#fail

While watching the Olympics last month, I witnessed a number of athletes “fall short of success or achievement in something they expected;” they failed in their Olympic sport by not winning a medal as expected, recording a terrible score, not finishing the race or competition or falling down / crashing in the middle of one. Some of these were heart-wrenching to watch. However, what was worse was seeing all the “#fail” mentions on Twitter and the constant barrage of jokes and laughs at the expense of the athletes who trained years upon years just to fall short in the end.

Our culture celebrates “winning.” Winners get medals, accolades, praise, peer-approval and success. When we fail, we get none of that. Most of us feel mental anguish, physical pain or sometimes both…and nowadays, we get lampooned on the web.

Face it, failing sucks. It feels terrible to fail at almost anything and the bigger the failure, the worse it feels.

In business, we celebrate failure….to some degree. We read about entrepreneurs who fail numerous times before they find success. They wear it as a badge of honor; they go from “rags to riches” and make it big. They preach about how they went broke and started over; #do-over. They try again, fail again and fail better. While I prefer to view failure from this perspective, failure in business for most of us is not so glamorous.

It can be awful depending on your boss, job, company you work at and where you stand on the corporate ladder. The truth is most businesses have little patience for failure; you fail at your job and you will have few chances to try again and fail better in that company. Yes, there are those that push their employees to try and fail. They are usually ones lead by executives who understand risk and challenge employees to stretch outside of themsleves; #out-of-box.

The majority of companies are risk-averse and want employee compliance to policies and process. If you work at one of those companies, you will get fired for failing, be marginalized, demoted or left out on your own (i.e. the passive-aggressive way the company pushes you out the door.) I have personally failed, tried again and failed better. It is not fun.

Failure can make you physically sick and mentally depressed; #Cymbalta. Nobody thinks about getting fired when they have a job or are sinking their life savings into a business just to see it lose more money than it makes despite their best efforts; #sinkhole. When an employee takes a risk and gets fired, nobody celebrates her “failing” as she is escorted out to her car by HR with a box of stuff from her desk.

So, what do you do? You give up. You keep doing your best every day and forget about failure. That is what you do. That is what Olympians do and they can teach all of us a lot about handling failure.

Many of the athletes competing in London last month were in Bejing four years ago and Athens four years before that; all working towards the goal of winning. They failed and tried again, only to fail better. When I listened to interviews with a few of them, each one spoke of disappointment and lost hard work…..and how they will dust themselves off, reset and get back to work on achieving their goal.

Many of these athletes may never “win,” but their perseverance and willingness to accept that failure is part of the path to success is something everyone in business should note; #life. Failing means you are trying. You may fall down. You may lose your job. You may even go bankrupt.

I believe in failing forward in one’s career and life. It is far better to have tried and failed than have done nothing, been a voyeur into other’s attempts to succeed and tweeted something snarky with a hash-tag.; #winning.

No Limits

Image

I met a buddy the other day that lost his job. He was depressed and upset. I felt bad for him. However, what he did not know was that it was his lucky day; I am the king of lost jobs. I have had many jobs in the last eight years; left on my own, fired once (Yes, we all have a Mulligan) and “laid-off.” So, I know a thing or two about failing and picking yourself back up.

When it happens, we all freak.

There is nothing worse than being asked to come to your boss’s office only to be blindsided by him and HR asking you to sit down to let you know you are fired laid-off. Even if you hated him, the job, the company etc., it still sucks.

That is when the default process in our brains kicks in high gear and we start telling ourselves the sky is falling. Some people panic and start blasting resumes all over the web hoping to get their next position from sitting in front of a computer. Others fall apart; they have defined themselves by their work in the world and losing their job hits them at their core.

The story of their job NOW is that they are failures (in their minds) and everyone – knows – it. Fear takes hold and keeps them from focusing on what they can NOW do. Funny thing about fear; it is a root default process in and of itself. It is there to protect us from danger; real danger, like making sure we stay alive when fighting lions, tigers and bears etc. in order that we can bring home food for our families.

But we are not hunters or gatherers today….

Most of us are desk-jockeys that attend meetings, write lots of emails and fear about stuff that will not kill us in any shape or form. Yet, we literally make ourselves paralyzed from seeing anything other than having failure, loss and despair…especially over losing a job. I also see fear in people who are stuck in a job that they hate, but have no idea what to do or have just been laid-off or worse, fired and are emotionally beat up. Everyone is scared that their world is coming to an end.

So, as a guy and self-proclaimed “puzzle solver,” I start giving him suggestions on next steps and what does he do? He starts telling me why he can’t do this or can’t do that. He was revealing his wall of “limits” around him right in front of me. I hate this….probably because I am so good at it too. I have to fight my inner voice that tells me I can’t do something every day. It is unfortunate, but we erect artificial walls around ourselves as a way of protecting us from being hurt.

