other people's dreams

NetworkSharing

Lot of discussion about how to meet people and the way you say hello. Yes all of the technique driven first impression stuff matters but where are you networking? All of us need practice at just getting out there more and introducing ourselves, talking less and listening more. Having more concise answers and pithy questions at the ready. But what if your ladder is leaning on the wrong wall, you are fishing in unlucky waters, or you are mingling where there are no movers or shakers. 

Weak ties

Here's the deal: Get out of your bubblicious world of contacts that are connected to what you already know. You have to get out of the strong tie interchange of comfortable social and professional networks and branch out to the weak tie world of new opportunities.  Note: See Granovetter research and my related post

Sure you can look at the job postings or respond to different parts of your Facebook feed, but you will be caught in your own gravitational orbit of familiarity.

We are all sitting on enormous networks we will never use or ever fully appreciate. Like all abundant resources we need to explore them and share them! It is crazy how much influence and power we are connected to. What if we opened up these contacts to others? Help others connect and then get connected. First rule of networking is always give first--to share.

Want a new job, meet new people? Get connected to the people you know and the people they know. On Linkedin it would be your 2nd and 3rd tier connections. Based on interests you get introduced to these connected worlds to learn about work, associations, hobbies, causes... You have a cup of coffee, join an online forum, attend an event through a weak tie connection. For example, you have a family member who is battling a disease, you want to learn about opera, you'd like to more involved with your identity (ethnic, gender, LBGT etc), you want to learn about self-driving cars. Personal stuff, random stuff that you are interested in. Ideally something you have promised yourself that you would pursue someday. Because fulfilling a little promise to yourself feels good! Or helping someone else connect feels great!

You start asking around who is connected with the Alzheimers Association, the Asian American Lawyers, Uber/Google/Tesla. You look deeper into your Linkedin account for such connections. You ask someone you know to share their contact or connection and be introduced and whamo you are off to the races. You have just traversed the weak tie superhighway to something new that you are interested in. The shared network handshake!

And your real handshake and your eye contact also need to be coordinated. Yes, your resume should be updated too. 

But more important you need your list of interests!! What's on your list? Note: When is the last time you SWiVELed? Download SWIVEL_new_2017

So the key to networking is who you are networking with--it's the network, stupid! 

Perhaps you will really learn about your interest and pursue more ways to get engaged with this interest and meet others who share this interest. But it is equally as likely that you may will be introduced to a new world of opportunities you never knew existed. Every new person will reveal something new, if you allow it. I did not say something amazing that rocks your world I said "new".  We need new perspectives on career, happiness, balance, meaning, and fulfillment. We need all the help we can get. This is where the listening and open mind parts are so vital. 

Meeting new people on the common ground of interest is interesting. It is not the bobbing and weaving to gain attention or be clever in the semi-dishonest dance of a cocktail reception. It is the sharing of curiosity and knowledge, and maybe even passion. 

And you know when you are asked to talk about something that you care about--you like it. Not a burden or a favor. It is always nice and even fun to meet people with common interests and share. 

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

This type of networking opens your eyes and if you let it, your heart--to new people and ideas. 

I have a personal goal to do this once a week! Not unusual for me to do it twice a week. To have the joy of meeting new people with shared interests through referrals or to agree to make the connections for others. It has become a lifestyle of sharing connections. It is also how I rode the Goodyear Blimp, traveled to Cuba, played golf at St Andrews, got job offers, and moved into our current house--but those are stories for another time. 

Evaluate your network start  linking to the other worlds you don't know and sharing with new people you will get to know!

Thanks for reading. John


Random Acts of Progress and the Drunkard's Walk

We unfortunately seem to be unconsciously biased against those in society who come out on top or the bottom. When we assess the world, we tend to see what we expect to see. We can equate degree of success with degree of talent and reinforce our conclusions of causality by noting the correlation. The worst type of confirmation bias. The " I wish more people worked hard, as I have"--myopic self-deception. In reality there is often little difference in ability/talent between the "successful" and the "unsuccessful". The biggest difference is how randomness impacted the outcomes and opportunities. 

In Leonard Mlodinow's insightful book: The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, he asserts how things that appear linear, cause and effect, and intentional, all the way down to the molecular level are random.

Whoa, I can feel I pushed your doubt buttons! Fair enough. But let me explain and allow some randomness to influence your thinking oh reader of great certainty ;)

The random motion of molecules in a fluid can be viewed as a metaphor for our own paths through life, and so it is worthwhile to take a little time to give Einstein’s work a closer look. According to the atomic picture, the fundamental motion of water molecules is chaotic. The molecules fly first this way, then that, moving in a straight line only until deflected by an encounter with one of their sisters. This type of path—in which at various points the direction changes randomly—is often called a drunkard’s walk, for reasons obvious to anyone who has ever enjoyed a few too many martinis (more sober mathematicians and scientists sometimes call it a random walk). If particles that float in a liquid are, as atomic theory predicts, constantly and randomly bombarded by the molecules of the liquid, one might expect them to jiggle this way and that owing to the collisions.

So many things we do are impacted by things we don't do and that sets us on a course--or a walk if you will. Things are always colliding with our direction and ideas and once in a while we see them or pay attention to them. We can take credit for these momentary and intermittent flashes of awareness. Our brains want to simplify the timeline so that we can take or give credit or issue blame.

Phone-whale_3188738b

Your place of birth, your parents, your health, your general DNA allocation was random. Even if you think that there was divine intervention or a pre-conceived destiny, there was a huge component of randomness that derived your 23 chromosomes. And all of the "decisions" you made or were made for you. 

What if I didn't accept my mentor's advice that led to a new career? Talked to that stranger who I married and have three kids with? Made that turn, or went to that event, or went on that date, or said yes, instead of no, or wore the red tie, or had Mexican instead of Italian...... Do you really know what would have could have happened? What we pay attention to makes a difference. 

For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

What we do know is not everyone is born into the same randomness, contexts for chance, opportunities for choice. There is great inequity in the sets of randomness we inherit. We all know the story of the immigrant who overcomes obstacles to become a billionaire. Or a blind singer who becomes a record breaking star. And if we are not careful we believe that random opportunity is out there for every immigrant or disabled person. 

We know the randomness at Exeter is different than at East LA Community College. The different molecules that are bombarding off of you will create different drunkard's walks. 

I don't think you can be deliberate about shaping your course forward because you then end up somewhere completely stale and expected.  

I think a lot about this relationship between cynicism and hope. And critical thinking without hope is cynicism. But hope without critical thinking is naïveté. Maria Popova

So I try to reside between the two to try to build a bridge, because blaming others and feeling hopeless about changing our course generates a feeling of futility. Then cynicism rises up to provide a false sense of protection while our dreams evaporate. We can restore our hope and energy by moving forward even if we are stumbling and failing along the way. 

