regrets

DIY open heart surgery

When I was 12 I was obsessed with the heart. Heart transplants. Artificial hearts. Michael DeBakey and Christiaan Barnard were my heroes. I was going to be a cardiologist. I surrounded myself with heart models and books. The idea of replacing someone's heart was so futuristic and mind boggling. But my less than stellar grades in science and math forced me onto a different career path. Yet my interest in the heart grew--the role of the heart both physically and metaphysically. I have always been drawn to people who are wholehearted in their lives. On the other hand, always wondered why some seem to ignore their hearts entirely. I developed a keen ability to hear people's hearts in their words, see people's hearts in their eyes, and sense people's hearts in their actions. 

I was paired up with a woman on the golf course and we got to chatting, that's why I love golf--you meet and get to know people. She started talking about her kids and how she and her husband wanted to help her children find happiness in the material world. "Find themselves amidst the clatter and clutter of societal expectations and the system of consumption." How to help them resist the peer pressures and even parental pressures to become people to enjoy life with less--with less than they have now? A very self-aware woman! And a pretty heavy conversation by hole #7! I rarely talk about the volatile topic of parenting and never with someone I just met. Most parents are talking about what their kids lack or are doing wrong. A focus on more. More education. More discipline. More serious. More like them! This mom wants to help her kids develop their hearts!

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched -- they must be felt with the heart.- Helen Keller

Later that week, I was invited to meet with a group of scholarship recipients. These were college students, grad students and even alumni. One of the most poignant moments was when a young man asked, "I got my MBA. I work for a prestigious bank. I have a promising career in finance. But increasingly, I feel disconnected with the purpose of our work. It lacks personal meaning for me. When and how do I re-think my career, when I have a very good well-paying job?" His heart was getting through the noise and appearance of "success" and he was listening!

Heart-driven conversations questioning the status quo. Their hearts are spilling out through their lips to a random stranger! Trying to resist the gravitational pull of conventional wisdom. 

These conversations are like verbal defibrillators for me! It gets me pumped up to talk to others about their truths. It helps me re-ignite my "plan", my assumptions and jolts my heart and the truths within. Hrart and brain

"Recent work in the relatively new field of neurocardiology has firmly established that the heart is a sensory organ and an information encoding and processing center, with an extensive intrinsic nervous system that’s sufficiently sophisticated to qualify as a heart brain. Its circuitry enables it to learn, remember, and make functional decisions independent of the cranial brain. To everyone’s surprise, the findings have demonstrated that the heart’s intrinsic nervous system is a complex, self-organized system.Dr. Dominique Surel

Most of us could benefit from a little open-heart "surgery". Breaking our hearts open to guide our lives. Transplant our fear and doubt with courage. Call it a passion bypass!

As a youngster I wondered how many beats each heart had. Each heart has a finite number of beats. When it will stop no one knows. Expecting to live a specific amount of time, defies the reality around us. Today is the only time we can rely on. As parents, employers, mentors, partners, all we can do is create the conditions where this self-awareness can thrive. Where the heart builds an express lane to where courage resides in the brain.

And "courage" is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant "To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart."

A close friend was just offered a new job--a "better job". More prestige, more money, more authority. Logical for her to go for it. No brainer, right? But the brain cannot make all the decisions or we are doomed. She came to me for advice. I listened, trying hard not to judge her and not to "fix" her. I heard her inner conflict. Similar to the teacher who is asked to be an administrator. Or the the salesman to be the VP. I heard her talk about losing her connection to the clients, as an advocate of their needs. It was obvious this was a poor fit. But that's not my call. She texted me and wrote: "They are going to offer me the job, what should I do?" I wrote, "At this point, only your gut and heart know the answer. You have all of the facts. Trust yourself."

Your heart talks to you everyday. Are you listening? 

It is so easy to ignore the heart as an irrational and emotional voice of distraction. I have. I did. I still fight the tyranny of expectations. The overlord of optics. They are brutal and relentless bullies.

Takes courage to listen to your own goodness, and act on it. Pablo Casals

Practice open heart "surgery" on yourself :) Let your courage speak through your heart. Listen. Then follow the instructions. Failing to do this risks heart failure.

Thanks for reading. John


When do we (should we) get serious about the pursuit of joy?

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.  —Annie Dillard

The point here is that we all go through phases and cycles that determine our path, trajectory, and destination. Amidst the chaotic stretches where you feel like we have no control there are other moments of clarity, joy and  opportunity. Windows of time that give us the chance to make a change, shift gears, pivot—hopefully focus more on what we really want.

Age 26, according to the unscientific longitudinal Kobara study involving thousands of unsuspecting subjects, starts an 8 year time frame (until 34) where the brain starts to shift to serious things.

It all started some time ago…….

High school is a blur that is dominated by embryonic ideas of self and a confusing cocktail of peer pressure, parental expectations, promises and perfection. Angst over picking a college. The future is filled with questions and excitement.

Who am I?

College can be an awakening unless it was just an extension of high school Average college students change their major 2.5 times. Angst over a major that will connect to a career that cannot be predicted. New questions emerge.

What do I want?

Passion and purpose can be submerged to the realities of student loans and dental benefits.

Caring what others think can distract us from discovering ourselves, our purpose and our joy.  Finding-joy-in-the-journey

"Psychologists and social scientists have found that there are two kinds of popularity: One type suggests people like us, they trust us, they want to spend time with us, they enjoy their time with us. That kind of popularity is really important — it gives us a benefit in life in so many domains, for decades, whether we experience it in childhood or as adults. The second type of popularity is the one we remember from high school, that refers to our status; it reflects our visibility, our influence, our power — our celebrity, in some ways. There’s research showing that type of popularity — status popularity — does not predict long term positive outcomes. In fact, it leads to despair, addiction, and relationship problems. But most people are still confusing the two types of popularity, and searching for the wrong one."  Mitch Prinstein, Popular: The Power of Likability In A Status-Obsessed World.

And we can get focused on, even worship things, things we believe will make us happy and or successful.

“....pretty much anything you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.” David Foster Wallace

Am I where I am supposed to be? Am I having fun?

According to the annual Freshman Survey (20 years ago+), the three top goals of first year students in college, in order of preference, are authority in their field (don't even have a major :), raise a family and being very well off financially. The survey reflects the responses of 1.5 million college students from every state. These results have been relatively consistent for 50 years.

That's why I found it fascinating that they did a follow-up study 10 years later when these former 200,000+ freshman were now 28ish. They were asked the same questions. So what were their top three goals now that they have a degree and a healthy dose of the real world?

  1. Raise a family
  2. Develop a meaningful philosophy of life
  3. Become an expert in their field

Help others in difficulty was 4th and being very well off financially fell to 7th.

Develop a philosophy of life?!

Your heart has been giving you signals for a long time but you have muffled those messages by turning up the volume on your life distraction headsets.

You could have one of several "wake-up calls". The world around you starts to call out your name, you wonder how to become an agent of change.  You notice something entering or exiting your heart. A brush with death, yours or someone you love, a subtle or not so subtle connection with life's purpose. You get laid off, not promoted. Then the self-interrogator of life rises again with the blinding light of nerve wracking queries.

Is this all there is? What difference am I going to make? Where is my joy?

Graduate school? Graduate school again?

Marriage or kids or no kids? The initial formation of what I call "regret tumors" starts. Beginning with the abandonment of dreams or promises. Not malignant but ominous tumors.

Seeing the present for the first time instead of letting the next bulldoze the now

Most of you under-estimate yourself and doubt is your enemy.

A few of you over estimate yourself and arrogance is your enemy.

