Why It’s Important To Find Belonging

“I want my real life to be as fun as the one I paid for.” ~ Doug Harris (Josh Gad)

Group Of Friends Enjoying Drink At Outdoor Rooftop BarI don’t know about you, but sometimes we rent movies that we think of as mindless entertainment. They can be fun, but often not enlightening. So, it always amazes me, on those rare occasions, when one of these movies makes a great point.

So it was with the Kevin Hart movie, The Wedding Ringer. In it Kevin plays Jimmy Callahan, a “wedding services consultant” who provides best man services for guys without friends. In the process he shows his client, Doug Harris, played by Josh Gad, what having a full life can be like! Not only does Jimmy serve as best man, but assembles a misfit group of groomsmen, throws him a bachelor party, and in the process shows Doug the best time of his life!

It got me thinking how important friends and a feeling of belonging are to living a full life.

Unfortunately, as Gad’s character discovers, keeping our relationships narrowly focused on work can be a big mistake. And too many of us are guilty of it. Often, we let an obsession with becoming better networkers hold us back from building longer and stronger relationships. [Tweet this] That is, the kinds of relationships that enrich our lives – even when a there’s no business or career advantage.

Make A Diverse Array of Friends

As I see it, we do well to recognize opportunities to make friends in a variety of situations, both in person and online. In some cases, doing so can mean stepping outside your comfort zone to put yourself “out there.” Yet, since most people focus mostly on building relationships related to business, let’s consider friends at work.

In his book Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, business, health, and well-being author Tom Rath points out 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! [Tweet this]

Add to these findings, the perspectives of his latest book, Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life, and you begin to see the impact of meaningful human interactions and relationships on the quality of your life.

Don’t limit yourself to work friends, though. Let’s face it variety is the spice of life, and this is true of relationships.  So, seek out friends from a diverse array of ages, genders, ethnicities, and locations. Interacting with people from around the world can broaden your perspectives, and enrich your human experience. [Tweet this] Fortunately, this is much easier than ever in today’s social media rich world.

It Comes Down To Belonging

Friendship comes down to belonging. Yet, although “circle of friends” is a well known metaphor, we don’t often think of the groups of people to whom we “belong.” Perhaps it’s because too many of us still cling to the distinction of friends and acquaintances. [Tweet this] While we think of friends as people who we can trust and rely on, acquaintances are “just” people we know. Frankly, this is not a helpful distinction.

A better distinction is one made by GirlFriendCircles.com founder Shasta Nelson, who sees five circles of friendship based on levels of consistency and intimacy. In her model:

  • Contact Friends are people we are 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 share a common activity, but also with whom we make an effort to expand the relationship, and who make the common activity enjoyable.
  • Community Friends are people with whom we have expanded our relationship to include more activities leading to more consistency and intimacy.Three mature ladies smiling
  • Committed Friends are people with whom we have intimately and consistently shared our lives, and have a mutual commitment to be present no matter what.
  •  Confirmed Friends are people with whom we share intimacy and a history of friendship, even when our connection has not been consistent due to life changes (usually a move).

Looked at in this way, it becomes easier to see our various relationship circles. And when we can see that it becomes easier to enhance our belonging across multiple circles of friends.

Why Bother?

Studies show that belonging enhances your well-being. Yet, if you need a more pragmatic reason, consider this: When you belong, you don’t usually need to worry about getting help from others. You just ask. And naturally, you’re always ready to return the favor. So, imagine if this were true in every part of your life – from getting support for your fitness goals to finding new work. Whatever it is, the support of others helps you be successful at much of what you want to achieve in life.

So, as Doug Harris discovered, imagine how great your life would be if you enhanced your belonging across all your circles of friendship.

Tell Me, Who Are You?

iStock_000023596130Large“I woke up in a Soho doorway / A policeman knew my name…” ~ Pete Townshend ♫♬♪

If asked to give a clear statement of who you are, what would you say? Like most people, chances are what you say will depend on the circumstances. In a job interview, you’d draw on one set of details. On a date, you’ll choose others. No surprise, really. After all, we are complex beings with various abilities, beliefs, interests, values, passions, experiences, and more!

Chances are you have, and convey, various stories that express who you are. But it’s unlikely you consider yourself to be fictional. [Tweet this]

Yet, as a commenter on one of my LinkedIn posts, pointed out, Professor Bruce Hood, author of The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity, argues that the self is essentially a fiction we create. Based on this, she asked, “…how do we be true to a self that’s fictional?”

She has a point.

Nonetheless, as a practical matter, I’d guess you don’t ordinarily think of your illusory self. Rather, like most people, you engage life with a sense of the essential being that separates you from others. When you think of being true to yourself, you typically mean staying aligned with your view of your unique character. [Tweet this]

Yet, based on my work on “personal brand,” I see story as critical to identity, and have long agreed with Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal, who says, “This story that I tell about myself is only based on a true story. I am in large part a figment of my own yearning imagination.”

While I believe that we can uncover, and be true to, a core sense of self, I do know that story does permeate our being.

