What is my purpose? What is my passion?

Stumbling toward Purpose

Is this all there is?

Is this the life I was meant to lead?

What difference am I making/will I make?

Questions that we all ask and must address. The answers define perspective and our path. The answers define what we do and the choices we make. The answers shape our future.

Joseph Campbell: We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.

We can only respond to what is calling us. To what the world reveals to us. To the opportunities that engage our hearts and minds. To the intuition of what we were meant to do.

But what beckons us, pushes us, pulls us, mesmerizes us is a function of our perspective and our willingness to experience these forces. Stumbling

I met two people this week.

An executive who was at a new beginning of her journey of defining her purpose. 20 years into her career of successful and progressive promotions in the same industry. She was successful in all of the external measures of title, money, and prestige. She is 47.  But she realized she had submerged her desires, interests, and passions to the expectations of others. How to please her parents, her mentors, her bosses and her peers. Everyone but herself. She was awakening to her inner voices trapped beneath the rubble of other people’s expectations. She wanted to rescue herself before it was too late. I did little in this conversation but allowed her to speak and express herself. It was powerful to see and witness. It was like the child of possibilities was reborn. She saw that she had a new world of opportunities ahead of her. My only advice was to fully explore her interests and to listen to what her heart was telling her. She was fearful and excited.

Mark Twain: The two most important days are the day you were born and the day you find out why.

Then I met a young man who was the child of drug addicts and was essentially abandoned to a gang. He was angry. The gang became his surrogate family and they cared for his needs-emotional and financial. They gave him a future. They mentored him. He became a father at 13 and then again at 17. He too was awakening. He had surrendered his future to others too. His dreams were left behind. So now he is getting his life together, thanks to a community based youth mentoring program. He is 19. He is hopeful. He was asked, “What advice would you give other young men that are in the situation you were in? He said without hesitation, “Find your purpose. We all have a purpose. We have to find it.” Wisdom comes from unexpected sources.

When will we pursue our purpose? When our hearts speak to us do we listen and take note?

Through the haze of life there are moments of clarity. Moments where we say, "Oh there it is again." That feeling of satisfaction of purposeful activity that aligns with our moral and spiritual compass. Not something that impresses others. Something that impresses you. Not an achievement but an activity or even a persistent idea that aligns with our soul. It may be fleeting. It may be a continuous flow, if you are lucky. A flow of engagement of who you are but almost always about the needs of others. As in love and even answers about our destinies, we have moments of deep clarity that propel us forward. A story strikes us, a Tedtalk, a news item, a childhood memory……We get distracted. We always want more or something else. We need to trust ourselves.

We say we like challenges but we also avoid the challenging work we want to do, we need to do to define our lives. We fill our time with the mindless and defer the mindful. The couch beckons and our courage wanes. The only thing that makes progress is time. 

Suddenly I am behind on my bills and my dreams. Les Brown

We plot our lives like a clever chess player thinking 3-5 moves ahead. And we can miss the detours, new opportunities, and unbeknownst options that are right in front of us. The next can be the enemy of the now.

We must suffer, struggle and stumble to give our life the meaning and purpose we crave. Meaning and purpose do not knock on your door or fall into your lap. They visit those who have compassion for themselves and others. Those engaged in the great fight for purpose.

I love this excerpt from David Brooks  -----------

Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me?

Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding — by keeping a journal or making art. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.

The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative. They are not really living for happiness, as it is conventionally defined. They see life as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.

This is a philosophy for stumblers. The stumbler scuffs through life, a little off balance. But the stumbler faces her imperfect nature with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness. The stumbler has an outstretched arm, ready to receive and offer assistance.

External ambitions are never satisfied because there’s always something more to achieve. There’s an aesthetic joy we feel when we see morally good action, when we run across someone who is quiet and humble and good, when we see that however old we are, there’s lots to do ahead.

The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be.

Those are the people we want to be.

We have to suffer and struggle if we want a life of meaning that is much bigger than ourselves. We have to connect with ourselves, with our purpose and stumble forward, always forward. 

Thanks for reading. John

Meaning of Mentoring

In honor of National Mentoring Month, we need to celebrate, advocate, and encourage mentoring. Each of us has the power to mentor. Regardless of age and stage--you have what it takes to help others. Mentoring is not the province of the "experts", the "elderly", the "successful" or the "important". We have established this on these pages many times. The keys to effective mentoring is showing up and doling out the truth.  Everyone-needs-a-mentor

More than anything, mentoring is about the meaning. The meaning of their lives. It is about the meaning of their work. It is about the meaning of their relationships. It is about the why not the what. It is focused on getting people to be true to their purpose. 

It is always Meaning over Money.  Robin Johnson  

Don't worry about your stuff. Worry about making meaning.  Seth Godin

Some people confuse mentoring with giving advice, outlining steps, or god forbid, helping people develop a plan.

Mentoring is like the best conversations that leads to the best relationships. Mentoring is about honest exchanges that help the mentee hear themselves. Help them hear their own heart. 

Great mentoring is the process of allowing the mentee to be heard and surrendering to their soul. Mentoring is giving other permission to do this. 

This requires holding one another accountable for what we say and do---or don't do. 

You can't hold back and just be polite when you are mentoring. Not telling you to hurt people's feelings but letting people lie to themselves, live a deception, and/or say and do things that they think sound/look good, is a crime.

Not enough time to be wasted on a life without meaning. 

Holding back is close to stealing.   Neil Young

Mentoring is not being supportive--it is about mining for meaning.

Mentoring is not encouragement--it is about the pursuit of purpose.

Mentoring is not comfortable--it is about the uncomfortable

Mentoring is not about responsiveness--it is about overcoming resistance

Mentoring is not necessarily a program but a way of life

Mentoring is the greatest reality show ever--starring the mentee.

Everyone is a role mdel and indirectly mentors others through their actions. Other people are watching you and they learn by what you do more than what you say. 

And in the end, every mentor gets more than any mentee. Great mentoring forces both mentor and mentee to walk the talk. To align themselves to their meaning. You can not help others without helping yourself.

Adopt the lifestyle of mentoring by helping others to SWiVEL---Strengthen What I Value Enjoy and Love!

Who will you mentor next? This month? And next?

Thanks for reading. John

Best of SWiVELTime: 2012 Remix

These are excerpts from my fifty 2012 posts. My unbiased selection of my better thoughts and and attempts to push you further towards your goals. Enjoy! Best of 2012

To understand where you are going, talk to people who are going that way.

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.

Miss Stability is a fleeting femme fatale that has no intention of marrying you.

I wanted to help people get back on the old networking horse and see it from a different perspective. That networking is not a selfish skill but a community building skill. That networking is not a technique but a lifestyle of engaging others and learning about oneself. 

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.

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. 

 I do therefore I am--makes no sense.

Becoming the accumulation of what you do is a resume not a life. Your storyline past, present and future needs to incorporate who you are not what you have done!

Nurturing and aligning your soul around your beliefs and your life portfolio is our challenge and should be our joy.

We will all be a "freshman" many times during our lives.

Today starts a new semester of study. What classes are you taking? And who are your professors? What do you want to learn? Life is an endless series of degree programs and commencements. When is your next graduation? Re-enroll today!

Everyone is busy and we are busy all of the time. We breathe air, gravity keeps us put, the earth circles the sun, and we are busy? Anyone not busy?!! The question: What are we busy doing? 

The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.

It would be much easier to live a life that "happens". You take what comes to you. Settle for what others want for you. The authentic life is the opposite, you chase it. You hunt it down. You stalk your passion and purpose. 
So think first to mentor, then to be mentored.
Mentoring gives the mentor  the courage to tell the truth and to open up and discuss how they are overcoming their weaknesses and foibles. And the mentee musters the courage to hear the truth, confront their own weaknesses and discover themselves.

I believe unlearning is as critical a survival and success skill as learning. Unlearning is literally and figuratively deleting "files", forgetting the past, abandoning assumptions, then learning again, by starting over. Unlearning is breaking off your rear view mirror and focusing on the new landscape in front of you and seeing it for the first time.

No matter what age you are. No matter what stage of your life. The advice is aways the same: Stay curious and pursue your passions.

Our networks also reflect our habits, our qualities, our pasts, and determine our futures. Our networks have also become obese. Generally, they are too big and have too "fatty". We add FB friends like junk food. Our time with others is increasingly superficial and transactional. We want a diet of deeper and meaningful relationships but we more often opt for the fast food drive thru lane of life. 

Get off of the junk food and unhealthful habits of hanging with the crowd that limits your ability to pursue your life. Go look in the mirror and meet the person holding you back. Make a deal with that person that your network needs a makeover!

Who do we know that needs our help? Who needs our help that we need to know?

Thanks for reading and for your support. Happy New Year!  John

Losing our minds by getting stuck

As we get older we tell jokes about "still being upright", or "nice to be seen" or "still breathng".

We know the moment we can't move is when we are dead. We all know about that many sharks have to swim to breathe and live. Humans stop moving and their spirit can die.  Our ability to see ourselves evolve, adapt, learn, and engage is essential to living and to life.

I meet zombies all of the time. Lifelike forms who go through the motions. They are usually good people who do no harm but lack purpose and deeper fulfillment. Many of them have given up on the future. Life is what happens and they make the best of that. Getting by and getting through the day, week, month.....is the objective. All of the obstacles, shortcomings, and challenges have beaten them into a corner of settling for "what it is". It is sad when you see this in a boomer but depressing when you see it in a 27 year old!

I am obsessed by understanding how people untangle themselves from their own web of self-imposed constraints. We all lose so much energy, talent, and ultimate creativity in our society because of this malady.

Daniel Pink studies what motivates us in his terrific book, Drive. He said that we all need Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose to keep us motivated and moving.

Po Bronson who chronicled his interviews with almost 1000 successful people in his book, What should I do with my life? He found that all obstacles in people's lives were surmountable. That with very exceptions they were excuses.

Sharks teach us much about the life giving forces of "movement". The need to keep active,  open,  and curious about what lies ahead. Moving to connect to people and ideas. The need to renew one's spirit and goals by forging ahead.

Sea squirts, of all creatures, teach us something fascinating about human behavior. Sea quirts are these simple opaque tube-like tunicates or urochordates that have been swimming in the oceans since the Jurassic era. They swim in schools and like sharks filter water through their bodies to live and survive. But sea squirts do something bizarre, oh so it would seem. They find a place to attach themselves as a group. They then proceed to digest their own brain and nervous system because they will no longer need them! Now attached to a rock or coral, they can survive by merely filtering water without thinking (not that the sea squirts were solving algebra equations or having deep thoughts!)Sea squirts Bluebell

Does this sound familiar? It does to me. Once attached to a comfortable place, way of thinking, surrounded by others who are almost identical, the need for a brain and new thoughts are rendered obsolete. I know and have met permanent and temporary sea squirt humans! People who settle. People who give up. Non-profit board members who eat their brains once the meeting commences. People who are so stuck in their ways, their assumptions, habits, and their networks----part of them dies. Their spirit and energy about change and the future goes into a deep sleep. Their minds are not engaged or necessary!

For the sea squirt, eating your brain et al is an irreversible act. Hope you like the rock selected because that will be your final resting place! But for us humanoids, we still have brains and can choose to keep moving our lives forward. Whether you are 40 or 60 you have a lot more to give and live for. Certainly if you are 27 or 37, you can not be stuck yet. 

Are you a sea squirt? Have you lost your mind because you are stuck? Have you settled into your piece of coral and decided that this is all that life can be?!

One thing I have seen is that the network, the school you swim with, can hold you back. Maybe its time you evaluated the people around you. Maybe you are holding yourself back. Maybe you need a different perspective. Maybe you need different priorities. Maybe more connection to your values and loved ones.