Both are necessary for success but you need more perspective, humility, grit and resilience.

Start re-booting your life--- a life that interweaves your passions and your goals. Start listening and trusting your heart. This is not easy, but it is rewarding.

What is meaningful to you? What gives you joy?

If you are over the age of 34, it is never too late. Your quest for greater fulfillment and your sense of contributing to something larger than you is growing within you. Time is fleeting.

Regrets age you. Regrets can kill you. Minimize regrets!

If your goal is to make meaning by trying to solve a big problem in innovative ways, you are more likely to make money than if you start with the goal of making money, in which case you will probably not make money or meaning.    Guy Kawasaki

The key is engaging others in your quest. In your journey. In your dreams. Getting help to pursue your ideas. Getting advice on what others have already learned and tried. Connect! Don't fall victim to the "do-it-yourself" trap. It never works! Listen to yourself! The you that jumps out of the passenger seat and takes over the steering wheel of your life! Start building a life that gives you joy!

So you are waiting for the right time. The confluence of great opportunity, financial security and a sign from the heavens.....

There is no right time, just right now!

Thanks for reading. John


Your moment

As you may have noticed I have been slipping in my poetry into my posts. :) To be honest I am writing more poems than anything else. It is a cleansing, meditative process for me.  I know my work is personal. Yet I want to share it in the hopes it resonates with you. 

Choice is the enemy of commitment. (attributed to Jerry Brown)

Just know many folks who are going through decision trees right now---school, career, family, relationships......Some dark decision jungles and others delightful and glorious forests. Nevertheless--Choices! First, always be grateful that you have a choice. Second, try to enjoy the process no matter how complex. Third, never look back and embrace the decision!  Chinese-Bamboo-Forest

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

Your moment
 
This may be a tough moment or a great moment,
 
It may lead everywhere and nowhere,
 
A moment that reveals the possibility
 
The possibility of change, of joy, of surprise
 
Not from a plan of specific steps
Not from a promise from the past
Not from the expectations of others
 
The possibility of what it can be
The possibility of what you can be
 
Seeing the now of it
 
Feeling the here of it
 
Breathing the you of it
 
Becoming the it of it
 
Make this moment, your moment
 
 
Thanks for reading. John

 


Uncomfortable Comfort

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

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

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

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

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

Get-comfortable-being-uncomfortable-7

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

Perhaps my theme song! And definitely my favorite quote.

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

So here's my answer:

You should never be comfortable. Never.

In terms of life and career development.

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

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

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

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

We have to be uncomfortable with our comfort.

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

John Steinbeck 

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

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

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

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

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

Have I afflicted you?

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

 

A poem I wrote inspired by these thoughts:

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

Optimistic Fatalism and my conversation with Leonard

 "I really do not like what I do but I am 10 years from retirement......."

"Gotta go with the flow."

"I just want to see if I make partner. I should be a partner by now, they owe me......"

"It is what it is."

"My values and my employer's values are diverging, but I'll figure out what I want to do later in my career....."

"Lucky to have what I have."

According to my unscientific survey, surrendering to the status quo starts earlier and younger. Settling sooner for what you can get and shelving what you wanted. I had a millennial call herself an "optimistic fatalist". "I really hope I am wrong, but I am not going to do what I want."  It depresses me.

I am constantly and irritatingly asked:

When do you move on to the next thing? At what point do I give up on my dreams? 

After one of my workshops I was pursued by an executive who sat at my lunch table. I'll call him Leonard. After listening to the small talk he blurted out some thoughts that were clearly percolating for awhile.

"So John, I get your message--do what you want and even love. I get it. I wish I could do it, I wish it was possible. You know most people just can't do that. People take the jobs they can get and they put up with the toxic worlds they enter to make a living. Having a job you love is a fantasy."

You can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love. Jim Carrey

"Leonard. Thanks for speaking up and challenging my words. I do not want to make any of this sound easy or simple. It isn't. Taking control of your life takes courage. Just to be clear, I was not suggesting that finding a job you love will be THE answer. But finding work you love, you believe in, that fulfills you is not a fantasy. It is achievable and doable. Of course, if you need a job to eat and survive, then you need a job and your tolerance for inhospitable environments is much higher. But I am talking about me and you. We are sitting in this nice hotel chatting about our futures. We are over educated and have choices. There are amazing things that people will pay you to do that may be more fulfilling and fun. But I was also talking about building a life you love. A portfolio of things that represent your passions, interests and dreams. That procrastinating these decisions into some sort of sequence of steps and chapters is crazy. There is little chance that one job will provide you all of the fulfillment of your life. But you will spend way too much time working, so how do we make it the best job, a job you care about, as the hub and build out great spokes from there. No one like us has to put up with a toxic job. Does that make sense?

Yin yang
Yeah, but I really thought you were just talking about a dream job, Leonard replied.

No. A dream life. A lot of people struggle with so-called "work-life" balance. This is a myth and a harmful way of thinking. People seek balance because something in their lives is not as good as other parts. What if all parts were good? What if you designed your life to give you the fulfillment, flexibility, and the time to "balance" your life? Wouldn't that be a better life? 

Leonard nodded, "I know people(most people say they have a "friend";) who are really unhappy and they just can't leave their jobs."

I hear a lot of people who want to blame everyone but themselves about the predicament they are in. Again, these are first world people with advanced degrees and great resumes. They have convinced themselves they are stuck--stuck like sea squirts.

Sea squirts are odd slinky-like marine life that swim in schools to find a rock or piece of coral to make home. They permanently affix themselves to the rock. Then they do something really odd, they individually eat their own vertebrae and brains. Because when you are stuck on a rock you don't need a backbone or a mind! 

I meet a lot of really smart sea squirts! No backbone to stand up for themselves and their lives. Who get shackled to a narrative of high consumption and higher expectations that makes them fall behind in their credit and their careers.  Sea squirts Bluebell

Just like moving from pensions and defined contribution retirement plans to 401K's , we have to run our own financial AND life portfolios. 

There is a materialistic and financial delusion that we need so much stuff. And that stuff puts us in debt and that starts the vicious cycle of compromises and postponed plans. We get burrowed and cemented into a rut that imprisons us. We want more and accept less.

By the way, all setting a pattern of optimistic fatalism for our kids.

Yet I watch a growing number of people emerge from the fog and break out of their cells of expectations by following their hearts. Huge changes underway where people are making choices about priorities, downsized lifestyles, and upsized lives. Finding work they love. In the four pay cuts I took for jobs that gave me a more flexible life, I never regretted it. 

I recently met a chef, who now has four restaurants. He was defense contractor engineer who was very well paid. He went to these gourmet dinners with wine pairings made by a friend. He loved these meals and quit his job to become a chef at 45. He would have made more money and had a bigger retirement fund, but he chose his heart over his financial plan.

When you're doing something you love and are drawn to it, you want to do it all the time. - Ra Paulette 

Or the financial planner who volunteered for the Special Olympics and now is a neuropsychologist. Or the night club owner who decided to give his excess food to the homeless and now manages a social enterprise that does just that. 

People who have built happier and more meaningful lives around something that moved them.

What moves you? What is important to you that isn't getting your attention? Build it into your portfolio. Design a life that makes space for it.

 Be reckless when it comes to affairs of the heart.

What I really mean … is be passionate, fall madly in love with life. Be passionate about some part of the natural and/or human worlds and take risks on its behalf, no matter how vulnerable they make you. No one ever died saying, “I’m sure glad for the self-centered, self-serving and self-protective life I lived.”

Offer yourself to the world — your energies, your gifts, your visions, your heart — with open-hearted generosity. But understand that when you live that way you will soon learn how little you know and how easy it is to fail.

