Make service to others, relationships, passions, your priorities, and success will follow.
I have finished my last 100 presentations, workshops and speeches with this quote. I have believed for a very long time that the number of regrets--what we wish we did, chances we did not take, things we should have done--are a much better measurement of our age than the clock. You know the "shoulda, couldas." Not talking about the micro regrets of daily transactions like buyer's remorse over the cell phone you purchased. Or the tiny faux pas or thought about how you could have done something better. I am really not talking about anything you have done. I am talking about the heftier regrets of not acting, of not doing something that we regard as important or now see as an opportunity lost. I once asked Guy Kawasaki what his greatest regret was. He told me about a company that was formed by some nerdy Stanford students in Mountain View, who wanted Guy to be their CEO. Guy turned the job because the commute was too long and the name of the company was silly. It was Yahoo. Fortunately this is one of many stories that Guy does not regret! But if we accumulate many regrets, then we become old because we are not as fulfilled or satisfied with our lives. We are also not happy, especially when you look in the rear view mirror and keep asking, what if? Once you have a box filled of these regrets, you have the tendency to give up on your goals and dreams. You start to settle. You doubt yourself. You accept your fate and the rest of your story is predictable. And we lose the best you have to offer. And that's why this is the slipperiest of life's slopes. A slope that not only treats your personal and professional expectations as mirages but accelerates your life satisfaction on a downward aging spiral.
Met with a former colleague last week who has made great contributions to society and to our community. I like meeting with her because she is a source of strength and inspiration. She is going to complete her 14th year in the same line of work and I began to probe what was ahead. She started telling me how old she is (I already knew this) and how her options have narrowed. Saying meaningless things like, "I am not as young as I used to be." What?!!! She sounded tired and resigned to her choices. She is 60. While controlled, I was furious with her. Not because she is lacking great ambition at this stage of her life. Not because she is thinking realistically about her last few chapters of her life. But because she is starting to give up. In a last ditch effort, I said, "What do you have to do in the next 5 years, or you will regret it?" She began to regale me with her plans with her kids and family, travel that was important, and the specific goals for her organization. Her eyes became the windows to her soul again and were filled with the verve and intensity upon which I have become dependent. How can our ambitions evolve with our lives but continue to energize us? How do we continue to minimize our regrets?
Like exasperated fans who leave well before the game ends, their concerns start to turn to the traffic rather than on what they think is an unlikely chance to succeed. After all, giving up is the definition of death, isn't it?
What is not understood is if you try things and they do not work out or even if you fall down on your face, these items do not turn into these aging burdensome regrets. Those were opportunities that we did not pass on and we stuck our little necks out of our hard turtle shells and took a chance. As the baseballers say, hard to get a hit if you don't swing the bat. So to be clear, regrets, the ones that grow into tumors and weigh a life down like a bad set of samsonite are the regrets that resonate from chances not taken.
There is a great body of mathematical and probability research on decision making based on payoff or regret matrices. On the consequences and antecedents of decisions we regret. Most have to do with consumer behavior. One study published in the journal for the American Psychological Association (2002) concluded, "As a consequence, decisions not to act that are followed by a negative outcome result in more regret than do decisions to act that lead to outcomes." But while regret may be informed by the numbers it is ultimately a matter of the heart.
As a parent and a manager of people and someone who tries to lead others for a living, I have experimented with the proverbial carrot and have also deployed the stick. Can you get more from sugar than vinegar? Is a pat on the back as effective as one a little lower? Do bonuses work better than fines? Is pleasure a greater incentive than the pain of the consequences? Shouldn't a dream be more powerful than regretting not pursuing the dream? These debates about human nature have raged on for centuries. Like most complex processes, it depends. But one thing is certain, most people have thoughts about their futures. They can say they want to be happy and have meaning in their lives. They always say this. Inaction, by not doing something, is the source of regret. And considering in advance that regret may be the greatest motivator. Otherwise, life happens and those notions of the future get supplanted by the traffic jam of life rather than what they see down the road.
Many chroniclers of life have documented what people say at the end of their lives. Just finishing John Izzo's Five Secrets You Have to Know Before You Die. Like Po Bronson's book, What Should I Do With My life? or Habits of the Heart, by Robert Bellah. People tell us what they wanted in their lives and where they came up short. Regrets play a big part. Those that are the least happy have an unchecked bucket list. The top of the list is filled with relationships that were never consummated, reconciled, or handled well. Then there are a few other regrets. These are passports or experiential tickets that were not stamped. They failed to visit places and try things. They are often described as chances, as opportunities, as things that were vital to them but were never done. Now just a collection of "youthful" impulses that are no longer practical and gather layers of regret dust. Feel the gray hair and wrinkles growing uncontrollably?
How do we minimize or avoid this fate? Or how do we stop the slide down this depressing mountain? Pretty easy. Start acting on your ideas, aspirations, experiential wish lists, AND your relationships now! You have heard the ole questions: What will you say to those you love when you are on your deathbed? And why are you waiting until then?
Having no regrets, is regrettably a negative way of acting. But I think it works and it is powerful. It is the best way to make decisions of consequence that require your instincts and intuition. Which decision would we regret more? This can be very telling. Graduate schools, jobs, travel destinations. The one, if you did not have it, you would regret the most, is always your first choice.
Start listening to your heart and as I like to say, take great notes. Understand what you will regret and act to avoid it. A life without regrets is more meaningful and happier. And you know what you are like when you feel that way and the impact that has on everyone around you. And when we have more people taking chances and pursuing opportunities, we have a more vibrant and dynamic society. So minimize regrets in your life for yourself and for the rest of us too. It is a fool proof way to make you younger and happier and that is something you will never regret.
Thanks for reading. John
This is a topic that I am asked to address more often than any other. Let me go off on a brief Dennis Miller like rant before I share some thoughts.
Being Asian Pacific American (APA) has many challenges. Statistically we are still considered the "other" race. Despite the fact that there more APAs in LA County and now in California than African Americans, the research, the polls, the evidence of public information rarely includes APAs. Add the persistent and pernicious model minority myth (mmm), that promotes all APAs as college bound/college educated, financially well off and without problems, giving the general public a warped and/or uninformed view of our community. The diversity of the pan-Asian community in the US defies any generalization. This mmm undermines the response to the growing needs and suffering that new immigrant and low-income APAs face.
Why is this relevant here and to me? Because it has impacted my ability to mentor and network. It has altered how I have been received and what influence I have been able to exercise. Mind you, I am not complaining. I have no reason to. However, I know that experiences that happen to me everyday remind me how other APAs are impacted in their quest to advance their lives and careers. Believe it or not, I still get the, "where are you from?" or "you speak without an accent" comments. Or worse, the look of indifference, until they find out my title.
Many compliments I have received about my leadership, speaking ability, and career accomplishments have been relative to other APAs. "John is one of the most articulate Asians I have met." "John is one of the leading Asians in his field." Hard to be recognized for one's achievements outside of our appearance. Really is. Whether Latino or female, we can see success in narrow demographic worlds. And there will be those that say, that ever since we started using hyphenated American terms, instead of just Americans, we established this separateness. A little truth to this, but the root causes of hurtful discrimination and prejudice would be present regardless.
For the last few years, APAs constitute the largest non-white population of college graduates from 4 year institutions. More APAs than African Americans and Latinos, a little discussed fact (that may contribute to the mmm), but a game changing reality. What does this mean? You will continue to see disproportionately more APAs in the workplace, in leadership positions, eventually in the corner offices, on corporate boards, in public offices and maybe even on TV. APAs will be a force to reckon with. Everyone will need to mentor, network with, and serve more APAs over time. Networking with APAs is becoming a skill de riguer.
