It’s been a few days since I’ve logged an entry into this journal. Time to catch up. I’ve got the day off today so my theme today is “back to balance.” This is why…
After Sofia’s birthday last Sunday, I had a spurt of LinkedIn/Blog writing. Mostly LinkedIn this past week. It started Sunday night and then I wanted to ride the wave while I had momentum. It helped that the first post about “Reflections on a Career Break” was received pretty well and got several likes, comments and private messages.
I wasn’t comfortable just having one post associated with my profile so I set a goal of 3 before taking a break from LinkedIn publishing. I met my goal of 3 by republishing/editing my blog post on “The Annual Performance Review” and then a couple of days ago, I wrote “Simply Effective Leadership” around the Don Draper quote.
All of this had an associated cost and trade-offs. I didn’t sleep as much as I would have liked. I didn’t spend time doing things like exercise, cooking, Duolingo or just chilling with the family. Any “free” time I had I spent writing and obsessing over the stats. I’ve attached a screenshot of the stats for the three posts after 6 days. My ego wanted reassurance that my writing was getting views and being liked. Comments were icing on the cake.
In the beginning, it was invigorating and I felt like the creative juices were flowing again — a renewed zest for life and ideas for the future. Towards the end of the week, though, I was sensing the stress levels elevate. It was similar to when I would be thinking about work all the time and wanting to keep plugging away at something. The problem before, and it seems to be happening again now, is that forcing it forward had diminishing returns and a greater cost with every push. It was getting extreme to the point where Caro and the kids would stop by the desk and mention how much time I was spending with the writing thing. Even one of my coworkers said, “Donn, you’re so active on LinkedIn! I keep getting alerts…” It was a little embarrassing and I took it as a sign to lay off the social channels for a while. If I can help myself, this might be the last post for a while. (I can hear your sighs of relief.)
So that’s why today’s theme is “back to balance”. I need to sharpen the saw. To focus on other areas such as physical, spiritual and emotional. The last week has been primarily mental exercise. There may be nothing wrong with the occasional deep dive into something, but it’s important to come up for air. Wouldn’t want to drown in my own excitement.
During a monthly senior management meeting, I was once asked by the President of the company how I became such a good manager. The question caught me off guard (it took me a minute to realize he was being serious) so my answered really sucked. I was flattered but embarrassed at the same time. (As an introvert, answering questions on the spot in front of a large group, without having had time to think, often leads to embarrassment. Anyway…) After the meeting, I gave it more thought. If I had to boil down the major contributors to my unique leadership style, it would be my psychology background and a library of management books combined with painful lessons learned along a colorful career path.
I’ve tested many theories in various roles and in different environments, with mixed results. What worked well in one situation would fail miserably in the next because the variables changed. Very few techniques are universal, only working case by case. My conclusion: stick to overarching principles and don’t get hung up on specific techniques or methods. The right techniques can be called upon as needed depending on the people involved and the situation at hand. The trick is to have enough experience and practice to instinctively know what to use and when.
There are certain things I put into practice regardless of whether or not I’m in a leadership position. They seem to be effective in any case and I like to practice them at work as well as outside of work. These simple practices tend to have very predictable outcomes for me. Even better, they’re a natural extension of who I am. Below are a couple examples.
Many managers I’ve worked with were inconsistent with who and what they acknowledged, so whenever I was in a management position, I decided to be different. Where other managers focused on calling out mistakes, or what needed to be better, I made every effort to spend more time recognizing a job well done and what was working well. What seemed to make even more of a difference is that I started with each person as an individual. I always kept in mind that every person on the team was unique. Everyone had their own style, their own story and different priorities. What was important to one may mean nothing to the other. It didn’t matter what was good for the company unless I could find a way to tie it into the goals of each individual.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
This might seem overly simplistic, but one thing I picked up early on was the importance of remembering people’s names. Especially as I’ve gotten older, this gets harder and harder with every new person I meet, but I continue to practice remembering someone’s name after only one meeting. The next time I see that person, I always greet them by name. This seems to make an incredibly strong impression for two reasons:
I care. When many people bump into me after we’ve only met once, I often hear, “Hi…,” “Hey Buddy,” “How’s it going?”…or something along that line. It’s when someone says, “Hey Donn” that something special happens. I feel important, at least important enough for her or him to remember my name. And so this is how I want everyone to feel after I meet them. Because we’re all important and we all like to feel special.
