students

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


The Graduation Crisis

We tend to give in to averages. For example, if the "average" married couple divorces, then we accept it as natural. However, we rarely think of ourselves as average. In fact, a US survey showed that about 75% of think we are above average. We know that is mathematically impossible, but we tend to think that our lives are better, that we are better than most. Call it over confidence, call it lunacy--you would be right!

Many of us will attend graduations during this part of the year. We expect college degrees from our children, our peers and our co-workers. And when I say "college" I mean 4 year, 2 year and even post-secondary certificates! But college graduation is increasingly becoming a rarity. While there are more college students and college grads than ever in history, the percentage completing their degrees is shrinking. College drop out now exceeds high school drop out. Somehow we accept this as part of the "weeding" process. The law of averages. Or a function of the state of our schools and budget cuts. Part of all of these things is true, but most colleges are not held to any standard of graduation. 

The percentage of college dropouts from college will exceed divorce too. So more than half of college students quit and never come back. They acquire debt instead of a diploma. 

But for those of us who are "above average" we will not accept drop outs--not for our kids. So "other people's" kids drop out. 

But if we ignore this graduation crisis, we do so at our own peril. We need more college grads to make our economy work, to make the USA competitive in the global market. CompletionCrisis

So helping others graduate IS our business---all students need our support to graduate. 

A few random facts about college education:

  • Estimated that the state of California will have 2.3 million shortage of degree holders for jobs created in the state by 2025. 
  • 65% of all US jobs will require a college degree by 2025. Less than 39% of all US adults are college educated today.
  • This gap will require about 23 million net new college grads above and beyond what we produce today!
  • 88% of all 9th graders who start high school in LA county do NOT get any college degrees. This is lower for higher for low income students.
  • Low income students who qualify for college have few choices. Private schools don't take many qualified and competitive low income students so the burden falls on public institutions. Consider that UC San Diego has more low income students than Georgetown, Duke, MIT, University of Chicago, Penn, NYU and Stanford combined! 

There are silly debates about "the value of a college education." Look everyone needs more education. Everyone has to continue to learn and to grow educationally. Anyone who stops a formal learning process is DOA. I am not an education snob. Well maybe I am. :) But I am not saying that all people should go to a university, but it is very tough for anyone to get and keep a good job without the sheepskin and the socialization of an education. Not going to regale you with the long standing stats on lifetime comp, the ROI of an education, or the lower unemployment rates for the educated. These are truths. 

Every individual. Every student. Every human being has the desire and need to grow. To grow their ideas, their ambitions, their sense of significance.  They want more for themselves and their families. The only way to achieve these things is to adopt a lifelong love of learning. To engage in continuous education. To adopt an education mindset. This can start before and during college. 

How do we help people adopt this mindset, graduate and then start their next educational program? It is not easy.

Because you are never done learning. Not talking about how to use Office 2010 or your new iPhone. I am talking about the process of opening your brain to new stuff that reveal more about what you don't know. 

Great mentors do not let others get away with laziness, or giving up on graduation. Great mentors don't accept excuses or allow exceptions to education for those they care about. Great mentors hold others accountable. They push and pull their mentees so that graduation is the only option. 

 So what else can we do:

  1. Help low income students around us seek all of the financial assistance available to them to make their college education more affordable. It is estimated that LA County students left over $100 million of financial aid grants on the table last year. 
  2. Help all students find a college option that meets their needs. An educational institution that matches their interests, not their parents interests. A college that has a track record of supporting students to graduate. 
  3. Hold our alma maters, our local schools, our school boards accountable to graduation rates for all students, especially low income students.
  4. Help students we know get in but THROUGH college. Provide them with moral and financial support that lasts well beyond the freshman year but all the way to commencement. Giving small one time scholarships to start college is only a start. Multi-year scholarships make a huge difference.

College access is just the beginning, we need graduates! What are you going to do to help people graduate?!

Every student who pursues post-secondary education is precious. We can't afford this graduation crisis. We need to mentor all students so they don't end up with just debt and regret. We need their dreams and degrees.

The graduation crises is all of our problem. If we accept the average, we will become it. 

Thanks for reading. John


A Life of Internships

I think experiential learning is the most important and meaningful form of education. In my humble opinion learning by doing has no peer. The idea of internships may be at least 150 years old. Its origins really come from the medical profession where docs in training learn, under expert supervision, about the body and the various disciplines--to understand the whole of medicine and in part to select a specialty. I love this as an metaphor for life and careers--Continuous education about the "body" of your work and your life. A process to adapt, morph, and sharpen your understanding of what you want and the whole of who you are becoming. 

For students in school, internships may be more important than any elective. A student who graduates without experience: volunteer, internship, apprenticeship, or work is at a serious disadvantage. But more important, the student--now just an alum--has not learned about what they want. One's career development can not come from a book or even a blog for that matter. :)

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.  Confucious

For students of life ( that would be everyone!) the concept of internships has to be adopted as a part of your life. Shorter stints that stimulate your intellectual and spiritual self. Internships are "test drives", career dress rehearsals, due diligence with experiences.

