appear. People push, others pull. You get bored, inspired, discouraged and educated. Outside forces influence your little asteroid into a different orbit and trajectory--if you let them. What chances and changes do we prevent from happening? What do we suppress, fail to express, and under-value in our pursuit of the practical and prudent? What is right in front of you right now that you can't see because your lenses are zoomed in on what is more important to others than to you? 

All of the ingredients are in your cupboard to make the supreme meal. What do you have that you have forgotten about? What do you have that you have never tasted or used? How do you focus on where you are and what you are doing to make it supreme?

Every moment is fleeting, fragile and filled with opportunity. The emergence of your passions and purpose grow within you. Meaning and fulfillment are not foreign destinations you hope to visit some day, they surround you. You have what it takes. The possibilities within you are untapped. The opportunities around you are boundless.

I want to incorporate the flavors of the newbie beginner's mind, the outside perspective of Gehry,  Malala's courage, and the humility of the homeless into my cuisine. 

What do you want?

Put on your apron, open your cupboard, sharpen your knives---let's get cooking!!

Thanks for reading. John

 


Numb and Number

Probably my age and stage in life but I am getting more sensitive (that's very funny John). No seriously I cry at TV ads and even the mention of tear jerking stories. I am sure I am going through some type of hormonal change (no jokes please). But I know I am much more aware of the preciousness and speed of life and my awareness about the world around me has been heightened. I see, hear, feel, and understand more--at least I think so. 

Vulnerability is a word I encounter and use more often. It applies to so much of what I do and what I am thinking about. 

vul·ner·a·ble         ˈvəln(ə)rəb(ə)l/
adjective
susceptible to physical or emotional harm.

synonyms: helpless, defenseless, powerless, impotent, weak, susceptible

person(s) in need of special care, support, or protection because of age, disability, or risk of abuse or neglect. Broken heart

We are all vulnerable. There are the truly vulnerable--those who have little or no support systems or safety nets. People who have extraordinary suffering daily. And there is the condition of connecting with the real feelings we have with the suffering around us.There are the vulnerable who need our help. And yet we all need to become more vulnerable--to be more susceptible to our feelings empathy and compassion. Vulnerable are people who are endangered and need help to advance their lives. Vulnerable is also a state of mind and heart that enable us to help the vulnerable.

Still with me? 

A lot of guilty people, including me, start sentences with "It breaks my heart that......." We need to break our hearts---break them open to the truth and realities of what we want, who we are, and what we are doing about it.

Our capacity for wholehearted living can never be greater than our willingness to be broken-hearted.  Brene Brown

From Parker Palmer's book the Healing the Heart of Democracy:

“Heart” comes from the Latin cor and points not merely to our emotions but to the core of the self, that center place where all of our ways of knowing converge—intellectual, emotional, sensory, intuitive, imaginative, experiential, relational, and bodily, among others. The heart is where we integrate what we know in our minds with what we know in our bones, the place where our knowledge can become more fully human. Cor is also the Latin root from which we get the word courage. When all that we understand of self and world comes together in the center place called the heart, we are more likely to find the courage to act humanely on what we know."
 
We are all numb and number. We suffer from an overdose of need. So we shut down our feelings to protect ourselves--or so we think. We use our devices, vices, and bad habits to distract us from reality. We objectify people in need and compartmentalize our feelings to keep moving on. As vulnerability grows around us, our ability to be vulnerable shrinks. We build thicker castle walls and deeper moats to protect us from these emotions. There is an internal war of trying to feel and trying not to feel too much. Numbness is winning.

My favorite quote:

Comfort the afflicted (the vulnerable) and afflict the comfortable (to make us vulnerable). --HL Mencken  I added the parenthetical comments to show this dichotomy of vulnerability.

You still with me? 

How do we help those in  need  and our own need to help? 

We all hesitate to say and do what we think--the things we know are right. We try to suppress our feelings, or hope that the moment will pass. We pretend that the moment and feelings do not matter. We regret those lost moments.

Brene Brown has done groundbreaking research on this latter vulnerability. Her Ted talk is one of the most viewed ever. She found that vulnerability is the source of great insights and development and ultimately a chance to be courageous and say and do things we want to do. 

