YES

Gluten-Free Alumni Network

I recently attended an informal and delightful gathering of my former colleagues from my previous life as an alumni director at UCLA. It had been about 15 years since we had all seen each other. I learned early in each of my careers: seek out the influencers, the leaders, and the potential mentors in the industry. Connect with the people who will facilitate your education in that field. Alumni work was no different. I found a group of remarkable mentors. These gentlemen continue to be industry thought leaders and helped me define my life beyond my stint in alumni work.

Eustace Theodore at Yale: He taught the importance of understanding your institution's history. He characterized alumni work as continuing a great conversation.

Steve Grafton at Michigan: He taught me that nice guys do finish first. And how to honor traditions and evolve beyond them.

Bill Stone at Stanford: Bill mentored me in many ways, but the value of the words we use to articulate mission may be the most lesson. He also told me, “never have people who make less than you on your compensation committee.” :)

Doug Dibbert at North Carolina: Generously shared his wisdom with me. He humbled me to enjoy the journey more than my career aspirations. Sage advice.

Photo
Doug, me, Steve, Bill and Eustace

 

We ended up meeting up at Roy’s Restaurant in San Francisco where Bill’s wife Debbie Duncan joined us. I opened the menu and saw that they had a gluten free menu. We have recently come to expect this offering as we have become hyper aware of food allergies and celiac in particular. This menu triggered a conversation about Debbie’s gluten allergies, and the precision or the lack thereof, with these “gluten-free” offerings. She warned us that relying on the special menu needs to be accompanied with instructions to the kitchen to insure a more gluten free meal. For those with an intolerance for wheat, gluten can be dangerous.

This reminded us of a story about Bill and Debbie’s daughter Molly. Molly has endured gluten allergies her entire life.

Gluten freeMore than 20 years ago, when celiac and gluten were not in our vocabulary, Bill was commiserating with me about the fate of his daughter Molly. Molly was very sick, not able to eat and was dangerously losing weight. He was a bit emotional, and I could tell that he feared the worse. He asked for my help.

The week before I was at a picnic with some UCLA alumni and a couple of parents were talking about their daughter and how she was not able to eat and lost a lot of weight. They found out that she had “a wheat intolerance”. Once they removed wheat products from her diet she gained weight and was back to normal. I saw her little daughter running around the park as proof of what seemed like a minor miracle to these parents. Never heard of anything like it before.

Back to my distressing conversation with Bill about his “emaciated” daughter Molly. I said, “Bill, I heard about this ailment of “wheat intolerance” over the weekend. I am just repeating what I heard but it sounds strangely like what Molly has.” Bill was desperate to give the stumped Stanford Medical Center team any new leads. “I am going to tell them to check it out.”

Long story short, it was “wheat intolerance”. Today, Molly is a “perfectly healthy” 23 year old.

Debbie turned to me during our dinner, “You saved her life.”

Soon after Molly’s diagnosis, Debbie wrote a MY TURN column in Newsweek entitled, “What’s wrong with my baby?” This was one of the beginnings of the awareness of celiac and the seriousness of gluten allergies. She later wrote a best selling book to help siblings cope with an ailing brother or sister--When Molly was in the Hospital: A Book for Brothers and Sisters of Hospitalized Children.

I did what any friend would do. Tried to help with anything I had—even a bit of well-timed hearsay.

The lesson for me is to speak up and share what I know. Lead by helping people. Connect prople to other experts. Don’t pre-judge what you know or what others know. As Debbie pointedly described in her column, it was hard to believe that the battery of tests conducted at Stanford did not uncover the allergy.

My little water drop of seemingly innocuous advice was one of the many influences to push Debbie to write and help thousands of others---perhaps thousands of Mollys. Ocean drop

I am constantly reminded how much people help me with insights and “obvious” advice. How I try to help others with the same. Very little is universally understood and most people are unaware of where they need help.

I am constantly amazed when people write me or mention words I said that made a difference to them.

When your network asks for help you respond. You give and give generously without expectation.

Say what you are thinking, don’t hesitate. Yes, try to package it in a way that is digestible and palatable. But share what you know and what you see. This is how we help each other.

It could save or change a life. One thing is certain, it will change yours.

Thanks for reading. John


Do yourself a favor, say YES!

As we approach another week of turkey and thankfulness, we pause to reflect on the time, challenges and blessings we all have had. It is a wonderful time to be with family and appreciate what we have.

 

How do we directly convey our appreciation to those who deserve it? People in our present, people from our past? People who help us routinely and people who set you on the right path? But is saying "thanks" enough? Well, it is a very important start.

 

If you are truly grateful, repay them with an offer of unconditional support. How can I help YOU? Make an unsolicited offer to do them a favor. I do believe that reciprocity is the most powerful form of exchange. Ask people how you can help them. I am not talking about a well maintained ledger of give and get. I am suggesting that you need to repay what you have received with an act of generosity. Make sense?Yes

 

Here's the lesson: People said "Yes" to you. They agreed to help you, guide you, and get you what you needed. Without their willingness to say YES, you would not be where you are.

 

For many years one of my many new year's resolutions was to " to say "NO" more often, to decline "opportunities" and favors, so I could focus on "priorities". It was one of my early career efforts to be more focused on time management. I naively thought I could and should control what happened to me. That the word "NO" would protect me from bad things that would undermine my grand plan and my mission. Once I learned that the only thing I controlled was my ignorance, I was free. So I abandoned it as a goal when I realized, what a negative thought it is. Saying YES is good. Being open and positive is so much more important to me than the alternative.

 

It is a a universal truth that you attract to your life what you give time, attention and focus--positive and negative. Say YES to the positive!

 

The word YES has helped me experience the flow of life that comes my way. It opened my eyes, my heart and my mind to new ideas, people, careers, and opportunities. Most important, it helped me become stronger and better as a person!

 

In writing this, a friend shared this link with me. Sasha Dichter of Acumen Fund conducted an experiment of just saying YES for 30 days--the generosity experiment.

 

Warning: for you literalists, I am not talking about hedonism, your unhealthful habits or illegal activity. :) Talking about helping each other.

 

If you talk to my assistants over the years, certainly my wife, they will concur that my inclination to say YES and agree to things can seem random and overwhelming.

 

I sometimes get used and abused--that is a risk. Some say I am a sucker, others generous. I never regret it.

 

Saying YES, and agreeing to do people favors is the currency of karmic capitalists. You learn that the more you say YES the more you get. What goes around comes around and usually it is a quick trip! Not driven by material gains or things, but experiences, new people, perspective, self awareness, getting out of your comfort zone and most important feeling good about who you are! Doing good begets good.

  

Saying YES becomes a frame of mind. And we all know that to change the game we have to change the frame!

 

So easy to say NO! 

 

One of the first words our kids learn after "Dada", is "NO". Why? because we say it so often. 

 

The YES philosophy has many consequences. It takes some time and effort to fulfill and deliver on your favors you say YES to. But the upside and return to you is 10x the "cost". Say YES to:

  • Meeting with people to discuss ideas
  • References
  • Job searches
  • Informational interviews
  • Resume reviews

Try to avoid the delusion that saying NO is more disciplined and focused as I once did. Try saying YES often if not all of the time. And your heart, your mind, and your soul will gain energy, rhythm, understanding and satisfaction.  

 

Express your gratitude by doing others favors. Do yourself a favor, say YES!

 

Thanks for reading. John