May 13, 2013
Last Friday, my son’s rugby team at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School played for and won their Division II championship against The
Landon School. It was a great victory over a team that beat them badly in the regular season. That game ended with a lopsided score and three GC players needing a visit to the Emergency Room. My 16-year-old son wasn’t elated though. He didn’t get onto the pitch at all. His starting position at Flanker was taken by one of four exchange students from New Zealand. The “Kiwis” joined the team after the first Landon game and managed to stay in the U.S. long enough to finish the season, play in the playoffs and managed to get a delayed flight home so they could play in the championship game.
In case you didn’t know this, New Zealand produces the best rugby players in the world. The “All Blacks” international teams routinely dominate World Cup play. Ironically, the four boys that came to Good Counsel were only “B” teamers back home. Why then were they so good (and yes, they carried the team)? They trained, played, and yet came up short for the “A” team in their own country against a high level of competition.
Conversely, back in 1988 I remember watching the Perth Wildcats basketball team (in the Australian version of the NBA) and their three imported “superstars” from the USA: James Crawford, Cal Bruton, and Tiny Pinder. All three were mediocre pros in the U.S., with Pinder actually being a former member of the Harlem Globetrotters. In Australia, these guys tore up the court. Average basketball in the U.S. was superstar in Australia.
I graduated fourth in my class from a very intense college-prep high school way back in 1982. That’s fourth from the bottom of my senior class. I was (and am still) a pretty lazy student but I really pushed myself that Senior year to pass my classes. I felt a little embarrassed graduating so low, but just a few weeks later, at my adult-level trade school program I enrolled in, I was the top student, outscoring adults on all tests and was elected class President.
Failure is painful. Losing hurts. But disappointment can also be a great teacher, particularly if you compete at a very high level.
Competition is a part of life. We vie for promotions and parking spaces, salaries, and starting positions. The higher level at which we compete, the more of our personal best we bring to the competition. Sometimes we’re pushing ourselves without really knowing it. Do this long enough without any “wins” and you’ll be tempted to quit.
Do Not Quit!
Reframe those losses in the context of the competition. Better to play and work hard against tough competition than to ease your way into a win. Play and work against mediocre competition long enough and you’ll find it very difficult to win against something more intense.
So what should you do? Quit running up “wins” at work against mediocre competition and:
- Take on a very challenging project
- Put yourself on a highly competitive work team
- Ask to report to a very difficult boss
- Volunteer for a project in an area you’re not familiar with
- Offer to deliver a brief for a very intimidating committee
The same rules apply outside of work. If you play competitive sports, consider a season at a high level. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn and the skills you’ll build.
You’ll find your skills, experience, and abilities will sharpen to a much higher level. Your confidence might not follow directly, but I promise that when you work back in your previous level, you’ll be much more effective. Then, keep pushing yourself!
By the way, the answer ISN’T to compete for the rest of your life back against mediocrity. Take your lessons learned and continue to push yourself.
I’m taking my own advice this summer with some very challenging projects. I hope you’ll do the same!
April 1, 2013
Last week we celebrated Easter with my parents in Middletown, MD. After the dishes were done, I had the chance to talk to my
dad alone about his career plans. He’s nearly 71 years old and is wrestling with what to do with his remaining years. Now before I tell you what we discussed, let me give you some background.
My dad has a high school education and has been a blue-collar worker his entire life, yet I refer to him as a scholar. You see, rather than sit in front of the TV watching mind-numbing programs, he’s spent his years reading and studying. I can remember his sitting in a chair reading the dictionary. If something piques his interest, he studies it. In recent years, he’s devoted himself to studying his Bible. He can write and expand on nearly any topic in it and loves delving into obscure stories and characters, then researching events from history and putting those two into a perspective. Dad is kind of like a Bible CSI. He is truly a scholar.
So when he told me he wanted to teach, I agreed that he should. His challenge (as relayed to me) was that he didn’t know how to move that plan forward considering he’s a little older than most career-seekers. My advice was to take all of his notes and findings and compile them into a blog. After all, when people want information, they go to the Internet. By publishing his findings, he can get an audience and then get booked to speak (kind of like I do!).
Dad is thinking about it (as is his custom) so I’ll wait to hear from him and then get him set up but our conversation got me thinking about what I’d suggest to other seniors who are contemplating a career change:
- Realize you have the wealth of experience. Experience trumps book knowledge any day. After all, any principle that’s learned needs to be tested to certify relevance. Nothing like decades of practical experience to prove you know what you’re talking about!