It’s unexpected. When it comes to remembering names, most of us don’t expect others to routinely address us by name unless we already have a good relationship. I try to do it every time and from the very beginning.
One time, at a company party, I had the chance to ask someone from another team why they would always look away and avoid eye contact every time we passed each other in the hallway. I was curious because I would always say, “Hi Laura.” This seemed to make her feel uncomfortable and she would hurry past. (I thought maybe it was the “creepy” factor.) Anyway, she said something like she wasn’t sure how to act because I was a Vice President and had absolutely no reason to know who she was, much less greet her by name. That’s sad but I guess many would consider that normal.
As a manager, it is one of my pet peeves when someone doesn’t follow through. So I try to make sure I lead by example so I’m not one of those people. Now, it’s one thing not to follow through on a big project or a major initiative. I’m mainly talking about the simple everyday things.
For example, if I’m stopped by someone while I’m rushing to a meeting and I tell him I’ll catch up with him later, I make sure that I actually do. Sure, they would probably understand if I didn’t. We all get busy and there is always some other priority calling for our attention. But by keeping my promises, even the ones made in passing, I do for others what I would want others to do for me.
Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
I could go into additional details but for now I’ll stop. There’s a lot more that goes into my management approach that varies depending on the company and the role. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, even with these two practices. It took a lot of effort for me to get good at remembering people’s names. And to this day, I still catch myself not following through all the time. That’s ok though. There’s something about simply making the effort. It sends a message to others that you care, even about the little things. I’ve found these little things can bond teams together and inspire great work. At that point, you don’t need to manage. You can focus on leading.
There are many influential leaders out there and I’ve been fortunate to work with some great mentors. They taught me the essence of timeless leadership principles and I put my own spin on them. What matters is that whatever methods or principles you follow, they’re effective. Then add your personal touch.
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
― William Shakespeare
“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, 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. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Do not chase people. Work hard and be you. The right people who belong in your life will come find you and stay. Do your thing.”
“Sometimes I pretend to be normal. But it gets boring. So I go back to being me.”
From the Very Wise Dr. Seuss…
“Today you are YOU. That is TRUER than true. There is NO ONE alive who is YOUER than YOU!”
“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose!”
“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
“When it comes time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived.”
― Henry David Thoreau
“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”
“Each man had only one genuine vocation – to find the way to himself….His task was to discover his own destiny – not an arbitrary one – and to live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one’s own inwardness.”
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.”
― Mark Twain
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
― Steve Jobs
“It takes nothing to join the crowd. It takes everything to stand alone.”
― Hans F Hansen
“Sometimes I have to remind myself that I don’t have to do what everyone else is doing.”
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Words from George Bernard Shaw
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
One day, Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. “Which road do I take?” she asked. “Where do you want to go?” was his response. “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”
― from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
“To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson
“Every time you don’t follow your inner guidance, you feel a loss of energy, loss of power, a sense of spiritual deadness.”
― Shakti Gawain
“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
“Since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of time, you are incomparable.”
― Brenda Ueland
“There is a vitality. a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”
― Martha Graham
“To thine own self be true.”
“…there are no shortcuts to excellence. Developing real expertise, figuring out really hard problems, it all takes time―longer than most people imagine….you’ve got to apply those skills and produce goods or services that are valuable to people….Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it…it’s doing what you love, but not just falling in love―staying in love.”
― Angela Duckworth, GRIT
“Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then, do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.”
― Margaret Young
“Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before.”
― Joseph Campbell
“There is a path for each of us. When we are on our right path, we have a surefootedness. We know the next right action―Although not necessarily what is just around the bend.”
― Julia Cameron
“The purpose of life is to know, and to recreate, Who You Are.”
― Neale Donald Walsch
“Life is raw material. We are artisans. We can sculpt our existence into something beautiful, or debase it into ugliness. It’s in our hands.”
― Cathy Better
“Whatever you are, be a good one”
― Abraham Lincoln
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
― The number one regret of the dying, reported by a palliative nurse in The Guardian
“Remind yourself. Nobody built like you. You design yourself.”
― Jay Z
“When someone says: “So what’s next?” As in, “how are you going to top that?” You don’t have to have an answer. The answer can be: “This.” Your life doesn’t have to be about impressing other people or a successive series of achievements.”
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”
— C.G. Jung
“There is nothing more satisfying than being loved for who you are and nothing more painful than being loved for who you’re not but pretending to be.”
