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Category: Thought Soup

Insights about life, useful skills, and a few about life in general

Thanksgiving 2018

Thanksgiving 2018

This is a repost of what I said on Nov. 21, 2012.  It’s still on target, and I could see no reason to rewrite it.  Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate it.

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And thanks for the not so sunny things in life….

And now, for a non-political, non-denominational nod to the value of gratitude…

Thanksgiving Day is upon us–at least for those of us who live in the United States.  What Mom or Dad or Grandma used to say is true.  We do have a lot to be thankful for. Even when things aren’t going so very well at all, a lot of stuff is going right that we often don’t take the time to acknowledge.

This year I’m being thankful for the very act of being thankful.  It’s like a wonder drug.  When I take the time to look at all the good things in my life and utter a prayer of gratitude, I raise my happiness index into the ozone.  Yep.  Be thankful; be happy.

So what am I thankful for this soggy Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving?

I’m thankful for where I live–in a warm house in a place that hasn’t been ravaged by hurricanes or wildfires or horrendous snow storms.  But I’m also thankful that I live in a culture that helps when those bad things happen.  And that gets itself up, dusts itself off, and gets on with getting back on its collective feet when it does.  Generosity and grit build a pretty solid community, and I am lucky indeed to be in a country like that.

I am thankful for what I get to do with my time.  I love what I do.  It doesn’t always go the way I want, but it’s the right path and I can feel that to the bottom of my soul.  But I’m also thankful for the years (yes, years!) that I’ve spent wandering around in the emotional dark trying to figure it out.  That painful time was an important step in assuring that where I walk so happily now is solid ground.  I’m also thankful that I already know I will likely circle back around through that trying territory again at some point in the future.  That is okay–because the trip will come with reconfirmation of all I value and how to best use my time in this life.

I’m thankful for family and friends.    Loving and being loved is the glue of a good life.  But I’m also thankful for the times I’ve been in that space of “alone.”  Connection keeps my world warm, but sometimes, I need a splash of solitary “cold water” to help me get back on track with how I am treating the people in my life–and myself.

I am thankful for sunshine, blue skies, lovely warm weather, and the chance to hike high in the mountains of this beautiful place I’m blessed to live when the weather allows.  But I am also grateful for these truncated days of late fall when it’s dark before dinner and the rain just keeps coming.  The short days remind me that one of the greatest gifts of being human is the need to believe when things are dark and slow.  We live “not knowing” and have to learn to trust that the sun will bring the long days back, that all is well, and that we can get through the hard times if we just keep going.

Yes, I am thankful.  And that makes me happier than anything else I can think of to do.  An attitude of gratitude cuts a clear path to enjoying life–regardless of whether what’s coming down at the moment is wonderful or not-so-grand.

As you prep the turkey or sit down to the feast, wind your way to Grandmother’s house in bumper to bumper traffic or wait in line for TSA at the airport, give thanks.  And be thankful most especially for the times and things in your life that don’t seem like pluses.  They’re there for a reason, and the reason is good.  You  just have to understand it.

To those of you with an official holiday for giving thanks in the offing, Happy Thanksgiving!  To those of you who don’t have it on your calendar, give thanks anyway.  It will make you happy.  (And then you have one more thing to give thanks for.)

 

The Power of “Letting People Know”

The Power of “Letting People Know”

When you let people know–what you need, what you have, what you would like to do–you increase your chances of getting what you are trying to accomplish done exponentially.

I’m writing this just after doing some volunteer work at the local library–where I didn’t work much because no one knew about what I was there to do.  Not promoting my availability to do one-on-one job search counseling was a conscious decision.  They were worried too many people would want help and that many wouldn’t get it because I was only there for two hours.  But not telling anyone before the period when I was actually there meant I had a lot of time to read magazines I don’t ordinarily get to see.

It also made me stop and think about how many ways there are to benefit from “letting people know.”

The obvious one is if you are job hunting.  Letting every person who knows your name know what you are looking for is essential.  There really are only a few steps between you and what you need–just as the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon party game suggests.  (Microsoft actually tested the premise–that any two people  in the world are connected by way of no more than six intermediate people–and found it to be very close to that.)  So “let people know” if you are looking for work, projects, internship opportunities, whatever.