Excerpt from Brene Brown: I cannot find a single example of courage, moral courage, spiritual courage, leadership courage, relational courage, I cannot find a single example of courage in my research that was not born completely of vulnerability. And so I think we buy into some mythology about vulnerability being weakness and being gullibility and being frailty because it gives us permission not to do it.

Please listen to this interview of Brene Brown conducted by the inimitable Krista Tippett. If you are slightly open to becoming more vulnerable this will open your mind and your heart.

We share everything but not what we really think and feel. We conform to the crowd not because we agree with them.

My boss calls it phony nice. But it is more than being honest with one another. It is being honest with oneself.

The present offers so many moments to engage our compassion, empathy, and energy for life. But we squander them.  I am trying to change before it is too late. 

Awareness is step one.

Force yourself to follow your heart to learn the realities of the vulnerable and become vulnerable. Push yourself into the worlds of suffering you care about. Surrender to the feelings and let them inform you and what you do. 

Not talking about serving soup at the midnight mission--although that would not hurt. I am talking about diving into the needs of your network and listen-- before you try to fix things!

Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle--a battle you know little about. attributed to Philo

What are other people's battles? Seek them out to understand and help.

What are your battles? What are you numb about? What is your heart saying? Help yourself.

Until we understand our battles we can not connect or mentor. We can not help one another. 

Compassion literally means to suffer with others. We cannot have compassion.

Becoming more vulnerable enables us to help the vulnerable. Every person has a battle. Every person has dreams. Every person wants to have an open heart and the courage to act on their true goodness.

In my greyness I am coming to realize that Brene Brown and Parker Palmer are right. Pursue vulnerability by becoming more vulnerable. Struggle over real things and real feelings is a battle, a battle worth fighting, battles we must try to win over numbness.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Snorkeling through Life and Drive By Passions

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

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

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

Snorkeling-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


Driving and Serving Your Passions

My speech from last month: Serve with Passion.

This last week I had three encounters that gave me pause about how we define our lives and our passions. How we define the path we want to be on. People say things to me that influence my own trajectory and I share them here.

ME-Banker

I talked to two young people within two hours of each other about their college applications. Every year I agree to help someone’s offspring with this joyful process. Inevitably, the conversation addresses the proverbial life question: “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” These young people have been well coached and they have well-rehearsed and semi-believable answers. These two college aspirants answered the question identically—“I want to be an Investment Banker, an I-Banker.” To which, I replied, “Really, why?” (Noticing this as a new trend among the youth—focus on making money) And they serve up a frothy blend of rationales that they have been fed by their well-meaning parents. A superficial Frappuccino of entrepreneurship, financial upside, and intellectual curiosity. Then I say, “I think you want to be a ME-Banker.” Sounding like a horrible stereotyped native American in some B western. “Doesn’t seem like you want to help others or solve problems, sounds like it is more about you and making money.” (check out the chart I lifted from a serious site promoting the profession of I-Banking) They look puzzled and I say, “Never mind, let’s talk about YOUR education and why YOU want to go to college.”  Whyibanking

Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Is

A quote from Steven Pressfield in his interview with Oprah. Love it! Pressfield is the author of one of my fav books, The War of Art. When will we act on what we say we care about? How do we overcome our obstacles to place a higher priority on our relationships, our health, our communities, and our careers? When do we actually invest ourselves in the process of making a difference vs. wishing we could? When was the last time you planned to change the world, your own world?

Takes courage to listen to our goodness and act on it.  Pablo Casals

I Am No Longer a Passenger, I Am Driving My Life.