— Neil Pasricha, The Happiness Equation
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
“If―” by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream―and not make dreams your master;
If you can think―and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph or Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings―nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And―which is more―you’ll be a Man, my son!
“According to Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild, if you’re feeling an intense emotion like anxiety or anger, there are two ways to manage it: surface acting or deep acting. Surface acting involves putting on a mask–modifying your speech, gestures, and expressions to present yourself as unfazed…In deep acting, known as method acting in the theater world, you actually become the character you wish to portray. Deep acting involves changing your inner feelings, not just your outer expressions of them…Deep acting turns out to be a more sustainable strategy for managing emotions than surface acting. Research shows that surface acting burns us out: Faking emotions that we don’t really feel is both stressful and exhausting. If we want to express a set of emotions, we need to actually experience them.”
For a while I believed I was exempt. I had already survived several mergers and acquisitions over the years but then it happened. Where and why doesn’t matter here. This is about the process that followed. Some career breaks are planned. This one was not.
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
First, there’s the shock. For some it’s expected, but as I mentioned, I thought I was immune. Like falling off a ladder, it hurt. My ego was bruised.
“The fall from low to lower hardly hurts; the fall from middle to low is devastating.”
– Adam Grant, Originals (p.83)
Insecurity set in. Questions about the future felt overwhelming. Looking back, how I decided to respond made the difference. I put my psychology studies into use and self-administered some therapy…
Get Over It
Easier said than done, I know. My first reaction was to immediately get back in the game and lock in the next gig quickly. I decided to be methodical in my approach. To measure my efforts, I kept a log of everything related to the job search and the results of every interaction. Every call with recruiters, every interview, every resume submission…all of it. Months of calculated effort were only leading to wrong turns and dead ends.
Depression eventually caught up with me. Anxiety prevented any restful sleep, no matter how exhausted I felt. I was spiraling downward and couldn’t break the funk. Then I made a concerted effort to slow down and pause.
What you choose to pay attention to can dramatically alter your experience (the whole “perception is reality” thing), so I chose to focus on right now instead of dwelling in the past or worrying about the future. Some days were easier than others, but I kept exercising a skill that had atrophied in recent years – my ability to choose rather than fly on autopilot. It wasn’t long before I crawled out of my hole.
Time heals all wounds. I just didn’t want it to take too long. Sitting around feeling sorry for myself wasn’t doing anybody any good. It was time to move on, ready or not.
Look in the Mirror and Then Out the Window
Looking in the rearview mirror, I took a good chunk of time to reassess how far I’ve come and the road that got me here. Then looking at myself, I was no longer sure that I was happy with what I saw in the mirror. Who had I become? What would I have done differently? How could I correct course? Where am I headed now? Is it time to go in a different direction?
At least, I felt I was asking the right questions.
I had become a workaholic. Developing the discipline to work long and hard hours was a badge of honor for me. Getting up every morning at 4:30am, working 12-14 hour days, and not sleeping until after midnight eventually led to burnout. Promotions and financial rewards fueled that fire for many years but towards the end, I burned up any remaining mojo and was only running on fumes. All the while, I failed to realize―or maybe I was denying that―I was trading off important things for all those work hours…time with my family and time for myself.
Now was my chance to slow down before I ran myself off a cliff. To find balance instead of working all the time. To remember what was really important to me. As I looked ahead, the fog began to clear and I hit a fork in the road.
To the right, was the continuation of the road I had already been traveling. I could get back into life as a corporate executive and continue my climb up the proverbial ladder. It was a toll road, and at what cost, I could only imagine. To the left, looked like it might take me back home but I could see the route might be a bit bumpy.
…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
If you’ve already read the post about my colorful career path, you know I chose the road less traveled. Once I made that conscious decision, I simply started by making a few promises to myself:
Remain true to who you are
Live in the present and use good judgment
Leave it better than you found it
“To thine own self be true.“
Over the past few years, I got a little lost and lost myself in the process. I became increasingly insecure about who I was and found myself trying too hard to be what others wanted me to be. For example, although I’m an introvert, I pretended to be an extrovert. I thought that was the only way you could be successful as an executive. I do believe it’s possible to “fake it until you become it.” That said, I just didn’t like it. It wasn’t me. I wanted to be myself. Being myself also meant doing things at my own pace. As an executive, I often felt rushed and pressured to deliver results quickly. In most cases I was able to adjust as needed, but lately I saw more and more that quality was being sacrificed for the sake of speed.
