Creating Relationships That Matter

Team Huddle Harmony Togetherness Happiness Concept“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb

Tired of networking? If you’re like most people, you probably are. After all, who really feels good about getting out there to pursue business or job leads? Actually, not too many of us. In fact, according to one study, career-oriented, or instrumental, networking can leave people “…feeling somehow bad about themselves – even dirty.”

By contrast, spontaneous networking in pursuit of emotional support and friendship does not have this affect. So, meeting new people in social situations is generally less stressful, and can lead to more meaningful relationships. Not only that, but friends enhance your well-being. Making sure you have friends in all parts of your life builds a social support community that can enrich your life. Frankly, as Malcolm Gladwell points out in The Tipping Point, the best-networked people have a knack for making for making friends and acquaintances – often from diverse walks of life. You can too, and here are five tips that can help.

Become Your Own Best Friend. Counterintuitive as it may seem, you can’t be your best for others until you can be your best for yourself. If you want some quick tips on how to be your own best friend, you can always find them on line. Personally, I feel this is actually a deeper process that includes understanding who are, what you value, what you want out of life, and what you have to offer others. Even if you have some degree of self-understanding, you can always deepen it. So, I most often recommend using a process to attain greater personal clarity via introspection and external feedback.

Evaluate Your Relationships. Unless you truly are a hermit, you are no doubt connected to a lot of people. The question is, where do those people show up in your life, and what is the quality of those relationships? According to Shasta Nelson, you can benefit from thinking about the people in your life as falling into one of five friendship circles based on levels of consistent contact and intimacy:

  • Contact Friends are people you’re friendly with when we see them in a shared context, say at a class, but with whom we share little intimacy.
  • Common Friends are people with whom you share a common activity, but also with whom you make an effort to expand the relationship, making the common activity enjoyable.
  • Community Friends are people with whom you have expanded your relationship to include more activities leading to more consistency and intimacy.
  • Committed Friends are people with whom you have intimately and consistently shared your lives, and have a mutual commitment to be present no matter what.
  • Confirmed Friends are people with whom you share intimacy and a history of friendship, even when your connection has not been consistent due to life changes (usually a move).

Looked at in this way, it becomes a bit easier to see your various relationship circles and figure out where and with whom to invest more time. Remember, though, that these circles are always in flux with people moving from one circle to another based on what’s going on in everyone’s life.

Be Sure To Establish Friends At Work. Most people tend to think about their coworkers as, well … coworkers. So, while they may enjoy their company at work, they usually don’t nurture friendships. If that’s the case for you, change it. Why? Research has found that people with at least three close friends at work, are 46% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their jobs, and 88% more likely to be satisfied with their lives. Think about that. Work friends bring not just job satisfaction, but life satisfaction!

Get Out And Play. One of the best places to meet new people is during leisure time activities. So, whether you attend a class, are a regular at the gym, volunteer in your community, or participate in social activities with other people, you have the opportunity to start new friendships. Often conversations flow naturally around the activity, and can get the ball rolling to learn about other interests of the people you meet. Just make sure to leave your elevator pitch at home and take a genuine interest in truly listening and getting to know others.

Use Social Media. With the explosion of social media usage, it would seem that meeting people and nurturing friendships online would be natural. Only it’s not. The fact is, many people tend to segment their social media usage into categories. For example, using LinkedIn for business contacts and Facebook for family and friends. Yet, breaking down those walls can have real benefits. Specifically, connecting with people you know on multiple platforms (including, yes, Instagram and Snapchat) leads to more interactions across more areas of interest, allowing relationships to grow. Even better, learning how to engage new people consistently, in meaningful ways, and on various platforms can be the basis for new friendships.

Take Small Steps. Relationships take time, and require consistent small touch points that lead to more shared experiences. Actually, this is a good thing because it removes the sense of urgency so often connected with business networking, and it allows relationships to flourish more naturally. Remember friendship is an art. It emerges from exchanged pleasantries, shared experiences, insightful moments, and growing affection all taking place in small steps over time. Yet, take those small steps with enough people and before you know it you’ll find yourself not only well connected but also happier.

Why Give and Receive Networking is a Mistake

festival backgroundIt’s probably fair to say that giving has long been a core tenet in diverse religious and moral codes. In fact, charity, or almsgiving, is typically regarded as an act of virtue which leads to societal as well as individual greatness. Even today, there is wide recognition of the benefits of giving. We’re naturally generous with friends, family, and business associates. Yet, we also donate to causes, we give back, we pay forward, or we lend a hand.

And while our generosity makes life better for the beneficiary, it also makes life better for us. It makes us happier and healthier. Insofar as giving freely benefits all involved it’s a good thing, especially as it establishes a virtuous circle that promotes greater joy.

The Perversion of Generosity

Unfortunately, the fundamental principle of generosity can become perverted, and often is. Business / career networking is a case in point. Perhaps there is no better example of an activity where quid pro quo is the rule built into nearly every interaction. You know. Help me get what I want, and I’ll help you get what you want.

Actually, as I was reminded in a post on “give and receive” networking, there is a new twist on that rule. And it’s to give often and unconditionally. Frankly, I think it’s misguided advice. Sure, the author of the post seemed well intentioned, and did a good job of setting expectations, including the meaning of unconditionally giving, not expecting help to come directly from a given individual you’re helping, and remaining open to help that may arrive unexpectedly from any source.

And yet, her conclusion was that it’s more fun when you approach networking as a game of give and receive. It made me think that this only corrupts generosity that’s meant to be unconditional. It creates the expectation that your unconditional giving will flow back to you, some day, in some way. It seems principled, but it keeps you locked in a game that remains the same.

