opportunity

Uncomfortable Comfort

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

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

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

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

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

Get-comfortable-being-uncomfortable-7

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

Perhaps my theme song! And definitely my favorite quote.

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

So here's my answer:

You should never be comfortable. Never.

In terms of life and career development.

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

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

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

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

We have to be uncomfortable with our comfort.

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

John Steinbeck 

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

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

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

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

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

Have I afflicted you?

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

 

A poem I wrote inspired by these thoughts:

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

Winning without being first

Opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat.--Napoleon Hill

Talked to a friend who saw his dream job in a passive Linked In message. He was surprised that a job like this existed and wasn't even looking. (amazing what happens when you are not looking) He applied and got to the finals and could taste it. But was told he did not have a little extra the #1 candidate had. He was deeply disappointed. Over the next few months. he licked his wounds and chalked it up as a lesson of life and was deeply grateful that he found an example of what his next adventure would be. But then time and a positive perspective yield benefits. Low and behold, he gets a call from the recruiter and the "better" candidate quit and my friend was being back if he was still interested! No other candidates will be interviewed so it appears he will get his dream job.Tortoise and hare

In my travels, I have heard this story over and over again. People who suffer the initial disappointing defeat of a door slammed in their face only to find a new window swings open through persistence and grace.

I truly believe things happen for a reason and if you don't give up on who you are and what you want, new opportunities are revealed. New paths appear. I have learned that there are many paths that can take you where you want to go and to wonderful places you did not know existed.

It's not what happens to us, but the response to what happens to us that hurts us. ---Stephen Covey

My career path is a road filled with potholes, detours and surprising off ramps. Not to mention the paths I chose NOT to take. While I'd like to take credit for my trajectory, the truth is I was rarely the top pick for anything. I have learned over time that my persistence and presence kept me in the process and sometimes, through a series of quirks and situations I was hired. I know that my mentors and network played a much bigger role than I ever did.

My hiring at the UCLA Alumni Association only happened after a series of candidates turned the job down. I was the "least qualified" of all of the candidates considered, according to the executive search firm in charge of the placement. My lack of university and alumni relations experience was considered a major deficiency. Once I became interested in this job, I waged a "campaign" to get it. During this time, unbeknownst to me, all of the top candidates fell away. I asked all of my references to advocate for my candidacy. As a result, I was politely asked, "please stop the lobbying". In the end, I believe expressing my serious interest in the position was the difference that got me the job.

Once you get it, what placed you finished in the original race is irrelevant.

Numerous times my hiring, appointment to a board, and selection as a keynote speaker came after the top candidates were considered. I don't have a complex about this! :) I have learned that the tortoise can win the race. That being available, qualified, well-connected, and truly interested in the opportunity has always mattered.

I love the story about how Dick Clark got his big break on the Bandstand television show, when the original host was arrested for drunk driving. While I am sure Clark wanted the job, he was never expecting that his radio career would become a tv career in an unexpected moment. Clearly he was ready!Paul macarelli

My fav story involves Paul Marcarelli, the "Can you hear me now?" guy from Verizon. Paul was filming one of his famous commercials at our house and talking to a group of my kids and neighbors. One of the kids blurted out, "How much do you make?" And after an uncomfortable silence, Paul told these mesmerized kids that he was living his dream and makes "millions", but that he was not Verizon's first choice.  As Paul tells the story, he was an understudy, who's primary occupation was a waiter. When the first commercial was to be filmed, the lead actor came onto the set heavily made up to conceal his new black eye. Apparently he had a rough nite which ended in a bar fight. The Director fired the actor and summoned Paul in front of the cameras--for the next 9 years. And the rest is history!

What does all this mean?

  • Always be ready. Always look like you are ready.
  • Every interview is important to build your brand, no matter where you end up.
  • Be open and ready for a new and unexpected opportunity.
  • Stay in touch with your "dream" employer. Stuff happens.
  • Continue building your skills and delivering the goods.
  • Keep your netwok engaged with your searches and your dreams
  • Never give up on your dreams or yourself.

