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  • Thoughts on failure, failing better, leaping, swagger, ideas, hustle and how to be thankful for all of it.

    "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."
    - Samuel Beckett

    I was reading an article in the New York Times titled, "Talking About Failure is Crucial for Growth," and while the piece was primarily about enhancing the workplace through engaging in an open dialogue about failures, I was struck by this:

    "Even though most people prefer to process failure internally and quickly move on for feard of causing a scene or seeming unprofessional, taking the time to reflect on and communicate about unwanted outcomes can go a long way in creating more congenial, trusting and ultimately productive workplaces."

    And so, no, I have no office or co-workers these days, but a year into being out on my own and hustling for work, and after so much failure leading up to all of that, it seems like a good time to reflect on and communicate about my "unwanted outcomes," and so why not do so here, publicly, with you, my people.

    I suppose like many of us, my relationship to failure is complicated and at times, much of the time, this relationship has been self-serving, furthering a personal narrative I want to tell about myself, how little failure bothers me, that I'm cool, resilient and always pushing above all that puny mortal nonsense.

    But that's not always true.

    A book review that does not happen, a gig I intensely pursue, but lose, an opportunity to speak or read or faciltate somewhere that I really want to have a presence, gain prestige, or meet cool people, that does not pan out, can really hurt, and much of the time I have to move on, there are no answers for why things didn't happen the way I wanted them too and there is no benefit to lingering on things I can't make sense of.

    But, that isn't aways true either,

    Failure as a tool for learning can be incredibly valuable, and what I've been thinking about lately is how if I had been more self-aware and more present in recent years, and if I could have better recognized the bigger picture, maybe I could have acted differently, or at least failed better.

    More importantly, while some one-off failure or another can hurt, but is at least somewhat contained, and transitory, I suffered through a string of failures and that calls for some kind of reckoning.

    Given the time of year, some may say that one can be thankful for one's failures, and I think this is true, but with a caveat, it's hard to be thankful in the moment, and so much of this is about the moment, getting some distance from it, seeing it more clearly, trying to understand it, and then moving forward, better, calloused and kicking-ass.



    So with all of this in mind, I would like to publicly process and share a personal chronicle of failure, precipitated by, but not only related to, being fired from my long-time place of employment in May 2016, and my failure to make the subsequent full-time opportunities I pursued anything but... well, failures:

    Failure to leave a situation which was clearly heading toward a certain outcome, which is also a failure to embrace the writing on the wall, which I clearly read and said out loud to myself and others. A new boss was coming in to my long-time place of employment. Every time a new boss had come in prior to this, top people were let go. New people want new people, their people. I knew that this time I was going to be that person. Maybe there are other reasons I was let go, maybe it wasn't just suddenly being redundant as I was informed of at the time. I don't know, and I've never heard what those reasons are, but that doesn't matter. I knew what was coming, and while I thought I would have more time and be allowed to exit gracefully, there was no reason to assume that.

    Failure to truly search for other work. So, I knew something was coming and I failed to embrace it. One way I failed to do that was aggressively search for new work. I looked, but I didn't cast a wide net, work LinkedIn, hit networking opportunities or send emails to everyone I had ever known or met. I tried to make myself aware of what might be out there and that doesn't count. Still, if I'm truly honest with myself, I hadn't been happy with my day-to-day work for some time, another failure in and of itself. The work was important, the people inspiring, I really admired my long-time boss, most of the opportunities I had were cool, and I worked hard, but it was time for something new. I had been in my position for eight years, following eight years in a completely different position and my ability to keep things fresh had run their course. Also, if I'm really honest, I'm not sure I even wanted to work in an office full-time any more, anywhere and for anyone.

    Still, I can't ignore the failure to keep recreating myself. I never grew less curious or excited about ideas and making change, working with interesting people and trying to figure out how to connect with them. And I was always good at diving into things and when I was struck by them, then integrating them into the work. Social media. Movement-building. Grant writing. Translating research. Running shit. Designing presentations and programs and engaging with people who want to do cool shit. But how does one keep growing and creating new opportunities? It's about making new experiences, finding new jobs and recreating one self based on one's strengths and interests. Did I fail to pursue new stuff and new opportunities? I did not. But did I push myself and those I worked for and with hard enough to make concrete opportunities for me where I had to recreate myself to survive and keep growing? I definitely did not.