We Live In Story

Any time you relate a personal experience, you’re telling a part of your story. [Tweet this] And even if not crafted with the skill of an expert storyteller, your story gives the listener a window into your life and a glimpse of who you are. And when those views reveal shared experiences, they foster a bond or emotional connection.

For most of us, this process is so natural as to be nearly imperceptible. We experience the benefits of stories without a whole lot of thought about the nature of story, and why stories are so deeply woven into our every day experience. In fact, the science of storytelling tells us that we are “hard-wired” for stories. So much so that they have emotional and cognitive effects that shape our beliefs and our choices.

Stories You Tell Yourself

Stories are as powerful as they are pervasive. On some level, I think virtually everyone believes this. Yet, if I were to say, “Your story is powerful,” you, like most people, might become a bit self-conscious and tend to downplay that power. But you shouldn’t.

In a compelling blog post, Seth Godin discusses the power of narrative to keep our lives consistent and predictable. He points out that making a life change that could lead to more effectiveness and success is often so risky that most people will choose to double down on their current story. In his words:

“If you went to bed as a loyal company man or an impatient entrepreneur or as the put-upon retiree or the lady who lunches, chances are you wake up that way as well. Which is certainly safe and easy and consistent and non-confusing. But is it helping?”

He goes on to say:

“The truth though, is that doing what you’ve been doing is going to get you what you’ve been getting. If the narrative is getting in the way, if the archetypes you’ve been modeling and the worldview you’ve been nursing no longer match the culture, the economy or your goals, something’s got to give.”

Put differently, your stories can fuel your success. [Tweet this]

Controlling Your Narrative

While Godin’s intent is to challenge you to change for the better, his view may seem stern. Yet, as the craft of screenwriting suggests, a narrative – any narrative – is driven by selecting, interpreting, and arranging events to lead to a specific conclusion.  Of course, not all narratives drive frustration. The stories that successful people tell themselves support behaviors that make them effective. Sometimes, following a narrative can be intuitive, and seemingly without effort. Yet, for most of us, navigating on autopilot is a choice we can ill afford. [Tweet this]

Today, in our social media driven conversational world, people seek to connect, partner, and do business with people who “get it” and therefore “get them.” And the way they determine this is via the life/career story others convey! So, controlling our narrative has become critical. It’s a process that requires both external feedback and introspection. As creative writing instructor Robert McKee points out, “Self Knowledge is key – life plus deep reflection on our reactions to life. [Italics his].”

Hey! It’s Neuroscience!

As Lisa Cron documents, in Wired for Story, there is solid brain science behind storytelling. While her book is aimed primarily at writers, it actually makes a great case for uncovering and telling your story.

Of course, referencing neuroscience brings us back to Bruce Hood, who in a Wired interview, says, we are “…a complex system of evolved functions.” I agree. Yet, he also makes points that seem to me to support a stable identity over time. He says,

Our consciousness of the self in the here and now is the “I” and most of the time, we experience this as being an integrated and coherent individual – a bit like the character in the story. The self which we tell others about, is autobiographical or the “me” which again is a coherent account of who we think we are based on past experiences, current events and aspirations for the future.

Ultimately, we are who we tell ourselves we are. And it’s fair to say our sense of identity arises in story. [Tweet this]

Embracing Possibility: Why Glamour Fuels Your Vision for Success

BeatsI don’t know about you, but I’ve always been a big fan of top brands. Part of the reason is that I’ve found that the premium you pay is often worth it. But I’m also cautious.  So, as I’m now in the market for Bluetooth headphones, I’ve been reading and watching a lot of reviews. Among the models I’ve been looking at is Beats By Dre Wireless Headphones. Interestingly, in his review Kevin Nether said some things that struck me as compelling, and set me thinking about the power for branding – especially what makes for our emotional connection to brands we love.

Specifically, he noted that after being introduced by Dr. Dre, Beats headphones gained visibility via Hip Hop producers and celebrities as well as product placement. He went on to explain that over time, these headphones have become more of a fashion statement, “rather than a premium audio set up.”  While making the point that the product doesn’t skimp, he says,  “You end up paying more because it has a Beats logo on it, point blank, period.” [Tweet this]

And as you may already know, countless people do!

Branding and Glamour

Up to now, I’ve taken emotional connection to brands for granted, and not looked any deeper. Yet, in recently reading Virginia Postrel’s The Power of Glamour, I’m getting a deeper appreciation of the emotional connection we have to our favorite brands. Fundamentally, the attraction starts with the glamour conveyed by the brand. That is, with its power to tap our longings, even if only barely formed, it gives them an object of focus. It is pleasurable, even if only for a few moments.  Glamour can make an object attractive. Yet, glamour is double edged.  [Tweet this] As Postrel says:

“Glamour is an illusion and, according to its critics, a dangerous snare. But because it recognizes and concentrates real desires, the mirage can also prove a valuable, life-enhancing inspiration. Glamour, we can now say, is … an illusion “known to be false but felt to be true.” It focuses inchoate desires and embodies them in the image or idea of a person, a setting, an artifact, or occasionally a concept. By inviting projection and making the ideal feel attainable, the glamorous image intensifies longing and, in some cases, moves the audience to action.”