But on the other hand, believing blindly that everything will work out just fine also produces a kind of resignation because we have no motive to apply ourselves toward making things better. And I think in order to survive, both as individuals and as a civilization, but especially in order to thrive, we need to bridge critical thinking with hope."

What appears random or "lucky" was usually right in front of you. You know when you think of something and then it appears everywhere--not talking about Google's algorithms :) Or the so-called Law of Attraction. But it is true when you think and discuss your needs your bucket list, your dream job, yes things "appear"

And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. Paolo Coelho

So two huge lessons I have learned. Help those with fewer choices and chances see the periphery, see the molecules around them, help them to allow life to happen and divert them from their unsatisfying pursuit of happiness.

Listen to your heart. Open your eyes. Let the paths that are there surround you and reveal themselves.

And for those with fewer chances and choices, those who are more bombarded by the molecules lower on Maslow's, help them have a better chance to see the molecules that are foreign and strange. Guide them to a space where they can see themselves. Where there is sufficiency of opportunity. Not a crutch but a helping hand to give them perspective.

Why? Because we need all of the talent we have to blossom. We desperately need more people to find what they want and to be less oppressed by what others expect. 

Randomness enables us to express things we did not know we had or wanted. Randomness awakens the genius in each of us. Randomness is the way of nature.

Not ignoring reality and responsibility, but being more aware of what interests us, taking chances, and eliminating regrets before they happen. 

The future is already here it just isn't evenly distributed. William Gibson

Life just appears before you. Choices, chances. Too often we try to take credit for what is and we forget how we got there. All of the advice, education, mistakes, mentoring, role models, and yes luck, should take a rear seat to our false and unfounded control over our destinies. 

Yes being focused helps immensely. Yes being planful is also very useful. But what are you missing while you plan? Is your plan and laser-like attention creating a myopia that ignores amazing opportunities or revelations.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. Emerson

Random acts of kindness and progress. Allowing the molecules of randomness push us on our own drunkard's walk and discover new people and places. 

Judy Rupp's excerpt from Old maps don't work

It is time for the pilgrim in me
to travel in the dark,
to learn to read the stars
that shine in my soul.
I will walk deeper
into the dark of my night.
I will wait for the stars.
trust their guidance.
and let their light be enough for me.

 Thanks for reading. John

 


Moving from Empathy to Altruistic Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


Put this on the Top of Your Wish List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what are your friends and family wishing for?

Mom santa fe
My mom and sister in Santa Fe

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


How Do I Know If I Am In Love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thermodynamic Networking

Energy exists in many different forms, such as light, heat, chemical, and electrical. Energy is the fuel and ability to do work. Thermodynamics is the study and understanding of energy.

The first law of thermodynamics: Energy can not be created or destroyed. But it can be changed from one form to another. The total amount of energy and matter in the universe remains constant, changing from one form to another. 

The second law of thermodynamics states that in the process of energy transfer, some energy will dissipate. This is also commonly referred to as entropy. Entropy is a measure of this dissipation and degradation that leads to disorder and uncertainty. The flow of energy maintains order and life. Entropy wins when organisms cease to take in energy and die.

There is human energy. We convert energy into new forms that fuel us and others. Energy propels us to do our work. We feed off others and they feed off us. Without energy we wither.

We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.  ― Neil deGrasse Tyson

Whether we intend it or not we transfer energy. We give and we take. We deposit positive and negative energy knowingly and unwittingly. Energy is our human currency. Some people have great wealth others are incredibly poor. Some enter a room with much and others look vanquished. Some seem to have the gift of increasing the energy around them and others make it disappear like David Copperfield. Positive_energy

I have been increasingly conscious of my own energy and the energy around me. How do I add or take from the environment? Yet, I have found it tough to adjust my own attitude or openness to get beyond just reacting versus surrendering to the energy. What I mean is, I can easily spend most of my energy on my negative thoughts about myself or judging the world around me instead of investing my energy positively into others and the world around me.

What I have found, although not able to replicate it every time, that I can be a positive source of energy and surf off the energy around me. Everyone, and I mean everyone, can be a source of energy for me. By being engaged you can focus the positive energy.  Most days, I fill my tank off others with some to spare. If I do it well I leave my own energy trail. But if I do it in that order, that is, to seek the energy of others before I try and give off my energy, then the energy  is authentic. It's simple, the energy around us is so much more potent and unexplored then the energy within us. The combination, the fusion, the blend of energies is what life is. Not the preservation of our own. Protecting our energy by foolishly doling it out to only those deserving of it is where we get ito a real energy shortage. We need others energy to grow and advance. Energy was meant to share and be transferred. That is Thermodynamic Networking!

I used to think that I should inspire others (give them energy). But when I look to be inspired by those present, that inspires me! 

This is real energy!

I have witnessed many imposters and posers who try to add counterfeit energy. Inauthentic energy. I know this one young man who thinks being "up", smiley face, and positive is ALWAYS good. He is never aware of the context.  He is "happy" no matter what. He puts on a show. It is not only irritating but detrimental. Like a commercial you have seen too many times you know how it ends and you are tired of the message.  I know others who are very energetic--about themselves. So it is positive but ego-centric, which may be the worst of all.

A person functioning exclusively in the Cartesian mode typically lead ego-centered, competitive, goal-oriented lives. Overpreoccupied with their past and their future, they tend to have a limited awareness of the present and thus a limited ability to derive satisfaction from ordinary activities in everyday life. They concentrate on manipulating the external world and measure their living standard by the quantity of material possessions, while they become ever more alienated from their inner world and unable to appreciate the process of life. For people whose existence is dominated by this mode of experience no level of wealth, power, or fame will bring genuine satisfaction.  Fritjof Capra, Tao of Physics

But I have also seen the masters, who listen intently, allowing others to lead the conversations and who are better interviewers than 60 Minutes. They tease out the energy in others. They make you feel important even though they are the important one. They have a genuine interest in people and topics. They fill the gaps with attentiveness and eye contact. They are present when most people drift and think of themselves. They are in the moment and care about what is being said before they speak. 

Entropy occurs with selfishness and isolation. It comes when people think their success is their own making. Entropy comes from self deception and denying the energy of others.

So how do we gain and give energy? How do we enhance versus detract from the energy wave around us? How do we submerge our selfish thoughts to learn, explore and connect in meaningful ways? How do we adopt thermodynamic networking to positively invest our energy? How do we see the beauty in others before we think of ourselves?

In the end we neither create or destroy energy. We transfer it either intentionally or unintentionally. If we make an effort to be the source of authentic positive energy, then we can energize our life's purpose and the trajectories of others. 