You are not done yet. You still have a bunch of ideas about the future, your future, your family's future, your community's future. We need you to move. Don't eat your brain. :)

As you can see a sea squirt can be quite beautiful. But as we all know, true beauty lies within and we can not allow that beauty and potential to wither because we are anchored to an immobile rock.

Thanks for reading. John

What is your vocation, your calling? And are you listening?

Like a lot of words, vocation, has been misunderstood and misused.

vo·ca·tion  (v-kshn)

n. 1. A regular occupation, especially one for which a person is particularly suited or qualified.

2. An inclination, as if in response to a summons, to undertake a certain kind of work, such as a religious career; a calling.

As author Po Bronson asked in his quintessential career book, "What should I do with my life?" The question is what have you always wanted to or were you meant to do? For some this is an obvious and easy question and for most it presents great trepidation and challenges. This has been part of the quandary of our species since the dawn of time. We have always asked, "Why am I here? What am I supposed to do?"

Those of you who have raised kids or watched them grow up know that each child has a unique set of DNA and inclinations, traits, and talents. And if given encouragement and guidance to pursue those unique qualities, special things will happen. Too often the DNA is stunted, pruned back, conformed by the norms and wishes of a society that on one hand preaches a love of individuality but on the other often forces people into predictability. The greatest challenge and responsibility of parenthood is helping our kids find their calling.

Young people experiment with career ideas that start in their guts or in their wide open minds. Astronaut or President............Over time they start to appreciate their own interests, desires, and dreams that either get supported or don't. Other people's sense of "practicality" can interrupt the dreams and callings of younger people.Listening 

One's calling emerges from a blend of your DNA, your upbringing, and your world view. Your experiences trigger what you like and what you have confidence doing. You think of things that you SHOULD do, or things that you WANT to do. You see others doing something you would love to try. Some of these things are real candidates for your career and other things are put on a shelf of bucket list like items--Things I WILL do later.

There is a great misperception that the discovery of one's calling will be accompanied by a dramatic musical string arrangement and drums, skies that part revealing planets and stars, a bright light and a clear deep voice that provides life's instructions. Sorry to burst your bubble, that does not happen to us mortals.

Your calling is more like a whisper than a thunderous clap.

Most often, your calling unfolds through a great scavenger hunt of life. You get clues and advice along the path from your experiences and from people who guide you. You have intellectual and emotional reactions to these encounters with your calling. Either you are paying attention, listening, and taking note or you aren't. Many things interest you, but only a few really generate excitement and passion. And if you are fortunate, you pay attention and a theme or several themes emerge.

It may be art, kids, or pets. It may be solving puzzles, helping people, or writing. Subjects and skills you just enjoy doing and talking about. If you are drawing a blank right now, then you need more experiences. You need to pursue your curiosities. You need to meet people who are engaged in these issues and passions. Eventually, your calling will be like a constant emergency broadcasting tone that you heed and try not to ignore. That tone is a complex set of frequencies that is composed of may sounds and ideas from your past, your present and from your soul.

Listen for your calling and take notes.

Met Tom Tierney this week. Tom co-founded Bridgespan and authored a relatively new book called Give Smart. It is a wonderful guide to life and philanthropy. One of the many ideas he conveyed was our pursuit of "our calling." Connecting with what we are passionate in our lives, careers, and in our giving. He discussed this potential shift in trajectory that occurs when one evaluates "success" and wonders if this is it. That internal conversation that moves from "success to significance"--will my success be significant? Will it matter to more than me? We return to the age-old questions--What am I SUPPOSED to do? WHY am I here?

So the idea of a calling does not just arrive on a white horse and announce its presence. It must be stalked and pursued. Most of us mortals have to track down this elusive fugitive of a calling and take it into custody. Otherwise life goes by and you might achieve some success but little significance. And you may have missed what you were supposed to do!

Only you can hear your calling. Listen for your vocation and follow it.

We need people becoming who they were meant to be be. We need more passion. We definitely need more significance--your significance!

Thanks for reading. John

Are you SWiVELicious----Can you SWiVEL?

SWiV·EL   (swvl): to link, pivot and move freely

Yes there is a new look and banner for my blog.  After more than 150 postings and about 30,0000 page views I decided my blog needed a makeover. SWiVELtime is a bit more succinct, plus the url SWiVELtime was available :). SWiVEL is a one page guide I developed many years ago to help people focus on their career paths and directions. Strengthen What I Value, Enjoy, and Love. Networking and mentoring are like everything else in life they are driven by goals--what we want. So to network and mentor well you have to SWiVEL. I try to SWiVEL everyday. (by the way, the "i" is lower case in SWiVEL because "I" should always be smaller than the things I want to achieve and the people and ideas I want to support)

Let me know what you think of the new look and give me feedback on my blog. I relish your requests and suggestions. Please click the feedback tab above and help me improve my blog. Thanks!

I have distributed thousands of these SWiVELs in my workshops, workplaces, and downloaded from my blog. It has evolved over the years. The SWiVEL is one page because I was told that "no one has time for anything longer." But as Coach Wooden said, "Anything that can be put into a nutshell belongs in one." So the SWiVEL is jammed with questions and thoughts that are not simple or easy to blurt out. To be done well the SWiVEL needs time and thought.Bad_boy_ent 

A combination of people asking me for resources and a meeting with Jon Cropper triggered the birth of the SWiVEL. Jon, who was the brains behind Nissan's cool ads and Shift campaigns 10 years ago, and I had several energetic and pyrotechnic conversations. Jon liked to use a dialectic process of basically starting an argument by asking a pointed question. He liked to induce verbal collisions and to see the new products, ideas, and thoughts which were generated. He was a creative guy who lived off of the creative process. I liked his energy and his non-stop thought process. I wanted to hang with him to see if I could learn something by enduring his sado-masochistic intellectual process. At one of our first one-on-one meetings, he asked in an antagonistic tone, "WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR KOBARA?!! WHO ARE YOU?!" I was momentarily stunned and then proceeded to recite some drivel about what my title was and my duties at work. He interrupted me, I AM CROPPER! The C stands for Creative, the R for Responsibility, the O for Original, the P Passion.....(I actually forget the rest:) WHAT DOES KOBARA STAND FOR?!! I feebly tried to make my Japanese surname into a compelling acronym as Jon stared me down across the restaurant table. The pressure was on! "K is for knowledge and O for opportunity and B is for.... " I threw up my hands and said, "I am not going to do this!" I started to discuss what was important to me and my life. We had a pretty deep conversation, especially between two people who did not know one another well. The conversation was provocative but not very satisfying.

Jon's question haunted me and I did not sleep well for a couple of days. WHO WAS I and WHAT DID I STAND FOR? Important questions that can not be answered by what I was doing or by tasks or projects. It lead me to write down my thoughts and questions. Out of this process the SWiVEL was created.

A month later, I saw Jon again. We met over lunch and before he literally sat down, I confronted him. "HEY CROPPER, WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR TODAY?! CAN YOU SWiVEL? CAN YOU?!! He meekly says "Swivel?" YEAH SWiVEL?, I retort. I pull my one page SWiVEL out of my back pocket and slam it down on the table like I had won a card game. Jon picks up the SWiVEL and starts to read. He looks up over the page with an evil smile---"I made you do this didn't I?"  He certainly inspired me.Caves

Like so many times when I have entered a scary cave of ideas led by new spelunkers I met through  networking, and emerged unharmed and more courageous. I like being mentored and confronted with reality. I gained from the process of not accepting the meaningless words we tend to use to describe ourselves, our lives, and our futures.

Jon Cropper moved to NY to pursue his career in marketing with his disruptive take no prisoners approach. There was little doubt he would be more successful. I lost touch with him and recently learned that he is CMO for Bad Boy entertainment, Sean Diddy Combs' multi-faceted entertainment firm. Perfect.

Try to SWiVEL. Complete the online version by clicking the SWiVEL tab above or Download SWIVEL_new_2011 for your writing pleasure.

The SWiVEL attempts to focus you on what's important to you right now and how those thoughts propel you ahead to greater success and helping others.

Nevertheless, it is always SWiVELtime!

Thanks for swiveling and reading. John

Developing a meaningful philosophy of life and the lifecycle of career development

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



5 Lessons on Connecting, Conversations and Courage

I try to push myself, stumble into, and/or be introduced to new ideas and people everyday. I have great weeks and less successful weeks. This was an especially good one. Things came together and I had many moments of inspiration and education. Over the years I have learned to say YES to invitations, to suggestions, and to introductions, especially if it will expand my thinking. It takes up time and energy, but I always get more than I invest. Let me share five lessons from the last 5 work days.

1. On Monday I watched this video by Brene Brown about connecting, vulnerability, and courage. The word courage comes from the Latin word for heart and is roughly translated into "the ability to tell your story with your whole heart." That is hard to do. To take a risk by revealing yourself and accepting who you are with all of your imperfections. "Being willing to let go of who you think you should be in order to be who you are." And she asserts that these traits are essential to connection and to be able to connect. By being "vulnerable" you will be more capable of meaningful relationships and a meaningful life. Powerful research, revelations and messages.  

2. I attended a webcast and panel discussion for the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, where 400 diverse people compelled by the injustices of the Jim Crow laws uprooted themselves and went south to join the fight to end segregation in public transportation. Whites, Asians, Jews, and others left their studies and their lives up north to help "strangers". These freedom riders felt deeply connected to these southern blacks and they took action to help them. Hard to believe this happened during my lifetime and I was so grateful to be reminded of this history and these acts of courage and sacrifice to connect and help others change history. Rosa_parks-1

3. Wednesday, I got the chance to hear Daniel Pink speak about his relatively new book about motivation--DRIVE. The main takeaway from his very engaging presentation was that financial incentives are not effective unless the work does not require a brain. In other words, incentives (including financial) rarely work for things where you have to think. That the most effective incentives come from within, There are three main motivators: 1) Autonomy--freedom to make decisions and the latitude to act independently. 2) Mastery--the ability to pursue personal and professional growth through improving one's skills and abilities, 3) Purpose--Work that is connected to something meaningful, something bigger and more important than yourself, engaged and sustained the employees more.

4. Thursday, I interviewed a candidate who surprised me. He dug down deep to tell us about himself. We asked what his former bosses would agree was the one thing that he had to improve. He had always been told that he was not living up to his potential (a curse indeed!). I asked him to tell us one part of his potential that HE wanted to improve. He paused and thought for a brief moment and said, "I need to believe in myself. I need to push myself beyond what I think my limits are. I need to assert myself to see what my capacity is."

5. Friday, I had dinner with my dear friend Nat Irvin. He is a business professor at the University of Louisville who studies and teaches about the future. He thinks about THE future all of the time. When you are with Nat you are immediately transported into his world of ideas and trends that boggle your mind. We discussed the origins of lightning, the state of technology, and geography of ideas. There is nothing calm or casual about our conversations. I love it when I feel my grey matter stretching in new ways. I reach out to him every few weeks to get an Irvin dosage of the future. During the last couple of days, I introduced him to several of my colleagues and friends to give him a flavor of LA people who think about and create the future. These interviews seemed to help Nat get new perspectives on the city of angels and what lies ahead. Nat knows that people like to talk about their futures and THE future and they open up to him. I received a bunch of follow-up e-mail and voicemail, thanking ME for the opportunity to meet Nat. Here is an excerpt from just one:

John, our conversation evoked so many emotions and insights about myself that I was completely blown away. I felt so comfortable being interviewed by him, the words that came out of my mouth literally flowed like a raging river.....ahh its hard to explain..I've never spoken to a close family member or friend, let alone a complete stranger about things so interpersonally deep. I am an open book with people around me, but usually I am the person trying to open other persons pages. LiveWholeHeartedly-wholeHearted

When you truly connect with people and you open your mind and your heart, you become vulnerable and courageous--you speak with your "whole heart". You learn about yourself and appreciate yourself. And yet you feel more connected to others. As Dr. Brene Brown says, we must let go of what we should be and become who we are. We all have the human need to connect, but we have to make the connection and then share and learn from each other. We see our imperfect potential and embrace it. When we do, our view of ourselves becomes clearer, the world becomes smaller, and the needs of others grows in importance. This is the most fertile soil to cultivate the seeds of meaning, purpose, passion and how we will impact the future. We realize that we have more control over our futures than we thought and our obligation to tap into our potential becomes more urgent.

