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March 2013

A Life of Internships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fish out of water
Courtesy of Start-Up You

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading. John

The Riskless Rewardless Life

The other day I was insulted by someone who heard me speak. He said, "You are a great motivational speaker." I learned a long time ago that motivation is an ephemeral state of euphoria unless you change. Unless you alter your mindset. Unless you act! I know he meant well, but I aspire to be a catalyst for change. I have this crazy ambition to help people become the best they can be. And that always requires pursuing opportunities, shaped by passions, and taking risks. Not personally dangerous choices. But choices not taken that endanger your sense of fulfillment and life satisfaction. Few rewards without risks. 

Risk mouse
courtesy of Start-Up of You


Here are a couple of radio interviews I did on the subject of risk--career risks. Please excuse my poor grammar and stammering, but I think I make a couple of relevant points on this topic.

When do I become who I am meant to be?

Interview part one

Interview part two

Think about whether you can attain your goals without confronting your aversity to risk?  

As the famous philosopher Ben Stiller said, "Do it!"   :)

Thanks for reading. John

Smile Networking

When playing poker or just observing people you notice a host of "tells": the signs a person makes when they are nervous or bluffing. Body, eye movements, smiles, tics, gestures, and inflection. All give you clues, hints, and ways to understand what is being said and unsaid. I have to work on these things everyday. Before I did work that was videotaped, I was unaware of my tells. When I listened I looked critical, I still do this from time to time. I have to think about eye contact because I can look down when I talk. And I have to remind myself to stay positive. For me, it takes mindfulness and being present. 

I will never understand all of the good a simple smile can accomplish.  Mother Teresa Smile2

I watch people's eyes and their smiles. It is so easy to see when people like what they are talking about. I ask people to "tell me more" about that subject, because I know they want to. 

According to English and Jewish proverbs--Eyes are the window to the soul.  

I believe this. And if the eyes are a window then the smile is the sliding glass door to the soul. It is the face of your heart.

No other form of body language can transform you and your networking, than your smile. 

Your face triggers the face and the feelings of those looking at your face. Your eyes are the window to your truth. 

I had an assistant named Pam who never smiled. It became a game with me. Every morning, I would greet her with a huge smile and a theatrical, "GOOD MORNING! How are you?" She always responded the same no matter what I did. She said, "Fine," without smiling. Actually it was more of a frown. So one day I could not stand it any more. She stood there and said "fine" looking like her cat died. I said, "Then Tell Your Face!" After that Pam faked smiled at me every morning and we laughed.  

Long time ago, I supervised telemarketers and we used mirrors to show the trainees their faces when they were on the phone. Your voice is so much different when you smile! Smiling telemarketers always performed better. 

I love the work of the Smile Foundation--restoring the smiles of children with facial deformities. 

Like most things you do for others it helps you more. Smiling almost always makes others smile. And smiling makes us feel good and makes others feel good. But recently researchers have shown that smiling, genuine smiles, not only feel good but actually make us healthier. Huh? Yes, recent studies show that smiling reduces anxiety, heart rate, and increased recovery from stress and even depression. There is a physiological and psychological reaction in your body when you use your smile muscles. Even if you just see another smiling it fires off neurons that simulate the feeling of your own smile. Serious studies show greater life expectancy and life satisfaction if you smile. Long distance runners who smiled reported they were less tired and stressed. It all makes sense. When you smile others smile. You give off positivity and get it back. So it is probably a combination of internal and external factors that feed off one another.We all know how quickly a look can turn us negative. We walk a very fine line between happy and unhappy. Satisfied and dissatisfied. Positive and negative. Glass half full, half empty.....A smile can push us and others around us over to the positive side of the street.   Smiles

The genuine smile--the real smile--is called by researchers the Duchenne smile. Named by the 19th century French neurologist. This smile uses the major muscles around the eyes and mouth areas. This is contrasted with the Pan Am smile, named for the socially polite smile of an airline flight attendant. This smile just lifts the muscles around the mouth. 

Funny ironic thing is that people with botox injections were also studied. Because their smile muscles were "impaired" they were less happy and had a harder time sensing the feelings of others! You want to look and feel good--artificially?! Shame on you. ;)

This research is dwarfed by the certainty that an upside down smile makes you and others feel worse. You have a great smile--use it! Smile! 

Thanks for reading. John


Falling and Diving Into Your Network

Most of us have done some sensitivity training where we fall into the arms of our colleagues to test and build our trust with others. I have never done crowd surfing by jumping into an audience. But authentic networking is always about jumping, always about trusting, and always about being vulnerable--if you want to foster a sense of community, mutuality, reciprocity, and commonality. Most people misinterpret networking for getting something. But the lifestyle of networking and mentoring is give first, ask questions later. You dive into your network to assist and to be assisted. You seek to help and seek the help of others. You reveal your true questions, challenges, and dreams and encourage others to do the same. 

In the sushi world there is the chef's choice or omakase. It is literally called Trust Me on some menus and in some higher end sushi establishments. It is tantamount to saying, "Do your thing!"You trust the chef to give you the best, the freshest, and often his most artistic creations. So you trust the chef. I am talking about two-way omakase. Trust We. Networking and mentoring start with mutual trust. When you fall into the network, the network will be there. When I fall into the network I will be there for others.

Amanda Palmer's powerful Tedtalk about the art of asking is really about the art of giving and receiving. It is about trust. She is an extreme crowd, couch, and life surfer, but the lessons are powerful reminders of what it takes to build a strong network. 