It is not whether you win, it is whether you get the opportunity. And you get the opportunity if you are consistently ready, willing and able.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Sell Yourself

I was on a career panel this week with Tim Harris Executive VP of the Lakers. We were presenting to a bunch of students at UCLA who want to know what they are going to do with their Sociology degrees. Tim and I were both Sociology majors.

Sociology, like a lot of social science or liberal arts educations truly enables graduates to do whatever they want to do. And we discussed these virtues. These are hollow words to those who expected a clear career decision to come out of their classes (including those nagging parents). Those with educations understand well that an undergrad degree is the platform, the foundation on which a career is built. But I digress....

Tim and I tried to share some thoughts, and suggestions about life after the degree and how to approach the choices and chances ahead.

Tim did something brilliant. He asked, "How many of you want to go into sales, cold calling, and marketing a product?" Predictably, there was an awkward pause and one hand shot up and another one sheepishly raised her hand halfway. Then Tim, said, "You all have to go into sales and cold call, because that is what you have to do to get a job!" He went on to say that marketing oneself is your number one product and if you can't do that you won't be successful. You could feel the regret rush into the room. The regret of not answering the question correctly. But also the regret of being ill-prepared to "sell" oneself.Selling

We know that there is a big difference between passive marketing and selling. When supply exceeds demand you have to separate yourself by actively pursuing the opportunities. Waiting for a response or hoping you get one is plain ole lazy and ineffective.

Real selling and marketing require  great messaging, preparation, networking, research, and courage---fearlessness. Many younger job/career seekers think the job search is a video game. Apply online, fill out apps, send e-mails. They avoid human contact and the effort it takes to talk to people, to get feedback and help. Surprise! The interview requires you to log off and literally face your future!

The basic elements of your sales strategy:

  1. Your job and career goals. What are your targeted industries, employers, and missions without regard to job openings? Where do you want to work?
  2. A great resume and cover letter. Is your resume ready for primetime?
  3. A confident story about who you are and where you are going.
  4. A kitchen cabinet, your personal board of directors or advisors. Who is mentoring and or guiding you on a regular basis?

Real sales people develop relationships. They do their homework. They research their prospects to see if and how there is a fit. They talk to people at all levels to get a read on the company and in this case the potential supervisor. They even mystery shop these employers to see how the company does things. And they get referred by influential and trusted colleagues so the candidate gets the attention in the screening process,  a shot at an interview and gets hired.

The most effective selling starts way before the job search and lasts well after. Keeping your brand fresh and in demand is critical. Makes your selling during a job search so much easier.

In truth, there is little if any cold calling--that is contacting total strangers for jobs. Yes your interview may be with "strangers" but the process of getting the interview is alot more warm calling. Engaging your network in your search, referrals, references, and insights will be invaluable. Getting people you know to help you.

Yes, there are always those who over sell and take things to the extreme.  Like anything, use your judgment and discretion on how aggressive you want to be. But the vast majority of candidates are under sold, under marketed, and the employer is under-whelmed.

This is Tim's point. Of course you need to have the gumption and guts to sell yourself, but you have to be smart about your approach. Selling isn't just about the ASK. It is about the the preparation for the ASK--your preparation and preparing the employer for your candidacy.

If you really want a job or to work at a particular place, you have to differentiate your candidacy from the masses. We assume you have the skills and competencies. But how will you differentiate yourself? Your passion. Your knowledge of the position and company--most people don't do any homework. Who refers you and your references-- who you know and who knows you. Outside validation is comforting to the employer. All of this has to be part of your sales package and approach.

If you aren't willing to sell by putting in the effort and time, then don't bother applying. Those that sell will shine and those who think that their specialness will ooze out of their online app or resume have a rude awakening.

Tim Harris is absloutely correct. Prepare and psych yourself up to sell! Push yourself to embrace the  part of your job search that gets you out from behind the computer. Selling will increase your chances that new doors will open and opportunities will present themselves.