So internships have been elevated to a new level. They enjoy a new popularity and status amongst people who left the ivy covered halls decades ago. Now there is even a movie coming out this summer about this! Why? Simply put, people are trying to adapt. Trying to figure out what they are going to do next. They lack the experience in a field that appeals to them. But this movie and the popularity of internships are too often thought of as an emergency oriented intervention. A drastic last resort step that requires sacrifice and risk to reboot a career. While that can and does work, internships are most effective as a mindset. An open mindset of learning, seeking experiences, and for mentorships. Testing new ideas, interests and embracing failure. 

One of my major gripes is the linear nature of people's approach to education, career development.... There are steps, there is myopia, there is a focus that ultimately ends the same way--too many eggs in the same narrow basket of experience. Wow, is that risky!

How do you become multi-talented, multi-facted? How do you invest in your career to make it more recession proof? More resilient to change, turbulence, and downturns? No financial portfolio that intends to grow and survive is invested in one thing. You need growth opportunities, and less risky investments that "hedge" the downside. You need international and domestic. You need large cap and small cap. The same applies to a career. Silly to rely on a single job to sustain your development.  

Every good job is an temporary assignment that is an adventure, a seminar and is fulfilling. Dick Bolles 

I think life is an internship, many internships. You enroll in internships to continue to grow, experiment, and learn. Your job is your core internship. Your hobby is an internship. Your start-up on the side is an internship. Your volunteer work is an internship. 

Your approach to all of your internships is the same. Who will mentor/teach me? What do I want to learn? What will make this experience meaningful to me? 

If we understand the truth that nothing is permanent. That our expertise is perishable. That our connection to our evolving personal, spiritual, financial, and professional needs needs to be dynamic. Then we realize that doing our job will predictably and inevitably lead to dissatisfaction and worse--the inability to transition to other worlds. This always makes the whole of life less rewarding. So how will you change this outcome? 

Fish out of water
Courtesy of Start-Up You

Throughout my career (of internships) I have worked with and met many people who have used internships well. A few examples:

  • 24 year old employee who asked to do "extra work" at a school mentoring project I was managing. This was an internship added onto her job.  She wanted experience with "education". Today she is a principal of a school.
  • 48 year old consultant with an MBA who interns to use his expertise to help non-profits become more sustainable. 
  • 30 year old lawyer who wanted to go into marketing and volunteered for the marketing committee of her favorite charity. Today she is the head of marketing at a telcom company.

They came to the realization that there current "portfolios" were inadequate. They needed to branch out. They had to diversify.

Here's the kicker, internships super charge your network. New colleagues are a new network. While you should invest in reinvigorating and deepening your network at your job, having a constellation of mentors and networks has gigantic advantages.

So I am advocating that you evaluate your current opportunities for internships. Follow your heart and find intentional experiential assignments both in your job and outside that will deepen your understanding of the body of your work and life.  

Thanks for reading. John


Final Advice to the "Freshman"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens--Stephen Covey

Pyramid of Success--John Wooden

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


What are we racing to?

Aaaaah to be a student. Yes, I know we are all students of life--that's what old people say. :) But to be an enrolled student in higher education where the postponement of reality and the grappling with, "What do I want to be when I grow up?" is a full time job. Most students think they are the disadvantaged ones. They mistakenly envy those who are finished with their formal education. Students labor under the wrong assumption that they have no real influence over their futures and are mere pawns in the bigger chess game of the worldwide economic landscape.

Those of us who have graduated, know that the lucky ones are those still within the ivy covered walls. That being a student is one of the most powerful, invigorating, and creative times in one's life.

Youth is wasted on the young.  George Bernard Shaw

Perspective is everything.

I had a series of encounters with undergrads and grad students at two of my alma maters, UCLA and USC, where I recently led class discussions. Not sure I could be a full-time professor, but I have always enjoyed and gained from these interactions.

Those of us who have taught know that the future lies in these classrooms. That fertile minds and grand ambitions lurk behind those youthful eyes. Yet for obvious reasons, these students crave something they think those who have graduated have--certainty about their futures--a career. Ha!

The students discount their freedom, their options, their overall power to choose a path. They are often straddling what is prudent and rational (a stable job that provides a good living and what their parents have told them) and the interests and ideas that throb within them (their emerging passions and talents).

Inevitably, I am asked over and over again, in different versions and phrases--"How do you know? How do you know what the right path is?"Race car

One bright eyed and ambitious young man blurted out, "Is your passion within you or do you discover it?" This is a great question. And like all important questions, the answer is a resounding YES! :)

We underestimate what is within us--what is within others. Is is definitely within you, but you have to discover it too. You discover it by the friction you have with the world. The friction of taking chances and taking on challenges that interest you. By meeting people who are doing these things. By intellectually exploring these matters that seem to matter to your heart, mind and soul. By pushing yourself to new realms of understanding about the world and your role in it. By focusing on the growth not the gain. On the process not the promotion. On the wisdom not the wealth.