If you think about it, what’s attracted you to particular brands goes beyond packaging and promotion. Rather, what makes a brand attractive is it’s promise of transformation. [Tweet this]

That transformation is very likely multifaceted, but also includes how the product bolsters your social status and sense of identity. As Nether points out in his Beats review, “…let me tell you, people comment, ask to listen, and even give me awkward fist pumps because I’m wearing Beats. It seems like there is a silent camaraderie when purchasing Beats headphones, with other owners and people who just envy you.”

While quality and the underlying performance of a brand matter, loyalty is more about the added benefits the brand provides. And perhaps one of the most powerful benefits is the sense of exclusivity that comes from being an insider. In fact, the glamour of a brand also taps a desire for fellowship and belonging. [Tweet this] It’s not that people merely envy you, it’s that they see a bond of shared community. You can see this in operation in a widely diverse array of brand communities – from Apple Stores to Harley Owners Groups!

Beyond the Unimagined Life

As you’ve no doubt heard, Greek philosopher Socrates once said the unexamined life is not worth living.  Yet, have you ever stopped to consider the value of the unimagined life? I’ll bet you haven’t. Because, as a human being, you regularly tap into a powerful engine of imagination. It’s called story.

Stories, both other people’s and the one’s we tell ourselves, are key to our survival. We’re wired for story. We live in story. Stories teach us, entertain us, and inspire us. They show us what we can do in life, and often move us to action. In this way, story can drive transformation. And so can glamour. [Tweet this]

Catwalk Ready

As with story, the essential elements of glamour are a promise of escape and transformation, grace, and mystery. Each, in its own way, serves the illusion that is glamour but also it’s appeal. Interestingly, glamour is meant to hide the details, to keep us at a distance. It is the runway show, not the tailoring. Yet, it is this very distance that supports an ideal extension of self. Glamour fires our imagination, and creates a possibility we can live into. [Tweet this]

It’s a Vision Thing

Let’s face it. While you respond to it, glamour is just not something you ordinarily think about. And when you do, you may tend to think of it as a fantasy, or even trivial. After all, because glamour is an illusion, it’s dream like. And yet, what is a vision if not an expression of a longing for a better world? On some level, it seems fair to say that glamour and vision are two sides of one of the same coin. Each enables a broad-brush promise of future fulfillment, leaving us to work out the details for ourselves. As Postrel concludes:

“… the American Dream is an exercise in glamour and, however illusory the dream may sometimes be, the country is better off for the inspiration. When used as a guide rather than as an impossibly perfect goal in itself, glamour can point its audience toward a better, more satisfying life…”

If you haven’t noticed the longings that glamour stirs in you, it may be time you did.

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How does glamour enrich your life? What are the possibilities you are living in to? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.

Why Taking On Hard Challenges Matters To Your Success

Set A Bold VisionFrankly, I’m not a history buff. So, anniversaries of historic events often get by me unnoticed. Yet, I did notice that this July marks 45 years since Apollo 11’s historic mission to the moon. It made me recall watching the television broadcast totally mesmerized!

Yet, on some level, I think what marks this achievement as one of the most significant in history, is less about what happened in 1969, but what happened seven years earlier. That is, President John F. Kennedy’s “moon speech,” delivered in an address at Rice University, September 12 1962.  Here’s what he said:

“… But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?”

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

When you read this speech in it’s entirety, you see JFK’s clear and specific vision for one of the greatest adventures in history.

So, why do I bring this up?

Bold Vision And Determination

Make no mistake, Kennedy’s speech also provided a clear statement of determination, and framed the necessary execution to achieve the mission. And the biggest take away, I believe, is this: We become more successful when we set a bold vision and take on and accomplish hard challenges. [Tweet this]

Sure, I realize we tend to regard the tasks we face, whether at home, at the office, or at the gym as tough. Yet, for most of us, these situations are more often like a walk in the park. Sure, uncertainty can create some anxiety. Yet, there is in most of what we do a degree of safety. After all, what’s the worse that can happen?

So, let me ask you, when was the last time you took on something that was hard? So hard you wanted to just quit. But didn’t! Now, think about it. By digging deep didn’t you learn some great things about yourself, and your capabilities? And wasn’t that accomplishment worth savoring more than others?

Still, rarely do we push ourselves so far beyond our comfort zone that we end up feeling totally spent. [Tweet this] Maybe it’s time we did that more!

Learning To Embrace The Suck

Let me put this in the context of physical achievement.

In the culture of CrossFit, one popular phrase is “embrace the suck.” As you might guess, this phrase emerged not because workouts are easy but because they’re hard. These workouts go way beyond 30 minutes on an elliptical! Typical CrossFit workouts are structured to totally wipe you out!  In short, they suck. And that’s really the point. This is high intensity training that’s designed to provide maximum aerobic and strength conditioning.

It may seem like this is an extreme way to go about fitness. And certainly CrossFit is not without critics who point to its good, bad, and ugly aspects. Nonetheless, I believe this fitness phenomenon contains lessons that go beyond the workout to apply more broadly to success.