 Thanks for reading. John


Reflection, Roses, and Regrets

While I think the quality of the questions we ask each other and ourselves matters, I think the answers and thoughts pulsating in our minds may matter more. Where am I going? What matters most to me? What is my purpose? How will I advance my life/career? Will I ever reach my goals? These are vexing questions that hopefully give us pause. But the enormity and abstractness of these queries can just as easily generate nothingness and we dismiss them like other mysteries of the universe, such as infinity? or how life began?Infinity

Without trying to answer these questions you lose windows of opportunity to position yourself to gain self-satisfaction and minimize regrets. The danger is we just wish for a future time, a "better" time to confront these questions. Wating is usually the wrong tack

Using written decalrative statements can help you tame these mega questions.

I will be happier when_________________-.

The most important thing I need to improve in my life is__________________

The one person I need to improve my relationship with is __________________

My next career development activity is __________________________

Being more involved with (cause/issue) will make my life more meaningful.

If I make this decision/choice to ______________, I will have fewer regrets.

Add timeframes and you have a set of goals. Like my SWiVEL form, write down what  is important to you--what you want. Make a commitment to yourself.

I was asked at one of my recent talks: "In our busy lives of work and life, how do we stop to reflect, "smell the roses" and make sure we are headed in the right direction?"Roses

When you see roses smell them.

Schedule reflection time.

Define your destination(s).

Not trying to oversimplify, but if it is important, do it! What is on the top of your life "to-do" list right now?

If we do not put the important things on the top of this list then life's inexorable tasks, chores, trivia, and transactions will consume and devour your time and attention.

Kobara's law of priorities-- :)

The unimportant will always attempt to sabotage the important.

In every choice or avoidance of an opportunity we must measure the potential for regret.

How much will you regret not pursuing the opportunity in front of you?

Don't let your regrets from lack of courage and effort become tumors. They will follow you. They will haunt you.

Opportunities are like fishes, never let the big ones get away! You think you will have another chance. You think amazing moments go in cycles? That fish will never be at the place at that place again. Those roses will only smell that way that one time. That door will never open that way again.

That being said, if you knocked on a door and it closes, then look for the next door. If went for it and took the risk and came away empty-handed--You have no regrets because you tried. Hit reset. And try again. Regrets come from the lack of effort, the lack of assertion, the absence of courage, and the false belief that opportunities are infinite and never lost.

Opportunities and time are finite. (I apologize if I am the first to tell you this!)

Your nephew will never be this age again. Your career will never be at this point again. Today, this day, this year, this moment is already gone.

I am not trying to depress you or start the ignition of your regret engine. I am telling you to live now, get into the present, and put your life ahead of your list of tasks. 

WARNING: Literal translation of this advice can lead to hedonism and extreme selfishness.

As Les Brown said, "...then you will be behind in your dreams and your bills."

In the end, it will be your relationships that will matter. Regrets from relationships are the most venomous of all regrets.

Make a lot of money? Change the world? Pursue your inner artiste? You can not do any of things by yourself AND enjoy it! Your relationships will propel you to new heights and destinations. Your relationships will teach you about the world and yourself.

Commit to a lifestyle of dealing with life's questions with answers and actions--and never do it alone. You won't regret it.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Flash learning, Lightning talks, Fast pitches, and You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Mark Twain said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


What triggers change?--My week long journey to the center of meaning

Last Sunday, I got the chance to catch up with Glenn, my best friend from high school. We met out in Palm Springs to golf and to, as they say in Hawaii, talk story. Our friendship has spanned 45 years and endured many challenges and been punctuated by many adventures. Anyway, as we age, Glenn I end up talking about serious things. The meaning of our lives. Our kids futures. The future of the world. As we looked out onto the Palm Desert landscape, Glenn asserted that the "next generation is not as motivated" to put in the effort and sweat equity to obtain the lifestyles and more important the type of country we all want. This is partly the classic and inevitable discussion of all older generations complaining about the next generations. But it was also a conversation about what will it take for young people and all of us to return to the basics, set aside our cushy expectations and entitlements, and actually invest time and energy in work. Glenn and I believe that you learn about yourself, you establish values, you appreciate what you have, by working and literally and figuratively making a living. I can hear the, Typical Boomers! chant. It is true, we are creatures of our upbringing and OUR parents lives.