I wonder what next week will bring and whether I will be open to the possibilities and opportunities.

Thanks for reading. John

A Sampling of New Year's Inspirations and Tools

For what it’s worth, it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit... start whenever you want... you can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that stop you. I hope you feel things that you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life that you’re proud of and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.

  Benjamin Button's letter to his daughter.

Any time you set new goals, reflect on your path, or make new plans to reach your own potential is a good time. If you like new year's then make the most of it. I have included a few things that I review each year to get me focused on what I want for the next year and beyond (like this Benjamin Button quote). I have learned that most goals won't fit neatly into a 12 month time frame. I try not to focus on the transactional and push myself to consider the transformational. The typical and somewhat trivial new years resolutions can be pretty selfish--Lose weight, eat better, exercise more, get my finances in order, read more.....These are your goals if you want to live longer and be more successful. These "goals" are important but are so basic to life. Don't get me wrong, take care of yourself, stop smoking, get your fiscal and physical act together. But seriously, you know these things. Just do it.

If we spend a little less time contemplating our abs and more time planning our futures, we would all be better off. You won't be surprised when I tell you it will always be the relationships that define your life. Relationships you nurture, repair, develop, and engage will define your success and your happiness. Connect with people you care about. Be mentored and mentor others. Develop new relationships around your goals and passions. Tiny advances here are not enough. You need to make big strides, huge compromises, and extra efforts to strengthen your relationships into mutually beneficial ones. You have to take the lead if you want something to happen.

A good friend of mine was telling me about her 84 year-old dad who I guess is starting to lose his senses and whits everyday. He lives 3000 miles from here so she doesn't see him very often. In fact she told me it has been more than 6 months and she could not make the time over the holidays. I let her have it. "You gotta get out there and see him", I urged her. "You have to see him when he recognizes you and he can tell you his stories." She actually was a little offended by my tone. She told me she was going to get him Skype so they could see and talk more. Time and money seem like a small price to pay to see your dad in person. For me, I live by, "No Regrets!"

Here's my popular one-page goal setting sheet called the SWiVEL (Download SWIVEL_new_2009). Strengthen What I Value Enjoy and Love. Spend some quiet time to develop your answers. Feel free to change it. Writing your goals makes a big difference.

Here is my final device for focus--the UCLA System:

Urgency--A sense that time is valuable and fleeting gives you an inner drive to accomplish things. How do we create a continuous sense of urgency without the stress?

Community--Connecting to strengthen a sense of belonging and community around you. How will you connect or reconnect with people that you can help?

Learning--Education is cranial oxygen. You need to learn new things. What will I learn this year? What will you learn or even master this year? 

Action--Nothing matters unless you do something. Take steps to move your agenda. Crawl, walk then leap!

My ever present question always precedes any process: What do you want? 

That answer will guide your vision for the next year. While we all need to lose weight, tighten our abs, get our finances in order, and spend more time with family--we also need to envision what we want in our lives. Not sure where you thought you'd be in 2011 but the next year will go by quickly too. No time like the present to pursue your dreams in addition to renewing our promises to look and feel better.

So there you have it. Benjamin Button, Interview with God, SWiVEL, and the UCLA System. Hopefully something here gets you to quit your membership in the procrastination club and focus on advancing your goals and relationships. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and into a grand world of who you can be.

Here's to an extraordinary 2011! Thanks for reading. John


Reflecting on our glass barriers and the road beyond

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

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

...Robert Frost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


The Power of MOW

Vision without execution is hallucination. Thomas Edison

What do we see for ourselves down the road? What path and milestones do we expect? Not what we hope and wish for? Do we have a vision that we are working towards? Or just the vision?

If you don't know where you are going any path leads you there. Alice in Wonderland

Life is making your way down a dim path where unexpected detours and off ramps appear. Your choices are revealed by what you are doing, what matters to you, what you are thinking about.

In learning about my brother-in-law Andrew, I found out that the department he worked for at BNSF Railway was the MOW. I saw it on shirts and signs and I asked what it stood for. Maintenance of Way. Maybe it is just me but that is a very philosophical corporate department name! In fact, here is a website dedicated to it. Maintenance of Way IMG_0009_NEW_0002

You have to understand the MOW crew is a tough bunch of very physical and intimidating guys. So to hear that they work for the Maintenance of Way department, let's just say it surprised me!

The concept of keeping the tracks ahead clear and well maintained so it is safe to travel inspired me. We take these things for granted. MOW are the nameless faceless workers who make our lives easier, who quietly make our world safer, who without recognition, cleanup our messes and make sure our ability to do our work and advance our goals happens. We are so fortunate for the MOW crews!

But MOW is a powerful life guiding value, that we are all pathfinders. We take the beaten paths that others forged and maintained for us. We take new paths that we pursue because we follow our hearts and our calling.

We owe so many people from our past for making our lives and visions possible. People who sacrificed for the chances and choices we enjoy today. Our ancestors and our parents. We owe so many people from our present who guide us, mentor us, and show us the way.

Each of us has a great responsibility for the MOW. To see our opportunities and to choose our paths, so that others can pass here safely.


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

...Robert Frost

We never take these roads for our sole selfish gain. We always have others in mind. Our families, our friends, our communities.

It is how we teach and mentor. It is the method of creating our legacies. We lead by example. That is MOW.

Looking ahead to envision our destinations or at least the track we are on is vital to momentum and progress. We must have the drive but we must also arrive. Otherwise our journey is an hallucination.

Maintenance of Way is about leading so that those that follow have a clear and known path. So that they do not repeat the mistakes and suffer the consequences. So we can advance.

We all have to maintain the way. As a parent, as an Asian Pacific American, as a manager, I have responsibilities to MOW.

Thanks Andrew for your MOW. For showing us how to live life to the fullest while being generous. For being yourself and being proud of it. For loving people around you unconditionally. Thanks for maintaining our way.

Thanks for reading. John

When you see the end you begin again

Stephen Covey in his great book, 7 Habits of of Highly Effective People, counseled us to Begin with the end in mind. This weekend we buried my brother-in-law, Andrew Kim Weaver, he was 53. He was taken from us too soon and his life was far from done. Death is the most sobering experience. It brings a  whirlwind of emotions punctuated by moments of inspiration, depression and self awareness. Listening to people who knew Andrew gave our family incredible insights into his lives. Yes, lives plural. We all have them. Our worlds of friends and activities that define us. A view into his generosity and his spirit. Some of the stories were truly surprising, most reinforced our view of him. But what emerges is a much more complex and accurate story of the man and his legacy. While we will never forget him and our pain will endure for a long time, we try and gravitate to the lessons in life we learn, especially when life ends prematurely.  Don't have the space here nor is this the forum to tell Andrew's life story. His life like all of our lives was unique and packed full of people, successes, failures, intentions and regrets.

When you see the end, you begin again.

In many ways Andrew lived a simple life but his life taught me some powerful lessons. I learned them from Andrew and the people who remembered him. I hope these three inspire you.

  1. Be who you are: Andrew lived his life the way he wanted. He cared little about how others viewed him and more about showing up everyday. He enjoyed life seeking joy and discovering new things.
  2. Never stop giving even when you have nothing to give: Andrew was very generous with his time and his resources when he was laid off. He helped other people financially even though he was broke. He helped people when he desperately needed assistance. He was unconditional with his love, support and friendship.
  3. Never give up: Andrew had many hardships, some of his own making. Yet he always battled back. He dropped out of college, but completed his degree 19 years after he started it. He was an alcoholic who was sober for more than 12 years until he died. He was forced to take a demotion to an administrative assistant position because of an injury and three years later became a manager and named employee of the year in 2009.

AKW Death is a mystical and elusive concept. It is inevitable, but we all think it will be further out there and we have time to "do what I want". We say things to ourselves and to others like, "life is short", "smell the roses", "have quality time" but we rarely do things differently. We live as if we will never die and die as if we have never lived. We see life like the mirage on the desert highway. We just keep driving at high speeds with no appreciation for the length of the trip or the scenery that rushes past. Not going to bore you with all of the trite exercises that ask you to write your obit, epitaph, or eulogy. However, defining what we want is paramount.

One of my favorite books, Einsteins Dreams, author Alan Lightman poses a number of questions and concepts about relativity and time. One chapter basically begins with the query, What if you knew you would die on September 29? It was such a specific date! It gave me pause when I first read it. No discussion of how I would die, (how I could prevent it was also irrelevant) but next September 29th I am gone! Your conception of life and what's important is transformed.

We need to connect with what we want and the people we love now.  I don't want to learn about people I care about at their funerals.

I met this incredible woman Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch (that's her real name!) She grew up in abject poverty and became Lt Colonel in the Army! Her life story is a classic immigrant American dream where a woman overcomes great odds. She implores people to"Live a legacy instead of planning to leave one."

Or as coach Wooden said,"Make everyday your masterpiece." Time and opportunity are finite and fleeting things. We have to go for it and minimize those brutal regrets.Thanks to Andrew, I realize how much more I could give and how much more I can do to be a better person. The time today is a gift. What am I possibly waiting for?

A post it note on Andrew's desk read, "If you are angry, fight. If you want to die, then wait until tomorrow. Today you may do some good for someone else."

I have seen the end and I begin again. And I am gonna fight and do some good. How about you? 

Andrew, thank you for living a legacy. Thank you for the lessons and inspirations then and now.

Thanks for reading. John

Lexicon of Life---Be defined by what you want not by the words you use

The word swastika is Sanskrit not German and is more than 3000 years old. The version on the right was high-jacked 70 years ago. Nevertheless swastika still means good fortune and well-being to much of the world.

I recently heard the remarkable Howard Bloom speak about the brain and our views of the world. He exhorted the audience, "To see everything as you never seen it before!" Why? Because we do not see things as they really are. We scan and assume. We pre-judge, we are governed by our habits and our moods. We gravitate to the easy answers that we often know are under-informed and possibly wrong. We rely on our instincts and intuition way too much. Ultimately, we see things, have thoughts and feelings, convert them to words and vice versa. Words generate thoughts/feelings and our perception is framed. Sometimes we let words drive our thoughts. And a bunch of swastika like words can get embedded in our mouths and our minds. We get off track because we don't question what we say and see. How we see our selves and our opportunities matters. So the words we use to describe our futures make a difference. Right?Dictionary

Last week I met with a group of grad students. I ask them, as I always do, what career/job/position do you want when you graduate? This is not a trick question, nor hopefully, a surprise query? :) But it always seems to startle these post-graduate recipients. Often I get a litany of buzzwords, jargon, and phrases intended to impress. Words such as CAREER, PROFESSION, JOB, and OCCUPATION are bandied about. Loose words and even looser thinking. Yet these immature thoughts are guiding behavior and establishing unintended goals. Sound familiar? Easy to make fun of grad students, but the lesson here is examine our words to keep us focused on what we want.

Words are so important. What they mean and how we use them. Most words we rely upon like the oxygen we breathe, we don't think about them or question their origins. Do we say what we mean or mean what we say?

Here is the John Kobara lexicon watch list of words to keep you on your toes:

CareerFrom the French word Carriere, which means two-wheeled vehicle like a chariot, a racecourse, similar origins as careen, so out of control. Supposedly became a "course of life". But it began as a vehicle going in circles very rapidly nearly out of control! Lily Tomlin said, "Even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat!" A career can seem cyclical and circular, speedily heading to a finish line that looks very much like the starting point.

Profession: Originally the "professing" of one's vows to religious faith. An occupation requiring specialized knowledge and training.

