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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Get Better At Connecting with Others: Conversations Without A Net

Without A NetHave you ever had one of those momentary flash backs you just know dates you? I mean, really dates you? Recently, I did. It was in response to reading some networking advice that brought to mind a classic 90s song. You know, “things that make you go hmmmm….”

Included with standard advice, like exchange business cards and dress for success, was this gem: Memorize your elevator speech. Not only that, but the writer provided a recipe for what should be included; specifically, your name, web address, who you help, and what results you produce for your clients. Oh! And one more thing. The writer noted that you should deliver your (memorized) elevator pitch as naturally as possible.

Not only did it this “make me go hmmm,” but it seemed to suggest why people may resist meeting new people at events. Let’s face it. It is just too hard to be natural when you have to deliver a speech – even a short one! [Tweet This] So, if you’re not feeling you can do this, it can kind of discourage you from going, and from enjoying yourself if you do.

So, this got me thinking about some of the reading I’ve been doing on the craft of acting – particularly, improv. In his informative Acting for a Living, Roy McCrerey makes the point that it’s actors with improvisational training who are best suited to win work where roles call for people who come across as more real. Ironic, I know. Yet, the skills of improv can actually better prepare us for natural interactions than memorizing a pitch.  [Tweet This]

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Don’t Become A Career Zombie: How To Survive the Apocalypse

For my last post, I drew on some Halloween inspiration to help you avoid the fate of The Invisible Man in managing your online presence. I promised a second installment to share how a career lesson from the zombie apocalypse of World War Z applies to you. So, read and learn.

Apocalyptic retro poster. Sunset. Grunge background.I love it when I gain perspective from unlikely places! This is probably not so surprising. I’ll bet it’s the same for you.  Yet, for me, the more unlikely the source of insight, the bigger the impact. So, stick with me, and I’ll show you what I mean.

Lately, I’ve been reading, Max Brooks’ World War Z. What’s amazing is that it has offered what I think is a central lesson for career management, today. Yeah, I know. Zombie war? Career management? You’re probably thinking, “Give me a break!” [Tweet This]

Not A Zombie Crisis But An Economic One

Frankly, needing to survive a zombie crisis is highly unlikely. Yet, we have, for several years, been living through economic crisis – with clear impacts on careers. This is not news. Yet, what may surprise you is that this jobs crisis has deep roots. [Tweet This] In fact, writers like Charles Handy and William Bridges, long ago predicted the demise corporate positions. And despite the fact that people continue to pursue full-time spots, Dan Pink has correctly characterized our nation as a free agent one – and it continues to evolve.

So, what does this have in common with surviving a zombie war?

World War Z character Arthur Sinclair, Junior, in describing an effort known as the National Reeducation Act, talks about how careers like executive, analyst, consultant which were viable in the prewar world became totally inadequate in the time of crisis. The world no longer needed people to talk on the phone to broker deals or to review contracts. He then makes an astute observation:

“That’s the way the world works. But one day it doesn’t. No one needs a contract reviewed or a deal brokered. … For some, this was scarier than the living dead.”

By contrast, the people who did well were

“… people who knew how to take care of themselves, how to survive on very little and work with what they had.”

This is as true in our real crisis as it is in Brooks’ fictional one.

Choosing Yourself

While it’s important to have specific strategies, I think this suggests a fundamental capacity for self-direction. Over the years, I’ve tended to think of that as making choices that allow you to own your life. Yet, there is another slant on autonomy that’s offered up by James Altucher who calls characterizes it as choosing yourself.

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Living Successfully: Five Lessons from Traveling in Cuba

JoyfulIsn’t it amazing how travel can change your perspective? This probably applies no matter where you go. Yet, I think observing the daily routines of people in another country brings unique perspective. Having a cultural benchmark can focus your thinking on what’s important in life. [Tweet This]

Recently, my wife and I went on a Go Eat Give educational / humanitarian group tour of Cuba. It was a truly unique and amazing experience! While there, our group had the opportunity to learn about the country from the Cuban perspective. We also had the opportunity to roll up our sleeves to work on several volunteer projects, including weeding at an urban organic farm, planting trees at a large metropolitan park, and participating in a community art project.

Overcoming History

Having had this opportunity to observe work and social life, I was amazed by the incredible resilience of the Cuban people. They continue to be vibrant, despite the hardships their post-revolutionary history has brought their way. I was also struck by the degree to which meaning and fulfillment seemed to pervade work and life for so many Cubans. [Tweet This]

Sure, it was clear that some people worked in stressful occupations. In particular, people who worked in the highly individualized production of Partagás cigar factory. They did not look happy, despite having one of the most prized jobs in the country! Yet, many others seemed to approach their daily routines with a sense joy and fulfillment. Musicians, performers, artists, farmers, and (yes) even some retail and service workers seemed genuinely engaged and happy in performing their work. Yet, in Cuba, nearly everyone, it seemed, found a way to inject some fun into work time! [Tweet This]

Live Now

Still, by and large, my observations supported the view that true career and life success goes well beyond the narrow money and power measures we typically apply. In fact, if you’re like a lot of career-oriented people, you may think that success means working hard, socking away lots of money, and delaying gratification until retirement!

