A Blast From The Past

Baby Michele

 

When you look back, what do you see?

Every March, I take a look back – which is pretty natural because it’s my birthday month.

This March I’ll be turning 55 (double nickels, baby) which is older than some and younger than many. I’ve also been asked to moderate a panel for active duty and retired female military officers at a career conferencelater this week. The topic I’m moderating is “A Letter To Your Younger Self.”

Funny how everything’s coming together for me to be even more reflective this March.

In 1960, when I was born, the world was a much different place. Global population was about a third the size it is today, and it felt like there was plenty of open space here and out in the galaxy. We were a year away from a visit to space – the Soviet launch of Yuri Gagarin into Earth’s orbit followed closely by US astronaut Alan Shepard, in a demonstration of the competitiveness of the Cold War.

How surprised would the world have been in 1960 to learn that the Soviet Union would crumble and capitalism would come to Communist nations?

When I was born, the U.S. had segregation – Dr. King had yet to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and even though Brown vs. Board had been settled, few schools had been desegregated.

Could we even have fathomed the relative ordinariness of seeing people of color as CEOs, Presidents, politicians, doctors, lawyers and professors not only in the US, but around the world?

Women, in my childhood, had a slim choice of jobs if they wanted to work: nurse, teacher, secretary, waitress, domestic help or bookkeeper. Even the brightest women faced a thick, impenetrable glass ceiling.

Small Michele might not have believed what’s possible today. Had anyone said that she would grow up to work with executives around the world who want to get better at their jobs, and that she’d do it from home, most often wearing yoga pants and a fleece pullover, while making a very good living, Wee Michele probably would have asked:

“What’s yoga?”

But some things today are exactly the same as they were when I was born. And these are things I’m exceptionally glad for:

People still fall in love.

Folks still have best friends.

Most of us offer help when we see someone in trouble.

Children smile and the world is all right.

We cheer for the underdog and applaud our heroes.

We laugh at each other’s jokes.

Songs are sung.

Meals are shared.

Lips are kissed.

Yes, we humans still see possibilities.

We still make things happen.

We still believe.

And after all these years, and all that change, that’s the world I believe you and I really want.

 

How Are You Connected…To Yourself?

 

 

I invested some time watching an interesting video, and the further I got into the video the more I was sure you’d enjoy watching it, too.

It’s Oprah Winfrey at the Stanford Business School, talking about her career path and how she found her purpose and while it’s “classic Oprah” in tenor and tone, it’s something different, too. Maybe because she’s being interviewed by a student, maybe because the audience is mostly students, maybe because she’s in full mentor mode – regardless – Oprah is loose, comfortable and really giving of herself. Watch:

If you’re at a crossroads and can’t figure out where to go next, or what to do next - you will learn something by watching. My hunch is that you’ll get some insight about at least one thing you can do differently. Or do more of.

Because I most certainly did.

 

Working Hard Is Pointless

Construction Worker Silhouette At Work

 

I know you. You throw yourself into everything you do, all the time.

There is no halfway for you –  it’s all the way, and once you’re there, maybe you do just a little bit more.

There is no “all-or-nothing”, there’s just full tilt, up-past-your-eyeballs “all-in”.

You, my friend, are a machine.

You’re the first one there and the last one to leave.

You work hard and give 110% to everything you do.

You certainly don’t believe in shortcuts.

(Is this starting to resonate yet?)

There are people around you who love that you work so hard and so much, especially those who do a whole lot less because you’re doing it all.

Those folks, in fact, rather adore you.

You work, and work, and work, and accomplish, and accomplish, and accomplish, and – tell the truth – you sort of look down on people who aren’t as fully committed as you are. And you pretty much define yourself by how much time you put in.

It’s resonating now, huh?

And I’m not going to tell you to stop working so hard, or so much. I’m not going to tell you to change one thing about yourself.

I’m just going to raise one little idea – something I’ve learned from the many people I’ve coached over the years who’ve come to the point where a light bulb goes off over their heads.

I’ve even had this same light bulb go off over my own noggin.

It’s this: Today, you can work somewhere for ten, fifteen, twenty years and work hard, give it your all, miss your kids’ birthdays, your spouse’s birthdays, your friends’ funerals,  your anniversaries, the soccer game, the Broadway show, that trip to Europe – all of it – and still lose your job in a reorganization.

