Thursday, June 3, 2010

Throw yourself unconditionally into what you want!

"What are your talents? Your passions, your goals? What do you own, what do you want? What do you expect and what do you dream about? Now share it with everyone, tell your friends and family about it, ask about theirs and then give yourself up to them all. Throw yourself, unconditionally into what you want and desire in life and experience what happens. You will fail, you will succeed, you will experience pain and sheer joy. You will go up and down, get in fights and fall in love. And all along, you will be happy. It's like a leap of faith, however you choose to leap, whatever it is you are leaping into, all you need to do is just jump." - from the blog of Josh Courage, fellow CrossFitter and friend.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Make Your Dreams Come True

"There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure." - The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What do we believe?

How do we "figure out" what we believe on a given topic?

Some people have strong and immediate opinions on everything; they know instinctively what they like, don't like, believe in, or disagree with (even with new topics). Other people we know may be the opposite - they have very few strong opinions, rarely state their position, or waffle back and forth. Both can be equally frustrating, depending on the circumstance.

Most of us are somewhere in between - we have strong opinions when it comes to areas of expertise, hobbies/passions, values, etc., but may not have set beliefs in other areas.

What contributes to not having an opinion on a matter?
  • Lack of personal experience or historical knowledge in that area - e.g. certain sports, especially for some women
  • It's outside the scope of our current lives (we've never had to think about it) - e.g. parenting for bachelors, software programming languages for english majors
  • We deem it uninteresting or unworthy of our mindspace - e.g. pop culture, botany (depends on your interests)
  • The issues are incredibly complex and we don't want to base our opinion on an emotional response - e.g. certain political issues, economic theory, foreign policy
So, what if someone asks us our opinion in one of the above categories? How do we "figure out" what we believe, especially if we have no working knowledge on the subject?

When we were young, everything was foreign to us; we didn't know anything about cars, science, ethics, history, politics, religion, nutrition, computers, restaurants, etc. Our early beliefs were infused with (indoctrinated?) perspectives and patterns from various "nurture" aspects of our upbringing: societal norms, friends, parental tendencies (often times unknowingly), role models (which were often famous people), or whatever experiences imprinted themselves on our young psyche. As we got older, however, we became more analytical and selective in how we formulated our opinions.

Nowadays, to "figure out" our perspective, we know we should do our own research to find what resonates best. However, when we don't have time for rigorous investigation, we end up asking our friends, peers, family, etc. for their perspective (because they often share our world view and can offer a synopsis and a way to think about the issue).

Another shortcut is to base our opinion on the "stance" of a group we self-identify with (could be Catholic, Liberal, Conservative, Athlete, Vegetarian, Gay, etc.) because it would most likely would match our response if we were to do all the research. The obvious danger is blindly accepting these perspectives (or those of our friends and family) as the only "truth."

Research, discussion, and experience are still the best ways to formulate new opinions, and are also important in questioning our currently-held beliefs (many of which are based on our upbringing).

We all have a tendency of staying within our own thought circles - reading articles that reinforce our opinions, hanging out with people who share our perspectives, continuing the same old patterns. We need to actively challenge our thinking, have new experiences, and seek out someone who believes the opposite and listen to (not debate) their perspective.

At the end of the day, we might not change our perspective but at least we're able to see the other side and appreciate the differences.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Trading Big Dreams for Smaller Dreams?

We don't want to be just another X - we've always wanted to do something noteworthy or important with our lives.

This desire to do something big is often accompanied by frustration, as we deal with day-to-day bureaucracy, office politics, corporate ladders, academic rigors, or having to jump through hoops in our professional lives. Or maybe we've just chosen a career/job that is far from what we enjoy. We often have big dreams, but feel especially stifled in our early careers.

As we progress in our lives and careers, something happens... maybe our priorities shift, or we realize it's a lot harder (or not worth the martyrdom?) to have the kind of impact we originally thought. Perhaps it was our youthful naivete that created such grandiose dreams in the first place.