Tensions have been emerging over the last decade at Fortune 500 employers who put a premium on college grads from good schools and therefore have been hiring more APAs. Friction between the APA employees and their managers is caused by not promoting the "most qualified" because of stereotyping and ethnocentrism. Managers are conflicted and APAs are frustrated. Managers do not understand the cultural nuances and APA employees have not fully adapted to their work environments.The most enlightened companies have openly addressed these trends. IBM, Pepsi, Price Waterhouse, Kraft.... have invested in processes to train both sides of the equation. Better prepare APAs and simultaneously educate the managers. They know their companies win in the end.
I have been asked by some of these companies and others, through LEAP, to address this topic, usually focused on "Networking for Asians". The premise is Asians need to network more like Americans. Clearly a faulty objective. I have found all employees and managers need help mentoring and networking without regard to their ethnicity and backgrounds.
A number of times I have done this workshop, Networking for Asians, I have had a majority of non-Asians attend! They thought the workshop was focused on how to network WITH Asians. There is a pent up demand by non-Asians to make their professional relationships with APAs more productive and effective.
I was recently presented with a copy of this book by Yang Liu, a young Chinese girl who lives in Germany. She developed this powerpoint show a few years ago on the differences between the perspectives of east and west. Liu observed first hand these differences in her bi-cultural immersion in Berlin? These slides definitely relate to networking and relationships that you may find amusing and educational:
Understanding Cultural Differences between eastern and western societies
The tools of mentoring and networking are universal and cross-cultural. Sure there are some cultural differences and there needs to be much greater sensitivity on both sides. This is life. This is adopting the mentoring and networking lifestyle. Always seeking commonalities. Being open to meeting and helping others. Even if they are different, even if they are APAs. Chances are they will be.
Thanks for reading. John
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
So as 2009 winds down, we naturally and inevitably reflect on the past and look ahead to the future. Our evaluation of the past can focus us on what was not accomplished. I suggest you take the remaining days and hours to make a list and appreciate what you did. Yes, this was a tough year, aren't they all in their own ways?!! Think about the progress you made especially in your mentoring and networking. No matter how small the steps, you advanced your career, your family life, your relationships, your network, your commitment to your passions, and your pursuit of becoming a better you. I can sense that many of you are dwelling on the negatives or the missed opportunities. What could have been. Take a break for a moment! Let's reflect on the best of 2009 and give yourselves credit for the range of creative and even courageous things you did. Think back over the year and search for the highlights. By the way, this is a great exercise for your resume too! Stay positive and see and appreciate the progress you made in 2009. You did a lot more than you think!
For you so anxious to move into the critique of 2009. Okay have at it! Consider where you fell short in the promises you made just 53 weeks ago. What had you envisioned for this year that did not happen because of disruptions, shifts, and/or procrastination? Make a list if you must. Think about the reasons for these gaps in how you defined success for this year. Look in the mirror, not literally--you will get distracted on your vanity :), and take responsibility for what you failed to do. And think about your network and how you could have done more to support them. One of the greatest challenges is our tendency to make relative comparisons to evaluate success. "2009 was good given what it could have been." Or "I am better off than others." These are poor substitutes for a true assessment of how we did vis a vis our expectations. Relative success is the safe and comfortable way to measure. Don't settle for that. Don't make excuses. Be honest, if you are going to evaluate your shortcomings. Compare you to the you you want to be.
The point here is take inventory of this year now, because in 2010 you can hit the mythical reset button and start with a cleanish slate. A new chance to make new promises and resolutions. You will have much time for that. Focus on went well this year and how you can build on it for the new year. Understand what you did not achieve and move on. When you are honest with yourself, you did some amazing things, you know some incredible people, and you have a great opportunity to roll out the new and improved model of you for 2010!
Thanks for reading. See you next year. Cheers. John
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. 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.
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.
We all need you to be who you were meant to be.
Thanks for reading. John
This economy has brutalized many families and fortunes. The world has been changed and especially whatever plans we had for the future. People who were going to retire- can't. People who felt secure- aren't. And at the lower of end of the economic strata the chances and choices are far worse. I have discussed these issues on these pages many times. Okay, I know any of you paying attention already know this. There is no reset button. There is no return to the good ole days of 2007!
So why do I hear so many people still talking about their losses, the changes, the altered plans, the anxiety over what could have been? The whole dissection of the spilled milk through your rear view mirror is such a useless and tedious process. You lost money-- the whole world did-- and you probably will not get it back. That time has passed and "the future is not what it used to be" as that famous NY Yankee catcher said.People say to me, I am going to wait until my "net worth or my net assets" reach a certain level, then I will explore new things and work I care about. Only then will I get married or take a chance at that new business idea. Not until my little safety net is repaired will I venture out of my cocoon and try my wings. Requiring financial certainty and safety is a fool-proof way of procrastinating.
Look you should be fiscally conscious. Yes, money matters and getting your financial house in order and having a plan is the prudent thing to do--blah blah blah. But to let that plan and a specific dollar number take precedence over your life's priorities is crazy.
I admit I did not lose millions or even a fraction of that amount. I never had a plan, much to the chagrin of my children, of leaving a large inheritance. Somewhat by necessity I believe what Andrew Carnegie said, who formalized philanthropy in this country, "dying with money is a disgrace."
Most of us will never have "enough" money. That amount of money that will make us worry free. But how much do we really need? Like smart businesses we need to downsize/rightsize our financial and material goals. Why don't we free ourselves from the tyranny of the money and focus on making ourselves and the people around us happy? Seems pretty simple and straightforward, doesn't it?
If you have the need to calculate your current net worth or estimate your future net assets, be sure to assess the most important investments you have--your network. Your family, your friends, your community. How do you value the returns on those holdings? Much harder to bail you out of significant deficits in your network than any monetary debts. Do I need to regale you with anecdotes of wealthy, successful people who are lonely, lacking meaning, and living without purpose? That the one thing that undermines happiness is the regrets over our relationships. Total success has always incorporated strengthening and maintaining those relationships.
So re-value your portfolios of personal relationships. Look at your 401K and see if your family is okay. Take stock of the market and your circle of friends. Develop a plan to lower your debts and increase your credit within your network.
Don't make any relationship or opportunity conditioned on your financial net worth. You risk losing things that money can never buy. Your total net worth is composed of all the important things that you value and all of the things you care about. Stop talking about, thinking about, what was and could have been. Start focusing on the future and how you will invest in your network. Your returns will be more gratifying and enduring.
Thanks for reading. John
- A friend of mine Joy Chen is featured in a NYT piece on careers and Managing your Career like a Business. This is an old idea freshened up for today. You remember the Tom Peters piece on BrandYou, worth re-reading. One of the things that can be lost in this omnipresent social network is your brand, your uniqueness--what differentiates you from the pack. Anybody can be a video star, be their own publisher, even have their own blog :), but that's the point. The stakes just got higher and harder. You have to nurture your brand. Check out Joy's blog that does a great job of helping people think about personal brand building.
- Did you see this news report about possibly the youngest head of school in the world, Babar Ali?This is a lesson for all of us. Needs can be addressed. So easy to be numb from the quantity of challenges facing humankind and seemingly insurmountable odds. Babar ignored the rational and the possible and did the impossible.
Was talking to a former colleague about her career aspirations. She shared compelling and exciting thoughts about specific jobs she wanted. It was clear to me that she was ready to test if not embrace her dream. And I began to share in her enthusiasm until she told me her plan. Being the over-achieving and overly competent person she is, she has figured out all of the things that diminish her qualifications and readiness. She went on to tell me about her 5-7 year plan! (Last week I discussed your 5 year VISION, big difference from your plan) During the next 5 years she would rigorously fill these gaps and address her deficiencies and then launch into interviews when all systems are go. For new entrants in the job market or others who are making radical career shifts this approach might make sense, but for those who know what they want in their chosen field, you have to be biased toward action not planning. Like all new inventions that solve a problem, choices have to be made on how many features and benefits are needed to roll it out. It can be an endless process where paralysis through analysis creates a fierce case of rigormortis.