Games Without End

Albert Einstein famously stated that no problem can be solved at the level at which it was created. While many of us believe we know what he meant, we mostly don’t. Fortunately, the three therapists who wrote Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution do explain it.

Drawing on the field of mathematical logic, the authors explain that groups operate in a way that preserves the integrity of their rules. Any effort to produce change from inside the context of the group can only result in an outcome dictated the rules. The system “…cannot generate from within itself the conditions for its own change; it cannot produce the rules for the change of its own rules.”

So, a game of give and receive will remain a game of give and receive. Operating by those rules keeps us forever at their mercy. In other words, unless we find a way to change the rules – and we won’t – we’ll be caught in a continual flow of transactions in which we give with the hope that we’ll someday get. And even if we receive, we’re at risk of being trapped in a game without end.

Leave the Game

Of course, we could always leave the game. We could abandon the illusion that all the selfless giving will benefit us in the long run. To accomplish this we need make a second-order change. In explaining this, Change authors draw on another theory in logic. While the explanation they offer is somewhat abstract, they are really talking about change of change. And perhaps the simplest and clearest example they offer is this:

“The one way out of a dream involves a change from dreaming to waking. Waking, obviously, is no longer a part of the dream, but a change to an altogether different state. This kind of change will from now on be referred to as second-order change.”

So, if the game of giving and receiving is the dream – and very often it is – the best solution is to wake up. That is, exit the game. Because only then can you make higher level changes that will have a positive impact.

Elevate Your Success In Life

Because give and get exchanges keep you focused on transactions, it becomes too easy to overlook the inherent value of relationships in and of themselves. Remaining forever focused on getting what you want traps you in a pursuit that may have limited benefits, no matter how much you give.

Worse, the game can keep you from developing relationships that are consistent, reasonably intimate, and create bonds based on shared experiences. In short, friendships that spark joy, and can contribute to living successfully across all parts of your life. And should you need help, it’s friends who are most apt to rally to support you. Why? Because they already know, like, and trust you.

Cultivating friendships requires, among other things, a spirit of generosity. Being a friend often means that we act in the interest of others. Yet, in the long run, we also serve our own interests. For what we create for our friends, as well as ourselves, is a brighter and more promising future with a greater sense of belonging, more happiness, mutual support, and enhanced well being.

You just need to wake up!

Beyond Personal Brand: Why You Need To Pursue Originality

iStock_000067954529_XXXLargeThese days, it’s almost a sacrilege not to have a personal brand. After all, if you want to be successful, you need to stand out! Yet, if you think about it, making sure you have a personal brand could be just one more conformist thing you do in pursuit of success.

The Content of Your Character

Still, as a personal brand strategist, I can tell you that the process of personal branding can bring amazing personal clarity and confidence. Not only is that an asset in your career, but also in your life generally. So, from my vantage point, there is a huge benefit in doing the deep work of uncovering the story, attributes, strengths, beliefs, and external perceptions that make you who you are.

Yet, I continue to believe personal branding – at least as most people approach it—needs to be re-imagined. It’s a conclusion, I came to after being inspired by Harvard Business School professor, Youngme Moon, in her remarkable book Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd. And based on her analysis, I’ve offered several ideas for developing a truly differentiated personal brand grounded in who you are and what you bring to the people you serve. As I see it, while professional competence matters, the essence of your personal brand is found primarily in the content of your character.

Being Different. Doing Different.

Essentially, though, establishing a personal brand is an activity in being. Clearly conveying who you are helps you build relationships inside of the community you serve. The more your qualities resonate with your audiences, the more likely they’ll want to work with you. Fundamentally, however, your core service may actually be the same as what’s provided by other people in your industry. For example, even as an accountant who’s closely aligned with small business owners who, like you, see themselves as corporate refugees seeking more freedom and fun in their work life, you are still delivering accounting services.

In many respects, personal branding, for many people, has meant delivering commodity services inside of a uniquely personalized package. Actually, it’s a model that has proven stable and sustainable over time. Provided your client base remains fairly stable, and happy with how you work with them, they’ll likely remain loyal well into the future. Unfortunately, things change. People change. Tools change. So, to stick with the accountant example, clients may buy and learn the latest Quick Books and Turbo Tax versions, and soon have less need for what you once provided.

Let’s face it. Whatever your personal attributes, your reputation is grounded in the outputs you produce. In a stable world, your biggest risk is the other people who package the same outputs in an attractive set of personal attributes.

But we don’t live in a stable world.

Pursuing Originality

Saying we live in an age of disruption seems almost cliché. Sure we all know that there are people out there who aim to become successful by uberizing their industry. Yet, for most of us, that’s not a realistic aim. More likely, to the extent we crave change at all, it’s probably about reinventing our careers. And the degree to which we seek out personal transformation is usually related to the extent of dissatisfaction we feel.

Yet, I’d argue that even those of us who are reasonably satisfied in our careers and lives are at risk of being blindsided by change if we don’t actively embrace it. But how do we actively pursue constructive and meaningful change?

In his remarkable new book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant examines what drives originality and what it takes to develop, voice, and champion new ideas. It’s an amazing and well-researched book rich in storytelling and surprising insights. While Grant provides a complete and detailed treatment of what it takes to produce creative and original ideas, here are six ways to get started on making changes in your work and life:

Question the default. Don’t take the status quo for granted. Consider why it exists in the first place, and how it can be changed or improved.

Young beautiful business lady is thinking about new business ideas. Business icons and a rocket are drawn on the concrete wall.