Well, snap out of it!!

According to Ralph Werner, if you don’t invest in a full life today, that goal of happy retirement is likely to be a huge disappointment. Even more so, if you haven’t figured out what would bring you the most joy!

So, I’d propose you turn your ideas of success on their head, and pursue that fuller, richer life now!! [Tweet This] To that end, consider acting on these five life success lessons, drawn from the Cuban experience:

Make Your Private Enterprise Personal

Perhaps the most successful people in Cuba are the ones who are able to approach work as creative and personal expression. Certainly this includes artists who translate their creativity into revenue. Yet, even more striking, I think, were the owners of Cuba’s paladares, that is, privately-run restaurants that provide home made food in a personalized atmosphere with attention to guest satisfaction. Success lesson: Bring who you are to what you do, so you can give your clients a more personalized experience. [Tweet This]

Enrich Your Life with Social Engagement

One of the more interesting observations we made was the nightly gathering of groups of people along the Malecón, or Avenida de Maceo. While it was easy to quip that this represented Facebook, Cuban style, it revealed the deeper and universal truth that our communities sustain us. Success lesson: Make time for daily social interaction, be it via social media or in person – or both!! And don’t think of this face time as networking, but as sharing stories and dreams that deepen your connections with others. [Tweet This]

Actively Manage Your Whole Life

Among of the things we learned during our visit to an organic farm was that the sustainable fertility of the soil required active management, including weeding, pest control, and rotation of crops. Success lesson: Actively manage your life, including eliminating clutter, avoiding toxic people or situations, and cultivating new interests. [Tweet This]

Practice Your Dance Steps

While in Cuba, we noticed our tour guide practicing her dance steps during short wait times. She was not the only one we noticed doing this. Clearly, becoming a better dancer takes drill. Interspersing practice into your day, as time allows, helps you improve while adding enjoyable diversion. Success lesson: Invest time daily, even in small increments, in practicing whatever it is that you enjoy and aspire to master. [Tweet This]

Fire Up Your Curiosity and Entertain Other Points of View

Needless to say, relations between the United States and Cuba have been tense for well over fifty years, and we Americans have been treated to a relatively negative view. Yet, every story has two sides. With a more complete picture, we arrive at different conclusions and a better mutual appreciation. Success lesson: When you take time to understand the differing views of others, you can gain fresh perspective that will enrich your life. [Tweet This]

How To Be Everything Other People Aren’t

Dare To Be YouHave you ever thought about what makes you truly different? I have, and I’m betting you have too. Of course, the bigger question is the extent to which you can translate those insights into more success in your career and business life. One way, of course, is to develop your personal brand. Yet, in pursuing a recipe for branding yourself, you risk being just like everyone else.  [Tweet This]

So, what to do?

I have some ideas. Before I get to them, however, I want to give you a little context. It comes from the work of Harvard Business School professor Youngme Moon. In her book, Different, she tells the stories of brands that have broken the mold, in some way, to stand out and attract loyal followings.

I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of upsetting the status quo! Frankly, it can be risky, but it seems those who do, reap some very nice rewards. [Tweet This]

Take Cirque du Soleil, for example.

It is one example of what Professor Moon calls “Idea Brands.” That is, brands that challenge limits and assumptions. They are brands that break away by disrupting our consumption classification patterns with new frames of reference. It’s what Cirque du Soleil accomplished in its careful positioning as “being everything a CIRCUS is not.”

As she points out, idea brands are “…not perfect brands. … They are polarizing brands. They are lopsided brands. …[yet]…they make perfect sense…” Actually, I think the unique imperfection of idea brands, offers some clues for how to be more attractive to the people we want to serve.

Okay, now for some ideas: [Read more…]

Should You Work on Your Personal Brand or Your Personal Attraction?

Cool EggHave you ever noticed how some ideas or activities can get caught up in the causality dilemma? Not sure what that is? Well, you probably know it as “the chicken or the egg?” Certainly, it’s not often that we need to ponder what came first. Yet, there are aspects of our careers and business lives that can benefit from considering causality. Personal branding is one of them.

As I would frame it, the causality dilemma for branding is this: Does “your brand” find its grounding in the carefully crafted word picture you present to the world, or in the way you engage the world every day?

The Brandwagon

As personal branding has become mainstream, there’s been a flood of advice on how to create, or build, yours. These days, it’s not just brand strategists who promote the importance of branding, but also career coaches, resume writers, social media strategists, and other experts. Lots of people are jumping on the “brandwagon.”

