Stop, Drop, and Roll

Avoiding Occupational Burnout

Fire-fighting. In some organizations, it seems to happen on a daily basis inevitably resulting in casualties along the way. You may even be one of them.

While there’s glory in being the Phoenix that rises from the ashes, we might be better off avoiding burnout in the first place.

Heeding the Signs

From an organizational perspective, what appears to be important can easily be sucking dry your most valuable resources. You might notice that days are filled with expensive back-to-back meetings. Perhaps, too much time is being spent on shiny objects and the next big thing. Projects start to drag and go well beyond budget. Every hour an executive is overreacting to some metric that missed its year-over-year comp. Left unchecked, your most valuable resource, your employees, will begin to disengage and fly on autopilot.

At an individual level, most days you’re stuck in back-to-back meetings filled with people that don’t even need to be there…including you. Because some industry expert said that X is going to be the next big thing, you’re suddenly asked to drop what you’re working on and get a new project started. Because the project doesn’t really align with the organization’s mission or values, there’s ongoing and endless debate about how to complete the project on time and within budget. You’re questioning why the project is even a priority and no one seems to have a good answer. Later you get blamed for the failure of the project even though you advised against it. After running around frantically trying to keep everyone happy, you feel exhausted and begin to disengage.

Making the shift from simply getting things done to focusing on doing the right things

What are the right things? Of course, that depends on the organization and the individual. Those who work in “fast-paced environments” are especially prone to resource-sucking tangents and running around in circles. Regardless, it’s important to occasionally pause and evaluate your current activities to assess whether your initiatives are moving you in the desired direction. Failure to do so can be quite costly. Some estimate this corporate waste could be costing the U.S. upwards of $3 trillion each year. (There are likely more impressive stats I could cite, but you get the point.) Exaggerated or not, that’s a lot of wasted Time, Talent, Energy.

If you’re feeling like you’re on fire—and not in a good way—it’s time to stop, drop and roll.

Stop, Drop and Roll

Stop: Unplug. Slow down. Go quiet. Get some sleep. Then with a clear head, take stock of your current resources and make sure you’re investing them in the right things. Are they serving your purpose? How much are they moving the needle in the right direction? Despite sunk costs, is any reallocation needed? Do you need to add a missing ingredient to the mix? Better yet, should you drop something unnecessary? These decisions can be tough, but that’s why you get paid the big bucks.

Drop: Keep what’s working and drop what’s not. That whole sunk cost mentality makes this easier said than done. Then, there’s the addictive juggling act. As an experienced “multi-tasker”, you like to juggle. You even think you’re pretty good at it. When balls start to drop, you might as well drop them intentionally. Focus on less but the most important.

And on the team side of things, trying to preserve relationships you’ve invested in can make letting go a challenge, even when the relationship is unhealthy. After you’ve done everything you can to make a relationship work, if someone is headed elsewhere, you’ll need to drop them off or let them off the bus. Switching roles, perhaps you need to get off the bus you’re riding.

The art of adding by subtraction is risky. Being smart about the process mitigates the risk. We are more nimble without the unnecessary baggage, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.

Roll: Once you put out any existing fires, prevention is the key moving forward. Make sure you have momentum in the right direction before you get on a roll.

Oftentimes, we set our own fires. With the daily noise, hustle, and bustle, our attention is distracted and we lose our way. Next thing you know, we’re backpedaling or just spinning our wheels. Sometimes we need to just roll with it, but most of the time, we should be paying attention, avoiding the unnecessary fires, and course-correcting.

In this fast-paced environment, we find ourselves in, it’s easy to catch on fire and burn out.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin

Fires can be dramatic. Preventing them doesn’t have to be. Allocate some time today to remind yourself where and who you really want to be. Assess how you’re getting there and make any necessary adjustments.

Everyday alignment is not a big deal but it can make a big difference. Keep calm and roll on.

Life of a DJ Then and Now

Let The Music Play

Mylove for DJing started 30 years ago in high school. Back then in Chicago, before Hip-Hop took over, House Music was the thing with my teenage friends. It wasn’t mainstream so I felt like I was part of something special. Like I was in on some secret that only the underground knew. Chicago DJs would mix the music using Technics turntables and 12″ vinyl, blending the tracks seamlessly so as not to interrupt the packed dance floor. Since my friends and I were too young to get into bars or dance clubs, we would go to dance parties hosted at local VFWs or in somebody’s basement.

That was the scene back then. And the DJ was always the life of the party.

To see a melting pot of people, all grooving to the same beat, was inspiring. I could feel their joy. I could hear their heart beat in sync with the music.

I was just coming out of my super-shy, nerdy phase of adolescence. When I saw the girls swoon over the DJ, something told me that I needed to be that guy. My friend Charlie Manlapaz, a.k.a. DJ Charlie, kindly took me under his wing and showed me the way. After teaching me the basics of beat-matching, he showed me how to scratch and even a few record ‘juggling’ tricks. That’s how my DJ life started.

By the time I was in college, I had enough experience to DJ live at parties. Up until then, I was just practicing hours and hours in the privacy of home. After rotating as a guest DJ at several university dances, I noticed that most of the DJs played the same type of music…the same songs just in a different order. To set myself apart, I chose to play more “new wave.” This is what got me invited to mix at more parties. It wasn’t because I had better skills. That definitely was not the case. I just played good music that people didn’t hear from the other DJs.

DJ Insight #1: Find the gap that everyone overlooks and find a way to bridge it. When introducing something new, it helps to sandwich it between the familiar. Make sure it blends nicely and make the transitions as seamless as possible.

