Everyone says to “find yourself”. The problem is, who you are changes based on your role. You determine which role you play the most. Are you a child? Are you a boss? Are you a employee? Are you a leader? Are you a parent? Are you a friend? Are you a mentor? In each role, you are someone different. While you values, character, and personality don’t change – who you are in relation to others does. Pay attention to the role you play. The best way to find yourself is to create the biggest impact on those around you. Your role is important in creating the value that has the greatest results. Help others more.
If you don’t know what you don’t have, you make do. Growing up we “made do”, a lot. My wonderful single mother raised us 6 kids by working multiple jobs and instilling in us a “Get it Done” attitude. It didn’t matter what it was, if it was to be done, she did it or “helped” us do it. We learned to take the same approach. The question of how was never raised. We were expected to figure it out.
We worked a lot as a family. My mom “made” us do chores daily, not just on Saturday. And of course Saturdays were brutal. Ask my only two friends. They never came over until at least noon, just so they could be spared the experience (maybe I should have had better friends). Getting a job outside the home at age 11 cleaning horse stalls at a local boarding stable was a relief, and so much easier than working at home. The same with mowing lawns, bagging groceries, babysitting, moving irrigation pipe, flipping burgers, shoveling snow, milking cows, and whatever else I did. Even now, I look back and can’t think of any work that I have done that was more difficult than those “chores.” Besides working hard, we learned to work smart (creative?) in order to get everything done.
How do you weed the nastiest weeds in the yard and garden without a spade/shovel/gloves? With your fingers. How do you hang seemingly endless walls worth of picture frames without a screwdriver? With a butter knife. How do you make cereal? Pour some milk over a couple slices of bread. Etc…
Constraints help us succeed. Using resources productively is the ultimate sign of success. Deadlines are a great motivator for procrastinators. Competitive athletes need to win whatever the scoring method is. You never know what you will do to survive, until you have no other options. Necessity brings out ingenuity.
Even though we never have everything we want, often we have much more than we realize.
Scott Sonenshein is a professor of management at Rice University. His consults major enterprises with his innovative research and unique findings. Professor Sonenshein decided to put some of his best work into a new book called ‘Stretch’. I love this book. Get your copy here. The 9 chapters are full of exceptional stories and scientific proof to help you succeed. (Chapter 4 is my favorite)
In the book he shows us how some people succeed with so little, while others fail when they have so much.
It all comes down to your mindset.
Chasing vs. Stretching
You don’t realize what you don’t have until one of two things happen: You REALLY need it or you see someone else with something, and then you want it.
Chasing is about social comparisons. We compare ourselves to others and then we convince ourselves that we need what they have. It leads to despair and too much energy being spent chasing things that do not bring in real value.
“Chasing makes people miserable.”
In order to perform better and be more creative we need to stretch ourselves. Even though having the right amount of money can help, when it runs out most people don’t know what to do. Even though having the right tool can make any job easier, when you don’t have the right tool, most people can’t get the job done. This is what it means to Stretch: To get the job done, no matter what resources are available. Stretching is about using what you have to make your circumstance better. Stretching is not making excuses, it is finding ways to succeed.
4 Ways to Become a Stretcher (from the book)
1. Broaden Experiences – a variety of experiences allows us to break convention by using resources in new ways. Spontaneity sponsors creativity. Goals are achieved as action is taken.
2. Act Without Planning – take action, plan as you go. Planning is a good way to impose artificial constraints. Action almost always wins. Take action first, plan along the way.
3. Erase Negative Expectations – we often assume the worst. It is a good tool to stay alive, a bad trait for increased innovation and performance. We receive what we expect. As we expect the best from others, we in turn will receive better outcomes.
4. Create Unthinkable Combinations – the best inventions and ideas are created when two previously unrelated items get combined together. Often our ability to create is limited by artificial boundaries. We separate work and home, family and friends, health and relaxing. By combining previously uncombined areas of our lives we open the door to more combinations and greater productivity.
We have enough. More is not the answer. More time, more stuff, more resources. More can help us, but more is not the solution in and of itself.