It’s a hollow feeling to realize that you’ve put so much on hold in service of your work, and it ultimately matters not a whit when the big change comes down. Like when the company is acquired. Or donations fall off. Or there’s new leadership. Hell, there are a hundred crazy reasons why things change and almost none of them can be changed by you working harder.

It’s entirely possible to work so intently that you raise your head one day and realize you forgot to see the Great Wall of China. Or visit the dentist. Or get married.

People over-focus on work for a lot of reasons. Might be because you work in a place where folks define themselves by their office hours and you want to fit in. Could be because you’re terrified of being seen as wrong, and standing out in a bad way. Maybe you have a deep, internal conviction that you are deeply flawed and it’s only a matter of time before everyone figures that out. Maybe your daddy always told you that winners never quit and quitters never win.

And what’s the common denominator? 

It’s all about other people’s reaction to you. It’s all about external validation.

So many folks scurry and perform for others so they can get the gold star, the pat on the back, the approval. They strive for hearing ”well done”, “that’s a good girl”, “that’s my boy” because that’s the kind of external affirmation they’ve come to rely upon.

Which sometimes, despite our Herculean effort, remains tantalizingly out of reach.

(And if they ever do get it, they sort of don’t believe it, anyway.)

Friends, it’s the work of a lifetime to shift from a place of seeking external validation to being driven by internal acceptance.

You see, the most happy and well-adjusted people – whether they are adult executives, teenaged soccer players, young at-home parents or retirees – have this in common: They do what they do because it feels good and satisfies their values.

These people are not whipsawed by the vagaries of the crowd. If they put in a lot of hours, it’s not because they hope to fit in, or to be accepted, or to create a barrage of flak so no one can see the impostor lurking within.

No, if they work hard, they work hard because their integrity calls them to it.

And if they find a shortcut that’s in line with their values, they take it.

And if they want to leave on Friday at 3pm, they do.

And they take their vacation days.

And their sick days.

They live in balance with themselves and their choices. So in the event they get laid off, it doesn’t crush their sense of self and leave them paralyzed with anguish and worry. The most successful know who they are, they know what they bring, and they are comfortable in their own skin.

Rather than living for the approval of others, they affirm themselves.

So, I’m not going to tell you to change how you are. I’m just going to raise the possibility with you that there may be a better way to do what you do.

It boils down to this: Do what you can. Love what you do. And make space for the idea that maybe, just maybe, you don’t have to do it all.

 

The Thing About Passion

 

 

Pair Of Shoes

There are so many people who will talk to you about Finding Your Passion.

These people, in my experience, tend to dot their i’s with eensy little hearts or smiley faces. In their worlds, Finding Your Passion appears to involve exotic trips, fabulous shoes, wine and botox. Oh, and buff, windswept, sultry people strolling on a beach. And inspiring motivational quotes.

Plenty of inspiring motivational quotes.

I, however, live in a different world and I’ll bet you live pretty close to me, too.

It’s a world where we work for a living and deal with plenty of competing pressures. It’s a world where things change, sometimes at the last possible minute, and what matters is less about the shoes you have on your feet and more about the resilience you have in your heart and mind.

How do you Find Your Passion in our demanding, fast-paced world?

It’s not a rhetorical question, believe me. In just two short weeks last September, I went from being a super-engaged, schedule-driven-by-my-children’s-interests mom to time-on-her hands, working from home middle-aged woman. I even have small dogs.

Yes, it’s true. In two weeks I became a cliché.

Lest you think I’m truly pathetic, let me say that I am thrilled for my kids. My son is engaged in a fabulous one-year entrepreneurial incubator program outside of Boston, and my daughter is in her first year at a really wonderful college.

They are doing what they are supposed to be doing – what I raised them to be able to do – and I could not be happier.

Yet, after years and years of going wherever their sports events were, and spending time on their enthusiasms – hairstyles and the films of Quentin Tarantino, for instance – I have found myself with plenty of time to spend on what I want to do.

Which is, precisely… what?

The first couple of months that they were gone was still a hubbub of activity. I shipped things they forgot or realized they needed, and managed long phone calls processing their new environments. I traveled to visit each of them and devoted time and attention to the logistics around coming home for Thanksgiving, and then Christmas.

But now we’re in the long stretch where no one is coming home for some time. And I’ve even caught them referring to “home” as where they live now.

Which is heart-clenching the first time it happens, and then starts to make sense. Because, they are well and truly launched.