After reading Quiet by Susan Cain, I began looking at introversion in a new light. I became comfortable in my own skin again. Another book, In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honoré, helped me slow down and appreciate ‘tempo giusto’ – what musicians use to refer to the “right speed.” (Used in reference to living life with balance…fast when needed and slow when called for.) Moreover, this respect for time translated to better appreciation for the present. The gift of now.
“If you presence doesn’t make an impact, your absence won’t make a difference.”
Ever since childhood, I’ve found it difficult to live in the moment. The exceptions were times when I was absorbed in activities such as blending vinyl music with 2 turntables, choreographing a hip-hop dance routine, or pushing out one more rep in the gym. My usual MO was to dream about the future or worry about the past. I found it hard to enjoy the present because my mind was always elsewhere. If there were only one important change I could make to my approach from here on out, it would be to live in the here and now.
(This usually requires an inside-out approach which begins with yourself. To some, this is misconstrued as selfish behavior. Important to get past that stage. I’ve learned that living in the present is much easier when what you focus on is self-less rather than self-centered.)
Here’s how I see it: The past is past so no sense lingering there. No one knows what the future holds and life is rarely linear. The best way to set yourself up for a good future is to do the best you can with what you’ve got today. You don’t have to be perfect. You just need to use good judgment and make every effort to leave everything better than before you found it. That includes every action and every word spoken (or unspoken). At the end of the day, you’d be surprised how big of a difference you made to the people and world around you. All those thoughtful actions, no matter how small, add up.
Oh, I promised myself one more thing. Never take for granted the blessings you already have.
There’s really not much more to say about this. I just realized that more is not necessarily better. By appreciating all the good things already in my life, I’m learning to be happy with less. I drive a Prius and I’m cool with that. I live in a modest home, have great neighbors and live comfortably. It’s almost 20 years later and I think my wife still loves me ;). Honey, I’m good. Three beautiful children to kiss goodnight. I am blessed.
I believe that everything happens for a reason. In the moment, it may not make sense, but it often does in retrospect. What felt like an imposition turned out to be a blessing. I was forced to reassess my life to date and what was truly important to me. This was what I needed. I was so obsessed with achievement and accomplishment that I was taking for granted my family and losing myself in the process. The break in my career gave me time to realize that, before it was too late.
“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast―you also miss the sense of where you are going and why” – Eddie Cantor
In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed by Carl Honoré
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
“You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays.”
― Professor Harold Hill
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.”
― Lao Tzu
“Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
A familiar message from “The Alchemist”…
“Because I don’t live in either my past or my future, I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man…Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living right now.”
― camel driver, speaking to the boy in “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho
“Life is available only in the present moment. If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things–that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.”
― Steve Jobs
“Enjoy life now. This is not a rehearsal.”
“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”
― Dr. Seuss
“If you presence doesn’t make an impact, your absence won’t make a difference.”
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”
― Albert Einstein
“One has to live in the present. Whatever is past is gone beyond recall; whatever is future remains beyond one’s reach, until it becomes present. Remembering the past and giving thought to the future are important, but only to the extent that they help one deal with the present.”
― S.N. Goenka
“Enjoy the little things in life…for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”
― Robert Brault
“Wherever you are, make sure you’re there.”
― Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach
“Don’t look for the next opportunity. The one you have in hand is the opportunity.” — Paul Arden
“Live Like You Were Dying”
― James 4:13-17
Excerpt from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (p.54 in chapter “Week 2: Recovering a Sense of Identity”:
Writing about attention, I see that I have written a good deal about pain. This is no coincidence. It may be different for others, but pain is what it took to teach me to pay attention. In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only safe place for me. Each moment, taken alone, was always bearable. In the exact now, we are all, always, all right. Yesterday the marriage may have ended. Tomorrow the cat may die. The phone call from the lover, for all my waiting, may not ever come, but just at the moment, just now, that’s all right. I am breathing in and out. Realizing this, I began to notice that each moment was not without its beauty.
“The richest, happiest and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal”
— Jim Lore and Tony Schwartz
“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things—that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.”
— Steve Jobs
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
(Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
“Speed can be fun, productive and powerful, and we would be poorer without it. What the world needs, and what the slow movement offers, is a middle path, a recipe for marrying la dolce vita with the dynamism of the information age. The secret is balance: instead of doing everything faster, do everything at the right speed. Sometimes fast. Sometimes slow. Sometimes in between.”