- Realize you have the benefit of fewer distractions. As a father, I’m busy trying to balance this career, travel, business development, and the hectic schedules two teenagers drag us into. It makes it really hard to focus. Without focus, it’s hard to solve complex problems and work on growing a career or business. As a senior, you’re probably not contending with a hectic schedule. Use that quiet time as productive time.
- Realize it’s never too late to start. Harland Sanders didn’t get started building his KFC empire until he was 65. When he died at age 90, he had made more money and achieved more fame in that short period of time than he did in his first career. Betty White at age 90 is experiencing far more fame than she did in her earlier career. Even Charlton Heston (I mean Moses) didn’t get started on his big Exodus and trip across the Red Sea until he turned 80. Don’t let others tell you that you’ve missed your window of opportunity.
I’m excited to hear about my dad’s plans for his second career. I’m also excited to hear what you’re thinking about. Let me know how I can help!
March 28, 2013
This week marks the six year anniversary of me buying my Mazda Miata. When I drove it home, it created quite a buzz with my
nosy and competitive neighbors. Seems a middle-aged bald guy can’t drive a sports car without someone accusing him of being in a “mid-life crisis.”
Truth be told, I’ve wanted one of these cars since they first came out years ago. It’s just now I can finally afford one. And the music playing loudly on the stereo as I drive through your neighborhood with the top down? It’s the same stuff you’d hear if I was in my conservative Mazda Protege’ (a car more suited to middle-aged bald guys I guess.)
It does bring up an interesting question though: What is a mid-life crisis and is it real? While some may dispute its existence (much like the oft-scrutinized Restless Leg Syndrome) I suggest it’s real and experienced by many folks. I see it often in my clients who are at a crossroads in life brought on by job loss. It’s the thought that maybe everything they’ve experienced so far doesn’t have a purpose and they are wrestling with the question of “who am I?”
While I don’t have a clear cut answer for you, let me suggest that mid-life crisis can be best managed by asking the following questions:
- What are my short, long, and very long term goals in life?
- What are the strengths and liabilities of my personality preference?
- Has my work life so far been in alignment with my goals?
- Have I allowed outside factors (health, relationships, finances, family) to derail my career aspirations?
- How can I get my entire life to align with both family, relationships, and career to achieve those aspirations?
You see, in my experience having goals without a plan to achieve them relegates them to the status of just a dream. Everyone can have dreams, few actually achieve them. Mid-life brings a new focus to unrealized and unmet goals. It’s the discovery that perhaps most of a working life is over and those dreams we had early on won’t in fact be realized. Rather than sit in frustration, why not take some action to turn the dreams into realized goals?
Mid-life should be nothing more than a checkpoint. If you’re there right now and sitting in frustration, why not refocus on those early career dreams? You can in fact be far more productive now at this life stage because you have the wisdom of time to draw from. If you’ve just begun a career, you can think about what life will be like at the mid point and begin to track the time accordingly so as to easily navigate this phenomenon when it occurs. If you’ve successfully passed that stage, why not reach back and assist those who are embroiled in it’s confusing influence.
This week, take a look at your goals. Remember, a goal without a plan is just a dream. Anyone can dream, but successful people know how to make it reality.
…and remember, that bald guy in the green Miata on the road next to you might just be celebrating a dream that hard work turned into a reality.
February 4, 2013
Recently my son Dustin and I flew to Nashville, TN to scope out some colleges. Friday, we visited Vanderbilt University and then University of Tennessee Knoxville on Saturday. While Vanderbilt seemed to be a nice school, we both really liked UT better. Maybe the selling point for Dustin was that Payton Manning is an alumni, but maybe also because Vanderbilt has some crazy difficult requirements for admission.
As we listened to both schools list out what they look for in a successful applicant, I realized that a parent needs to prepare their child for college admission probably at age 11, when they enter middle school. After all, if a college looks for high school success, which includes academic rigor, good grades, high SAT/ACT, and community involvement, the student might want to consider a private high school. To get into that private school, then realize they too have requirements that involve good grades, academic rigor, and community service. You may not find those in a public school or you’ll have to get your kid into a Magnet program.
And of course this just gets you into college.
You have to think about the career path you want to follow, your goals and your plans, then think about the right college that will have the right program that will be able to get you into that right first job.