Job: A regular activity in exchange for payment.

Occupation: Process of filling up time and space. To be busy. To have a job.

Vocation: From vocare or vocatio, meaning summons or calling. Originally, a divine calling to the religious life. This is what your heart whispers to you or you have heard in the back of your mind, the work or activity that you prefer and like doing--even love doing, including your so-called passions. Are you heeding the calls? I have had many vocations and that's all I want!

Amateur: From the Latin word amator, meaning lover or someone in avid pursuit of a goal. A person who does an activity for the love of it.

We all want more than a job or an occupation. Do you want to be an amateur or a professional? To have a career or a vocation? Like the swastika, the words can limit what we see.  And our perceptions can deceive us. 

When you come to a fork in the road, take it!     Yogi Berra

Our questions have to be guided by what we want. Do we really want a new or different career or job? Or are you deeply and seriously interested in linking who you are to your like, your work, and your achievements?

A report by the British think tank Demos describes the rise of what is called the ProAm Revolution. There has been an increase in the number of amateurs who excel, rival and even exceed the standards and achievements of the professionals. People with day jobs who are accomplished in other areas. People who have dual careers, one paid and one un-paid. They are lawyers who paint. Doctors who volunteer. Teachers who write textbooks. Accountants who play the french horn. My blog and speaking have become my amateur work. This career duality helps them feel fulfilled and challenged. Finding one job that will totally encompass the needs of a person is far fetched. Therefore it has been my experience that this strategy is not the exception but the essential one. 

Our jobs can be what we do to pay the bills, hopefully it is work we care about and that makes a difference in the world. Most of us will need to be an amateurin something else to give our life well-lopsidedness. We have to have multiple interests and work to meet our different needs. Ideally these worlds can help each other. Being a tri-athlete, sing operas, coach at-risk youth.... 

Seeing your life as big enough to include your ProAm strategy is the start. And begins with the words and thoughts that describe your vision for yourself. How about a Vocational Amateur? :)

 Thanks for reading. John


A network of friction: The human particle accelerator

Traction is gained when points of friction – even small ones – push off against one another and enable movement. Until there are two opposable surfaces, there will be no traction. Our goal in developing an action plan is to place strategic points of friction in our life so that we are gaining traction on a regular basis.  Todd Henry (Accidental Creative)

Traction comes from friction. And friction comes from differences. People talk about oil/water or black/white or positives/negatives. We all know you need to mix these ingredients in reality to produce necessary and important nuances, shades, and indeed solutions in our lives. This is the crucible of art and science. Of invention and true creativity. The collision of opposites in the super collider/particle accelerator of life generates new paradigms and ideas that advance our thinking and our perspectives. Without these collisions and encounters ideas become isolated and insulated. Cooking would be utterly boring. Art would be bland. We would all be clones. Life would be predictable and dull.Particle accelerator

Over the last 40 years, scientists have been accelerating atoms and atomic components at super high speeds to reveal new components, understand space and time dynamics, develop new sources of light and energy.

A particle accelerator[1] is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams.

We all want to accelerate our goals into more well-defined beams, don't we?

I know some of you want predictability, at least you think you do. Others say they also want stability. You really don't, but you say you do. Besides being distracting and self deceptive, it delays reality--the reality of what you REALLY want. What you really want is an inner feeling of engagement of your talent and your potential. Challenges, chances and opportunities. A sense of purpose and meaning. These require changes and dare I say, instability and unpredictability.

Traction requires friction-- not controversy, anger, and animus, but tactile and intellectual differences to push up against one another. That creative tension between perspectives that yields a different thought or point of view to  advance. To move forward whatever that means to you. A feeling of uneasiness that makes you uncomfortable because it rings true. The truth about your deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. 

But what are the sources of productive and creative friction, besides our inner gnawing desire to reach our potential?

Isolation is your problem, not your lousy attitude.  Barbara Sher

It's time to question your network, your sources of support and inspiration. Often your current kitchen cabinet, also accepts you as you are. Apparently, many of them think the status quo is fine. Or maybe you are fortunate and you have a friction network that pushes and pulls you to be your best. Not dissatisfaction with who you are but who you could be--and want to be.

For me and my experiences, you have to seek differences, new ideas, and different points of view through the people you meet, confide in, and learn from. You build your own human particle accelerator/collider of friction that literally forces you to confront yourself in a collision of expectations and perceptions. Re-investing in your network, by assessing your current network, by going to people you know (but don't know), and by seeking new vantage points, will ultimately pay off in opportunity dividends. It will be people you know and meet who will help transform you and give you traction. You can not do it alone. If the status quo is satisfying, then enjoy it. If it isn't, then make a concerted effort to diversify and expand your portfolio of advisers.

Just learned from my cousin that this speech I gave was posted online. It describes part of my particle accelerator/collider network that created friction in my life that continues to propel me forward. The human source of the traction, chances and opportunities I have been fortunate to encounter and take.


John Kobara Honored by Coro from Edward Headington on Vimeo.

Thanks for reading. John

Network with the spirit of Aloha

I have been going to Hawaii since I was a kid, worked on the islands a few summers, met my wife Sarah on Oahu, my parents and sister Katie live in Lanikai....Probably visited Hawaii 50 times so I feel like a local, although the real locals know I am not! Anyway, there are many reasons I love the islands outside of the fragrant breezes, beautiful views, lush flora, white sand beaches, and the delicious food. There is a feeling here that is different from any other state or state of mind. There is a culture of mutual respect and friendliness that is unequaled. Established in 1959, it is a youthful state that has an energy and culture that is fresh and tranquil. Clearly the surroundings matter. In other words, when beauty abounds, your own beauty and uniqueness shine. Aloha

From the urban go-go-go world I live in, (I know NY or Hong Kong are much faster and intense!) you have to decompress when you get to Hawaii. The mighty spirit of Hawaii always overcomes my impatience and anxiety. It is a certain reliever of my mental pain and suffering.

Think about a state government that has included the following passages in their legislative code to remind government officials and its residents of the spirit of Aloha.

"Aloha Spirit".  "Aloha Spirit" is the coordination of mind and heart within each person.  It brings each person to the self.  Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. It was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaii.  "Aloha" is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation.  "Aloha" means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return.  "Aloha" is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence.  "Aloha" means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable."  (Underlining and italics added)

These last three sentences are powerful words of advice, especially in the context of networking and mentoring. The idea and the practice of giving without obligation is so meaningful. How much we need each other to exist, evolve, and succeed. To dismiss anyone is to dismiss ourselves. Human existence and communication is made up of the verbal and the non-verbal. The said and the unsaid. The known and unknown. When we seek to understand, we ask questions, we listen to one another, and we observe carefully. What was once unknowable is shown to us.

In Hawaii, everyone hugs. Everyone brings food. Everyone defers to others. As an LA driver, I notice things when I drive. People motion for me to turn in front of them or give me their parking space. Unheard of courtesies on the streets of the angels. The universal law of attracting to your life whatever you give time, attention and focus to--positive or negative is part of Aloha. You see these values exhibited everywhere and everyday.

You can't help but be a better person when those around you are generous and forgiving. And when you are generous and forgiving, the people around you benefit too.

So a few thoughts and recommendations:

  1. Give first without expectation.
  2. Treat everyone as you want to be treated.
  3. Surround yourself with an uplifting network of people and inspiration.
  4. See and be the positive and you will attract same.
  5. Visit Hawaii or a place like it!

Network with Aloha and you will have peace and prosperity.

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

To What Do You Give Your Intention and Attention?

Had the great fortune of attending a terrific workshop on the principles of grant making, the art and science of giving away money from foundations. I know it sounds like an easy and enviable job, but much harder than you think. Anyway, had the pleasure of being trained by Bob Long, former VP of the Kellogg Foundation and Ken Gladish, former national president of the YMCA and president of the Austin Community Foundation. Both are faculty at the Grantmaking School. (Yes there is a graduate level school dedicated to this work!)

Over time I have learned that all "best practices" for effective work,  regardless of sector or industry share the same basic principles. And that these principles are often wonderful guides for your life, your career development, and your relationships.

Bob introduced us to the concepts of Intention and Attention.

  • Intention--What are/were you intending to do? i.e. Goal

  • Attention--What are you paying attention to given that intention? i.e. Measures of progress

Remember, he was talking about grants from foundations. And the point was to articulate your grant making goal and identify measures of progress. Then constantly remind yourself of that intention and those measures. Why? Because we digress, we drift, we lose focus. Like right now when your mind is wandering, finish reading my blog! :) In non-profit work we often refer to this as "mission drift". Straying from your goal AND from what you are good at. You can see the broader applicability of these ideas already.

Coach John Wooden's used the word Intentness. It was a word he made up, always apologized for this by the way, and it resides in his Pyramid of Success. The Coach taught us all that paying attention to your intentions leads us to the actions that determine success in everything we undertake.

Take these very simple and important questions and apply them to your life, your job, and your career. Apply them to your faith, your volunteer work, and your hobbies.

What is your intention? And what are you paying attention to to see that you are making progress toward your intention?

Please do not say, "I am just trying to enjoy what I do and see what happens." Because you think you are either lucky or lazy? You may be niether. As I have opined, a Wait and See strategy is the certain path to disaster.

Don't be confused. What's nice about the word intention is it is what you want and hope for. It is as macro or as micro as you desire. It is personalized and customized to you. It is as ambitious and achievable as you want. To be ambitious you need ambition.

Here's the kicker. When you have clear or clearer intentions, to which you are paying attention, you will attract opportunities and people. The gravitational pull of commonalities is powerful. Not always positive though. Negative intentions are just as sticky as the positive ones. You saw the studies of obese people and the likelihood they are connected to other obese people. Smokers too. Aimless, goal less, ambitionless people also connect and friend each other. Why hang out with people that are the same as you if you are lost or unhappy? Your network spirals up or down depending on your intentions and actions.

I am constantly monitoring my kids' friends. I love the diversity of interests and backgrounds they represent. But I watch for too much group think/peer pressure about school or courses. I want my kids to always be exposed to smarter, more ambitious, harder working people. Not everyone they know, that would be irresponsible and ineffective. But enough exposure to see different intentions and paths through their own experiences and contacts, not because their sage father says so.

And such is life, your intentions and attentions determine your networks and ultimately your mentors. The Buddhist saying applies, When the student is ready, the teacher appears. No way your teacher/mentor will appear with out clear intentions.

Your conversations, engagements, and encounters are greatly influenced by what you focused on. Without these concepts mentoring and networking are non-substantive and frustrating exercises.

What is your intention today? Tomorrow? And are you paying attention to your progress?

Thanks for reading. John

Think Out Loud and Connect!

I do this exercise with new college graduates or graduate students. They are the most confused, especially these days. I hold up my fist and point at it. And then I tell them, "I have your ideal job in my hand. It will engage your heart and your brain. It will pay you comfortably. Good dental benefits. Commute time is reasonable. It will help you grow and develop as a professional. Just tell me what it is and I will give it to you." 99% of the time they don't know what it is. That's not the point. The surprise is they don't even know what to say. They start mumbling things but almost always end with a joke. Because that's what what we all do when we don't know what to say. We try, I say try, to be funny. One of those slapstick defensive reflexes we verbalize to deflect the attention from our brain freeze. Similar to when we jokingly say, "No I meant to that," when we trip on ourselves or spill a drink. Brainmouth

It's really funny how our brain and our mouth are not connected. Accessing the grey hard drive, get the binary codes to come out of the speaker system and make sense is not always easy.

We harbor many ideas and thoughts in our minds about what we want and who we are. They rattle around between the neurons and the synapses. In the brain they seem comfortable and clever. In fact sometimes in our minds we are geniuses. However, when we utter some of these ideas with words and phrases they get garbled. We rely on our mouths to translate our elegant brainstorms into eloquence. Often it does not work and can be quite embarrassing. We forget the lips and the frontal lobes are not always directly linked.