We came to many conclusions on how the world could be a better place--of course if Glenn and I ran it! :) However, one of them was really disturbing to me. Only hardship, tragedy, and the threat of either will get people to change. Change, meaning people engaging in the fundamental process of taking responsibility for their own destinies. For people to work at their lives instead of hoping something good will happen. For people to commit to new goals, values, habits, new skills, strengthen relationships and to become who they were meant to be. To take responsibility for their own lives and fully understand that they can drive their own destines.Carrot

So the stick is more powerful than the carrot?!! Really. We can not be motivated to take action with inspiration alone? It takes an "enemy" and fear for us to change? It is well known that money will never sustain our motivation or ever truly inspire us. The research on that is conclusive. Daniel Pink's new book Drive reviews 5 decades of research on this subject if you have doubts. But I was unsettled by the fact that I could not refute this conclusion: That fear may be the greatest and most effective motivator.

"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."  Samuel Johnson

Losing our job, getting cancer, death of a loved one, and bankruptcy force us to take inventory of our lives and potentially change. Learning about somebody else's misfortune is not the same. It gives us pause, but we always think WE are different. So we only redefine our lives when tragedy befalls us?

I attended a community meeting where the subject was the future of at risk youth. It was a robust and emotional discussion of the causes and consequences of "the system" vs the individuals. One mother asserted that her kids had no chance with the "institutional discrimination" and "economic racism" that is embedded in our society. A man stood up and said, "My track coach taught me to focus on the finish line. And if there are hurdles in the way, just get over them. The more we feel like victims, the higher the hurdles will appear." We know there is truth in both perspectives. The challenges for the poor and vulnerable are daunting. And without a mindset of self determination and self-reliance no one can succeed. The finish line can provide focus, but the hurdles can add motivation or they can deter.Hurdles  

On Wednesday I led a workshop in Plano Texas for a group of FritoLay managers and leaders who were tracked for accelerated paths. My job was to help them think about their opportunities and what they wanted. I used the carrot of the chance their employer was providing them. We discussed career and life strategies. We reflected on where they were going and why. One of the participants came up to me after our 4 hours together and said, "How will I know who I am? And what I want? I want to change, but there are so many expectations of me." I marveled at his candor and his moment of wonder about himself. I simply said, "Keep listening to yourself. Keep listening to your heart."

My week ended up at a celebration of the life of a dear friend who is dying. While we all are dying, few of us really live. A group of us did not want to wait until her memorial to express our gratitude and appreciation. For me, it is too late. I hate learning things about people at their funerals. We spent a wonderful afternoon learning and celebrating her diverse life. It was inspirational. It was uplifting. It gave all 120 of us a view of what is possible if we live to our fullest. It reminded us of how precious life is and how brief our time together can be. So were people inspired to change their lives by a great role model or by the fear of their own deaths?

I know it is both. And it really does not matter. Whatever helps us re-define our lives to push us to improve is great. We need examples of what life can be and we need the whack in the head from fear. We need to let people hit some hurdles so they can get back up and re-focus on the finish line. I am so optimistic about the future and the next generation. However we must guide, not coddle, our young people to let them find themselves so their dynamic DNA can flourish. We need to actively seek ways we can motivate ourselves and each other through the amazing blend of fear and inspiration that life gives us everyday.

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


Doorways of Opportunity

What lies behind the next door? The next door you open or the next door that is opened for you? Sounds like a poor version of that great 60's show, Let's make a deal! Remember Monty Hall and the contestants discussing the options? Do you want the bedroom set or what's behind the door where Linda is standing? Are you a gambler? Feeling lucky? Greedy? Adventuresome?Lets make a deal

We enter and exit many doors everyday. I do not mean just the ones with hinges and doorknobs. I mean the metaphorical doors where opportunities and dangers lurk. We pass into or pass by many chances to explore ourselves, our passions and our professions. Relationships get advanced or ignored. Doors of opportunity are the conscious or unconscious choices we make. Sometimes we are surprised but most of the time we visualized the consequences of our actions. The question is did we make a choice? Did we take action?