So, back to passion. Specifically, finding yours after a big change or just when you realize that your life is not as fulfilling as you’d like it to be.

The standard question in these moments is “When do you lose track of time?” and that’s a good one. I also add, “When do you feel most engaged and happy?”

Whatever your answer is gives insight into what your passion might be.

But your true passion may lie beneath your answer.

Let’s say you figure out that you are most engaged and happy when you are traveling. OK – let’s go a little deeper, shall we?

What is it about travel that lights you up? Is it new experiences? New cuisine? Observations of differences in cultures? Is it the people you travel with? Is it because you always travel on vacation – away from work and chores?

Don’t say, “All of it!” because that’s too easy. And I am not letting you off the hook that easily.

Nor am I going to start dotting with teeny hearts.

Passion is not about what you do, but how you feel about what you’re doing.

If you figure out that you are driven to travel because you love to observe the differences in culture, then maybe you can also satisfy that passion by making sure to attend cultural festivals in your own town. You could regularly try different cuisines. You could host an exchange student. You could read books about different worlds. You could discover artists from around the world and learn about them.

Because, you see, your passion deserves to be in your life every single day, not just during one big trip a year.

When you live your passion, the world opens up for you. Possibilities become obvious. Connection is easy.

Life feels full and happy. Success is more and more effortless.

It’s pretty great.

As for me, after some deep reflection, I remembered my passions pretty clearly. They’re centered around creativity, mentorship, connecting and learning.

And while I miss the job I was really very good at and completely fulfilled by, I know that the things I am passionate about also fill me up.

So, let’s make a promise, you and I.

Let’s be less about shoes. And more about passion.

 

 

The Foundation of Success

 

IMG_3571What do you call it when someone takes pride in the things they do? When they’re not just phoning it in or checking off a box? When they really care about where they sign their name?

And what do you call it when that same person takes responsibility for everything they do – the big mistakes as well as the little wins?

What happens when you add in a healthy and solid self-respect? I’m talking about the healthy ego kind of self-respect that’s grounded in integrity and honesty. The kind of self-respect that, for instance, allows for difficult conversations to happen before situations get to a crisis point.

Know what this set of attributes creates?

In my book, it creates professionalism.

And professionalism is the foundation of success.

Imagine what it would be like to experience a real professional in, oh, let’s say, house painting.

You’d have a clear estimate of the work to be done.

The painter would show up on time, ready to work.

He’d have all his tools and supplies in good working order.

He’d work smart and thoroughly.

There would be no paint splatters or wobbly corners.

He’d finish when he said he would, and the fees would be as expected.

If there was some blemish, some something that you weren’t too happy with, he’d come back, accept responsibility and make it right.

And you’d hire that guy over and over again.

Now, imagine that same professionalism in your office, or in your home.

(Some of you are having a good laugh right now, huh?)

Seems to me that we live in a time when there are a lot of factors stacked against professionalism. In our go-go, get it done, check-it-off-the-list sort of world, sometimes bosses and organizations make it nearly impossible to take pride in our work. Or maybe we touch such a wee little bitty part of a massive project that our contribution isn’t that noteworthy.

Yet, you all tell me you want something different. You tell me you’re hungry for meaning and that you’re dying for connection.

You want what you do to matter.

You want to make a difference.

Easier said than done, I know. Last summer, I led a webinar for The Harvard Business Review on bullies and toxic people in the workplace. It became their most popular webinar ever and during the live session there were so many questions that the Q&A platform stopped working three times.

It’s really hard to have self-respect, pride in your work and personal accountability when you work in a toxic environment.

You may find that to be as fully professional as you want to be, you have to take the leap – to a new job. Which is easier today than it’s been in years – depending on what you do and where you live, of course – due to expanding employment.

This expansion means, too, that organizations will need to change and stop seeing employees as disposable widgets. Where there were once 400 people in line for a single job, now candidates will have to be sourced and wooed as demand outstrips supply. And, when attrition becomes a critical issue, toxic leaders and bullying work environments will finally have to be addressed and fixed.

That can be done by amping up our individual commitment to professionalism and for organizations to let go of those who refuse to step up their own.

Remember, it’s these three things: Take pride in your work; Be responsible for your actions; Respect yourself.

Everything else you want stems directly from these foundational pieces.

Whether you’re ten or ninety, you can do it. In your office, or your home, or at school, you need nobody’s permission, no certificate, no degree to be professional.

Now’s the time to start.