And like a new career step, the "inventor' that would be you, has to test market the product. Meaning go out and talk to people in the field about what they do. Is it what you think it is, do you have what it takes? And more to the point here, do you even want it? Have you seen the body of research regarding people who want the top job only to find when they get there, they don't. But if you find you do, the question is how close are you to having what it takes? making assumptions is a waste of time. In my friend's case, I know she is not only close to being qualified, she is qualified--she just does not see it.
As I have mentioned on these pages, I am the king of being "unqualified" for almost every job on my resume. That's what the headhunters told me. That's what friends told me. What I learned is few people have all of the required skills for a job. That people hire people--profound isn't it!:) And those hiring people value chemistry over some qualifications. They seek commitment and passion for the mission over a set of impressive graduate degrees. I said some qualifications. You have to have the basics and often a lot more. But after you make the cut, we are talking about fit and the intangibles. C'mon most of these job descriptions, especially higher up the food chain are almost laughable in terms of the litany of requirements that are poured into them. They are a wish-list to frighten off the timid and the non-serious.
So back to my friend. I told her to start interviewing right away. I know she is very close to being "qualified" and I know that the marketplace would be more generous than she is to her background. The questions that have to be tested are:
- Do you really want this "dream job"?
- What are the gaps, if any, in your background and resume that need to be addressed?
Much to the consternation of my wife and sometimes my employer, I accept invitations to interview frequently. I learned that it can be the most interesting time to think about my trajectory and what else is out there. I always learn something about myself and something about the world around me. I am straight forward and tell them that I am not looking for anything. And while employed, most people are amazing interviewees! The seller becomes a buyer and that makes a difference. My friend is gainfully employed so this applies to her too.
Going in to your lab to tune up and re-calibrate your qualifications in isolation from the real marketplace forces is not very smart. And opportunities can arise at inopportune times. Don't you hate that! But when opportunity knocks you got to answer the door. Maybe in your heart you know you have shortcomings, but this is the job you want. If you get the interview then you can reveal your gap analysis and why you may not be fully qualified. And if done well, it can make you the most honest and most transparent candidate. Reflecting on your weaknesses, something conspicuously absent from your resume, can be dis-arming and refreshing. Of course, having a response on how you plan to address these weaknesses is a must--but you knew that.
Back on my friend. So she was not planning to interview for 5 years! Does she really think the stars will align on her timetable?! Seriously? Either she is the most powerful person in the universe, the luckiest human, or she is wrong. She has to start now. When an attractive opportunity arises, she can unleash her considerable network to conduct due diligence and pave the way. We discussed the reasons and she finally agreed that there were opportunities out there and that her confidence about her gaps was based on a bunch of assumptions.
Some dreams need to be tested and others must be abandoned. Should we wait 5 years to know--no way! If you are your own brand manager, then you have to take charge of understanding that brand and what will make it competitive and successful. That is what Babar Ali did. Waiting is never an option.
Thanks for reading. John
One strange indicator of the weakness of our economy is the quantity of conversations I have about jobs and careers. The volume is overwhelming and probably is telling about the length of our recovery period going forward. People are not finding jobs. There are so many people chasing too few jobs. It makes it hyper competitive and people's actions are becoming irrational. Causing many souls to just apply for virtually any opening anywhere. They discover that the are not well prepared for change.
So there is one thing to be out of work with little time, you have to be partly selfish and partly expedient. But for those that have time through severance or who are employed contemplating a change, I am witnessing an epidemic of the Swaying Flu. The symptoms are severe wishy washyness, indecisive behavior, frequent procrastination, and outbreaks of apathy.
So if you are chugging along in your work world, wouldn't this be the time to focus and invest in your job and your career?!! Do you need more motivation than this economy and what millions of our colleagues are facing? For some, these times mesmerize and hypnotize. We fall asleep. Myopia sets in that blinds us to our futures. In fact, there is a general atmospheric cloud that surrounds our judgment that erroneously tells us to be still and not stand out. That this is the absolute worst time to invest in our careers. We all know that education and formal degree programs are counter-cyclical. Meaning when people's jobs/industries are threatened then they go back to school. When people are laid off or out of work, there is a sharp increase in small business formation and enrollments at colleges and universities. Talked to a friend that manages an esoteric degree program at a major university and their enrollments inexplicably tripled in the last year. Some of you know, I sit on the board of Walden University and they are seeing record enrollments. These new students have had to endure great pain and suffering to now confront their choices and chances. They are re-visiting goals and have decided to make a career switch, start a business, or seek greener pastures. They do this in the worst economic climate in history. They dive into the deeper end of the pool to learn a new stroke. But do we have to be motivated by fear or unemployment?
People who are employed seem to be frozen in their tracks. They are ambitious without ambition. They expect to ride out the storm when when the world around them is not only shrinking but only exists in their optimistic minds. They have no plans to make the most of their current positions and opportunities, but rather seem satisfied with mere survival. How can I strengthen my resume NOW?
Love this video. It frames the question around your next 5 years. My view is three years is better.
"Shouldn't I wait until things get better?" So you are going to wait three years! You think the job market is going to be better next quarter or next year? Have you seen the predictions, the projections for jobs? Very few economists predict unemployment to return to pre-recession levels and many see this level of unemployment continuing through the middle of next decade. Waiting is not an option, it usually isn't.
Take a moment and read this brief account of unemployment and reflection by Jennifer Williams, Hard Work No Pay, just to give us a jolt of reality, if you have never been out of work.
So we hate planning our lives when things are good--and for many of us they were pretty good (seem better now, don't they?) and we can not plan our lives when things are bad. So must be our aversion to planning! The Swaying Flu strikes again.
Let's put some ambition in our ambitiousness. Wake up. This is your life and it is happening now. If you feel it is out of your control, then you have not grabbed the steering wheel: you are the driver, the pilot and the navigator of your career. If you believe in destiny, luck and/or miracles, then having a plan will make you that much better off, right? Confer with your network, your mentor, what do they think? Take steps to re-evaluate your plan for the next 3 years. How do we envision ourselves three years from now? See that perspective; and look back at the three years that lead to that vision, to see the steps, the decisions, the process and trajectory to get to that vantage point. One thing is certain, in three years you will be three years older. Maybe it will be easier and simpler then or maybe it won't be. I say why wait?
Thanks for reading. John
For me meeting and reconnecting with people nearly always presents opportunities to see the world and myself differently. I am constantly inspired by networks driven by the desire to help each other and others. This week was no different. I had the chance to spend a few hours with a group of non-profit execs and leaders from around the country. Incredible leaders who selflessly devote themselves to causes and issues that will transform lives.Some were just starting their roles, others were veterans, and still others were private sector refugees. But they all decided to work in arenas that they care about and where their work has impact. First of all the non-profit sector is blessed to have so many talented selfless people working tirelessly and out of the lime light providing the safety net for the less fortunate. But the world of non-profits is so much worse off than the general economy. Consider a “business” where the demand for service far exceeds the supply—sounds like a winner, right? No way. The challenge is how to pay for increasing the services, when your clientele is defined by need.The non-profit business model requires donations from individuals, corporations and foundations. Those sources are depleted. And donations to non-profits has never followed the economy on the way up and always lead the way down. So there is a serious, and probably invisible to you, disintegration of the infrastructure for the poor.
When you listen to the economic prognosticators you hear that the stock market has rebounded 60% since March, housing prices are up ticking, consumer confidence is leveling off, and corporate profit forecasts are improving. Contrast that with the beneath the radar hidden basement of the poor and uninsured. This is where the trifecta of cancerous challenges lurks: unemployed, uninsured, and poor. This population now represents tens of millions of families! It grows like a hidden tumor delivering great pain and suffering-now and will continue well into the future. And so the cavernous abyss between the haves and have nots also grows despite the economic improvements. The burden and cost of our poor will continue to undermine any long term sustainable growth.
