sculptures

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


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


Your Future--Nothing or Everything

When I was younger and even more sarcastic (How could that be John?), I was in an interview and was asked my least favorite question: "What is your 10 year plan?" Even back in the pre-hisoric times of my youth, this was a stupid question. I know what the interviewer wanted. "Where are you going and how does this job fit into your plans?" But most interviewers ask clever robotic questions that are part of a list and do not think about the question's intent but more about disrupting the poise of the interviewee----but I digress. Crystal-ball

So, as I am prone to do, I turned the tables on my interviewer. "Great question. I think it is impossible to predict the future. If you tell me what the next 10 years will be like then I will tell you what my plan is?" As you can imagine, this did not go well. I did not get an answer nor the job! But, as we know better today than ever before, the world is evolving and shifting faster than we can plan for it. Favorite quote: "If it works it is obsolete."

Like a skeet shooter or a NASA engineer who is planning the landing of Curiosity--you got to think about the trajectory, and aim where there is nothing now. So if you can not predict the next 10 years, how do you plan? How does it feel when you aim at nothing? It is far better to aim at nothingness with an idea than to accept the nothingness that is on its way to you. Of course, experience is a great teacher. It gives you a sense of where you are going. But where are you going?

I am in a constant process with people who seek my time to predict the future and their futures. This is a process that is fraught with great dangers. I listen and tell them what I hear and sometimes my willing and volunteer victims see the future--their futures. The futures that have hidden within themselves. 

How are you trending? In other words, where is your trajectory and momentum? Are you getting better, in what, how? And what is your next milestone? And where are you slipping? When you plot these coordinates you will be able to see your trajectory--not your aspirations--but where you are heading. Still confused?

Your ascendancy has to be tangible it can't be just a dream. You can't rely on luck or some divine intervention. You have to push ahead driven by your heart and your curiosity. Yes your next career might find you but you have to recognize it. 

Many people tell me they will run a non-profit in their future, but are taking no steps to scaffold that possibility. Many people will have better lives in the future. Many people tell me they will give back later, volunteer more later, get involved down the road. Why not engage now in what you care about? Busy? Too busy? To think about your future or aim at the nothingness where you want to be. Listen carefully and you can hear a the magma of a volcanic regret heating up. A regret that will pour lava all over your your beautiful green grass dreams.

Your future is coming up the path and it passes you everyday. Then a new offramp appears and disappears. It never stops.

The next 10 years are going to be your best ones, if you think about your trajectory. If you fill in the nothingness of your story with the steps you are taking to explore your future.

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

I just talked to a 25 year veteran of a dying industry and he knows he waited too long to shift but he is ready now. I talked to a 26 year old who is having a "pre-mid-life" crises. I talked to new divorcee who sees this change as her opportunity. I am coaching multiple college aspirants about their educational plans. And talked to a dear friend who is recovering from a terminal illness that "surprised" him. 

All of them are focused on their futures differently. You don't want tragedy to get you focused. But we use what we have. You want to take control of your future and begin to trot out your future narrative--your story. Where is the protagonist going? And test it with mentors and your network.

How are you trending? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Where are you going? What do you want?

One thing is certain, absolutely certain--don't wait. Don't procrastinate! Don't every say you will deal with the future later. Because the future will have come and gone.

You have everything or nothing ahead of you--which will it be?

Thanks for reading. John

 


Add Some Grit to Your Diet

No I did not say "grits". And this is NOT another rant about Paula Dean. :)

I said grit--"The perseverance and passion for long term goals." Or the "abrasive particles or granules that facilitate grinding."

I think both are needed. A persistent attitude that pushes you to practice and to improve. And friction of reality along the way to keep you focused.

So grit plus grit equals success. Grit squared. GRIT

The path to success is a grinding process of honing, of shaping, of refining your skills knowledge and abilities. Without the friction of reality and the dogged persistence.

Grit 1

Deliberate practice, operationally defined as studying and memorizing words while alone, better predicted performance in the National Spelling Bee than being quizzed by others or reading for pleasure. Rated as the most effortful and least enjoyable type of preparation activity, deliberate practice was increasingly favored over being quizzed as spellers accumulated competition experience. 