The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind.  --EB White

In the martial arts or in police training you learn a lot about doorways, exits and entrances. There are ways you enter these places to minimize risk and maximize understanding and opportunity. You never enter a doorway right through the middle. It is the most vulnerable, the least aware, and really the most uninformed way to act. Think about someone who is not even aware that he/she is entering a doorway, to them it is just another unimportant action or routine. Have you ever entered a Japanese restaurant  where there is a cloth (noren) hanging down that requires you to bend or lower your head? That is a prop to make sure you humble yourself and that you are conscious that you are entering an other's place. While it may not change your ego, it will slow you down and give you pause. Naginata Back to the martial arts perspective. My mother told me about her naginata training. She was instructed NEVER TO ENTER A DOORWAY THRU THE MIDDLE. That it is critical to consciously choose a side to enter. It is your self awareness that will help you with what happens as you enter the doorway. Let's say you choose the right side. Instead of being mindless you become aware of what and who you see especially to the left which is unimpeded. You only have to worry about the right side. You can survey what is to your right. The point here is to choose a perspective to see what is in front of you and what is not. Going through the middle of doorways without perspective will lead you nowhere.

I can reduce this to a simple networking application. You are about to enter a cocktail party. You can just walk in and see what happens. If you are fearless and super social, then this can work well. But for the other 90% of us, we need a bit of a plan. So, you approach the doorway of the cocktail party and you begin to focus and think. You choose the right side of the doorway to heighten your awareness and look to the left and scan the room for friends, acquaintances, the host etc. You look to the right and also spot the bar. You enter the room thinking and aware and armed with some basic information. You have identified a few starting points for your encounters, and at the very least you know where to get a drink! :)

For me this metaphor of naginata and doorways is much more than networking, it is about making conscious choices. To choose your path and your perspective. To pick sides. To be alert and on guard. Neutrality, the middle of the road, to be ambivalent, yes, gives you options but few opportunities. What do you care about? What matters to you? It has been my experience that knowing people has been very helpful, but knowing where you stand has been the most important. Doorways open to those who make choices, have points of view and take actions. One of my fav anonymous quotes: If you do not stand for something you will fall for anything. Making choices makes connecting with others so much easier and more rewarding.

Think about the doorways, literal and figurative, you pass through everyday. Make an effort to be aware of where you are going and where you are leaving. Select a side to gain perspective and to focus on the unknowns. You will draw people to you and your network will grow. Going right down the middle of life is tantamount to being average---half way from success and halfway from failure. Make a deal with yourself, choose to open and enter more doorways for yourself and others!

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies with in us." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks for reading. John

 


A Season for Networking

I know this can be a busy and stressful time of year, for you negative Scrooges! :) Seriously, this is the greatest time of the year and the best time to network with your family and friends. The holidays are the greatest "excuse", if you were looking for one, to reach out and reconnect.

  • send a holiday card, that you sign and insert a note, unsigned, noteless, cards are offensive!
  • deliver a small thank you gift to someone you appreciate, like a mentor
  • host a small party, meal for friends from different parts of your life
  • attend events and parties with a partner and help each other meet new people
  • engage people in conversations, instead of just exchanging holiday robotic greetings
  • give to the less fortunate, time, money, and emotional supportChimney

Duing the year, I hear hundreds of fear-filled stories about the anxiety of talking to people, meeting people, and reconnecting with people. There is an insatiable desire for gimmicks, techniques, and advantages to strengthen one's network. I have devoted 20 years to trying to disabuse folks from these quick fix solutions that are usually powered by an overdose of self-interest and a fixation on "me". We have to constantly remind ourselves that our successes are due to the help and support of so many others. We have to remember that the next opportunity will come from an unexpected place, but only if we connect. Being so focused on ourselves will guarantee one thing, you WILL miss the rest of the world. Think about others first!

Keith Ferrazzi, the networking author and guru offers great advice about how to throw a holiday party that networks.

This week I heard three stories that happened to my friends or colleagues that just reinforce these lessons that these "busy" times can be the most opportune times.