I remember when I was talking to a very ambitious employee about her hobbies. It was a fun and light hearted, easy going conversation. I started thinking about an opportunity for her. It occurred to me that I did know what her ambitions were. So I asked somewhat abruptly, "By the way what do you want to do next?" She was horrified, froze and became inarticulate. She told me this was not fair and that questions like that could only be asked in a formal review session! I was not expecting THE answer. But to start a robust conversation about the options, pros and cons. To hear her thoughts, but I never did.

Pat head rub tummy Thinking and talking on our feet can be the equivalence of patting our heads and rubbing our stomachs simultaneously. Not easy. With practice it is always easier. With preparation it looks like it is second nature. Robin Williams' "ad libs" have been tested in private, honed in comedy clubs, and tweaked by his writers. It is the delivery that matters. But I am not suggesting you memorize anything, the best speaking is extemporaneous. Your preparation allows you to share thoughts that have been considered and certainly are not alien. 

The ability to think out loud is a lost art. When you don't know the answer, especially if it is personal, you have to demonstrate your thought process, display that you have considered the subject matter--such as your life's direction!--and honestly share a little of yourself. That would be refreshing. An authentic discussion of the challenges and issues the question or the dilemma conjures.

This is where mentoring comes in to save the day. When can you trot our your intimate thoughts? Where can you conduct your dress rehearsals and get feedback? And not be instantly criticized and judged. Mentors are the greatest sounding boards. They expect to talk to you about these raw and mal-formed concepts. Share your thoughts, questions, quandaries, and curiosities with your mentor. Expressing these thoughts as wishes, things you want for yourself is also very effective. Think out loud with your mentor, often and then listen for the feedback. Just the practice of converting your neural sparks into words will do wonders.

Doing this in isolation, by yourself, never works as well.

When people ask you things all of the time? When you know people will ask you the same questions over and over. Or questions that you ask yourself repeatedly. There is no excuse for not having answers or well-formed thoughts about your quest for answers.

In my intermittent posts on questions, I urge the readers to work on their answers. Literally verbalize them to get them to sound like YOU. To convey what you are thinking. Like an artist who dreams up new images, getting it exactly right the first time is rare. It takes a series of trials and errors to have the canvas look the way you imagined.

Last week, I asked a grad student what type of job and career he really wanted after graduation. After an awkward pause he replied, "Nothing but happiness." He looked at the ceiling and then at his shoes and then smiled impishly. He knew he was being funny, wasn't he? Just wanted him to think out loud with me and maybe we could work together on refining those thoughts and actually discover a path to his happiness.

Thanks for reading. John 

Your path to the future is paved with questions

One of the most powerful resources in your career and networking toolbox is curiosity. Yeah, the insatiable desire to try to understand how things work or don't work, what is success or failure and how is it measured?; what are the best practices?; who is considered the best or the leader?; what are the trends and therefore the scenarios of the future?

Questions shape our understanding and define our thoughts, opinions, and our preferences. Good questions lead to better conversations. And great conversations generate important relationships. Questions matter. Questions

Question authority. Did he pop the question?

Yet, there seems to be a dearth of well formed questions. You would think that learning would motivate our questions, wouldn't you?

We all evaluate dozens of organizations and individuals every week. Vendors, partners, colleagues, friends, restaurants, product providers, etc. We accept and tolerate many issues and challenges in our daily experiences. Often they trigger questions about how to improve something, somebody. Questions about the goals or expectations of a service, a project, or an organization.

There are the profound questions we have to ask ourselves everyday, every month, every year:

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I going?
  • Am I on track?
  • What is meaningful to me?
  • What do I want?

Questions are the lifeblood of the conversations that make mentoring and networking relationships work and thrive. What you want to know, what perplexes and stymies you, where you think there are gaps or weaknesses--this is the fuel that powers the engines of personal and professional change. But they can not be questions just about you and what you want.

We seem to be more interested in using our questions to purchase a car or a new computer than to choose our next job or career? We invest more time and energy into the quality of our material possessions than the due diligence of the work we do and how it will help us grow and advance.

Not having answers should motivate us instead of depress us.

I meet a lot of people. People who want to find jobs, people who want something, people who are searching, people who are lost, and people who want to partner. And overall, the quality or in some cases the absence of questions is surprising.

I look at resumes the same way I review business plans, or grant application. Where have you been, where are you going, why did you make changes, where have you succeeded, where have you failed, what makes you unique, why should I affiliate with you?

I could not make up the stuff I hear and see in interviews. Sometimes it is a reality show of outtakes from American Idol or America's Got Talent. Once in awhile it is invigorating and inspiring but that is the exception.

Here are my top five favorite meaningless questions that I have been asked by job candidates in the first interview?

  1. How many days off will I get?
  2. How much do you love working here?
  3. Are the dental benefits any good?
  4. How soon would I be promoted?
  5. Do you have a strategic plan?

It's like, "Did you just say that out loud?" There is zero interest in how the employer is doing or what is going on? Are you so self absorbed and ill-prepared that you have no genuine interest in the business, the challenges, and the results?

The most irritating sound outside of the vuvezelas at the World Cup is the worst radio station in the world, WII-FM. What's In It For Me. When this radio station plays so loudly that it drowns out even the semblance of what others want, then failure and rejection will be your listening mates. WII-FM makes one's questions seem self-absorbed and selfish.

We all know that asking questions has to be accompanied by thoughts on the answers. You can't just verbalize queries without ideas. Otherwise you are just another whiny solution-less member of the chorus of complainers. And there is little room in our crowded lives for this irritating irrelevant noise.

All of us have an exaggerated level of confidence in our ability to ad-lib, address impromptu situations, think on our feet. In general, when we rely on this non-existent skill, we look stupid. The only way to avoid this embarrassment is to prepare questions. Writing down questions. Thinking about what questions you would ask yourself if you were hiring you.

Our quest is looking for special people, special opportunities, special moments, and ulimately a greater sense of fulfillment--the diamonds in the rough, the needles in the haystack. We find these things by following our hearts, our intuition and our questions. We discover these things by being insatiably curious.

What are your questions?

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. Albert Einstein

Thanks for reading. John

The Passing of a Coach, Mentor and Legend

After an extraordinary life of 99 1/2 years, Coach John R. Wooden died. His legacy is so vast and well documented, I will not spend time here recounting it. If you are not familiar with Coach Wooden please read about him, learn his pyramid of success, buy his books, and learn from his life!Jr wooden

I was fortunate to know the Coach. I was not close to him, but I had many encounters and chances to hear him speak and several lengthy private sessions with him. My kids met him. My wife Sarah and I had an intimate dinner with him several years ago. I have considered him a mentor for many years.

The guidance he provided through his teachings and lessons have profoundly impacted my life. I can honestly say that I am a better leader, father, husband, and person because of the Coach. I am so grateful for his life and for his mentoring.

I want to share with you just a small sampling of the lessons that guide me everyday.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Doing your homework. Practicing to hone your abilities. Anticipating challenges. Thinking about what you are going to do before you do it. Thinking about what you are going to say before you say it.

Be quick but don't hurry.

Keep moving. Take action. Make decisions. Speed is a sign of progress. But don't rush. Don't miss what is around you and appreciate the moment.

Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.

Don't read or get caught up in your own press statements and achievements. Don't become satisfied with your past success. Find your limits. Push yourself to maximize the talent and ability you possess. Watch and learn from your "game films." Be obsessive about how you can improve.

Make no excuses. Your friends don't need them and your foes won't believe them.

Reasons why we are not making progress in our lives are irrelevant. Everyone has challenges and hardships. Talking about the obstacles that prevent us from reaching our goals is wasting time that could be devoted to the achievement of those goals.

Make everyday your masterpiece.

Make each day a new opportunity to excel and do your best. Do good, help others, and set an example while you are awake. You never know which masterpiece will be your last.

These are my interpretations of a few the Coach's thoughts. His Pyramid of Success sits on my desk. I will never forget how he could recite 25 lines of Shakespeare from memory. Or his ability to move an audience without bluster, hyperbole, or ego.


We are grateful we had the Coach for almost a century. We have lost a great teacher of humanity, but his teachings will endure. We celebrate his life by becoming the best we can be.

Thanks Coach.

Thanks for reading. John



If you are down, you have to look UP!

After seeing a screening of Waiting for Superman, (which is a must see when it comes out in September) I started to think about looking up into the sky for help, super or not. We all have looked to the heavens for an explanation of a baffling situation or for some divine guidance. We also may look to our parents, our bosses or others above us in the food chain for answers or wisdom. Superman

The point is we have to see where we are going and seek assistance. Stop what we are doing to pause, reflect and think it through. Talking to somebody who understands and maybe has faced the same circumstances always helps.

Finding a true role model can make a difference. This person seems to have been able to balance the things that are important to you. Parent and career, community leader and accomplished professional. We meet, read about, and sometimes know these people. Call them mentors, call them role models, call them inspirations. You can admire them, but you need to study and ideally understand them. Understand the costs, the requirements, the support systems, the sense of fulfillment. You have to get beyond the gloss and the press images of success.

I have found that some people are born into success, others were inspired, and most worked hard to get there. None of the models I have followed have had it easy.

Keeping your eyes up and your mind on what lies ahead is more more important than ever. The writing on the wall, the signs of change, the risks and choices, and the opportunities. Imagine how dangerous it would be to drive by only looking at your dashboard. Looking up will tell you so much more.

I talk to people who loosely fall into three large groups these days. Group 1 is hanging on to what they have. Group 2 is making a move to the next chapter. Group 3 is hedging their bets, uncertain and or paralyzed. They are the worst off. At least Group 1 is loyal and committed. Group 2 is committed to change. Group three, like all groups who wallow in indecision, their careers have reached the ceiling and they only have a down button on their elevators.  

Looking up is not getting lost in the stars and distant dreams that seem improbable. It is not comparing your current circumstance to another greener pasture you have not visited or studied. It is keeping an eye on the horizon to see your options and next steps. It is looking up to those that can show you what you need to do. Looking up is making sure you are a couple steps ahead on the chess board of life. Role models, mentors and other confidantes can keep your thinking fresh.

In BreakingThrough, the Harvard Business Press examination of minority hard driving execs, found that a notable percentage who reached the top of their professions, did NOT want it. It was not as attractive as it looked from afar. They set a goal and spent years focused on the steps and strategies to get to that destination, without regard to what it takes to do that job--the sacrifices, the "costs", the travel, the politics, the distance from the customer. These ambitious people rarely looked up to question their goals. They became blindly committed to a path and their daily lives revolved around making progress to that end.

Again, we are all guilty of self deception. We make up stories about our paths that lead up to our goals. They sound good, but we have not mapped out these paths to the ends. 

Looking up Looking up is the recognition that our lives are moving toward a destination, intended or unintended. And it is never too late to make changes and course corrections.  Some people think this is the time to stay focused. I agree. Being focused is not tunnel vision. Staying focused means not giving up on your goals and the steps necessary to achieve them.

Things are looking up. Keeping your head down insures that inspiration, help, and your future will be out of sight. Looking up from our busy lives, looking up to people who can help you, looking up the path to where you are going and where you want to be--that is a strategy that will not require the services of a caped crusader.  

Thanks for reading. John

The Power of Following

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love this video

Let me reiterate the lessons here:

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

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

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

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

Thanks for following along and reading. John

Wait and See---The Worst Strategy

What will it take for you to make a move? Take the chance? Do what you have wanted to do? Have the network and mentor you always wanted?

The worst thing is to just wait for the"right" time. The time when all of the conditions are ideal.

It is the most common thing I hear. "I think I am going to wait and see." Wait until.....things calm down, I am not as busy, until the kids are out of/get back to school, until-----WHAT???!! Stop the madness. Stop the irrational indefensible excuses.