Had lunch with a former colleague. She was giving me the usual update on her family and her job. It was like the predictable script that all of us have endured. Like a polite sparring match, no real blows are exchanged. It is nothing like boxing. It is a make believe conversation where no one has fun or gets hurt. We will have our luncheon update until the next exchange of pleasantries. I could not take it. So I blurted out, “Aren’t you due for a career change?” She is my age and has been at the same job for more than 5 years—close to her average tenure. She looked aghast. “I wasn’t going to talk about this…...” She then shifted into a fully engaged, wholehearted discussion of her plan to get more flexibility in her schedule, to move from LA and to plot out her retirement. Recently, she woke up to her mortality and decided that she needed to get behind the steering wheel of her life. She wanted more time for what was important to her. Time was more valuable than the money. Moving would make this possible. “I am no longer a passenger, I am driving my life!”, she exclaimed. Her office was starting the plans for a new 5 year project she would lead. She calculated the ages of her kids and estimated her own enjoyable lifespan and she has been driving ever since.

It’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.  Steven Pressfield 

Pur your priorities passions on the top of your to-do list. Your heart and your time would be chief among them. If we taught this to our kids they would be happier and more fulfilled. We gotta move from I-Banker to I-Driver. 

Thanks for reading. John

 


The Wisdom of 10 Year Olds

Pretty much all of the honest truth telling in the world is done by children. Oliver Wendell Holmes

If you have been around young people, especially those 10 and under, you know that profound things emerge from their brains and their mouths. If you let them. If you listen. Their minds have few if any filters. They speak what they think. Political correctness be damned. They know no such rules. Their thoughts are pure and real.

I always love talking to young people, because I try and remember what it would be like to be that free and open. 

Here are two random and indeed, profound thoughts I have encountered from two 10 year olds I know:

My daughter Malia just graduated from college, with honors I might add. (fortunately for her, intelligence skips generations!) But when she was 10 she wrote this poem for her gymnastics coach Zak. While I was a bit jealous of Zak, I love this timeless expression of her youthful life that may resonate with you. Wisdom beyond her years. Not because she was bright but because she was free.

Road of Life

By   Malia Kobara   Dedicated to Zak

 

Life is like a road

It just goes on and on

The loose pebbles

They are your mistakes

They make the journey rough

The hills …

The hills are your pleasures

You must work up to them

Before taking the joyous ride down

And the turns

Those mysterious turns

They are tomorrow and you

Yes, you decide what happens that next day

And after all these years on this road of life

I hope you know…

Your path can lead you anywhere

 

The second 10 year old is Caine of Caines Arcade fame. What I love about Caine is he is still a kid! Please watch this incredible video about the impact he has made as a rising 5th grader!

Coming back from his speaking engagement in Cannes France, he wrote these rules of life on a barf bag. Rules I suggest apply to all of us.

  1. Be nice to customers.
  2. Do a business that is fun.
  3. Do not give up. (Caine circled and underlined this one three times)
  4. Start with what you have.
  5. Use recycled stuff.

Caines Barf BagInside of each us is a free 10 year old who can express his/her emotions and ideas without fearing judgment. How do we re-kindle that creative, energetic spirit, that sense of freedom?

We have to!

We have to help others unlock their possibilities.

That is why we network and mentor. To help others write their poetry, their ideas, and to help them pursue their dreams. 

The key to unlocking this potential is by listening to our hearts and the hearts of others. When we speak and hear others speak passionately and freely we have to encourage it. Not apply our expectations or the expectations of others, but to find an outlet for that expression. We have to let others become who they are.

We see this pure expression in our kids. Maybe we all should learn from the wisdom of 10 year olds. 

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

 

 


What is your vocation, your calling? And are you listening?

Like a lot of words, vocation, has been misunderstood and misused.

vo·ca·tion  (v-kshn)

n. 1. A regular occupation, especially one for which a person is particularly suited or qualified.

2. An inclination, as if in response to a summons, to undertake a certain kind of work, such as a religious career; a calling.

As author Po Bronson asked in his quintessential career book, "What should I do with my life?" The question is what have you always wanted to or were you meant to do? For some this is an obvious and easy question and for most it presents great trepidation and challenges. This has been part of the quandary of our species since the dawn of time. We have always asked, "Why am I here? What am I supposed to do?"

Those of you who have raised kids or watched them grow up know that each child has a unique set of DNA and inclinations, traits, and talents. And if given encouragement and guidance to pursue those unique qualities, special things will happen. Too often the DNA is stunted, pruned back, conformed by the norms and wishes of a society that on one hand preaches a love of individuality but on the other often forces people into predictability. The greatest challenge and responsibility of parenthood is helping our kids find their calling.