    Intrinsic to this failure was also a failure to eschew the hold that my benefits had on me, paid vacation time, and lots of it, health insurance, not always great, or cheap, but available, paternity leave, a 401(k), raises, initially, a steady paycheck, telecommuting, sick time, work travel. These things are about privilege certainly, but also about locking-down a job I liked, earning these benefits, and holding on to them, and then being scared about losing them for something else, somewhere else, where the benefits might not be as good, or flexible. As a parent these things took on more weight, and appropriately at that, but I also didn't want to let go of the stability and flexibility I had earned, and I failed to challenge my own fears around what it might look like to lose some of that.     

    There is also the failure to suppress my ego and needs and accept a lower-paying job, something I've now done twice over the last twenty years for jobs I really wanted (and once, for one I didn't want as much, but still wanted), most recently during the last two years as I was mucking about. Yes, there are bills to pay, and yes, an ever-increasing salary is a metric of success. And yes, not everyone has the liberty to take any job one wants to pursue just because it might make one happy. But how much does a lower salary translate to per month anyway, and if one can, can one not make other budgetary adjustments as needed? I failed to ask those questions.

    And there is definitely a failure to take a leap. I don't know if Michael Jordan was right when he said, if you leap, the net will appear, much less if I trust that like Indiana Jones the bridge one needs will materialize if one takes the first step into the abyss, but I do know that even before I lost my job, and especially when I did lose it, not to mention when the full-time work I first chased after that wasn't working out, I didn't believe that if I hustled I would find cool freelance and contractual things to do that would keep me busy, keep me inspired and pay the bills. I don't know if fully leaping would have worked when I first waded back into the job force and wanted to try and hustle full-time. Things weren't popping when I took more tentative steps, and now in the last year things mostly have. There has been a lot of luck involved, and timing, and the right opporunities have come my way. But while things have popped, it's also true that I leapt, in a big way, trusted I could figure it out and here we are.

    Failure to embrace, even force, patience. When one suddenly loses a job, and are truly unemployed for the first time in one's adult life, it can be really hard to be patient and search for the right thing. It's scary, period, but was I patient enough when I first wondered if a true leap into full-time hustle might have worked? More importantly, when I was first unemployed, and full-time things started to present themselves, was I patient enough to wait for the search process to play out? Some opportunities were moving slowly, but they were moving, and then something came up out of nowhere, something big, and it wasn't the thing I wanted, but they wanted me, and there was promise. I could have waited, let that opportunity pass and truly allowed the game come to me. Again privilege. But I couldn't let myself see what would happen and I failed to trust the process and the so many things I was doing well.

    Still, this particular decision, this impatience, was only exacerbated by a failure to trust my gut, and acknowledge how self-conscious I felt about my experience in pursuing this particular job. The interview for the job I accepted went well, but I didn't like the scene or the people I interviewed with. The office was quiet and the interviewers were restrained, stodgy. I wanted something with spark and youth, and It didn't feel right. But I felt that my reaction was at least partially ageist, plus I'd interviewed with unappealing people before and had always made it work. I focused too much on the latter though and I failed to accept that I didn't like how I felt there and should trust that.    

    A sub-failure in this case, was the failure to consider culture and fit. I didn't want restrained, but it was, and I didn't ask enough questions or talk to the rest of the team who weren't in the office the day I was there. The culture was not only stodgy though, but toxic, with people screaming at one another behind not so closed doors and talking about each other behind one another's backs in meetings, something I couldn't have anticipated and had never been around. And maybe that's normal at many places, and acceptable, but I didn't like it, and I didn't fit in. I had spent much of my work life fitting-in, but one doesn't always fit and not recognizing, or accepting that, is its own kind of failure as well.

    A sub-, sub-failure was a willingness to accept opportunities to do things I didn't want to do, that I don't enjoy doing and may not be even be good at, while focusing on subject matter I didn't know enough about and ultimately wasn't around long enough to learn. And so there I was overseeing fundraising campaigns, managing databases, engaging in design work, while not having design skills and creating data-driven marketing plans. A lot of this came with a second full-time opportunity I pursued, and some, much of this I believed I could do no matter what. But much of it was not things I really wanted to do, I didn't do well and I honestly didn't trust or know myself well enough at the time to see this.

