I recently had an opportunity to spend some time at Appalachian State University, fresh off of my annual birthday sabbatical. The timing was quite serendipitous; as I had planned my sabbatical on Sugar Mountain months before receiving an invitation to speak at App State on the day after my sabbatical. For those not familiar, Sugar Mountain is about 20 minutes from App State’s campus.
People development (especially young people) is something I am genuinely passionate about; so anytime I get an opportunity to encourage and support students, it is always a pleasure. I spent much of my time ranting about my professional “story” in order to give the students the benefit of my missteps due to the inherent blind spots which are prevalent whenever navigating an unknown path. In retrospect, I am not sure that I imparted as much wisdom as I intended to during my time with the Finance, Banking and Insurance students. As I told the students during my rant, one of the very few rules that I subscribe to is this… I don’t tell grown people what to do. Why? I am glad you asked! Because…
- Everything ain’t for everybody; so just because something worked for me at one time does not mean that it will work for someone else at a future time;
- I don’t like being told what to do;
- Seasons change and the advice may not be applicable in every season;
- I don’t believe in absolutes;
- I can’t be aware of all of the factor which play into a person’s choice making process;
- In the spirit of prudence; the choice and outcome is the choice makers to have and hold; come what may… I don’t want the blame for it going badly nor the credit when it goes well.
However, what I will do; and think I accomplished during my visit; is share my story and allow people to gather lessons and perspectives. I am also willing to recommended courses of actions to consider and encourage paths of thoughts during the choice making process; I don’t think that I was as intentional or succinct in this regard. As such, I am writing this article as a gap filler to ensure that I provided all of the recommendations and encouragement that I intended to. So here goes…
Consider dating your possibilities
Internships, shadowing and co-ops are a great way to get a better understanding of the daily rhythm of various roles before committing. It is a tangible exploration of possibilities. This engagement does not have to look a particular way and can be as casual as calling your cousin who seems to have a cool job to ask him/her if you can shadow him/her for a day during a break or it could be as formal as a well-managed corporate internship program or anywhere in between the two scenarios. The point is to get an ideas of environment and workflow in order to determine if what you know and what you think you want to do are aligned with who you are.
I recommend Networking
It is always good to have someone in a sphere of influence who knows you and can speak on your behalf; networking strategically, makes this possible. IMO, the point of networking is to create symbiotic relationships. So if networking feels like ass kissing, then you are doing it wrong! As a young person, you have insights, perspectives, knowledge and abilities that more seasoned professionals do not possess. You have inherent value simply based on the when you arrived in this world. The way you integrate each breath with technology is magical to professionals who graduated from college before there was an internet. Seasoned professionals who once had to remember to carry quarters in order to return phone calls on a public pay phone when they received a page from a client or colleague are aww struck by how the use of technology is so obvious to you as a tool of efficiency. It is a mutual benefit to network as it connects you to possibilities and affords you an opportunity to assist your elders. IJS.
Closed mouths don’t get fed!
Consider ASKing for what you want!
- what you want to know/learn;
- what you want to do;
- what you want to earn;
- what you want experience;
- what/who you want to impact;
- or whatever else you want!
And expect to be told NO sometimes; but don’t let that deter you or stop you from asking. One of my favorite quotes is by Poet Wallace Stevens; “After the final no there comes a yes; and on that yes the future world depends.”
If you stop asking, then how will you arrive at the yes after the final no? (Note: This is not dating advice and does not apply to sexual advances; in which cases, no means no! IJS)
I recommend being like a four (4) year old!
A conversation with a four year old is far more interesting than any conversation with an adult. Why? Because four year olds ask questions in simple, easy to understand terms that force you to think deep and wide about things you take for granted or deem obvious. If it is obvious, then you should be able to articulate it, right?! And yet a four year old with stump you every time! Why is the moon following us?! Where does the sun sleep at night?
Too often people blindly commit to traditions and fail to reconcile the initial impetus with the present environment. Just because it has always been done that way does not mean that there is not value in questioning why. And so, I encourage you to beg the questions about the seemingly obvious that no one is talking about or takes for granted. This type of mental gymnastics is a great way to add value to conversations and can give birth to innovation. For example, I once witnessed a goofy, childlike treasurer ask a risk manager, “why do we buy property insurance?!” The risk manager literally gasped and motioned to clutch her invisible pearls. She was taken aback at the thought of not buying property insurance because her career was born and raised on the thought that buying insurance was necessary. This simple question started a conversation and an analytical exploration which ultimate saved the company millions of dollars, evolved the company’s risk palette and impacted its approach to all risk transfer decisions. So you see how a simple inquiry can have significant impact!
I HIGHLY recommend that you resist the urge to disengage…
You will soon learn, if you don’t already know, that there are some mean, nasty, stupid, dumb, ignorant, insecure people in this world. Those people will attempt to make you feel insignificant in order to convince themselves that they are more significant. Human nature is to fight or flight when stressed or threatened. This notions always conjures up the thought of a street fight or a dramatic finger flipping exit. In reality there are varying degrees of both. Fight could range from passive aggressive resistance to mass murder; and flight could range from raised eyebrow coupled with a mean side eye to suicide.