Young people experiment with career ideas that start in their guts or in their wide open minds. Astronaut or President............Over time they start to appreciate their own interests, desires, and dreams that either get supported or don't. Other people's sense of "practicality" can interrupt the dreams and callings of younger people.Listening 

One's calling emerges from a blend of your DNA, your upbringing, and your world view. Your experiences trigger what you like and what you have confidence doing. You think of things that you SHOULD do, or things that you WANT to do. You see others doing something you would love to try. Some of these things are real candidates for your career and other things are put on a shelf of bucket list like items--Things I WILL do later.

There is a great misperception that the discovery of one's calling will be accompanied by a dramatic musical string arrangement and drums, skies that part revealing planets and stars, a bright light and a clear deep voice that provides life's instructions. Sorry to burst your bubble, that does not happen to us mortals.

Your calling is more like a whisper than a thunderous clap.

Most often, your calling unfolds through a great scavenger hunt of life. You get clues and advice along the path from your experiences and from people who guide you. You have intellectual and emotional reactions to these encounters with your calling. Either you are paying attention, listening, and taking note or you aren't. Many things interest you, but only a few really generate excitement and passion. And if you are fortunate, you pay attention and a theme or several themes emerge.

It may be art, kids, or pets. It may be solving puzzles, helping people, or writing. Subjects and skills you just enjoy doing and talking about. If you are drawing a blank right now, then you need more experiences. You need to pursue your curiosities. You need to meet people who are engaged in these issues and passions. Eventually, your calling will be like a constant emergency broadcasting tone that you heed and try not to ignore. That tone is a complex set of frequencies that is composed of may sounds and ideas from your past, your present and from your soul.

Listen for your calling and take notes.

Met Tom Tierney this week. Tom co-founded Bridgespan and authored a relatively new book called Give Smart. It is a wonderful guide to life and philanthropy. One of the many ideas he conveyed was our pursuit of "our calling." Connecting with what we are passionate in our lives, careers, and in our giving. He discussed this potential shift in trajectory that occurs when one evaluates "success" and wonders if this is it. That internal conversation that moves from "success to significance"--will my success be significant? Will it matter to more than me? We return to the age-old questions--What am I SUPPOSED to do? WHY am I here?

So the idea of a calling does not just arrive on a white horse and announce its presence. It must be stalked and pursued. Most of us mortals have to track down this elusive fugitive of a calling and take it into custody. Otherwise life goes by and you might achieve some success but little significance. And you may have missed what you were supposed to do!

Only you can hear your calling. Listen for your vocation and follow it.

We need people becoming who they were meant to be be. We need more passion. We definitely need more significance--your significance!

Thanks for reading. John


5 Lessons on Connecting, Conversations and Courage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


Are you hungry? Is your belly full of fire?

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

Hunger drives action. How hungry are you?

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

Some call it Fire in the belly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am still hungry. I need to eat! :)

Thanks for reading. John


Stop Listening to Your "Asian" Parents!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John

 


Lexicon of Life---Be defined by what you want not by the words you use

The word swastika is Sanskrit not German and is more than 3000 years old. The version on the right was high-jacked 70 years ago. Nevertheless swastika still means good fortune and well-being to much of the world.

I recently heard the remarkable Howard Bloom speak about the brain and our views of the world. He exhorted the audience, "To see everything as you never seen it before!" Why? Because we do not see things as they really are. We scan and assume. We pre-judge, we are governed by our habits and our moods. We gravitate to the easy answers that we often know are under-informed and possibly wrong. We rely on our instincts and intuition way too much. Ultimately, we see things, have thoughts and feelings, convert them to words and vice versa. Words generate thoughts/feelings and our perception is framed. Sometimes we let words drive our thoughts. And a bunch of swastika like words can get embedded in our mouths and our minds. We get off track because we don't question what we say and see. How we see our selves and our opportunities matters. So the words we use to describe our futures make a difference. Right?Dictionary

Last week I met with a group of grad students. I ask them, as I always do, what career/job/position do you want when you graduate? This is not a trick question, nor hopefully, a surprise query? :) But it always seems to startle these post-graduate recipients. Often I get a litany of buzzwords, jargon, and phrases intended to impress. Words such as CAREER, PROFESSION, JOB, and OCCUPATION are bandied about. Loose words and even looser thinking. Yet these immature thoughts are guiding behavior and establishing unintended goals. Sound familiar? Easy to make fun of grad students, but the lesson here is examine our words to keep us focused on what we want.