Thanks for reading. John

  


Suffering Indifference

Total humility comes from when you have nothing. When you are without your status, your stuff, and your pretentions, you are reduced to the real you. Not just being devoid of your material things. But when you have lost your self-confidence, your self-esteem, your hope for the future.  I know I protect myself with many trappings, devices, and artificial comforts. Some of you have been there and know the truth about this basic suffering. I can only imagine this scenario—which means I know really nothing about it. Most of us are fortunate to live far from this level of humility. Far from the bottom or middle of Maslow’s. We take for granted what we have need and want. As a result,  our ability to be compassionate---literally--with suffering—disappears. We are numb to what separates us from the real and genuine feelings of others—especially those in need.

Like me, I am sure you appreciate the opportunities you have been given and the good fortune that has smiled on us. We all know that a few fine twists in our storyline and things would be much different.

It is a brutal world filled with heartbreaking images and ideas. We have to cloak ourselves in emotional Teflon so that we can function, right?

Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike. - J.K. Rowling

So we become very adept at faking our emotions. We are skilled at pretending to care. Our compassion banks only can dispense so much otherwise we will be bankrupt. We have to use our emotional outlays sparingly—reserve it for the people close to us. Isn’t that right?

Some people say, "I know what you are going through?" “I can only imagine how you are feeling?" “I know what you mean.”

Not sure most people do. We mean well but we are not well meaning. We say these things in the transaction oriented speed of life. We do not have time to care. Few of us have the capacity to engage ourselves emotionally in every tragedy, every hardship, so we get very adroit at feigning sympathy, empathy, and compassion.

Zen Buddhist monks in training have a ritual called takahatsu. These young monks must beg for food on the street to learn their role, to understand who they are, and to learn humility.

So we build our defenses and protect ourselves. We even get uncomfortable when we and/or others show their emotions. We find it hard to look at people who are suffering. We avert our eyes when we see nameless homeless people. As if our eye contact will hurt us. We know in our hearts, that indifference will hurt us more. Blessings

I was struck by this blog by Optimus Outcast, an anonymous film exec who sat on a freeway onramp for a day—his takahatsu. Here is an excerpt from his observations:

Why is it so hard to make eye contact with someone in less fortunate circumstances? Why is it so scary just to look? We lock ourselves away in our fortresses with the openings sealed tight. A you-can-sleep-peacefully-at-night guarantee that the outer edges will be kept safely at bay. We will never be required to be uncomfortable. Our cars, our houses, our offices all offer these qualities. But, then if you think about, so does a coffin.

Maybe the scary part isn’t just to look. The scary part is to look and then look away.  A reminder that, in all of our professed capabilities, sometimes we are still helpless to change things. If we look away, is this our own cardboard sign that reads, “I have given up.”?

I am a born sucker. I take some pride that I have not lost all, but I have lost a lot, of my trust in strangers.  I give time and money to almost anyone. I have incredible and disastrous stories of my unsuccessful attempts to help others. I was regaling some colleagues about how I have been duped by panhandlers.  This resulted in a spirited discussion with a colleague who said, "There is no doubt what happens when you give a panhandler money. No doubt." She won't give panhandlers money because she is convinced that ALL panhandlers are addicts of some type. The money goes straight to drugs or alcohol.

I understand this logic. And I know that it is mostly true. But this logic becomes part of the thickness of our Teflon coating. We begin to make generalizations about “those people”. But don’t we need as much pathos as we do logos? I also believe that we cannot dismiss an entire group because of a theory, even a “factual theory”.  Because we are wrong too many times. I have seen and continue to seek out the people who have beat the odds. They renew my faith in the great potential of all people. The hundreds of death row inmates who have been exonerated through the Innocence Project. The countless kids from the ghetto who have succeeded in school and life. The online teacher I met who typed with her toes because she has no hands.

But how much effort should we expend to save the few? Remember the old story about saving the starfish? It does make a difference to the one.  StarfishBoy

Sometimes it is easier for us to give up on each other than a product. How many times has a product or service not lived up to the hype or advertising? I know. Yet we still buy. Maybe a bit more warily and carefully. But we buy.

How much of our humanity dies when we come to these conclusions that ALL of somebody is not good or able to be helped or have ulterior motives? 

We lose a little of ourselves every time we think and act this way.

We must have the ability to understand the suffering of both sides.  Thich Nhat Hanh

In my professional world of philanthropy, we talk about those who need our help. We rarely talk to those we want to help. It's crazy. Our ideas become so sterilized from reality. So intellectual. So safe from the truth. 

How do we renew our sense of reality by visiting the suffering we are trying to address or lessen? How do we truly get into the shoes of our colleagues, neighbors, brothers and sisters? How do we help our network by allowing ourselves to suffer with them---to have compassion? To listen, to learn and to love. To have the vulnerability and humility to know.

I write this not to preach but to confess. I write this not to inflict guilt but to remind. I write this to help me suffer with you.

Thanks for reading. John


Bonsai and the Elephant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the student is ready the teacher appears.  Buddha

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

Love it or leave it?

Break out or break through? Elephant rope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


The darkside of reciprocity

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

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

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

Iou

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

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

This conclusion generates all sorts of questions:

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

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

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

I am not counting this as reciprocity.

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

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

Are you a beggarly, friendly or kingly networker?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John

 


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

 


Mentor First: Pay it Forward

The most popular radio station in the world is WII-FM. WII-FM is shrill and repetitive. WII-FM is What's In It For Me. We have to  turn down the volume and listen to the real music of our lives--Your heart, your mind, and the people around you. Yes you have needs, but you still have much more to offer. We all want and need things but the best way to receive is to give. That's correct, your mom was right again! Same goes for mentoring.  Pay_it_forward_
Almost everyone I talk to wants to find a mentor, the "right" mentor, a "better" mentor. They crave advice and counsel to help them advance their lives. Most people expect this new improved and very special mentor to point them in the right direction and provide them with the answers. Those of us who mentor others know that's not what usually happens . Mentoring is a two-way conversation that helps one another discover the truth--the truth that lies within. So that's why everyone should be mentoring others as much as they seek mentoring. Once you put others before yourself. Once you practice what you preach. Once you teach, you understand the role of the student.  The world comes into focus as you are not waiting for a mentor but helping someone else. You take control again. You drive instead of waiting to be picked up. That's why I advocate a lifestyle of mentoring. It is not passive or dependent. It is pro-active and direct.
Choosing to mentor is to choose to help others, to engage others, thereby helping oneself.
 
So think first to mentor, then to be mentored.
 