Clinging to what you already know and do well is the path to an unlived life. So, cultivate beginner’s mind, walk straight into your not-knowing, and take the risk of failing and falling again and again, then getting up again and again to learn — that’s the path to a life lived large, in service of love, truth, and justice. Parker Palmer

We have to wake up from the delusion that choice is a fantasy, clear the fog and take control!

Does this make sense Leonard? Now what? 

Thanks for reading. John

 


Career FITness: FIT or Finished

Like a finely made car, brand new and just out of the factory, there is as they say, fit and finish. It is shiny, everything works well, there are no rattles or dings. But we know when we drive off the lot, the car loses value and it starts its inevitable decline into planned obsolescence. Both its FITness and Finish are victims of time, without a maintenance program.

Your FITness in your life is crucial. Do you still FIT into your professional life? Are you at the right place at this time in your life? Do you like what you do and does your work like you?

Hiring today is more about FIT than anything else. There are still a lot of very qualified competent people with impressive resumes out there. But can they FIT into the culture and get along with the team? Do they FIT?

But many people forget that FITness is ongoing. After the offer letter, retention, growth and success at your employer depends on your evolving and adapting FITness.

What got you here, is not what will get you there.

FITness is a two-sided deal. Your employer is always evaluating your talent. Either you are growing and adapting or you are not. But the key to FITness is your evaluation. Your assessment of whether you FIT, whether the current place you spend most of your waking hours is still the right FIT.

Do I FIT? Is there a FIT?  So what is my FITness?

Captive slave
Michelangelo’s sculpture The Captive Slave , seemingly half- finished, shows a figure attempting to escape from the stone. Or is about the struggle for freedom in everyday life?

We can get complacent until something happens. Usually something bad, really bad.

We fall out of FITness like America became obese. When we woke up we were out of shape with our lives. We get stuck in a comfortable cycle that we know is not good for us. We are bloated with apathy and have little energy for change—even though we know FITness is what we need and even crave. We wonder how we got to this point. It just happened.

I don’t FIT into my jeans or my life :)

As a close friend of mine was told by his spouse, “I guess your job needs you more than you do.” That was a 7.0 on the Richter Scale. He left the job when he realized what others saw for years.

My wife told me, after I left one of my 19 positions. “Never do that to us again!” She told me how brutal it was for her and the kids. I was blown away and clueless. I knew it was a bad FIT but I didn’t know how obvious it was. My poor FITness unintentionally hurt my family life too.

On the other side, when you FIT you know it. You feel engaged and you engage people around you. You are leading your life. You don’t talk about how busy you are or how stressed you are (signs of you are not FIT). Instead you have a sense of contribution to the work of a team and a greater purpose. It shows on your face and others see it clearly.

Are you willing to do what it takes to get FIT where you are?

Are you engaged in helping your colleagues and your boss succeed?

Have you negotiated and pushed for what you want?

Have you explored the ways you can develop your skills knowledge and abilities?

More often I talk people off ledges. People who have developed almost self destructive relationships with their jobs. A Stockholm Syndrome like dependency. They are trying to tough out a situation that is clearly wrong for them. I never say, JUMP! I want them to see it—to define the lack of FITness.

  • “I have just 8 years to get my retirement (8 years! You could get two bachelor degrees!)
  • “I really like the people I work with, I just hate the work.”
  • “I can’t quit this job now, how would it look on my resume?”
  • “I am ready to be promoted, I like where I work even though there is no place for me to move up.”

These are the sounds of people on the River Denial. They hope something will happen. Lightning will strike. Things might get better down the road—after the new VP settles in, or the new product line is launched, or after my vacation……. Waiting is never a strategy. Even if they want to leave they have to invest in a smooth transition. 

But bad examples should never motivate. That’s too easy. Here’s the deal. You have limited time to do what you want and pursue what’s in your heart. To have a life that is fulfilling. To find FITness. And then you die. Sorry.

The people who find FITness have a growing understanding of what they want. They have clearer goals about money and material things. They know MORE is not a path to FITness. Purpose is the way to FITness.

They find FITness where they are. They add to their life portfolios to become FIT. They invest in their relationships and their passions. They start to lead themselves and others by setting an example of what they want.

So pull up your big boy and big girl pants and start to take control of your FITness.

Start by articulating what you want. Not by whining about what you don’t want.

Take a swing for the fences of fulfillment. Not telling you to quit, but pack your parachute well. Make plans. Moonlight. Experiment. Talk to people. Explore your network.

This sense of direction and purpose (even if you are not exactly sure where you are going) will give you confidence and inspire confidence around you. Opportunities seek and find such people.

How’s your FITness? Do you FIT? Are you FIT or finished?

Thanks for reading. John


Numb and Number

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still with me? 

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

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

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

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

My favorite quote:

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

You still with me? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awareness is step one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John

 


The Key Connection to a More Unrealistic You

Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.  St Augustine

Maybe it is the new year, maybe it is my stage in life, maybe it is the truth that is emerging around me. While I have been saying this for many years, ...."the most important connection, the first connection you must make is to yourself," this idea has  Key-in-door-1024x685more meaning and power than ever before. Let me explain. 

I have always been drawn to thinkers and writers who have expounded on passion, meaning, and purpose. I strongly believe that without these elements driving one's life you will be lost in a series of transactional moments that may not add up to what you wanted. Life is not your resume. It is not a list of achievements sans failures and challenges. It is not a string of happy moments, interrupted by sad moments. Your life is a precious and amazing opportunity, everyday to do good as you define it. To do what you love to do. To make a difference. Intuitively I know you get this. But doing it is rough. 

So I am constantly looking for the clues, the inspirations, the insights of others who can show me the way. The way to more persistently becoming myself. Becoming and understanding myself so I can overcome so many self erected barriers to my own path.

Lot of popular notions out there that I am sure you have noted. The Ms are very popular:

  • Mindfulness
  • Meaning
  • Meditation

The Ps are also competing for your interests:

  • Presence
  • Purpose
  • Passion

So the M's and the P's are powerful words that are all on the endangered species list of words that become diluted through popular usage.

I have been recently  influenced by words and ideas from Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, Sherwin Nuland's The Way We Live (and Die), E. O. Wilson's The Meaning of Human Existence, Brene Brown on Vulnerability, anything from the Dalai Lama, Krista Tippett's show On Being, Bernard Glassman's Instruction to the Cook....

This is not a book list for you to buy. I am resisting giving you snippets and quotes here. You should subscribe to Brain Pickings for extraordinary summaries of important literature, including some of these sources I have listed. There are so many great sources of smart people thinking about these questions out there. Find things that speak to You. 

Engage and enhance your network to talk about these issues. 

Like you, I continue to find my place. Someone said to me the other day, "I wish I was like you. You have a purpose and a plan." Wow did I fool him :)

Tis one thing to speak and write about it, tis another thing to do it.

There is lots of research on life satisfaction. The work of Hannes Schwandt is particularly fascinating. Builds on research that spans 50 countries and many socio-economic groups. This is what I have interpreted. The peak of peak of happiness is 85. 85! There is this U shape to our life satisfaction. Starts high and goes steadily down until 45ish and then builds back up and reaches a high point in the mid 80's. Why?, Because when we are young we have "overly -optimistic" read unrealistic expectations about our lives. We want a lot. We have dreams and ambitions untethered to terra firma. This creates disappointment. College majors and aspirations turn out differently and life happens. In the late 40's and through the 50's we have another moment of reality. Expectations (different from aspirations) are super high. Was this what I was meant to do? Is this all there is? Financial realities take their toll. Each stage you shed more and more of what is unrealistic and our optimism takes a seat at the back of the bus. By the time you are in your 80's you simply do not care any more. This is the brutal phrase from the research, "...unmet expectations are abandoned and less regret is experienced..." Regrets evaporate. Time is very short so let's not waste any more. You are old and very happy. Is this maturity or the ultimate death of our dreams?

