Archive: February 2013
Guest Blog Post: Harness the Power of the Pause
Thank you to Julie Winkle Giulioni for allowing me to be a guest on her blog this week. In this post, I discuss the importance of pausing to reflect on how you communicate to show sincerity and caring in your communication. Enjoy!
The Price of Passion
Sunday’s NYT had an article (read it here) about a young veterinarian, Dr Haley Schafer, who, in spite of making minimum payments of $400 per month, will see her student loans expand from $312,000 today to an estimated $650,000 by the time they mature 25 years from now. Why? Because the payments she can afford to make don’t even cover the interest she accrues. Holy cow—there has to be a better way!
If you read my Jan 30 blog, you understand the connection between curiosity and prosperity. Following one’s natural curiosity makes it easy to get the kind of in-depth knowledge that leads to marketable expertise, and with a little luck, to the discovery of a life long calling. But what I didn’t point out was the need for a financial analysis before you go too far down the path. I define prosperity as an existence where you get to pursue your passion by doing work that is personally satisfying while providing the financial resources to experience your envisioned life. What do you do if pursuing your passion doesn’t yield enough income to pay your student loans, much less your envisioned life?
If Haley, or her parents, had done a little homework, it would have been pretty easy to predict the financial predicament that she, and a lot of other vet students, find themselves in. Instead of piling on with the “I told you so’s” let’s construct an alternative path for other young people to contemplate.
Recalculating (use your GPS voice here)
What if you created an alternate career route that gets you to within a block or two of where you want to go? A happy veterinarian is one who enjoys providing health services to mammals while providing helpful communication to their human owners. There is almost certainly a way to get a much less expensive degree that qualifies you to be involved in the healthcare industry (for people) while upping your furry mammal involvement at home and by volunteering 10 hours a week with a local vet who would love the enthusiastic assistance.
Have Your Cake and Eat It Too
If Haley could exchange this personal vision for her original one, and reduce her student loan by $200,000, she would, in effect, be paying herself $100 per hour for the hours she spends volunteering (assuming a 6% interest rate). Maybe she wouldn’t agree that this arrangement meets her career vision. But only she can make the trade off between a less ideal career path and the awful reality of a life long student debt hanging over her head. But that’s the problem isn’t it? She never did the analysis. I think that one of our high school graduation requirements should be a financial analysis of the student’s plans going forward, whether it includes college or not. Don’t you?
What Every Entrepreneur Should Know
I was asked during a 33voices interview what someone should know before embarking on an entrepreneurial career path. In short, my answer was that this person should know that choosing this path means choosing a life full of exhilarating highs and gut wrenching lows. That if someone wants to put a floor under the horrible experiences possible in a career, they would be well served by avoiding the entrepreneur’s route and instead choosing to work within an existing organization with a stable business platform. Listen to my complete answer here and fast forward to 12:30 of the audio clip.
I thought of that interview again yesterday when I caught up with my friend Doug, an entrepreneur in financial services. Doug was talking about how the journal he keeps has been helpful in keeping his life’s high’s and low’s in perspective. He explained that he started his journal on the day his twin daughters were born (an incredible high) and has made it a practice to write about whatever is happening on the 11th day of each month, the day his girls were born. He started the journal intending it to be a chronicle of the girls’ lives that he could give to them as they became adults (how cool is that?) but he soon realized that it had another purpose. He found that when life threw him a curveball in terms of a health issue or really draining business issue, “these times seemed to last a long time”. But when he reviewed his journal entries he realized that the bad times didn’t last as long as he thought and that he tended to forget the really good things that had happened with even more frequency.
Doug is an amazing dad and he thinks a lot about the life skills that he wants his kids to have. Life has taught him that one of the most important skills that prosperous people have is resiliency. He loves leading his own business and hopes his kids follow in his footsteps and become entrepreneurs. But he also understands how important is for them to be resilient if they choose this path. So he doesn’t get too concerned when one of his kids has a setback. Doug sees this as an opportunity to teach them how to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back in the game. In his world grit = success and Doug has earned a surfeit of both.
Worry Is the Misuse of your Imagination
One of the drivers behind Doug’s success is that he sweats the small stuff and his investors know it. Doug worries about everything with respect to the small public companies he invests in. But he also knows he sometimes takes it too far. He knows he needs to anticipate possible downside risk of his investments, but after he has done the work to understand the likelihood of an unfavorable event and his best response to it, additional worry does not add value. He referenced Dan Zadra’s quote “Worry is the misuse of your imagination” as the self-talk he uses to rebalance himself after he has evaluated unfavorable scenarios.
Entrepreneur or not, achieving all that you are capable of means extending yourself beyond where you’re comfortable — beyond where you know what will happen. Having the courage to do this means experiencing moments of incredible satisfaction as well as some tough learning experiences. If you go this route, a journal can help you realize the cyclicality of the process and be patient when things pretty much stink because good times are right around the bend.
LL Cool J’s Grammy Lesson in Entrepreneurship
I was catching up on e-mail while watching the Grammy’s on Sunday when I saw a clip of LL Cool J from a 1986 interview with Dick Clark on American Bandstand. He was 17 at the time. In the clip LL Cool J clearly has swagger and stage presence, but it was the fairly goofy presence of a 17 year old and hard to square with the polished, mature image the actor and recording artist exhibits today. View the 30 seconds of the YouTube clip here from 1:40 to the end to get a flavor for what I’m talking about.