It's May 2010. Let's reflect on the promises you made to yourself just 4 months ago. Remember? Waiting clock

We are always in a marathon. It is a long race that requires great effort that is sustained. But like all races you have hills and you have slopes. You have weather and you have wind. You have competition and you have your body's responses. Stuff happens. My point is, what is the best time to start making your move? Nowis the only time you have. It is always now. As Eckhart Tolle says, yesterday is a former now and tomorrow is a future now.

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

Yes, the economy is showing signs of recovery. And the stock market is returning to its previous form. Yet, the jobs and the opportunities have not mirrored theses economic measures---they never do. There is always a lag effect. Jobs will follow. So you wait. For what? Certainty?

There are many flaws with the waiting strategy. When times are good, whatever that means, most people (present company excluded :)) tend to get comfortable with their lives and feel less motivated to make a change. Second, waiting til its warm and safe to dive into the pool of opportunities is when everyone wants to go swimming and the waters are crowded and unwelcoming. Lastly, how long you willing to wait? Years? Because it will be years.

What do you think the sheep-like masses are doing? Your competition? Yes, they are waiting too.

Waiting is just a euphemism for procrastination. Procrastination is another word for laziness. Laziness is the most dangerous mode because it robs the individual and everyone around her from the benefits of talent and passion fulfilled.

So stop waiting. What are you waiting for? A sign? This is your sign. :)Waiting

If you know what you want, go for it! If you aren't sure then start exploring!

If you don't want to do it for yourself, do it for us. We need everyone to push themselves to contribute more to our society and to our world. Hard to imagine a world with more needs and challenges than we have today. The only thing worse will be if people decide to be bystanders, unwilling to give their all.

Waiting is a waste of time and talent. Push forward and make it happen.

Thanks for reading. John

One degree that will advance your career and your life

In the frenzy of admission and graduation season, I am reminded how often I am engaged in what seems like America's second favorite pastime, "The Graduate School Game." There seems to be an obsession with getting another degree. Have you seen this 212Movie?

What's the difference between 211 Fahrenheit and 212? That one degree is the difference between hot water and BOILING water! That's how a lot of people regard the next degree they want. They think it will take their luke warm careers and make them hot!. It could. It might. Might not.

When first year college students are surveyed every year, nearly 100% say they will earn a graduate school degree. Yet fewer than 30% ever enroll and much fewer earn a post-graduate degree. That aspiration does not die easily. And as time marches on that goal can grow into a tumor size thought that festers and evolves into a nasty regret. Worse case scenario is that elusive degree becomes the reason and crutch for a stalled career.

Po Bronson in his seminal book, What Should I Do With My Life?, concluded that another degree was NOT a factor for people who found fulfillment and success in their careers and lives.

Many people keep talking about this mystical magical degree even when the likelihood for them to start one is almost nil.

If you are serious about another degree, stop talking and thinking about getting one and take some steps to apply!Mortar board

As someone who endured and completed three post-graduate programs, mostly because I was constructively procrastinating my life. :) Let me add quickly, that having grad school degrees on your resume can help you get interviewed, but it can never replace real experience and achievements. And after you have a graduate degree or two, then what? PhD?

When I was in the cable tv industry, I met people with Masters in Cable TV. When I was running an online ed company, I met people with Masters in Educational Technology with a specialization in online education. Recently I met people with Masters in Philanthropy. First of all I give great credit to the universities that have diversified their product lines and are meeting customer demands. But the reality is a degree in fill in the blank, gets you some credibility and a limited view of the real world.

Life is my college, may I graduate well and earn some honors!    ~~Louisa May Alcott 

Basically, to keep up in this world you have to be in graduate school all the time. Face it, if it is in a textbook and a course it probably is obsolete. So let's talk about continuous education. Learning to adapt, evolving one's toolbox of experiences focused on expanding one's skills, knowledge and abilities. Formal or informal, you have to adopt this mindset if you want to evolve, grow and succeed. Enrolling in a formal degree program can help if you know what you want and NEED. But I think you should be earning a degree every 2-3 years at work! No, I am not specifically talking about a tuition reimbursement program or going to school at night. I am talking about your intentional educational advancement at your job and in your life.

I just completed my 2nd year in my newest career and I have definitely earned a reality based Masters degree in Philanthropy. I am far from done. As usual, I have learned enough to be intimidated by what I don't know. My goal is to re-enroll myself into a new degree program every 2-3 years and earn a new diploma outside of the classroom.School_of_hard_knocks_2

This mindset of continuous education can be powerful if you are purposeful. Here's how you can make your next 2-3 years on the job a degree program. Imagine you were enrolling in a grad school and choosing your area of concentration and now perusing your schedule of classes, investigating the qualifications of the professors, talking to others about their views, and ultimately making decisions. It would be daunting and fun. All of this would be driven by your strengths and weaknesses, your gaps, your needs, and your interests.

You have those same choices at work and in your life right now. Design your on the job degree program. The great news is you have already been admitted! Take all of the reflection you have done about your next university degree and what you wanted to gain from that experience and apply it to your life and work. What are your gaps and desired areas of concentration that you want to address? What core required courses are you missing and what electives have you dreamed of taking? What does your faculty at work look like? What departments/divisions have courses you need, have the best faculty? And what is your class schedule--how long will it take you to complete this degree?

In the next 2-3 years at work you will spend more time than at any equivalent grad school program. How do you carve a path through the next 24-36 months that make it transformational for your career and your life? Do you want to move into finance or out of finance? Do you want to gain management experience? Are you preparing to run your own business or organization? You have a lot to learn.

So your work world is limited or is not where you want to end up. Consider the full spectrum of options in your life. Again, based on your game plan of needs and desires, you volunteer, you moonlight, you educate yourself by seeking classes and professors who can guide you outside of work. All driven by your degree requirements.

Once you have a basic plan for yourself that is an honest reflection of what you want and heavily influenced by what you need, then you can begin to assemble your degree program.

Put both of your hands on your career's steering wheel and start to drive down the road that will give your more traction toward your goals.

If you believe that small changes can make big differences, then get that extra degree that will heat up your enthusiasm for where you are and where you going.

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.
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 

Passion Diagnostic: Three A's and the Pursuit of Happiness

Passion Diagnostic: I came up with this phrase a year and a half ago to describe a process for people to find their passions. To understand what gives their lives meaning and to invest in those things. To make those things a greater part of their limited time and attention. As the phrase suggests it is an agnostic process--neutral to what you should do, or others want you to do. It is what you want to do and best, if it is what you were meant to do. The phrase gives the impression this is a science or that there is a formula to uncover your passions. Nope. And while there are wonderful web based filters, tests, and processes that may reveal your dating compatibility, your shopping habits, and predict your movie preferences, this requires you to think and know thyself.

In the world of philanthropy and given the world today, most serious donors are now questioning their "passions" and searching for more rewarding forms of giving. I started seeing sites which try and help donors choose charities, such as Donation Dashboard, very rough attempts to help a truly passionless person find potential recipients of philanthropy. Passions are a much deeper more personal set of items. I even hesitate to use the P word because it intimidates so. J0438796Your passions are within you and there are ways to reveal them.

To find out what you are passionate about will never be discovered by looking at lists of random charities, surfing the internet, or worse, copying what someone else does--even your mentor. It is an introspective process of self-discovery. It is understanding things that trigger great joy, emotion and intellectual curiosity. Passions get your heart beating, you love talking about them, and they make you smile or emotional. Every week someone says to me , "I don't know or don't have any passions." Yikes! These people have just not taken the time and effort to explore and to reflect. 

I hate giving people tools and techniques because some believe these are the answers. I use tools and techniques to provide models and examples to help the "user" figure out their own way and to hopefully invent a process that works for them. For example, I developed the Download 2010 SWIVEL document for the same reason to help people define their career paths. So I give the following to you in this spirit.

What you do says more about you than what you think you do or what you want to do. Now some or many of your personal passions may be secrets because you don't talk about them for fear of judgment, because that are mal-formed or new, or because the contradict who you say you are.

So this process is to awaken the real you and to make you be real with yourself.

Great success, great citizenship, great leadership, great parenting, great partnering, certainly great mentoring and networking have three fundamental strategies that ultimately reveal your passions. Let me explain.

Ambassadorship--Representing yourself but more importantly others, people, issues, organizations, well is an invaluable skill. We are all ambassadors whether we like it or not. Like in a foreign country the ambassador is a diplomat, a mediator, and a leader. The power and effectiveness of an ambassador is to be ego-less, self-less, and to put your cause, country, or community ahead of you. You are positive about this affiliation but you can be passive and more reactive. For whom are you an ambassador? For whom would you like to be an ambassador? It could be a personality, an organization, a product, a sport or hobby, a restaurant. This reveals much about you. Sometimes hidden here are submerged feelings or roles that you want to expand. Write down these thoughts.

Advocacy--This takes ambassadorship to a different level. These are things, people, causes where you pro-actively push your views. You have strong feelings about these things. These things create strong emotions in you. They need to be addressed and or remedied, and can not be ignored. Your tolerance on these matters is much lower. In other words, your emotional reaction , both positive or negative, can be quite powerful. This takes a thousand forms, "isms" (racism, sexism), cancer, the education system, civil rights, politics, religion, abortion, a homeland....These are personal issues/causes/ideas that you have a very personal connection to. Write down these thoughts and feelings!

Altruism--This may be the most revealing indicator in the passion diagnostic. Where do you give your time and charity now? And if you had more time and money, you would give more to this cause, organization or issue. Not destinations of loyalty giving, because "you have to" or "feel obligated to", may not be your alma mater, but could be. Often this is closely aligned to your advocacy. And should be. And sometimes connected to your ambassadorship. Definitely write these thoughts down too.

J0405208 So, what these three A's have in common is you and something bigger than you. Professor Jonathon Haidt, University of Virginia notes that one thing that can make a lasting difference to your contentment is your work with others on a cause larger than yourself.

Some people embark on passion tourism, visiting many new places and things to try them on for size. Maybe that works for some, but I think "What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." Emerson

Read these rough notes and refine them, erase them, re-think them. There. These are the results of your passion diagnostic! There are no bad or wrong answers. It is where you are and who you are. See the trends, threads or obvious patterns. These are you passions or your potential passions. Use these as a guide to test and develop your plans and commitments. Then compare them to your life and the amount of time you spend on these three A's. How do we make these things a bigger part of our lives. Living your values is the pursuit of happiness. Having wonderful ideals and beliefs without action is the opposite.

These three A's say a lot about you and your future. Follow their lead. The strongest network always starts with a powerful link with oneself. Live passionately and without regrets!

Thanks for reading. John

Career ESP---Extra Specific Please

I start out one of my presentations with an attempt at ESP. I try and predict the audience's mindset and what they are thinking about their career futures. I start out with what they DON'T want, because people tend to define where they are going by avoiding the least desirable paths. Anyway, here's what I say: "So you want to do something you believe in, feel good about what you do and how it benefits humankind. You do not want to be confined to a "conveyor belt" of meaningless and repetitive tasks,  and you want to work with people, because you are a people person. And you don't want to be in sales! You want an organizational culture that values your unique talents and will help you grow." Usually, this is followed by, "How did you know?!!!" This always applies to new graduates, young alums, but today this is the view of many career changers who are looking for the next thing. Lily Tomlin said, "I always wanted to be somebody but I realized I should have been more specific." What I try and coach people to do is to zoom in on what they want-- to be more specific!Crystal ball

Besides the crucial error of driving your career defensively versus asserting and pursuing what you want. Let's break this mindset down:

I want to do something I believe in -- In the lexicon of the 90's Duh! Yes make missions or causes an essential part of your life! But what do you specifically believe in? What are your values and principles that you will use as search filters for your next career? It would be lovely if you could satisfy all of them in a job. You need to find a job, an employer, an industry that fits your needs, including what its products and services do for the world. It does not mean that your day job will fulfill all of your passions. Never stop pursuing your passions outside of your employment, that will help keep your rocket ship in orbit. Your constellation of passions is complex and finding a sole source provider is illogical. In the end you have to believe in the opportunity for you to grow your talents and your prospects in this new career. So your employment has to be focused on real skill developmetn and experience acquisition. In this case you are obsessive about developing yourself and your prospective employer supports your quest. Now that is doing something to believe in.

