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August 2012

Pre-death Networking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John


Sculpting your Career and your Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


"Informational Interviews" that help YOU

I only accept informational interview requests from warm referrals--people I know and trust. As you might imagine, I meet lots of people. People who want things from me. People who seek my "advice" but are looking for a job. People who read some article or blog (hah!) that told them to meet more people and expand their networks. And I have seen the good, bad and ugly versions of informational interviews.

I think "Informational Interviews" are just a fancy way of saying networking, right? Great value in meeting people in fields, companies, industries that interest you. You prepare for the "interview" like a real interview. Meaning you look like, sound like you are a serious candidate for employment. But isn't this life? I mean aren't we supposed to be constantly ready for opportunities? Don't we believe that opportunity knocks when we least expect it? "Interviewing" is what you do when you are alive! :) People are judging you from near and afar everyday. You have conversations and meet "potential" employers all of the time.  No "interview" is always scheduled, scripted, and orderly. While an informational interview is often scheduled it requires preparation but agility and flexibility as well.  Interview

Yes, informational interviews are an underutilized way of finding leads and more important, finding yourself--more on that in a few. But just as in cooking with confidence, you start to vary the recipe to meet your own tastes. Otherwise every cookie from the cookie cutter tastes and looks the same. The greatest thing about you is you are different and unique. The moment you start following a formula step by step like a poorly trained monkey, you lose all of your differentiation--your YOU-ness. Comprende?

Yet every "informational interview" seems to start in the same way. Somebody told everybody to start by asking the same question: "So, tell me how you got your job (or chose this career) and about your career journey." There are several bad variations on this theme. Don't get me wrong, the essence of this query is important. Understanding WHY and how people got where they are is interesting and instructive. And yes, people, especially me :), like to talk about themselves. The theory is to warm up the conversation. The problem is when it feels robotic, like a line--a parroted phrase from a script. There is a cheesy insincerity that puts the interview into a tailspin if you read from a script.

Informational interviews are networking conversations with a focus. They are a chance for you to get insight into a different world and into yourself through someone who has generously agreed to spend some time with you. But it is a conversation. You should always have questions, but you always allow the exchange to take its course. It is a dance between your specific needs (assuming you can articulate them) and the information that they yield.

The biggest difference in the way I view informational interviews is the information seeker is the interviewer. Let me repeat this: The person who wants information leads the interview.

So the information seeker has to seek information:) They must interview me! They have to have great questions. They have researched and Googled me and my work? They are not there to wing it? (Is there ever a time when we wing it?) We have to prepared 24/7. The interviewer prepares a unique interview. I know this takes extra work, sorry about that. But each "interview" is different. Just like when you send in resumes and cover letters, but I digress.

So here are a few tips to guide your "informational interviewing":

  1. What do YOU want? Always the question that should keep you up at night, but the focus of any interview and career conversation. Whya re you here? Be clear on what you are seeking--not just a job--but the path you are pursuing or considering. Because understanding what your next job means to your trajectory is pretty damn important. Ultimately learning about who you are and what you want are the objectives.
  2. Google/Research/Prepare for the "interview". Seems so obvious, but do your homework! And then prepare questions that are driven by YOUR curiosity and your needs. Write them down in priority order and use them as your guide.
  3. Act as the interviewer. It is your inteview. Start off with why you are there and what you want. Be respectful. Listen. Let the conversation go where it naturally goes. Be curious!(all of the basic and essential rules of any conversation!) But get through as many as your questions without wearing out your welcome. Remember that if this conversation goes well you can ask more questions and get more feedback later.
  4. Seek advice and feedback. In the end you want to get counsel on your thoughts, your strategies, your resume, your goals. You want to get advice. I am reminded of the wisdom I was given about fundraising that applies here. If you want advice ask for money. If you want money ask for advice. The greatest outcome in an informational inteview is to get feedback on YOU. 
  5. Enjoy the conversation. Meeting people, different people and learning new things is fun. Yes, a bit nerve racking, but no mind expanding experience isn't accompanied by a little fear.  Even if the interview is disappointing to you, you will gsin something--an insight, an idea, and another chance to practice your interviewing. So appreciate that and appreciate the time and effort you were provided to reflect on YOU.
  6. Follow-up. Again, common courtesy that is infrequently practiced. You land a job and forget the people who helped you, even a little bit. Of course thank people for the interview, but remember to let them know when you succeed.