There was a bar at U of I called Skylight Club. They had a DJ every night and there was usually a long line outside to get in. During the weekends, the line would snake around the corner. When the head DJ, a senior about to graduate, auditioned people to replace him, I stepped up. Using DJ Insight #1, I got the job.

After college, I spent six years working in Japan. When I wasn’t working, I spent my free time with Japanese friends as well as other gaijin. Most of them were still in their twenties and loved to party. I began offering my DJ services for special events and even organized a few myself. Mixing music abroad drove home something I guess I already knew…

DJ Insight #2: Music is magic. It’s a universal language that speaks to people from all cultures. It can connect and inspire.

I returned to the States in 1997 and decided to start a mobile DJ business on the side, focusing mostly on weddings along with a few school and corporate parties. This was the first stretch where I had to constantly deal with requests from the crowd. I hated it. As much as I like to please the crowd, especially the client, to get bombarded with individual ad hoc requests — while you’re in the middle of spinning a live set — is very distracting.

While it paid well, the DJ-for-hire life taught me that DJing is much more fun when the only one you’re trying to make happy is yourself.

DJ Insight #3: Selling your services often feels like selling out. Unless you’re in a financial position to be selective and say no, it often takes all the fun out of why you went into business in the first place.

A few years of providing mobile entertainment almost every weekend was enough. When my wife told me we were expecting our first child, I put my equipment in storage and started working my way up the corporate ladder. It paid off, except that in exchange for six figures, I sacrificed my family life and personal interests. Somehow that doesn’t make much sense in the long run.

So now, in this chapter of my life, I’ve slowed things down, gave some things up, but got some great things in return. Family time feels special again. I’ve dusted off the DJ equipment and am exploring other interests (like cooking and writing!) I’m mixing things up again, instead of playing the same tune day in and day out. The magic is coming back.

DJ Insight #4: It’s good to mix things up. You discover new things as you explore and experiment. There’s value in dabbling and incorporating something fresh. And if you do it long enough, you find it gets easier to create the perfect blend for you.

I’ve been a DJ on and off for 30 years. Vinyl is now back. I use the original Technics turntable from back in college. And the songs I used to spin many years ago can still rock a party. So many great experiences along the way and a few very valuable insights. Today, I spin music only when I want to, not because I have to. I still take requests, but I don’t get many since the people I choose to spend my time with are those who like me for who I am, the way I do things, and the music I choose to play.

Let the music play.

-Donn (a.k.a. DJ ReCreator)


Recorded practice set when I volunteered to DJ for my son’s end-of-year middle school party.

Track List:

  1. Tom’s Diner (7″ A) — DNA & Suzanne Vega
  2. What’s My Name (Funkymix by Supa Dave Jackson) — Rihanna w/ Drake
  3. Lean Away (3LAU Mashup) — Fetty Wap vs. Daya vs. Major Lazer
  4. Thrift Shop (Short Edit Xmix) — Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Feat. Wanz
  5. Yeah! — Usher Feat. Lil Jon & Ludacris
  6. In The End — Linkin Park

https://soundcloud.com/donn-durante/3d-blend-fancy-champagne-with-shirt-and-tie

One of my first mixes recorded after dusting off the DJ gear.

Track List:

  1. Champagne — Salt-n-Pepa
  2. Not For Long (Xmix Short Mix) — B.O.B Feat. Trey Songz
  3. Suit & Tie — Justin Timberlake
  4. Only Wanna Give It To You — Elle Varner Feat. J. Cole
  5. Fancy vs. Rich Girl (Xmix Mash-up) — Iggy Azalea

https://soundcloud.com/donn-durante/2016-04-17-5h10m48

This blend is a spicy mix of female vocals with some unusual twists. At 140 bpm, it has a bit of a kick.

Track List:

  1. What’s Up (Original Dance Mix) — DJ Miko
  2. Another Day (Two Man Remix) — Whigfield
  3. When I Grow Up — Garbage
  4. Mickey (Killa Klub Edit) — Toni Basil

https://soundcloud.com/donn-durante/friday-flashback-1-dj-recreator-mix

Serving up some disco flavors, peppering in some reggae and old school rap. Then I top it off with a classic from the Jackson 5.

Track List:

  1. Best of My Love — C.J. Lewis
  2. Got To Be Real — Cheryl Lynn
  3. Good Times — Chic
  4. The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel — Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
  5. I Want You Back — The Jackson Five

Time to slow it down a bit. This mix is more of an eclectic blend including mild samplings from Africa, United Kingdom and Japan.

Track List:

  1. No Worry — Angelique Kidjo
  2. Thank You — Dido
  3. Moonchild — Cibo Matto
  4. We Are One — Angelique Kidjo
  5. Can’t Help Falling In Love — UB40

3 Essential Buffers

 
Copyright : Wavebreak Media Ltd

Extra Cushion to Safeguard People, Time and Money

Over the years I’ve struggled in 3 important areas of life. Even with the best intentions, I’ve had a history of embarrassing — even traumatic — experiences. During the worst of times, the anxiety and stress would wreak havoc on my emotional and physical health. Then it would become a vicious cycle spiraling downward. Took a while, but I finally came up with an effective way to avoid the unnecessary headaches.

Create and maintain buffers.

For the purpose of this article, we’ll define “buffer” as:

buff·er
ˈbəfər/

noun

1. a thing that prevents incompatible or antagonistic people or things from coming into contact with or harming each other.
“family and friends can provide a buffer against stress”

synonyms: cushion, bulwark, shield, barrier, guard, safeguard
“a buffer against market fluctuations”

I began rethinking buffers after reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism, where he describes the disciplined pursuit of less but better. Critical to this pursuit is the ability to create buffers that afford us emotional breathing room. Within that space we are also better able to think strategically.