In my opinion, his story of being unemployed is a lucky one; he has nothing but learning opportunities to look forward to and can do what he wants to do. Nobody controls him, you or me except….us. What is important to remember is that no one can tell you what experience you can gain and what you can’t. Remember, you don’t need a job in order to learn cool stuff, met cool people and work on cool projects. You control what you do with your time and you can make it useful or not.

I told him to get out and meet people; network and explore what opportunities exist. Talk about what can be, not why the last job didn’t work. Heck, he could talk about the great things that leaving his job has opened himself up to!

Image

“We are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss.”

His situation makes me think of one of my favorite movies; “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

The gist of the story is that Benjamin, played by Brad Pitt, is born with the body of a very old man. As he grows older, he appears younger and younger. While everyone around him ages, including all the people he cares about, he actually become younger. The irony of the story is that he’s aging too; he just doesn’t appear to be. Benjamin accepts his condition and learns to love and appreciate people while they’re alive. He realizes early in his life that we’re all dying whether we realize it or not.

One of the best quotes in the film is…. “For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start or stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same; there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it.”

A lot of people spend their life thinking it’s too late to do the things they always wanted to do, but it’s not. Where there’s a will there is a way and anything is possible if you set your mind to it. Screw the fear and do not look back. We must keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

Your life is not a rehearsal. We get only one to do everything we want to do so experience as much as you can. I told him this very point. I think it helped. He walked away with a different perspective on things…and a hammer & chisel to knock down that wall!

Things I Can’t Stand | #1

I can’t stand this commercial.

It is a sad example of how isolated and disengaged we are becoming due to spending too much time with our heads down in a “Smartphone.” Moreover, it communicates so much more with its depiction of a single female who is clueless to her surroundings. You notice she lives by herself and goes to the park, the store, the dentist and the movies without interacting with other people. Finally, she’s sitting on a park bench and she runs out of data. She sighs, puts her phone down and looks around; this is supposed to be a negative thing.

Running out of data is the best thing that could happen to her!

First, we are becoming a society of zombies with our heads down and disconnected to our surroundings. I see it all around me; sadly, even in my own households at times. Go to any restaurant on any day and you will see a people at dinner, not talking, with their heads down in their Smartphone. At work, the same. People with their Smartphones on the desk, ready for the Pavlovian “ding” to hit; their attention quickly moves away from whoever is talking and down to their phone.

I think this commercial from Microsoft is ludicrous too. Yet, I see people like this everywhere!

I can’t stand coworkers in meetings with their heads in their phones reading emails and I absolutely hate it when coworkers who bring their laptops to meetings and never raise their head to even show that they remotely care about what you have to say. I do not get it. Don’t attend the meeting if you think it is of no value to you. It is far worse to read emails for the hour in front of everyone than skip the discussion altogether.

Second, I can’t stand this commercial because of the message it sends about women. The woman in it is obviously single and her only companion at most times is her Smartphone. I guess that’s all she really needs; her Smartphone and her dog, right? Single, successful professional women with their heads in their Smartphones are the market du jour these days. This is the same demographic that watches Reality TV shows like “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and is on Facebook 24/7 seeking affirmation and validating each other by “liking” everyone’s postings.

How horrible is that!

There are dozens of articles across the web and in magazines about single women; why they cannot find men and why they are better off. I do not know about you, but I do not think she is “better off.” I think she needs to look up, be present and soak in her surroundings. She may notice that life is happening all around her at all times; heck, she may even get a date.

Like the woman in this commercial, too many of us are not active participants in our own lives. We are voyeurs to others’ lives; watching, comparing ourselves and commenting about them. We waste time and energy reading emails, surfing the web, watching mindless TV and not listening to our family, friends and coworkers.

I can’t stand it.

Modern Jackass

I was out the other day with my wife and one of her best friends. We were planning activities for their joint birthday party; a scavenger hunt and a topic for a future blog post. Anyway, we were all laughing and her friend brought something up about some guy she knew and how full of it he was; Modern Jackass, they both shouted in the car in unison!

For those who do not know what a Modern Jackass is, the NPR show This American Life coined the term to describe “a person who talks expertly about something he/she actually knows nothing about.” We laughed and agreed how he, along with many people we come across in work and life, take one piece of information, fact or data point and talk about it as if they are experts on the subject. We discussed the topic the rest of the afternoon.

Shoot forward to the middle of a work day…. I am having a conversation with a co-worker about a subject that I know more than one fact about, but nonetheless, am no expert on when it struck me; Modern Jackass! Ahhh! I am a Modern Jackass!