A friend of mine once made the comment, "As we get older, we trade our big dreams for smaller dreams." He pointed to smaller dreams like getting another degree, making partner at a firm, owning a house, raising a family, etc. This annoyed me. I don't mean to knock these in any way (they take hard work and are ambitious goals), but it suggests that we are sacrificing our true, high-impact, dreams for the garden variety.

I recognize that priorities change, especially in our late 20s and early 30s, and would never suggest that someone foolishly follow an unrealistic dream. It's important to assess the scale and scope of our dreams with a clear perspective of ourselves and our place in this world, but accepting these smaller "prepackaged" dreams seem like a covert way of justifying "settling" (the nemesis of overachievers).

I say follow your dream, or more correctly, go in the direction of your dream.

Maybe for a 40 year-old IT guy, with a fear of public speaking, the big dream of becoming President of the US is unrealistic (although stranger things have happened!); but instead of giving up on politics altogether, he can still have a profound impact on politics.

Or perhaps a mother of 3 has always wanted to run an orphanage in Latin America. Certainly this is more difficult to do with a family of her own, but she can still affect change in meaningful ways (fundraising domestically for a few orphanages, working at a non-profit with a similar mission, volunteering her business consulting expertise to cut costs at a particular orphanage).

We must remember to hold on to our dreams because they point to our passion and sense of purpose. At this point in our careers, we may be far removed from our dream. My suggestion is to get involved and start small - begin to do it on the side, figure out how to use existing strengths to have a meaningful impact, develop a niche/competency/expertise in appropriate circles, and expand from there.

Live large and shoot for the moon (and then, according to the saying, even if we miss, we'll land among the stars, right?). Happy dreaming (and doing)!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Uncaring Overachiever?

Only out for #1,
Quick to action,
Not available,
Only interested in results,
Obsessed with productivity,

Do these characteristics make us less caring as individuals?

Seems a bit harsh, but it's probably not the first (or last) time it's been suggested. These characteristics don't necessarily mean we're uncaring, but they do impact our relationships because:
  1. We are driven to work hard (which often means less free time to spend with others), and
  2. The time we do spend with them might be colored by the other thoughts running around in our minds (lack of true quality time/being present when we're with them because we're preoccupied with other thoughts).
The combination of both (and repeated infringements) lead to the perception that we're low on the "caring" scale. Since these overachiever traits create tension in our personal lives (competition for time, mind-space), we can work to alleviate this misconception of "not-caring" in a few ways:

  • Be conscientious about safeguarding the time we set aside for our friends and family - don't break plans, be on-time, turn off our blackberry/iPhone, etc. Time and attention show they are a priority.
  • Understand the most important element/display of friendship for the people in our lives - a phone call, Sunday dinner, email, meeting for coffee, date night, watching the game together, working out, visiting once a month, etc. and commit to doing that.
  • Allow ourselves to be open in our interactions with friends, family, significant others, and strangers. Actively work to cultivate empathy, generosity, patience, and sensitivity. Even if it's a smile to the cashier, a note to a friend in need, a good deed, a compliment, or going out of our way to help someone. Those things are remembered and appreciated (and also make us feel good, too).

Of course, part of me feels like we shouldn't have to to defend or hide our overachiever characteristics, but it's good to consider how we can improve to be the best we can be in all aspects of life.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Zen in 2010

My brother likes to come up with rhymes each New Year (It's 2009 - Drink More Wine, Feelin' Fine in '09), and one of the few good ones for this year was "Zen in 2010."

We were on the way to the bagel store in NYC on New Year's Day, and I didn't think much of it, but as I began thinking of January as setting the tone for the rest of the year, his passing comment had merit.
2009 was a tumultuous year (for me, and many others from what I've heard), so January 2010 is an opportunity for greater clarity, peace of mind, focused action, levity, and inner strength. In many ways, this is Zen. So, nothing short of complete enlightenment in the coming 12 months - easy!

But in seriousness (but not too much seriousness), Zen means finding the balance between striving for improvement, enjoying the moments during the journey, and recognizing/accepting what we can't change.

Elusive, fraught with contradiction, impossible to measure - seems like the right challenge.
In the Zen trifecta above, if you're like me, it's easy to get caught up in "striving for improvement" (especially with so many things to work on in our personal lives, professional development, and hobbies). This is where we frequently operate, so achieving that Zen balance is about keeping our drive, ambition, and intensity in check.