Consistently maintaining buffers in my relationships with people, time and money has had a compound effect on my overall quality of life.

Relationship Buffers

Relationships with people — family, friends, coworkers, followers, etc. — are give and take. As Covey would say, you have an emotional bank account with each person in your life. Investments of your time and attention to that person make deposits into the emotional bank account. Occasionally you may need to make a withdrawal because of neglect, or simply because you need a favor.

Making deposits can be as easy as showing that you care, and truly listening when others don’t. Recognizing someone’s effort even if the results were disappointing. Remembering personal details. (I like addressing people by name even though we only met once before.) It doesn’t take much. Just a little effort where others don’t usually bother. Random acts of kindness. Establish trust with empathy and integrity. Make deposits regularly.

Make time and the effort to maintain a healthy balance in the emotional bank accounts of the key people in your life. When forgiveness is needed, you won’t be overdrawn. In other times of need, they’ll be there to help without being asked. It’s not about the number of connections you have. It’s about the quality of those relationships that count.

Schedule Buffers

There was a time in my life when I was late for everything: family parties, doctor appointments, work…you name it. By incorporating buffers into my time blocks, punctuality is now easier by design. Instead of scheduling everything back to back, I also block out enough time between meetings, appointments and other responsibilities to accommodate the unexpected.

For example, as much as I try to get done in the morning, knowing when to stop and consistently leaving early for work dramatically reduces any commuting stress. If there happens to be an accident or unusual congestion, I’m still on time. When conditions are normal, I’ve got ample time to mentally switch gears before jumping into a productive workday. Planning for adequate lead time sets the right tone to start the day which has a positive ripple effect on the rest.

Find a scheduling strategy that works best for you. I recommend time blocking — per Gary Keller and Jay Papasan in their book, The One Thing — based around your priorities.

Designing your life starts with designing your days.”
— 
Srinivas Rao

Srinivas Rao also wrote a useful article on ‘Why Calendars are More Effective Than To-do Lists.

Proactively use your calendar to schedule not only your priority activities but your transitions and down time as well.

Financial Buffers

When I first started my career many many years ago, I would live paycheck to paycheck. And because of credit, I would often spend more than I had. When large unplanned expenses would pop up, I’d be at a complete loss. By the time I was married and expecting our first child, I knew things had to change. While I personally didn’t mind eating ramen to make it to the next paycheck, my wife and child deserved much better.

Fortunately, my wife is much more fiscally responsible than I am. While I was primarily focused on the percentage growth of our year-over-year income, she continued to save, invest and diversify. As CFO of our household, she has managed our money well and established a healthy buffer for rainy days.

The past year or so, it’s been raining. After my Career Break, I deliberately chose a different career path which brought our annual household income from six figures down to just above the Federal Poverty Level. If it weren’t for our financial buffer, we wouldn’t have been able to afford that decision. (And yes, more than a year later, it still feels like the right choice. We may make less, but life is better.)

This is what has worked for us:

  • Leveraging the compound effect wherever we invest time and money
  • Creating multiple streams of income including forms of passive income
  • Having many egg baskets but choosing our baskets wisely
  • Living well below our means
  • Thinking long term

My Dad once told me, “It’s not how much you make. It’s how much you keep.” I agree. The more I think about it, it’s really a combination of both. You can’t keep what you don’t already have, so I work hard to continue building that financial cushion. My wife always makes sure we keep enough for everything our family might need in the long term. This usually means making disciplined trade-offs and delay of immediate gratification.

Like I mentioned with scheduling buffers, when it comes to finances, find a way that works well for your individual circumstances. Financial Samurai suggests that “The Best Way To Gain Financial Security Is To Develop Financial Buffers For Your Financial Buffers

The Buffer Benefits

Space for Uncommon Sense

You would think all of this is common sense but from what I can see, not enough people act on it. This actually helps those who do. The space is less crowded. It’s easier to stand out and get ahead. Unlike the masses in the mainstream who get caught up in the current, people who create and maintain buffers only flow with the main stream when the current is taking them where they want to go. Otherwise, they slip away on their own to yin when others yang and to ebb while others overflow. It’s in this space where they strategically choose the vital few over the trivial many.

The Compound Effect

By getting started and taking even small yet persistent steps, you can build momentum. Habit fuels a virtuous cycle spiraling up. In the long game, you experience the compound effect of focusing on less but better.

Buffers are like life insurance. You don’t think you need them. Until you do. Life rarely goes as planned. Give yourself some cushion just in case.

Today I continue to face daily challenges with my relationships to people, time and money. Fortunately, safeguards are in place. If ever I veer off course, I catch myself sooner and course correct earlier. And because of the buffer, I avoid accidentally colliding with anything.

Respect the people around you by giving them both time and space when needed. Healthy relationships maintain a healthy balance (as in emotional bank accounts).

Value your time and the time of others by scheduling and committing to the important things with enough flexibility to accommodate downtime and the spontaneous.

And continue to insulate your finances for those rainy days. When it pours, you’ll be ready.

Creating buffers in these essential areas of life make room for peace of mind and abundance.

Next Story:

Friday Flashback Series (Vol. 3)

Practicing my other profession, this is the third installment of a series where I post some of my music mixes to kick start the weekend. Most tracks will be reminiscent of years past. And if you were born around 1969 or earlier, you may actually have memories from when these songs were first released 😉 I intentionally keep the mixes short and byte-size. Nowadays our attention spans are too short and our tastes are very selective!

Time to slow it down a bit. This mix is more of an eclectic blend including mild samplings from Africa, United Kingdom and Japan.