Always give without an expectation. That is the cardinal rule of this lifestyle of mentoring and networking. And the returns to you will be plentiful.
  • A cousin seeks your advice
  • A friend's daughter wants to discuss college options
  • A long time colleague at work needs your help, but has never asked for it
  • One of your best friends is stuck in life
  • A former employee has a friend that wants to discuss careers

All of these are warm sources of need. Make the time to help, mentor and share your wisdom. 

No matter what stage you are in your life, there is another you can mentor. Someone you care about who could use your perspective. Someone you are going to help be accountable to themselves. Accountable to their own goals and dreams. A mentor is not the source of all knowledge, they have experience, perspective and the will to be candid.  Not just kind and encouraging. Not just helpful and sensitive. Not the type that winces and cringes on the  inside and smiles on the outside when we hear others say crazy things. Not phony nice. We need to be a bit more intolerant of the BS and the loose language that comes from people we care about. We need to help others rein in their weak plans and weaker efforts. Most of all we need to be truthmeisters.

My best mentors reflect me, my words, my goals like an HD mirror. They show me the good, the bad and the ugly that I emit. I get to see and hear myself like never before with much better clarity.
 
The mentor always gets the most. Because to mentor is to tell the truth and to tell the truth is to learn the truth. Mentoring is the hard work of listening and reflecting. It is not about answers. It is about understanding. And that's why it is the most rewarding.
 
Articulating advice and doling out the truth is not credible or relevant if you don't live by it. That's why the mentor always gains, because the act of advising another reinforces your values, your behaviors and your goodness. Mentoring is about vulnerability. Mentoring is not the coach who says "do what I say and not what I do." Mentoring gives the mentor  the courage to tell the truth and to open up and discuss how they are overcoming their weaknesses and foibles. And the mentee musters the courage to hear the truth, confront their own weaknesses and discover themselves.

Still doubt the mentor is rewarded more?
Recent research now shows that those that mentor achieves far greater benefits. Mentors make substantially more money, are more successful and the mentees are more likely to help others--mentoring creates more mentoring.
Mentors pay it forward.
 
A quick review of the benefits of mentoring: 
  1. You always get more--including pay and promotion!
  2. The mentee benefits
  3. The mentee helps others
  4. The world benefits from people more connected that help one another

Any questions? :)

Mentoring is not a service YOU provide--it is the human act of helping one another that advances YOUR life. 

Mentor first, then seek mentoring. Pay it forward and it will always come back to you.

Thanks for reading. John


The Commodity of Crowds

We are a product of our environment, right? No doubt that everything we do and everyone we encounter changes us a little or a lot. But how do we take advantage of the crowds arounds us? How do we avoid being dragged down by the crowd? And regressing to the mean? Everyday we can be pushed to realize our potential or pulled to be like everybody else. 

The nail that sticks out gets hammered.  Japanese proverb

It is human nature to to fall in line. the Asch conformity experiments demonstrate that we will lie about what we see to conform. 

I meet thousands of people who are in the federal witness relocation program. No not real former witnesses hiding out. But people under assumed identities--identities that they assumed from the advice of others. People told them what they should be, what they should study, what jobs made financial sense. They ignored their own interests to make the crowds around them happy.

Don't accept hand-me-down dreams. 

If we were a product how would we market ourselves? How would we promote our brand? What would differentiate us from the other products? Your resume? Your job? You?

Fear, the change around us, doubt about our chances, make us conservative and practical. We pull back our dreams, our aspirations, and our talents. We accept less of ourselves. Less of who we are and what we want. Not talking about our personal budgets. Financial prudence should always govern. I am talking about carving out a life and career that truly reflects you.  Fish

If you always do what you have always done then you always get what you always got.  Stuart Crab

Finding what makes you different requires hard work, experimentation, fast failures, iteration, and certainly not settling. To live an authentic life you have to pursue who you truly are. So the journey is a self discovery of what you love doing, what defines you, what your talents and strengths are. Your network and your mentors can help guide you through this journey if you open your mind and heart.
A true life starts with talking straight about who you are and who want to become. Taking chances to become your best authentic self. Stop using false statements---the use of other people's words that mean nothing to you but satisfactorily answer the question of "Where are you going?" Or "What are you doing with your life?" Glib but disingenuous answers that are meant to stop the conversation. A great mentor would never let you get away with such answers. 
It would be much easier to live a life that "happens". You take what comes to you. Settle for what others want for you. The authentic life is the opposite, you chase it. You hunt it down. You stalk your passion and purpose. 

Why be a commodity of a crowd?  Are you different? Are you average? 76% of Americans say they are above average. So I guess above average is the commodity. :) We can't accept that. 

I leave you with a wonderful Carlos Casteneda quote: 
All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. ... Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.

There is wisdom in crowds but don't get lost in them.

Thanks for reading. John

Final Advice to the "Freshman"

Dropped my third child, my son,  at the dorms to start his freshman year this weekend. Three kids and three kids in college! That's what my wife and I set out to do. What we planned and hoped for. Of course, their graduation and successful employment will be the next steps. But we celebrate this milestone.

As you might imagine, my kids have received a pretty steady stream of observations, guidance, and advice from me. My wife and I have tried to give our kids an edge in preparing them for their futures. The edge of confidence to become who they are. The edge of unconditional support so they can take chances. The edge of parents who don't get in the the way of their kids' DNA and talents.

I said we tried. We had our victories and our defeats. Parenting is the hardest mentoring assignment of all! :) It is a marathon of change. You wrestle with how much you push and how much you pull. You ride the emotional roller coaster of puberty and the emerging demand for independence. Parenting is about second guessing, worrying, over compensating, and enjoying the incredible twists and turns. 

In the end, it is a small miracle that our kid's survive their parernts. After doing this a few times I am still not convinced that the nurture is any stronger than the nature. We think the wild stallions need to be tamed, but I have seen the beauty of the stallions and learned how to watch them run.  Pegasus2

In the end, you can only do the best you can. No time for regrets or shouldas. The next chapter is the best chapter and your role evolves. 

Took my son out to dinner for one last session with Dad. We had a manly meal and talked about his future. I told him how I see him and the story of of his growth and development Here  is a summary of what we discussed and my last words of advice before college:

We have tried to teach you and show you how to live your life.You know right from wrong. How to be respect others. You are now responsible for your own actions. We trust you. 

You have a slight head start in the game of life, don't waste it. Your great grand parents sacrificed to come to this country. Your grand parents were placed in internment camps on your Dad's side and escaped North Korea on your Mom's side. Your family has given you the opportunity to go to college with no financial pressure. Make something happen.

Escape certainty--Certainty will be your enemy to learn. If you think you know everything about a topic or have decided not to understand the "other side" of an issue--college is a waste. Open your mind. It is amazing to learn what you don't know. Gravitiate to opinions and perspectives different from yours. Trust yourself but question everything.