Generate more ideas. Studies have found that masters, such as great composers and artists, produce a great volume of work, with their best work being only a small part of what they create. You boost your originality when you increase your output.

Immerse yourself in a new domain. Expand your frame of reference by diversifying your experience with creative activities such as photography, learning about new cultures, or even by starting a new job or project.

Procrastinate strategically. Take breaks from creating or brainstorming so that your ideas have time to incubate.

Seek feedback from peers. Because you may be too emotionally invested in your idea, it’s hard to see its viability. Your peers, however, often have the objectivity to give you valuable assessments.

Balance your risks. When you’re going to take a risk in one part of you life, offset it by being extra cautious in other areas of living.

Ultimately, you may choose to continue conforming to the standards that brought you success in the first place. Or you could engage in a kind of “creative destruction” that can shift work and life advantages in your favor. In deciding, consider the words of George Bernard Shaw:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

What do you think?

Forget Goals: Create A Story You Can Live Into

“A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” ~ Lao Tzu

DSC01756Not sure about you, but I’m not a big fan of goals. There. I said it. And I’ve said it before.

Truth is, I’m more of a “journey not the destination” kind of person. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to get to Rome, but I know that many roads will get me there. Besides, I think it’s kind of boring to lock into a pre-determined route proceed full speed ahead. That could mean missing so much of what the journey has to offer!

If you’ve ever seen a road trip movie – and who hasn’t? – you know the real adventure is in the unanticipated problems that arise along the way. I think it’s the same with life. It’s an adventure with new challenges; and if you pay attention, new opportunities!

Realize Goals Are Limiting

Over the course of my life, I’ve set plenty of goals, and then proceeded to not enjoy reaching them. Why? Like Leo Babauta, as he described in his wonderful blog post, I found the process of setting, implementing, and tracking goals to be frustrating. And frankly, I’m not keen on living a project-managed life.

Even before seeing Leo’s post, I had already adopted the view that goals keep us so future focused that they diminish our ability to live in the current moment. Put another way, I began to discern that striving for a future that is better and happier than today, is a kind of trap. In fact, according to Peter Bregman, there is good evidence of harm caused when goals lead to unintended consequences. Better, he says, is to translate goal areas of focus; that is, focus on activities you want to spend your time on.

Makes sense to me.

Yet, even better is to take the more open-ended approach proposed by Stephen Shapiro in his book Goal-Free Living: How to Have the Life You Want NOW! In it, he provides eight secrets for living goal free, including using a compass versus a map, trusting you’re never lost, remaining open to opportunities, and seeking out adventure.

Totally works for me.

Make Your Plans Expansive

Given how I feel about goals, I found myself amazed that I enjoyed getting and reading an early copy of Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy. Essentially, the authors lay out a framework for a designed life leading to specific ends, and a known path for getting there. So, here, in what can only seem like a direct challenge to my way of thinking, is a book promoting a planned life!

Yet, having worked with mid-career professionals and executives on the non-financial elements of preparing for retirement, I was curious to see what these authors had to say.

Happily, I think the approach they outline is very solid, and a great start for people who want to be more intentional about living happier and more fulfilling lives – starting now! In particular, I like how they established the foundation for a meaningful life in terms of what matters most and personal legacy. I also loved the way they framed the nine basic “life accounts” in terms of being, relating, and doing. As well, I loved their four-quadrant life assessment profile based on passion and progress.

Perhaps the one thing that I had mixed feelings about was the authors’ use of a GPS metaphor. Unlike a compass, which tells you the general directions and leaves the choice of path flexible, a GPS seems too locked in to a predetermined path or some recalculated variation thereof. The risk is a GPS can be “set and forget,” thereby limiting opportunities to go off the beaten path.

Envision A Story To Live Into

One of the things that I especially loved about Living Forward, is that rather than recommending goals for each of one’s life accounts, they recommended taking an “envisioned future” approach to creating a life plan. To do this, they recommend using your imagination and fives senses to see yourself living as if what you want to achieve is already a reality.

DSC01754

How? Well, here’s the magic: Use the present tense to describe what you envision; that is, say “I am” as opposed to “I want.”

For example, instead of saying “I want to be lean and strong, with vibrant health and energy,” say: “I am lean and strong, with vibrant health and energy.”

This is no small thing.

Why? Because in creating a detailed picture of a positive end-state, we give your brains a story to live into. I know it seems kind of woo woo, but research on anticipatory joy tends to support this.

As I see it, creating a story I can live into establishes a quest. And that’s much more appealing than project management.

What do you think?

Some Thoughts On Restoring Personal Vitality

IMG_8788Recently, I was sorting through some photos and was struck by the quirkiness of one in particular. It’s a photo of our cat Einstein giving me a quizzical look. For whatever reasons, this shot always provides me a little reminder to focus on what’s important in life.

Frankly, I’ve always felt as though I was doing that. But then I hit a wall, and realized I could do better. Here’s what happened:

This past June, I spent the better part of my birthday on a pre-op appointment, and a few days later had foot surgery; and that was followed by more than six weeks of recovery. I had chosen to keep my client work to a minimum, and to spend my days reading. Perhaps it was the sudden change of pace, my recent birthday, or maybe my wife’s comment about how the change would be like being retired, but this was the first time in my life I felt truly old. Not just old, actually, but in a slump.

It was not a good feeling, and sparked some reflection on what it would take to re-energize.

Learning To Let Go

I’ve long realized that everything we have in life has a cost. Fundamentally, we trade our time for possessions, experiences, learning, and even relationships. Mostly, this is a good thing. After all, most of us truly do enjoy what comes into our lives, most especially our relationships.