"Enjoying the moments" reminds us to be present, look for meaning, beauty, and joy in the little things, and cultivate gratitude. This is especially hard for overachievers because we live fast-paced lives, juggling many projects or priorities, and barely have time to eat. It's tempting to say "Slow Down" but I know it won't work. I have to trick myself into relaxing and taking time off by acknowledging the fact that taking time off to "smell the roses" allows me to be more productive, creative, and motivated to work when I get back to it.

"Recognizing/accepting what we can't change" - this is in direct contradiction to our perfectionist tendencies and desire for everything to be optimal (and the way we like it). Whether it's the layout of the coffee station (Au Bon Pain, ugh!), office politics, or traffic - whether you know it or not, your mental energy is being usurped and diffused. By worrying unnecessarily or getting frustrated by it, we have less clarity in what we need to do and this background noise keeps us from being present or focused on what really matters. Of course, in matters that are truly important to you, take the time to encourage and inspire change. Just be ready to accept it the way it is or decide if it's a deal-breaker.

What tone are you looking to set for 2010? Are you already a modern-day Zen master?

I suspect this challenge isn't going to be a one-time achievement, but will require even greater attention to create the right balance every day. 352 days of Zen, starting today.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Am I being productive or just busy?

Are you taking care of business or doing busyness?

For the new year, I bought a tiny day planner to help me be sure I hit my biggest priority each day (it's intentionally small so I resist the temptation of creating a long list of tasks).

The trick is to list only 1 or 2 things down for each day (this is NOT a to-do list of all the stuff you need to get done). This is the #1 thing that you will focus on today. If you do nothing else but this, you will still be happy. The way to think about it is,
"If I can only do ONE thing today, what would it be?"


"What's the ONE thing I want to do today to feel like it's been a success?"

And, of course, not all tasks are considered equal. Stephen Covey's quadrants of Urgent/Important shows how tasks can fall into certain categories and prevent us from making progress on the things that really matter.

I'm using my small day planner to do the "Important, Not Urgent" tasks that often get pushed aside by the firedrills, emails, and immediate requests that fall into the "Important, Urgent" category. Those will get done because they have to, and should be "quarantined" to 1-2 hours if possible or relegated to certain periods of the day (and not your most productive hours!).

It's the Important, Not Urgent category that gets the short-end of the stick (and since you don't get around to them, you feel unproductive). This includes things like new projects, writing, revamping your website, administrative tasks you've been avoiding, strategic planning/goal-setting, marketing for your business, staying in touch with people, exercise, organizing, etc.

If you're like me, you often get to the end of a working day and feel like you don't have much to show for it, despite having done a lot. You've had a "busy" day, but not necessarily "productive" in the areas that you want to make progress in.

Are you being productive or just busy?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Too Fast or Too Perfect?

I've been doing CrossFit for a while now, and before a recent Workout of the Day (WOD) our instructor (Jeff Tincher) drew 3 Christmas trees on the white board:

If you go Too Fast, you lose precision or range of motion in your exercises, and if you go Too Slow (being fastidious about technique), you'll sacrifice intensity, fitness, and not be competitive. The idea isn't new, but I thought it was interesting to discuss both in the area of fitness and personal productivity.

As an ambitious person and athlete, I want to do it with perfect form AND quickly (and in my mind, as an overachiever, I believe I can excel on both fronts). However, in discussing the concept of "Too Fast, Too Slow" with a fellow rugby coach, my thinking changed.

He drew the parallel to players running through drills - if players are doing the drill “perfectly” then they’re not being sufficiently challenged - either they’re not working hard enough or not learning enough. If players are dropping balls and executing sloppily, it means the drill might be too hard. Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot where players/students/people are sufficiently challenged that they won't get everything right. I had never thought of it like that.

So, looking back at my I-can-do-it-fast-AND-perfectly attitude, I realize that maybe I should be pushing myself to a higher threshold until I'm not doing it perfectly (whether it's in fitness, professional development, intellectual pursuits, hobbies, etc.). While it might be a little clumsy at first, the body and mind are quick to adapt, so we can begin to feel comfortable at this even-higher level.