— Carl Honoré, the author of “In Praise of Slowness”
“Like a bee in a flower bed, the human brain naturally flits from one thought to the next. In the high-speed workplace, where data and headlines come thick and fast, we are all under pressure to think quickly. Reaction, rather than reflection, is the order of the day. To make the most of our time, and to avoid boredom, we fill up every spare moment with mental stimulation…Keeping the mind active makes poor use of our most precious resource. True, the brain can work wonders in high gear. But it will do so much more if given the chance to slow down from time to time. Shifting the mind into lower gear can bring better health, inner calm, enhanced concentration and the ability to think more creatively.”
— Carl Honoré, Canadian journalist based in London
Carl mentions this on page 120 of his book, “In Praise of Slowness”
“Rivers know this: There is no hurry. We shall get there some day”
— From “Pooh’s Little Instruction Book”, a gift from my friend Jake Jakobson while we were still living in Japan
“Direction is so much more important than speed. Many are going nowhere fast.”
“I don’t have time to be in a hurry”
“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast―you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” — Eddie Cantor
Now all you can do is wait. It must be hard for you, but there is a right time for everything. Like the ebb and flow of tides. No one can do anything to change them. When it is time to wait, you must wait.
“Life is full of ebbs and flows. Trust that when things are slow or not going the way you’d like, there’s something positive coming your way. Things are in the works, the universe is shifting, and all the seeds you plant will come to bloom in their right time. Take care of yourself, trust in the process and stop trying to force things.” — Stephenie Zamora
In his book, The Happiness Equation, author Neil Pasricha mentions a quote by Tim Kreider in his New York Times article, “The ‘Busy’ Trap”:
“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
“It is in this space of the unknown where all possibilities appear, this space where magic can happen. The space from the end of something to the beginning of something new that brings forth a new lease of life, a new energy.” — parth_é, Life is Flux
“We are often foolish in that we let our obsession with creation, following the force of sizzling anxiety and adrenaline to put the intangible into a product, take over the bare materials we need to do it well: living. Taking stock and thinking. Reading, watching, crying, eating.
Our brains don’t just stop because we’re not wrist deep in paint or late night loomed in stanzas.
They’re preparing for the next project.
They’re recuperating, tidying tiny pieces into their boxes to make enough room to lay out the new ones.”
— Charly Cox
“Leisure” by W. H. Davies
What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs, And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass, Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight, Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance, And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.
“At the end of the day, it’s not happiness that makes us thankful, but thankfulness that makes us happy…”
In her book, “The How of Happiness”, Sonja Lyubomirsky writes,
“Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present oriented.”
“A simple THANK YOU has magic…it warms the heart and creates a moment of connection and peace between two people.”
“Someone is happy with less than what you have.”
“Live simply. Dream big. Be grateful. Give love. Laugh lots.”
― Paulo Coelho
“Learn to appreciate what you have, before time makes you appreciate what you had.”
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
― Albert Schweitzer
“Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances.”
“I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day;…so simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real.”
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”
“Out of all virtues simplicity is my most favorite virtue. So much so that I tend to believe that simplicity can solve most of the problems, personal as well as the world problems. If the life approach is simple one need not lie so frequently, nor quarrel nor steal, nor envy, anger, abuse, kill. Everyone will have enough and plenty so need not hoard, speculate, gamle, hate. When character is beautiful, you are beautiful. That is the beauty of simplicity.”
― Ela Bhatt
“If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness. Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital.”
― Dalai Lama
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word….
Where is the life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
― T.S. Eliot
“On a day when the wind is perfect, the sail just needs to open and the world is full of beauty. Today is such a day.”
“Perfection is Achieved Not When There Is Nothing More to Add, But When There Is Nothing Left to Take Away”
“Live simply. Dream big. Be grateful. Give love. Laugh lots.”
― Paulo Coelho
“Make it simple, but significant.”
― Don Draper
“Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication.”
― Leonardo da Vinci
“Listening to the siren song of more, we are deaf to the still small voice waiting in our soul to whisper, ‘You’re enough.'”