And then of course you have to pay attention to how you select mentors in that first job and think about what special assignments you want to take on. Then realize you might have to move to a few different companies and geographic locations to get the opportunities to move to the next step.
The bottom line: Life moves forward on a series of building blocks and the sooner you realize that and make your plan, the better chance you have of succeeding.
What won’t work?
- “Winging it” and thinking you’ll figure it out when you need to.
- Procrastinating – thinking you can get caught up on the planning later.
- Victim-stance – thinking that people like you are screwed and circumstances dictate that you can’t make it.
- Waiting for someone to do it for you.
- Giving up because you think it’s too late.
What will work?
- Thinking about your life like it was a corporation and you need a strategic plan to ensure viability.
- Doing some career research about your field of interest and see where it’s heading taking into consideration technology and demographics.
- Surrounding yourself with lots of people who can be your own board of advisers.
- Reaching out for help.
Yesterday, I received an email from a young man who I met at career day at the local high school. He’s depressed because he feels he has no clear career plan and he’s seeing his older siblings and relatives getting college scholarships. He doesn’t have a clear plan for his career and it worries him. He’s reaching out for my advice. Did I mention he’s a sophomore in high school! This young man has it figured out! I’m looking forward to working with him because he realizes the importance of career building blocks.
Have you thought about your career lately? If not, maybe it’s time to put down that foundation and get busy building. I can help if you need it. Just let me know if you need it.
December 17, 2012
I don’t believe that anymore.
It’s not that I’ve become more negative or pessimistic. It’s just the cold reality that exists. This isn’t designed to be a downer post either. It’s actually just the opposite and should motivate you even more.
First though, why I don’t believe it anymore. Here’s what I’ve observed:
- Too many failed businesses where a person is passionate about something, very good at it, but nobody else sees value in it.
- Too many young people encouraged to follow their passion and get degrees in liberal arts, women’s studies, sociology, or similar then graduate without a job, get a job in hospitality and as a fallback, and move back in with their parents.
- Too many job seekers taking their severance packages and putting together ill-prepared home-based businesses and projects without getting (or just simply ignoring) good advice on how to do it correctly and then fold shortly after with nothing to show for it.
- Too many entrepreneurs who are simply craftsmen or specialists or consultants but don’t know the first thing about how to grow a business and thus burn out after a few years.
In all these cases, pursuing passion was foremost. Common sense and sound business skills were second (or absent).
Now I’m all for a career where you do what you love. It’s rewarding. It’s what I do now. What people don’t know is that I gutted out 15 very unsatisfying years as a dental assistant in the Navy followed by a few years in some boring jobs before breaking out and launching on my own. While it was tough, the payoff was that I founded my business on some good lessons learned and the wise counsel of experienced professionals I surrounded myself with. Had I started this out of high school, after getting my MA, or even directly after leaving the Navy, I know I wouldn’t have been ready.
What SHOULD you do?
- For young people: I love that you’re passionate and want to save the world. Good. Get a career that has viable job opportunities (anything in the STEM fields is a good start) and make some money and get some experience first. Then think about how to save the world when you’re a bit more seasoned.
- For parents of young people: Do NOT let your kids get degrees in fields that are dead or dying. Unless they want to go into teaching as a profession, keep them away from non-STEM degrees. If they’re not “math or science people” then get them a tutor. It’s much cheaper than feeding and housing them until they turn 30.
- For school counselors: Get away from your desk and start networking with professionals and find out where the careers of tomorrow are. The advice you gave last semester might be outdated by now. Enlist the help of parent volunteers who can give you and the students a reality check on what careers are viable and which aren’t.
- For wannabe entrepreneurs: Bottle the passion for now and get some good sound business and professional advice from a mentor before launching a business. There are tons of opportunities but you have to be careful.
- For job seekers: Find a job first that has the pay and benefits you need, then think of this job as a stepping stone to pursuing your passion. Job satisfaction won’t be much comfort if you can’t pay the rent or put food on the table.
We live in a country with unlimited opportunity and technology enables us to be creative in how we build and promote businesses. It simply won’t replace the difficult and sometimes common sense information you need to be successful though.
That said, I wish all of us much success in following the sometimes-difficult path to personal and professional success. I never said it wasn’t do-able. It just takes planning and patience.