Yet, there does seem to be an outside limit on satisfaction; and a time to let go. [Tweet this]

But letting go is hard, at least for me. So, I was fortunate to discover, read, and start applying the principles Marie Kondo presents in her excellent The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. What amazed me was how her simple standard of joy could be so powerful. Specifically, Kondo advises that in tidying up, you hold each item you own and ask if it sparks joy. If not, thank it for it’s service and let it go!

Seems to me like a great standard for deciding what to keep in life: If there is no joy in it, let it go! [Tweet this]

Yes! Of Course There’s More

Frankly, in itself, seeking joy is not a sufficient basis for satisfaction in life. In fact, if we only strive to be happy, we’re bound to be disappointed. As Tom Rath points out in his excellent Are You Fully Charged? pursuing happiness is shortsighted. Rather, happiness is a by-product of pursuing meaning, especially in activities that make a difference for others.

Yet, as I’ve advised clients it takes work. As Rath puts it:

“Meaning does not happen to you — you create it. One of the most important elements of building a great career and life is attaching what you do each day to a broader mission. Until you understand how your efforts contribute to the world, you are simply going through the motions each day.”

While creating meaning sets the broader context for an energized life, your personal vitality also benefits from your daily practices. While these can differ from person to person, here, based on Rath’s work as well as other resources, are five ideas that you may find beneficial:

Harness the Power of Intrinsic Motivation. When we think of motivation, most of us tend to tie it to external outcomes, like earning a paycheck. Yet, we’re also motivated by internal factors, and do things because we want to do them. While both forms of motivation work, it turns out that intrinsic motivation is much more powerful, a fact well documented by Dan Pink in his fascinating book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In applying this to your personal vitality, start to focus more energy on the things you want to do – both at work and in other parts of your life.

Take Control of Your Health and Well-Being. Controlling your health and well-being may seem like it involves too much work, change, and discomfort. And confusion! Frankly, we’re exposed to so much conflicting health information it’s hard to know where to start! Yet, according to Rath, it all comes down to some basic management of how we eat, move, and sleep. If you like, you can find detailed information in his Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes. You can make a project out if it, and it would be worthwhile. In the meantime, I found using a fitness tracker not only provides data to show how you’re doing but can also fuel your motivation to do better.

Cultivate Friendships. Most of us realize that relationships are important to business and career success. So, we network. Yet, nurturing friendships is even more important to living a satisfying and successful life. After all, friendships have health as well as social benefits. On some level, we all need to find belonging and are better off when we do. Investing time in creating friendships, both in person and online, can have a big positive impact on your personal vitality.

Focus On the Before and After of Experiences. It’s not possessions but life experiences that support a happier life. No doubt you’ve heard that, as it’s an idea that’s been around since the ancient times! Yet, recent research on spending habits indicates that purchasing experiences, especially with other people, enhances well-being. What’s more, it turns out that more than the experience itself, anticipation and memory make a greater contribution to overall well-being. So, make sure to enjoy planning and remembering as well as the doing!

Be Ready to Respond to Stress and Hardship. No doubt about it, no matter how well things may be going, we all face occasional hardships. The trick is to realize that you already have or can develop resilience skills. In fact, if you’re already managing your personal vitality, you’re well on your way. Still, helpful resources are not hard to find.

12 Thoughts On How To Stand Out

HiResRecently, I was approached by a colleague on LinkedIn who asked if I had any specific “do and don’t” personal branding advice for the UK College grads he works with. My first impulse was to refer him to several of the past posts I’ve written, and invite him to share those.

Yet, it occurred to me he was providing a fresh opportunity to revisit my thinking, and share my perspectives. After all, my views and work as a “personal brand” strategist tend to be different than those of the many other people who advise on personal branding. And the key difference is this: While I value the discovery process  I use, I think it’s an error to conceive of oneself as a brand or to go down the road of creating a personal brand.

Why?

Fundamentally, a brand is a reputation, and as such is made up of the shared opinions and beliefs about you. While you can influence your reputation, you cannot create it. Rather, you earn it by virtue of what you become known for. For example, Apple founders did not set out to brand the company as innovative; they simply innovated with a commitment to great design and user friendliness.

Lesson: Determine what you’re committed to, and then pursue it. Your reputation, or brand, will emerge over time.

Start with figuring out who you are, including your own unique set of attributes, beliefs, talents, story, and purpose. Then determine how to show up for the people you aim to serve. Put another way, to stand out in a way that matters, you need to develop your credibility and visibility.

Here, then, are two sets of ideas for establishing credibility and for achieving visibility. In each set, there is some overlap, and the ideas are presented in no particular order. In fact, the process is not so much linear as it is recursive. Still, it generally makes sense to start with becoming credible, and then move on to becoming visible.

Credibility: Being Who You Are

Be Clear About What You Stand For. Your actions and words are what define you in the eyes of others. How you behave is influenced by your own deeply held values and beliefs. Unfortunately, we aren’t always directly in touch with what those are. Without critical self-examination, you risk getting caught up in the beliefs and behaviors of others. Yet, true power over your destiny is rooted in personal clarity. Let’s face it, the ancient Greeks admonished “Know Thyself” for a reason.

Question Everything You Know. Whether you’re a recent college grad or not, you’re likely to have a head full of knowledge that will include what other people think you should know and believe. The problem is, some of those ideas could be wrong. Wrong in the most general sense of verifiable accuracy, or wrong as guidelines for living your life. So, challenge what you think you know, and keep only the ideas that resonate for you. After all, the hallmark of a great education is defined not by how much you know but by the questions you ask.