Turns out, there’s even more.

What Neuroscience Shows

J. C. Herz, author of Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit and the Primal Future of Fitness, also points out that CrossFit’s “constantly varied functional movement, executed at high intensity, across broad time and modal domains” has benefits that go beyond physical training. Push Your LimitsIn particular, workouts engage the attention association area of the brain. This is what controls complex movements, like coordination, accuracy, agility, and balance. What’s more, Herz explains, it “…  is also the source of human will, goal-setting behavior, and purposeful organization of thought.”

More specifically:

“…the part of your brain that enables you to do pull-ups and squats – but isn’t engaged for a bicep curl or leg extension – is what gives you the discipline to study instead of watch TV, or to budget vs. rack up debt on a credit card. High-intensity functional movement requires will power, in no small part because will power itself is what’s being built in the nervous system during the workout, through the movements themselves. Every time you snatch a barbell from ground to overhead, the complexity of the movement reinforces the circuitry you need to formulate a goal.”

CrossFit, in other words, is built on the attributes of fitness that connect brain and body. [Tweet this]

How You Do Things

There is an inscription above one of the doors at the CrossFit gym at Reebok World Headquarters that reflects a part of their corporate philosophy:

“How you do anything is how you do everything.” [Tweet this]

It is a statement of moral excellence and leadership that reflects dedication to technique and execution. It about heroic effort in taking on things that are “crazy” hard. Sure, CrossFit may not be for you, but the discipline and courage that drives it can be harnessed to meet other challenges.

We live, today, in a turbulent time where success often requires becoming comfortable being uncomfortable. [Tweet this] And while success may be achieved in a series of steps, it nearly always starts with a larger vision. In fact, setting a bold and specific vision for accomplishing great things, you set in motion a process of personal development and achievement, even if you need work to master discomfort.

So, challenge yourself in a big way. After all, why the moon?

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What bold challenges are you taking on? How do expect these challenges to change you and lead to greater success? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.

Making Real Friends In A Digital World

Digital WorldHow much effort do you put into making friends? If you’re like most people, I’d guess you focus more on networking, than on making friends. After all, friendships take care of themselves. Only they don’t. [Tweet this]

According to Shasta Nelson, friendships don’t just materialize. You need to make them happen. Friendships typically start with some initial attraction, usually based on shared activities or interests. But there’s more. As Nelson points out, there are five steps to friendship: being open, consistently initiating, adding positivity, increasing vulnerably, and practicing forgiveness. Certainly, these steps take time and regular interactions online and in person.

In other words, friendships require investment.

So Much More Than Business

Yet, if you’re like a lot of people, investing time in making friends may seem too demanding. After all, you’re life is already busy. Really busy.  Besides you’re already meeting new people at business functions and meet-up events.  Yet, you’ll likely regard the majority of people you meet as business contacts.

Why is this so? Aside from the nature of the events themselves, I think it’s because we tend to overly subscribe to the notion that business is business. Perhaps it’s a cultural artifact from The Godfather. You know, it’s not personal, it’s just business. Somehow, that theme is so strong that it’s easy to miss an even more powerful message. One delivered by Don Vito Corleone himself:

“Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family.”

If research is any guide, friendship is also equal to health, happiness, and longevity.

Actually, making friends is personal. It goes well beyond the aims of networking objectives. True social connectivity is so much more than big numbers of friends, fans, and followers. With lots of contacts but few friends, you’re at risk of being lonely. [Tweet this]

Real Friends

Fortunately, our digital world supports us in pursuing friendships. [Tweet this] Certainly, it’s one way to keep up with friends we already have. Yet, it’s also possible to start and nurture new relationships online. Thanks to Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and other social media platforms, the idea of online friends is not quite as inconceivable as it once was. Well, as long as you’re able to get past the distinction between online friends and real life friends.

Friends

Over time, if you take a real interest, the people you interact with online not only emerge as real people, but can also end up as friends. Sure there are differing depths to these friendships, but where possible to connect by phone or in person, these friendships can blossom into some of the most important relationships in your life. Case in point: One of my best friends ever is someone I met and long interacted with on Facebook and Twitter – before ever chatting by phone or meeting up!

Digital Chemistry

Frankly, the shared activities and interests that are the basis for growing friendships typically happen in person. Yet, interacting with people online can nurture the consistency and intimacy that makes bonds stronger. It also helps to when you “click” with the people you meet.

While you probably wouldn’t associate chemistry with online relationships, social media is not without relationship dynamics.  In fact, online relationships can be driven by subtle influences that create a kind of digital chemistry. [Tweet this]

One influence is the mere-exposure effect, also known as the familiarity principle. As it applies to people, it means that the more you see someone, whether in person or online, the more likeable they appear to be. [Tweet this] Sure, there are going to be exceptions. Yet, overall you’re most likely to warm up to and interact with the people you see most often.

The other influence on digital chemistry is something called ambient awareness. It is a peripheral awareness that comes with exposure to fragments of social information. As discussed by Clive Thompson, in the “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy,” this awareness “…brings back the dynamics of small-town life, where everybody knows your business.”