  1. Out of desperation, a newly homeless person seeking shelter, randomly contacted my office and talked to a colleague. We referred this person to an affordable housing provider, knowing that all of the shelters were full. We were called right back and a spot had miraculously opened up at that moment and the family will have a roof over their heads.
  2. A close friend and I lunched this week to celebrate our belated birthdays and she informed me that she had applied for a job with a well known non-profit. The day before I met the CEO of this organization and sat across from him at a meeting. I volunteered to e-mail him on her behalf the next day. He quickly responded and assured me that my friend would get a close look.
  3. Another associate of mine was helping start a new non-profit to stop the trafficking of children in the US. They held a small fundraiser which happened to be organized by several devout Catholics. An assistant to a billionaire was one of these Catholic organizers, and convinced his boss to attend. Long story short, the fundraiser was a huge success, raising $95,000 and engaging new people in their cause. At the end of the event the billionaire stood up and announced a gift of $1.5 million!
  4. 

Serendipity is the product of connecting, of cajoling others, of making calls, of reaching out. It never happens when you sit back and wait for your lucky moment. It never occurs by hoping that something good is going to take place without any effort.

This is the best time to find a job, make new friends, and strengthen your network. Why?! Because the holidays are busy but connecting is natural and expected. Many people mistakenly think they should wait until after the holidays, so there is a distinct competitive advantage during this season.

We can easily succumb to being "busy and stressed out" and miss our chances.

The holidays are just the best time to follow your heart, to help others, and show your appreciation. By doing this, serendipity and opportunity will be sliding your chimney.

Make something happen!

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


If you are down, you have to look UP!

After seeing a screening of Waiting for Superman, (which is a must see when it comes out in September) I started to think about looking up into the sky for help, super or not. We all have looked to the heavens for an explanation of a baffling situation or for some divine guidance. We also may look to our parents, our bosses or others above us in the food chain for answers or wisdom. Superman

The point is we have to see where we are going and seek assistance. Stop what we are doing to pause, reflect and think it through. Talking to somebody who understands and maybe has faced the same circumstances always helps.

Finding a true role model can make a difference. This person seems to have been able to balance the things that are important to you. Parent and career, community leader and accomplished professional. We meet, read about, and sometimes know these people. Call them mentors, call them role models, call them inspirations. You can admire them, but you need to study and ideally understand them. Understand the costs, the requirements, the support systems, the sense of fulfillment. You have to get beyond the gloss and the press images of success.

I have found that some people are born into success, others were inspired, and most worked hard to get there. None of the models I have followed have had it easy.

Keeping your eyes up and your mind on what lies ahead is more more important than ever. The writing on the wall, the signs of change, the risks and choices, and the opportunities. Imagine how dangerous it would be to drive by only looking at your dashboard. Looking up will tell you so much more.

I talk to people who loosely fall into three large groups these days. Group 1 is hanging on to what they have. Group 2 is making a move to the next chapter. Group 3 is hedging their bets, uncertain and or paralyzed. They are the worst off. At least Group 1 is loyal and committed. Group 2 is committed to change. Group three, like all groups who wallow in indecision, their careers have reached the ceiling and they only have a down button on their elevators.  

Looking up is not getting lost in the stars and distant dreams that seem improbable. It is not comparing your current circumstance to another greener pasture you have not visited or studied. It is keeping an eye on the horizon to see your options and next steps. It is looking up to those that can show you what you need to do. Looking up is making sure you are a couple steps ahead on the chess board of life. Role models, mentors and other confidantes can keep your thinking fresh.

In BreakingThrough, the Harvard Business Press examination of minority hard driving execs, found that a notable percentage who reached the top of their professions, did NOT want it. It was not as attractive as it looked from afar. They set a goal and spent years focused on the steps and strategies to get to that destination, without regard to what it takes to do that job--the sacrifices, the "costs", the travel, the politics, the distance from the customer. These ambitious people rarely looked up to question their goals. They became blindly committed to a path and their daily lives revolved around making progress to that end.

Again, we are all guilty of self deception. We make up stories about our paths that lead up to our goals. They sound good, but we have not mapped out these paths to the ends. 

Looking up Looking up is the recognition that our lives are moving toward a destination, intended or unintended. And it is never too late to make changes and course corrections.  Some people think this is the time to stay focused. I agree. Being focused is not tunnel vision. Staying focused means not giving up on your goals and the steps necessary to achieve them.