The clip is a good reminder that people who have become really good at something didn’t start that way. They all had to travel a long learning curve to get where they are today and the beginning probably doesn’t look much like what we see. All the media show us is the final product — the people who have risen to the top of their respective careers. But you can bet that every one of them worked their butt off to get down the learning curve and in every case the beginning wasn’t very pretty. It takes a lot of determination to take that first step, to put yourself out there when you are unsure of what you are doing. We don’t want to try anything in public until we are competent — that’s human nature. It’s also a limiting behavior if your goal is to dream big and take the shortest path to achieving it.
With a little bit of luck there will be a point in your life when you experience your own American Bandstand moment. The moment when you realize that you have some skills and you see an opportunity to take it to the next level. Please take your shot. And don’t worry about looking silly. Yes, there may be some smiles at your inexperience, but so what. People love the underdog and, even though it doesn’t feel like it, are applauding your effort.
The same thing is true with entrepreneurship. I came to the entrepreneur game pretty late as I was 36 before I took the plunge and started a company. I had worked for two fortune 100 companies and probably took myself a little too seriously. But after I held my breath and jumped, I found myself in a crumbling, windowless concrete warehouse (bunker, more like) where it soon became clear that I would need to worry less about how things looked and concentrate exclusively on providing real value for the few customers who could look past the dump we worked in. Let me tell you a humorous story of the day I finally let go of the fear of looking dumb.
Our start-up did very simple manual assembly for a plastic injection molding company and other companies who needed assembly labor. Jake (Production), Dave (Engineering) and I were the only ones that did anything that required a desk or a phone and the only space that had walls to separate it from the warehouse was a tiny break room. In short order we evicted the Coke machine, added a phone line, and unboxed some desks from office depot.
I ended up spending a lot of time in that room, calling potential customers and trying my best to sound as professional and capable as a guy can when he’s on a cheap phone in a converted break room. I was on such a call one day when I found it increasingly difficult to hear. There were strange noises coming from the other side of the wall. Not just noises but excited yelps followed by loud pounding and banging, commands being issued, and then the unmistakable sound of hysterical laughter. There was no way I was going to be able to concentrate enough to make this sale not to mention the whole professional persona I was striving for. I politely told my customer that I needed to call him back and went out of the office to investigate.
On the backside of the break room wall we had fabricated an additional room to house expensive production parts. Jake and Dave were in this room grinning like idiots and recounting their recent adventure. It turns out that they had been looking for some parts when one of them spotted a mouse running among the metal shelving and boxes. They immediately slammed the door shut, trapping the mouse inside the small room with them and then doing battle with a broom and rolled up technical journal. The mouse eventually got to experience the heft of a 90’s era technical journal, as the men became wild boys for a few brief but exhilarating moments. I think this was the moment when I realized that I wasn’t in the fortune 100 anymore. What we lacked in professionalism we made up for in lunacy. But we did some really good work for our early customers and that was enough to get us through the early days.
So take your shot and get started down your own learning curve. And do it while you are young. Young people have less to lose and are less sensitive to having their inexperience on display. Just ask LL Cool J. He was all smiles while the clip of his 17 year old self rolled, demonstrating just how far he had come.
Super Bowl Shortcuts to Prosperity
Watching Sunday’s Super Bowl I couldn’t help but think about the odds of two brothers coaching against each other in football’s biggest game. Amazing right? Not really. Growing up with the most powerful of role models (a parent) demonstrating on a daily basis that there is no reason that you couldn’t duplicate their success is powerful stuff. Peyton and Eli following in Archie Manning’s footsteps is another great example of the next generation mimicking the success of a parent.
And it doesn’t just happen in athletics. Familial role modeling is prevalent in business and even in politics with family dynasties that range from the Kennedy’s to the Bush’s. And how about Hollywood? Do you think it is an accident that Drew Barrymore is a fourth generation actor? It’s statistically impossible. If you were to conclude that this phenomena is mostly about genetics and innate talent you would be wrong. It is mostly about 3 things that have nothing to do with your DNA.
Develop a Personal Vision (Shortcut 4)
If you are lucky enough to be born into a dynastic family you probably have an idea of what you want to become about the same time you learn how to tie your shoes. For the rest of us it’s not so easy. People who have achieved amazing things without the benefit of a role model have done so by doing the hard work of actually developing a vision of the world they want to create and their place in it. They make it real by imagining what it will look, feel, and be like before they even start to work toward it. The hardest part of the journey is the making of this mental movie and, unlike observing your parent’s success, it is not a natural act.
Get Confident (Shortcut 5)
Jim and John Harbaugh drew confidence from the fact that their dad had coached his way to a collegiate national championship and it seemed natural to them that they too could coach at the highest levels. The rest of us have to gain this confidence the old fashioned way. Once we have a vision of where we want to go, we have to earn an “I Can Do Anything” attitude. This attitude is earned by kicking butt on a stage that gets progressively larger. Said another way, confidence comes from a succession of personal wins as you set and achieve goals along the path to achieving your vision. I call this the Prosperity Cycle.
Find a Mentor (Shortcut 10)
The right mentor can take the pie-in-the-sky vision that you are hesitant to even say out loud and, through experience and personal example, lead you to the point where you can see yourself making it happen. He or she has been where you are going and can give you the advice you will need at critical times. The only prerequisite for a great mentor is that they care deeply about your well being and have succeeded in the same space you are operating in.
Even if you have a successful parent as a mentor, you might not have a shared passion for what they do. Follow the steps outlined above to achieve your own vision of prosperity.