Sure, that’s not always a good thing. Yet, what it does for budding friendships is truly powerful. Online social information about people we meet gets us beyond mere familiarity to allow for enhanced intimacy. [Tweet this]

It Starts With Genuine Interest

Of course, not only do friendships take time, but they grow out of two-way sharing and caring. Yet, as Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” So, for new relationships to have a chance, especially online, the first step is showing you care.

Showing you care means taking a genuine interest. This involves showing empathy and establishing rapport. It also means getting others to share what they enjoy, and making them feel good about themselves.  In other words, make your initial interactions about them, not you.  Doing so conveys your interest, caring, and generosity. As well, putting others first, is time-tested advice for making friends.

In the long run, becoming adept at the art of friendship will enrich your life[Tweet this]

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How do you distinguish between connections and friends? How important is it to you to cultivate friendships? Do you have online friends, and how did you meet them? Have you experienced digital chemistry? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.

Forget Networking Tips and Start To Think Different

Like-Minded People If you’re like a lot of people, you either don’t like to network, or know people who don’t like to network. Or, maybe it’s both. I’m thinking about this because I’ve just watched a video on networking tips. While the expert’s tips were actually good, her first point was this: “Regardless of experience or position, many people loathe networking.” Sorry, but my most immediate association upon hearing those words was to an old Lisa Barone post, It’s Not the Recession, You Just Suck.

Harsh. I know.

A Logic of Desperation

Frankly, there is a certain logic that sustains resistance to networking. After all, nearly everyone says they dread it. So, you can say you dread it too. With that out of the way, there isn’t a whole lot that anyone, including you, should expect.  And when you find that you have to network, you can always brush up with a couple of networking tips, attend events, and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, pressure to network typically leads to an approach that’s one sided, agenda driven – and often desperate. Although you may not want to believe it, most people you meet under these circumstances see that. So, you risk alienating them. Worse, when you don’t get the results you were hoping for, you whine about networking being loathsome. [Tweet this] It’s a vicious circle. Worse, it keeps you chained to beliefs that keep your expectations low.

Think Different

As I see it, one of the biggest obstacles to putting yourself out there to meet new people is the mindset that’s attached to it. And very often that mindset – your mindset – is fed by the prevailing beliefs around you. If you like, you can continue to subscribe to them.

Or not.

Consider, for a moment, what our world would be like if Steve Jobs had not dared to think different. How would the world of technology have developed? What options would you have for how and where you create and consume content? And to what extent would you be able to find and seize new and exciting opportunities for work and life?

So, ask yourself this: How do you limit yourself by subscribing to prevailing beliefs? [Tweet this]

Take some time to consider this. Look for examples not only in what you believe about meeting new people, but also about what it takes to have a rewarding career, and a rich and meaningful life.  Do this honestly, and I think what you’ll see is this: The only one holding you back is you. [Tweet this]

Change The Frame

As I see it, “networking” is not the best frame. Rather, the best frame is “like-minded.” That is, meeting and developing relationships with like-minded people. Those like-minded people can enter your life via business events, but also via any of a range of activities where people come together around shared interests. When you’re open to meeting like-minded people, you have the chance to meet people who matter to your long-term success and well-being.

According to Wikipedia, “Business networking is a socioeconomic business activity by which groups of like-minded businesspeople recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities.”

If we strike a couple of words from this, then a simple truth emerges: There are lots of situations where like-minded people come together to create or act upon opportunities. [Tweet this] Here are a few examples:

  •  Arts Committees allow like-minded people to come together to create or act upon opportunities to promote the arts.
  •  Not-for-Profit Boards bring together like-minded people to create or act upon service opportunities.
  •  Online learning sites, like those offered by Chris Brogan, enable like-minded people create and act upon opportunities for self-improvement.
  •  CrossFit classes enable like-minded people come together to create or act upon fitness opportunities.

Now, ask yourself: What are the natural opportunities you have for meeting and getting to know others? [Tweet this] And in answering that, consider both in-person and online opportunities.

Take advantage of opportunities to get together with people who care about the same things you do, and before you know it, you’re part of a community. And being part of community brings opportunities for mutual support and mutual recognition.

Think about it.

As you do, consider the story of a guy who took last place in an athletic competition. Horribly overweight and out of shape, Greg was skeptical about trying CrossFit. He was concerned about his ability and what other people would think. And he didn’t want to be made fun of.

But he tried and stuck with it. In fact, he even rose to the challenge to compete in the CrossFit Open. Yes, he set low expectations for his performance, but he surpassed them. Yet, what really surprised him is the acceptance and encouragement he received. Here’s what he said:

“…I learned what community means. It is more than a collection of people… It is coaches and athletes. It is friends. It is people that care about your success. It is people that cheer where you are going more than where you are at today….”

So, who are you ready to cheer on, and who’s cheering for you? [Tweet this]

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What are your perspectives on meeting people? What beliefs hold you back? How do you need to change your thinking?  What are some of the shared interests or activities that bring you together with like-minded people? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.