    These sub-failures also point to my biggest failure during this time and even leading up to it:

    There was a failure to understand what my true strengths and interests are and were. Said differently, I failed to remind myself what I feel passionate about. It was all so unplanned for so long, and as I ran down a path towards marketing and communications, with no public relations training, or true understanding of the science behind any of it, I got away from the things I now (re-)realize I do so well and love - strategy, facilitation, pulling stories from people's and organization's heads, and more than anything, idea-making, and making sense of what's out there, trends, culture, norms, research, how it all hangs together and what it takes to bend these ideas into a narrative that sings.

    I was surrounded by good people on that last long job I was on and we were a good team, and there were many things I did well, but there were also many things they did well that I did not, nor that I needed to do because they were there and we worked so well together. On my own though, I couldn't make those things work, I didn't want to and I failed to execute them.

    So, here I am now, after all of that, on my own, hustling, running, pitching, making things and failing everyday in lots of ways big and small. Failing as always, to get everything I want, or everything done, and failing to always believe in myself. But I'm also succeeding at any number of things, much of which is related to all that failing, but is also primarily related to leaping into opportunities, remembering who I am, finding people and situations where I fit, and doing new things, constantly, and with confidence, something I failed to remember I've always possessed.


    You may wonder, as do I, what's next, and given that, I want to offer you, as well as me, a Check One's Failure checklist. You may also wonder what that entails. So, here you go:

    (1) Reflecting on failure, the whys and hows. But also celebrating my successes.

    (2) Doing my homework on how things work and applying that science to my work.

    (3) Recognizing, then honing, my strengths and weakenesses, as well as not doing things I don't like to do.

    (4) Focusing on cultural fit and trusting my gut.

    (5) Staying curious, trying to grow, never losing a focus on what's new and happening, and what it all means.

    (6) Asking for help.

    (7) Thinking big, leaping, taking risks.

    (8) Always pushing to do what feels important, good and fresh, knowing my value, embracing swagger, and getting paid for it, while not stopping, never stopping.

    (9) Taking control of my day, and my narrative, embracing ritual, and striving for increased self-awareness.
       
    (10) And ultimately failing better, building on the bad, and pushing for good.

    All of which, is not bad, right?

    I would add here, that I have big plans for 2019, more structure, more ideas, more change, more risk, more leaping, just more, and more on all that soon as well.

  • Because you're at home, or thoughts on happiness, work flow, building a business and changing your story.

    May we begin with a story?

    Great, thank you.

    The other day I had the following exchange with my younger son:

    Him: "Do you still go to an office?"
    Me: "If someone asks me to come in for a meeting I do."
    Him: "Like you used to do though, like its work?"
    Me: "I think so, sort of?"
    Him: "Are they clients?"
    Me: "Yes they are, exactly."
    Him: "So it is work?"
    Me: "Yes."
    Him: "Good, you seem happier."

    And I am.

    It's been just over six months since I went out on my own, partially by choice, and a lot not by choice, not really, which means that in terms of the laws of personal branding, entreprenuership and self-promotion, it's time to reflect on what I've learned, how I'm feeling and what I'm thinking as I look to the future.

    (1) Working at home, which was not a completely foreign concept to me is great. I really enjoy the energy and flow of the day, but... when you work at home, people like to think since you're at home you can take care of things that need to be taken care of that have nothing to do with work, because you know you're at... home. Which is not to say I don't like the freedom of folding laundry during a conference call or running to the supermarket during a break, but it also suggests that there is a reasonable argument for finding office space of some kind.


    (2) I can just as easily lose myself in hours of work as I did during my days working to 9-5, but disruptions feel really disruptive now. It may be that was true when I worked in an office as well, but I don't remember it that way. Being home it's so much easier to drift from a personal call or other distraction to the couch, kitchen or the internet, briefly losing myself in reading news feeds as opposed to getting back to work. This is very much about flow, and it now requires more attention, and maintenance, to achieve it. This applies as well when I take a day off, or travel for a gig, the rhythm of the day and the regular flow of my work is wholly disrupted and it now takes that much more time to find it again.