I am not saying this is going to happen to you, but it is happening. Apparently it happens like clockwork according to the researchers. I know you are not "average", after all you are reading my blog. :) And we can take the safeties off our blamethrowers and aim them many places. For me, shedding all of the expectations of others and society is a great starting point. If you are honest with yourself you have to sort through what is YOU from what is not. This is the ultimate preventive measure against the gravitational pull of the U curve. Turn this U into YOU.  As I said at the beginning, it starts with you, the key connection you have to make.

I know it can feel like a runaway train that does not respond to herculean tugs on the emergency cord. But you got to stop the train and take a walk with yourself. To listen to YOU. To hear your heartbeat and the voice within. There is a small penitentiary within you of trapped ideas, emotions, and yes dreams that yearn for your company, attention and the light of day.

I wish I could hand you the next three steps to You. I would if I had them. But you are unique. You are also on a human trajectory that has predictable elements and phases. Maybe true happiness is when we get to an age and stage where we have abandoned all unrealistic things, we regret nothing because we don't care any more, and we appreciate life because it is ending. Some research says so. I am not going to allow it to happen for me.

I want to eliminate regrets before they accumulate and take up precious shelf space and then I will have fewer "unmet expectations".

The Chumash native americans have a saying in one of their blessings that always jolts me:

"When you are born you begin to die."

Time is a luxury. Do not take it for granted. You never get it back.

I still believe in change. For me and for the world. I have research that says that it is possible. :)

I believe that you can change. I see it everyday. But no one can make the change but You. And there it goes again, we return to You and to see ourselves anew.

I am wishing You the greatest year of your life. Make it a bit optimistic and unrealistic. :)

 Thanks for reading. John


Put this on the Top of Your Wish List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what are your friends and family wishing for?

Mom santa fe
My mom and sister in Santa Fe

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


Like what you got to get what you like

People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives. J. Michael Straczynski

How do we take full responsibility for where we are? Embrace what we are doing to get where we need to go. See our current opportunity as the best step to advance our lives and the lives of others.

Put the victim, excuses, entitlement and blame game behind us and power ahead by embracing the present.

Not talking about "hanging in there" or "toughing it out" or certainly not "waiting for something good to come along."

You underestimate what you have and how it can help you advance.

How do we love what we do to do what we love?

What you say to yourself and others becomes who you are. Your story is what connects you to your future and to others.

You attract whatever negative and or positive vibes you give off.

"I hate my job." "I can't wait to get out of here." "I don't believe in what I am doing any more."

It's odd but very frequent when people tell me that they are basically unhappy with their jobs and their lives. By the way, 70% of Americans say they are disengaged from their jobs--70%! (Gallup State of the American Workplace)

People say the darndest things. :) They appear to have little pride in themselves. 

As the Mad Hatter advised Alice at the tea party:

Then you should say what you mean. 

I do,' Alice hastily replied; `at least--at least I mean what I say--that's the same thing, you know.

Not the same thing a bit!' said the Hatter.

You might just as well say,' added the March Hare, `that "I like what I get" is the same thing as "I get what I like"!

So say what you mean but mean what you say! And like what you got to get what you like!

You got to embrace your circumstances, your current work, your employer and your life---because it's what you got. And you have to describe what you have by appreciating the positive and making lemonade.

I am not saying to stay at a toxic job. I am not saying to sugar coat your thoughts about your work and to lie about it. I am not talking about blind loyalty. I am speaking of a loyalty and commitment to yourself. This is your job. This is your life. And to the extent you allow your job to define you, you have to own it. 

And your narrative, your storyline, can't be just negative. What you say about your work reflects on you and impacts your buzz and your trajectory.

So many people sound like fugitives to me. They are fleeing something to find something better. They have a foot out the door and are seeking the next thing. They are not in the present but stuck in the past and scheming about the future. They are not in the now. Just finished the New New Thing by Michael Lewis. Your life can't always be about the new new thing but about the now now thing. 

Opportunities seek those that adapt and succeed and make the most out of what they have. 

First of all the pursuit of life driven by passion and meaning can only be partially satisfied by one's professional career. For some fortunate people, work life can generate the bulk of one's life satisfaction. But for many of us we have to adopt a portfolio approach to life. Like your investments you need an allocation strategy to create returns from multiple sources which can "hedge" the others. We need a constellation of interests to feed our great hunger and curiosity for stimulation and meaning. If we place all of our eggs in one basket, place all of our chips on one bet, invest all of our energy into our job, the result is predictably an insufficient life.

Life choicesPeople who are engaged in their lives. Who exude energy, confidence and positivity. These are people who by and large manage a broad and diverse portfolio of interests and activities. Their day job is but one source of their life force.

These are people who are busy, really busy. They make the most of what they have and they always seem in demand.

Get your story straight. What are you doing now that is interesting and engaging? Own where you are regardless of the challenges. Love it. Build on what you have to get to the next step in your plan.

What are you optimizing for?, asks Brian David Johnson, Intel's futurist.  How are you using the present to plan your evolving future? How are you spending your work time and non-work time to provide more stimulation and growth? What is energizing your progress and your momentum now? What skills, knowledge and abilities are you honing?

It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. Epictetus

One of the reasons why so few of us ever act, instead of react, is because we are continually stifling our deepest impulses. Henry Miller

Don't dismiss your life as "Not what I want to do" or "It's just a job" Talk about what's emerging for you. Talk about what you are optimizing for. That will help you and others see your path.

You are going somewhere, right? And this place where you are is the best place to get there--because that's where you are!

Be what you say and say what you are. Appreciate what you have and who you are. And do it with pride and energy. 

Success is going from one failure to the next with enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

Thanks for reading. John


Our Barbellion Choices

Each of us must experience one of two pains - the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. Which pain will you choose?  Robin Crow

Everything we do is a choice. Either we proactively act or the absence of our actions chooses for us. We want so many things. We act only on a few of them. We think we are lucky and we are. Mostly because we have choices. :) More often than not the luck of great fortune does not drive up to our door, ring the doorbell and present itself on a silver platter. We also want conflicting things. Things which counteract each other. Things that are polar opposites.

A few examples of things I hear every week:

WANT                                                  DON'T WANT

Fast track to the top                                        No overtime or weekend work

Learn more                                                      No more formal education

Entreprenuerial opportunities                        Security of employment

Not stuck behind a desk                                  Hate networking

Wants a mentor                                               No time to mentor others

New adventure                                                Stability

I have hundreds of these pairs. I try not to laugh or make a face when I hear them. I really think I could be at the final table of the World Series of Poker. Funny thing, the people saying these oxymorinic aspirations can't hear the grinding of the goals that are slowing them down if not derailing their progress. They do not realize that they maintain this career dissonance to forestall decisions. Young and old use these competing weights to wittingly or unwittingly hold themselves back.

My absolute favorite: Start-up with a retirement plan. :)

I call this the barbellion syndrome. Heavy weighted goals at either end of a spectrum that make progress overwhelming. They get stuck in their indecisiveness, ambivalence and lack of clarity. Barbell control

We have the capacity to make every decision complex. We play what if scenarios, imagine disasters that await, or accumulate excuses to immobilize ourselves. A pervasive form of self-sabotage. In the end we do nothing.