Deliberate Practice Spells Success:
Why Grittier Competitors Triumph at the
National Spelling Bee Anglea Lee Duckworth et al

 

This grit comes from your heart your commitment to pushing the rock up the hill and understanding the purpose. It is the alignment of your heart and your work. You know when you are out of alignment. You know when you start packing your bag at 4:50pm everyday. You also know when you are energized and exhausted at the same time. This grit can not be purchased. It is acquired and reinforced through your wholehearted engagement. This grit emerges from the work to extract the beauty and meaning from your efforts. 

Does not necessarily or exclusively come from your day job. But you have to exercise and grow your grit muscles. You can get your grit on in your volunteer life, at your church, at your kid's school. Where is your grit and how can you make a bigger part of your life?

Grit 2

One of the most influential ways to re-activate your grit is to dive into the need. When you see how your product and service is used. When you talk to the people who need your solution. When you feel the emotional connection people make to your work, it reconnects you with purpose. "Ahhh, that's why I do this."

Make time to visit your "customers", hear their stories, see their faces, and re-immerse yourself in mission. 

This is grit that wakes you up from the monotony of your routine and your habits. This is the grit with friction that afflicts the comfortable.

It is a virtuous cycle of grit begets grit. To get grit you give grit. 

Got Grit? 

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


The Preference for Your Own Potential

Things that grow are generally better. Whether you are trending on twitter, the equity in your home, your GPA, or your sense of well-being.

Things with potential growth are considered the better investments. Every financial investment, every hire selected considers the upside of the candidate.

Think about the recruiter for your favorite NFL team in the Super Bowl. Consider the incredible track record of Kevin Rose, arguably the best picker of start-ups. Or the admissions offices of the top universities. They require evidence of past performance AND evaluate the future trajectory of the candidates. How do these experts balance the value of track record with the upside of potential?  Potential

Recent research out of Stanford and Harvard called: The Preference for Potential revealed:

When people seek to impress others, they often do so by highlighting their personal achievements.  Despite the intuitive appeal of this strategy, we demonstrate that people tend to prefer potential rather than achievement when evaluating others.  Indeed, compared to references to achievement (e.g., “this person has become a leader in the field”), references to potential (e.g., “this person could become a leader in the field”) appear to stimulate greater interest and excitement, which translates into more favorable reactions.

It makes sense that there is this preference and bias for potential, especially in hiring and promoting. In any investment of time and money you should expect growth and a greater return. Upside matters! The intangibles become very influential. Desire, passion, and character add credibility to potential. 

The fact that you have done it in the past is not enough to prove or demonstrate potential for the future. Competence is a starting point.

Some may say that this smacks of ageism. That younger candidates have an advantage in the race for  potential. Probably true. But if you need experience AND potential, then youthful enthusiasm is not enough. The question is how can you translate your achievements into an adaptable investment that is relevant now and into the future? How are you able to show that your skills, knowledge and abilities are in sync with the future needs of the organization and the industry?

The future is not what it used to be.  Yogi Berra

"What have you done for me lately?" is morphing into,"What will you be capable of doing later?"

We tend to over focus on our past achievements. We start to believe our own press releases, rest on our laurels  and forget our potential. We rarely talk about our own potential. We hesitate because of our humility and our uncertainty. Deep inside we know what we are capable of and what we want to do, but if no one knows but us, what good does that do?

Do you see the trajectory of your career? Can you describe it?

I meet many people who can not describe their potential at all. 

What is potential that is invisible? 

Untapped potential is a sin. I think the greatest indictment a person can hear is "you have so much potential" and not know what they are talking about.

Get to know your potential. Start by finding role models of people that are doing what you think you want to do. People who are doing what you want to do and doing it the way you want to do it. Connect with these people.

Continuous effort--not strength or intelligence--is the key to unlocking our potential. Winston Churchill

Dive deeply into your work and your field--even if you are uncertain if this is THE one. 

Then start to push yourself to gain more experience, confidence, and understanding of your potential. You will discover your strengths and your weaknesses. You will better define what you want and don't want. 

Other people want to be associated with people who are growing and knowledgeable about the trends, the field. People who are well connected, well-read, and well versed. In other words, people who take their careers seriously--people who want to be leaders in their field. 

Maybe you don't know exactly where you are going but you see yourself moving up the ladder. Then act like it! Read the trades. Follow the industry thought leaders. Join the industry associations. Take on visible roles at your employer, in the industry. 