    (3) Speaking of the day, there almost never feels like there is a natural stopping point or a reason not to work every day of the week. Or late into the night. Sometimes I stop because there's no choice, I fall asleep, there are plans, and nothing else will get done, but these days, it always feels like a trade-off. Why not put in another hour or get-up early on Sunday? I did it for years when the kids were little so I could write, so why not do the same as I try to build a business? Why not indeed? That said, I also find that when I do stop, or decide not to re-start late at night, the work still gets done. This shouldn't surprise me, I've always gotten the work done, and that hasn't changed, and so maybe its okay to just say enough, today, for now, and maybe I need to trust in that more.

    (4) Still, Mondays are still Mondays. There remains a sense of feeling overwhelmed as the week takes off whether I work every day or not and I'm in an office or not. And yet, Sundays are no longer Sundays. Over the years whether I worked on Sunday or not, a kind of dread would build throughout the day, a pre-sense of being overwhelmed about what was to come. But not any more. I flow from day to day now, and yes Mondays suck for a minute, but that's because everyone else is getting started and I have to ride their wave of energy and not mine.

    (5) My relationship to Mondays isn't the only thing that's changed, my relationship to money has as well. And not just the ever more conscious pursuit of it, which is certainly a thing, or getting it when someone owes it to me, but the actual ebb and flow, that word again, of it into and out of our house, and how and when things get paid for. I had stopped thinking about this, that movement. I lived with someone who cared, and I got lazy. But now I can't be, or don't want to be. I need to know when invoices go out because I worry about when the bills, and payments, are coming in, how they compliment eachother in term of timing, and how it all works day to day and month to month. It's inspiring, more like coming to know the parts of a machine, or an organism, living and breathing, and I'm feeding it. I always cared, but it was in an abstract way. No more.

    (6) Even that isn't the most profound change I've encountered though. When I started being at home most of the time, I found myself struggling to follow what was being said and asked of me. I live with people who talk fast, sometimes as they're walking away and down the hall and on to the next thing, but it immediately felt like a concern. And it was. As I initially sought, and failed at, the more full-time work opportunities I pursued prior to all of this, I had some struggles following directions, and making sense, of things. It was confusing to me. That had never really happened before, and while I believe there are myriad reasons for some of that, once home, it became obvious that there was an actual problem. That problem is my hearing. And so, if I haven't seen you recently, or you haven't noticed my hearing aids, know that this has been going on for some time, and I especially have problems with high pitched tones, particularly the voices of women and children. Jokes aside, I've been missing a lot of conversations for some time now, though I have no idea how long, and if you think I didn't do something you asked me to do during the last year or so, it's possible I didn't hear you, but was nodding because I was confused and embarrassed as to why I wasn't following the conversation. To be honest, I didn't know I was doing it, but I do now, and I'm doing a lot less of it. I'm also happy to talk further about if you are so inclined.

    (7) Related to this in a way, but not exactly, is that I have spent a lifetime using self-deprecating jokes to deflect things that embarrassed me, to manage-up, to not try and sound like a know-it-all or even just be funny. I like being funny. However, as opposed to my now long-time and now long lost job, self-deprecation didn't seem to work as well at the newer jobs I tried, and then one day during the last six months, a client told me to drop it. He said it made me look less confident, and that I lacked swagger. And he wanted swagger. So, I'm working on dropping it in work situations. Maybe you've noticed, and if so, I'd love to hear what you think. I'm not sure I'm sold on this as a necessity, but there is something liberating about it. Own your confidence, and don't be a dick, but don't be embarrassed about your ideas either. I never thought I was, and I've always been vocal, but it's worth thinking about this as I move from place to place and opportunity to opportunity. I'm no longer quite as static, and maybe concentrating on swagger is a necessity.

    (8) It's also ever more clear to me that if one is out in the world and selling themselves, they are the product, and like any product, one needs to be able to package it, provide a framework, let people know what they can expect, when and how they will receive it and what it will cost them. I'm working on this now as well, thinking it through and trying to define what I've been doing and what I want to do. All of that is coming. There are frameworks that are emerging organically and I'm going to formalize them, offer them to the world and call it a business.

    More on that soon.

