One Woman. One Turkey. One Story.

Hand Turkey

 

Yesterday, a friend told me that she’d been to the grocery store and, at the checkout, the clerk told her she’d gathered enough points to qualify for a free turkey.

A free turkey Thanksgiving week! Who says no to that offer?

So, she got her turkey. A big one – 25 pounds – which she lugged to her car.

She knew she couldn’t use the turkey because her husband was out of the country for work and she’d be having Thanksgiving with friends.

What would she do with the big bird?

Inspiration struck and she immediately headed for the poorest part of her town. She drove around looking for… something…a sign? An intuition?

Who needed this turkey?

On one street she saw a man holding the hand of a little boy. They were walking up to a creaky-looking house with trash bags covering what must be leaks in the roof.

She rolled down the window. In her naturally bright voice she said, “Do you have your Thanksgiving turkey yet?”

The man replied that no, ma’am, he sure didn’t.

She said, “Well, you do now!” 

[Now, at this point I could tell you the meaning of this story, or extrapolate a larger story.]

[I could also go all emotional and tell you about how worried he had been about affording a turkey this year and the tears in both their eyes when the big bird was exchanged.]

But I’m not going to.

I’m going to say this: What you do makes a difference. Everything – big things, small things – everyday.

You matter.

You decide how to live, how to be, what to create in the world, whether you’re the one giving, or the one who’s receiving.

It’s simple, really.

Every day you have the opportunity to joyfully give something good to someone else.

Every day you have the chance to receive with gratitude – whether it’s a kind word or a turkey.

And that’s all I’m going to say.

 

The Quantity/Quality Conundrum

 

 

Measure Of Success

Let’s say there’s a sales guy, working in a sales function in a sales-driven organization.

His company was acquired by a group of investors who are systematically changing the way business is being done. They have metrics for everything and statistics drive every decision.

Our sales guy has been the top producer for many years. He has deep customer relationships and generates significant repeat business.

But you can’t benchmark relationships, so the powers that be decide he must have lucked into a rich sales territory and proceed to carve it up to spread the wealth. They parcel his clients out to the rest of the sales team, leaving our sales guy with a severely diminished book.

Oh, and a mandate to make 35 calls each day.

Off the record, his boss says that it doesn’t matter if the calls are to qualified prospects or not – all the bean counters want to know is that the calls are being made because they have forms to be filled out.

Six months go by.

Sales are way off.

Repeat business is non-existent.

And our sales guy has found another job.

Because he knows that his strongest suit – his true superpower – is the ability to create relationships, and the bean counters who value quantity over quality simply don’t get it.

He knows that he can make one call and generate as much business in fifteen minutes as two other guys could get in a week. How? Because his clients know him, like him and have years of experience working with him – they trust him.

Some of his customers like him better than they like his product – what he sells is less important than how he sells to them. Which is why the guy is going to be successful wherever he goes.

If I were in charge of a sales organization, I’d hire a hundred people with the ability to generate referral business rather than hire a thousand robo-callers.

Because quality always wins out over quantity.

But maybe that’s just me.

Today it seems that so many organizations want their people to be as uniform and interchangeable as widgets.

As if one sales guy is absolutely equal to another sales guy.

That one teacher is as good as any other teacher.

That a 60-year-old surgeon who’s done a thousand procedures is absolutely equivalent to a 30-year-old surgeon who’s so desperate for business that she’s willing to deeply discount her fee to get people in the door.

I don’t think so.

Sure, it’s comforting to think that if you check off all the boxes then you’re less likely to fail. Does our health plan provide access to a surgeon? Check  - yes. The question so few ask: Is that surgeon any good?

Quantity is: We have a 20-person sales team making 35 cold calls every day. Quality is: Are they talking to the right people? Are they taking time to build relationships? To build trust?

There’s not a box to check next to those quality questions because they’re rarely being asked.

It’s likely that you have quantity/quality decisions to make every day in your own life. And all I ask is that you keep a few things in mind:

It’s not the number of brownies you make that’s important, especially if they taste awful. Make good, quality brownies and let that be enough.

