Am I On the Right Path?

Concept of choices of a businessman
This week I taught a one-day workshop entitled How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. It was a career planning and development workshop.

I always start with class introductions and the two questions I want to know are:

  1. When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  2. What do you need to take away from this workshop?

The first question is a fun one. The answers are usually a bit outlandish, like a princess, or an actor. Rarely does someone do the job now that they wished for as a child. It does provide a bit of perspective for me thought.

The second one is helpful for me as a facilitator. I need to know what my audience wants. For this one the answers are largely the same: I want to know if I’m on the right path.

This is one that all of us have or all of us will wrestle with. It comes from a wake-up moment when you realize how fast time has gone and how little you may have left. Then you want to know how to make the most of it.

If you’re wondering if you’re on the right path, I’d suggest asking yourself the following questions:

  1. How did you wind up in the job or career you have now? This is a big one. Did you pick this job or career as a stepping stone to something else or did you end up here?
  1. Have you identified a clear career goal that involves, as a foundation, something that’s really important to you? Most satisfying careers are aligned with a passion you have for something. Mine is aimed toward developing the next great generation of managers.
  1. Is the career or job you’re in aligned with your values? Your values are those things that define you and influence your decisions. Values come from our upbringing and the shaping forces from that upbringing. If those align with your job or career, you probably have some peace about where you’re at. If not, then it’s probably a big reason you’re unhappy.
  1. Who selected the career you’re in now? If it was a person or a circumstance, go back to that moment and reflect on what happened. My first career, a dental assistant in the Navy was selected for me through the circumstance of a poor economy and a somewhat deceitful Navy recruiter. Had I stayed that course I’m certain I’d be wondering if I was on the right path today.

These four questions are a starting point. The workshop I teach fleshes all of these questions out and more. You can begin to get some clarity by honestly answering the four questions.

Your work and career occupy the majority of your best hours. Why not take some steps today to figure out if it’s the best fit for you?

Do You Feel Lucky?

This morning as I flew home from Hartford, I read an article in the Southwest Airlines magazine about luck. The author, a former contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire talked about his experiences and those of several other “lucky” people. In one example, he referenced a study done where two groups of people were told to count the number of photos inside of a newspaper. The groups were divided by those who felt they were lucky and those who didn’t. On page two, there was a full page article that stated in big letters “Stop counting. There are 43 photos. Take this paper up to the examiner and win $250.00.” Ironically, nobody in the self-proclaimed “unlucky” group saw that page. The ones who considered themselves lucky saw the page and it fit their paradigm. They were lucky and yes, here was another example.

The premise here is that all of us have equal access to luck. It begins by having the right mindset. My mother-in-law believes she is lucky because she always seems to find cash on the ground. Once she found $40.00 on the ground. On other occasions she’s found a few dollars. Last year I was shopping for groceries with her and she found a small wad of bills on the floor of the Kroger. It was $55.00. I don’t think she’s lucky, she simply knows she finds cash on the ground so she looks for it! If you look long enough, you’ll find it.

If you look long enough for luck you will find it. If you believe you’re unlucky, you’ll look for examples of how unlucky you are and you’ll simply confirm your belief.

I thought about the article and decided I was lucky. I tend to look for wins in business and usually get them. I’ve always felt as though I deserved to have a successful career because of the hell I experienced in the Navy and my first few years as an employee and sure enough, I’ve gotten it.

And shortly after I confirmed internally that I indeed was lucky, I found a Southwest Airlines envelope jammed into the magazine spine. When I opened it, I found a letter to a Mr. J. Elridge and it had two free drink coupons, expiring in September 2016!

Am I lucky or what?

The bigger question is….

Do you feel lucky?

Well do ya?

We All Make an Impact. What Will Yours Be?

Hand in a hand on a background a rock

Hand in a hand on a background a rock

This past Monday our black lab mix Sonny was hit by a car and killed. I had just let him and the other two dogs, Candy and Rambo, our toy poodles out as I did every morning I was in town. Normally the poodles come right back in and Sonny goes off on his morning rounds on our 32-acre property. I’ll go in and get some coffee and sit down to read the news on my phone and listen for him to scratch on the back door. On Monday though he didn’t come back. I think he followed some deer down to the main road and that’s where I found him.

I keep trying to think of some creative way to tie this in a blog post but actually I’ve got nothing.