Interviewing, networking and mentoring is a lifestyle--it is what you do when you are breathing. 

Lastly, let me just encourage any of you who get requests from warm sources to meet with you about your business and your job--to conduct an informational interview--to do it! YOU will always be the beneficiary of the session. Talking about yourself, why you do what you do, and what advice you have for others, always makes YOU better. That is the transformative and reciprocal power of networking!

Thanks for reading. John

Networking Choices that Change You

What you choose changes you. 

We are confronted with many choices everyday. We select when to get up, what we wear, eat, and what we do. We decide what our priorities are, what needs to be done and who are our friends will be. While we can sometimes feel that life happens to us, we choose many of the details. Possibly the most important thing we do is decide where our attention is placed. What we listen to, look at, and understand. These choices have consequences.

For example, it is popular urban legend that men go deaf when they have a tv remote in their hands. They block their wives pleas, questions, and requests. It is indisputable that men tune out women voluntarily when watching sports. The inevitable and predictable ire that comes from our impatient partners was a matter of choice. :)

Anyway, let's look at what appears to be an innocuous decision--where to sit in the office lunchroom. Shall I sit with my three buddies or at a larger table where I don't know many or any of the people? C'mon John, why would this matter--it's just lunch!!  Lunchroom

Again, we make thousands of decisions based on gut feelings, reflexive thought, and sheer habit. The truth is we don't think, we choose without thinking. As the neuro-scientists say, we use the neural pathways not the brain. 

Back on my question: Sit with a few friends or join the larger less familiar table?

The research shows that even this choice has truly unexpected consequences.

"We found that the people who sat at the larger tables had substantially higher performance," observes social scientist Ben Waber. This is because they had created a much bigger network to tap into. Over the course of the week, they saw the same people again and again. Consequently, they often knew what these colleagues were working on and could go to them if they had a problem. The employees at the smaller tables, on the other hand, had smaller networks and less opportunity to interact.

In fact  he and his colleagues found that people who consistently chose the larger tables had up to a 25% increase in happiness and productivity!

One of the tallest soap boxes I stand on is to encourage you to get out of your comfort zone. To question your habits by paying attention to your choices. To choose the new. Choose the different. Choose the adventure over the same ole same ole. Networking is a lifestyle of choices. You choose to build and strengthen your community of connections to help each other--to pursue your common goals. 

Many longitudinal studies show that you will live longer if you have a more diverse--meaning diverse perspectives--network. 

The diversity within your network also matters, the research team discovered. Waber found that people tend to spend time with those who are similar to them. "Whether it's gender, race or the school you went to, there are many different ways we break ourselves into groups."

Branch out and talk to people in groups you wouldn't normally talk to, suggests Waber. It doesn't have to be through a formal mechanism. "It can be through bumping into people by the coffee machine. Just standing there and chatting gives you new perspective. Our research shows that chance encounters make people more effective."

It's kinda obvious. When you connect with people at work beyond your circle and your department, you develop a larger network of resources at work. You learn what is going on and how to get things done. When you are more connected you know more and you care more. In short, you are on a path of increasing your confidence and broadening your influence. And by the way, your connections are not only changing you, they change the lives of the people with whom you are connecting. The combination of your greater performance and visibility will speak volumes about you. And how do you think this will help your career?

Next time you enter the lunchroom, the Boardroom, a reception, a cocktail party or a family event--choose to mix it up. Choose to connect with people you don't know and people different than you. And don't forget the people you know but don't know! Pay attention, get uncomfortable and engage the people around you.

Your conscious choices have consequences. Need some incentives? You will live longer and do better at work!

Your choices will change you. 

Thanks for reading. John