It's through challenges that we learn most effectively. Are we too comfortable? What are we doing "too perfectly"?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Live Your Dream

I've seen a few of these positive messages pop up in unsuspecting places and am always glad to have my camera with me when they appear. It's fun to think there's some mystery person is out there, doing graffiti in the middle of the night, encouraging us to live boldly.

Maybe he/she is some high school skater-punk who wants to distinguish themselves with a positive message from the rest of the graffiti crowd, or a disgruntled housewife who started tagging as a form of rebellion because she didn't have the chance to live her dream. Either way, it was a nice little surprise to catch this one in the wild!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Incremental Improvement, Kaizen (Are You Better Than Yesterday?)

Are You Better Than Yesterday? from the blog of Tim Ferris (author of The 4-Hour Work Week):
"When you’re trying to become more respected in your workplace or be healthier, the individual improvements you make each day often won’t lead directly to tangible results. This is, as we saw before, the reason big goals like these become so demotivating. So, for most of the big, difficult goals you’re striving for, it’s important to think not about getting closer each day to the goal, but rather, to think about doing better in your efforts toward that goal than yesterday.

I can’t, for example, guarantee that I’ll be less fat today than yesterday, but I can control whether I do more today to lose weight. And if I do, I have a right to feel good about what I’ve done. This consistent, measurable improvement in my actions frees me from the cycle of guilt and procrastination that most of us are ultimately defeated by when we try to do Big Important Things.

You also need to be happy with small amounts of “better.” Writing one more test than you did yesterday is enough to get you closer to the goal of “being better about unit testing.” If you’re starting at zero, one additional test per day is a sustainable rate, and by the time you can no longer do better than yesterday, you’ll find that you’re now “better about unit testing” and you don’t need to keep making the same improvements. If, on the other hand, you decided to go from zero to fifty tests on the first day of your improvement plan, the first day would be hard, and the second day probably wouldn’t happen. So, make your improvements small and incremental but daily."

This is very similar to the idea of Kaizen - a Japanese philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement throughout all aspects of life.

Kaizen has also been adopted as a business philosophy, with Toyota being the most widely-recognized companies to successfully implement the approach, particularly for manufacturing (Toyota Production System) but across the company as well. Related business concepts include the Deming Cycle (PDCA), Lean Manufacturing, and Six-Sigma.

How can you apply this concept to your own personal development?

"Give it a try:

Make a list of the difficult, complex personal or professional improvements you’d like to make. It’s OK if you have a fairly long list. Now, for each item in the list, think about what you could do today to make yourself or that item better than yesterday. Tomorrow, look at the list again.

Was yesterday better than the day before? How can you make today better? Do it again the next day."

Friday, June 5, 2009

TCB in a Flash

"Taking Care of Business in a Flash"

TCB is a motto that Elvis embraced and you can see it here on his private plane (taken while visiting Graceland a couple of years ago). I'm sure Elvis was quite a driven and focused person to have attained stardom.

I think it's commonly overlooked that famous people have to work hard to achieve their fame; it's not all just luck or timing but a lot of preparation as well. We think their lives are charmed but forget that they probably had to fight their way to the top, struggling to be productive and successful in achieving their goals.

I often think about the acronym TCB when I'm trying to get into a productive mindset. I find it's useful to tell other people you're TCB so you feel mentally more accountable to have something to show for it.

Remember that TCB requires a specific mindset and commitment to Getting Things Done (GTD is another great acronym from productivity guru David Allen).

All the best as you TCB and GTD!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Inspiration: Susan Boyle and Paul Potts

There are beautiful and touching things in this world.

Susan Boyle's recent performance:

(no embedded version available)

Paul Potts' first audition:

Paul Potts' semifinal song:
Time to Say Goodbye - an amazingly moving song to begin with

Dreams can come true.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Stoicism: Personal Development and Entrepreneurship

Here's a great post on Stoicism by way of Tim Ferriss' blog and how it can be a very practical philosophy for personal development and entrepreneurship.