I Don’t Have a Degree I get e-mails every day. “I’d like to work at Google but I don’t have a degree,” Or, “I’d like to be a success but I don’t have an MBA.” And it’s not just degrees. I get e-mails from people who think they need yoga teacher certification. Or a medical degree (you can be a healer without writing prescriptions). Or any flimsy piece of paper that ultimately is no indicator of value. Google’s head of HR has even announced that graduates’ GPAs are a waste to look at. And that more and more of their hires have no college degrees at all! It’s just another way the world is changing, and you have to grasp it now. It used to be that a stranger knew he could cooperate with you if you had that stupid piece of paper. Come up with ten ideas on how you can escape the trap of the degree and demonstrate you still have value. Ideas for the company you want to work for, or the person you want to work with. Or just go get a camera and start making movies without a film degree.
When actor Andy Samberg was starting at Saturday Night Live he didn’t just huddle in the writers’ room with everyone else and try to come up with jokes. There was too much competition! Instead, he took a camera and with his buddies Jorm and Akiva went out and shot “Lazy Sunday,” which was the first YouTube video to get over 100 million views and became his first SNL digital short. He didn’t wait to rise through the ranks and hopefully get a joke or a sketch produced. He went out and produced it himself.
Before Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” got a billion views on YouTube, the rapper turned down every record label. He realized he didn’t need the validation they have provided to generations of artists. The distribution is there to reach the world no matter what your field is. You validate yourself now through your work.
Apologies to Mr. Altucher for taking that much verbatim from his book. I just read those pages this morning and it hit home.
The Trip Full Circle
I fall in the category of those who dropped out of college. While I had many an opportunity to finish, life went on and I eventually decided not to. When I’m having an insecure moment, I like to remind myself that I only had two classes to finish (and they were both freshman level electives!) so really, I earned pretty much everything I needed for that Liberal Arts degree in Psychology. I guess I just didn’t cross the finish line which could be perceived as inability to follow through. I understand and respect other perspectives. I just don’t personally see it that way. It doesn’t have to be a negative. I have worked very hard since then to show that it doesn’t have to matter if you don’t let it.
The Road Not Taken
…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost
It was 1991 and I was scheduled to graduate at the end of Spring semester. This was all the JET Programme (Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program) needed to know at the time I applied and interviewed. They didn’t actually ask to see my degree before it was time for me to board the plane that summer. By the time the University of Illinois notified me that I failed two classes (English 101 Introduction to Poetry and Classic Civilization 115 Mythology of Greece and Rome), I was already all set to leave for Japan. Although becoming an Assistant English Teacher (AET) had nothing to do with my major, it was a 1 year adventure abroad with all expenses paid as well as a monthly salary. I wasn’t about to pass on the opportunity unless absolutely necessary. That degree would have to wait.
I had lady luck on my side. After the year was over, I had the option to extend for another year and I definitely wanted to. The only catch – I had to renew my work visa and I was told they required a copy of my college degree in the process. I figured I had better start packing my bags but then again…why not just go through the motions and see what happens? Even if they sent me home, I already had my adventure. For some unknown reason, the Japanese government renewed my visa without any questions. One year turned into two and next thing you know 3 years later I was still in Japan. That was the maximum length that anyone could stay with the Jet Programme. As the third year winded down, a Japanese friend referred me to the CEO of a private language school under the Terakoya Group. They offered me a job and I had to go through the process of renewing my work visa for another year. Again, nobody asked to see my college degree. Surprising enough, the person in front of me in line was asked for his. To this day I can’t figure out how I got away with it year after year, but my luck lasted long enough for me to meet my future wife. Caro was on a 9 month work-study program and just happened to be assigned to Matsuyama City where I also lived. After 6 years in Japan, instead of calling it luck, I’d like to think it was serendipity.
Unlike I did in college, note that I wasn’t just sliding by while I worked in Matsuyama. Knowing that I didn’t finish school, I felt like I had to prove something and make my mark anyway. My second year, I was elected as the Ehime Prefectural Representative for AJET (The Association of Japanese Exchange and Teaching) and after 1 year at Terakoya, I was promoted to Head Teacher at the private language school.
Ok. The story goes on, but I need to pause here for now. The kids are awake and I’ve been writing since 5am.
[2/16/2016 4:38am] Picking up where I left off…
When I returned to the States in the summer of 1997, it was like “Oh sh*t, what do I do for work now? I don’t have a degree.” I was going on 28 years old and still didn’t have any solid plans for my career. I was back with my parents and when my Dad asked me what I was planning to do next, I told him I was thinking about starting a DJ business. I could sense his disappointment. When your parents go against all odds to earn their college degrees in the Philippines and then move the entire family to the Unites States so we can have a better life in the Land of Opportunity, I can understand why being a DJ might not be what they had in mind for their son. When I was still at the University majoring in Electrical Engineering, I think I was living up to expectations. We all imagined my future becoming an engineer like Dad and having a secure and well-paid profession for life…I guess I’d be disappointed with my DJ ambition too.