Ask for help--The most important thing you can do is to ask questions. Never pretend to know things you don't know. No stupid questions just stupid people who don't ask questions. Seek advice. Takes courage to ask for help because you can't do it by yourself.

Get involved but shop-- Pick organizations and causes that interest you, not just what everybody is doing. Augment your classroom work with experiential education. Internships, volunteering, and jobs can be powerful learning opportunities.

Beyond the minimum--If you get bored, you have not done it long enough. Let yourself get lost in topics and subjects that interest you. Dive deeply into your classes to see where your passions lie. 

It's not your major, its your mojo and your mind.  Explore yourself and everything around you. Take the classes you want. Don't take courses because you think they will help your career. You don't have a career. Your major is secondary. You are looking for purpose and passion not a job.

We had a good discussion about careers and jobs. He asked me which were my favorites jobs. I have been lucky because I have sought these jobs or they sought me. I approached all of them as college degree programs and tried to master them. We will all be a "freshman" many times during our lives. So each of my careers and jobs have been my favorite for the time I did them. But my purpose has been to help people become the best in the pursuit of a cause bigger than us. 

I gave him three things that I had already given him. Three documents I wanted him to re-read anew. He looked at me with those eyes of compliance, not acceptance..... :)

Johnny Bunko, The Last Career Guide You Will Ever Need--Daniel Pink

7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens--Stephen Covey

Pyramid of Success--John Wooden

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.  attributed to Hodding Carter

We can only give our youth and anyone we care about roots and wings. The roots of heritage and humility. And the wings to fly further, faster and free-er. Time to let go now and watch my son fly!

As in all mentoring, the mentors gain the most. We hope the mentee gained something, enough to become their own mentor and the mentor of others. 

Thanks for reading. John


Your two-sided career mouth

It is hard to understand what people mean--when they say conflicting things.

I want to go to grad school, or travel, but we don't get off the couch.

I want to win the lottery but never buy tickets

I want more but I don't want to do more

I want to meet my soul mate but don't want to meet anyone

I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.  Robert McCloskeyTwo mes

I meet a lot of people who confess things to me about their careers. And in that moment of honesty they say confusing things. Things that come from different sides of their mouths. I get to know in that instant the doubter and the doer, the courageous and the cowardly, the fearless and the fearful.

What I want to be and what I really want to be

What I hope to be and what I have to be

What I tell my parents and what I tell myself

Love people but not personnel

Enjoy selling but not sales

Value diversity, but no amongst my friends

Like change (read variety) but not change management

Love risk but want a guaranteed salary and retirement

Want new experiences but only the ones I choose

March Hare: …Then you should say what you mean.
Alice: I do; at least - at least I mean what I say -- that's the same thing, you know.
Hatter: Not the same thing a bit!

Pick your storyline and stick to it. Your story is all you got. Who you are and where you are going. Impossible to get help from anyone or make connections when your storyline is untold, inconsistent, or worse, conflicting.

Why do we take jobs we don't want, to impress people we don't like, to buy things we don't want? Deepak Chopra

Because we get distracted and settle for what looks good, or what others tell us or what just happens. Because we are NOT pursuing what WE want.

Time is meaningless to those who say things they don't mean. And in the meantime, time marches on and as Les Brown says, ..You fall behind in your bills and your dreams.....

We look to find our lives by exploring the new. We look for inspiration from other people's lives. Yet our inspiration is within us.

This is where mentoring and self reflection can be transformational. Making sure you know your story by telling it to yourself and to others you trust. To get feedback and direction.

We are creatures of habit who have thoughts and goals that often don't align with our actions. Either we have to wake up to these conflicts or we have to get help in understanding them.

Speak your possibilities.  Eric Saperston 

And if you do speak with your heart you will make connections to yourself and the world around you. The sooner you close one side of your mouth, the sooner you will have a clear idea of what you have to do to become who you are.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...”  Dr Seuss, Oh the Places You Will Go......

Thanks for reading. John


Networking Tips from Beggars

My boss has a little ceramic plaque in her office that she bought at the 99cent store.  Raisins
Life is about raisins:

Raisin children!

Raisin money!

Raisin hell!

The wisdom you can find for under a buck! Those of us who have had to raise money/fundraise for causes for a living and a lifetime, consider ourselves beggars. While we may not use a tin cup and squat on a street corner, the process of getting people to part with THEIR money to fund your organization and cause is one of the most humbling and challenging tasks in life.

I was invited to be part of a prestigious panel of "begging" experts last week to help provide non-profit fundraisers and leaders gain a few insights into the current world of fundraising that is dripping with economic uncertainty and a receding donor pool. Stewart Kwoh, the founder and head of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the leading civil rights organization for Asian Americans in the US and winner of a "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation in 1998. Stewart is a big time beggar. Kafi Blumenfield who leads the very progressive and effective Liberty Hill Foundation, is a consummate beggar. And Gayle Yamada, who leads the fundraising for the Little Tokyo Service Center, one the region's most innovative local cultural preservation and development non-profits. She is a professional beggar. I know what you are thinking, what was I doing with them?!!

They shared some insights, how-tos, and ideas that seemed to be very helpful to the audience. I think these lessons will help fundraisers but also apply to anyone interested in deeper and more fulfilling networking and relationships.