Here are the 3 key practical suggestions put forth by the author (Ryan Holiday, online strategist for American Apparel):

1. Practice Misfortune
“It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on it is then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.” -Seneca

Set aside a certain number of days each month to practice poverty. Take a little food, wear your worst clothes, get away from the comfort of your home and bed. Put yourself face to face with want, he said, you’ll ask yourself “Is this what I used to dread?”
2. Train Perception to Avoid Good and Bad

“Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.” -Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics had an exercise called Turning the Obstacle Upside Down...If you can properly turn a problem upside down, every “bad” becomes a new source of good....Suppose for a second that you are trying to help someone and they respond by being surly or unwilling to cooperate. Instead of making your life more difficult, the exercise says, they’re actually directing you towards new virtues; for example, patience or understanding. Or, the death of someone close to you; a chance to show fortitude.
3. Remember - It's All Ephemeral
“Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both.” -Marcus Aurelius

Alexander the Great conquered the known world and had cities named in his honor. This is common knowledge....Stoics would also point out that, once while drunk, Alexander got into a fight with his dearest friend, Cleitus, and accidentally killed him....Is this the mark of a successful life? From a personal standpoint, it matters little if your name is emblazoned on a map if you lose perspective and hurt those around you.

Remember that achievements can be ephemeral, and that your possession of them is for just an instant. Learn from Alexander’s mistake. Be humble and honest and aware. That is something you can have every single day of your life.

"As an entrepreneur you can see how practicing misfortune makes you stronger in the face of adversity; how flipping an obstacle upside down turns problems into opportunities; and how remembering how small you are keeps your ego manageable and in perspective. Ultimately, that’s what Stoicism is about. It’s not some systematic discussion of why or how the world exists. It is a series of reminders, tips and aids for living a good life."


As I read the article, I thought Stoicism might be too staid and staunch of an approach for me. I believe the pursuit of happiness is a worthwhile goal and that creating joy and fulfillment in everyday life is important, so I was relieved to find that these two ideals are not necessarily in conflict.
"Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason." - (Stoicism, Wikipedia)

A line in the article mentioned above reconciled both views on life and put them on the same side of the coin:
"You can be a Stoic, and joke around and have a happy life surrounded by what’s valuable to you. In fact, that’s the ultimate goal."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cover Letter Suggestion (Make it a Love Letter)

In working with one of my career coaching clients on their cover letter, I made the analogy that a cover letter is like an early-stage love letter (back in the day when I presume they were more common).

The objective of both a cover letter and a love letter is to communicate similar points:
  1. You're interested in them and want them to consider you as a candidate
  2. You have a lot to offer and would be a good match
  3. They should contact you for a date/interview to learn more
While I've never created a cover letter this way before, it would be an interesting and creative approach to the dreaded task of writing a cover letter. Here's the format:

Quick introduction -
  • We met at John's party on Friday night and your bright orange top caught my eye. / I saw your posting on and have heard great things about your company.
Why you're interested -
  • You seemed like a very interesting and fun person to get to know better. / From what I've read about Acme, you're working with some interesting cutting edge technologies.
Your strengths, accomplishments, and your unique value compared to other candidates (emphasis should be on the things that will appeal most to them) -
  • I'm an accomplished road-biker, financially and emotionally stable, loyal, caring, supportive, and have been promoted twice in the last year in a prestigious consulting firm. / I'm exceptionally good at researching complex problems, working in teams, and staying on-task (last year, as Project Manager, my 5 primary projects came in early and under budget).
Flatter them by sharing what you think makes them special -
  • Your smile is like a breath of spring, your voice is soft like summer rain./ Your CEO is a thought-leader, your client list is impressive, and your e-commerce strategy is second to none.
Explain why you'd be a good match -
  • It seems like we share a common interest in athletic activities and would have fun together. / I concentrated in nanotech during undergrad and am a strong proponent in using it in the health sector.
Why you'd make their life better -
  • I will make you laugh every day. / I will make your clients happy through exceptional project management.
Show them you're passionate and serious about them; ask for what you want -
  • I have always been attracted to independent and dynamic women and I would love for you to accompany me to the next cotillion. / Ever since I was young, I've wanted to use technology to help people; I share Acme's vision and would be motivated to be a member of your team.
Remember to steer away from controversial or sensitive information up front and make sure they know how to get in touch with you.