Some of us are looking for the needle in the haystack. We think the needle is the answer. The haystack is bigger and more complex today. When you are obsessed with the needle you miss the hay. We can treat others, even those close to us, as so much straw that we toss aside in our quest for the elusive needle. You realize that looking through the haystack alone is crazy and you enlist others who know the hay and other needle seekers. Then you realize that the needle is really part of a life compass and it was giving you direction. The needle was a catalyst for the quest not the destination. You help others find their needles. Once you fall into the haystack, you realize it is fun and it is more fun when you do it with others. New thoughts, goals emerge, your network expands and deepens and your life path is revealed through the process of self discovery. Surrender to the haystack not the needle.  Haystack

When you really see each other, we want to help each other.  Amanda Palmer

There are so many reasons to doubt the sincerity of others. We have become so cynical that we don't even trust ourselves. I am talking about YOUR network. Now if you built it by adding FB friends or Linkedin people who you don't know or care about, these network are not built on trust. But you have a circle of friends, confidantes, colleagues who you trust and would trust them to connect you to trustworthy humans, then you have a network worth diving into. I said dive, not skim, not dabble, not experiment--but fall and then dive! 

Yes yes yes, this all takes time. I apologize, but successful people (those would be the busiest people) know that these investments are not only advisable but essential. Investments in the Trust We network have to be made. 

Lazy and uninspired people say, "I don't have anything to offer others." "My network is weak or ineffective." "I don't know anybody who can help me." These are lame excuses. It is amazing who you know but don't know.

Trust yourself. Trust others. Start re-connecting with your network but lead by helping others. Fall into your network and let them help you. Let the needle guide you without passing the needs of others. Let your fall become a dive into an adventure that your network will reveal. It will lessen your cynicism, it will strengthen your confidence, and it will empower WE. 

Thanks for reading. John

Avoid Career Alzheimers--Reconnect to Your Purpose

Through luck, fate and my own assertiveness, I meet incredible leaders and people who have achieved success. In these encounters they have said things that have altered my life. They have mentored me. Things I adopted as models for my own trajectory and just as often, things that frightened me. I have learned as much from those I want to emulate as from those I want to not be like. Just as in art you gravitate to the positive spaces because of the negative spaces. People's lives have become my yin and yang of life. Yin yang

Here are several of my favorite true encounters (some details were altered to protect the innocent):

  • After losing the vote to become Prime Minister of his country, he was stripped of his executive privileges, "How in the @&!# did I think I could run this country, I didn't even know what it costs to park in my building." 
  • 6 months before he was fired, this prominent Div 1 coach said to me, "I don't have time to go to practices as much as I should." 
  • After declaring bankruptcy, this owner of a chain of restaurants told me, "It had been a long time since I had eaten at one of my restaurants." 
  • A colleague of mine worked for a hyper wealthy family and was seeking permission to spend $100,000. She was told, "Why are we wasting time on this? I made this much money in the time we have been talking."

"Success" can breed an over confidence that can ironically lead to an utter disconnection from the very work and people that generated the success. That form of arrogance almost always leads to disaster.

Every week I meet executives and managers who have early onset of what I call Career Alzheimers. These are people who are getting tired (not necessarily old!) of their work. Yes, we all want less hassle, fewer people issues, and more theoretical work. Here's the rub. Once you lose connection with the customer (not the data), the staff (not the metrics), the community (not the view from your office), you have lost your way. You have Career Alzheimers!

Here's my mythical wikipedia post for Career Alzheimers:

Career Alzheimers (CA) is a common form of professional dementia. It worsens as it progresses, and eventually leads to career termination. Although Career Alzheimers develops differently for every individual, there are many common symptoms. Early symptoms are often mistakenly thought to be 'age-related'. In the early stages, the most common symptom is difficulty in remembering what they love about their job. When CA is suspected, the diagnosis is usually confirmed with telltale statements that rely too heavily on abstract concepts, theories, and metrics demonstrating a growing disconnection from real things and people. Some show confusion, irritability, mood swings, trouble with language, especially concerning their passion for their work. As the sufferer declines they often withdraw further and further from the day to day work, from colleagues and from the society. Gradually, these conditions worsen often leading to end of career. Since the disease is different for each individual, predicting how it will affect the person is difficult. CA develops for an unknown and variable amount of time before becoming fully apparent, and it can progress undiagnosed for years. The cause and progression of CA are not well understood. My unscientific research indicates that the disease is associated with the increasing depersonalization of the success metrics of work. Fortunately, CA is curable. Self awareness is the first step and then to seek mentoring help to confirm the disorder and treatment. Treatment is simple—take steps to humanize your work. Get out of your office. Get tactile, visceral, palpable stories about the solutions you are providing, unmet need, nuances and challenges of the execution of the work your department/team/company does. Regular doses of the humanity of your work will immediately combat CA and can keep it from reoccurring. 

I love that Warren Buffett drives his own car and talks to his shareholders and people in general. He may be elderly but he is still grounded to the basics of what makes him a success. He will never have CA!

Carve out more time to meet with the beneficiaries of your work. Make scheduled and unscheduled visits to partners, customers, offices, and even competitors. It will shift your perspective every single time. It will energize you! It will trigger a small and sometimes large reminder of the purpose of your work that too often gets boiled down to a "bottomline" that has sucked all of the humanity out of our existence. Yes, we need to measure things, but we also have to remember the measure of our purpose. 

Self diagnose. Ask people you trust. Early signs? Late stages? Re-engage or retire--and find something new to reinvigorate you. Never too late. You hold the cure. 

Thanks for reading. John