Got to get ready for work. I’ll continue later.
[2/16/2016 7:45pm continuation]
While I worked to put things in place for the DJ startup, I took a commissioned sales associate position in retail. Retail store positions don’t often require a college degree. I chose Bachrach, a men’s clothing retailer founded in Decatur, IL with locations all around the Chicago area. I’d always been into fashion so this would be aligned with my interests. Sales was not my strength, but it paid the bills and helped fund the DJ equipment and music I would need. For years, I tried to work both paths in parallel without any breakthrough success. I knew very little about operating a profitable business and everything I learned was from trial and error.
The DJ business wasn’t growing fast enough and we were getting deeper and deeper into debt. Thousands of dollars spent on music, lighting and other gear without enough gigs to pay for it all. When I found out that Caro was pregnant with León, I knew I needed to change my approach if I had any chance of providing for my growing family. I decided to focus on Bachrach and work my way up the ladder. We could stabilize our finances and buy me time to figure out what to do as an entrepreneur. Looking back, that was a pivotal point. After my motivation shifted from selfish ambitions to providing for the family, my career started to take off.
Within a few years, I went from Sales Associate to Store Manager to Director of E-commerce. (I’ll save my success strategy for a different post.) I worked in several locations and eventually had my own office at the downtown Chicago corporate headquarters. There were several rungs in between and along the way, but I won’t get into those details now. What happened with the DJ business? One thing led to another and it eventually led to the launch of ChicagoWeddingServices.com. Although small potatoes compared to other dot coms, it was a business model that made money while I slept and the site could often run on autopilot. It supplemented my income at Bachrach quite nicely. (For more details, see my post on Website Experiments Throughout the Years)
After 10 years at Bachrach, I had to move on. Too many acquisitions had taken place and it was no longer a fit. I began looking elsewhere. When I was offered a position at Dreams Retail in 2008, I jumped. Fortunately, during the interview process, my college education wasn’t a deciding factor.
I would have to say that my years at Dreams, Inc. have been the highlight of my career to date. Kevin Bates and the team he built created a work environment that brought out my best. I started off in an Account Management role but followed the same strategy I used to work my way up at Bachrach. I went from non-management to executive management with a team of more than 50 people to lead. I eventually got promoted to Director of Marketing and in less than two years after that, became VP of Marketing.
This too eventually came to an end. Dreams Inc. was acquired by Fanatics Inc. and I relocated from the Chicago area to the Jacksonville, Florida area. (The kids didn’t like the move, but we had a new house built in a nice neighborhood. It also helps that we live only a couple hours from Disney.) I was able to keep my position as VP of Digital Marketing but with so many changes during and after the integration period, it was the beginning of the end for that chapter. My time at Fanatics officially ended in January of 2015. Without having anything lined up yet, I spent 6 months in what I call “mid-career retirement” – a career break if you will. We didn’t have to worry about finances, at least for a while, so I had the luxury of time to decompress, reconnect with my family, and think about the next chapter. As scary as it can be to lose a 6 figure salary, I’m grateful for what I’ve gotten in return.
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
– T.S. Eliot
Today, I feel like I’ve come full circle in a way. I’m back in fashion retail and am making about the same income as I did when I first started my career. I see everything through a different lense though. While money is still important, it’s no longer the carrot. It’s no longer about the prestigious title, but more about the unique contribution and value. Being hourly no longer has a negative connotation to me. It now means I have more work-life balance. Instead of thinking so much about what I want in the future, I spend more time appreciating what I already have and whom I’m with today. Things will have to change again I’m sure. Even though we’ve always lived below our means, our current lifestyle is not sustainable in the long run with my current income. Surprisingly, I’m not very worried though. We’ll figure it out. I know because we’ve done it before.
Regarding my college degree, or lack thereof, it has definitely made a difference in my career choices and the life I’ve lived. I’ve spent most of my career proving that you can succeed without a degree. When the competition was smarter, I just worked longer and harder to compensate. Most of my lessons learned were from the school of hard knocks. I learned the simple yet important lesson on how to make a positive difference…always strive to leave it better than you found it.