One critical fact is being submerged in the uncivil war of words over health care, non-profits are the backbone for health services for the individuals and families that need them most. It is a special and vital network that is being washed away by the after effects of the financial tsunami. But all hope has not been extinguished.
UMMA, the University Muslim Medical Association in south LA. UMMA was founded in 1996 by a bunch of Muslim students at UCLA, who wanted to carry their university experience into the community and pursue their faith by serving others. The followed their hearts and their minds and their religious teachings to build a clinic in one of the toughest and most under-served parts of Los Angeles. In what appears to be a small storefront office that looks more like a used car lot than a medical facility from the outside, but a state of the art clinic that will serve more than 16000 people this year on the inside. The staff is majority Muslim, almost all of the doctors are Muslim, who volunteer their time and expertise, but the clients are whomever in the neighborhood needs medical treatment - few if any are Muslim. They have quietly and consistently grown their clinic into a model for the country and today there are 26 similar Muslim clinics across the nation. So hundreds of thousands of non-Muslim Americans receive free or low-cost health care because of these clinics.
What we learn over and over again is that ignorance and prejudice ominously stand in the way of our ability to work together and find solutions to common problems. Regrettably, we think we get along with everyone else. We wrongly think we do not stereotype others. We are all colorblind. Racists are other people. Prejudice lives in other places. Once we face our own inner ignorance and ethnocentricities we can begin to embrace our human bond and the majesty of our interconnectedness. And recognize that differences are necessary to survive.Then we can truly leverage and reap the benefits from our humankindness.
We rely on an invisible network of non-profits, often managed by and funded by people we do not know and in some cases we do not respect. Should we care? Absolutely.
Thanks for reading (and enduring my sermons) John
Gratuitous spending, ostentatious luxuries and hedonistic purchases seem like relics of the past--we hope. With the mounting needs and growing gap between the have and have nots, flaunting your wealth has to to be frowned upon. Even impulse buying and mall binges are a thing of the past. Most of us are re-focusing on what matters and the basic needs we have. This fall down Maslow's mountain is an ideal time to take inventory of our careers and our next jobs. The question always is What do you want? So the career shopping mall is open and your shopping basket is empty and you can now fill it with whatever you want, the only limits are your true inner needs and your timeline. Here's the big caveat--you have to have time. If you have been laid off AND you have days instead of months to look for the next thing, then I am NOT talking to you. On the other hand, if you are "looking" to make a change. You are proactively evaluating your professional trajectory AND you have a good runway to make that choice, then pull out your cart and let's go down the aisle ways!
First, let me let out a brief cathartic rant. Many people I encounter feel they are at-risk of losing their jobs and/or have reached a ceiling in terms of how their work fulfills them. And they are gainfully employed! They are not operating with any urgency. They have forgotten that they have many resources and opportunities at work to re-tool and enhance their skills, knowledge and abilities (SKA) to make them marketable for the new and better thing. Some of them have full tuition reimbursement still! And yet, they wallow in their indecision. They lolly gag their way through their confusion of choices and options. Many even blame their employer for not doing more for them, WHAT?!! Regrettably, a big percentage of these folks can not take the steering wheel of their own career and start to drive it towards their preferred destination even when someone else is paying for the gas! One thing is certain, they will get focused when they get the layoff notice and for all of us who have been laid off sometime in their careers, including yours truly, you know that is a very very different career/job search process. So, if you are employed and not in immediate danger of layoffs, then kick it into the next gear, because time is your enemy. Take full advantage at doing your job well (you will need this reference) AND the resources available to you to address your weaknesses or build up your SKA for what is required of your next desired career chapter. Stop waiting for the right time and right feeling. Stop procrastinating. Otherwise, the reality is the time and feeling will inevitably be controlled by something or someone else. Your little career car will be stranded in the desert and you will be staring at your GPS system! Not your preferred option. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Whew.
For those re-thinking their careers this may be an ideal time to go on a career shopping spree. What am I talking about? Unemployment is at record levels. There are so many depressed and shrinking industries, but there are also many opportunities. But jobs are being posted and opened everyday. But sometimes our perspective and self loathing prevents us from seeing them. Our lenses are colored by our pasts and our habits. Just like when we go down the aisles of the grocery store, we are looking for our brands, and the others are a blur and our brains have filed as irrelevant. We make our career path choices in much the same way--the past is prologue. If you are building a career and you see the steps ahead within the industry you are in, then focus is critical. But if you are considering making a change, then you have to get your brain to see new brands and new shelves and aisles of career options. Perspective is everything. Change your lenses then some new worlds and opportunities will come into view.
If you are employed and antsy, then let's go shopping -- for what's next. Be a serious and focused shopper who is open to real change. Yes, competition is fierce. And being competitive is essential. However, we can't say we want something different in our lives and then look at the same options. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a change. (apologies to Mr. Einstein) The wonderful thing about this type of shopping is it won't cost you a cent, but if you don't do it the costs could be much higher.
Thanks for reading. John
Special thanks to Helpguide.org for using portions of my blogs to create articles about networking, job search and resumes. Helpguide is one of the world's leading sites to empower you and to assist you in surmounting the challenges of life. A great resource for the entire family.
First of all it's nice to be back home after traversing South America for last 14 days. Went through Peru and saw the remarkable Machu Picchu. (one of my "bucket list" items) Then went to see Chile and my oldest daughter who is studying down there. Like any trip out of your neighborhood and country, you see and experience things that force you to examine your values and your own worldview. Hard not to have your ethnocentrism tested when you are a tourist. Traveling can be a trip into introspection and self evaluation.
Standing at the foot of the great redwoods, the edge of the Grand Canyon, traversing the Great Wall, or ascending the Eiffel Tower, stunning natural or man-made phenomena give us pause to consider our significance and insignificance. How vapid our lives can seem when we are so focused on the accumulation of material goods that never will be enough. What am I doing here? What will my contribution be? Out of the box travel can be a type of mentoring. You are forced into reflection by shared experiences, by what you see and what you think. That's the way it works. Your experiences create thoughts and those thoughts have emotional content and if you pay attention, they can shift your perspective and your future plans and actions. That's powerful mentoring!
- To get my teenage kids out of their little electronic cocoons and be inspired by reality, without technology.
- To see and experience a little of different cultures, to understand and appreciate our commonalities and differences
That disorienting feeling when you have little competence in the language or where things are definitive parts of being a tourist. However, there is an overwhelming tendency to seek comfort in things we know and trust. In the extreme, when abroad, we stay at the Hilton hotels, get coffee at Starbucks, and never try to utter a word other than English. All of the trappings of the ugly American. When I travel I awkwardly try to converse and understand what I see, eat, and experience. That was my focus this time too. My kids would say, Dad you are still ugly! All of us tried to resist our less adventuresome impulses, try new things, and show respect for the new cultures.
Without getting off on a giant historical and anthropological tangent, the Incans have always impressed me with their accomplishments. But ascending to the top of Machu Picchu brought my admiration to pure awe. The innovative technology, the sheer devotion to precision, the respect for nature, and the focus over a long time horizon. Not fully understanding the hierarchical systems and the means by which "incentives and motivations" were sustained, the results are stunning. No surprise why this is one of the seven modern Wonders of the World. Our guide Fabricio kept urging us to see beyond the images. Imagine what effort and work it took to accomplish these feats. Think about the journey rather than the destination. What sets Machu Picchu apart from many other extraordinary wonders, is the treacherous location of this complex agricultural and urban development. It sits atop of a 8000 ft mountain.
In the end, we return to the beginning and we are different. (apologies to TS Eliot) We accomplished our goals. We have traveled far and our experiences have altered our perspectives. We have an appreciation for Peru and Chile, that heretofore did not exist. We have a greater appreciation for what we have. Our respect for the Incans and the inspiration of Machu Picchu will not fade. But will the mentoring we received from our travels last? Will it make a difference in how we act or what we do with our lives? That's up to us to maintain that slightly uncomfortable, curious, and experimental tourist frame of mind. Our journey continues.