December 3, 2012
Last week my wife Barbara retired from the Navy after 29 years of service. Now don’t believe for a moment that “retired from the Navy” means
retired as in the “residing at Leisure World” kind of retirement. It simply means she’s now free to pursue a second career.
Barb went out with a lavish and poignant ceremony full of Navy customs and traditions. She was given numerous awards and certificates and received many verbal accolades from her bosses and mentors. A friend of ours who attended pointed out that her husband was in the Air Force and there were none of these events at his retirement. Why? The Air Force is 64 years old while the Navy is over 200! Customs and traditions take time to build.
Two things make up customs and traditions: accomplishments and memorials to those accomplishments. In Naval customs and traditions, memorable events are ushered in by the ringing of bells and the blowing of a whistle (known as “piping aboard or ashore”). When a sailor retires, they are “piped ashore” one last time, the recognition of a stellar career. A fitting tribute for years of hard work. Most squared-away sailors begin mentally conceptualizing their retirement ceremonies early in their careers and work to accomplish goals they can be recognized for.
Now most people who work outside the military can’t fathom the idea of a formal retirement ceremony where their career is talked about and recognized. Civilian jobs simply don’t do that. I wonder what would happen though if everyone worked right now with the idea that what they do would be somehow replayed for all to see? If you were going to do this, here would be some considerations:
- What would you say in your retirement speech? Who would you thank? What memories would you choose to reflect on?
- Who would be your guest speaker? Who is someone that impacted positively on you that you would want to give remarks to an audience about you?
- What traditions would you want demonstrated that typify you?
- What music would you want played?
- Who would you choose to recognize at your ceremony?
Of course this all would depend on your accomplishments during a career wouldn’t it? If you did your best work and gave 100% all the time, you’d have no shortage of people to invite and speak for you (Barb certainly had no problem here!). The prerequisite to having a memorable event would be to have a career with no regrets.
That’s the bottom line here. What are you doing today at work that would be worthy of a lavish and poignant ceremony? If you’re a little embarrassed now thinking about it, you have time to turn it around. Starting today, begin living a work life to be proud of.
November 26, 2012
Thanksgiving is behind us as is Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Before you know it, Christmas and all those other holidays will be upon us and then we’ll be into 2013. If you’re not careful, 2012 will be essentially over now.
As we move into the final lap of the year, it’s important to take stock of what you’ve done, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked, and what needs to be done next year. I like to group these into six main categories which then can be evaluated separately:
- Work – my success or failure at work (or a job search)
- Family – my success or failure at home and relationships
- Social – my success or failure with friends and companions
- Physical – my success or failure with health
- Spiritual – my success or failure with connections outside the physical realm
- Emotional – my success or failure at keeping my emotions in a healthy balance
In my experience, people who are stressed seemed to be paralyzed, unable to make any progress. In essence, their life appears to be in one big knot and they have no idea where to start untangling it. By identifying these six “ends” of the knot, you at least have an area to start.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring each of these areas with you as I put the finishing touches on my upcoming book Fit to Be Tied: How to Untangle the Knot That Is Your Life.
Meanwhile, this week start prepping yourself to finish strong in each area.
First, identify areas where you’ve achieved success in each of those areas. Think about accolades you’ve received, accomplishments you’ve checked off, and positive contributions you’ve made.
Secondly identify areas where you’ve failed. Think about minor and major failures. If you haven’t done so, do some after-action reports about where the root cause might lie.
Finally, identify areas where you can grow next year. Think about personal and professional development opportunities you can leverage. Start identifying some good habits you can implement and bad ones you can drop.
Even if 2012 was a great year, there’s no guarantee that success will continue without additional effort. I’m pushing hard to finish strong this year. I hope you’ll do the same!
October 28, 2012
My 13-year-old daughter plays in a girl’s Fall lacrosse league. Her team has yet to win a game. Most of the time they get blown out. Allison plays a wide range of positions and does really well. She shares time in goal with another girl. The other goalie is terrible (and that’s putting it mildly). Last week, a group of our parents continued to call out “good try ______” each time she missed a shot (which was every single one). She seems to have no skill or genuine interest in playing this position.
In all the years my daughter has played youth soccer and lacrosse, there have been those parents who continually yell out “good try” to girls are clearly not talented and motivated.
Just so you know, I’m not one of those overbearing parents either that treat youth sports like life or death struggles and berate other parents or the referees. I also understand the power of encouragement and expectation (read last week’s post about The Pygmalion Effect). I just have an issue with telling someone who is clearly not trying that they did a “good try.”