    (9) I will say this now though, the best, unexpected part of being out on my own has been opportunities to coach, both authors wanting to create, or restructure their books, as well as small businesses and career changers wanting to talk about branding and language and organizing their thoughts. It's been wonderful and I'm really good at it. I also recognize now that I always wanted to do this kind of thing, that I wanted to help people get unstuck and tell their stories, be strategic, and an ideas guy, taking so much of what I did well in partnerships and office situations over the years, but was somehow embarrassed to say that out loud.

    Not any more. I'm giving it a name, it's coaching and I'm digging it.

    And now for a call back, or a book-end to all of this, another story ayway before I go... for now.

    When I first went out on my own, I was at a networking event and I had the following conversation with some guy:

    Him: "So you're out on your own, huh?"
    Me: "Yes, I guess so."
    Him: "Things weren't going well for you were they?"
    Me: "I guess not, but why do you say that?"
    Him: "Because people don't go out on their own when things are going well."

    I never thought about it that way, but that doesn't mean he's wrong. Things not going well are a big part of my story recently, but that doesn't mean I can't tell a different story, or at least change the narrative. That's the plan anyway, and I'm in it, now, and as my son pointed out, I'm happier.

    So, as I said, more soon, and if you want to talk about any of this, let me know, I would be thrilled to do so.

  • Beginning, Middle, and End: Or The Ongoing Search for Story and Flow in Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, Part IV.

    The End.

    “Good cover letters tell a story. Beginning, middle, and end.” -Hannah Frei, Career Advancement Center, Lake Forest College

    And so we are at the end... for now.

    I concluded the last post by speaking to what the final part of the Loop 202 semester looks like, and where we start examining how all of these steps, tools, and strategies hang together when it comes to the job search. Also, how I assign an article by an author I love, myself, to help the students further organize their thoughts, and that piece is titled “The Search: Obtaining the Right Job, Finding Yourself, and Crafting a Career.”

    But there is also what what was, and what is, which is to say, that even as I revisit the syllabus from semester to semester, revising and refining it, some times we do so during the semester as well.

    For example, this semester I wanted to introduce a greater focus on having the students grapple with how they can apply their story to thinking about their brand and looking forward. And so in that vein I've introduced simple branding exercises such as the following:

    - What 3 words would I use to describe myself when I first meet someone?
    - What 3 words would someone else use to describe me having just met me?
    - How do they compare, and are there words that work better?

    Refining.

    I've also sought to keep refining our focus in a more granular way however on skill-building and enhancing connections from class to class and tool to tool.

    Last semester as we talked about crafting resumes I got stuck on the idea that we were building out stronger resumes, but only briefly talking about cover letters... they go together though, and so I added a cover letter section this semester, where we spent time breaking cover letters down by component, looking at language, honing the craft.

    I was also struck that the students need to be able to tell their stories in all spaces, and in all ways, and that called for insights into how we break our story down and into an "Elevator Speech."

    And so we have have introduced a section on that as well, which might I add, is still to come, so more on that soon.

    Interviews... Informational and Otherwise.

    We focus on Information Interviewing as well, recognizing that while informational interviews may not yield jobs, one can still learn a lot about the jobs and industries, one wants to know more about, make connections, and work on their narrative. One thing I ask students to do when we cover this section, is Identify three orgs/people they want to schedule informational interviews with... and then go out and do so.   

    We move on to applying these skills through meeting with professionals from out in the field by hosting a career panel and Q&A. There are also now so many graduates of the program out in the work world, or looking anyway, that I hold a similar panel populated with Loop 202 grads as well.

    We further hone in on interview skills, by bringing back our Improv instructor, runnning warm-up exercises, and then swapping out interview questions for the usual Improv scenarios so everyone is thinking on their feet, engaging in active listening, and having fun.

    I added a section on salary negotiations in recent semesters too, because like with cover letters, if we were going to keep talking about somethinig, I felt like we ought to be sure we were actually covering it and learning something.

    We finish with a final project focused on building an online portfolio/web presence. Not everyone may need one, but with the marketplace transforming more and more from the traditional into something digital, one has to show what they've done and make it accessible. So why not start here, now, putting your best self, and ongoing narrative out in the world, and at worst, though ideally at best, be ahead of the curve?

    Finally.

    And so we are beginning, middle, and end ourselves.