Thanks for traveling along with me. John
One of the funniest things I hear from young people, especially those who just graduated is: "I am just exhausted from college and I have to take some time off this summer to rest and re-energize before I go to work or graduate school." What?!!! As Shaw said, "Youth is wasted on the young." When we were in school we can remember the lazy days of summer interrupted by summer school, camp, chores and maybe a summer job. Those were the days. I watch my kids and can remember the angst over the question, "'what are we going to do today?"
Now that we are all growed up, summer can be busy but a time when we typically put off things until to the Fall. Many excuses are generated, other people's vacations, the warm weather, or the gravitational pull of our childhoods. But summer is an ideal time to tune up your careers. It is a time to to think and reflect. It is a time to plan. You were thinking you were going to be planful in the Fall? Yeah, you will have so much time then! Wrong.
Po Bronson has said in his What Should I do With My Life series that we tend to procrastinate by using dates, seasons, and milestones. This time is not good because: its summer, my kids are busy, the holidays, my birthday, things are up in the air etc etc. He concludes that the "right time" should not be the objective. That the people that have found their passions and success were never hindered by the time or the season.
This is the greatest time to make a change or to venture outside of our little cocoons. Change is afoot. Everything is changing. Literally everything. All assumptions about the future are being questioned. And there are so many opportunities. Do you really think that the strategy and path you have chosen can be followed without any adjustments? The first space shuttle made approximately 1500 course corrections to stay on its seemingly linear path. And you want to wait until the summer is over? Really?
Why do we live like the mythical lemmings and just follow each other over the cliff? Why don't we break the habits that cause us to be stuck? How can we differentiate ourselves if we robotically follow the seasons like a career Almanac?
I am just saying, take the summer to step back and think and prepare. Ask yourself a few questions:
- What do I want to change about my life and career?
- How will my life and career be different next summer?
- With whom do I need to spend more time? With whom will I reconnect? What am I waiting for?
- What can I do to strengthen what I value, enjoy, and love? Download SWIVEL new 2009
Don't waste your summer. When summer is over, and people ask, "What did you do on your summer vacation?" You can tell tell them how you took your career and life to new places.
Thanks for reading. John
A brief shout out to the LEAP interns (grad students interested in public service and the public good) I met with last week. Mary Rose, Leslie, Lisa, Pryanka, Seyron, Jen, and Vi engaged me in a wide ranging conversation about life liberty and the pursuit of fulfilling work, and of course, networking. Always inspiring and energizing to be around bright, youthful and idealistic students. I am certain that I received more benefit from the session than they did! Aaaah to be young and overwhelmed by choice and commitment. :-) I tried to impart these 4 takeaways:
- Students are powerful. Nearly everyone wants to help a student. You can ask "dumb" questions, you can be curious, you can talk to people at the highest levels. Later this type of power evaporates.
- Challenge yourself. Get out of your comfort zone, your routines and try new stuff that is driven by your curiosities and your interests.
- Map is not the territory. Explore your ideas and experience them. Do not rely on your intellectual understanding or theories. Apply and test your theories.
- Minimize your regrets. Follow your mind and more importantly follow your heart. Because your age will be defined by the number of regrets you accumulate.
Maybe relevant lessons for those of us who have been out of school for awhile. I am sure a few of us would gladly trade our challenges for theirs!
A am just struck by how our lives are so influenced by the people we meet and get to know. How these encounters can put new spin and momentum on our lives as we accelerate towards intended and often unintended destinations. If we pay attention and we seek new ideas, our trajectories can be altered or strengthened through these human connections. We know in our hearts, that we can not figure this stuff out by ourselves. Notwithstanding the American ideals of boot-strap individualism and self-reliance, our lives are less about our singular visions for ourselves, but the confluence and convergence of a mosaic of thoughts, advice, role models, inspirations, and needs that we obtain or observe in others. Like Antonio Gaudi's amazing and awe inspiring works in Spain--mosaics made from broken shards of pottery and discarded porcelain, which individually may be de-valued but when connected create stunning possibilities. Such is our lives. We can create and put together fascinating worlds, propelled by the people we meet and get to know. Connecting ourselves to others and their ideas, and suddenly the world is smaller and our ideas are bigger.
My daughter Jenna was marveling about her newest friend and how a superficial homework partner has emerged as a trusted confidante in a few conversations. Someone she "knew" was different once she got to know her. Jenna told me about the new ideas that have sprouted as a result of this new friendship or shall I say latent friendship. She has been introduced to new cuisines and a new network as well. By being open to the possibility of learning, by exploring, and ultimately leaving the comfort of your habits and routines--stuff happens. And that stuff will make you think about who you are and what you are doing. It will introduce you to new perspectives. And anything that gives you those opportunities is precious.
A couple of weeks ago I was worried about what summer would be like without summer school, summer camp, and swimming pools. The budget crises closed all of summer schools here in LA, most of the pools, and many more families are unable to send their kids even to a local day camp. The consequences from these budgetary cuts will stunt the memories and opportunities for the youth who have few options to begin with. But I digress. Anyway, got my employer CCF to start a modest fund to raise some money to help at-risk and disadvantaged kids receive assistance to go to camp or join a summer activity. The first day failure was predicted. I was told that there are no funds from foundations, that donors are tapped out, that the unfunded needs were too great etc etc. I have always believed that to have a chance you have to start--Lesson # 357 on networking--I called the metropolitan YMCA to explore this idea for a fund, they talked to their Board. One of their Board members is on a huge foundation Board (not in Los Angeles), she talked to the President of the foundation, that president sat next to my boss Antonia Hernandez at a chance meeting and the other foundation president said she heard about the summer youth fund. And that foundation is now going to fund the summer activities of 3000 young people from low income homes! All of this happened in 10 days. Some say this was just luck. However, I have learned long ago that the ripples from our chance encounters and conversations can be enormous.
Try to return your mindset to those like the grad students I met. A world of possibilities. A world that opens up through others. As I like to say, networking is a contact sport but it is a team sport. Regardless, you have to start the conversations. You have to get know people you know and don't know. And also like the grad students, our opportunities and abilities to influence are always far greater than we think. We can choose to be the artist that builds the mosaic or the weaver that stitches together the fabrics or the pinball wizard that propels the balls that come our way to greater distances and opportunities. Once you make the choice and the commitment, the lifestyle of mentoring and networking starts ripples that can bring enormous returns to you and your network.
Thanks for reading. John
Thank you for your off-line comments and encouragement. But I really want to know what you want me to blog about. I put up the poll to get your input, but not very many vote --so I will blog about what I am thinking about until the vote count grows or a better alternative is suggested. So, please post your comments on how I can engage your ideas! Thanks. JK
Normally, we do not so much look at things as overlook them. — Alan Watts.
BLOG Roll Call! I am going to call out your name to see if you are here with me. Ready? Are you with me? Present? Our hyper-busy, multi-tasking lifestyle is creating a bunch of bad habits that detract from our ability to connect with others. On one hand we have never been as connected to one another, but our tendencies is to have quick exchanges IM, SMS, text, twitter, facebook, etc are now the dominant forms of communication. Love the innovation, the serendipity, the new possibilities that are emerging. One of the unintended victims is our attention. Our ability to be present in a moment that has many distractions. Like many things we begin to get into micro-routines of behavior and we can miss the context, the environment, the unexpected, cues of communication, and opportunities. While we get focused the world is evolving, our worlds. Watch this video to see if you are paying attention. Three points I want to make:
- The Power of NOW: We avoid the present by thinking about what could have been and what could be. The past gives us identity and the future opportunity. But if that's what we focus on we get stuck in the past or the future--and miss the now. The Eckart Tolle tells us there was never a time that was not NOW. "To meet everything and everyone through stillness instead of mental noise is the greatest gift."Eckhart Tolle
- Multi-tasking Myopia: Our lives are a series of transactions coming one after the other. Like an assembly line worker, we focus on the incoming work, tasks, and connections. But life is going on around us. You may miss an extraordinary sunset, your kid's moment of need, or an opportunity to connect. We miss the bigger picture and/or do not hear and see what is really being said because we are distracted. Check out Derren Brown's experiments in attention in London. We hardly notice people we talk to!