Calibrate Your Moral Compass. Living in a society generally requires knowing what’s right and wrong, and acting accordingly. Unfortunately, today, we seem to live with considerable moral flexibility. So, right and wrong seem to be moving targets. But by defining your personal code of conduct, they don’t have to be. A good start is to think in terms of personal morality (what’s right and wrong for you) and interpersonal morality (what’s right and wrong between people), and then set your compass accordingly. Just make sure that the values that populate your compass have clear definitions that guide your behavior.

Determine Your Current Reputation. As already noted, your reputation is made up of the shared opinions and beliefs about you. It is held in the hearts and minds of others, and very likely has both positive and negative elements. You probably already have some idea of how you’re seen, but it’s worth getting some fresh feedback. Simply paying closer attention helps, but you can get deeper and richer feedback by asking for it, either directly or by using a formal 360 instrument.

Identify Your Talents. HiResLike most people, you’re really good at some things, but not so good at others. Generally, what you do well is what allows you to produce results that will be valued by others. Typically, the more value you produce, the more successful you become, both at work and in other parts of your life. So, take some time to identify your talents and how you can put them in service of others. To this end, it helps to analyze your accomplishments in terms of the challenge you faced, the actions you took, the results you achieved, and how that made you feel. You may also want to take a StrengthsFinder assessment to identify innate themes for you.

Uncover Your Story. Frankly, there is nothing that sets you apart from others as much as your story. Even if you have beliefs, interests, and abilities in common with others, chances are you arrived at them by a different path. It’s worth tracing that path. You life is continuous ebb and flow that includes failures and turning points as well as triumphs and achievements. What’s more, by uncovering your story, you can identify the themes that give you a sense of purpose and direction. Knowing and being ready to share your story will help you truly stand out.

Visibility: Showing Up

Figure Out For Whom You Need To Show Up. Generally, the main people you need to show up for are the people who benefit from the value you provide. Most often this will be employers and clients, but can also include other organizations or groups who seek our service. Yet, beyond these is an array of people who matter to your success, including other members of your profession and various project partners. Taken together they may be referred to as your community of practice, brand community, or simply community. So, make sure to identify who they are.

Cultivate Relationships Within Your Community. Spending time with people, at work and in other settings, implies you have a relationship. Yet, your goal needs to be developing the kind of depth that makes those relationships professionally, and even personally, meaningful. While you won’t necessarily have deep relationships with everyone in your community, it is the foundation of your professional network. So, take time to connect both broadly and deeply, both in personal and via social media.

Get To Know the Interests and Concerns of Others. Ultimately, your goal in showing up is to become a relevant resource to your community. Yet, to achieve that, you need to know and what their interests and needs are, so you’ll be able to address those. The best way gain that perspective is to listen. Listen during real time conversations, and listen on social media. As well, newsletters and other professional publications can deepen your understanding.

Establish Your Professional Presence. HiResAs you gain a firm grasp on who you are, whom you serve, and what makes you relevant, you need to build your presence both online and in person. This means creating a personal communication set that includes your bio/profile, photos, video, and other media that help your community get to know you online, and especially on a professional platform like LinkedIn. It also means pursuing activities, such as volunteering, speaking, or meetups, where you can bring your professional presence to life by engaging others “live” and in person.

Share Valuable Content. Increasingly, standing out requires sharing your perspectives on matters of interest to your community. While blogging has been, and continues to be, a primary vehicle of many people, it’s not the only approach. Today, commenting on and sharing relevant content, has increasingly become a preferred strategy for gaining visibility. While there are many sources of great content, you can also benefit by finding and sharing the content created by leaders in your community of practice. Not only does this enhance your value, but can also help you develop relationships with those thought leaders.

Don’t Hesitate to Shake Up the Status Quo. Within your community, you’ll usually have one or more group memberships. Part of what establishes your belonging is a set of shared values, views, and beliefs. Mostly, this is fine; however, too much deference to a group eventually blocks your ability to differentiate yourself in terms of your views and approaches. To stand out, you need to express your contrarian positions when they arise. Sure, you expose yourself to challenge and maybe some ridicule. Yet, to the extent that the positions you take provide value to others, you can earn the kind of resect that enhances your reputation.

Why Seeing For Yourself Is Key To Your Success

iStock_000059073016LargeHave you ever asked yourself why there are so many food shots on Instagram? How about selfies? Why do people use LinkedIn? Or Facebook? And why are some people proud they don’t use social media at all?

But questions aren’t limited to social media.

Why do so many introverts believe they’re restricted in their social contact? What makes some people build and promote a personal brand? How come others think self-promotion is narcissistic? What drives people to identify with particular political parties? What keeps others independent?

We could go on. Or we could just say different strokes for different folks.

Yet, I think there’s something more fundamental that we need to consider if we truly want to have meaningful and fulfilling lives. Lives in which we’re able to entertain challenging ideas, see with our own eyes, and act in ways that allow us to make a difference. In other words, we need to pay attention if we want to avoid drifting through life only to end up with regrets. [Tweet this]

Culture: Powerful and Pervasive

While it’s not something we generally notice, the cultural contexts we operate in shape our beliefs, choices, relationships, and the overall quality of our careers and lives. As well, culture drives the direction of technology, economics, organizations, entertainment, politics, and other influences in our lives. We’re immersed it, but don’t generally recognize it.