Listen on MixCrate

Track List:

  1. No Worry – Angelique Kidjo
  2. Thank You – Dido
  3. Moonchild – Cibo Matto
  4. We Are One – Angelique Kidjo
  5. Can’t Help Falling In Love – UB40

 

Mix it up a little and chill.

Donn (a.k.a. DJ ReCreator)

Flashback Series:

Get in The Zone Then Step Out

Being in the zoneor in the state of flowis often associated with a special kind of focus. And that focus lends itself to extraordinary performance. You know the feeling. The stars are aligned and you experience a suspended moment of clarity. Everything clicks and it feels like you can do no wrong. Even complex situations are managed with ease as you naturally adjust to all variables in real-time. Every decision, every movement is graceful and appears effortless. While often associated with sports, this happens just as much at work, or in any other activity that requires focus in order to perform well.

It seems like some people are able to get in the zone on demand. It’s like they flip an internal switch and then they’re able to stay in the zone until the task at hand is done. Amazing to watch these people in action. What others find challenging, they make look easy. I used to admire these stars from a distance and wonder how I too could learn to flip that switch.

Locus of Control / Circle of Influence

Before my career even started, I was fortunate to have picked up a copy of the classic 7 Habits by Stephen Covey. Habit 1 gave me insight into how people were able to get in the zone. I started seeing the zone as what Covey called your Circle of Influence. Being in the zone meant having an internal locus of control. In other words, I thought that having a primary focus on the things you can controland attributing outcomes to those ‘controllables’had a direct correlation with peak performance. Covey emphasized exercising your ability to choose and being proactive versus reactive. This concept has served me well throughout my career. Even if luck had a large part to do with it, applying this concept has brought me good luck.

Many of us spend our time thinking about things outside of our control. (Things that are in our circle of concern, but outside of our circle of influence.) We may want to change something without having the ability to do anything about it. Whether it’s the weather or the economic/political climate, some things are just not in our circle of control. We might not have any influence over certain things today, but it’s possible to take steps towards someday being able to.

Expanding Your Circle of Influence

To grow our circle of influence, it’s important to practice things just outside of our comfort zone. Not way out,  just enough to make us stretch. Things that will help us grow but are still within reasonable reach. With enough exposure and practice in those areas, if they’re meaningful to you, they will eventually become second nature and part of your circle of control. This happens organically to some degree. What separates the ordinary from the extraordinary is intention and proactive behavior.

By maintaining an internal locus of control and working in the zone, you create momentum and waves. I like to consider each phase of my career a wave that I ride as well as I can for as long as it lasts. In the past 25 years, I’ve had 6 or so significant career changes, or waves (metaphorically speaking.) With each role, I got in my zone and made the most of each wave I caught. Sometimes it would get choppy and I would get worked, but I’d keep charging ahead. When it was cranking, I felt the flow and did my thing.


It feels like the moment you’re in is where you’re supposed to be…”

― Dave Aabo, Waves for Development


Each ride made me better at what I did and as I grew professionally, so did my circle of influence.  Those rides were good while they lasted, but every chapter has a beginning and an end, and even big waves have to end sometime.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

…is what Marshall Goldsmith titled one of his books. He talked about growing as an executive by evolving rather than following the same formula for success that has gotten you this far. We’re all tempted to rinse and repeat when we find an approach or method that works for us. This never lasts though. Things change–conditions, inputs, reactions, etc. What works today will not necessarily work tomorrow, or next month, or next year. There’s also a tendency for successful people to form bad habits that can defeat and unravel any good that they’ve done. One of those bad habits Goldsmith calls “clinging to the past – the need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past.” In doing so, we’re basically shifting our locus of control from internal to external.

My transition between waves varied. In some cases, I was able to piggy-back off the previous experience. In other situations, I had to start fresh.

There was a point in my management career when I was really in the zone. I stayed focused on the things I could actually control. I took on projects that I knew I could influence, hired the right people and followed the principles that I knew would bring results. Everything fell into place. I was promoted 3 times in 3 years. Stepping stone after stepping stone I climbed, eventually accepting the role of Vice President of Marketing. Then the environment changed – steppings stones became stumbling blocks.

Instead of reassessment, I tried harder to follow the formula that worked for me in the past…it wasn’t working anymore. I kept hitting a brick wall. At first, I kept pounding my head against the wall thinking I could eventually break through. That just caused pain. Then I tried finding a ladder that got me over similar walls I had encountered before. This time, there were no ladders to be found. It took me a while to realize it, but now I see that the wall was there for a different reason. Time to go in a different direction.

Adjusting to Change

New directions and unchartered territory can be scary. Fear of the unknown is natural. As you step out of your comfort zone, you have to deal with the unfamiliar. This is one of those moments where ‘the rubber hits the road’ and how you choose to respond determines how easily you’ll be able to acclimate.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” “Step out of your comfort zone.” Whatever version you’ve heard, I know it’s cliché. Maybe because repetition is actually required for it to become effective and for the message to hit home.

The more we practice stepping out of our comfort zone, the less daunting these changes are. We get used to embracing change rather than fighting it. When this becomes second nature, you can still be “in the zone” even though you’re stepping out of your comfort zone. Because you’ve done it enough times where you accept it as par for the course. You’re no longer paralyzed by that fear.


“To be outstanding, get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

― Alrik Koudenburg


As you advance through your career, stay focused on what you’re good at, the things that are important to you and that you’re passionate about. This will help keep you in the zone and boost your performance. Ride those waves for as long as they last and your circle of influence will continue to expand. Opportunities and resources that were once out of reach begin to enter your circle, fueling success in a virtuous cycle. Success begets further success…until it doesn’t.