Why Making Friends Matters To Your Success

Make FriendsAh, networking and relationships! How well they fit together into a larger framework of success. And while it’s easy to complain about having to network, most of us want success. So, we work at becoming better networkers. I get it.

Still, I often feel an obsession with becoming better networkers can blind us to what it takes to build longer and stronger relationships. That is, the kinds of relationships that enrich our lives – even when a there’s no business or career advantage. Okay. Yes. I’m talking about friendship.

What Networking Often Lacks

If you’re like me, and a lot of other people, you know that having the right connections is critical to success. You also know that those relationships often come your way via networking. At a most pragmatic level, you realize that growing and tapping into networks opens doors. You may also be starting to see that the broader your network, coupled with your ability to navigate it, the more valuable you become.

Of course, while giving a passing acknowledgement that “relationships matter,” many people keep their eye on the prize. That is, they pursue specific new opportunities, such as qualified prospects and sales or job leads. In short, networking often becomes transactional.

This networking approach too often leads to shallow connections. What’s more, it’s typically transparent and off-putting. Nor is it a sustainable approach to achieving continued success. After all, there’s little long-term benefit in linking with people with whom you have only passing acquaintance. Most often, the people who think of you, when they see a relevant opportunity, know you well, and like and trust you. [Tweet this] Those kinds of relationships take time to build.

 Genuine Sharing, Genuine Caring

Perhaps one of the biggest drivers of the transactional mindset has been the common advice that networking is about “giving to get.” It’s not. So, approaching it that way is a turn off. Overall, I believe the sounder approach is to focus more on creating and nurturing bonds with others.

Traditionally, people have developed and strengthened their bonds via meeting up for coffee, meals, and other shared activities. Clearly, meeting in-person is a key part of cultivating relationships. These days, however, you also can take advantage of technology tools to support bonding. Used well, social media increases your ambient awareness and supports brief interactions over time. [Tweet this] As a result, you can interact more regularly, adding depth to your relationships.

Yet, however we connect, basic social niceties matter. When you begin to pay attention to the little things in other people’s lives, you not only get to know them better, but also may discover more areas of shared interest. And the more you do, the stronger your bonds can become.

A Lot Like Making Friends

Over time, as bonds become stronger, you may find you have the basis for true friendship. If so, it’s worth investing more in those relationships. For as Shasta Nelson points out in her excellent book, Friendships Don’t Just Happen!  Although making friends seems like it ought to be automatic, it’s not. In fact, she says, if you’re simply waiting for friendships to develop, chances are you may be well networked but lonely. [Tweet this]

So what’s it take to develop friendships?

Well, genuine sharing and genuine caring. And time. In Shasta’s words,

“The strength of our friendship isn’t as dependent on how much we like each other, but more on how much time we spend together developing our friendship in broader and deeper ways.  …two primary factors that create friendship…[are]… consistency and intimacy.  …consistency is regular time spent together, and intimacy is sharing that extends to a broad range of subjects and increases in vulnerability.”

Since these factors can change with time and circumstances, there are different categories of friendship. Yet, a key point to grasp is this: Making, keeping, and even changing friends is perhaps one of the most important skill sets you need to have. [Tweet this]  Especially if you want to enhance the overall quality of your life.

Friends Are Key To Life Success

An old saying reminds us that on their deathbed no one says, “I wished I’d spent more time in the office.” It’s a sad reminder that in the pursuit of success, people can miss out on life. Yet, if we measure success based on a better quality of life, then friendship is surely a critical element. In reimagining success, it’s clear that while networking is driven by self-interest, making friends is about enlightened self-interest. [Tweet this]

Cultivating friendships requires, among other things, a spirit of generosity. Friends and SuccessBeing 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, and even enhanced longevity.

I will have more to say about friendships in future posts. Meanwhile, even if you already have friends, you could probably make more. Look for opportunities to make new ones both in-person and online.

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What are your perspectives on friendship? How are you making friends?  What are some of the shared interests or activities that are at the basis of your friendships? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.

Reclaim Your Future: 12 Practices To Help You Own Your Life

Note: This is the second of a two-part series about reclaiming your future. In Part 1, I described the increasingly surreal, matrix-like climate that government seems to be creating, and touched on some reasons for taking charge of your life. In this part, I provide an overview of actions you can take to begin to own your life, and exercise more control over your destiny. To go deeper on any point, just follow the links.

Reclaim Your Future (2)Have you ever found yourself saying about another person, that they ought to get a life? Yeah, me too. And if you’re like me, on occasion, you’ve probably found yourself admitting, “Man, I need to get a life!!” So, my question is, when do you say that? [Tweet this]  

Well, again drawing on personal experience, I’ll bet you’ve been most prone to feel a need for big change when:

        • You’ve felt like things were slipping out of your control.
        • Things beyond your control were negatively affecting you.
        • You’ve felt obligated in some uncomfortable way.
        • You faced too many competing demands, and felt overwhelmed.