I want to avoid a job with repetitive and meaningless tasks -- Unless it pays $100 an hour! :) I get to visit and talk to people in every sector. The new world order has redefined everything, no job is confined to a series of predictable tasks any more. Everybody is doing more with less. Sure every job has administrivia, grunty work, the chores of the job, but the work of a receptionist, financial analyst, assistant, project manager etc have been expanded and are changing. So expectations and opportunities increase in worlds that need more done. And all jobs matter more. What you really want to avoid is an environment that regards your work as meaningless. But if you agree with #1 above, then you find a place where you can grow. Nothing wrong with a bit of repetition, it will give you a great chance to hone your skills and develop confidence.

I want to work with people -- This one always kills me. What is the alternative here: zoo-keeper! Yeah you are going to work with people while we are on earth. Do you mean you want to work with people "outside of the office"? Customers? Vendors?  What type of people? How? And by the way, are you good at working with people, building relationships, engaging teams?? The real question is how good are you with people? Can you lead, inspire, counsel, serve people? We know what you want but can you deliver value to your employer and ultimately to the customer?

I want an organizational culture that values my unique talents and will help me grow -- See #1 again! By the way, what are your specific unique talents and strengths? Hard to appreciate them if you do not know what they are. And if you know those talents, then find an environment that will use them. Do you know where you are generally or specifically going with your career? Do you know what skills you want sharpened or developed? If you do, then growth can be measured. If you don't then this notion of "growth" will frustrate you and your employer because it is a mysterious and illusive set of feelings and ideas that no one knows. The very popular and ugly dance of under-utilized employer provided growth opportunities and employee dissatisfaction with their growth is commonplace. Successful people do not rail against or depend on the system, they figure out how to make the most of the opportunities that are there and make new ones. One of the most popular but mis-placed expectations is that the employer has an obligation to develop my career and mentor me. Employers can coach, lead, support, but mentoring and career planning are always the employee's job.

Maybe this raises more questions and some answers for you. The hope is to get you more focused on what you really want, in Tomlinesque specificity. Then you can start talking about it to get feedback. You can network with it. You can seek mentoring and guidance. Your plans will gel and your focus on what you want will get sharper. However if you continue to use generic phrases to describe what you want, then your search for the next great thing will be lost in a sea of non-specific candidates.The idea that you do not want to eliminate possibilities by being too specific is a certain sentence to the penitentiary of the average. Or your search for meaning and meaningfulness can be driven by the unique interests and talents that make you specifically who you are and separate you from the predictable masses.  

Thanks for reading. John  

Reality check from Haiti and the power of networks

Do you remember the 1985 story about the $5000 of relief aid that was sent between Mexico and Ethiopia, which was enduring great suffering. Drought and war had ravaged the Ethiopian way of life. I remember thinking that the $5000 was such a pittance given the urgent and widespread needs. However, I realized I had mis-read the article. the financial aid went from Ethiopia TO Mexico to help with the huge earthquake in Mexico City. Then I learned that in 1935, a half a century before, Mexico had sent aid when Italy invaded Ethiopia and they never forgot. Ethiopians who remembered reciprocated, they fulfilled their sense of mutual obligation to their brothers and sisters in Mexico.

We help Haiti now and in the future because we are connected to them. Because we have an obligation  as humankind to help one another. I just hope that our focus on Haiti and the needs there will not fade too soon. 2 weeks into the devastation and our attention spans are already strained.

I was formally introduced to the International Medical Corps(IMC) last week. It was sort of embarrassing because IMC is based here in LA and I really did not know them. They provided a small corporate briefing to raise money and awareness. IMC is a very impressive organization that provides medical aid as their name implies. They were on the ground in Haiti 22 hours after the earthquake was reported. In fact they are most often first in where medical assistance is required.  By the way they are the ones who helped save Monley the 5 year old who was pulled from the rubble and is now doing fine. In brief here's what separates IMC from others:

  1. IMC engages the local population to train and sustain their efforts. 96% of their team members are from the local country.
  2. IMC stays with the hard work of getting through the crisis and then moves into the necessary transition to public health and rebuilding. IMC is among the few humanitarian agencies still in Darfur and Iraq for example.
  3. IMC spends 92% of its gifts on their programs! Amazingly efficient.

But IMC leverages their donations by serving as a hub of a powerful and experienced network of resources. They use the power of multiplication to amplify their impact. They match every dollar with a minimum of 20x in aid and support. In fact I was told that it is now closer to 59 to 1! But it is their philosophy to not be a foreign aid team that parachutes in and leaves that impresses me most. They train locals to grow their reach from thousands to millions and leave a legacy of a self-reliant infrastructure.

The power of networks are known to all of us. And if they endure because they are self sustaining then the ripple effect really happens. Networks that are not dependent on one member or one resource are powerful and replicable. IMC responds by engaging its growing worldwide network that now spans 50 countries.

Nancy Aossey has headed IMC for the last 25 years. Like all great leaders she is brimming with energy and passion for her work. She is charismatic but not flashy. She is very much like IMC -- substantial. More about effectiveness than ego. Probably why their brand is not a household name. Nevertheless they continue to do their magic where they are needed.

After learning about them my family decided to give them most of our 2010 charitable contributions. Please consider helping them too. 

Our lives are truly changed by the people we meet. If we spend a little time understanding who they are, why they do what they do, our own trajectories and paths are altered. We glean little bits of sanity and rationality, and comfort from these encounters. And sometimes these conversations open our brains to new ideas and thoughts.  It shows us the power of the human spirit. It redefines us. We get mentored in these moments of enlightenment and reconsider who we are and where we are going. Learning about IMC had that impact on me.

Yeah I am a bit of a pushover, my heart and maybe my own guilt lead me too often. But I think these moments are after shock reality checks. They are the speed bumps that get us to decelerate a bit and consider what we are doing to make a difference. We could all quit our jobs and join IMC. Not suggesting that. But we need to learn from IMC's wonderful model.Reality checks

We all volunteer, donate, and empathize--that is the baseline of humanity. We do that because we are upright and we have hearts. But how do we leverage the good we do? How do we use our talents and networks to multiply that good? As I am fond of saying, even the lone ranger did not ride alone.  Never be discouraged by "I am just one person". The power of networks, of working with others is empowering and powerful. Re-committing ourselves to our own passions and engaging our networks in that work has to be a priority. And one person can make more of a difference.

So give money and or time to Haiti. It will make a difference and make you feel good. But use this time to consider the IMC model of leveraging goodwill through your network. Think about how we make a bigger impact or change. And like Mexico and Ethiopia, we will also build stronger bonds to help one another now and in the future.

Thanks for reading. John

Your Career Kitchen Cabinet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John

We begin again to renew our network of commitments


Every new year I share this thought. Back in 1999 I found a website called Interviewwithgod.net. The host claimed that God visited him and answered all of his questions. This posting left an indelible impression on me.

What suprises you most about humankind?  God allegedly replied:

  • That they get bored with childhood and rush to grow up, then long to be children again.
  • That they lose their health to make money, and then lose their money to restore their health.
  • That they think anxiously about the future such that they forget the present and live neither in the present or the future.
  • That they live as if they will never die and die as if they have never lived.

Lanikai steps

I can scarcely wait till tomorrow when a new life begins for me, as it does each day, as it does it each day.--Stanley Kunitz

When we sense a beginning, we tend to get more focused. A chance to start over and do better. We push the magical reset button to get a do-over. As long as you do not get caught in the vicious cycle of the same old resolutions that are so familiar that they become meaningless. You know the ones--"I need to exercise more." "I need to eat more healthful food." "I need to spend more time with my family." Lily Tomlin said, "I gained and lost the same 10 pounds so many times, my cellulite has dejavu!" According to the University of Scranton, making new year's resolutions increases your chances of accomplishing a positive change by a factor of 10! However, without specific goals, dates, times, and metrics, only 1 out of 5 keep their resolutions. So prevent your annual vows from becoming the broken record sounds of insincerity. But you knew that!

I will avoid all of the overused metaphors and analogies that depict the year past. You've heard them all, WEATHERING THE STORM, BEEN A ROLLER COASTER, OR NAVIGATING THE ROUGH SEAS. This year will not be a CAKE WALK by any stretch. Still a lot of challenges remain in the economy. Even though it feels more comfortable. Comfortable, the most dangerous place to be in the world. Don't let your guard down. Don't even let a sliver of complacency enter your mind. This has to be a time when you increase your resolve to continue your journey to strengthen your position in your life. Or to make new huge strides towards a new destination. You can start with baby steps if you increase your momentum with each step. This somewhat quieter time is when you make your move. Small and fleeting competitive advantage to move right now. Don't put off what you have to and need to do.

Here's a few thoughts to shape your new year's strategy:J0443793

  1. Make this a defining year and time. How will you remember this year? When you look back upon it, what made it unique and meaningful?
  2. Don't define your goals by what you do NOT want. Follow your heart and your head. Envision  the way you want your life to be. Not a default position based on what you want to avoid.
  3. Don't be the smartest member of your network. Assess your network. If you are the biggest fish in your pond, then move into a great lake, your network is not helping you. You are helping everyone else. Upgrade your network to challenge you and push you. Break out of the groups that hold you back. Your network has to inspire you and breed success.
  4. Schedule your mentoring physical.Get an appointment with your mentor(s). Renew your openness to confront a truthful and trusted evaluation. Test out your new goals to get constructive criticism. If you need one, get on your horse and find a great mentor.
  5. Reward yourself.What can you weave into your calendar that you will look forward to? Is there a special trip? A favorite activity or hobby that can interrupt your hard work with delight?
  6. Meet up. Beyond your transactional postings on FB, reach out and engage those you care about in serious exchanges about their goals and your aspirations. Arrange, dare I say, face to face conversations. Figure out how you can assist them achieve their new year's resolutions. It will make you and your network stronger.
  7. Conjure up the child within. Let down your guard a little. Beckon the creativity and genius that resides inside. Let it out. Take some risks and most of all have fun!

To accomplish these goals or any goals for 2010, the experts say dumb things like lower your expectations and be realistic. If you want to settle for what happens or accept the status quo, then be my guest. I say, get inspired. Renew your passion for the things that matter to you. Then you will see something that might surprise you -- a glimpse of who you really are and were meant to be.

2010 could be just another year that comes and goes and we will ask where it went. You and your cellulite will have been there before. Or it can be an extraordinary chapter in your life that is filled with chances and changes. You choose.

I wish you a prosperous and fulfilling year. Thanks for reading. John

Reflections of 2009--Your career and your network

So as 2009 winds down, we naturally and inevitably reflect on the past and look ahead to the future. Our evaluation of the past can focus us on what was not accomplished. I suggest you take the remaining days and hours to make a list and appreciate what you did. Yes, this was a tough year, aren't they all in their own ways?!! Think about the progress you made especially in your mentoring and networking. No matter how small the steps, you advanced your career, your family life, your relationships, your network, your commitment to your passions, and your pursuit of becoming a better you. I can sense that many of you are dwelling on the negatives or the missed opportunities. What could have been. Take a break for a moment! Let's reflect on the best of 2009 and give yourselves credit for the range of creative and even courageous things you did. Think back over the year and search for the highlights. By the way, this is a great exercise for your resume too! Stay positive and see and appreciate the progress you made in 2009. You did a lot more than you think!J0443096

For you so anxious to move into the critique of 2009. Okay have at it! Consider where you fell short in the promises you made just 53 weeks ago. What had you envisioned for this year that did not happen because of disruptions, shifts, and/or procrastination? Make a list if you must. Think about the reasons for these gaps in how you defined success for this year. Look in the mirror, not literally--you will get distracted on your vanity :), and take responsibility for what you failed to do. And think about your network and how you could have done more to support them. One of the greatest challenges is our tendency to make relative comparisons to evaluate success. "2009 was good given what it could have been." Or "I am better off than others." These are poor substitutes for a true assessment of how we did vis a vis our expectations. Relative success is the safe and comfortable way to measure. Don't settle for that. Don't make excuses. Be honest, if you are going to evaluate your shortcomings. Compare you to the you you want to be. 