I’m content with what I’ve accomplished as a college dropout. I have no regrets.
Caro and I were married in 1998, not too long after I started at Bachrach. Although she has seen and experienced all the ups and downs of my career, she has never stopped being supportive. Even when she didn’t agree with all my choices, she has stood by my side and was always there to give me strength when I needed it most. I can’t imagine how things would have turned out without her. All these years later, I don’t worry too much anymore about climbing the corporate ladder or making lots of money. With her and our three beautiful children, I already feel successful. Together we’ll make life good no matter what comes our way.
To my band of brothers who joined me on my crazy adventure as an entrepreneur: That was an awesome ride, let’s do it again!
Grateful to the many coworkers who I had the privilege to work with, and my bosses/mentors who also shaped who I am and how I work today – they were some of my best teachers. To the organizations and hiring managers who took a leap of faith and gave me a shot, thank you.
I also want to give a shout-out to all my family and friends, near and far. You’ve never judged me and accept me for who I am, warts and all.
And special thanks to Mom and Dad, for always loving me even when I disappoint. From you I learned what is possible when you work hard. [2/17/2016 4:38am] Today is Dad’s 70th Birthday. I dedicate this post to him.
Essentialism /əˈsen(t)SHəˌlizəm/ (as defined by Greg McKeown)
The disciplined pursuit of less
Even though I specifically wrote down at the beginning that I would curb my smoking this past weekend, I didn’t. I think I actually smoked more than I usually do. I often blame stress as one of the main reasons I smoke. It helps take off the edge I say to myself. So when I work, I smoke due to the stress at work. You would think, then, that I would smoke less when I’m off work. For me that hasn’t been the case. At home, I smoke due to a different kind of stress. Being a parent can be stressful. When the children test your patience, or you feel non-stop busy running the kids around to their various activities, or just daily chores you feel obligated to attend to. Of course, it all depends on what you focus on, and your attitude towards it. When I find myself overly concerned with the things that I want to do, then everything else is a distraction, but when I catch myself doing that, I can often course-correct and start focusing on what I can do for my family since I’m home. This is my way of transforming the stress to joy.
Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten Season. Growing up, I was always under the impression that we had to give something up during that time. That’s how my Dad stopped smoking. He gave it up for Lent one year and then never went back. In the last few years, I haven’t taken the tradition very seriously. This year, I had no real intention to give anything up, but then yesterday Sofia asked me what I was giving up for Lent. She noticed that I went out to the backyard to smoke and had already done it only about an hour before. She cautiously mentioned that she knew something good that I could give up for Lent. Smart cookie that one. Very subtle and sincere without leaving me feeling picked on. I didn’t feel angry like my knee-jerk reaction would have it. I felt guilty because I could see Sofia really cared and she said it with that childlike innocence that you just can’t get mad at. Normally I would get annoyed, whether it be at Caro or Mom, because I simply get bothered when the topic comes up. Everyone means well so I try very hard to keep my knee-jerk reaction in check.
Anyway, I was thinking about it again this morning. Giving up something aligns with the whole “Essentialism” philosophy I’ve been drawn to after reading Greg McKeown. I’ve learned from earlier attempts that promising to stop smoking would just lead to disappointment for everyone. What could I give up that was doable and be a good thing to let go of so I could focus on better things? It would have to be something challenging but that I would be confident enough to pull off. As I did a cursory mental review of how I spend my time, I thought of just the thing…watching TV. That would include Netflix and Redbox which I gravitate towards when I need an escape or comfort from the daily stressors.
This I can do. Even if the only side-benefit is to give me more time to sleep, that would be worth missing a night of Gotham or waiting a little longer to watch “The Martian” recently released on Redbox. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe if I can get a smaller win this Lenten Season, I’ll go for the bigger challenge of a smoke cessation program.
Although I prefer the whole abundance mentality thing, daily life can definitely feel like a series of trade-offs. Trying to do it all and have it all leaves most of us burnt out and still not satisfied. As pointed out in “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown, when deciding how to spend your limited time, it really helps to let go of the trivial many for the vital few. “Less but better.” In other words, find the discipline to do less of the unimportant so you have time to focus on what really makes a difference. Funny how we often choose otherwise.
So when it comes to Lent this year, I’m not giving something up for the sake of sacrifice. I’m exercising my ability to better choose how I spend my free time. Watching TV is now on my “to don’t” list, at least until the Lenten season is over.