  1. Not about you: Never forget that you are representing a cause and an organization that are bigger than you. Many people will reject your proposals and your requests, but you can not take it personally. Learning from each rejection is critical to get better at pitching and begging, but don't waste time with how bad you feel. Yes, people give to people. But you are not representing yourself but the greater mission of your organization.
  2. Listen! What do they want?: Find out what makes people tick, who they are and why they are interested in your organization. What triggered their first gift? Eventually, you might get to a story that is very personal that tells you more about them and their motivations. Don't just show up and throw up your latest and greatest propaganda, find out what they think.
  3. Not just when you need something: Cardinal sin of all networking but especially fundraising. Reach out only when you need money or help. Bad form. Contact "important" prospects and supporters to check in, for advice, to share an article on something they care about (not your newsletter), to congratulate them on an achievement and then listen!
  4. Treat everyone like they are important: Many of the largest donors start off very small. They often don't look wealthy and may not even think they are wealthy. People are also connected, related to, know other donors, foundations, corporations--ones you are cultivating now. The moment you decide to treat a person with less importance, is the moment you find out her uncle is a billionaire! A story was told where a quaint elderly gentleman was a volunteer janitor at this struggling homeless shelter. He overheard the Ex Dir worrying about meeting next week's payroll. To the shock of the staff, the old man wrote a check for $20,000 to help them bridge the gap. When he died a few years later, he left them an endowment of $10 million! You never know who can help you.
  5. Passion to passion: Have to assume that you are passionate about your organization, not just interested or supportive. When a passionate fundraiser meets a passionate donor and they can find their common ground, great things happen. Connecting passions is the soul of relationships and of fundraising.
  6. Your existing donors are your best donors: No better donors than your existing ones. Don't ignore them for the newbies. More than likely you don't know them and your some of your donors would love to give more. Start with who you know before you just leap to people you don't.
  7. Short term needs with a long term focus: Our jobs as beggars is to help our organizations have a better future. Yes, that means meeting payroll and keeping the doors open. But some relationships need to be nurtured for the longer term. Your job is to meet you goals but to also seed the path for your successors who follow you.
  8. Make the ASK!: Number one complaint of donors, "Nobody ever asked". I am serious. Most supporters of organizations have not been courted or asked to give more. No an e-mail or a direct mail solicitation does not count. There is no substitute for meeting your donors face-to-face and asking them for more help. The ASK is a conversation about support and matching the donor's interests with yours. It is a logical consequence of the relationship. Blurting out an ASK when you don't know them can freak out everybody. But once you make the ASK, be quiet and listen!
  9. Say Thank You: I know this is really basic stuff but make calls and write notes. Make it as personal as you can. Thanking people is a lost art.
  10. Keep track of your relationships: Even if you only have 100 donors you have to have a shared system to document the relationships. A database that allows everyone to input info, facts, that help the organization understand the status, experiences, and opportunities of each donor. People in your organization have different interactions with donors/prospects and you want the current and future organizational team to be understand what the latest info is. Great networkers also have a "database" of notes to remember things and events.

Life is about raisins! Great begging and networking have the same assumptions at their core. It's the relationship, stupid! The opportunity to get to know people, really understanding them, and what they care about, is a priceless opportunity. It will reveal things that will help advance your organization and help you.

Thanks for reading. John


Lessons and reminders from reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


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


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

 


Reflecting on our glass barriers and the road beyond

Starting my own process of reflecting on the last year--what I accomplished and what did not get done. Always like to start BEFORE the year end, to get a running head start on the new year. I have been blessed to encounter many new people and ideas during the last 12 months. These experiences have revealed many things to me about myself and the world around me. Most prominent to me is the amount of talent that is wasted or untapped. Talent that is obvious to everyone except the person with the talent. It is easiest to observe in children. You see their genius manifested in little things they do or say. Moments of brilliance, of enlightenment and joy that speak volumes about their essence and their possibilities. Then, over time layers of experience and nurture can suffocate the nature. External limits, preferences and rules unwittingly strangle that potential. As people grow up, this pattern continues and many enter the Federal Witness Relocation Program of assumed identities, where they adopt a life path that others give them. They become who others want them to be and accept somebody else's dream for themselves.This road rarely leads to a life fulfilled. Why does this happen over and over again? One less travelled

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--   
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

...Robert Frost

We have to break the cycle, the habits, and the routine of traveling a road that is too comfortable and too predictable.

But practicality and reality form glass walls between our current selves and parts of our true selves. We see them but can't get to them. We know these limitations are mostly self imposed. We have conditioned ourselves to keep these goals and visions of ourselves distant. Not big crazy dreams, but our own progress towards our health, education, family matters, financial fitness--things we can achieve, but don't. If you will, new year's resolutions unfulfilled.

There have been many experiments with fleas and pike fish that show that conditioning limits their abilities. Fleas trained in a glass container for flea circuses would only jump at 50% of their ability after the lid was removed. Fish separated from their prey by a glass wall would not pursue the prey even after the glass wall was removed. Conditioning and doubt are both self imposed "glass impediments" that limit us.

So the glass walls and barriers don't really exist, we imagine them.

And for myself, I have a much better fix on my potential. I see the talent that I have not nurtured and cultivated. Partly due to sloth, partly due to priorities, partly due to chances and choices. All glassy excuses of different names. I have gotten great snapshots of that potential through my community of support. They give me pieces of feedback and guidance that when assembled, reveal a work in progress puzzle picture of my potential. I am so grateful that I have people in my life that give me these perspectives and insights.

I can't settle for what is. I sincerely believe that we are never done developing ourselves. Never. That the road of self discovery and self improvement is infinite. When you understand this, it is neither frustrating or exasperating. However, you do realize how precious time is.

So how do we break this cycle? How do we develop our own talent and the talent of others? We must focus on our strengths. We surround ourselves with people who know us and stretch those strengths. We connect with people who can help us identify our hidden goals and visions. There is a tendency to surround our selves with clones, with similar people, with similar perspectives, abilities, means, and backgrounds. That is human nature. Likes do attract. But when you see, experience, and learn from more divers and talented people, you can see the potential you have more clearly. Am I bumping up against a glass ceiling or wall of advisors and/or colleagues who no longer force me to see what is possible and focus on the status quo? How will I change this? Broken glass

We articulate our goals, visions, and even dreams to others to help us achieve them. Secret goals never get accomplished.

Reconnect with your dreams for yourself, your family, your community, and beyond. Reinvigorate your understanding of your great talents and find ways to nurture them. Expand your network of peers and mentors to include people who will push you and pull you through the glass walls and ceilings to attain your dreams through your talents and strengths. And help others do the same.

The sounds of "breaking" glass ceilings and walls makes glorious music. Lot easier to break the glass with others than by trying to do it yourself.

As I continue to reflect, I have a lot of glass to break, roads to travel, people to help and dreams to fulfill. Next year is shaping up to be pretty interesting. :)

Thanks for reading. John

 


The 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


The Failure Option--Succeeding through mistakes

Think it was Winston Churchill who said, "Success is going from one failure to the next, with enthusiasm." And wasn't it venerable and victorious Vince Lombardi who said, "Either get fired with enthusiasm or get fired with enthusiasm!

Fear of failure or the perfection complex is one of the greatest obstacles to career and life development. Taking risks that lead to mistakes that lead to innovation, that lead to new opportunities, that lead to new relationships that lead to greater fulfillment and impact. Sorry do not know the stories of success that are not peppered with blunders, embarrassment, and yes, failure. DefiningMoments

Excerpts from Joey Green's the Road to Success is Paved with Failure:

  • Michael Jordan did not make his high school basketball team.'
  • John F. Kenendy lost his bid to be president of his freshman class at Harvard.
  • Thomas Edison was expelled from school and invented the light bulb after 2000 attempts.
  • Marilyn Monroe was fired from her first film contract for being unattractive.
  • Abraham Lincoln lost 9 elections
  • Coca Cola sold 400 bottles its first year.
  • Douglas MacArthur was denied admission to Westpoint, twice.
  • Elvis got a C in high school music and was told he could not sing.