Potential can't be a latent undefined blob within you. It is revealed by your actions and your words. You show it and people see it. If it is a genuine pursuit of your interest in the field, some may see you as a "climber", but if you are not showy and egotistical, then the preference for your potential will be realized.

You prefer potential in things and in others. Now hold yourself to the same standard! 

Thanks for reading. John

 


Sculpting your Career and your Purpose

Great art is mesmerizing. It boggles the mind how the artist converted the idea of the art into the physical manifestation. We can dream great thoughts and ideas, but it is not easy to make them happen. 

While I would never count myself amongst the artistic community, I believe I must create. My mother taught me that "art" is within me and that I must learn to free it from my own self imposed limitations--like a sculpture that needs to be freed from the granite. I have ideas and inner desires that I want to experience, express and execute. Not fantasies but thoughts about my life and how to give meaning to it. We all struggle with this pent up or hidden potential to contribute our uniqueness to our community and our worlds. Some may say we have little to give and others have a sea of molten potential that needs to be delivered to generate new islands of creativity. Some think this is the province of the young and the restless. Others believe they do not have the gene to express. That youth and the "talented" are the only harbors of inspiration and invention. But we know that neither age or stage have anything to do with inner potential. That each us has a unique set of gifts, that we know, secretly covet and or yearn to discover.

I always have to remind myself that my mom decided to "become" an artist at age 49! And the nearly 1400 originals that have flowed since are proof of the talent within.

In my encounters with many, very diverse people--current students to retirees. I see and hear about these dormant, latent, and subordinated ideas and desires. The unexpressed wishes of a person within a person. Sometimes this is a discovery of joy that liberates the person. And other times it is a confession of simmering regret. Not a fully formed regret but an emerging and growing regret. 

I see these shared ideas and desires as sculptures within the person. We all have a gallery of them. Sculptures that represent the person we want to be --the experiences we long for--things we have always wanted to express--creations we want to create. Some of these sculptures are fully formed, honed and smooth. They are completed and beautiful. Others are still locked inside of the stones. And some are half done works that continue to emerge through our work and inspiration.  Michelangelo

We learn that life, like this gallery, is never done. It is a labor of infinity. But our satisfaction, fulfillment, and ultimate sense of purpose is defined by the attention and work we put into each of these sculptures. How we tend to these sculptures and the concepts of these sculptures matters. Our habits and ability to overcome our excuses and internal resistance are the keys to advancing our works of art.

I love what Amy Hoy wrote about blacksmith students and startups:
 People are obsessed with “expressing themselves” instead of following the brief (the job specification). They waste precious time in “creative” noodling instead of actually getting shit done. Others indulge themselves in childish boredom and rebellion when it comes to the repetition of early stages of learning, instead of committing to the basics with all their hearts.
Several more wield perfectionism as a weapon against their own achievement… a weapon, and an excuse. Several show a great deal of self-importance, unwarranted — they talk themselves up, they expect they’ll win, they treat the advice of the master as irrelevant, or they crumble at the slightest criticism. Others engage in bitter self-denigration, unwarranted — fatalistically wailing, “I’ll never be able to do this,” when experiencing the simplest of setbacks. They want to throw in the towel at the first bump. And the second. And the third. Finally, and perhaps most fatally, many of the students seem to have zero patience whatsoever. They expect to jump straight to results, straight to the fun stuff — the creative stuff. They don’t want to put in their dues. They think they’re special. So they stamp their foot petulantly when their shortcuts fail. These people claim to want to master a craft, but they resist the very nature of “craftsmanship.

Sculpting is hard work that requires a chisel and hammer. It takes courage to swing the hammer. And lots of persistence. It is from this hard labor that you discover who you are and what you want. Yes you set a goal but the work defines where you are going. Sparks fly from the hammer and chisel. Sparks of passion where you lose yourself to find yourself. I have learned that when you surrender to the process, letting go of control, you gain a sense of yourself and more control of your life--and of your art.  Hammer-and-chisel

Let's sculpt more and dream less. Let's engage the mind and our heart in the work that interests us and care about. Let's engage the people around us in helping us sculpt and become. We can never do it alone. And it is never too late. Let's stop wasting time neglecting our art within us. Your gallery awaits.

You need the sculptures, we need your sculptures. 
Thanks for reading. John