Words are so important. What they mean and how we use them. Most words we rely upon like the oxygen we breathe, we don't think about them or question their origins. Do we say what we mean or mean what we say?

Here is the John Kobara lexicon watch list of words to keep you on your toes:

CareerFrom the French word Carriere, which means two-wheeled vehicle like a chariot, a racecourse, similar origins as careen, so out of control. Supposedly became a "course of life". But it began as a vehicle going in circles very rapidly nearly out of control! Lily Tomlin said, "Even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat!" A career can seem cyclical and circular, speedily heading to a finish line that looks very much like the starting point.

Profession: Originally the "professing" of one's vows to religious faith. An occupation requiring specialized knowledge and training.

Job: A regular activity in exchange for payment.

Occupation: Process of filling up time and space. To be busy. To have a job.

Vocation: From vocare or vocatio, meaning summons or calling. Originally, a divine calling to the religious life. This is what your heart whispers to you or you have heard in the back of your mind, the work or activity that you prefer and like doing--even love doing, including your so-called passions. Are you heeding the calls? I have had many vocations and that's all I want!

Amateur: From the Latin word amator, meaning lover or someone in avid pursuit of a goal. A person who does an activity for the love of it.

We all want more than a job or an occupation. Do you want to be an amateur or a professional? To have a career or a vocation? Like the swastika, the words can limit what we see.  And our perceptions can deceive us. 

When you come to a fork in the road, take it!     Yogi Berra

Our questions have to be guided by what we want. Do we really want a new or different career or job? Or are you deeply and seriously interested in linking who you are to your like, your work, and your achievements?

A report by the British think tank Demos describes the rise of what is called the ProAm Revolution. There has been an increase in the number of amateurs who excel, rival and even exceed the standards and achievements of the professionals. People with day jobs who are accomplished in other areas. People who have dual careers, one paid and one un-paid. They are lawyers who paint. Doctors who volunteer. Teachers who write textbooks. Accountants who play the french horn. My blog and speaking have become my amateur work. This career duality helps them feel fulfilled and challenged. Finding one job that will totally encompass the needs of a person is far fetched. Therefore it has been my experience that this strategy is not the exception but the essential one. 

Our jobs can be what we do to pay the bills, hopefully it is work we care about and that makes a difference in the world. Most of us will need to be an amateurin something else to give our life well-lopsidedness. We have to have multiple interests and work to meet our different needs. Ideally these worlds can help each other. Being a tri-athlete, sing operas, coach at-risk youth.... 

Seeing your life as big enough to include your ProAm strategy is the start. And begins with the words and thoughts that describe your vision for yourself. How about a Vocational Amateur? :)

 Thanks for reading. John

  


The Sources of Inspiration--The Network of TED

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Thanks for reading. John


A network of friction: The human particle accelerator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

John Kobara Honored by Coro from Edward Headington on Vimeo.

Thanks for reading. John


Wait and See---The Worst Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


Passion Diagnostic: Three A's and the Pursuit of Happiness

Passion Diagnostic: I came up with this phrase a year and a half ago to describe a process for people to find their passions. To understand what gives their lives meaning and to invest in those things. To make those things a greater part of their limited time and attention. As the phrase suggests it is an agnostic process--neutral to what you should do, or others want you to do. It is what you want to do and best, if it is what you were meant to do. The phrase gives the impression this is a science or that there is a formula to uncover your passions. Nope. And while there are wonderful web based filters, tests, and processes that may reveal your dating compatibility, your shopping habits, and predict your movie preferences, this requires you to think and know thyself.