It’s not the number of bills you have in your wallet, especially if they are all ones. If you want to sit down, it’s better to have five $100 bills in your back pocket than 250 singles.

It’s not important that you have a whole lot of friends, especially if you have no one to call for help in the middle of the night.

When it comes down to it, real success comes from the things that cannot be quantified – connection, relationship, kindness, appreciation, trust.

I don’t know about you, but I want more of those quality things in my life and work, and I’m consciously working on them every day.

I really like the idea of being un-metric-ifiable.

 

Pay Attention To Taylor Swift. Really.

 

taylor-swift-vance-joyA friend reached out this week to ask if I’d ever read Viktor Frankl’s classic book Man’s Search For Meaning. I told her I had, it remains one of the most important books in my life and it’s formed much of my approach to living. We had a sparkling dialogue about it (I just love sparkling dialogues, don’t you?) and the next day I pulled my copy off the shelf and settled in for a re-read.

Frankl, a leading psychiatrist and thinker, was imprisoned in Auschwitz and other camps during World War II. Coming from that horrific experience, Frankl gained deep understanding of how people under tremendous physical, emotional and spiritual pressure react. It became his life’s work. In short, Frankl believed that people can endure nearly anything if they are deeply connected to something bigger than themselves, or are doing something in service to others.

This is why you might stay in a job you hate – it provides the income you need to give your children a great education. Or, it allows you to care for your aging parents. It might give you the space to write poetry, or raise rescue animals.

You do what you do – even if it’s hard – when you feel you’re serving a bigger purpose.

In the re-read, a key passage from Frankl’s preface stood out to me:

“Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

And that’s when I realized just how powerful Taylor Swift is.

You see, I recently saw Taylor sing on a British TV show called The Live Lounge. Now, the premise of the show is this: famous musicians sing songs that aren’t theirs. They cover other popular songs - a really fun concept.

So, Taylor could have chosen any song. She could have phoned it in – I mean, she’s an international superstar! She could have been silly or jaded or intent on preserving her famousness and make a boring choice.

But she didn’t.

From what I could see when I watched the clip, Taylor chose to sing a song that gave her joy, that she could be creative with.

She covered Vance Joy’s great song “Riptide.” Here’s the link: BBC Radio

If you watch it, you’ll see that at certain points Taylor is amused with herself as she sings certain words. She lingers on phrases. She doesn’t just cover the song – she interprets it.

And that’s when I realized that Taylor Swift is deeply, powerfully connected to her “why”. And it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with seeking fame.

Her why, in my opinion? She’s a musician. Plain and simple.

I am sure she faces a lot of pressure to be commercial and crank out hit after hit. There are probably people who suggest she phone it in and collect the cash. I’ll bet she has plenty of haters.

But I’ll also bet that despite all of that pressure, she feels compelled – yes, compelled – to do what she’s doing. And to do it her own way.

She’d do it even if she wasn’t famous.

Which, according to Frankl, is precisely why she’s famous.

Now to you. And to me. What can we learn here?

I think it’s this: whether you know it or not, whether you’re currently connected to it or not, you’re here to create something. You’re here to make meaning with your life – to do good – in service of something larger. The more you do it, the happier you’ll be. The more you do it, the more successful you’ll be.

Try as you might, it doesn’t work to only pursue fame – you live fully when you fully pursue meaning. 

Serve your creativity – whatever it looks like for you – and in so doing, you will succeed. It might be a long path, and the success may look really different than you imagined, you might even fail a time or two. But if you are deeply in touch with your “why”, you’ll get there.

And, if you’re at a place in your life where you feel disconnected, or things seem futile, or you don’t even know why you wake up in the morning – do yourself a favor.

Read Frankl.

 [photo credit: Time]

The Simple Manifesto

Red-Tailed Hawk
Let’s make this simple.

And when I say that, I don’t mean just these words you’re reading right now.

I mean, let’s make everything simple.