And how do you do this with a sense of urgency and not stress?

Most of us have discovered that finding THE Career is a fossilized artifact of the previous generation. Today, looking for a career must be replaced with finding oneself, then one's role.

The origin of career is basically a racecourse from the french and a wheeled vehicle from the latin. So it is like a NASCAR race. You go as fast as you can in circles trying to finish first but never getting anywhere.

Those of us who have learned this the hard way, including myself, know that you don't want a career but a vocation. Vocation literally means "calling". To find one's voice and spiritual path.

Back on my student's question. This is never a pursuit done in total solitude. It requires the power of connection and experience. To understand your suffering and the suffering of others. It is about the larger meaning of your life. It demands a network of opportunities and a mentor or three. It requires you to follow your ideas and interests that emerge as your passions. By listening to the voices within you, you will hear the whispers of your calling. You ignore these voices at your peril.

Passion is an itch that needs to be scratched and never goes away. It feels good when scratched but just persists. It is not just the source of joy but the source of great discomfort. That is what surprises people. They are looking for happiness and they find passion and passion is not pure joy, it is the essence of your life. It usually is triggered by the needs of others. And all needs are painful. Passion is discovering who you are and what is your purpose.

Being in front of students, I am reminded of the opportunity that is within all of us to discover who we are. To respond to our inner desire to help others and become the best we can be. I want to keep the student within me alive (the secret formula for eternal youth:).  So I can steer my vocational vehicle along a path paved with passion instead of doing circular laps in a career racecar.

Where are you going?

Thanks for reading. John


Life starts at 26

A close friend of mine sent me Tina Seelig's new book, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20. I just finished it. It is filled with a collection of stories, advice and inspiration about how to be more creative about your choices in life.

When I was 20 I don't think I could have understood her advice or any advice. I think the window of opportunity in ones life opens well after you can drink and after you graduate from college. Over the last 20 years, I have seen this pattern emerge and developed a theory that ones career life does not start until about the age of 26.26jpg

After talking to thousands of people of all ages, including hundreds of parents of college age kids, and more between the ages of 20-30, I have concluded that 26 marks the beginning of a pivotal chapter in ones career consciousness.

And if you are over the age of 26, don't worry this applies to you too! ;)

While you were in high school you formed the basic view of yourself, what you think you are good at and what you weren't. Your parents and others probably pushed you. We know that your brain's synaptic activity fell dramatically after the age of 15 due to the formation of neural pathways, your habits and your preferences. Puberty and your view of the world kicked in and altered your view of yourself and your chances by the time you got your high school diploma and headed to college.

According to the annual Freshman Survey, the three top goals of first year students in college, in order of preference, are expertise in their field (don't even have a major :), raising a family and financial comfort. The survey reflects the responses of 1.5 million college students from every state. These results have been consistent for 45 years. Because of the economy, financial comfort moved up the last 2 years.College students

Average college students change their major 2.5 times to find an enjoyable AND practical area of study. Most college grads do not use their major to find a job. They are almost all poorly prepared for the workforce and few have acquired real career development skills. Their ability to use networking and mentoring is rare. They defer their "dreams" because they have to make money to pay their student loans and if they were fortunate get off the parent's payroll. Although this is a much longer process than ever before.

About 5 years after graduation reality sets in. This is where I have encountered the 26 year old whose perspective shifts and search for meaning starts. All of the same Freshman Survey goals come back onto the dasboard. What is my expertise? (Do I need grad school?) When will I get married and/or when will I have kids? What is my plan to get the things I want? (house, retirement etc)

Why do we spend money we have not earned, to buy things we do not need, to impress people we do not like?   Deepak Chopra

That's why I found it fascinating that the Freshman Survey 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 had a healthy dose of the real world?

  • Raise a family
  • Develop a meaningful philosophy of life!
  • Become an expert in their field

Help others in difficulty was 4th and financial comfort fell to 7th. Heart vs money

Develop a philosophy of life?! Yikes. A decade had passed and nothing changed except money was less important, they had not gotten married or had kids, they had no expertise, they still did not know what they wanted to be when they grow up and they needed a career GPS system! And on the bright side, they saw others needed help. That's all. :)

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

If you are not yet 26, invest in your search for meaning now, while you work and while you play. Start developing your philosophy of life---your pursuit of a life that interweaves your passions and your goals. Mixes and blends your strengths with a contribution to the greater good, however you define it. And answering the question: What is meaningful to you?

If you are over the age of 30, it is not too late. Afterall, 48 is the new 26! :) Raising a family, a meaningful philosophy of life and expertise still may be very important to you. Your quest for greater fulfillment and your sense of contribution to something larger than you probably is growing. You are much more focused and time is more precious. You can begin a process of preparing for a life or career change, may be more challenging, but never too late to develop and amend your philosophy of life.

Regrets age you. Regrets can kill you.

The key to all of this 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!

A meaningful philosophy of life is not a job but a way of living--not just thinking and planning, but living! Living to do what you love doing AND strengthening the relationships that give you meaning.

Thanks for reading. John