Relish these moments in the zone. They tend to be fleeting. Athletes can get into a slump. Careers might hit a glass ceiling. When your wave crashes and it’s time to look for your next ride, acknowledge that the rinse and repeat formula may not work anymore. You’ll need to accept change and be comfortable with it.

“The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually, growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety.”

—  Josh Waitzkin

Good athletes know this. Successful professionals know this. The difference between just knowing and actually doing is the key to keeping the door open and unlocking the gate to flow. Remember to make time regularly to ‘sharpen the saw’ and do things outside of your comfort zone. Step out and stretch. Do something good that makes you uncomfortable. There will come a time when you’ll need to make a more drastic change in your career and this practice will come in handy. When work or life throws you a curve ball, you’ll be more ready for anything that comes your way if you regularly practice stepping out of your comfort zone. You might swing and miss. That’s ok. That’s how we learn when it’s time to switch it up. Before you know it, you’ll be hitting those curve balls out of the park and making it look effortless.

 

-Donn

Sources and Related:

Fashion and Style: Expressing Your Personal Brand

Expressing yourself in different ways naturally develops your personal brand, even if that’s not your intention. Whether it’s through your words, your actions, your work or―as is the focus of this article―your sense of style, you can give others a glimpse of who you are and what makes you different.

How you go about expressing your style can also send a strong message. To me, fashion and style are synonymous. When we meet people for the first time, we can’t help but jump to conclusions about their personality and character, based on how they’re dressed. Superficial? Yes, but we often do it unconsciously.

Instead of criticizing it, I’ve learned to embrace it.

Career In Fashion

After my 6-year career start in Japan, I returned to Chicago not sure what the next chapter would be. I decided to explore my interest in fashion by working part-time at Bachrach Clothing. It was where I bought my first suit out of college and I had fond memories of shopping there. Ten years and a full wardrobe later, I learned everything about gentlemen style guides down to the details of how to properly fold a pocket silk or how to tie the perfect knot.

Putting outfits together is an art form. There are general rules you’re supposed to follow but with practice you learn when it’s ok to break those rules. It helps to start with the basics and then build from there. Once you have essential items that can easily be mixed and matched, you move to other details such as layering and combining colors, patterns and fabric. The fun starts when you accessorize. Finishing touches such as pocket silks, cufflinks, scarves and watches can transform ordinary to extraordinary. (See my Pinterest board on men’s fashionfor more details and inspiration.)

At Bachrach, I also learned the importance of fit over fashion. We’re often drawn to things that look great on the shelf or display. But when we try them on, certain things just don’t work well with our build. We may need to go up or down in size. Sometimes alterations are needed. When available and within our budget, made-to-measure usually gives the best results. It’s important to remember that regardless of whether something looks good from a distance, unless it fits you properly,  the end result won’t be as good as you expected. Forcing a fit usually leads to disappointment in the long run.

I’m grateful for these lessons learned. The time at Bachrach helped me refine my personal sense of style while I helped others do the same.

When I transitioned to work in e-commerce for Dreams Retail (before it was acquired by Fanatics), fashion took on a different definition. Acceptable dress code was very characteristic of sports fans and dot com culture (e.g. graphic t-shirts, snapback caps and even flip-flops). I enjoyed the freedom of the relaxed work environment and wore my gear my way. It was more in line with how I like to look and feel when I DJ a party, or when I’m at home. I couldn’t get totally away from suits and ties though. My closet was full of them and it felt like a waste. So every once in a while, I would break from the norm and come in dressed to the nines. As expected, I stood out like a pair of mismatched socks, but I made no apologies. I was doing it because it represented another side of me that I didn’t want to neglect. To my surprise, our President at the time, Kevin Bates, took a liking to it and declared an annual “Dashing Donn Durante Day” where everyone was encouraged to dress up (See featured image of me with Tim Glinski, our Don Draper look-alike). It was like the opposite of Casual Friday.

In retrospect, Dreams brought out a different side of me and helped me develop a healthy respect for the various shades of everyone’s style and character. When you go beyond first impressions, you’re often pleasantly surprised at the depth of character of the company you keep.

Now I’m back to wearing suits daily at Nordstrom. Many things to love about Nordstrom’s approach to business. One of the corporate values I enjoy most is the emphasis on being yourself. It’s more about expressing your personal style and not just about buying fashion. Among the many inspiring messages you’ll find on the walls of the employee hallways is the note below:

Fashion may be the form of expression, but the emphasis is on you. Fashion is one way of representing who you are and how you want people to think of you. Let the true you shine through.

As you may have already read from the news I shared, Nordstrom recently partnered with Ellen DeGeneres to launch her new line, The ED by Ellen DeGeneres shoe collection. Ellen sets a great example and she’s a champion of being yourself. How fitting!

Fitting is a great word to describe my career to date. At a glance, my path can appear haphazard and random. A closer look connects the dots between the things I love and the opportunities that presented themselves. My personal brand is about making meaningful connections in creative ways.

Personal Branding By Being Yourself

Personal branding, as a concept, sometimes gets a bad rap. I like to look at it as simply an extension of being yourself. The effort of branding yourself becomes negative only when it’s not authentic, not genuine ― when it becomes about fabricating an image that’s only designed to please others. Branding for branding’s sake is shallow. Let’s not do that.