Also, since they're a great prospect (naturally, you treat every one as a great prospect), and you're persistent, you should mention that you look forward to hearing from them and will be following up in a week if you haven't heard from them.

This love letter approach just might work... Oh, New Job, New Job, wherefore art thou, New Job?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Practice and Hard Work

This quote was originally said by Ed Macauley, basketball player from the St. Louis Hawks (now the Atlanta Hawks) and it was what inspired Bill Bradley to practice more than almost anyone else in the league at the time.

"When you're not practicing, someone somewhere is. And when the two of you meet, given roughly equal ability, he will win."

The idea of practicing/working hard is important not just in sports, but in any endeavor in which you want to excel. In the context of work, your career, or your hobby, if you want to succeed you have to be willing to put in the extra effort to beat out your opposition.

Maybe it's skipping happy hour to stay late and catch up on a project, maybe it's going the extra mile for a client or boss, or maybe it's going to a coffeeshop every night to study instead of watching TV. You're putting yourself in the best position to succeed when it counts.

I know that personally, the thought that someone else might win ("And when the two of you meet, given roughly equal ability, he will win") makes me even more determined to do the work needed. I don't want to lose because of lack of effort.

This hard work adds up and pays off down the road when you're the one picked to lead the project, when you get a promotion, when your piece was chosen, when your business takes off, or when you land the coveted job or position everyone else was hoping for. Remember if you don't want to be great, someone else does and is making it happen everyday - edging you out.

When you feel yourself getting lazy, think again about the quote. Now, get out there and put in the hard work.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Your Would-Be Employee...

If you were in charge of building a team, who would you rather hire?
  • A thinker (who lacks follow-through) vs. A hard worker (who lacks intellectual muscle)
  • Someone who produces mediocre, yet consistent, work vs. Someone who is inconsistent but will hit homeruns
  • A high performer who will leave in 1-2 yrs vs. An average employee who will grow within the organization
  • Someone who follows direction (but is quiet and deferential) vs. Someone who challenges everything (strongly opinionated and loud)
  • Will break a few eggs to get ahead vs. Not motivated to grow professionally
  • A risk-taker who tries new things (but makes mistakes) vs. Someone who sits on their hands and is risk-averse
  • Someone who gets things done (but steps on toes) vs. A consensus-based team-builder (but doesn't do any heavy-lifting)
  • A disciplined optimizer vs. A creative inventor
  • Someone who wants to climb the ladder quickly (go-getter) vs. Someone for whom work is not their first priority (9-5'er)
  • A perfectionist, but takes too long to complete a task vs. Someone who does "good-enough" work on-time, but it lacks polish
Take a second to write down your responses.

Go through the list a second time. What kind of worker are you?

Comparing the list of who you'd hire to yourself, do you look for people who are different or similar to you?


While there are no "right" answers for what to look for in a new employee, there are 2 critical factors to consider when determining a match: the work itself, and the team.
1. The work itself
- What characteristics would be important for the job description?
- What traits are valuable to the industry or type of business?
- What is important for the strategy and direction of the organization?

2. The team
- What characteristics will round out the team (in terms of strengths and weaknesses)?
- Can they help bolster your own challenges as a boss?
- Will they fit into your corporate/team culture?

Thoughts? Opinions? Experiences? Leave a comment...

Friday, November 28, 2008

CEO of Thanksgiving

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! Just before the gluttony, I was reading the NY Times online and thoroughly enjoyed the article, "The C.E.O. of Thanksgiving Dinner." The strategic planner in me had a good laugh at how closely related life and business can be.

Written from the perspective of 2 business school professors, it offered some great leadership and management lessons in the context of preparing the Thanksgiving Day meal. They highlight possible approaches to planning and executing such a task. Creating a vision, delegating work, empowering "employees," outsourcing, communicating with key stakeholders, etc.