Things are looking up. Keeping your head down insures that inspiration, help, and your future will be out of sight. Looking up from our busy lives, looking up to people who can help you, looking up the path to where you are going and where you want to be--that is a strategy that will not require the services of a caped crusader.  

Thanks for reading. John


If I don't, I will regret it!: Avoiding the Regret Matrix

 
No Regrets!
Make service to others, relationships, passions, your priorities, and success will follow.
j.e.kobara
 
No regret I have finished my last 100 presentations, workshops and speeches with this quote. I have believed for a very long time that the number of regrets--what we wish we did, chances we did not take, things we should have done--are a much better measurement of our age than the clock. You know the "shoulda, couldas." Not talking about the micro regrets of daily transactions like buyer's remorse over the cell phone you purchased. Or the tiny faux pas or thought about how you could have done something better. I am really not talking about anything you have done. I am talking about the heftier regrets of not acting, of not doing something that we regard as important or now see as an opportunity lost. I once asked Guy Kawasaki what his greatest regret was. He told me about a company that was formed by some nerdy Stanford students in Mountain View, who wanted Guy to be their CEO. Guy turned the job because the commute was too long and the name of the company was silly. It was Yahoo. Fortunately this is one of many stories that Guy does not regret! But if we accumulate many regrets, then we become old because we are not as fulfilled or satisfied with our lives. We are also not happy, especially when you look in the rear view mirror and keep asking, what if? Once you have a box filled of these regrets, you have the tendency to give up on your goals and dreams. You start to settle. You doubt yourself. You accept your fate and the rest of your story is predictable. And we lose the best you have to offer. And that's why this is the slipperiest of life's slopes. A slope that not only treats your personal and professional expectations as mirages but accelerates your life satisfaction on a downward aging spiral.
 
Met with a former colleague last week who has made great contributions to society and to our community. I like meeting with her because she is a source of strength and inspiration. She is going to complete her 14th year in the same line of work and I began to probe what was ahead. She started telling me how old she is (I already knew this) and how her options have narrowed. Saying meaningless things like, "I am not as young as I used to be." What?!!! She sounded tired and resigned to her choices. She is 60. While controlled, I was furious with her. Not because she is lacking great ambition at this stage of her life. Not because she is thinking realistically about her last few chapters of her life. But because she is starting to give up. In a last ditch effort, I said, "What do you have to do in the next 5 years, or you will regret it?" She began to regale me with her plans with her kids and family, travel that was important, and the specific goals for her organization. Her eyes became the windows to her soul again and were filled with the verve and intensity upon which I have become dependent. How can our ambitions evolve with our lives but continue to energize us? How do we continue to minimize our regrets?
 
Like exasperated fans who leave well before the game ends, their concerns start to turn to the traffic rather than on what they think is an unlikely chance to succeed. After all, giving up is the definition of death, isn't it?Regret
 
What is not understood is if you try things and they do not work out or even if you fall down on your face, these items do not turn into these aging burdensome regrets. Those were opportunities that we did not pass on and we stuck our little necks out of our hard turtle shells and took a chance. As the baseballers say, hard to get a hit if you don't swing the bat. So to be clear, regrets, the ones that grow into tumors and weigh a life down like a bad set of samsonite are the regrets that resonate from chances not taken.
 
There is a great body of mathematical and probability research on decision making based on payoff or regret matrices. On the consequences and antecedents of decisions we regret. Most have to do with consumer behavior. One study published in the journal for the American Psychological Association (2002) concluded, "As a consequence, decisions not to act that are followed by a negative outcome result in more regret than do decisions to act that lead to outcomes." But while regret may be informed by the numbers it is ultimately a matter of the heart.
 
As a parent and a manager of people and someone who tries to lead others for a living, I have experimented with the proverbial carrot and have also deployed the stick. Can you get more from sugar than vinegar? Is a pat on the back as effective as one a little lower? Do bonuses work better than fines? Is pleasure a greater incentive than the pain of the consequences? Shouldn't a dream be more powerful than regretting not pursuing the dream? These debates about human nature have raged on for centuries. Like most complex processes, it depends. But one thing is certain, most people have thoughts about their futures. They can say they want to be happy and have meaning in their lives. They always say this. Inaction, by not doing something, is the source of regret. And considering in advance that regret may be the greatest motivator. Otherwise, life happens and those notions of the future get supplanted by the traffic jam of life rather than what they see down the road. 
 