So how do you represent your genuine self? When free to choose, what’s your signature look? And why? What does it say about you? Einstein was known to have identical outfits so he wouldn’t have to think about it in the morning. Other things were a priority. Steve Jobs wore his classic black turtleneck, blue jeans and gray New Balance. He had his reasons. How about examples from the people around you? When I was at Dreams Retail, Kevin Bates was known around the office for often wearing a black t-shirt, blue jeans and a pair of white Puma sneakers. To me this look matched his very approachable nature. For my other friends at FansEdge and Fanatics, it was common to proudly sport the jersey of one’s favorite team or alma mater. It was easy to see what they were passionate about and it often prompted conversations about their personal history and experience.

Albert’s typical head-to-toe attire consisted of an undershirt, baggy pants held up with a rope, and sandals.

His attitude was either people knew and accepted him, or they didn’t. Case closed.

Going deeper below the surface, it all starts with you and ends with how it all fits together.

What’s important to you?
For example, do you like simple or sophisticated?
Do you prefer loud or muted?
For you, is it in the details or the overall package?

I know it’s not that simple. So start with the basic questions and then dive into the more intricate details. As you build on your essence and layer in the other unique aspects of yourself, you begin to get a good sense of what makes you you. Then you can consider how this all fits with everything else. Is your current company a good fit? Maybe the company is a good fit but your role within the company could be better. How well do you gel with the team? Do they bring out your best, or do you feel you’re always at odds? Make some time and think about it.

Applying This to You and Your Career

It’s important to emphasize how unique and multifaceted each of us are. We’re different on the field and off, at work and at home, from one role to another. Our diverse nature gives us the flexibility to adapt from situation to situation, depending on what’s appropriate. You’re still being yourself. Just bringing out a different side of who you are.

There’s only one you. Like no other. Never has been. Never will be. So go ahead and express your one-of-a-kind style with confidence. Be comfortable not only with your personal style of dress, but also with your special style of speaking writing and working. Otherwise, you’re depriving the world of something only you can give. Building your personal brand will happen in due course.

“Since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of time, you are incomparable.”
― Brenda Ueland

As you navigate your career choices, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you feel pressured to be someone you’re not and your integrity is compromised, get the hell out of there as quickly as possible. No matter what the potential rewards, don’t sell yourself out. At the end of the day, you’ll make the most meaningful impact by staying true to yourself and finding company that brings out the best you have to offer. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my most impactful, rewarding and memorable years were at Dreams Inc where I was encouraged to be myself, manage in my own way and be creative in how I delivered results. Finding the right fit takes precedence over glamorous opportunities.

Again, fashion is just one of many ways to express yourself. You may agree it’s superficial and only a mere reflection of who you are. For your personal brand, it’s what’s on the inside that really counts. Be Yourself. Don’t just try to fit in. Doesn’t matter if you’re a fashionista, old-fashioned, or if you couldn’t care less about fashion. Even when we’re buck naked, we should all be comfortable in our own skin.

-Donn

Sources and Related:

Playing with Your Hedgehog Outside of Work

[Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse]

It’s early Monday morning as I write this. For those with a traditional Monday-to-Friday work week, how you feel about getting back to work can tell you a lot. Just depends on whether or not you care to listen. Ideally, everyone would be raring to go, excited to return to a current project they’re working on, or simply looking forward to the unknown challenges of a new week. On the other hand, if you’re one of the many who have the Monday Blues, don’t complain about it. There’s a cure.

You could quit. I know that sounds extreme, maybe even unthinkable, but it’s true. You always have that choice. It’s rarely practical, but the option is always there. I don’t necessarily recommend it. We all have bills to pay and if you’re highly dependent on the income, that wouldn’t be a move to make hastily.

That said, it’s something to consider if you’re not excited to go back to work at the beginning of every week. That’s a sign that you should heed. Life is too short not to. So how would you do it?

You could do it in stages, or go all in and take a leap of faith. Hopefully, you’ve been good about managing your finances and making contingency plans. With the right things in place, it becomes more about timing. Timing is an art in itself so don’t hesitate too much. When ready, have confidence and move forward, knowing you’ve done everything you can to be smart about it.

Applying The Hedgehog Concept Outside of Work

What to do is a different, but important, question. Personally, I’ve applied the Hedgehog Concept to help me decide. Find a career or choose a business where the three circles below intersect. If you haven’t read Good to Great by Jim Collins, click through the illustration below for further background on The Hedgehog Concept as it applies to career choices.

 

To maintain multiple streams of income, I take this approach in parallel ― not as a substitution or replacement for what I’m already doing. This means focusing most of my time on the primary economic drivers while still committing to my extracurricular activities “off the clock.” Only when there are multiple initiatives in play do I consider quitting whatever contributes least to my overall happiness.

Start with Your Interests and Make Time For Them

This is one thing that works for me and what I’m suggesting to you. Set aside regular time each week to work on a hobby you love.  For some, it’s trying new recipes in the kitchen. For others, it’s blogging. For me, it happens to be spinning music as a DJ.

Whatever your hobby is, it’s important to make time for it despite the many demands on your already busy schedule. Avoid being lazy or making excuses.

I started DJing over 30 years ago while still in high school. Even though I usually get paid for it, I’ve continued to do it on and off simply because it’s fun. I love music and blending songs in creative ways. To see a packed dance floor of people letting loose, because of the music set I’m playing, is an incredible high. (At the end of this post, you can listen to a mini-mix I uploaded to SoundCloud.)

Last week, I volunteered to DJ a party for the school where my kids attend. Since I agreed to DJ a few weeks earlier, I had reason to dust off the equipment again and practice. It was like time-traveling to the past when I was a resident DJ at a club in college. I used to practice new sets all the time, imagining how the dance floor would react and looking for ways to put my personal signature on the mix. Over the past 3 weeks, I got lost in hours planning possible sets that incorporated the song requests I received in advance. Then I recorded the sets to listen to how the ideas actually came together. I enjoyed every minute of it.