Until we embrace what we really want, who we really are--we reside in the comfort of "going with the flow." Life happens to us.

Every choice has risk. The more you embrace the risk associated with what you want the sooner you will act. Otherwise live with the regrets and for all of our sake, don't talk about it!

Look you can achieve many things  in your life. You can design and engineer a career that is customized around your needs. You can reach out to others who have done it before and they can show you the ropes and the paths. It is so much easier to lift the weights with others.

There is no gain without pain. The pain of discipline. And the pleasure of defining who you are. The pleasure of minimizing regrets. Because the pain of regret is so much greater. 

Then you will see why helping others lift their weights and avoid the barbellion syndrome of inaction, of worrying, and of letting life pass them by--will help you. 

Defining what you want will give purpose to the weight and pain of the path you choose. But you must choose.

Thanks for reading. John

 


In Giving and Living--Later is Probably Never

Most people I meet think that the life down the road will always be better.  We subscribe to this strange belief that we have infinite time. That the future is when we will focus on what is important, personal, and enjoyable. I guess we think life is like a great multi-course meal. We start off with drinks and some finger food and then you dig into the real food and end up with something really sweet at the end. We know this is not true. All phases of life should be guided by what we want and who you are. Fully contributing our talent and abilities to improving the campsite for the next campers. Whatever that means to you!

At HuffPost we've made theThird Metric -- redefining success beyond money and power to include well-being, wisdom and our ability to wonder and to give -- a key editorial focus. But while it's not hard to live a Third Metric life, it's very easy not to. It's easy to let ourselves get consumed by our work. It's easy to use work to let ourselves forget the things and the people that truly sustain us. It's easy to let technology wrap us in a perpetually harried, stressed-out existence. It's easy, in effect, to miss our lives even while we're living them. Until we're no longer living them. Arianna Huffington 

Life is short. And when you account for life's curve balls, your kids, parenting your parents, and your own health--it is a lot shorter than you think. We all have close friends who died young--who had "untimely" deaths. Do we really know how much time we have?

Just read a tweet from Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Square fame:

Jack Dorsey ‏@jack   4:49 PM - 3 Dec 13

I probably have 18,000 more sunsets in my life. One of them is happening now. 

 
I think the spirit of this tweet is wonderful. Time is fleeting and we have limited time and sunsets. I used to count the Sundays left before my kids went to college. Jack assume he will live to 85 in calculating the 18000. He also assumes he will watch all of them. Let's say he only sees one a week  that reduces it to 2471. And once a month would leave only 600. This all assumes he sees and lives for 48 more years. I hope he does. But let's switch sunsets to hugs with your kids? Or one on one time with your mom. Or golf with your Dad. I did not realize that last February was going to be the last time I played golf with my father. I seriously thought I had dozens left. No more.  Golfers
 
"Next time, let's do that." There is no next time. Even if you do cross those coordinates again you will be different, the place will be different, the experience will be different. 

Carpe Diem. 

But the real point is, when we say "later" we mean "never". Because stuff happens.

One of my greatest pet peeves (I have a few:) is when people tell me that they have no time to "give", "volunteer", or "do what I want" because they are so busy. Busy being busy? They have amazing plans for later. --When they are less busy, retired or win the lottery :)

Doing later, being later and/or giving later makes no sense if you believe that our time is limited. 

Steve Davis of PATH: First, avoid the ‘I’m-going-to-give-back-later [to society]‘ trap. I find it offensive. I hope people haven’t spent the first part of their lives just taking. So the first advice is: Think about this as an integrated model. Don’t wait to get involved in your community and to get involved in the world--because you are working.

Second point, if you are in a place where you’re ready to make a really deeper transition to actually moving toward this work in mid-career, the first thing you should do is make sure that you spend some time volunteering, engaging, figuring out where your passion is. Because, at the end of the day, this is work, a lot of work — hard, complex work — and you don’t get rewarded as much; you get different kinds of rewards. It is important to tie to a passion or a skill because that’s what’s going to drive you forward.

The third, to the younger folks in their 20s, I would say remember that we are in a world where cross-sectoral work is vital. We need people who not only have good intentions about the government or public or nonprofit or private sector, we also need people who’ve actually experienced working in more than one sector because you have to come in to bust some myths about the way people behave. You have to come in understanding incentives and intentions. This could actually create great careers.

Let's stop saying what we will do later. Let's make plans to do and be things now and tomorrow. As I say to anyone who will listen, Live your legacy! 

Will your regret be "Needed to spend more time at the office"? "Wish I would have had more stuff?" Really? How many sunsets or hugs do you have left?

Later probably means never. 

Today is a great day to start doing what you know needs to be done--to help yourself and to help others. To strengthen your network and to mentor others. 

Thanks for reading. John


The Riskless Rewardless Life

The other day I was insulted by someone who heard me speak. He said, "You are a great motivational speaker." I learned a long time ago that motivation is an ephemeral state of euphoria unless you change. Unless you alter your mindset. Unless you act! I know he meant well, but I aspire to be a catalyst for change. I have this crazy ambition to help people become the best they can be. And that always requires pursuing opportunities, shaped by passions, and taking risks. Not personally dangerous choices. But choices not taken that endanger your sense of fulfillment and life satisfaction. Few rewards without risks. 

Risk mouse
courtesy of Start-Up of You

 

Here are a couple of radio interviews I did on the subject of risk--career risks. Please excuse my poor grammar and stammering, but I think I make a couple of relevant points on this topic.

When do I become who I am meant to be?

Interview part one

Interview part two

Think about whether you can attain your goals without confronting your aversity to risk?  

As the famous philosopher Ben Stiller said, "Do it!"   :)

Thanks for reading. John


Re-awaken Your Possibilities

In the measurement world, you set a goal and strive for it. In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold.   Ben Zander Zander

We invent so many reasons why we can't do things. Some of them are the familiar demons of our habitual laziness, our busy-ness, or our fear of failure. We can see the world as a narrowing set of choices, options and opportunities. Yes, I know we are getting older and we need to act accordingly. I get it. But we also have to make the most out of the time and chances we have left. No matter if you are 25 or 65, you can't make decisions soley based on risk management or let the practical be the enemy of the possible. 

I engage hundreds of people every year in the exercise that Barbara Sher developed--The Wish Obstacle

I always wanted to ________, but__________.

When you fill in the blanks you will be surprised at what you say and why you have not done it. Usually what stands between you and the possible---your wish--- is YOU. Not much else.

I had the great honor of meeting and hearing 74 year old Ben Zander--the mercurial and magical maestro for the Boston Philharmonic. But to think of him as just a conductor is like saying the Beatles are just a rock band. He is an extraordinary teacher, author and motivational speaker. He lives in the world of possibilities and pushes anyone in his path to awaken their possibilities. 

Here are some of the nuggets I got from him: 

On leadership: The conductor does not make a sound he depends on the orchestra to perform.
On negative thinking: You can make everything in your life seem like a downward spiral. It is up to you to see the possibility.
Evaluating others: Give everyone an A. Start with the possibilities and give everybody a chance to be their best. 
On doubt: Don't let that nagging voice in your head eliminate your possibilities--your potential.
On vision: A true vision includes everyone. It is not a win lose proposition.
On failure: Raise your hands and say "How fascinating!"
On the language of possibilities: What if? What's next? 
On reality: Everything is invented. All of the goals, standards, and metrics in our lives are self imposed. They limit what is possible. 
A rule for life: Don't take yourself so seriously!


There is no time like the present to consider and stand in the possibilities. That nothing but our attitudes egged on by the voices of doubt in our heads stand in our way. Otherwise we are trapped in a prison we built. Walls and bars that we invented block  the way of our freedom to do what we want. 