Instead of trying to get more, we should focus on using what we already have. Stop chasing. Start stretching. Scott Sonenhshein wrote a book filled with tons of data and real life stories that will help us all succeed by learning to stretch. I recommend reading it. The basic message is:
“What you do with what you have matters more than what you have.”
In conclusion here is Professor Sonenshein’s giving us much needed motivation and inspiration:
“You already have everything you need to succeed in business and life, ready for you to unlock and activate. Stop worrying about what you don’t have, and appreciate what you do have. Think and act as if success is possible, then unleash your creativity to get there.”
Every lesson learned has been learned by someone else.
Some people learn them better.
**Disclaimer: I am a Steelers fan, but can also recognize greatness.
The Falcons lost the game. Atlanta “should” have won Super Bowl 51. Everyone “shoulds” on themselves. It stinks. As the great Victor Antonio says: “We all need to stop ‘Shoulding’ on ourselves.”
Some will say the refs weren’t fair. Some will say the Patriots cheated.
Some will make excuses. Others will accept that there are things you can do to win.
Tom Brady has won more super bowls than any quarterback in NFL history. There are some good reasons why.
In order to complete the dramatic, come from behind win, Tom Brady displayed 3 specific qualities of leadership that all winners show:
- Reliable Consistency – Tom Brady didn’t let his team give up, he kept performing in a consistent manner, even with all the emotions that come from being behind, he stuck to the game plan. His consistency inspired the rest of the team’s play. Tom called the right ‘audibles’ and delivered solid throws. He kept going. His performance only got better, even when the game was going the wrong direction.
- Winners Mindset – Tom made sure his mind was right. He believed he could win, so he did. He never doubted. Even with a massive deficit, he trusted his team. He trusted his coach. He trusted himself. Tom Brady truly believed that his team was better, it proved to be so. He doubted his doubt and listened to his inner courage, his inner voice of strength.
- Trusted Experience – he relied on the fact that he had done this before. He had won the big game and didn’t worry about the minor setbacks because in the end, the planning, preparation, endurance, and training will shine through if everyone on the team has the proper mindset and is consistent. He had been there before and felt he could do it again.
The main reason:
Success in the beginning is not nearly as important as success at the end.
That is a true lesson for life, for business, for relationships, and for health. The most important time to perform is after all the trials come, not before. When you perform consistently, with strong belief, and rely on previous experience, you can overcome the odds and become triumphant.
Your mindset determines your actions. Your actions determine your outcome. Learn from your mistakes to make the people around you better. Keep going. Endure the struggles to make sure you are in a position to succeed at the end.
The more we are aware of what we want, the more we can take the proper action that will help us get there. What we do should always be aligned with what we want. Most people don’t know what they want. They can’t find the bridges to connect the present to the future. The trick is not in finding a bridge, but letting the bridge find you. You do that through awareness and action. As you decide what you want and then act, others will notice your action, others will help you, you will find a way, the bridges will appear before you. Once the bridge is there, you still must walk across. Your will to achieve will help create your way.
Truth is hard to find, yet easy to define. Meaning is hard to define, yet easy to find.
Truth doesn’t change, yet must be searched. Meaning is always changing, yet runs away when you look for it.
Meaning is really found when you stop thinking about yourself and start focusing on others. As your story becomes a story that includes others, you find meaning. As your story includes moments of helping others, your purpose gets define. Meaning is found once selfishness is given up. Selfishness kills meaning.
Truth is real and as your search for it, you can find it. Meaning is found as we help others.
Insecurity is often loud while pretending to be quiet. Faith is quiet. Hope is quiet. Faith and hope lead to confidence.
Confidence can be loud. Confidence should be loud, at least inside your mind it should be the only thing you listen to.
Exploring something/place new adds value to our life. Variety is a human need. Some people need it more than others. We all can experience the same “location” in different ways. One way is not better than another. It is your life, own it, feel it, discover it. Explore in the way that is right for you.
We were walking along the Tai Po River ( 大埔河 ) one chilly November night in 2002, we were looking for people to talk to. We were looking for connection.
There she was. Sobbing loudly. She was sitting on a ledge, under the bridge that separates Tai Wo from Tai Po, with her feet hanging over the water. We sat next to her and began talking with her. She want to jump. She said didn’t want to live anymore. She said her life had no meaning.