After the gig was over, I remembered how important it is to make time just for the love of it. No need to wait for a reason. Whatever fulfillment I may not be getting from my other undertakings, I’ve found it’s made up in this area. So making the time commitment to my hobby helps provides balance. It has also set me up to succeed when I find opportunities to monetize.

“Study and work in whatever seemingly unrelated areas you are interested in, even if it’s just a hobby. That way, when your dream job/business comes up, you’ll be perfectly and uniquely qualified for it.”

― Sarah Jansen, writer and editor

Where It All Comes Together

Now back to work…Work could be and should be fun. Normally it’s not. That’s why we call it work. So, for now, if you have to work at a job that’s not your calling, but pays the bills, make time outside of work hours to do what you’re deeply passionate about. That might be cooking, writing, DJing…or in my case, all of the above. Perhaps you like to code. Some of you enjoy organizing events or managing side-projects. Doesn’t matter. As you get better and better at your chosen craft, you’ll improve your chances of finding the missing piece and putting it all together ― combining passion and skill with something that can drive your economic engine. Or in other words, creating a part-time gig, or even better, a viable career out of something you love and are also very good at.

I know fitness instructors, magicians, wedding planners, business consultants/owners and of course other DJs who’ve done just that. I’d love to hear if you’ve also managed to make the transition. What were you doing before and what are you doing today? Please leave a comment below.

Let me wrap up this set with a sample music mix created by my alternate persona, DJ ReCreator:

Use the following link if the embedded sound clip doesn’t load: https://soundcloud.com/donn-durante/3d-blend-fancy-champagne-with-shirt-and-tie

You can also see the track list and download this mix for free on MixCrate:
http://www.mixcrate.com/djrecreator/3d-blend-fancy-champagne-with-shirt-and-tie-9203074

Cheers! Here’s to a happy work week!

Feedback on Your LinkedIn Profile

[Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse]

This was first written in response to the flood of requests for individual profile reviews. Henrik Kjærulff started what became a very popular group discussion titled “What do you like about the profile above you.” I participated by reviewing a few profiles in the comments section. The idea was to review the profile of the person who left the last comment, and in turn, the next person would review and comment on yours. Great idea, and as I write this, there are currently 953 comments.

There were no expectations regarding expertise from those who provided feedback. (I certainly do not have any.) It was enough to get some objective feedback on both the good and not-so-good. Most people were very constructive with any suggestions they provided.

As I reviewed earlier comments, I noticed the trend of people getting skipped. Not intentionally, but the flow would sometimes get sidetracked when someone used the comments section to thank the person who gave a review. There were also a few folks who may have missed the detail about first reviewing someone else before expecting one in return. Oh well, it happens. I tried to help out by taking time to review anyone who may have been inadvertently missed. I no longer expected mine to be looked at. It just felt good to help someone out.

So here I am trying to “work smarter.” As much as I’d like to comment individually, this post will hopefully summarize the feedback I found myself giving again and again. While this post is meant for a more general audience, I hope readers will still find a few things applicable to their individual profiles.

Profile Photo: At The Very Least, Have One.

There are plenty of resources and tips out there regarding the LinkedIn profile photo. I stumbled upon one the other day written by Rachel Zoe – “5 Tips For Looking Better In Your LinkedIn Photo“. Great tips so I’ll just emphasize what I think is the most important one.

Within the group discussion, one of my recurring observations was that several of the profiles had no photo at all. (If you’re waiting for the perfect photo before you upload one, you may be missing out in the meantime.) Rachel Zoe cites this stat in her post, “…having one makes your profile 14 times more likely to be viewed by employers.” Personally I would love to update my profile photo with one taken by a professional photographer. Alas, I’m being frugal and just asked my wife to take a shot. Not ideal, but I’ll circle back to that eventually.

Avoid Copying Your Résumé Verbatim: Tell a Story

There was a point when my profile was pretty much the LinkedIn version of my curriculum vitae. This wasn’t necessarily ineffective, but when recruiters would reach out and ask for my résumé, I didn’t have any more information to give them other than what was already detailed in my profile.

I decided to follow the lead of some of my mentors and tell my story instead of just making bullet lists of my past responsibilities and accomplishments. I went against my own reservations about being too personal, and injected more of my personality. Now it feels more genuine and less scripted. I figure that if this turns off potential partners/employers, I probably wouldn’t want to work with them anyway.

This may be the wrong direction. I’m still not sure. You’ll know what’s best for your particular case.

Endorsements and Recommendations: Sometimes It Helps to Ask

When LinkedIn first rolled out the endorsements feature, I enthusiastically added it, perhaps too much so. I went overboard with the number of skills I listed. I’ve been fortunate to receive many endorsements from my peers and colleagues. Of course, I make sure to also give honest endorsements  for everyone I’ve gotten to know during my career. I’ve never asked for endorsements and I still prefer not to.

On the other hand, when it comes to recommendations, it’s a little different. Writing a recommendation for someone, at least a good one, takes thought. Everyone’s busy. So having someone write you a recommendation just because they like you so much, probably won’t happen. For the longest time, I only wanted to receive recommendations that weren’t solicited. I actually got a few. (Many thanks to…you know who you are.)

Then I decided to actually ask, albeit selective whom I asked. I made sure to give everyone an easy out so they wouldn’t feel obligated. It’s true what they say – you often get what you ask for.

Publish a Post: Stop Hovering

For the past year, any time I was editing my profile, my mouse would hover over ‘Publish a post’ but I didn’t feel I had anything worthy to share.