In the world of philanthropy and given the world today, most serious donors are now questioning their "passions" and searching for more rewarding forms of giving. I started seeing sites which try and help donors choose charities, such as Donation Dashboard, very rough attempts to help a truly passionless person find potential recipients of philanthropy. Passions are a much deeper more personal set of items. I even hesitate to use the P word because it intimidates so. J0438796Your passions are within you and there are ways to reveal them.

To find out what you are passionate about will never be discovered by looking at lists of random charities, surfing the internet, or worse, copying what someone else does--even your mentor. It is an introspective process of self-discovery. It is understanding things that trigger great joy, emotion and intellectual curiosity. Passions get your heart beating, you love talking about them, and they make you smile or emotional. Every week someone says to me , "I don't know or don't have any passions." Yikes! These people have just not taken the time and effort to explore and to reflect. 

I hate giving people tools and techniques because some believe these are the answers. I use tools and techniques to provide models and examples to help the "user" figure out their own way and to hopefully invent a process that works for them. For example, I developed the Download 2010 SWIVEL document for the same reason to help people define their career paths. So I give the following to you in this spirit.

What you do says more about you than what you think you do or what you want to do. Now some or many of your personal passions may be secrets because you don't talk about them for fear of judgment, because that are mal-formed or new, or because the contradict who you say you are.

So this process is to awaken the real you and to make you be real with yourself.

Great success, great citizenship, great leadership, great parenting, great partnering, certainly great mentoring and networking have three fundamental strategies that ultimately reveal your passions. Let me explain.

Ambassadorship--Representing yourself but more importantly others, people, issues, organizations, well is an invaluable skill. We are all ambassadors whether we like it or not. Like in a foreign country the ambassador is a diplomat, a mediator, and a leader. The power and effectiveness of an ambassador is to be ego-less, self-less, and to put your cause, country, or community ahead of you. You are positive about this affiliation but you can be passive and more reactive. For whom are you an ambassador? For whom would you like to be an ambassador? It could be a personality, an organization, a product, a sport or hobby, a restaurant. This reveals much about you. Sometimes hidden here are submerged feelings or roles that you want to expand. Write down these thoughts.

Advocacy--This takes ambassadorship to a different level. These are things, people, causes where you pro-actively push your views. You have strong feelings about these things. These things create strong emotions in you. They need to be addressed and or remedied, and can not be ignored. Your tolerance on these matters is much lower. In other words, your emotional reaction , both positive or negative, can be quite powerful. This takes a thousand forms, "isms" (racism, sexism), cancer, the education system, civil rights, politics, religion, abortion, a homeland....These are personal issues/causes/ideas that you have a very personal connection to. Write down these thoughts and feelings!

Altruism--This may be the most revealing indicator in the passion diagnostic. Where do you give your time and charity now? And if you had more time and money, you would give more to this cause, organization or issue. Not destinations of loyalty giving, because "you have to" or "feel obligated to", may not be your alma mater, but could be. Often this is closely aligned to your advocacy. And should be. And sometimes connected to your ambassadorship. Definitely write these thoughts down too.

J0405208 So, what these three A's have in common is you and something bigger than you. Professor Jonathon Haidt, University of Virginia notes that one thing that can make a lasting difference to your contentment is your work with others on a cause larger than yourself.

Some people embark on passion tourism, visiting many new places and things to try them on for size. Maybe that works for some, but I think "What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." Emerson

Read these rough notes and refine them, erase them, re-think them. There. These are the results of your passion diagnostic! There are no bad or wrong answers. It is where you are and who you are. See the trends, threads or obvious patterns. These are you passions or your potential passions. Use these as a guide to test and develop your plans and commitments. Then compare them to your life and the amount of time you spend on these three A's. How do we make these things a bigger part of our lives. Living your values is the pursuit of happiness. Having wonderful ideals and beliefs without action is the opposite.

These three A's say a lot about you and your future. Follow their lead. The strongest network always starts with a powerful link with oneself. Live passionately and without regrets!