Vision and planning is essential to a winning Thanksgiving; only after you know the intended objectives should you move into execution.
It starts with asking yourself, as the Thanksgiving chief architect, what is your vision for this day and this meal.

...Don’t micromanage every dish and orchestrate every interaction among guests. Think bigger. Do you want to recreate exactly the meals your mother prepared? Or do you want to push through to a new culinary frontier? Do you want a day of reverent gratitude or lazy hedonistic pleasure? With a vision firmly carved out, the next task is what business leaders would call engaging key stakeholders and identifying their performance expectations. That means figuring out who are the most important people to you at the Thanksgiving table and asking what they really want from the day and from you, the host.
There are 2 different models for management: the old "command-and-control" versus the looser "organizing to innovate." The latter is much more flexible and creates greater buy-in, which is essential in a friendly setting. Delegating is also essential in pulling off such a big day.

If you decide to outsource particular tasks, like pie making, make sure the outside firm (i.e. your sister-in-law) has the right equipment and skill to create a pie that meets your expectations. If not, the job might have to go to another relative or you might have to allow her to pick up a pie from a subcontractor, which is also called a bakery.

Whatever the task, communicate it clearly and give some thought to who might benefit from doing it. Your brother always helped your late mother make the gravy. Shouldn’t he have the honors this year? A high school student allowed to lead grace will feel like an adult. Asking your shy neighbor to make sure everyone has a drink gives her a reason to interact.

...Just keep in mind what all successful executives know: Thank people publicly and often, and never, ever point a finger.

“A good leader,” Mr. Friedman said, “shares all the credit and takes all the blame.”

Remember, it's not just a meal with the family - it's a chance to hone your leadership skills. What type of leader or manager are you, in business and in life? Consider these gatherings to be practice. Even though you can't put it on your resume, every little bit helps!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

  • Does it take you forever to post your vacation pictures?
  • Do you drag your feet on cleaning your desk, sorting your music, or emptying out your closet because you know it'll take up the entire day?
  • Are you reluctant to start an easy project (Christmas cards, consolidating your contacts online, finding an accountant, etc.) because you know you'll want to do a good job, no matter how insignificant the results are?

Let's face it, these things have been on your To-Do list forever and you're beginning to second guess just how good you are at taking care of business.

As an overachiever, there are probably 2 forces at work here - one friend and one foe.

The friendly force is your ability to prioritize. Critical projects take precedence and when these mundane tasks become urgent, they make it to the top of the list (the exception, of course, is when you're procrastinating and suddenly have time to rearrange your living room furniture).

The other force, your insistence on perfection, means well but works against you. You'll put off tasks until you can find a substantial block of time to do them thoroughly. You spend way too long organizing your desk, editing a simple email, and using 3 coats of paint when 2 would do just fine.

This mindset is part of what makes you an overachiever (you just can't do a crappy job), but your quest for perfection means that
  1. You avoid starting a task because it'll take an inordinate amount of time, and
  2. You're inefficient when you finally do these tasks.
I know, I know. You can't help it; you're compelled to do a thorough job. But your attention to detail is often unnecessary - your returns are not worth the investment of time and effort. Even when your hard work is noticed, it's seldom rewarded.

Since you already know you do it, when faced with a situation like this I encourage you to think of Voltaire's quote:

"Perfect is the enemy of good."

Don't spin your wheels doing a perfect job, when a good job will do. Your desire for perfection is the enemy (of good). There are diminishing returns for your diligence.
To attain a perfect thing, whatever that is, becomes infinitely more difficult as you near it. So, at some point, you have to cut your losses, and simply say -- "Good enough". This is not a justification for shoddy workmanship or laziness, for that certainly would not be, per se, "Good enough". The point is more to know when to realize that any additional effort toward improvement would result in a negligible improvement, especially in comparison to the effort required. link

Also recognize that not everything has to be a huge project and perfection isn't always necessary. Even just an "ordinary" effort can go a long way. Remember the 80/20 rule - the first 20% of the effort often gets you 80% of the way there (and usually 80% is good enough for mundane tasks).