Too often, people feel the biggest need for change when they’re trapped in circumstances that cause pain. And there’s no bigger source of pain, than a feeling of overwhelm that makes you feel helpless. It’s even more painful when you see things you can change, but you’re afraid to give yourself permission. [Tweet this]  

Well, stop it! Instead, get ready to take action!

I won’t claim to have an answer for your specific circumstances. Owning your life and reclaiming your future is ultimately up to you. [Tweet this]  Still, here are 12 ideas to get you started:

1. Journey Inward.

Since the time Socrates first uttered the injunction “Know Thyself,” countless others have chimed in with the same advice. So, I’m betting you’ve heard this. Yet, I’d guess you haven’t really done the kind of deep dive of introspection that leads to genuine insight. If not, why not give it a shot? And if you need an easy way to get started you may want to check out, Kerry Pastine’s nifty little book.

2. Establish Your Quest.

It’s very likely that one of the biggest challenges you’ve ever faced – or need to face – is making a conscious decision about what you want out of life. Yet, counterintuitive as it seems, you’ve probably been trying to achieve it for a very long time. You see, I believe we decide pretty early on, and often unconsciously, what we want our lives to be about. It’s a big reason, why I’m such an advocate of uncovering your story. I’ve coached lots of people on doing this, with great result. But I know for some, this retrospective exercise is tedious. So, alternatively, you may want to invest effort in some visioning work to figure out your quest.

3. Understand How Others See You.

Having worked with lots of people on their “personal brands,” I can tell you that many have only a faint idea about the real value they deliver to others. Maybe that’s you too. So, how do you find out? You ask. You can ask others directly, or you can choose to do an anonymous 360 survey. However, you do it, you’re likely to validate things you already know, but also to uncover a few surprises. Still, if you are opting for the red pill, this provides a unique reality check.

4. Be Authentically You.

As you probably know, we’ve crossed a threshold into a value-driven world. It’s no longer sufficient to define yourself in terms of a title or professional category. Instead, you need to answer a prospective employer’s question, “What can you do for me?” So, you need to position your unique value. Yet, who you are and what makes you worth knowing is a question that will be on the mind of everyone you meet, whether you meet them at a social function, at a community event, or at the gym. And when you meet others, it always helps you to connect when you’re being your best self.

5. Seek Belonging.

Of course, it’s easier to connect with others when you’re tuned in to the needs, wants, values, and beliefs of the communities you seek to belong to. People tend to gravitate to people they resonate with. And if you’ve ever experienced the magic of discovering shared interests and experiences, you already know this. Now build on it. Because the possibility of becoming known, liked, and trusted by others can often hinge on the perception that you’re “one of us,” and that you “get it.” So, find your people in all parts of your life, and make yourself visible to them!

6. Open Yourself Up To New Relationships. 

It’s said that variety is the spice of life, and this is ever more true of relationships.  So, seek out friends from a diverse array of ages, genders, ethnicities, and locations. Interacting with people from around the world can broaden your perspectives, and enrich your human experience. Diverse FriendsThis is much easier than ever because social media allows you to put yourself out there. So, jump in. And when you do, be a proactive conversation starter. Often saying hello and making a relevant comment often launches relationships! Do this in face-to-face meet ups too. In fact, forget the script, and dare to engage in conversations without a net.

While you’re reaching out to make new friends, don’t forget to cultivate relationships with people in your work-related communities. You probably already know lots of people who matter to your work life. Still, there is real benefit in growing that community beyond geographic and industry boundaries. Again, think variety! There is some evidence that you become more valuable as you grow a wide and diverse network.

7. Run Your Career Like A Free Agent.

The world of work has changed. Forever. While it’s true that there are still people who fit the traditional model of employee, the trend is toward free agency. Most often, this means you’re a contractor, and probably short-term. You make a valuable contribution to projects for as long as you’re needed. Then you move on. So, even as you deliver value to one client, you always need to be looking for that next opportunity. Being a free agent requires skillful self-management as well as clarity about what matters to you in finding happiness at work. Yet, more fundamentally, it means choosing yourself! Because if you don’t, you risk becoming a career zombie.

8. Learn New Things.

You probably already know that in a rapidly changing world, it’s important to keep up. Lots of people don’t, but it doesn’t mean you have to join them. If you want to reclaim your future, you need to do the learning that makes your career portable across time. Determine what you need to learn, then put yourself in charge of making sure it happens. And if you need a little extra motivation to start, see what one of the most challenging fitness systems can teach you about success.

9. Take Care of Yourself.  

Owning your life means you’re responsible for regular maintenance.  So, dedicate time to the self-care that will sustain your personal vitality. As you know, it means investing time in proper nutrition, exercise, and other wellness practices. Still, there are ways to fire up your resilience by adding other successful living practices.

10. Forget About Reinventing Yourself.

Many people, maybe even you, often face life’s disappointments with the resolve to reinvent themselves. It sounds pretty attractive, actually. Perhaps because of the promise of a fresh start. Problem is, self-reinvention is a myth, and can lead to an illusion of change. Better to engage in the kind of critical self-assessment and learning that allows you to bring out your best.