In my book, you need to EARN your “good try.” If not, then “good try” needs to be rephrased to “start trying” or “Try MUCH harder.” Maybe even “learn how” or “get better.”
I’m not sure the direct correlation from “good try” in youth sports to poor performance in the workplace but I certainly see examples everywhere I go in the level of mediocrity that has become the acceptable standard.
This past Saturday morning I, along with about 40 other people lined up in front of the Lowes in Gaithersburg, MD at 4:45 AM to attempt to buy a generator ahead of Hurricane Sandy’s expected visit. At 6AM when the store opened, there were no generators (promised shipment never happened) but they were expected in a few hours. We asked the clerk if we could do some sort of number system since we all planned on waiting and didn’t want to come away empty-handed since we were among the first in line. The clerk shook her head and disappeared. Fortunately, there was another clerk who told us to wait and then came back with a sheet of labels where he numbered each and gave one to everyone in line. Positionally, I think he was the most junior person on the crew but he took charge and diffused a potentially violent situation. He did a little extra in his job and it made a huge difference. The other clerk seemed to be content with a “good try.”
This week, take a good look at the effort you give at work. Are you truly giving your job, company, or boss 100% of your effort each day? Note, I didn’t ask you if your job, company, or boss reciprocates. You can’t control that. What you can do is set your own standard of excellence high and perform to it. Then and only then will you earn a “good try” and in most cases, you will actually win and won’t need that conciliatory platitude anymore.
I’m going to work on it this week. Will you join me?
October 14, 2012
This morning I was reading about the space shuttle Endeavour’s slow procession through the streets of Los Angeles on its way to the California Science Center. The article mentions it’s the very neighborhoods that were looted and burned during the riots that resulted from the Rodney King beating trial in 1991.
I was stationed in Long Beach back then so reading the article brought back memories of those riots. I remember watching the looting on television. A reporter was inside of an auto parts store looking incredulously at a group of men who were scooping up auto parts and running out the door.
“Why are you taking those?” she asked one of them.
The man, obviously embarrassed that he was caught on camera turned to her a with a stupid look on his face and replied:
“Everybody’s doing it” and then disappeared out the door.
I’ve never forgotten that.
Living with the light on means you think critically about what you’re doing and why it matters. It means living life deliberately. It involves having reasons, valid reasons, for your actions.
Political attack ads are a great example of this. Most people detest watching them, back-to-back, at every commercial break on TV. I have yet to meet someone who actually changed their political views because of them or is even swayed one way or another. I would imagine even politicians don’t believe in them not to mention are sickened by the cost of what it takes to air them, yet they wouldn’t dare NOT put them on in fear that the other candidate will.
Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), the military Cold War doctrine was another example. Each country built up their nuclear arsenal to match the other country’s even though neither one had any real intention of using them.
What decisions are you making simply because you assume you have to or because “everybody’s doing it?”
- Are you wearing that style because you like it or because everybody else will laugh at you if you don’t?
- Are you in your career field because you want to be there or because that’s what you’re “expected” to do?
- Are you pushing a point for a valid reason or just for the sake of argument?
- Are you taking that vacation because you need it or because you see your neighbors taking off every weekend to go to the beach or to their lake house?
- Are you framing your opinions of current events or politics objectively and rationally or allowing subjective news reporting on FOX or MSNBC to slant your views?
Living with the light on means you’re using your brain. The power is engaged. The green light that says “functional” is on and glowing. You’re thinking about your actions and decisions and in full aware mode.
Doing it is a choice. I’m going to make a better effort to operate with the light on. I hope you will too.
August 27, 2012
Book #19 of 52
In Rebounders, U.S. News & World Report journalist Rick Newman examines the rise and fall—and rise again—of some of our most prolific and productive figures in order to demystify the anatomy of resilience. He identifies nine key traits found in people who bounce back that can transform a setback into the first step toward great accomplishment. Newman turns many well-worn axioms on their head as he shows how virtually anybody can improve their resilience and get better at turning adversity into personal and professional achievement.
Who Should Read This Book
This is an inspiring book for anyone who plays the “victim-stance” game. Gets you off your butt and back in the game!
My Final Thoughts
Certainly one of the best books I’ve read in the self-help category this year. Highly recommend it!