Do what's important, maintain your high standards, but don't let them get in your way.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Definition of Overachiever

Overachievers are ambitious, driven, and motivated to do (and be) the best. They have a unique mindset that keeps their brain on overdrive and a work ethic that keeps them one step ahead. High expectations and focused intensity are definite characteristics of overachievers. They are always pushing themselves, for more, - whether it’s professionally, academically, personally, or in a sport or hobby.

Being an overachiever is more of a mindset and the manifestation of that mindset in the form of results and accomplishments. They naturally do well in what they choose to do; they put in the necessary effort and hold themselves to a high standard of performance. Overachievers typically work hard, squeeze in as many activities as possible, and try to do be a rockstar in everything they do. Oddly, they don’t see it that way – it’s just the way they are and they push themselves to that level.

Overachievers have high aspirations and like to dream big. There’s always a lot on their plate - their To-Do Lists are full and they have an abundance of ideas for future books, businesses, projects, and improvements. They see every moment as a valuable opportunity to invest in a worthwhile endeavor.

Overachievers also have an overwhelming sense of urgency. While this is part of their recipe for success, it can also backfire when they are unfocused or try to do everything at once. Anxiety strikes when they see their time slipping away and not accomplishing as much as they had hoped.

Despite doing 2-3 things at the same time and using tools/systems to be more effective, overachievers often feel guilty for not doing enough. They feel like they should always be doing more and this creates an ever-present pressure that can, oddly enough, get in the way of their path to achievement. To counteract this overarching need to do more, it's helpful to create a plan of action around their priorities and set realistic and clear goals for the future.

As a fellow overachiever and professional career coach, I work with ambitious people to do this; I help them refine and clarify what they want and how to get there. If you're an overachiever looking to investigate your professional direction or personal ambitions, check out the Overachiever Coach website or contact me directly. I understand what it means to be an overachiever and have helped a number of clients be even more successful in business and in life.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Grad School Apps: Personal Statements

It's that time of year for some.

Many of you have considered going back to school and I'm excited for those who have ponied-up and decided to do it. As you're typing away in a coffeeshop, surfing the web at work looking at programs, or emailing requests for letters of recommendation, sooner or later you will face the dreaded "Personal Statement" or "Statement of Purpose."

You can BS your way through your accomplishments or a time in your life that has been most difficult, but when asked the simple question of "Who are you?" and "Where are you going?," you stare at your computer like a deer-in-headlights. You end up writing a few paragraphs or doing an outline but are not really content with it. Why is this so hard?

You can take comfort in the fact that everyone has trouble with this particular question. It's particularly tough because:
  1. The question is so broad that it's tough to know where to start and what they're looking for.
  2. You're not clear about why you're really going back to school (or don't have a good reason).
Yes, the question is broad and it's tough to know where to start. Does the reader want a short-term answer or a long-term answer? Would they want to hear a "big picture" response or a targeted and well-charted career path?

But the real reason this essay is tough to write is Reason #2. To write a clear and convincing essay, you need to be clear yourself as to why you're going back to school. Some of the real reasons people cite for wanting to go to grad school usually include:

"I'm going back to school so that I can..."
  • Gracefully leave my job or make a career switch
  • Hide away from troubled industries for a few years (Wall St, real estate, etc.)
  • "Network" (i.e. hang out, drink, and socialize) while getting an expensive piece of paper
  • Get another academic/professional notch in my belt
  • Make more money/ climb the corporate ladder
  • Appease my nagging _____ (parents, spouse, significant other, etc.)
  • Feel like I'm making progress, despite not knowing exactly where I'm going
If any of these resonate with you, it's understandable why the Personal Statement causes some anxiety. The reasons above obviously can't be the basis for your essay, so you begin to scramble to craft something compelling. But before you begin spinmeistering, why not sit down and really answer the question?
What do you want to do?
Who are you and what is your statement of purpose?
Why is this a good next step?
It would be helpful both for your essay and for your own personal clarity to take some time to think about it. I believe that guidance in walking through these questions can offer great returns. Even if it's just 1-2 conversations, the structure and accountability will allow you to genuinely answer the Personal Statement question.

Having worked with overachievers and grad school applicants, I can help with this process. Email me at if you're interested in learning more!