11. Decide To Be Happy.  

How do you attain happiness? Well, if you’re like a lot of people, you might be waiting for some magic event or set of circumstances that will make you happy. Decide To Be HappyThe truth is, though, happiness is less a matter of circumstance than personal choice and daily practices. And there is some significant happiness research to back this up. Turns out, there are eight happiness practices that work. Find out what they are and start applying them right now!!

12.  Give Yourself Permission To Keep Trying.

It’s pretty amazing how often people who need to make some positive change will announce their bravery or say they’re giving themselves permission. Declarations are great! But change only lives in action. And mastery only results when you move through feeble your first steps to eventual mastery. Sure, we all know what Nike and Yoda say about doing and trying. Forget all that, and keep trying. Let’s face it, you don’t learn, and you don’t get better, if you don’t try. On the road to reclaiming your future, you will stumble and fall. Yet, if you truly want to own your life, pick yourself back up, and keep trying.

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Was this helpful? If so, do you want more? Let me know the challenges you face, and I’ll address them in future posts. Just leave a comment. Or, if you’d like to privately share a challenge for me to address, use my contact page.

Escape the Matrix and Reclaim Your Future

Note: I’m generally not a fan of two-part posts. Yet, in thinking about the time you may have to read, I felt breaking my nearly 3,000 words into two parts would be best.  In this part, I want to highlight the context for the strategies I will present in Part 2. In any event, I hope each part is a worthwhile read for you. So, let’s get started.

Living IllusionI don’t know how you feel about the current state of things, but it sure seems to me that increasingly we are living in some kind of Matrix-like world. Actually, I’ve written about this before. Yet, before saying much more, I want to share the definition of the matrix that inspired my first post:

“One way to interpret the movie is that we’re supposed to realize that there are lots of games out there, and many of them are designed to deceive you, to keep you feeling as if you’re running the show when you’re not.”

That observation comes from Chris Brogan who was discussing the premise of the movie, The Matrix.

When I wrote my original post, I was offering advice on job search to people feeling the heat of an economy that’s in pretty poor shape. It’s still in poor shape. And yet, the fact that the economy is in horrible shape, and only getting worse is not even the scary part. No, what’s truly frightening is the view, as recently delivered by some government officials, that the projected loss of jobs actually empowers people. [Tweet this] 

It doesn’t.

Earned Success, Happiness, and Longevity

Frankly, I hold to the belief that true happiness, optimal health, and longevity are tightly related to the idea of earned success, which economist Arthur C. Brooks discusses in his book, The Road to Freedom, as well as in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. Referencing the work of psychologist Martin Seligman on learned helplessness, Brooks states:

“People simply give up and stop trying to succeed…During experiments, Mr. Seligman observed that when people realized they were powerless to influence their circumstances, they would become depressed and had difficulty performing even ordinary tasks.”

In my experience as an outplacement consultant, I can attest to the fact that people without jobs are thrown onto an emotional roller coaster. And job loss has as much to do with harming sense of identity and relationships as it does with forfeiture of money and health insurance. Worse, the longer people are jobless, the less attractive they are to prospective employers. [Tweet this]  Over time, that sense of loss and helplessness can only become deeper.

Yet, this is about more than loss of identity and depression. Not working may even have an impact on how long you live. In their book, Successful Aging, John W. Rowe, M.D. and Robert L. Kahn, PhD, discuss a three-part model for longevity: (1) avoiding disease, (2) maintaining high cognitive and physical function, and (3) engagement with life. Significantly, engagement with life is determined by continued productive activity and maintaining relationships with other people.

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It Really Is Who You Know … And Who They Know

Who You KnowQuick!

If I say “networking,” what comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you’re probably thinking job search or business development. You may also be feeling some of the internal resistance that surfaces at the prospect of meeting new people and building new relationships. But I bet the last thing you’re thinking about is how cultivating a broader network builds value for you and benefits the people you serve.

Why do I say this?

In a post on business lessons from CrossFit, I made the point that, “Your success can only be as great as your community.  So, foster meaningful relationships and mutual support.” I think that’s very solid advice, and believe we all need to have a core community – or communities – with people who support, nurture, and sustain us over time. Yet, I had a recent insight about the power of networks. It’s this: The broader your network, coupled with your ability to navigate it, the more valuable you become. [Tweet this]  

Your Talent Takes You Only So Far

How did I come to this insight? Well, certainly some recent reading pointed me in this direction. Yet, there’s nothing that sparks a flash of insight quite like first hand experience. So, let me tell you a little story.

During a recent conversation with a prospective career strategy client, I was asking about where she wanted to take her career. As soon as she mentioned her primary goal, I had an “ah ha” moment. It occurred to me that one of the ways I could help her was to introduce her to members of my own high technology network. Seemed to me that some of these folks could help her evaluate her skills with respect to relevant opportunities.

Of course, there’s nothing earth shattering here. Actually, making LinkedIn introductions is a pretty common strategy for helping people connect with individuals who can point them to opportunities. What is significant, however, was my insight that, besides my coaching skills, my network made me even more valuable to this person.

How significant is this?  Turns out it’s pretty significant.

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