Let’s stop making things hard just because we have an idea that anything worthwhile has to be a challenge.

Let’s stop complicating things in some misplaced effort to justify ourselves and affirm our right to be at the table.

Let’s be done with attempting to prove something by being difficult and inscrutable.

Because it really never works. That is, if you intend to get anything done.

Sometimes people complain to me that they send email and never get any responses. When I review what they’ve written, it’s easy to see why – they’ve very formally written right around whatever they have to say. And often they fail to clearly ask  for what they want the reader to do, so they never get what they need.

That right there is the definition of ”doesn’t work”.

And we want it to work, don’t we?

Here’s something to consider if you’re struggling with the idea of “simple”:

Wordy, flowery, clever does not equal smart, insightful, helpful.

Formal, complicated and incomprehensible does not help clarity, understanding and action.

1 + 1 does not need sine, cosine or tangent to solve.

When you have a choice, and you always have a choice – pick simple.

Make your presentation less about bullet points and more about a story.

Make your meeting less about catching everyone up and more about making decisions.

Make your email less about sparkling, witty repartee and more about asking directly for what you want/need.

Take one clear step forward instead of three steps to the left if you want to move ahead.

Always, always, always look for the simplest solution. You don’t need stress and friction.

Own easy.

Be easy.

And you’ll win, easy.

Quietly Desperate

 

 

It must have been in high school where I first heard the famous Thoreau quote:

“The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.”group of people waiting in line, back view

At fifteen or sixteen, I’m sure I had no clue what Thoreau was getting at. For one, I was not a man, and, for me, “desperation” meant calling that cute boy from third period and hanging up in a fluster the moment he answered the phone.

Today, although I am still not a man, I have a better sense of Thoreau’s sentiment.

And I see it quite often in people who come to me for coaching. They will tell me that things are stuck, or stale. That they can’t seem to make progress, can’t get a break, can’t overcome the forces aligned against them.

So, they stay where they are, hung up and quietly (or not so quietly) desperate.

When you think about the last hundred years in the developed world, there’s been such a seismic shift in the way most of us live our lives. Then, so many of us were union members who worked in factories at the mercy of time clocks and management bullies. The average worker learned to report, do his or her job and keep out of the cross hairs of the suits with their time-wasting “improvements”.

Today, with the shift to a more service-based economy, fewer and fewer people are making their living using their muscles and brawn. Jobs today are about knowledge, customer service and adaptability.

Yet, if you grew up the child or grandchild of a working person, you might just hold onto some of the working people vs. suits sentiment.

What’s harder today is that you’re probably more like ”them” than your grandparents ever were.

But the us vs. them dynamic lingers. So often I see people who still wait for permission from “them” to come up with a new idea. Who won’t dare act without approval. Who need to have a supervisor to blame when they’re stuck.

These are the truly desperate people.

And they don’t have to be.

Now, more than ever, you have to be the architect of your own career. Those who wait for an authority figure to step forward and bestow blessings and permissions will miss opportunities.

This, my friends, is guaranteed.

The other day I heard a story about a young woman who’s in her first job right out of college. She’s utterly entry-level, yet heard about a new project the brass was excited about. She did some thinking and came up with an idea, based on what she could gather about it. She wrote it up and sent it to the big boss. Who kindly wrote back to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

So, she thought some more. Brought in a friend who was also lower level and together they brainstormed another approach.

She submitted again.

And her concept is the one the very large, innovative organization is going to implement.

I told this story to someone recently who said, rather bitterly, “Millennials! They don’t know their place!”

But that’s not it at all.

No, that 23-year old woman knows that she’s not going to live a life of quiet desperation. Not her.

She’s in charge of her career, not anyone else. And to get where she knows she wants to go – she’s going to get herself there.

It’s an important lesson whether you’re twenty and just starting out, or sixty and feeling very stuck.

And the lesson is this: quiet desperation is a choice you can certainly make. But you can also choose something else.

You can choose to stop waiting for permission and start creating opportunities.

Because you don’t need anyone’s else’s permission to do that.