The point here is take inventory of this year now, because in 2010 you can hit the mythical reset button and start with a cleanish slate. A new chance to make new promises and resolutions. You will have much time for that. Focus on went well this year and how you can build on it for the new year. Understand what you did not achieve and move on. When you are honest with yourself, you did some amazing things, you know some incredible people, and you have a great opportunity to roll out the new and improved model of you for 2010!

Thanks for reading. See you next year. Cheers. John

The Scariest Costume of All -- The Pretender

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John




Are you mentor-able?

First like to share two quick but potent sources of inspiration I had this week in the hope that vicariously it inspires you.

  • Saw Gustavo Dudamel's debut, the new 28 year phenom conductor, lead the the LA Philharmonic at Disney Hall. Words fail me. He was frenetic and energetic. He got lost in the music as all of us did. He used hand gestures and leg movements that would have made accomplished hula dancers and choreographers envious. He is and will become a new rock star and more important role model for a new generation of music lovers. By the end of the concert the audience was fulfilled and exhausted! To get a sample of his captivating style watch this video and the tribute to his mentor.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, heard Sirdeaner Walker (watch this video), who courageously spoke at the GLSEN Respect awards ceremony about her 11 year old boy Carl who hung himself because he was bullied about being gay or looking gay. Already 3 documented instances this year of 5th graders taking their lives for similar reasons. 4500 suicides a year amongst 10-20 year olds and the third leading cause of death for this age group! Saddened by the unthinkable tragedy of losing a child but inspired by the courage and the hope that Ms. Walker voiced about our collective need to stop bullying and to support the great efforts underway to bring mutual respect and civility to our schools and communities. 

More than any topic the selection and acquisition of a mentor uses my cycles and time. People are confused, stymied, and yet greatly desirous of having an all-knowing mentor. There is just a world of misunderstanding , mis-information, and mythology out there. I have spent hundreds of hours on this topic and devoted several posts on this. But I want to turn my attention to what makes someone mentor-able

This general idea that everyone needs a mentor, pushes the acquisition of such a life counselor before the preparation to be mentored. In other words, having a mentor means being prepared to be mentored. Here's where we often get confused. At places like Big Brothers Big Sisters, where an at-risk youth, who usually do not have both parents, live in poverty, and have multiple other challenges, is paired with a caring adult who is compatible. This is a wonderful and incredibly effective model where the transformation of both the mentor and the mentee are well documented. However, this model is very different and not transferable to the professional arena. Many large and prestigious organizations have made this mistake in designing their mentoring programs. But I digress. What a professional needs for career guidance around life's choices is entirely different. The objective, the structure, and the mutual benefits only resemble one another.

I asked one of my mentors to tell me how she chooses mentees. She went off! She has been exasperated by the stream of goal-less, ambition-less, and track-record-less people who want to be mentored by her. She said, "I mentor causes and individuals who have shown me their potential. I choose the mentees they do not choose me. I do this out of my selfish interest to help the causes and organizations I care about grow and improve. Why waste our time on people or issues who have not expressed their potential?"

So what makes you mentor-able? What signs of potential do you have or do you express? How will potential mentors know you are ready for mentoring? J0433167

Never sufficient to just say "I need a mentor!" It can actually sound very greedy and self-centered. But like most things in life the preparation for opportunities and mentors takes some effort and focus. 

So far away from the great needs of at-risk youth are the needs of professionals who need feedback, advice, and wisdom. In the Darwinian world we reside in, the people with raw talent and who exert great effort and display passion for their work--make the best candidates for mentoring. Unless you are under the age of 25, you need to be figuring out who you are and where you are going. You need to be focused on what you want. 

Don't get me wrong, you can find mentoring and mentors in many places around you. Mentoring sources are plentiful. But this quest for a game-changing mentor, THE mentor, someone who will be a longer term confidante--that requires you to get your act together. Think about it, as my mentor says, why expend energy on professionals who are truly lost ?, when there are so many others who may not even be actively seeking help who have displayed their promise. To alter a famous quote, "The door to mentoring opens from within.

I can hear some of you saying--"But that's why I need a mentor!" I know I know. Get mentoring through your network, through trusted people you know. Test your ideas, nurture your curiosities, follow your heart. When you do these things you become more mentor-able. Potential  mentors will see what you are doing, but more important, you will be pursuing your inner interests and talents. You become who you are. People who do that not only get more mentoring but mentor us all. 

Thanks for reading. John

Ambitious without Ambition--An epidemic of the SWAYING FLU

One strange indicator of the weakness of our economy is the quantity of conversations I have about jobs and careers. The volume is overwhelming and probably is telling about the length of our recovery period going forward. People are not finding jobs. There are so many people chasing too few jobs. It makes it hyper competitive and people's actions are becoming irrational. Causing many souls to just apply for virtually any opening anywhere. They discover that the are not well prepared for change. 

So there is one thing to be out of work with little time, you have to be partly selfish and partly expedient. But for those that have time through severance or who are employed contemplating a change, I am witnessing an epidemic of the Swaying Flu. The symptoms are severe wishy washyness, indecisive behavior, frequent procrastination, and outbreaks of apathy. J0321197

So if you are chugging along in your work world, wouldn't this be the time to focus and invest in your job and your career?!! Do you need more motivation than this economy and what millions of our colleagues are facing? For some, these times mesmerize and hypnotize. We fall asleep. Myopia sets in that blinds us to our futures. In fact, there is a general atmospheric cloud that surrounds our judgment that erroneously tells us to be still and not stand out. That this is the absolute worst time to invest in our careers. We all know that education and formal degree programs are counter-cyclical. Meaning when people's jobs/industries are threatened then they go back to school. When people are laid off or out of work, there is a sharp increase in small business formation and enrollments at colleges and universities. Talked to a friend that manages an esoteric degree program at a major university and their enrollments inexplicably tripled in the last year. Some of you know, I sit on the board  of Walden University and they are seeing record enrollments. These new students have had to endure great pain and suffering to now confront their choices and chances. They are re-visiting goals and have decided to make a career switch, start a business, or seek greener pastures. They do this in the worst economic climate in history. They dive into the deeper end of the pool to learn a new stroke. But do we have to be motivated by fear or unemployment?

People who are employed seem to be frozen in their tracks. They are ambitious without ambition. They expect to ride out the storm when when the world around them is not only shrinking but only exists in their optimistic minds. They have no plans to make the most of their current positions and opportunities, but rather seem satisfied with mere survival. How can I strengthen my resume NOW?

Love this video. It frames the question around your next 5 years. My view is three years is better. 

"Shouldn't I wait until things get better?" So you are going to wait three years! You think the job market is going to be better next quarter or next year? Have you seen the predictions, the projections for jobs? Very few economists predict unemployment to return to pre-recession levels and many see this level of unemployment continuing through the middle of next decade. Waiting is not an option, it usually isn't.

Take a moment and read this brief account of unemployment and reflection by Jennifer Williams, Hard Work No Pay, just to give us a jolt of reality, if you have never been out of work. 

So we hate planning our lives when things are good--and for many of us they were pretty good (seem better now, don't they?) and we can not plan our lives when things are bad. So must be our aversion to planning! The Swaying Flu strikes again. 

Let's put some ambition in our ambitiousness. Wake up. This is your life and it is happening now. If you feel it is out of your control, then you have not grabbed the steering wheel: you are the driver, the pilot and the navigator of your career. If you believe in destiny, luck and/or miracles, then having a plan will make you that much better off, right? Confer with your network, your mentor, what do they think?  Take steps to re-evaluate your plan for the next 3 years. How do we envision ourselves three years from now? See that perspective; and look back at the three years that lead to that vision, to see the steps, the decisions, the process and trajectory to get to that vantage point. One thing is certain, in three years you will be three years older. Maybe it will be easier and simpler then or maybe it won't be. I say why wait? J0442372

Thanks for reading. John

A Career Shopping Spree even in a slump

Gratuitous spending, ostentatious luxuries and hedonistic purchases seem like relics of the past--we hope. With the mounting needs and growing gap between the have and have nots, flaunting your wealth has to to be frowned upon. Even impulse buying and mall binges are a thing of the past. Most of us are re-focusing on what matters and the basic needs we have. 350px-Mazlow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg This fall down Maslow's mountain is an ideal time to take inventory of our careers and our next jobs. The question always is What do you want? So the career shopping mall is open and your shopping basket is empty and you can now fill it with whatever you want, the only limits are your true inner needs and your timeline. Here's the big caveat--you have to have time. If you have been laid off AND you have days instead of months to look for the next thing, then I am NOT talking to you. On the other hand, if you are "looking" to make a change. You are proactively evaluating your professional trajectory AND you have a good runway to make that choice, then pull out your cart and let's go down the aisle ways!Shopping carts

First, let me let out a brief cathartic rant. Many people I encounter feel they are at-risk of losing their jobs and/or have reached a ceiling in terms of how their work fulfills them. And they are gainfully employed! They are not operating with any urgency. They have forgotten that they have many resources and opportunities at work to re-tool and enhance their skills, knowledge and abilities (SKA) to make them marketable for the new and better thing. Some of them have full tuition reimbursement still! And yet, they wallow in their indecision. They lolly gag their way through their confusion of choices and options. Many even blame their employer for not doing more for them, WHAT?!! Regrettably, a big percentage of these folks can not take the steering wheel of their own career and start to drive it towards their preferred destination even when someone else is paying for the gas! One thing is certain, they will get focused when they get the layoff notice and for all of us who have been laid off sometime in their careers, including yours truly, you know that is a very very different career/job search process. So, if you are employed and not in immediate danger of layoffs, then kick it into the next gear, because time is your enemy. Take full advantage at doing your job well (you will need this reference) AND the resources available to you to address your weaknesses or build up your SKA for what is required of your next desired career chapter. Stop waiting for the right time and right feeling. Stop procrastinating. Otherwise, the reality is the time and feeling will inevitably be controlled by something or someone else. Car stranded Your little career car will be stranded in the desert and you will be staring at your GPS system! Not your preferred option. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Whew. 

For those re-thinking their careers this may be an ideal time to go on a career shopping spree. What am I talking about? Unemployment is at record levels. There are so many depressed and shrinking industries, but there are also many opportunities. But jobs are being posted and opened everyday. But sometimes our perspective and self loathing prevents us from seeing them. Rose colored glasses Our lenses are colored by our pasts and our habits. Just like when we go down the aisles of the grocery store, we are looking for our brands, and the others are a blur and our brains have filed as irrelevant. We make our career path choices in much the same way--the past is prologue. If you are building a career and you see the steps ahead within the industry you are in, then focus is critical. But if you are considering making a change, then you have to get your brain to see new brands and new shelves and aisles of career options. Perspective is everything. Change your lenses then some new worlds and opportunities will come into view. 

If you are employed and antsy, then let's go shopping -- for what's next. Be a serious and focused shopper who is open to real change. Yes, competition is fierce. And being competitive is essential. However, we can't say we want something different in our lives and then look at the same options. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a change. (apologies to Mr. Einstein) The wonderful thing about this type of shopping is it won't cost you a cent, but if you don't do it the costs could be much higher.

Thanks for reading. John