Failure is the challenge to keep on keeping on.

I have endured some pretty crazy interviews for jobs. But my favorite of all time was the one conducted by the iconic Vinod Khosla. The interview which consisted of two questions and 90 minutes of conversation. He started the interview with, "John, how do you define meaning in your life?"  This was like a verbal brick wall for my twin turbine engine interview prep to slam into. Had to down-shift into a gear to answer that question thoughtfully. That prompted an amazing give and take on regrets, family, relationships, what really matters, and what we hope to to accomplish before we die. Whoa! Then he asked his second and final question: "Take me through your resume in reverse chronological order and tell me the biggest failure at each of your jobs. Don't tell me what you learned, just the failure." I literally laughed out loud. Never heard that question put that way. We all know that a resume hides more than it reveals so when someone rips back the curtain like that it either evokes a primal scream or pure joy. It's amazing how big the mistakes I made were. Some haunt me, some give a prurient source of pride, and still others remind me of how I did grow. I regaled Mr. Khosla with horrid decisions, immature ideas, and blind-sightedness. It was obvious he wanted to see my risk tachometer and how far beyond the red-line I would and had gone. Not reckless, ethically edgy stuff, but what was the appetite for change and challenge? This interview reminded me of my fallibility but also how far I had come. Guess my failures impressed him enough to get the job.

Don't confuse this type of interview with the trite and predictable attempts by interviewees to convert their "weaknesses" into strengths. Very few people reveal any self awareness of their own failings in the interviews today. As if they have read the same stupid script from Interviews for Dummies (I hope this book does not exist). The robotic answers to the question, "What are your weaknesses or areas you need to improve upon?"

  1. Theatrical pause, with no specific answer.----Never hire!
  2. "I guess I work too hard and just can't stop working." ---- Really? Popular but meaningless response.
  3. "I am a perfectionist."----So how's that working? :) Stupid!

When the eyes and answers provide no windows to the soul, then I yank the reject cord! The ability to articulate what you are working on and trying to improve as a professional, as a family person, as a human being is relevant. Pretending that none exist by using party manners and memorized answers is a recipe for failure.

Being laid off is a failure. And while all too commonplace and often not the full responsibility of the employee, it represents a mistake. Was it a real surprise? Why did you wait to be laid off? So you did not have a Plan B or C, why not? You knew it was not going to be your last job, so how long did you think it would last? And what was your plan after that? And what has this failure taught you about your next move?Yes, there are victims of black fridays with no notice (that's how I was laid off), but most "lay-offs" are foreseen or suspected.

Failure to prepare is preparing for failure. Coach Wooden.

Last week I met Cheryl Dorsey, president of the Echoing Green Foundation. She was the commencement speaker at Walden University's graduation. Her speech was a riveting auto-biographical sketch of her failures and the need for the next generation to "embrace failure". I was surprised to later learn it was her first commencement speech, but it was perfect. One of her many "failures' was her choice to become an MD. Her parents encouraged her and she graduated with honors from Harvard Medical School and became a successful pediatrician. Her parents beamed with pride over the family's first doctor. But Cheryl soon realized she made a huge mistake. She found out that becoming a doctor was her mom and dad's plan, not hers. Sound familiar? So recognizing her long standing failure, she followed her heart and became a social entrepreneur. Despite the monstrous investment of time and money, it was not too late to push the reset button. And her failure showed her the way. Bunko

We all fail and therefore we all learn. Failure is the greatest teacher. Failure triggers course corrections that lead to change and new perspective. Failure forces you to change your network, maybe even your mentor. Failure can redefine you. In Daniel Pink's wonderful The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, the last career guide you ever need, lesson 5 is Make Excellent Mistakes. Most of us say we take risks, or we venture out of our "comfort zones" but we really don't. Fear erects strong boundaries that can imprison our dreams and our successes.

Here's to your next fantastic failure.

Thanks for reading. John


New deadly STD: OMBYism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John

 


The Power of Following

As humans we follow. The concept of leadership is only valuable if there are followers. It is just another version of followership. CEOs, US Presidents, Ministers, Generals, all follow somebody, all take their orders from someone, all succeed another leader. We follow--We all move in accord with a model. Another way of saying mentoring, isn't it? We are all mentored and we follow that example. So great leadership is great followership? Great leaders are great mentees too. You follow? :)

I think we can easily get caught up in our own press releases and start to think that we, alone, invented our leadership abilities. That we were born with innate skills to lead. We know that batch of kool-aid is spiked with self-deceit and blind egotism.

And even if that was true, you need followers to make any form of leadership relevant and effective. Again, without followership you got no leadership.Fish followers

Most of us do not want to be at the bleeding edge of trends or ideas--too much risk and controversy. By the same token there is nothing worse than being at the end of a trend or a cause, that makes you out of step, out of touch and un-hip. So we follow our instincts and check our risk dashboards before following.

You know the questions we ask ourselves---Will I raise my hand and ask the "stupid question"? Will I speak out when something offensive has been said? When will I evangelize about my ideas and beliefs? At what time do I express a contrarian view? These are the day to day forms of followership/leadership that emerge. Sometimes we act and sometimes we regret acting or not acting.

It is rare and I would assert non-existent, to start something entirely new, that was not inspired or motivated by something/someone else.

I love this video


Let me reiterate the lessons here:

  1. Leadership is defined by the followers
  2. The leader needs to nurture the initial followers
  3. The first follower transforms a lone "nut" into a leader

Don't get caught up in just becoming a leader. Start leading by following. Look for ideas, mentors, role models, profiles, case studies, stories, that resonate with you and where you are going and who you are becoming. Talk to your network about these ideas, follow their leads. Invariably, what you want and seek is being done or being pursued. Who is doing it well? Who is considered the best? Who do you know that has these answers?

It all starts with what you want and what you value. Following is not a sign of weakness. It is a necessity. Follow something and/or someone to bring the best out of you.

By the way, maybe more than any other person you have been following, is your mom. :) Hope you acknowledged how much you appreciate being her follower this weekend and everyday.

Thanks for following along and reading. John


Your Career Kitchen Cabinet

We all know that any great organization, company, even celebrity, certainly political leaders need a small circle of trusted advisers. And as we see in the news headlines everyday, if that counsel is not real and provides only encouragement for the wishes of the leaders(s), then trouble is imminent. --Like the old drunk who relies on the lamp post more for support than any illumination. True advisers provide accountability and a reality check on actions and plans. Who advises us? The regular folk who are not famous, rich or elected? We all have goals and dreams, but many of us need help to keep us on track. Otherwise, we can get away with saying and thinking things we never do. By the way, thathabit will give you a monorail ticket to a very undesirable place called Regret City!