As you might expect, the spectrum of advice ranges from on-target and useful to misguided or superficial.  Even detractors have offered advice; namely, personal branding is loathsome, so don’t do it. Yet, the consensus is that you need to have a personal brand, leading more and more people to buy in.

And why not? Building a brand is generally perceived as the hallmark of success in business. It is believed to offer a differentiation that supports competitive advantage. But does it really?
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What CrossFit Can Teach You About Success

CrossFitIf a colleague told you a project was going to be a “slam-dunk,” you’d probably think your prospects for getting it done are excellent!! Similarly, if your manager tells you it’s “gonna take a Hail Mary” to save the business, you get that too. Even if you’re not a fan, sports metaphors are so pervasive that it’s hard to miss their meaning or lessons. Up to now, football, basketball, and baseball metaphors have been most common. There simply aren’t a whole lot of CrossFit success metaphors or lessons… Now there are! [Tweet This]

But wait! What’s CrossFit?

It’s kind of a craze. Still, if you’re not up on your lifestyle news, or if you’re not watching The Biggest Loser, here’s a quick overview. Basically, CrossFit is the “sport of fitness.” It is overall conditioning to prepare people for a high level of general (even elite) fitness. Among the activities it includes are: Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, tire flips, rope climbing, dumbbell swings, handstands, pull-ups, box jumps, broad jumps … and oh yeah, running!!

Each day, select elements will be combined into a Work Out of the Day (WOD), which may be scored in rounds, repetitions, or time. Each group class run during the day does the same WOD, and scores are posted for all to see.

I’ve been doing CrossFit for two and a half years now, and found it more physically challenging than anything I’ve ever done. Reflecting on my progress, recently, I had the insight that CrossFit offers some great lessons for career success. Here are eight:

“Just Do It” is incomplete advice.

I’ve always admired Nike’s well-known philosophy, especially for it’s action orientation. Yet, when it comes to CrossFit, there is definitely a learning curve. Moves can be complex, so you need time to develop your skills. In CrossFit, if you “just do it,” you’re gonna get hurt. [Tweet This] Success lesson: Even though you may be eager to make your mark, success means investing time to learn. Make sure you know what you’re doing.
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The One Thing You Need To Know About Networking

ConversationWhen is the last time you told your boss that you weren’t going to attend a meeting because you’re too shy…or an introvert? How often in your working life have you refused to attend a professional conference because you didn’t know anyone? And when have you ever turned down an opportunity to meet with new business prospects because you didn’t know what to talk about?

I would guess that your answer to those questions is probably never.

And yet, if you are taking steps to advance your career, especially if you’re in job search, you may find the prospect of networking to be daunting. I say this because as a long-time career coach, I’ve been on an epic crusade to get people in job search to make networking their priority. Unfortunately, they resist. In fact, they resist even knowing that some studies show more than 65 per cent of people land new jobs via networking

To be honest, there is nothing tougher than having to do something once you’ve reached a place of desperation. It’s like being on a tight rope and looking down. I get that. Yet, an ability to connect with people is a prerequisite to building trust.

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The Public Life of Your Personal Brand

ConferenceHave you ever stopped to think about how you’re managing your public life? Okay, maybe you’re wondering,  “What public life?”

So, let me explain.

Most of us will agree we have a personal life and we have a work life. Yet, we don’t usually think about having a “public” life. We know politicians and celebrities have public lives. But think we do not. Yet, the reality is that your success is driven by the positive regard of others. Though you may not have looked at it this way, your reputation exists by virtue of the way your public sees you.

Actually, because you know your professional presence online is important, you no doubt have a LinkedIn account. And there’s a good chance you’re on Twitter.  You may even have worked to build your personal brand with online profiles that include your unique attributes, motivated skills, and other information you hope will attract people who may be able to hire or do business with you. While you might not have thought of it this way before, your web presence is one facet of your public life.

Still, your public life cannot be contained inside passive online profiles. It needs to be dynamic. If you want to earn positive regard of others and attract opportunity, you need to “put yourself out there.” As principal ambassador of “brand you,” you need to regularly engage with the people who make up your audiences, both online and at face-to-face meet ups! It’s the only way you can make the kind of emotional connections with people who can support your success. Think of it this way: No connection, no brand.

Yet, if you think of this as “networking,” it will seem daunting. It’s not. So, don’t think of it that way. Instead, think of your public life as ongoing conversations that are intended to help you get to know and establish friendly relationships with members of your community. To build those relationships, your focus, needs to be on them. Not you.

This is not new idea. A wise man once said:

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

That man was Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People.  As I see it, Carnegie offers timeless advice with ongoing relevance. In his writing he capture the essence a successful public life. So, if attracting the positive regard of others is important to your personal brand – and it is – you would do well to (re)discover his principles.

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So, how are you managing your public life? If you want to share, I’d love to know. Just leave your comment on this post.