Then I started thinking about our experiences with Sonny. Many of them were wonderful. How I’d run with him in Maryland before both of my hips got replaced. How he was so excited when we moved to Tennessee and he didn’t have to run in a small yard. How he’d love it when I’d take him outside and we’d walk the property. How I would sneak him an extra Beggin’ Strip when the poodles went into the other room. He knew he was my favorite.

There were some bad experiences too. His black hair that seemed to be everywhere. How we’d have to vacuum every SINGLE DAY! How he’d climb up on the furniture when he thought we were out of the house.   How he bit one of my daughter’s friends when she was in middle school and I swore we were going to be sued.

The one thing I felt this morning though, just 24 hours after I found him is that there is pure emptiness. He had an impact on all of our lives. We notice that he’s gone.

I’m sure there are times you feel like what you do and who you are don’t matter. The reality is that all of us matter. We all have an impact. Maybe the key is to realize that the impact we ought to leave should be a good one. When we’re gone, what people will remember is the void we no longer fill. I hope for all of our sake, it’s a good one.

R.I.P. Sonny


man pushing
This morning as I sat in the airport waiting to board my 5:40 AM flight home, I pulled up the conference app on my phone from the HR conference I just attended and did a breakout session for about 50 HR professionals. I thought it went pretty well.

Since I was leaving a day early, I looked at the day’s agenda, namely who was doing the ending keynote. The woman that was scheduled was quite impressive. She has spoken nearly every month at HR conferences around the country and is booked pretty heavily in the coming months. I was amazed and jealous at the same time. I thought it was pretty cool to do breakout sessions two weeks in a row but to do the keynote (and they actually PAY keynote speakers while breakout speakers present for free – although sometimes you get a T-shirt and a coffee mug) multiple times blew my accomplishments away.

But then I told myself, “You’ve done pretty well. Breakout speaking is a good start. You’ve come a long way and should be proud. PACE yourself and you’ll get there.”

Then another part of me said, “Bull****! You can be every bit as successful as she is and more! You’ve got to PUSH yourself harder.”

That part of me won out. Then I thought about strategy. Here’s what I came up with. Maybe you’ll find it helpful:

P.A.C.E. vs. P.U.S.H.

PACEing yourself is good when you’re starting out. It’s a good place to be when you’re sure of your goal but not quite ready to go full speed at it.

  • Pick a Goal to Accomplish. This is fundamental. You have to define your target first.
  • Ask yourself where you need to improve. Look at what you lack as you aim toward that target. Then…
  • Check your Skill, Will, and Focus. If you’re familiar with my 3-Legged Stool of Great Performance™ model, this one makes sense. Do I KNOW what I need to know, do I WANT it bad enough, and do I know which areas to FOCUS on first?
  • Endeavor to make consistent progress toward that goal. Take a deliberate, methodical path to accomplishing that goal.

In my case though, I’ve moved past the PACE stage. I think I’ll just PUSH myself.

  • Pick a Goal to Accomplish. I have the target. Keynote more events, less breakouts.
  • Understand what barriers stand in the way. Not exactly sure yet, but I think it might have to do with marketing, networking, and more assertiveness on my part.
  • Shift yourself into overdrive. Pacing isn’t useful here. Time to speed up the process.
  • Hit each barrier with everything you’ve got. Sometimes going full speed makes the barriers less painful. Use the momentum to break through.

Now it’s up to me to make it happen. I know to PUSH, not PACE.

What about you?

  • Have you developed that goal yet?
  • Do you know if you’re moving beyond the PACE stage?
  • If you have to PUSH, do you have everything and everybody you need to help you?

Nothing good happens from a place of inaction. I’m ready to move forward. I hope you are too!

3 Ways to Have Peace About a Career Change

good timesCareer decisions are among the toughest a human can make. Job changes are easy. It’s a choice between different assignments, salaries, and companies. Often they’re self-imposed, perhaps driven by a new opportunity from a network or a really attractive posting online. Sometimes they’re done without our permission in the form of a layoff.   Either way, the dilemma of “what should I do with my life” isn’t as important in a job change.

Career changes are much more complicated. Like a job, they can come from layoffs where the career itself might be going away or shifting radically. In other cases, it comes as part of a mid-life transition (What am I doing with my life? Is this what I want to do the rest of my life?). Making a radical career decision can be simplified by considering three perspectives:

  1. Where I’ve Been
  2. Where I Want to Go
  3. Where I Am Now

In 2005, I made the decision to fire my boss at the association I worked at in order to start my own training and consulting business. It was scary and exhilarating all at the same time, much like that rush you feel when the roller coaster car is heading up that first big hill slowly. You know you can’t back out and you know the big drop is coming. It’s fear, resignation, and fun all wrapped in one big package.