It gets worse…

I was Monologuing too! Yes, like Syndrome in The Incredibles (One of my all time favorite movies,) I got on my soapbox and monologue’d about the situation, the problem as I saw it and the people involved. The other person in the discussion did the same and I guess it was cathartic or something. Still, I felt like a jerk.

Two big “fo pas” one should never conduct at work, right there, by me….at the same time! What killed me was how easy it came to drop in default mode, act like an expert due to my position in the company and start talking about stuff I really had not fully researched or understood.

I see this happen every day, all around me and especially in the work world. I have read blogs and articles that point to a general fact that people talk more about things they know the least amount of and this goes hand-in-hand with psychology studies that show people seek out sources of information that support their point of view. My wife is a Social Worker and has said this for years.

Together, these make a righteous pair…

Don’t be a Modern Jackass and do not monologue. Ask questions, more questions and even more questions. Learn the facts before stepping on a soapbox and preaching your self-proclaimed expertise. Your co-workers will think you are an arrogant jerk and all around know-it-all. This is not becoming for anyone. We know it’s true.

Every problem, puzzle or situation has more than one side to the story. It has multiple, complex sides that deal with politics, money, emotions, ego and each person’s personal sense of value. Blogs and career sites across the web tell us to listen more and talk less as an essential quality for career success.

Do not underestimate this poignant fact. Yes, you can know the answer, be direct, kick-ass, take names, make it happen and get it done. But, you won’t have much support from co-workers internally when you screw up…and you will. We all do at one point in our careers and when that day comes, there will be nobody to get your back; they will all be under the bus talking about what a jerk you are etc.

You can see I am monologuing right now…

What direction are you headed?

I have a dear childhood friend who knew the path he wanted to take the minute he graduated college. In fact, his path was set in high school; go to the college your parents attended, join the fraternity your dad was in and follow the career path of the family business. My buddy even married his college sweetheart he met the first week of school as a freshman. 27 years later, he is still going strong down the same road.

I used to envy him. He had everything so well figured out. He never feared a thing because he knew the direction he was headed. It did not matter if it was a well worn path that his dad and other members of his family took or that it was one of least resistance, creativity or excitement. He looked ahead and never back. I truly respect him for that.

I, on the other hand, have taken a “road less traveled.” My path has been one of ups and downs, lefts and rights and sometimes I have had to move in reverse and change direction altogether. It has been exciting and frustrating all at the same time. I have made great money in lousy jobs and have been underpaid in roles I loved. I have quit, been fired and have been recruited away. I have been a “road warrior” and a desk jockey and everything in between. My path was not predetermined for me; parts were well worn by some and others I forged on my own.

When I was interviewing with the CEO of the company I work for today, he asked me a question that forced me to look back and comment. Did I have regrets? Did I wish I had turned right instead of left? Did I make a mistake exiting one lane too soon and not staying on the road longer? Maybe I would have moved up the mountain faster, higher and found what I was looking for all along.

Maybe… Who knows… To paraphrase a comment I have read; life is about choice.

We are the sum of our choices and most of them are made for us. You can’t choose when you’re born. You can’t choose where you’re born. You can’t choose your family. However, you can choose your work in the world and the path you take. Careers are made by results and relationships. Whichever direction you take, always deliver. Do what you say and say what you do. Enjoy the scenery, forge professional and personal relationships and nurture them. You always need your network when you least expect it.

Your career goes by fast and it will surprise you when you least expect it. Somewhere along my trek, I discovered my strengths and everything changed. Like a rookie NFL quarterback who finally sees the game slow, I saw it too. I thought Marketing was my calling, that is, until I discovered my skills for Operations and “fixing problems.” It started by turning around a handful of struggling teams, then a division or two and finally a small company.

It was easy and fun; I was hooked. I was an “Ops guy.” Go figure…

Did I have regrets? Yes. There is no question that I have second guessed my career navigating numerous times. I told him so. Yet, I have to honor the path and the lessons learned. I have gained tremendous knowledge and insight throughout my career and somewhere I stopped living in fear and started seeing the whole field.

Careers never stop changing and growing. They evolve and morph and are the sum of the choices we make. My career is not unlike that of my friend. It may have had a few more bends, curves and hills to climb, but is mine and still going strong.

What are you great at?

What are you great at?

I asked it dozens of times over the last four months to prospective job candidates. Not a typical interview question, yes. Still, I was surprised that I received only one thoughful answer. Most candidates were stumped and recited phrases from the job description; verbatim. Others told me what they thought I wanted to hear. A few, had no idea.