In short, we can be as blind to culture as fish are to water. [Tweet this]

Yet, cultural blindness can be dangerous. It’s especially risky if it traps us in a self-absorbed belief system that leaves little room for critical thinking about the world around us. Put differently, that blindness can contribute to a sense of rightness that leads to a delusional arrogance. A point made by David Foster Wallace in his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College:

“Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence.”

He goes on to say:

“Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of you or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV or your monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.”

I would add to this your social circles. Because what you believe is heavily influenced by the beliefs of those you identify with. To some extent, this is a good thing, since shared interests and beliefs provide the social glue of relationships. Yet, at some point, there’s a risk of subscribing, without testing, to the ideas of the people you most like and most emulate. Without critical thinking, you put on a pair of cultural lenses that can keep you from seeing clearly. [Tweet this]

Believe Your Own Lying Eyes

When you do think and act according to your own values and talents, you’re most likely to achieve perspectives or model behaviors that can benefit others. In fact, most of us are comfortable sharing our original thinking and actions, especially if we believe others will accept what we have to offer. And our creativity often enriches our relationships.

Yet, we also tend to develop a sense of social taboos on specific kinds of speech and behaviors. There are many instances where you just know that having a different opinion or taking a different course of action puts you at odds with others. Wanting to be liked, as most of us do, can lead to fear of stepping outside the norm. So, we simply keep our mouth shut or curb our behavior.

Fear becomes even more intense when we face situations, ideas, or issues that may be emotionally charged. For example:

  • Becoming uncomfortable leaving the office on time when others put in extra hours of face time.
  • Saying we favor a particular candidate when we fear stating our reservations.
  • Conforming to standards of political correctness no matter how contrived they seem.
  • Accepting analysis from people who make claims to moral authority or truth, even as we force ourselves to ignore the inconsistencies in their arguments.

We have likely witnessed the discomfort people are subjected to when others act to shut them down. And so, we may decide that, in the long run, it’s better to go along to get along. Besides, who wants to go up against the delusional arrogance of others? [Tweet this]

Left unchecked, we can come to internalize a set of restraints that may have us questioning ourselves when we see through pretense. So, we come to admire the emperor’s new clothes. When we don’t, we develop a free-floating anxiety, and the feeling we’ve been betrayed by our own cheating heart. Worse, we may surrender to the harsh internal censor who asks, “Who are you gonna believe? Me or your own lying eyes?”

Eventually, failure to see and think for yourself can become your default setting. So, stop it! [Tweet this]

Freedom To Make A Difference

Okay, stopping it can be hard to do. Really hard. After all, it’s how the real world operates. Or so you think. As Wallace pointed out:

“…the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self.”

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The problem, of course, is you remain trapped. You give up your freedom. You give up the capacity to make a difference. You sacrifice meaning, fulfillment, and true happiness. You eventually sleepwalk through life without being fully charged.

Better, Wallace says, is to pay attention:

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”

In other words, meaning, fulfillment, and your ultimate happiness and success are grounded in clarity of purpose and service. But you need to see that for yourself.

Why You Could Be Wrong To Hate Facebook

iStock_000035142008_MediumAbout three months ago, a friend of mine commented on social media that she was scaling back her activity, allowing her some refreshing anonymity. Because we’re friends, I know the life events driving her choice. Yet, it also occurred to me that we wouldn’t be friends today, if it weren’t for social media.

Of course, while meeting new people and developing meaningful relationships is still possible, social media has changed.

Based on a recent eulogy of twitter, as well as from personal experience, it seems we’ve left Twitterville behind. It sure seems that social media is different, and it’s future ain’t what it used to be. [Tweet this] Certainly, my friend continues to maintain presence on the social media platforms she’s been on, even if she’s scaling back her participation. Yet, there are whole groups of people who do choose to opt out of various social media platforms – especially Facebook!

 No Names Required

Let’s face it. Lots of people hate Facebook. [Tweet this] Not only is Facebook merely hated, but there has emerged an alternative social media platform that seems to hold itself morally superior. That platform is Ello. Actually, I base my sense of the founders’ lofty sense of self-worth on their manifesto which, among other views, states:

“Your social network is owned by advertisers. Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold. We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life.”

I told you it’s lofty. It’s also idealistic. But it makes Ello seem detached from reality. [Tweet this]

So much of what Ello rejects about Facebook are the kinds of social hooks that help people identify common views, interests, and activities. And no matter what your feeling on the ads and commercial elements on Facebook, we actually get to know about people by seeing what pages they like, the content they share, videos they watch, the products they buy, and more. Which I think is a lot like how we get to know people in “real life.”

Nor do I think Ello’s position on privacy is based in reality. After all, if you have a credit card, have banking and investment accounts, fly on airlines, shop online, or join loyalty programs, the data you generate is already being sold. What’s more, you don’t need to be on Facebook to get ads displayed to you. [Tweet this] They already show up in your e-mail inbox. So, it seems to me you face a challenge to stop it all; that is, unless you want to go off the grid.

I’ve tried Ello, and am not particularly thrilled. Valuing simplicity, Ello presents a very clean (if poorly designed) environment. Perhaps too clean. Unlike Facebook, Ello makes no suggestions. Since it doesn’t track my activity, it doesn’t know me. Nor does it know anyone else. In this sense, Facebook is like that friend who introduces you to new people. Ello is a disinterested bystander. [Tweet this]

Perhaps, though, the biggest objection I have is Ello’s no name policy. Specifically:

“You have the right to be anyone you want. You’re safest when you control what you disclose on a social network. You should not be required to give your real name, age, sex, race, marital status, sexual orientation, religion, education, home address, or any other personal information which could be sold to third parties.”