    This has been intended as a love letter to this class I love, and these students who rock, where we talk about a topic I find endlessly fascinating.

    My ongoing goal is that the class becomes a lab and a piece of performance art, always, on and always thinking, creating, and becoming its best self.

    With that in mind, I will always tweak it, seeing some kind of ephemeral perfection.

    This semester I tweaked the response papers students have historically submitted, and we now do those in class, and in long hand, the facilitation, and facilitators, as well as the direction of the discussion unknown before the start of class. The first time I suggested this, no one volunteered to facilitate, but the second and third times both yielded results in terms of facilitation... and great discussion.

    Ultimately then, and on good days, there is a beginning, middle, and end to class as well. It is both tightly constructed, and loosely implemented, and we repeat it and build on it, and keep honing the craft.

    And with that we are end, and if you want to know more about any of this, you know what to do.

    Control Your Own Narrative: Or The Ongoing Search for Story and Flow in Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, Part I.

    Did I Mention Story: Or The Ongoing Search for Story (maybe I did mention story) and Flow in Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, Part II.

    What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Or The Ongoing Search for Story and Flow in Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, Part III.

  • Seeking: Stories, Cool Opportunities, Transformation.

    For some time now, I've had this idea that I wanted to write about my search for work. I wanted to do so as a reflection of how I think about teaching my class Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, and to a lesser extent the article I wrote many years ago the first time I engaged in an extensive job search: The Search: Obtaining the Right Job, Finding Your Self, and Crafting a Career.

    The idea came to me, because just over 18 months ago I left my long time place of employment. I didn't have a plan and I suddenly had to look for work for the for time in a long time.

    I thought I had been open to opportunities before that, but I hadn't really been doing anything. Yes, I had been keeping my resume up to date and my eyes and ears open for interesting things, working side gigs, taking meetings, looking to get my name on projects and publications, opening doors, and pushing, always pushing to work on the next cool thing.

    The thing is, these are the action you take when you're employed, and not exactly willing, or wanting, to leave something that you like, or are comfortable in. When you're scared and not really sure what comes next.

    A job search though is something else. It's contacting everyone you've ever met, worked with, talked to, sat with in a meeting, or next to on a bus, plane, or train, and asking them if they have anything or know anyone, and to keep you in mind if an anything comes up.

    It's also punching-up your LinkedIn page, using it to follow organizations you admire, and connecting with people who do stuff that you want to do even when you do not know them.

    It's saying yes to networking events, finding confidence, and putting yourself out there. All the way out there.

    And it's getting your story down, who you are, and where you've been, what you want to do, and how it all connects. It's also telling that story in a succinct, but slamming fashion, while somehow remaining authentic.

    These are things I know to be true, these are things I teach, and these are actions I have taken.

    What I have ignored, or overlooked, though during these past months is the need to work on things you love and feel passionate about. Sometimes that means, looking back over your career, and life, to remind you what it is that energizes you most. Sometimes it's reminding yourself about what you don't like spending time on. And most difficult, is coming to both understand, and embrace, that there are things you just aren't good at, something that has become painfully clear to me as I sought the next big thing.

    None of this is easy, but it is necessary. Being happy is important. Knowing yourself is important. Spending time working on things that energize you are important.

    In the past few months I've revisited many things I once worked on, but hadn't recently - leading teams, collaboration, story development, strategic planning, building partnerships, organizational change, facilitation, and book promotion - and things I want to spend more time on - storytelling, branding, teaching, and training.

    I've also made a decision: I'm going to go out on my own, I'm going to consult, chase projects that excite me, and look for cool opportunties that are focused in these areas.

    I'm going to craft a new story for myself and figure out how all of these things hang together. I'm going to help people and organizations tell their stories in new and exciting ways. And I'm going to explore how I can link people who want to promote their work and their ideas in cool and innovative ways, with the endlessly fascinating artists, designers, changemakers, and thought leaders I've been cultivating, curating, and connecting with over at (my once faux) cultural and lifestyle (empire) site This Blog Will Change Your Life.

    You can read more specifically about my intentions on my website here and I hope that you will. After that, please let me know what you think about all of this, tell your friends and networks about me, and then let me know how we can work together.

    Cool?

    Thanks.