Last week, my brother called asking if I needed a new dishwasher.  He had just purchased one he could not return, and it didn’t work in his kitchen.  I did (need a new dishwasher).  Desperately.  One friend described mine as sounding like I was washing bowling balls.  But I had just purchased one as part of a major kitchen remodel and was within days of getting it installed.  I did, however, know of someone else who needed a new dishwasher.  So I called him…and now his family has a nice new dishwasher.

I have a wonderful hiking group that I go out with on Wednesday mornings.  I would still be yearning for the chance to get up in the mountains if I hadn’t “let someone know” that I was looking for a way to hike.

Three very different examples of the same principle:  Good things happen when you “let people know.”  This isn’t a case of “expecting” people to give you what you need.  It’s more like getting your name on the list for the Universe to work with.

Let people know…if you’d like to meet some new members of the opposite sex…if you need a handyman….if you want to wallpaper your dining room with tinfoil and are wondering just how to do that.

The power of community is one of the sweetest things about being human.  You tap into it by “letting people know.”

 

 

REAL Networking

REAL Networking

Bad assumptions about networking mean a lot of us get less than we could from it. Far less.

Real networking has nothing to do with business cards or methods of organizing them. It has nothing to do with “getting ahead.” It has nothing to do with “meet and greet” events billed as “power networking opportunities.”

Real networking—the kind that will make a difference your career and your life—is about getting to know people who are focused on what you want to be focused on and relating to them authentically.

No phony “Let’s do lunch” or “I’ll call you next week” stuff that never happens. More like “I thought you’d appreciate this article, given our conversation last week.”

Let’s get one thing straight right now. You do not network with people you don’t know. First you meet them, then you get to know them, and THEN they become part of your network. And they do so because you like them, they like you, and both of you have a common interest. It may be that your kids are on the same hockey team. It may be that you are both trying to create a better version of a fuel cell. Either way, the bond and the value to each other is built on interaction and mutual respect.

A lot of career development seminars and job search advice books tout “networking’ as THE solution to all your professional needs. And that is very close to the truth. But what they suggest is typically not anywhere close on how to create a network.

It is not done with cold calls to a bunch of people you need favors from. It‘s done via on-going engagement in what you believe in. When you are on target with your values in the way you reach out, people of the same persuasion tend to show up in your life. You meet people who are not only interested in what you are interested in; they are also folks you want to know personally. They won’t all be “BFF” material. But they will be meaningful players in your overall Game of Life.

Waiting to create a network until you need help is like waiting to put on your life jacket until after you’ve been thrown out of the speed boat. Your network should be a lifelong effort and should include people from all aspects of your life. Branch out. If you do different things with the same people all the time, you might be more comfortable with the crowd, but your network is going to be a lot more limited. The more far flung your contact base is, the more likely it will be contain what you need when it comes time for that network to serve you.

But that time should be a long way down the road. A good network is built on friendship and service. Giving any way you authentically can is the quickest and smartest way to foster its development. That might be forwarding a cogent news release, letting a friend know that another friend is looking for what they have to sell, or just calling to say “how ya doin’?” when things have been difficult. Real networking works because it’s a shared effort to live life well. It’s genuine and benefits both parties.

The “synthetic networking” that’s often recommended for job seekers is just another form of cold calling—a strategy that’s long on rejection and short on results. Cold calling to ask a very busy person for an informational interview might work, but asking a friend who knows that person to set up that call will make it work a whole lot better. (And that friend will want to help because of all the help you’ve given in the past.) The fake version is better than doing nothing at all, but it’s not anywhere close to the effectiveness of the real thing.

Networking is a time-honored life skill. Our moms did it with the neighbor women about great casserole recipes. Our dads did it with other Scout Leaders or fishing buddies. Real networking is like populating your own virtual city with great people who have all the skills, insights, access and resources you need. They may live 2000 miles away, but you still know you can count on them.

Networking enriches your life. The fact that it helps in your job search or developing your client base or finding someone to date is secondary. Build it for the long haul and build it for real.

 

Rebel Rousing Retirement Reaction

Rebel Rousing Retirement Reaction

I just read in today’s news that by 2050, 1 of every 6 people in the WORLD will be 65 or older, “leaving the US and other nations struggling to support the elderly.” It’s time to stop this nonsense and get real about “the aging crisis.”