While there are some people for whom this may make sense, it makes it really hard to build relationships with others. After all, if I don’t get to know who you really are, how can I trust you? If I don’t trust you, how can I feel comfortable sharing with you information about myself? [Tweet this]

A World That Doesn’t Exist

I don’t want to imply that every one who gets fed up with Facebook skips over to Ello. Some simply chose to delete their accounts. In fact, the author of a LinkedIn post I just read, as well as many of the commenters, have simply deleted their Facebook accounts. Why? Well, in the case of the author: “I’m tired of wasting my time and energy interacting with a world that doesn’t exist.”

He goes on to explain that his decision was based on a recognition that Facebook had become an addiction for him, saying he found himself checking it constantly. Worse, he says:

“Facebook gave the illusion of engaging with others. Of course it allowed me to engage with a vast audience comprised mostly of people I never see and don’t care all that much about.”

He’s okay with LinkedIn, though, where he has 500+ connections. Of course, it made me wonder about the actual existence of his LinkedIn world. Yet to be fair, based on the balance of his post, my impression is that he’s more oriented to publishing his ideas than he is to building relationships. I’m actually okay with that.

Real People, Real Lives

What I’m not okay with, though, is the dismissal of Facebook as a “world that doesn’t exist.” [Tweet this]

Whatever you may feel about Facebook – or LinkedIn, or Twitter, or Instagram – it’s populated with real people who lead real lives. FriendsPeople who have challenges and aspirations, just like you do. If you don’t care about them, it’s really your issue. It doesn’t make them less real. Yet, if you regard them as real people and take an interest in them, you may find that you can make real friends in a digital world.

Still, if you find that Facebook – or any other platform – doesn’t bring you joy, break it off. But you may also need to acknowledge this: “It’s not you, it’s me.” Because it usually is.

Are You Avoiding the “Dark Side” of Personal Branding?

Dark Side of BrandingThese days, many people believe that if you want to achieve success, you really need to have a personal brand. While only an emerging idea with Tom Peters’ 1997 article, “The Brand Called You,” personal branding has taken on considerable momentum. In his seminal article, Peters asserted: “Starting today you are a brand.”

Yet, initially, many people misunderstood personal branding. Still, it clearly held appeal for some, prompting them to consider the distinctive value they deliver, opening the door to the possibility of becoming a free agent in an economy of free agents. With the pioneering work of early thought leaders, increasing numbers of people undertook the process of discovering and communicating their brand in terms of their unique promise of value.

Over the years, personal branding has become more mainstream. Today, consultants and coaches practicing in a wide variety of specialties, including resume writers, image consultants, and social media advisors, offer advice on how to create a personal brand. In fact, if you google “creating your brand,” you can tap into an abundance of advice of varying degrees of quality and usefulness.

What concerns me, as a long-time personal branding strategist, is the degree to which so much advice has drifted away from the disciplined process built on external feedback, introspective exercises, and the ongoing inquiry needed to grow and develop. Today, the emphasis is on creating, building, and promoting your personal brand – and the shortcuts to get it done fast. [Tweet this]

The Big Me

While I’ve always considered the superficiality of created personal brands to be problematic, the real danger of such an effort was only recently highlighted for me, albeit indirectly, by David Brooks in his interesting new book, The Road to Character. In it, he makes a case for building character, saying:

“We live in a culture that teaches us to promote and advertise ourselves and to master the skills required for success, but that gives little encouragement to humility, sympathy, and honest self-confrontation, which are necessary for building character.”

Without a strategy for building character, he says, people can put too much emphasis on external factors at the expense of internal life – and risk seeing both fall apart. Among the factors he points to as essential to character is humility, and he sees it lacking in today’s culture:

“…we have seen a broad shift from a culture of humility to the culture of what you might call the Big Me, from a culture that encouraged people to think humbly of themselves to a culture that encouraged people to see themselves as the center of the universe.”

Among the personal outcomes of living inside the Big Me culture is a “a self-satisfied moral mediocrity.” While he doesn’t say it directly, I think it also can lead to limiting exposure to people and ideas that can challenge – and maybe shatter – one’s worldview. Yet, people typically rely on others for self-validation. So, the Big Me culture generates a kind of herd mentality that gets continually reinforced. [Tweet This] And that can lead to groupthink, where dissenting viewpoints are actively suppressed, or where people isolate themselves from outside influences in safety zones akin to safe spaces or hugboxes.

But let’s face it. Creating a brand without first uncovering and challenging Big Me cultural beliefs is dangerous. Why? Because it creates a new conformity that constrains differentiation. Worse, it also limits personal growth. And people who don’t grow, and brands that don’t evolve, become stagnant and irrelevant. [Tweet This]

Something You Earn

Frankly, the Brooks piece opened my eyes to the potential dark side of personal branding. Still, I’m not the first to take a critical look at branding generally, and personal branding in particular. Yet, being a certified personal branding strategist does, I believe, afford me a unique perspective. One that I hope can save you from creating a brand that serves only as an exercise in superficial self-promotion.

Remember: A personal brand is a reputation. It’s something you earn through your consistent service to others. [Tweet This]

Sure, you can raise your visibility on social media. And what you show and how you behave will influence how people see you. Yet, the kind of reputation that will stand as “your brand” is determined first and foremost by your ability to truly serve your community. In turn, that can be influenced by how well you do what you do, what you’ve accomplished, actions taken to correct your faults, your record of meeting challenges, and your success in overcoming adversity.