Thanks for reading. John


Reality check from Haiti and the power of networks

Do you remember the 1985 story about the $5000 of relief aid that was sent between Mexico and Ethiopia, which was enduring great suffering. Drought and war had ravaged the Ethiopian way of life. I remember thinking that the $5000 was such a pittance given the urgent and widespread needs. However, I realized I had mis-read the article. the financial aid went from Ethiopia TO Mexico to help with the huge earthquake in Mexico City. Then I learned that in 1935, a half a century before, Mexico had sent aid when Italy invaded Ethiopia and they never forgot. Ethiopians who remembered reciprocated, they fulfilled their sense of mutual obligation to their brothers and sisters in Mexico.

We help Haiti now and in the future because we are connected to them. Because we have an obligation  as humankind to help one another. I just hope that our focus on Haiti and the needs there will not fade too soon. 2 weeks into the devastation and our attention spans are already strained.

I was formally introduced to the International Medical Corps(IMC) last week. It was sort of embarrassing because IMC is based here in LA and I really did not know them. They provided a small corporate briefing to raise money and awareness. IMC is a very impressive organization that provides medical aid as their name implies. They were on the ground in Haiti 22 hours after the earthquake was reported. In fact they are most often first in where medical assistance is required.  By the way they are the ones who helped save Monley the 5 year old who was pulled from the rubble and is now doing fine. In brief here's what separates IMC from others:

  1. IMC engages the local population to train and sustain their efforts. 96% of their team members are from the local country.
  2. IMC stays with the hard work of getting through the crisis and then moves into the necessary transition to public health and rebuilding. IMC is among the few humanitarian agencies still in Darfur and Iraq for example.
  3. IMC spends 92% of its gifts on their programs! Amazingly efficient.

But IMC leverages their donations by serving as a hub of a powerful and experienced network of resources. They use the power of multiplication to amplify their impact. They match every dollar with a minimum of 20x in aid and support. In fact I was told that it is now closer to 59 to 1! But it is their philosophy to not be a foreign aid team that parachutes in and leaves that impresses me most. They train locals to grow their reach from thousands to millions and leave a legacy of a self-reliant infrastructure.

The power of networks are known to all of us. And if they endure because they are self sustaining then the ripple effect really happens. Networks that are not dependent on one member or one resource are powerful and replicable. IMC responds by engaging its growing worldwide network that now spans 50 countries.

Nancy Aossey has headed IMC for the last 25 years. Like all great leaders she is brimming with energy and passion for her work. She is charismatic but not flashy. She is very much like IMC -- substantial. More about effectiveness than ego. Probably why their brand is not a household name. Nevertheless they continue to do their magic where they are needed.

After learning about them my family decided to give them most of our 2010 charitable contributions. Please consider helping them too. 

Our lives are truly changed by the people we meet. If we spend a little time understanding who they are, why they do what they do, our own trajectories and paths are altered. We glean little bits of sanity and rationality, and comfort from these encounters. And sometimes these conversations open our brains to new ideas and thoughts.  It shows us the power of the human spirit. It redefines us. We get mentored in these moments of enlightenment and reconsider who we are and where we are going. Learning about IMC had that impact on me.

Yeah I am a bit of a pushover, my heart and maybe my own guilt lead me too often. But I think these moments are after shock reality checks. They are the speed bumps that get us to decelerate a bit and consider what we are doing to make a difference. We could all quit our jobs and join IMC. Not suggesting that. But we need to learn from IMC's wonderful model.Reality checks

We all volunteer, donate, and empathize--that is the baseline of humanity. We do that because we are upright and we have hearts. But how do we leverage the good we do? How do we use our talents and networks to multiply that good? As I am fond of saying, even the lone ranger did not ride alone.  Never be discouraged by "I am just one person". The power of networks, of working with others is empowering and powerful. Re-committing ourselves to our own passions and engaging our networks in that work has to be a priority. And one person can make more of a difference.

So give money and or time to Haiti. It will make a difference and make you feel good. But use this time to consider the IMC model of leveraging goodwill through your network. Think about how we make a bigger impact or change. And like Mexico and Ethiopia, we will also build stronger bonds to help one another now and in the future.

Thanks for reading. John


MLK's Dream about Mentoring and Networking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John