The vast majority of “elders” could do a helluva lot more for themselves–and would willingly–if we weren’t painted as inept, worn out and unable by society. The notion that anyone over 40 is less capable  of doing “the work” started in the 1820’s when “the work” was mostly farming and heavy manufacturing and things like tractors didn’t exist. Now we sit at desks and use telephones and computers to get the work done. You can be 99 and get it done just fine.

But ask anyone who’s over 60 and looking for a job, and they’ll give you more than you ever want to know about how easy it is in this country–and most others–to not hire someone because of age.

Of course it’s not called that, because ageism is illegal. It comes out as “overqualified” or “want fresh creative ideas” or some other blather.

We need to face one strong hard fact: The best way to avoid the horrendous cash outlay for people as they age is for every country, but particularly the US, to begin to acknowledge what older workers are still quite capable of doing and to give them a fair chance to do it. The amount of talent, skill and knowledge we waste in the name of an outmoded version of retirement is obscene.  The lack of engagement and mental challenge breeds illness and decline.  And the need for a better approach is urgent.

Everyone wins if companies and communities find ways to harness older talent by giving workers old enough to retire innovative programs in which they can continue to contribute for a good long time.  This is not that hard, folks.  Mostly it’s a matter of letting them in.

Why We Need to Recalibrate Our Sense of “Old”

Why We Need to Recalibrate Our Sense of “Old”

On his 80th birthday, Hugh Hefner said “80 is the new 40.”   In an article last summer, Sunset magazine proclaimed “100 is the new 70.”   Author and CEO Bill Byham titled a 2007 business book  70: The New 50. The numbers are fun, but so far, it seems in terms of the way we see it as a culture, 50 is still “old.”  We need to revisit that.  We are shooting ourselves in the collective foot big time.

The dictionary lists nine different definitions of the word “old.”  When we talk about “old” people, are we talking about “worn” or “experienced?”   Our continued success as a society hinges on which we choose.  Because 50 is not “worn” so much as polished.   We are throwing away really good stuff–and then paying to keep it somewhere else.

Seventy percent of the physical problems we blame on aging are actually the result of lifestyle choices.  It’s not your age that’s keeping you from doing that bike ride.  It’s that you haven’t walked farther than from the couch to the refrigerator in the last five years.  Excusing our bad habits with our birthdays is a downpayment on a long gloomy death spiral.   Most of us are going to live to 80.  Thirty years of assuming we can’t do what we want because we’re “old” is pretty tragic.

Businesses who assume 50 is “old” are squandering some of their best talent, too.  Instead of helping  the experienced workforce get comfortable with new technology, they look for ways to usher them out the door.  Instead of building multi-generational teams that capitalize on the full range of talents and skills available, they shove the experience in some corner where the younger workers can’t learn from it.  They literally watch needed expertise walk out the door into retirement without ever asking, “Any way we can get you to work for us on a more flexible basis?”

A recent issue of Wired magazine included an article about taking your job on the road–in your RV.  It wasn’t written for “old” people.    But it sure looks like a good marriage of “retirement” and staunching the experience drain.  The irony of the current business mindset is that while companies continue to assume that experienced workers want traditional retirement, they are creating flexible work arrangements to attract Millenials as their replacements.  The “new kids” want  to work when they want wherever they want, responsible only for the end result rather than showing up every day.  It’s called ROWE–results only work environment.    To offer such options to new, inexperienced workers–who probably won’t reach the level of productivity the older workers have for ten years or maybe much longer–and NOT offer it as an alternative to retirement is painfully short-sighted.

As a business, there may also be room to retain the experience you already paid to develop in creative ways that take less than a full time salary to accomplish.   How can you marry new technology with old savvy to get the best bang for your labor buck?

And then there is the little matter of government entitlements.  When someone retires, they go on everybody else’s payroll, via FICA taxes.  Social Security comes out of our collective wallets, not “the government’s.”   So when we expect people to be “old” and to retire around 62,  we buy in on taking care of them, in terms of Social Security checks, for an average of about 18 years.

Most  people retire in good health.  They are still capable of doing great work on something in which they believe, particularly if it’s a customized arrangement.  Instead, the invisible wall of ageism goes up around them.  The culture assumes they are washed up, worn out, and useless.   We pay them to “get out of the way” when they weren’t in the way in the first place.  And once they’ve retired, we make re-entry into the labor market, even if highly qualified, damn near impossible.  It’s like we are afraid “old” is contagious.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Once people start being “old,” they buy in on the stereotype.  They need more medical attention.  Much of it wouldn’t be necessary if these capable people could remain engaged.  But when the only person who’ll talk to you is your doctor, you talk to your doctor.  Once Medicare is part of that person’s setup, we are all pay the bill.