Less than a couple of weeks into the new year you are probably still committed to your resolutions -- please say you have not bailed yet. :) One way to insure longer term success is to form a "kitchen cabinet",a group of your trusted advisers to monitor your progress and hold you to your goals. Similar to a board of directors, your cabinet knows your goals and asks for status reports. Like a a good board they are not interested in effort and activity, they want results. They are interested in a better you. BoardBoard room

However, unless you are such a popular person where you can attract people to serve your needs and you alone, then you should build a different structure based upon reciprocity. A group, no more than 6, that agrees to help one another. This kitchen cabinet gets together on a regular basis for the expressed purpose of advising and assisting ALL members succeed. This is a group of serious colleagues that care about each other and are committed to helping one another. Career guru Barbara Sher calls these success teams. It is a mentoring seance, where you are joined by the futures you see for one another.

Here are some basic tips on how you get started buiding your career kitchen cabinet:

  1. Forming the cabinet--Clearly, picking the members of your cabinet is the toughest part. Start with a couple of the people you know well. People you trust and getting together with them more frequently would be fun. If they know each other that is even better. Meet with them and broach the idea. I advise against couples only because invariably it introduces elements that can distract from the group goals. Things like chemistry, candor, and buy-in can be factors. If you are daring, each of your closest associates could invite one person that would add new dimensions and breadth to the group. And there is always something about having new people there to make you more attentive to the process. The key is getting people that have rapport, agree on the group goals, and are committed to mutual success. Try to avoid a group that all have the same backgrounds, political beliefs, or industry connections. This is where diverse thinking is powerful.
  2. Convening the cabinet--Without consistency this will not work. Sher recommends weekly meetings. I think monthly will work. But like a good book club, you got to prepare and show otherwise all is lost. Each member rotates to convene the group by choosing the location and date and time (if you have not settled on a regular date and time which is recommended.) You can set standards about the quality of the establishment, cuisine, newness etc to add a little incentive for the group. One group I was in required the host to cook "extraordinary" food so at least the food might generate thought. The group should make a one year commitment--12 meetings.
  3. Common ground for the cabinet--This is critical. Getting everyone familiar with the bios and backgrounds of each member is essential. So spending time on the introductions, in-depth and revealing understandings of one another will generate a new network of opportunities. Next, everyone needs to write down their goals. Use my SWiVEL or devise one based upon the needs and interests of the group. Having a common form that gives everyone a starting point for the conversations that will ensue.
  4. Cabinet sessions--After the intros and written docs, the sessions just have to make time for every member to report on their progress and allow for feedback. Not so formulaic that it feels too structured but focused on your purpose as a group. The assumption is every member is there to offer advice, expertise, and their network.

Hands together
But this is not a business as usual approach that helps one another achieve mediocrity. The secret to this concept is others will invariably see your potential more than you do. Your ideas become more polished or get abandoned because of the feedback. And when the group gets some momentum built on respect and trust, then the cabinet can become an incubation lab to explore new ideas and aspirations.

The reality is WE is always better than ME. We have to work together to refine our ideas about where we are going. A kitchen cabinet can be a powerful advantage that strengthens your network and your path to achieving your goals.

Thanks for reading. John


The Scariest Costume of All -- The Pretender

First a shout out to my workshop attendees from Pepsi. I spent a half day with some of Pepsi’s hand picked rising Asian American star employees. They are members of PAN (Pepsi Asian Network) one of Pepsi’s many multicultural employee groups. Some large corporations form “affinity” or “resource” groups to assist employees with their integration and assimilation. However most companies still labor under the erroneous and archaic assumption that there will be a "natural" diversity that will emerge in a truly merit based and competitive environment. Logo_pepsico But Pepsi is different. They recognize that creating and growing a multi-cultural team requires leadership and investments of time and resources. Pepsi nominates talented team members and invests in their development. This kind of investment generates loyalty and retains the very top performers. The PAN leaders were primarily first generation Asian immigrants from Pakistan, Thailand, China, India, Korea, Taiwan who are ambitious and passionate. What a joy to facilitate a workshop for them on networking and mentoring. Being around competent, curious, and energetic people is always inspiring to me! It is no wonder that Pepsi is such a world leader that continues to be a model for others.

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Saw some pretty impressive costumes this week. One of the most popular costumes of the season is--being somebody else—being somebody that other people want you to be. These people assume the identity, the career interests, and the dreams that other people want for them. I jokingly call this the outfit of the Federal Witness Relocation Program. Taking on a new identity can be easier and safer. This happens when other people tell you what you SHOULD do, what is BEST for you, what you are GOOD at, and who you are NOT. And not having an answer, you are gradually fitted with somebody else’s life, a frighteningly phony costume!  

Like Jeff Bridges in the 1984 film Starman, where as a space alien he becomes human and normal by copying what other people do and say. Or like Jeff Dunham's lifeless ventriloquist’s dolls that come to life with someone else’s words and actions. 

Where do these costumes come from? How does this occur? Sometimes this happens because of over bearing parents who do not nurture inherent and innate talents. Instead they impose their own dreams on their kids. Others of us fall into jobs and positions that are placeholders until we decide what we want to be when we grow up. Then one day we wake up and we start feeling the pangs of regret. Still others of us feel guilty pursuing our secret passions and interests when being rational and practical is the expectation. In any case we defer our needs and dreams. We assume comfortable identities, costumes, and lives that are not truly our own.

Everyone has hidden talents, submerged career urges, inner callings, unrealized natural genius skills and abilities. We all do. We really do. And when these pent up passions and curiosities get mummified by layers and layers of identities that are projected on us and assumed by us, a life that is true to itself can be lost. And worse, we as a society lose that genius. We as a community lose real passion and inspiration. We as a family or a team lose a role model. Being who we were meant to be is selfish and generous.

For those of you, who are just befuddled by this, count yourselves amongst the fortunate.  Be grateful somebody helped you find yourself or let you become who you are. Your job is to free the others from their suffocating costumes.

For those of you who know that you are wearing a nice looking but totally poor fitting costume, it’s time to look in the mirror and inside. If you do, you will be greeted by a sense of freedom and fear. Free to do what you want and fear of failure. Either way it will be exciting. You can either strip off the costume in one act of courage if you know what you want. Or visit the career wardrobe shop and try on as many new yous as you want. You can rent or borrow new career and life costumes to see if they fit. You are in control. It never has to be all or nothing. But doing nothing is never an option.

Bottomline: Really hard to be mentored or to network when you are an impostor!

Stop pretending. Abandon those scary inauthentic costumes. Escape the Federal Witness Relocation Program. Don’t allow others to design your dreams. And let that amazing you reveal itself. We all need you to be who you were meant to be.

Thanks for reading. John