Possibilities are sleeping inside each of us. They are the beautiful sculptures trapped in the marble of our minds. They are dormant, latent, and restless seeds that yearn for a moment in the sun to sprout and grow. Let's set them free! Let's re-awaken these possibilities within us and in others. 

The neglected passions, interests and ideas that turn sour and fester will burden us with the weight of regret. Do you want regrets or possibilities? 

Need I regale you with the countless people who on a daily basis overcome their physical, financial, mental challenges that dwarf yours, and excel? If we consider ourselves lucky, then let's see what's possible.

I really got a dose of energy and motivation from Ben---to be more positive, to live more in the land of possibilities, and to help others awaken these great attributes in others. Did it work a little for you? 

Thanks for reading. John


Pre-death Networking

Sorry for the morbid title. A dear friend and I were bemoaning our advanced age and talking about our life goals. He declared, "I guess we are lucky to be in the "pre-death" stage of our lives!" Never heard that phrase. Of course it is true. While we are alive we are not dead. :) But some of us are so obsessed with death, we don't live. We "plan" for the end of our lives, our retirement, "the good days to come", "when the kids are.........". We procrastinate gratification, even our dreams, and the care and feeding of our relationships because of the practical choices we have to make, at least that's what we tell ourselves. 

The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. Mark Twain

Regrettably I attend a lot more funerals these days. I must tell you some of them are for "old people" who lived long and glorious lives. But many of them are for people whose lives were cut "short". People in their 20's, 30's, 40's, and 50's. These are different types of services from the memorials for octogenarians+. We all know there is no guarantee for length of life. That life and death happen. Regardless of the age of the deceased, the survivors always say the same thing, "I thought we had more time...." Now

One of the awful consequences of the procrastination lifestyle is it never gets easier. Time goes faster and "later" is harder to catch up with. The path to hell is paved with good intentions. And when the going gets tough, many people never get going. 

Here are the top 5 things that Bronnie Ware, a hospice nurse, heard from her dying patients. I have included a portion of her observations:

1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. 

2. I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying. 

3. I wish I had let myself be happier. This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. 

4. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result. 

5. I wish I’d lived a life true to my dreams instead of what others had expected of me.  This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. 

By the way, these are things I hear from living people of all ages. Many things happen to people well before their deathbeds that give them pause. Some are liberated and change. They come to the realization that life is very short and that their priorities need to be reset before its too late. That connecting with their own souls, connecting with their loved ones, and connecting others with their dreams and wishes is much more important now. Some remain imprisoned to habits, their comfort and never change. 

Work like you don't need the money, love like you've never been hurt and dance like no one is watching. Randall Leighton

The point here is we have to make these connections pre-death. I envy those of you who believe in reincarnation and an infinite life where you can postpone and resolve your relationships in a different life form. I believe that you get one chance to be good and do good. And that chance matters to the choices and trajectories of others. Yes, it impacts you too, but your legacy will always be your example and your relationships.

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.  Dr Seuss

That's why we talk about the lifestyle of networking, of connecting and strengthening your relationships. This is the time. Right now. If you wait for the "right" time, it may never come. Sorry to inform you that your plans and expectations are not taken seriously by Mother Nature. 

Say what you mean and do what you were meant to do. I think we would all agree we are in pre-death. We may disagree on how much time we have. I contend it is far less than you think. As for me, when my time comes and pre-death is over, I plan to have no regrets and sleep soundly.

Thanks for reading. John

 


When will I start my yellow brick road journey?

When I talk to people about their lives the most popular concept of time is:

The future will be better. And Now is definitely not a good time to make a change.

There is widespread occurrence of optimistic procrastination. People plan to do many things. Down the road a better future awaits--an Emerald City down a yellow brick road. These include things that they must do, to ambitions and aspirations, to full on bucket list items. Many things get jammed into their time capsule of the future. Funny thing is the amount of time continues to shrink and the amount of things to do grows inversely. Not a great formula for fulfillment. Most dream more than they do. Still others enjoy the momentary pleasure they get from self deception and deceiving others with their fantasies.Yellow brick road

It is impossible to argue with somebody’s future plans, isn’t it? Like a 8 year old who tells you he will be an astronaut or President, we never burst those bubbles of the future unless we are cruel. But we act similarly when we hear about the sometimes preposterous and possibly more unlikely scenarios of grown-ups. “I plan to own my own business.” “Head a non-profit.” “Launch a new start-up.”

But the planning required to even consider that path are procrastinated as well. Do they talk to others in their network who already do these things? Do they understand what it takes and more important, would they enjoy the experience? Everyone envisions that their restaurant, their idea for a new app, even their non-profit etc will succeed, get rave reviews and grow like a weed—and of course make them financially well off. Similarly, becoming a VP or CEO is much better than what they have now. Because more is always better. We know there are substantial pluses and minuses to all choices but living ambiguously allows us to avoid the confusion that comes from facts, real plans and the experiences of others.

Do friends let friends drive their lives in a state of ambiguity?

So the seemingly endless time ahead is aided and abetted by a very able co-conspirator--the persistent thought that Now is a terrible time to make any changes. We are all so busy Now to think about the future. Busy with what seems important Now and never getting to what we want. Being busy is never a life strategy.

Time flies and you never get it back. And stuff happens—wonderful and horrible events that throw you off track. Optimistic procrastination ensures that the Emerald City remains an illusion. One thing is certain you never come this way again.

Things do improve with age, your perspective, your maturity, your judgment, your priorities. But the opportunity to evolve and change is always NOW.

Implement your plan. Get on your yellow brick road.

A new friend has aging parents that have dreamed of seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Egyptian Pyramids. His parents physicality is evaporating and they always wanted to see these sights. So he is taking them next month to both Paris and Cairo! Not a convenient time for my friend, but it is not his time that is important. A man I worked with has struggled with his relationship with his daughter. The daughter is in school 3 hours away and my friend now drives every Tuesday to have dinner with her. Shockingly their relationship has improved. :) I met a stay at home mom who has teenage sons and she is trying to recalibrate her career, so she is volunteering at nights and weekends at a non-profit to make a career shift. She could wait until both her sons graduate, but she was compelled to follow her heart and get a head start on her dreams.

If you are doing something to pursue your goals, aspirations etc now, then you will be with others who want that too. You will be talking about what you are doing and we know that links us to others and new connections. So active pursuit of what you want is not just a hollow cry to get motivated and eschew procrastination. It is a process of actions that changes your orbit and puts you into new constellations of support that push you further toward your destination leaving potential regrets in your gulfstream.

What time is it? Time to move! Time to get off the road of self deception, procrastination and ambiguity. Time to help others make and take the time to get where they need to go. Time to find your yellow brick road and join others who support and understand your journey.

Thanks for reading. John


The Risk of Not Taking Risks

How will I know when I can take a risk? This may be the most popular question I get. Some hear about my career path and some are hovering around a decision and they wonder---How will I know when to jump? How will I know if it is worth it? How will I know if I should take the chance?

We are confronted with these decisions everyday and I assert almost every moment. Managing risk, choosing options, deciding not to say something or text something, making choices about how you spend your time, being lazy or being productive, doing something well or taking the short cut, listening to your angel or your devil.......You avoid or take micro, big or enormous leaps across a chasm of risk. You make hundreds and perhaps thousands of decisions like this that cumulatively impact your brand, your present self and your future self. We make bad and good decisions, but risk is a matter that we encounter while we are awake. Risk is not a foreign idea. Risk

I was speaking to the kick-off meeting for AAPA, Asian American Professional Association, which has a primary objective of mentoring. 300 mentors and mentees showed up to connect and help one another. This weekend, I also taught a half day workshop for the Rising Stars Youth Leadership Program for high school students. And I emphasized in both these sessions that the greatest network starts with connecting with yourself. The young and more mature brought up the question of career risk taking. And the way the question is framed, can conjure up sky diving or alligator wrestling where you put yourself in harm's way. There are great dangers in career and life changes. The most lethal of which is not being who you are and what you want to be.