My decision was made carefully. I considered the following:

Where I’ve Been. I did 15 years in the Navy and spent about five more working for three different organizations. I knew enough about the workforce both inside the military and out to sculpt a good business plan. I also collated every lesson I learned from the different bosses, processes, systems, and strategies I’d worked with up to that point. I managed to let go of some of the baggage that accompanied me out of the Navy and was poised to go.

Where I Wanted to Go. I knew I wanted to work for myself. I knew I wanted to develop the next great generation of managers. I also knew that for my business to grow, I’d have to develop good systems and structures and surround myself with really smart people.

Where I Am (or was in 2005). I knew I was financially prepared with multiple sources of income. I also knew there were plenty of projects I could tackle now that I was working for myself full time.

With all three in place, I had peace about my decision. I launched and never looked back!

What are you wrestling with now? If it’s a career change, take some time to consider the following as you make you decision:

  1. Where have I been? Do an inventory of your past experiences, knowledge you’ve gained, problems you’ve solved, and people you’ve met. Make a list of what you’ve managed to assemble personally up to this point. Now you know what you bring.
  2. Where do I want to go? Think about what you wanted to be when you grew up. Think about jobs and assignments that really resonated with you. Take some time and with the wise counsel of people around you, see how you can fashion that into a new career. Remember, it’s about what you’ve enjoyed and found rewarding, not just something that sucks less than what you have now.
  3. Where am I now? Take stock of your current situation. Your family situation. Your income needs. Be sure this is the right time to make that move.

Career decisions aren’t easy. They are stressful and uncertain. Yet by asking these three simple questions, you’ll get some clarity and hopefully some peace.

I’ve found the career that’s right for me. I hope you can do the same!

Quit Playing “Hit the Deck”

Fist breakthrough white wall - onw oth the breakthrough series

Fist breakthrough white wall – onw oth the breakthrough series

When I was a 12-year-old kid in middle school, my best friend Buzz and I would entertain ourselves on Friday and Saturday nights playing our favorite game, Hit the Deck.

The game was inspired by our favorite TV show from the 1970s, Baa Baa Black Sheep starring Robert Conrad. “Hit the deck” was what they yelled on the show every time Japanese fighter planes would strafe and bomb the runway on Vella La Cava.

My house sat right on the curve of Cameron Lane, which meant we could see when a car would turn onto our street. Buzz and I would hang around in the street and when we would see the lights of an approaching car we’d yell “hit the deck” and run and dive into the bushes. Usually the car would pass by but every now and then it would slow down as if to wonder what those two crazy fat boys were up to.

It’s amazing what you remember from your childhood.

Today, decades later, it’s amazing to see our boyhood game still being played, this time by employees, managers, and organizations. Here’s the modern-day version:

  • A competitor comes up with a technology, product, or service that threatens ours. Rather that develop strategies to counter it, the executives yell “hit the deck” and hunker down hoping their existing technology, product, or service will somehow survive.
  • A manager has one unproductive, disengaged employee who is disrupting the team, causing conflict, and sapping morale. Rather than confronting the employee and getting rid of them, the manager yells “hit the deck” and pretends the problem will go away on its own.
  • An employee realizes his skills are becoming obsolete. Even though there are hints of impending layoffs, this employee yells “hit the deck” (silently to himself) and refuses to learn the new skills and technology that may save his job.

Hitting the deck seems like the safest and often most-viable option. Unfortunately, complicated problems, difficult people, and obsolete strategies aren’t handled by hunkering down. This only makes the situation worse and the correct solution even more complicated and expensive. While your instincts tell you to hit the deck, your best bet might be to stand and fight. More importantly to do what you can to predict the crisis and head it off before it starts.

On the occasions where the Marines of VMF-214 disregarded intelligence on Japanese planes or were caught unaware, hitting the deck was the right move. But in most episodes, those same Marine pilots were waiting for the Japanese fighters or even better, surprised them by proactively attacking their bases and aircraft carriers. It was then that the Black Sheep did their best work.

This week, rather than sitting back hoping for success and safety, why not proactively seek solutions. You’ll never do your best work or achieve your best results lying face down on the deck.