- Put the Device Down!: Robotically we have acquired this new tic, this nervous gesture of looking at our devices often for no reason. Like someone who looks at their watch every 15 seconds, as if they forgot the time from 15 seconds ago. Others of us not only look at our device, but start responding when we are with others, in a movie theatre, or in mid-sentence when we are talking to someone else. The impression is something else or someone else is way more important than the present. The only way to achieve the above goals is an increasing awareness of the cyber leash.
"I am so into you.....type type type..........."
Believe me, I am as distracted or pre-occupied with the past and the future as any of us. I struggle with staying present--by being in that moment and giving the things and people the attention they deserve. It has been my growing awareness that has saved me and gives me a chance to be present. Most times
I know when I am not present and I can re-focus. When I was a time when I had no ideaI remember when I was a young young corporate VP feeling and acting "very important". I stopped by the receptionist of one of our operations to announce my arrival. The receptionist, who I had seen dozens of times looked up at me and said, "Do you even know who I am? You seem so busy that I guess I am irrelevant." Wiser than her years, I was shocked into focus and I saw her for the first time. I apologized to her and confessed my lack of attention. Since then, I try not to be like that--that rude and insensitive.
I have a young mentee who asked me the other day, "To what do you attribute the opportunities you have been presented?" I said, "I was lucky I was paying attention. I have learned that there are opportunities all around us. And people who crave and need our attention. But do we see them?"
Let's holster our devices--at least a few times during the day, refocus, feel and see the NOW, and your world will expand before your eyes.
Thanks for paying attention and for reading. John
Consider for the moment that more Americans are enrolled in outplacement services than in MBA, Law, and Medical graduate programs combined! For most participants this is a brutal wake-up call and hopefully they find a new and prosperous path. But the biggest obstacle to their awakening is their resistance to learning who they are and what they want. In the end they have to adopt the networking and mentoring lifestyle--the best inoculation against the plague of an unexpected job interruption and not working is networking!
All of us have Sybil like qualities of having multiple personalities, many faces, and many dimensions. That does not make us candidates for elecro-shock therapy! :) It is normal and makes us interesting. However, where did these personalities come from? Why do we have these facets and what makes them shine? Hopefully, I have not lost you already. I am referring to how we each act in our multiple roles. As a parent, a wife, a subordinate, a child, as a guest, or a host. You know, the way we switch instantaneously to a new persona based on expectations, history, or what we think is right. This is a giant topic, so I will discuss how you recognize the way you are presenting yourself in the world of networking and mentoring.
I meet so many people across the demographic and economic spectrum who are unwitting members of the Federal Witness Relocation Program! They have assumed new career identities. Often, these identities have been foisted upon us like second-hand Halloween costumes. In most cases this costume has been sewn together by the advice and guidance of well meaning people who have told us what we should do, what we are good at, and what we should not be. The classic, "You can't make money as a (fill in the blank art career)." And needing an identity, we slip on the costume and it is better than nothing. And over time we think the costume fits and like many things we adopt it as our own. Mary Jacobsen's book Hand Me Down Dreams discusses this topic in depth on how others shape the dreams we have. Our parents have aided and abetted the crime of identity theft. Parental expectations can govern everything. Pleasing our parents is an innate desire. What they said to us about our dreams and what our choices should be can be lifelong incentives or burdens. Asian parents are notorious, as are many different types of parents (I just happen to encounter many Asians in my worlds) in setting specific and non-negotiable goals. Like the old and stereotypical story about the Jewish kid who pursued law because he could not stand the sight of blood! Asian parents push academic achievement, brand name colleges, and the specific professions of medicine, law or engineering. In addressing Asian American young people, I usually start by giving them permission to think outside of the Asian parent box. Tell the parent you are going to be a doctor--maybe that turns out to be a PhD in literature!
You blend this costume wardrobe with the requirements of social etiquette, brown-nosing at work, first date party manners, familiarity, respect, political correctness and the costumes keep on coming!
Context changes how we act. Sometimes that is nice and sometimes it is stupid. Here's one example that befuddles me. When bright competitive and hard-nosed executives, entrepreneurs, and successful people join non-profit boards, they become imbeciles. They don their nice and gentle costumes and bite their tongues because they assume new identities and not themselves. They think that a non-profit is a sanctuary from their cut throat worlds. While the mission and bottomline of a non-profit is doing good, non-profits need the tough acumen and decisiveness of the business world--but more often than not they don't get it.
Being authentic, being you--the real you, has to be your goal. Hiding who you are or suppressing your interests and needs will only hurt you in the long run, because you will eventually land in the land of regret--the most painful land of all. And while being yourself requires the discomfort of removing some of those now form fitting costumes, we all know being real does not require you to remember anything. Pursuing what you want and not what you think others will like, or what your parents desire, will always be more fulfilling. Authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one's own personality, spirit, or character, despite these pressures.
I am not saying just blurt out your inner thoughts or to be so honest that you offend every person in your path! Mutual respect and being aware of your surroundings remain essential. That being said, you need to find ways to pursue your authentic self. Martin Seligman's authentic happiness site has a variety of free self assessments
- Setting your real goals, not the ones that sound good to others
- Practice articulating what you want and who you are, not the words you have been saying as a placeholder. Love when people introduce themselves as "Director of sales and an artist."
- Asserting yourself by asking the questions on your mind. Pursuing your true curiosity by asking the questions and getting the answers.
- Enhance your network with people that are real and model this behavior. Surround yourself with people who inspire you and like the real you.
- Find a mentor who you can really talk to--Let loose and take intellectual risks with.
- Define and refine this real plan for you with a mentor co-architect.
- Openly discuss your weaknesses and seek feedback from your mentor and others.
- Conduct your own self assessment and get your mentor to evaluate it.
Not saying that we can shed all of the costumes, but living exclusively in the Federal Witness Relocation Program will never work out. Like everything, your self-awareness about who you are, what you say, and where you are going are the best guides up the mountain of authenticity. That will determine who's in your network and who your mentors are. Then you can return many of the costumes to the goodwill shop.
Sometimes we define ourselves by a job title or a role-- I am VP of the company or a homemaker. That is not you, that is only a part of you. Don't be defined by a role, you are an incredibly unique and talented person who is much more interesting and complex than any day job. And in the end, the only personality that counts is you.
Thanks for reading. John
I get lots of funny and helpful feedback from my loyal readers. I know my job as a blogger is very easy, because everyone tells me how to do it! :) My future blog topic list has grown over the last few months and I would love your help in deciding what I discuss next. So cast your vote on my poll over to the right. Thanks for your help!
Don't network desperately
Unemployment rate now tops 7% nationally and in the golden state will top 9% when the latest figures come out. Some metropolitan areas have hit 25% unemployment. Job losses are now the highest since WWII. No wonder fear and desperation are increasingly evident in the working and networking world. When people get scared several things happen.They can get really focused on on what is truly important to them, or often they just start flailing about with little direction and thought. Employing a quantity theory to their actions--more is better. Throw as much as you can against the wall and something might stick. The consequences can be wasteful and reputationally damaging. See my post on speed networking
While these are desperate times, calling for desperate measures, we should not appear to be desperate or stupid. Often, we mirror our circumstances. When things are good we reflect that in our mood, our tone and even in our body language. When things aren't so good we do the opposite. And maybe even lead our conversations with how bad things are etc etc. Michale Losier says, "You attract to your life what you give time, attention and focus --positive or negative." Clearly this goes for networking too. Being calm in a storm takes energy and concentration. Panicking and over reacting is instinctual, but toxic. Treating your network like an ATM, where you input your transactional impersonal messages and expect value to just pour out is nonsensical. So desperate times require more strategy, more thought, and more thoughtfulness. Old American Indian proverb: "When you are lost in the forest, STAND STILL."
