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!

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.

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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Your Goals: Think Journey Not Destination

JourneyAh, a new year, a fresh start. Well, start yes. Follow through, not so much. Statistics show that of the people who make New Year’s resolutions, about 65% abandon them after just one month. What’s even more remarkable is that the resolutions made have amazing consistency across groups of people and over time. 

Here are five of the 2014 top ten New Year’s resolutions:

  1. Lose Weight.
  2. Getting Organized.
  3. Spend Less,
  4. Save More.
  5. Enjoy Life to the Fullest.
  6. Staying Fit and Healthy.

See what I mean about consistency? And if you look at the other five, you’ll find no surprises there either.

I don’t know about you, but I always find myself amused and amazed by this annual ritual. Why do so many people follow the same cycle of resolution, attempt, and failure? [Tweet this]  And why do they tend to do this repeatedly, despite all the advice that’s available.

 New Year’s Resolutions: Just Another Bad Habit

Now, I’m no expert, but having recently finished Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, I have a new insight. It seems to me that the whole resolution dance is itself a habit. A bad one. [Tweet this]  It starts with a cue (New Year’s) that prompts a routine (set new goals) and ends in a reward (false sense of action).

Fortunately, you can change the habits that keep holding you back. And if you don’t have time to read Duhigg’s excellent book, he has posted a helpful book excerpt on the process at his site. It’s a great place to start.

Specific Is Better

Perhaps the biggest problem with resolutions, and even with the goals people typically set, is their lack of specificity. So, how to change that? I’ll bet you already know. SMART objectives. Because these are focused on time,action, and results, they allow for ongoing evaluation of progress and refinement of actions.

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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]