Hmm…I was fairly successful as a digital marketer. Should I write about that? Nah, too many people out there much smarter and with more expertise. Plus it will take too much time and I’m busy. Forget it.

I would move on to editing some other section of my profile.

Then I started journal writing again in the early hours of the morning. It was my way to capture important details of daily life and to reflect on my scattered thoughts. Since I was only writing for myself, I didn’t care about grammar, coherency, structure…I just wrote. It was in returning to this daily practice that I found inspiration to publish my first post. I wasn’t expecting much. I was only hoping that it might help others who were going through a similar career experience. After that first one, the subsequent posts followed without a lot of hovering.

As this relates to your LinkedIn profile, what you publish is an extension of your personal brand. It helps others get to know the person behind the job history and skills. For some it demonstrates their mastery in a specific field. For me, it’s about the career journey and how all the seemingly disparate moments come together.

LinkedIn Pulse can be a powerful feature if words don’t get in the way. Find the connection between what you do and what you love. The story will come.

Do What You Can Then Let It Be…For a While

During my career break last year, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to overhaul my LI profile and give it a major makeover. I tested and applied many of the suggestions I noted above. Eventually, I needed to just walk away. I was forcing it – with the aim of perfection – well beyond the point of diminishing returns. I’ve accepted that it’s probably best to let it gradually improve over time. To let my number of connections, endorsements and recommendations grow organically. To only post articles when I’m inspired. To shift my focus on what I can give rather than what I can get. Today, I’m ok with my profile, imperfect as it may be. It will improve in the long run.

I’d like to experiment with this being a “living” post. My hope is that I can continue to edit/add/remove/refine content within this post based on your comments and my personal experience. The sections covered initially only include what I found were common oversights. With the robust features that LinkedIn provides, there will be a lot more to cover as this post evolves.

Please leave a comment if anything I’ve mentioned is totally off-base or irrelevant. If most of it seems like common sense to you, please leave some suggestions on anything unique that you’ve found to be effective. Thanks in advance.

-Donn

[Last Updated: 03/04/2016]


Additional Reading:

 


Donn’s Blog: www.donndurante.com/category/career
Featured Image Copyright: inbj / 123RF Stock Photo

More Than Words: A Career Start in Japan and What I Brought Home with Me

It was the summer of 1991. Although I hadn’t officially finished school, I boarded a plane for Tokyo after being accepted into the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme. I had taken a semester of Japanese language during my freshman year but proficiency in Nihon-go wasn’t even a prerequisite.

My time as an Assistant Language Teacher was only contracted for a year. Six years later, I was still working in Japan. I had extended for a couple more years with the Ministry of Education. Then as I was packing my bags to head back to the States, a Japanese student/friend referred me to the CEO of a local language school which led to another 3 years in the private sector.

The entire cross-cultural experience influenced my perspective on everything from communication to customer service to relationships in general.

In terms of communication, I quickly learned the value of paying close attention and listening more than talking. It took incredible concentration just to carry on everyday conversation in a language I could barely speak, much less read and write. Surprisingly, even if I couldn’t find the right words, I was still able to carry on meaningful exchanges. Sometimes it was enough to just listen respectfully and then combine broken Japanese, simple English and a whole lot of gestures to respond. When totally over my head, I would bow and excuse myself as gracefully as possible. Sumimasen! To the Japanese, there were unspoken expectations and varying levels of formality depending on who you were speaking with.

Being a gaijin (translation: foreigner or outsider) I was often excused for making inappropriate or ignorant comments. I knew I could only play that card for a limited time. After the first year, I had no excuse not to understand the local lingo. More importantly, I needed to better understand the cultural expectations and social context surrounding both verbal and nonverbal exchanges. The more I familiarized myself with what made the Japanese culture unique, the more I appreciated the differences. It became easier and easier to understand what my Japanese friends really meant despite what they actually said.

My Takeaway: Words Are Important but The Nonverbal Means So Much More

More than 20 years later, this perspective still influences every interaction regardless of whether I’m with a client, a co-worker or family and friends. Understanding the subtleties of body language, or knowing when it’s better to keep my mouth shut, has had a huge impact on the quality of my relationships and the differences I’ve made in the various roles I’ve played. It has shaped who I am today and the opportunities that have come my way.

For example, when I DJ a party, the music is the language of choice. How I segue from one song to the next is based on how I read the audience and the mood of the moment. I pay careful attention to how smooth the transitions flow and how the party reacts. When I’ve done my homework and made the effort to understand the audience before the event, our “meeting” leaves everybody pumped up. I put the needle on the record and communicate through the song selections and the crowd replies by packing the dance floor. A track record of packed dance floors makes securing the next gig easy.

Whenever I’m responsible for a team, I flex my management style depending on the person or the group. As I’ve mentioned in my post about simply effective leadership, I always take the individual and the situation into consideration. This tends to produce much better results than the one-size-fits-all style I used to have. In turn, being an effective leader has afforded me greater responsibilities with greater rewards.

At the heart of it all, it comes down to understanding the details within the context of the bigger picture. The meaning of any words spoken or actions taken can change drastically depending on how you frame them. The frame can shift the focus. The context can change the meaning.

So this is what I learned so many years ago thousands of miles away:
It doesn’t matter what language you speak (Japanese or English, Music or Business). what you do and how you respond can mean so much more than the words you actually say. There’s a universal language out there that we all understand, and words have little to do with it. Da yo ne!

Originally published on LinkedIn

Translations:

  • Nihon-go – Japanese (language)
  • gaijin – foreigner or outsider
  • sumimasen – excuse me
  • da yo ne – isn’t that right!

Featured Image Copyright: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

Testing LinkedIn Publishing

[Excerpt from private journal]

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.