Here is an example of the "dumbest" networking request for assistance or advice I now get on a daily basis.
"John, can you help my brother? I have attached his resume. He either wants to work in CA or NY. He is interested in for-profit or non-profit. Please let him know if you hear of anything. Thanks for your help."
ANALYSIS: This e-mail was exasperating on many levels. It violates the basic principles of networking at every turn. Ironically, the sender thinks he is doing a good deed, when in fact the damage to the network can be serious serious. 1. A generic networking request for jobs is worst than no request at all, because you can lose that networking contact and opportunity. 2. An unfocused networking request, says to me you don't know what you want, where you want to live--any job will do. -the greatest fallacy is they think they are being open to possibilities in different sectors or geography.The reality is this "openness" creates a black hole that sucks all of the networking potential out of the connection. And this is a deadly combo. The only thing that would have made this worse is If the brother cold contacted me directly. If I do not know this person well, I delete the message. If I know them, meaning they are in my network, I explain the disservice they are doing to, in this case, his brother.(FYI, I have finally connected with the brother and we are getting things focused)
So what would be acceptable alternatives: E-mail or voice-mail (a call doesn't hurt from time to time, if it is important or you have not connected in awhile)
- GOOD- "John, you have not met my brother, but he is thinking about locating to LA. His resume is attached. Can you carve out a few minutes to give him some advice?"
- BETTER-"John, my brother is trying to locate to LA from NY and wants to get a handle on the non-profit landscape. He is thinking about working in education. Can you talk to him and share your thoughts?"
- BEST-"John, my brother has an extraordinary background in for-profit and non-profit work. Check out his resume. He is very interested in working in charter schools in LA. Can you talk to him and give him your thoughts?"
- Personalize the approach
- Be referred by a close colleague/friend of the decision maker
- Demonstrate your qualifications
Thanks for reading. John
Happy New Year to all! I truly wish you and your families a year of resilience and fulfillment. There are many sources of optimism for our future. Regrettably, I have to agree with the experts that things may not get much worse, but they are also not going to get better soon. As I have discussed these many weeks, there are many opportunities amidst the recession and the challenges. In fact there is more latitude to make changes in times like these. So don't procrastinate, make this the time to advance your agenda, your ideas, and your dreams. Probably a time to adopt the mentoring and networking lifestyle :) Don't fall victim to the "Let's see how things go" or "I think I'll wait until......" No better time then NOW to make it happen!
Check out this slideshow. I discovered it more than 10 years ago. I have shared it with every group I have led or addressed. Regardless of your religious views the message is profound and forces you to pause and reflect on what is important.
A few additional thoughts to help you jump start your plans for 2009.
- Write it down. Try out my new and improved SWIVEL (Strengthen What I Value, Enjoy and Love)vision and planning tool. Download SWIVEL new 2009 Writing down your goals and ideas dramatically increases your commitment and therefore your follow-through. Even if you do not like this form, please write down your goals or your new year's resolutions.
- How's my network doing? Conduct an assessment of your inner circle, your kitchen cabinet, your closest and dearest confidantes. Are any of these folks holding you back to where you want to go? Does this group have the experiences and background to push you forward? Think about how you can enhance this group to add new perspective and energy to your journey. If this is the board of directors of your career, what changes, if any, should you make?
- Who's my mentor? Getting good counsel in times like these is invaluable. Don't think of your next job as much as your goals and vision for yourself. What I mean is, your mentor(s) will give you an objective view on your plans and your thinking. Mentors can give your great advice on a job but may provide important insight regarding your career path. My mentors have pushed me out of my comfort zone so many times, I do not know the boundaries of the box anymore.:) Reconnect with your mentor(s) sooner than later. Maybe share your SWIVEL with them. Schedule your annual reality check up now!
- Connect and Reconnect. Make a list of people you want to see and get off the couch and go see them. Go to every opportunity to meet new people and experience new things. You need stimuli to see new opportunities, to try on new visions of yourself, to break bad habits/routines, to get inspired, and to earn how others see the world. If you are hesitating, this is a good primer on networking I hate networking... Jan 2 was the 25th anniversary of the day I sat next to this mysterious dark haired woman in row 21 on United Airlines. I was on my way to Hawaii for a vacation and she was returning home from Colorado. We started a conversation and we have been married for more than 23 years! Meeting people and good conversations can lead you places that may surprise you.
As the world's unprecedented economic implosion forces more people into involuntary career and soul searching exercises, networking becomes a new and popular strategy. Fear drives us to do things we would never consider. Knowing this human tendency, I developed this site to help people adopt a lifestyle of connecting and helping one another in all times good and bad. Yet, emergency networking becomes the strategy du jour.
I just got back from frozen Chicago where I spent the afternoon with a group of ambitious Pepsi employees who want to advance their careers and their lives through the mentoring and networking lifestyle. Pepsi invests in their employees and gives them many opportunities even through these challenging times. The aftermath of the layoffs of 3000 of their colleagues was already a distant memory and this group was re-focused on how to re-tool and push ahead. Fear was not present. We discussed a wide variety of topics, including how supervisors who are not aligned with your goals can be impediments to advancement. Talked about the importance of "drafting" off of a leader. You remember the way Michael Phelps and Jason Leizak swam just behind the lead swimmer and then slingshotted ahead to win. Or how Jimmie Johnson rides the bumper of the car ahead and passes on the turn. To me the single most important criterion for taking a position is the ability to draft--to be inspired and challenged by a supervisor who is interested in my advancement and development.
Then our conversation turned to networking and we talked about the misplaced desire to do networking FAST. This speed dating mentality is deadly. Networking and mentoring are not effective if they are rushed or considered a quick task. Does not mean we can not be efficient in how we target and focus this process, but super sonic speed in networking is usually iatrogenic (cure is worse than the disease) in building relationships for mutual support and benefit! My favorite coach, John Wooden, preaches, "Be quick but don't hurry." And that is the best advice for basketball, networking and life.
So as you might imagine, I am overwhelmed with networking requests of the supersonic kind. People I have not talked to in decades are looking me up because they need me NOW! Their tone and their process is hurried and panicky. I always try and help, but if we have not worked together on weaving the net, it just doesn't work as well. The slow eating movement has a lot to teach us about the dangers of speed. When we network we have to slow down, be present, and try and enjoy the process. Reconnecting with someone for help has to be a pleasure not a pressure. Be reflective, humble and even apologetic, especially if it has been a long time. Nothing wrong with reconnecting but consider the recipient of the contact and how you would feel. Maybe even a telephone call is better than a quick and dirty e-mail. And the cardinal sin of the speed demon is becoming a hit and run driver. The networker who connects, gets what he wanted, and never is heard from again. Were the referrals and assistance provided helpful? Did you get an interview or a job? Incredible to me when people are so selfish that they don't invest in their networks by closing close the loop by providing feedback. Or use the opportunity to report on the lack of success or the need for additional help. Hit and run networking drivers run over everyone in their path and especially their own reputations.
References as your networking starting point
People who are looking for a job, also need to think about their references. Your best references--those that like you and you like them, people who can endorse you, your track record, your character, your general greatness,--these are major networking hubs. By the way, why are there any other types of references listed? Always curious why some people contact their references at the end of a job search-- makes no sense. Or worse, never contact their references to prep them for a call and hope that something good happens. In these models, your references are the last to know about your new job offer and you explain why you were in the market to begin with and that raises unnecessary questions about what happened. Or your references learn about your career path and changes from the potential employer. Yikes!