Mike and I stayed with her. We stayed for a long time. She kept crying. We told her life has meaning. That she is important. That she is loved. That if she wants to be loved, she can find it as she gives it. We kept repeating that she is loved. It was dark outside, we were supposed to head back to our apartment for a mandatory phone call that evening. We skipped it. We stayed to tell her that she can have both meaning and truth, if she wants it. We told her that we love her even though we don’t know her. She didn’t jump. We created and found connection.
Meaning & Leadership
Truth is real. Truth doesn’t change. Truth can be found.
Meaning is elusive. It is rarely found when searched for. It rather comes from doing, from being, and from living more than it comes from theory.
The best leaders help others define and live by meaning. If you are not in a “position” of leadership, helping others find meaning in their life will help you have the most influence. And if you are, it is your responsibility.
We need meaning. People want more meaning. Yet meaning is hard to find. Emily Esfahani Smith has been searching for ways to to find meaning her entire life. She has found some remarkable and actionable ideas. Her new book “The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters” is a breakthrough work that teaches with elegantly told stories and wisdom that can only be found after serious pursuit.
While I don’t agree with all of her assumptions about religion and truth, she has shared many incredible lessons that when studied and applied can help all of us live more meaningful lives.
The 4 Pillars of Meaning
The 4 Pillars that author Emily Esfahani Smith discovered are:
- Belonging – Being part of a group of people that value our contribution is our foundational level for connection. As we have shared interests and common goals, we find ourselves loving and being loved. Interests create a sense of community. Sometimes that interest is familial relationships other times it could be a sports team, work team, professional organization, or even a book. We all need to belong to a group of people who accept and respect us. When you find a group like this, be grateful and present. Find ways to help them as they will no doubt be helping you.
- Purpose – When the reason why you do something is bigger than the challenges you face, you have found a purpose. Living with purpose does not have be grandiose or world-altering. It just has to be important to you and those you serve. Doing something out of desire rather than compulsion is one cornerstone of living a live with meaning.
- Storytelling – The stories we tell ourselves become part of our meaning. Everything that happens to us becomes part of story the moment we try and define the impact of that experience. Our identities are created by the stories we believe. We can learn from our own stories or from stories of other people. As we listen to stories, the stories become part of our identity. If the stories focus on redemption, growth, and love, we are destined to have a more meaningful experience.
- Transcendence – This is where we recognize that there is more out there than us. That we are not only and are lead by a “higher reality”. These moments can happen anywhere or anyplace. The are defined as a time when we rise above the everyday world to realize there is more to connect with. These experiences of transcendence provide us with well-being and peace and help everything else make sense.
Bringing it All Together
If we pursue actions that help us develop a sense of belonging, we can craft a life of meaning. If we pursue actions that let us live our purpose by helping others, we can craft of life of meaning. As we tell ourselves stories that match our desired outcome, we can craft a life of meaning. If we pursue actions that provide us with experiences of transcendence, we can craft a life of meaning.
While at the Tai Po River that November night, I learned about meaning. I learned that belonging and purpose help us craft our story. As we believe the story of love, importance, belonging, and purpose we can understand how valuable we really are, which in turn helps us to have transcendent experiences.
As we live our lives full of meaning, we can help others do the same. We can be better leaders. A good place to start is by reading Emily Esfahani Smith’s new book.
The horrible truth is some emotional suffering is our own fault. We only suffer when reality does not meet expectations. Our highly developed brain often is the cause for this suffering. As humans we regret the past, don’t enjoy the present, and worry about the future. We suffer because we are not content with what we have, yet do not work toward what we want. This is self-inflicted suffering. Which is sad, troublesome, and also hopeful. If our brain and thoughts are the root cause of our suffering, that means it can also help to erase it. What we focus on, is what will grow. We can reshape our brain as we reshape what we think about, on purpose. Focus on the good, focus on gratitude, focus on others. Suffering goes away when a content heart is helping others.
Every project seemed to sink. It was one person’s fault too! You know the person. We all do. That one employee who is just good enough, yet hurts more than they help. They make themselves look good at the expense of others. Selfishness at their core.
A few years ago in a previous role in another industry our team managed large scale software rollouts to major enterprise clients. Each team member had important functions to perform. Most of us did them. One person did not.