We need to revisit when “old” starts.  I’m voting for somewhere around 95 or maybe 98.  Many of us can keep going all the way to the day we die if we just have the opportunity.  People over 50 have a lot left to offer and a lot left to do. As a culture, we need to give them the chance.

Choosing to Choose

Choosing to Choose

I am writing this as Election Day looms—a time when we make some very significant choices. These are big, important decisions, and we need to respect them enough to do them well. But there’s an entire realm of choices we make on automatic pilot day after day that it might be good to think about, too. What better time than this—when we are focused on “choosing”–to take a look at those.

We make a lot of choices by default because we assume there really isn’t a choice. We assume we have to keep this job because we need a job. We assume we must stay where we are geographically simply because it is where we are.

Making choices this way is the meek way to live .It means you never consider anything beyond what you already know, what you already do, what you are already comfortable with .It also means that you feel “stuck” with what you are doing—a “victim of circumstance” rather than captain of your own destiny.

The truth of the matter is there are always alternatives. Much of the time, they’re so unappealing we never consider them .To be sure, there are some choices where the alternatives are unthinkable and making the choice again and again would be silly. I choose to breathe. Not breathing doesn’t look like a real good idea to me. I also choose to rest, eat, and drive with care (mostly). I don’t need to decide to do these things every time I do them. But letting your entire life run on autopilot is cheating yourself.

Decades ago, I was involved in a company program that encouraged women to get into nontraditional careers within the organization. We offered an all-day seminar called “How to Decide.” I wish that class were mandatory in every high school in the country today. Since it isn’t, here are the basics of making good choices:

  • Recognize you have a choice.The first step in making a good choice is acknowledging you have a choice. Instead of assuming that what is going on is the only thing that could be going on, make a conscious effort to assess the situation. Ask yourself “Is this the way I want my life to go?” often.
  • Generate a wide range of potential alternatives.When you create the list, put down everything you think of, even if it seems silly or unthinkable. Sometimes those “frivolous answers” hold the kernel of a really great alternative.

Here’s anexample. Many of us are rethinking whether we can retire because of the rollercoaster ride the financial markets are on. But there are a whole lot of alternatives beyond “doing what I am doing now” and “traditional retirement.” Exploring that broader range of alternatives can offer far more appealing course of action.

  • Gather the information you need to make an informed decision. When we do make an effort to consciously choose, this is where we tend to blow it. It’s easy to buy in on information from some website or a friend without assessing the quality of that information. Is it accurate?  Is it current?  Is it relevant?  There are TWO pieces to this step–getting a realistic sense of what the alternatives will and won’t provide AND a defining clearly what you need. Do you need to buy that great but expensive jacket because clothes are terribly important to you? Or are you looking for ways to be properly clothed without wacking out your budget?
  • Decide.Too often, we do this “naked”—without a clear idea of what we are deciding and without anywhere close to enough information. And we do it without thinking about the consequences of choosing this particular alternative. A friend bought a dishwasher he hates—because he daughter told him it was the greatest. She’s good in the kitchen, and he believed her rather than thinking about what he really needed himself. Now he’s stuck with that dishwasher. That’s small potatoes compared to the career choices that are sometimes made the same way.

Taking the time to choose is usually a time saver, too. The easy way usually ends up costing you a lot more—in time, in money and definitely in personal satisfaction.  Choose to choose.  Even when your choice is just to keep doing what you’ve been doing, the consequences are dramatic.  Making good choices reinforces your sense of controlling your own life.     

Retaining Your Emotional Agility

Retaining Your Emotional Agility

At the moment, I’m working with my publisher on the title for a book. They have great ideas and know the business. I know what I said in the book. They are good people, and I want to believe what they say about what will work. But I am the one who knows what doesn’t as “retirement.” I know “not working” doesn’t work. They love that title.

They’re in the prime of their careers. “Retirement” hasn’t even hit their radars yet. They are sure “not working” is the coolest thing you could ever do. How do I mesh my truth with theirs to the greatest benefit–of our working relationship and what we ultimately get out to the public?