Many chroniclers of life have documented what people say at the end of their lives. Just finishing John Izzo's Five Secrets You Have to Know Before You Die. Like Po Bronson's book, What Should I Do With My life? or Habits of the Heart, by Robert Bellah. People tell us what they wanted in their lives and where they came up short. Regrets play a big part. Those that are the least happy have an unchecked bucket list. The top of the list is filled with relationships that were never consummated, reconciled, or handled well. Then there are a few other regrets. These are passports or experiential tickets that were not stamped. They failed to visit places and try things. They are often described as chances, as opportunities, as things that were vital to them but were never done. Now just a collection of "youthful" impulses that are no longer practical and gather layers of regret dust. Feel the gray hair and wrinkles growing uncontrollably?
 
How do we minimize or avoid this fate? Or how do we stop the slide down this depressing mountain? Pretty easy. Start acting on your ideas, aspirations, experiential wish lists, AND your relationships now! You have heard the ole questions: What will you say to those you love when you are on your deathbed? And why are you waiting until then?
 
Having no regrets, is regrettably a negative way of acting. But I think it works and it is powerful. It is the best way to make decisions of consequence that require your instincts and intuition. Which decision would we regret more? This can be very telling. Graduate schools, jobs, travel destinations. The one, if you did not have it, you would regret the most, is always your first choice.
 
Start listening to your heart and as I like to say, take great notes. Understand what you will regret and act to avoid it. A life without regrets is more meaningful and happier. And you know what you are like when you feel that way and the impact that has on everyone around you. And when we have more people taking chances and pursuing opportunities, we have a more vibrant and dynamic society. So minimize regrets in your life for yourself and for the rest of us too. It is a fool proof way to make you younger and happier and that is something you will never regret.
 
Thanks for reading. John 

The sound of opportunity and avoiding a White Noise Christmas

Why do we have twice as many ears as mouths? Listening to the thoughts, ideas, and words that are articulated around you is an undervalued and under practiced skill. No way to hear things when your pie hole is wide open! :) Will smith 

I breakfasted with one of my mentors this week and she said some profound things to me:

  1. Practice constructive over-hearing. Open your ears and pay attention and you will be informed in new ways.
  2. Needs are noisy! The needs in the community, the needs of your customers, the needs of your network are making noises, but can you hear them?

To summarize: Change what you are doing by listening! Change your trajectory by using your ears!

Everyone says they are good listeners. Actually we over-estimate almost all of our skills, except public speaking and math :) I was attending a training on listening, someone asked, "How do I know I am listening better?" The instructor said something I will never forget and that has changed the way I listen. She said, " Listen as if you have to report what you've heard to someone else." You know what she meant. Say you have to attend a meeting for your boss and she says, "Write up the notes." Believe me you will listen differently and remember! Why do we listen better for someone else?

Noise waves We want to minimize the noise in our lives that we sometimes tune out more than the offending sounds, we also cancel the important messages too. Right now, stop and listen to the sounds around you..........

My wife Sarah loves to talk to me during the telecast of a critical athletic contest (aren't they all "critical"?) Anyway, I attempt to listen over the play by play announcer, but my attention is divided and I am not sure what she said. Sarah always knows. She says, "WHAT DID I SAY?" I look up as if I heard. You know how this predictable and sad story goes........

It is not just paying attention and being present. It is also about knowing what you are listening for. Thinking about the needs of others in your network and listening for opportunities for them. A close friend of mine says you should always practice the three foot networking rule--network and listen to anyone within three feet!

I promise if you practice these things you will see how noisy needs are. Including the noises that rumble within your mind and your soul!! By the way, when your heart speaks, take really good notes! Noise1

If you practice constructive over-hearing, you will connect with people you know and don't know around common interests and needs--it might surprise you. If you want the world to seem smaller and more accessible, then open up those orifices on the sides of your pretty head.

Thanks for reading and listening. John