It takes courage to listen to your goodness, and acton it.    Pablo Casals

For me, and the way I answered the question, is the greatest risk is regret. I made a promise to myself not to accumulate regrets. Met and know people who have spent their lifetimes developing their regret collections. They seem very old to me. I have always said, "The number  of regrets is a much better determinant of your age than years."

So I use use what I call the regret matrix to make decisions.

  • Will I regret it?
  • How much will I regret it?
  • Or which will I regret more?

Often on the other side of the equation is a deceptive, attractive and convincing opponent--her name is Miss Stability. She is a siren that beckons and whispers that no grass is greener and leaving her would be not only unfaithful but dangerous. She does represent a lot of truly good things--the known, the more predictable, and most important what you have. But for those of us who dream, have ideas, undeveloped talents or still want to change the world, she is a formidable foe. She guards the status quo with her powers that generate self-doubt.

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.  Shakespeare

Here's the real problem. Stability is a mirage. In fact, you don't even want stability. Do you really want world peace, global warming to end, animals to be protected, cancer to be cured, a promotion at work, your kids to have better lives, your company's stock to rise, your home value to increase etc etc? Then you are very dissatisfied with the present. You want lots of change at the macro and the micro levels. On personal, professional and even global levels.

No you can't say, "Can't some things stay the same?" Let me tell you oh selfish one, your wish will not be your command. In fact, the opposite will happen and will always happen. Change is the standard and the normal. Start adapting to it. And you want it too!

When I was in grad school, a faculty member told us that we would have 5-7 careers and maybe as many as 18 jobs during our lifetime that would not be able to predict! That has already happened to me. Today it is more volatile and change is more swift and comprehensive. In other words, if you are not changing you will be changed.

Hanging on to what you have is a nice theory. But if the stuff, ideas and even people you are coveting are evolving and morphing, then you have to stop and smell the change. Stability is a nostalgic moment that we can admire and use to model the next stability and so on. But Miss Stability is a fleeting femme fatale that has no intention of marrying you.

One of the financial institutions has a great ad: NO Risk or KNOW Risk. Clearly, you need to have a cup of coffee with your risks and get to know them, meaning your life's goals. The clock is ticking and regrets are piling up. As I said, the greatest risk is WE lose YOUR dreams.

Thanks for reading John.

 


Turn Regrets Into Resolutions

We must not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.  T. S. Eliot

We can not start a new year and just hope that it will be different. We have to know it for the first time. We have to think about where we are and where we came from. Who we are and who we want to be. We must own our actions, inactions and our reactions. We must take responsibility for all of our achievements both regretted and celebrated. All are worthy of our attention to gain insight into what we need to do.

A big mistake is to forget the things you regret from the previous year. We all all want to avoid regrets, but stuff happens or didn't happen. So as we make our annual promises to excercise more and eat less, let's also take a quick inventory of what we regretted from 2011. Regrets are opportunities for reflection and enlightenment.  Tattoo-Regret

Regrets are sins of commission and omission. They are an essential component of our humanity. If we do not have the emotional and intellectual capacity to think about what we did or did not do, then we are socio-paths with no compass. We regret because we feel.  To regret is human.

The most helpful way to experience regret is to feel it deeply, get over it quickly and move on and use it to push you to new behaviors that are going to be helpful.       Dr. Neal Roese, Northwestern University

Always fascinated by people in job interviews who have no regrets, no failures, no weaknesses. It's not as suspicious, as it is telling of an emptiness. Our lives are filled with the good and the regretted. The only way we can improve is to be aware of our shortcomings ans our regrets. Awareness is always the first step. 

In a meta-analysis of many regret studies conducted by Neal Roese of Northwestern, here's what he found we regret most:

Roese2005_Fig1

These studies were biased towards younger persons and students. Earlier this year, Roese surveyed adults from across the country and got these results

Sources_of_regret
Romance, marriage and life partners topped the list, followed by family relationships and then education and career again.

What will I do differently in 2012 to push these regrets off my list? We know that doing the exact same thing you did last year is insufficient to address these areas of your life. Whichever you feel are important to you, need to go on the top of your 2012 resolutions list.

Relationships, education and career will always dominate your list. Relationships take great effort and time as they evolve and can not be neglected. Same for education and career. The world is changing and so must you, to stay fresh and sharp. These areas require your constant attention to continuously sustain them and improve. Ignore them at your peril. These regrets can turn into tumors if you give up. There are many sources of regret that have to be forgotten. Buyer's remorse, for example, is not worth your time--move on! And as you can see, financial decisions are not as important. But your primary human romantic and familial relationships are key to your life satisfaction. As well as your life's work and career.

Here's the intangible. Regrets of omission and inaction may be the most daunting because you do not know what those choices would have triggered. We know that each action generates a cascade of events and actions that can change your life. So hesitate less and go for it more. Take a chance. Feel the fear and be more decisive. Be first to connect and reconnect with people you care about or don't know yet. Mentor others. "Next time" rarely happens. Let life take you to uncharted waters and new territories. The only thing you may lose ----is a regret!

We need to learn to love the flawed imperfect things we create and forgive ourselves for creating them.  Regret does not remind us that we did badly, it reminds us that we know we can do better. --Kathryn Shulz

Happy New Year and thanks for reading. John


A Fresh Perspective: Swastikas, Uncle Tom and a Nerd

This last week has been a series of situations and experiences that have given me pause. I pride myself in helping people get a new perspective on their challenges and opportunities. The idea is to jolt people out of their semi conscious existence of accepting the status quo and the great inclination of playing not to lose rather than going for it. In these attempts at guidance and direction, I often am the recipient of the jolts, the slap upside the head that wakes ME up. This occurs when I listen to myself :) or mostly when the reactions are poignant or unexpected. A few examples:

  1. Swastika Attack----I regularly show the Sanskrit swastika and describe its 3000 year old origin. I describe how an evil man in Germany bastardized this beautiful symbol for his horrific purposes 90 years ago. We let him change this ancient sign of providence and good fortune into his concocted meaning. I do this to disrupt the audience's thinking and assumptions. After my talk, a very nice man told me how much he enjoyed my talk but he was very offended by my "lighthearted use of the swastika". He became quite emotional and would not let me speak. He told me to stop using this in my presentations. As he left me he said, "it would be as if you used an image of little black sambo!" I apologized for upsetting him and said that I did not understand the last reference as he disappeared from earshot. Whoa, did I shift his perspective or did he shift mine? Clearly I never intended to offend. But I always want people to question their perspectives in order to advance their opportunities. Should the swastika be banned from the land of appropriateness because it was usurped by a psychotic maniac? Maybe more to the point, should one complaint make me change my speech and my public ideas? 
  2. Uncle Tom's Lesson---I attended my nearly 94 year old uncle's memorial and celebration of life. It was a moving and special set of remembrances that were both inspirational and insightful. His story was the quintessential American immigrant story of great obstacles and great triumphs. With humble beginnings my Uncle Tom built a farm business with his brothers from scratch. He served his country in the army as part of the famous 442 infantry unit. He endured discrimination and intolerance for most of his professional life. Yet he not only succeeded but he thrived. His success was so much more than the financial and reputational. He lived a full life. He made his extended family a priority. He enjoyed his passions. He had no regrets when he left us. My cousin, his daughter, was very pleased about the day and the event. She was disappointed that some told her that they wish her father was still here. She asked them why? How much longer should his life have been to be the right length? My mother spoke about her brother and said something that got everyone's attention, "Death truly awakens life."  While I think this is true I wonder why lifeUncle Tom can't awaken life? My sister commented that no matter how much we know someone we never Know them. I agree emphatically. And we never will. The perspective of a sister, a spouse, an employee, a friend are all different. They are all incomplete stories of the story. That's what makes us each unique and different. The questions is, "Did we know what we should have known?" Did we have the deeper conversations to understand one another in our respective roles? This is the stuff of regrets and the source of life's questions. At the end of this wonderful day, we learned that Uncle Tom Saburo Obata tended to his relationships with the same relish and rigor he did with his crops. He woke up everyday to nurture and grow the people around him. Now that's a life to hold up and admire. 
  3. Nerd Network---I attended a community foundation conference last week and went down to the exhibit area to see if there were any vendors I wanted to meet. I spotted a software system called the Common Grant Application. I liked the booth and the ideas it conveyed. I introduced myself to a techie, long haired guy in his 50s who looked and spoke full NERD. I know this because he referenced Farside and Star Trek in the first 3 minutes! He connected with my inner nerd. Jeff was a knowledgeable guy and I quickly sensed his expertise but also his wisdom--he gets it! As he was deftly demo-ing his product, it was clear he knew his customer--both the grantor and the grantee of funds. I started to ask questions about his background and his experiences. He would say superficial things like "I am just a coder" or "I worked in the tech field". I have learned that humbleness is often a disguise or a diversion. So I pressed on. I learned in our 60 minute conversation sales pitch, that he has had his own foundation for years. That his development of this product grew out of his frustrations with the grant application process foisted on grantees by well meaning foundations. He finally revealed to me that he was essentially the former CTO of Intel! Just a coder?!! He retired years ago formed his foundation and and evolved into a philanthropist with a deep understanding of the grantees. We meet people everyday and never know who they are. We work with, live next door to, and talk to people we never know. Every person you meet is a fortune cookie with a set  of connections, wisdom, life's lessons and history that could change our own fortune. 
Another eventful week of reminding me of how precious life is. That we can not measure our life in years but in the relationships that are meaningful to both. That we barely know the people we are with. And even when someone tries to stop you, you listen and learn and then press on with your mission. Life is a journey of connections, reflections, and a constantly informed perspective that makes us want to be better. 
 
Thanks for reading. John

Reflection, Roses, and Regrets

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

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

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

I will be happier when_________________-.

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

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

My next career development activity is __________________________

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

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

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

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

When you see roses smell them.

Schedule reflection time.

Define your destination(s).

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

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

Kobara's law of priorities-- :)

The unimportant will always attempt to sabotage the important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John

 


Act your age, whatever that is. And is it time to upgrade your network?

One of your year-end inventory items, is your age and the age of your network. Hold old are you? I know you "feel" younger than you are. I know you can't believe how time has flown by and you THINK you are younger. One of the great challenges of life is to age gracefully AND maintain your youth. Becoming more mature while remaining open to change.

As a society we are obsessed at LOOKING younger or preserving our appearance. So much time is wasted on creams, surgery, potions, and pills. We are more concerned with our graying heads than our aging gray matter. Barber

I used to have this wonderful barber. When I started to lose my hair, I asked him what should I be doing? "he said, "What do you mean?" "Do I need to take something or use anything?" I sheepishly queried? He looked into the mirror in front of us and grabbed my face with both hands. He said in a grave and serious tone while staring into my eyes through the mirror, "Is your hair the source of your dignity? You look great and a little less hair will not make you any less of the good person you are, right?!" I looked back at him, nodded and smiled because I knew he was right. My barber was wiser and more profound than I gave him credit. My hair was shorter but my wisdom was lengthened. And my barber got a larger tip. :)

The barber was right in his Popeye-esque philosophy, You are what you are.

The sooner you accept the changes to your appearance, the more time you have to focus on important matters.

So how old are you? If you want to know what your real age is check out  realage.com I like the way they ask you intrusive questions about your health and well-being to determine your real age. Questions that if answered truthfully yield a more accurate picture of yourself. Is the result true and accurate? You will know. Like in anything you can lie and get a more acceptable answer. Self-deception must be like smoking, you enjoy the immediate gratification even though you know you are killing yourself.

I  have been exercising my pre-frontal cortex with brain games for many years. My current brain age is 21! I know that is not true, but I also know it has kept my synaptic activity a little more lively.

We all know your age is a state of mind. It is how you live and what you think. Are you optimistic? Are you positive? Are you resistant to change and new ideas? How cynical are you? What kind of mental shape are you in? How are managing stress?

Your physical condition also matters. Your resting heart rate, your blood pressure, your diet, and exercise regimen make a difference in how old you feel.

These are all things you control. You do.

There are so many reasons to not take care yourself or think about these questions. After all we are so busy. We have so many things to do. We have many demands on our lives. We seem to be spinning our wheels in a quixotic quicksand in a timecapsule of futility. Really? Cue music for the smallest violins. 

So when were you going to address these issues and make some changes?

Our attitudes and our outlook on life need to be seriously tweaked. What used to work 5-10 years ago, won't work today!? Our young feeling needs to be  accompanied by a healthier lifestyle AND new and fresh sources of information and ideas.

Your network can be an important anti-aging process. Is your network tired and increasingly irrelevant to your future? Does your network have different perspectives and diverse view-points represented within it? Are there younger members? Are there people at work, at church, at your volunteer organization who can open up your mind and give you a dose of new thinking? How can I improve my network of advisors and supporters next year? Meet new people. Your age will be reflected in your network. Oldman to baby

My work on university campuses gave me a boost of youthful energy. Being around younger minds can innoculate you against the weight of rational and practical thinking. Being a parent is an opportunity to regain sanity by reflecting on your childhood and the future of your offspring. Young children are so free from all of the issues we older humans have. They act and speak without the baggage and parameters of adults. Their imagination is pure and unfiltered. That's why I continue to teach. Not so much to transmit knowledge as to seek the energy of fresh minds.

In my first job, my new boss told me he was hiring me into this new field of cable tv because I knew nothing about it. "Anyone who thinks they know cable tv will have to unlearn it, because the future of this business will be so different. "

Hard to unlearn things. Easier to learn new things. In many cases, different people and younger people can be your faculty. Learning will rejuvenate you.

Your age is also a function of your regrets. Stuff you have not done but wanted to. Your fading hopes and expectations for yourself. Things you wanted to experience and see, but are resigning yourself to never do. That pile of dreams that you are discarding--those would be regrets. The more you get the older you become. Have no regrets.

So take a look in the mirror and see the dignity that is you. Is the routinized slide down and over the hill of life acceptable? Then make a change. Take inventory of your literal and figurative vital signs. Think less about how you look and more about what you have left to give your family and your community. Start pushing back father time with new energy and ideas that come from not becoming complacent and settling for a growing pile of regrets. Plan to turn some of those almost regrets into memories and milestones.

What age will you be in 2011? It could be an extraordinary year. Will it be for you?

Thanks for reading. John


The Failure Option--Succeeding through mistakes

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

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

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

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

Failure is the challenge to keep on keeping on.

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

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

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

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

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

Failure to prepare is preparing for failure. Coach Wooden.

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

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

Here's to your next fantastic failure.

Thanks for reading. John


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

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