This is just an example of the challenge that’s often cast as “keeping an open mind.” Sometimes, it’s not as simple as it seems like it should be.

So what do I do to honor and get the most from what this enthusiastic, young team is doing to help me? And how does that relate to what you are trying to do? We deal with this so many different ways. How can we be true to ourselves and easy to work with?

  • In every instance it’s good to revisit the priority list when you hit an impasse. How important is the sticking point? Is what they want to do more workable than you are telling yourself?
  • Then it wouldn’t hurt to just stop thinking about it for a few hours. The more pressure you put on trying to get to the solution, the harder it is for the easy breezy brilliant ideas to push their way in the door.
  • And above all, believe there’s an answer and trust that all involved are looking for it. They usually are.

These are good people and what we are trying to do is good work. The right title will come. Once we use it, you won’t have any idea how many e-mails we spent trying to hammer it out.

But to get to that answer, I need to keep my emotional agility. To let the new ideas have the full floor. To not cling to a favorite just because it worked for me. I need to let go of what I already decided. Nobody likes a stubborn grump–young or old. Keeping an open mind may not always be easy, but it’s the only way to go.

Saying “No” when you need to

Saying “No” when you need to

As two-year olds, “no” was our favorite word, and we pronounced it with great confidence. What happened? As adults we take a two-week guilt trip every time we say it in any meaningful conversation. It’s an important word to use, yet we avoid it like lima beans.

A big piece of the problem lies in the idea that saying “no” is not nice. When you get to be a big kid, you learn it’s important to be nice. Nice is more important than honest, fair, or reasonable once we move into adulthood. Nice can be deadly if you’re doing too much.

Being effective with how to say “no” is essential. Life is more vibrant when we don’t take on things that aren’t ours to carry. Saying “yes” to the wrong things doesn’t do right by the people making the requests either. Agreeing to do it because someone else asked you to–when a different approach is needed–is a lie. Lies complicate relationships. This particular lie also takes away that person’s chance to learn to achieve whatever the real solution was. They rely on you instead. You lose. They lose.

The saddest part is that when we do say “no,” it tends to be to those who don’t deserve it, especially ourselves. We say “no” to the fun and “yes” to the work. “No” to what we like and “yes” to what others prefer. (And then we wonder why we are stressed!) We say “no” to the people who deserve our time and “yes” to chores no one else wants to do. We need a better set of rules for this.

Here they are:

Rule #1. Be honest.

Is this really yours to do? If not, who should be doing it? Is that person available? If not, why are you the one asked to handle it? And then there’s the biggie: Is this important enough that anyone should be doing it?

Rule #2. Be authentic.

Do you believe in what you are being asked to do? Do you really want to do it? Is it truly your responsibility? Or is “yes” just easier? “No” takes more courage up front but “yes” takes a lot more time to be finished with the request.

Rule #3. Stay the course.

Even when you know you need to say “no” it’s easy to be derailed by sweet talk. Be alert to the folks who tell you how great you are at whatever they need done. A lot of us believe we HAVE to say “yes” to anyone who asks nicely. Not really. We just need to say “no” nicely.

And that’s the other part of this.The courage to say “no” often doesn’t come until we are at the boiling point.  Then “no” is lobbed like a hand grenade. Saying it as “the last straw’” often has catastrophic results. The big fight that results just isn’t worth it.  Too long delayed,“no’” is almost always part of a major explosion. Not pretty. Not good. But instead of learning how to use the word at the right time, we decide not to use it at all.

Say “no” when you first become aware it’s the right answer. Be specific.“No.I can’t take on the fundraising chairmanship.” (You can add “Sorry” if you want.) Say it gently. “I’d love to do something with you, but not that movie.” And particularly, with kids and teenagers, you have to say it clearly or they will still hear “yes.” “No, you can’t do that” is more effective than “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

What about the situations where the person you have to refuse is difficult? You still have to say it. And you have to learn to say it calmly and with confidence again and again—even if that person is verbally abusive. Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Connection is a great resource for these situations.(The subtitle is “How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed or Desperate.”  That pretty much covers the bases.)

Do say “yes” to what’s important. Say “yes” when it makes your heart sing. But “no” is a good answer, too. Believe it and mean it and say it with grace.