The struggling economy is creating fewer quality jobs; that is a fact. So, the job market is hyper-competitive for choice positions. I had a great one to fill and I figured I would be able to get top talent. I eventually hired what looks to be a tremendous person. Time will tell. Still, this is not about him. It is about the nameless herd who wanted my new job, but could not get passed “go.”

We want to like our jobs. We want to be fullfilled with our work in the world. Yet, all too often, we hate it. We find ourselves running away from a _______________ (insert job, company, relationship etc.) instead of moving towards one. In the sprint, we do not stop and think where we are going; we just want to get away from the present or past as fast as possible. So we hit “repeat” and end up back where we started. Once the excitement and “new car smell” of the position goes away, the emptiness creeps back in; we get bored, stagnant, unhappy and feel lost.

Why? …because we seek our work to provide fulfillment or happiness that it is incapable of delivering.

Now, if you think being great is about following your “passion.” You are wrong. Self-help career books, blogs and other online peddlers of “tips and tricks” for getting what you want are full of bullsh*t. The truth; only a lucky few pursue their passion AND make a good living at it. The reality is that doing what we love is not the goal. Doing what we are great at is what we all should aspire to achieve. The old adage about catering to your strengths holds true.

Your work in the world should be about the value you bring and how you can make an immediate and positive impact. Nothing else matters. We are all great at something. The question is can you make a living doing it? There is no wrong answer. If you can, wonderful. If you can’t, no worries. It does not matter. You are not your job and it is not you. Recruiters and hiring managers know that. They want to know what you are great at. Candidates who can clearly tell and show them what they are great at…and more importantlt how that relates to the job, get it.

When do you know you are great at something in work?

When it becomes automatic for you; it is that thing you do that comes easy. The speed of the game slows and you see the whole field right in front of you. You are “wired that way” and you cannot help yourself. It skews your perspective because you can do it, see it, fix it, change it, play it etc. with ease while others around you struggle to get the basics. If you can figure that “thing” out, everything else will be easy.

What if you are great at something that you cannot make a living at?

Then it may be your passion instead and is that something that keeps you sane, happy and “charges your batteries.” Your work in the world becomes secondary to your passion or greatness. Plenty of people pursue their passion while working a day-job to pay the bills. Either way, knowing what you are great at makes you stand out from the crowd; you are taller, stronger and more confident.

So, what does this have to do with getting a job? Easy. Figure out what you are great at and draw upon it for your work in the world. If you are great at relationship building or helping others, pursue roles that leverage your strengths. The probability of you being great in those jobs is high and your professional satisfaction will be higher. More importantly, once you figure it out, you can network and show others and link it to the job you want. If you can see why the position you want needs someone like you and are able to communicate that, you will tower above all the others wanting the same role.

So, what are you great at?

Big

Young Josh: “I wish I were big.”

In the 1988 movie, “Big,” Tom Hanks plays a 13 year-old boy, Josh Baskin, who goes to a fortune-telling machine called Zoltar Speaks and wishes that he were “big.” The next day, He wakes up as a 30 year-old man; he looks big, but is still the naïve teenager inside.

Most growing companies are like Josh Baskin. They wish they were big too so they can get all the spoils of growth, prosperity and abundance the big companies have; just not with the bureaucracy and politics. When resources are tight (as in all small companies,) projecting size and acting big is achieved not by adding people first, but through implementing technology and process. People will follow.

I once led a team of 10 Field Managers who supported 65 customer locations with 150 remote systems across the US. Each manager was in charge of implementing, training and servicing customers. We were a high-performing, cross-trained team that looked like Tom Hanks but possessed Josh Baskin inside. How did we act “big?” By leveraging free technologies and built support systems with partners to blanket our customer base and provide exceptional service. Tools and processes that companies of any size can use to run fast, be nimble and maximize resources.

Remote Connectivity applications (i.e. GoToMyPC) to create a scalable “hub & spoke” infrastructure allowing every manager instant access to each system in seconds.

Instant Chat software (i.e. Gmail Chat) to quickly communicate between each other; problem solve and identify immediate ownership for the issue.

Web-base Call Forwarding and 3rd Party Answering Services to provide 24 hr. Tier I support for all customers. We combined these with processes for scheduling, prioritization and accountability which powered us to resolve customer issues quickly.

Select Partners to extend our reach when we could not physically be onsite in less than 24 hrs. Not all problems were software based; sometimes hardware repair or replacement was required. Working with trusted partners allowed us be “onsite” when we were unable to be there.

The sum of the parts was greater than each individually and the results proved so. We won the award for Best Customer Service in our field of specialty by a Consumer Reports-like organization that serviced our industry. The big companies we competed against were large and slow. We were lean and fast; but to our customers, we were “big.” They just did not know that Josh Baskin was inside.