Take inventory of your references based upon your current search and evaluate their relevance and support of you.
- Who should you add or subtract?
- What gaps are there? Gaps that an employer will question? What is your story about those gaps?
- Can a colleague, vendor, customer, Board member be added to replace or enhance a list?
- And finally what is the status of your relationship with these people?
- Contact each one to network about your possibilities and affirm their agreement to be your reference
- Describe your goals and seek their assistance
- Keep them informed on your progress
- Prepare them for the call from the potential employer
- Let them know what happened and thank them for their help regardless of the outcome
Veteran race car drivers will tell you slowing is essential to going fast. Slow down and try enjoy the process of reconnecting with your network. Start and end with your references and you can speed up your chances for success in the networking race.
Merry Chritmas! Thanks for reading. John
Don't recede during a recession
Spent the week meeting with about 350 non-profit leaders, representing more than 120 non-profit organizations (Nopes), about surviving the current economic crises. It was an exhausting and invigorating experience. It was an attempt to give these executives and fundraisers a reality check. As a serial non-profiteer I know that adapting and changing is not a core competence for this sector. But the world has changed and hunkering down to endure this period is essential. Chronicle of Philanthropy estimates that a 100,000 non-profits may close early next year. One thing is certain, this crises has hammered all organizations across all sectors.
Consider these impacts on philanthropy and fundraising:
- 66% of all charitable giving comes from individuals
- Every 100 point drop in the S and P 500 equates to a $1.5 billion drop in individual philanthropy. That translates to a $12 billion loss this year!
- Very wealthy will continue to give but "middle class" donors will significantly reduce or stop giving.
- Planned giving will increase as a % of overall giving. During the depression planned giving was 40% of all charitable gifts.
- Government grants, corporate, and foundation giving will drop precipitously. $10 trillion in market value and equity lost this year.
- Competition for gifts and attention will increase.
For the non-profit organizations I met, individual giving represented less than 15% of their income.
The conversations were an interesting blend of resilience and denial. These leaders are passionate about their work and that keeps them going. But their emotional connection to their work often blinds them to the changes that should have been and now need to be implemented. This is especially true when the demand for their services is increasing exponentially. They compartmentalize their focus on surviving and their drive to serve. In times like these, a recipe for disaster.
Our discussions ran the gamut from commiseration over apathetic Boards, to a how-to on lay-offs, to new models of coopetition, to random expressions of fear, and searches for sources of optimism...
One thing that seems to be giving false hope, at least in the short term, is the Obama factor, which has two facets. First, the belief that Obama's leadership will improve the economy, bolster government, and non-profits financial prospects will rise. While Obama's leadership will make a difference, there will be no financial influx to non-profits in early 2009 when many NPOs will face grim realities. Second, the idea that the Obama online fundraising machine is a model that every non-profit can adopt to raise new money. As I explained, NPOs are missing one key ingredient, the ingredient that made Obama online fundraising work----OBAMA! Not to be so cynical but NPOs gravitate to mirage like solutions all the time. We'd rather add than subtract.
The recommendations flowed from these sessions and here are some of the top ones:
- Prepare for less and create budgetary scenarios that should start with a 10% to 25% cut as the starting point.
- Return to the mission of the organization, to the reason the NPO exists. Consider paring back or lopping off efforts that have been the products of mission creep and mission drift.
- Increase communication to your Board to your donors. Tell them the truth and engage them in the effort to preserve what is important.
- Develop a new elevator pitch that reflects the new reality, that shows that the NPO is responding to community need vs the NPO's organizational need. No one cares that the NPO has to cut back, everyone is cutting back. What is the NPO doing to re-focus and respond?
- Develop an investment/investor approach to current and new donors. Donors increasingly want to know that their gifts have a return on investment (ROI) not just keeping the lights on and the staff paid. What does a gift do for the community, for the constituents?
If you are looking for an opportunity to meet new people, help the community, fulfill your personal sense of responsibility, and advance your career---jump into a non-profit volunteer post. They need help more than ever. Just make sure you align the opportunity with your values and your passions. Given the above context, can you imagine how grateful a NPO will be when you call to volunteer? A few tips on how to make this work for you:
- Pick a NPO and a mission you really care about
- Conduct due diligence on the NPO to insure compatibility
- Ideally align the position with your career interests and the NPO's greatest need
- Make sure you understand the expectations of the volunteer position to meet and exceed them
There is no more powerful form of networking that connecting with people who have an unconditional commitment to a common goal and NPO.
We all have to do our part. We all have to engage with the causes and issues we care about. We can not retreat during a recession. We need to connect and strengthen our sense of community. The power of WE is an unyielding force. Reach out and help the NPOs that mean the most to you and the returns will come back to you and all of us in many ways.
Thanks for reading. John
First of all thank you for all of the feedback on my got gratitude? blog. Loved hearing the stories where you contacted your mentors, doctors, relatives and others to thank them. Again, expressing our gratitude is such a mutually beneficial act!
Yesterday I celebrated another anniversary of my birth. I have reached a stage in my life when these moments are a reminder of time that has passed and the time that is left. Don't get me wrong I enjoy marking the annual milestone, and I had a quiet nice dinner with my family. But I use these yearly events to gain a bit more perspective. What have I done? What do I want to do? What is really important to me? I think perspective is everything. How you view things, what you see, and how you feel often determines what happens next.
I was very fortunate to have been raised by a mother and father who operate on polar opposite hemispheres of the brain. My Mom Tomi, is a right brainer, an artist, a creative person, and curious. My Dad Rod, was a CPA for more than 50 years, a left brainer, analytic, rational, and decisive. Traversing these world views gave me many strengths and weaknesses, but it helped me appreciate what lies between. My Mom sees possibilities and opportunities--she sees the negative spaces and the positive spaces in everything. Her glass is not so much half full as much as she admires the purity of the water and the beauty of the vessel. My Dad's glass is less full, the water tastes funny, and somebody did not wash the glass!
Seriously, my parents' gift of those diverse perspectives gave me a great life navigation system.
BTW, just resurrected my copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, a gift from my mother. A great read and a way of revealing your creative side.
I have learned that your perspective, your pessimism or optimism may determine your life expectancy. Optimists live longer. Half full or half empty study Seems pretty intuitive that people who see the possibility have a longer trajectory than the ones who doubt it.
So we need both perspectives to understand reality. See the possibility and yet understand what it takes to get there. But perspective, like life, has to adapt and evolve. Your perspective has to shift, it has to be dynamic, it has to be alert to the changes that surround us. It has to re-focus on what lies ahead how the current circumstances and "inconveniences" can be overcome to get to the next part of your journey. That's positive realism and that will buoy your energy and perspective.
Appreciate what you have and then you may see what is possible. Easy to become a victim to the self-fulling prophecies that create certain failure. I just talked to someone looking for a new job and they said, "Going to start my search after the holidays, because no one is going to hire now." If many people feel that way, then this is the BEST time to look for a job, right?!! I always think NOW is the best time to start anything important.
The challenge is in every moment and the time is always now. James Baldwin
There is an old story about British shoe salesmen who went to Africa at the turn of the century. One wrote back to factory and said, "Very discouraging, no one wears shoes here." The other salesman wrote, "Fantastic opportunity no one wears shoes!" It all depends on how you view things.
Perspective of time is something I think a lot about, especially during birthdays. How can we maximize the time we have? How do we jam in to what seems like a shrinking and ridiculously small sized life, all of our opportunities, dreams and goals? As I say, more choices and less time! So we have to choose what is important and not let things just happen. We have avoid the "I wish I would have" syndrome. We have to use our time well, otherwise you start to accumulate regrets. As you know, I believe that age is defined by the quantity of your regrets. NO REGRETS! is a way to slow that aging clock. :)
So our perspective impacts how we feel, what we do, and where we are going. Step back and see the chance instead of the challenge. See the opportunity vs the obstacle.
Thanks for reading. John