Sure that’s a lot to think about. Yet, if you construct a brand without taking a long hard look at yourself, you may hurt yourself in the long run. [Tweet This]

An Ongoing Process

At the core of the process is the pursuit of personal clarity – which is the true basis for your success. Think about it. If you have a grasp of the attributes, strengths, beliefs, and life transitions that make you who you are, you don’t have to worry about conforming to an image you created. Different, leader, best, unique and discrimination conceptYou simply get to be you — and that’s a big difference!

Being you is not static, though. As your circumstances change, you need to adjust how you approach things. That means always “living in the inquiry.” That is, always examining your beliefs in light of new ideas, spotting potential weaknesses that point to personal growth needs, and even ongoing nurturing of relationships that will keep you relevant and successful in serving your community.

The self-examination that comes from living in the inquiry takes discipline and even humility. [Tweet This] Yet, by committing to this long-term process, you can avoid slipping into the comfortable limits of your own safe space. You can more effectively respond to what life throws at you. Best of all, you get to take true ownership of your destiny in all parts of your life – from the way to run your career, to the various activities you engage in, to the relationships you develop and value.

Beyond Networking: Creating Supportive and Lasting Friendships

Making FriendsWhen was the last time you made an effort to brush up on your networking skills?

Well, if you’re in job search or trying to improve your ability to connect in business situations, your appetite for networking help may be related to the level of pressure you feel to get results. Fortunately, networking tips are not hard to find, and there are some excellent books that can help you. Of course, there are some great online resources too. In fact, my friend, Ora Shtull, posted a helpful video on using body language to enhance likeability. Great tips, and well worth checking out!

Yet, it’s what Ora said at the end of her video that really caught my attention. She said: “Let’s make sure our body language matches our words and intentions.” In a comment to her post, I noted that how we frame our intentions can be a big influence on how we experience meeting others. More often than not, openness and a genuine curiosity about people can go a long way toward reducing anxiety and building rapport. When we create an internal frame of receptivity, meeting others can become much more enjoyable. [Tweet this]

How Can I Help You?

Unfortunately, that’s not how most individuals approach it. Most are reluctant to meet new people. Until they have to. [Tweet this] In fact, based on what I’ve seen in my career consulting work, it’s often some need – often desperate – that gets people to reach out to forge new contacts. So, they brace themselves to venture out to networking events and other meetings to connect.

Some still work the room, leaving a trail of business cards in their wake. By now, however, most people realize that coming across as too needy or too aggressive can be a turn off. So, they seek to avoid appearing to be someone who is merely using people. To that end, most people follow the advice of networking advisors who suggest uncovering needs, and to lead with giving. In fact, recently, this idea has taken on such momentum that some see it as a paradigm shift from taking to giving.

While the intent is admirable, I don’t believe most people carry this out particularly well. Frankly, I become uncomfortable when someone I barely know follows up a meeting or an online interaction with an offer to help me. Call me cynical, but my first thought in these instances is, “What do you want?” That’s often followed with me thinking that if I need help, I’ll turn to my friends.

As I see it, networking has typically been about getting what you want. In the process, you may be willing to help others get what they want. In other words, it tends to be transactional. Friendship, however, allows for helping each other get what we each want – without the forced reciprocity. [Tweet this]

To be fair, Selena Soo, an advocate for leading with giving, takes a long-term view. That is, by being proactive in meeting people daily, and then nurturing these relationships, you’ll build good will and trust. Sounds to me like sowing the seeds of friendship!

Mere Exposure

Incorporating this longer-term approach into daily life makes sense. But how? Fortunately, not every situation is a networking event. Life presents us with many natural opportunities to meet others. And in situations were people are consistently exposed to each other, it’s often easier to connect.

Almost magically, through mere exposure, whether in person or online, the barriers come down and relationships get started. Familiarity, it seems breeds not contempt but likeability. [Tweet this] With consistent exposure we get opportunities to reduce our anxieties and break through barriers to establishing new relationships. Often, at a comfort level and pace that can work for us as well as the other person.

While the level of intimacy in these budding relationships may be low, consistency leads to what Shasta Nelson calls Contact Friends, that is, people with whom we are friendly when we see them in a shared context, say at a class or in an online group. Over time, consistency and growing intimacy allows these friendships to mature.

Cultivating Both Happiness and Success

In her book, The How of Happiness, among other practices, one happiness habit Sonja Lyubomirsky identifies is nurturing social relationships. More recently, Gary Vaynerchuk made this point in a compelling way that applies to both life in general and to business in particular:

“How we cultivate our relationships is often the greatest determinant of the type of life we get to live.  Business is no different.   [It] … happens in the small, personal interactions that allow us to prove to each other who we are and what we believe in, honest moments that promote good feelings and build trust and loyalty.  When given the choice, people will always spend their time around people they like. When it’s expedient and practical, they’d also rather do business …[with]… people they like.”

Friends enjoying the viewClearly, the level of success we attain in life most often depends on our ability to earn the positive regard of others, and to establish the kind of intimacy that leads to satisfying and sustainable relationships. Of course, while developing friendships seems like it should be natural, they don’t just happen. [Tweet this] They start with intentionality, but also take attention, interest, and sharing; and as trust grows, more transparency.

Take Small Steps

Certainly, there are some basics for relating to other people that work both in person and online. In fact, your mom probably taught you some of these. Yet, I think that fundamental to establishing relationships is draw out (or maybe nurture) your spirit of generosity and genuine interest.

When you take an interest in other people, they take notice. And more often than not, they take an interest in you. [Tweet this] But let’s face it; too much interest too soon is simply creepy. Rather, it’s important to do this in small steps. With care, you can make friends, even in a digital world.

Take that long view, and get started. Your life will be better for it!