They were educated. They had experience. They didn’t use either; they did surf the internet a lot though. They dropped the ball on every project. Then blamed the people who actually did the work. Then they would work late to try and fix their own mistakes while still blaming others for the problem. Often they looked like the hero. It was a genius plan. Even worse, it worked multiple times.
When someone goes behind our back, blames us for thing they caused, or in some other way hurts us, we experience strong negative emotions. Each person can feel that same experience in a different manner though.
“Humans vary greatly in the way they experience emotions. Even after practice and effort, you can’t really control how you feel. But you can control your reactions to those feelings.” – Justin Bariso
When dealing with a horrible coworker – the thing that must be fixed first is your mindset. Your frame of mind will determine the outcome. This is based on the science of brain and emotional neuroplasticity. The theory of Self-directed neuroplasticity was developed by Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz and is the idea that we can consciously control how we want our brains to work.
To take proper action and get the correct mindset we must emotionally disconnect from the situation. This is not ignoring or moving on, this is the science and art of not worrying about things outside of your control so you can focus on things you can control. This is about emotional intelligence in action. This is awareness and then management of emotions.
Peter Bregman, the expert consultant and author of 18 Minutes and 4 Seconds said:
“Our ability to resist an impulse determines our success in learning a new behavior or changing an old habit. It’s probably the single most important skill for our growth and development.”
When we experience a negative event we can take specific actions that will help us Emotionally Disconnect. The four step process is:
- reClassify – Identify what you are feeling then assign a label of being real or imagined. Once an emotion has a name and classification
- reDefine – You give meaning to everything. Nothing has meaning until we give it meaning. If something has a negative meaning, you can change the definition.
- reCenter – The center is your focus. You get what you focus on. Stop focusing on the things that bring your down about the current event or situation, instead focus on the things that you can control. Center your mind around your own attitude and actions.
- reAdjust – We believe the stories we tell ourselves. Tell yourself that the person you are dealing with is not bad, that they are good. Adjust your thought process to want to help them. Your whole world will change.
Once our mindset is correct we can then take calm, educated, calculated, actions that in the end will help the other person as well as helping ourselves. As we focus on helping ourselves, we will very rarely win or feel complete. As we focus on helping the other person, even when they have wronged us, we can find true satisfaction in our professional and personal lives.
In order to make the relationship work I knew I had to change my behavior. While I was not doing anything wrong , I wasn’t doing what I needed to be doing. (much like what brought Nokia down…)
With my mindset in a position to grow and change and I decided to take 4 specific actions:
1. 6 Second Rule
I committed to not reacting for 6 seconds. Every time I felt a negative emotion coming I would spend at least 6 seconds focusing on a deep breath. This allowed me time to adjust my mindset.
2. Smile More
People can sense how you feel about them. They know when you don’t like them. Emotions are contagious. The fastest way to change and emotion is to do something physical. Exercises is good but not always possible. So I decided to smile. I smiled more at everyone, especially when I greeted this co-worker. I smiled to make myself happier but more importantly to let the other person know I was a friend not an enemy.
“…smiles have many different facets and meanings to different people, including light, appreciation, love, acceptance, sympathy, kindness and humor…to be more conscious of our smiles, and to actively and compassionately offer an authentic, from-the-heart smile to as many people as possible…” – Kathy Caprino
3. Take Them to Lunch
The focus was to listen. Listen and listen. Listening shows care. When someone feels like you are concerned about them, that you care about them, they begin to care about you.
4. Ask for What is Needed
Step 1 helps you not destroy trust while steps 2 and 3 help to build trust. They are genuine, not manipulative ways to learn more about another person and get them to see you as a person as well. Once people connect with people, relationships get strong. As I smiled and listened our trust grew. The final step was to let the person know what I needed help with. Not in an accusatory manner, but rather in a friendly “this is what will help me approach.”
Amazing. Not an overnight turnaround but the ship did turnaround and the work got done. The projects went smoother and the relationship grew stronger because of the ability to emotionally disconnect from every negative situation. Then I could take correct actions. Those actions would not have been possible if the instant emotions controlled my actions rather than my self-directed conscious thoughts.