As you get find yourself if various environments you will learn that your own insecurities and lower vibrating characteristics may creep to the surface against your better interest. It is important to understand your internal and external triggers for both fight or flight so that you can manage the ebb and flow intentionally.
There are also times when you just don’t know what to damn do and so you disengage. Now, depending upon your impetus of disengaging, it could fall in the range or fight or flight. For example, if a person disengages from a supercilious manager who in order to witness his/her failure; that is a fist less fight. It is equivalent to standing by and watching them run full speed ahead into a brick wall. While disengaging in order to conform or accept defeat is more flight because the impetus is removing virtue, prudence or integrity from the equation in order to survive in the environment.
Sometimes it is necessary for mental and self-preservation to disengage in the moment. Disengaging can be a useful mechanism; however like anything else if used in blindly or in excess it can disempower you. When you habitually disengage or remain disengaged, you forfeit the opportunity to intentionally impact that outcome. So I recommend being painfully aware of your propensity to fight or flight. Pick your battles strategically and disengage with intention and not for too long.
Consider Managing the Headwind with Bravery
So I am quite fascinated with airplanes. My intrigue was born out of hanging out at Peachtree DeKalb Airport (PDK) as a teenager with my biological father, who was a hobbyist VFR (visual flight reference) pilot back in the day. To date, my very favorite career responsibility was when I placed insurance coverage for a corporation’s fleet of jets and its aviation operations.
One thing I learned while hanging around the small airport and pilots was the necessity to create a flight plan before taking off; a methodical process which requires quite a bit of thought and care. During this progress, the pilot must demonstrate that he/she has considered resources and obstacles in order to arrive safely within a reasonable estimate time. One of the primary factors to consider, especially for VFR pilots, is the weather; more specifically, the direction of the wind. Winds traveling in the opposite direction of the pilots destination is called headwind. The presence of headwind requires the pilot to make adjustments and causes delays.
To illustrate my point, headwind is an invisible force which works against one’s optimal performance and delays progress. While it works against one’s performance, it does not diminish the quality of performance, it simply delays progress. A G550 is no less powerful flying into headwind, it is simply delayed by the headwind. Why is that distinction important? Your performance and the performance of others is not always an indicator of outcomes – sometimes there are invisible forces which is acting against one’s performance which delays progress. So I encourage you to be discerning and thoughtful about how you approach decisions about one’s progress as an indicator or performance. This also applies to the correlation of your own progress and performance.
Interestingly, the very force that is acting as headwind for one person can act as a tailwind for someone else traveling in a different direction with the same intended destination. An invisible forces acting in your favor is always welcomed and you may be tempted to take the credit and take for granted that there is someone else who is still in route and may be an equal or better performer; but due to the headwinds they face; they have not yet arrived. I suggestion checking the registered flight plans in order to consider those who are in route and battling the headwinds.
Distinction that make a difference…
In this profession, you will be called upon to make choices which will require you to consider a wide variety of outcomes. You will be asked to solve equations with many more variables and unknowns than constants; filled with optional operates and malleable coefficients. These instances will not simply be intellectual exercise, but will have significant ramifications on people, their quality of life, health and general well-being. Some seasoned professionals may encourage you to use your intelligence to “solve for what you want” without encouraging you to consider those who are impacted by that approach. These moments will require you to apply judgement and prudent thought in order to balance what is measures with what is manageable and/or amenable. It will be necessary to make distinctions; be discriminating. And whenever you are required to be discriminating, do so without being discriminatory.
But I want them to like me…
Quick Story: I was married between the age of 18 and 30. So beginning to date at 30 was more than awkward. While in route to my first date post-divorce, I could hardly breathe and called one of my cousins to help calm me down. I was SO nervous and about to lose my mind. She asked me what was wrong and why I was so nervous. My response, “what if he doesn’t like me”. She laughed and said, “Who gives a damn? He is just a man. And uummm, have you considered that you might not like him?!” She encouraged me to just be my wonderful self and focus on observing him to determine if I like him. This redirection of focus was exactly what I needed! It shifted my approach to one of power and I am passing it on to you. When you go to interview, you are also interviewing the company and managers in order to determine if they are aligned with your career intentions. It is possible that they will like you and you may not like them. It is only a good match if you like each other and are both committed to fulfilling each other needs.
Competence informs confidence; while ignorance and insecurity informs arrogance. I recommend that you lead with competence and continually reconcile and update competencies because the only real constant is change. Temper your need to please and/or be pleasing to others by demanding yourself to be competent, valuable, intelligible and discerning.
I strongly encourage you to turn the pyramid on its head!
Okay, so 27 billion years ago some guy came up with this pyramid of needs and people have been applying it every human advancement scenario ever since. You may have heard of it, Maslow’s Hierarchy Theory. Well like any other theory, it was born from thoughts informed by the theorists’ experiences and observations. You already know that I don’t believe in absolutes and this particular theory is often purported to be a bonafide, absolute, emphatic, irrefutable fact. To that I say BULLSHIT! It basically states that if you don’t have food, water, shelter and sex you can’t engage with morality, creativity, lack of prejudice, confidence and respect… or something like that! Take it from someone who has been homeless and hungry; it is possible to abide in a place of love, belonging, respect, confidence, achievement, creativity and morality while also being hungry. No matter what stage of life you find yourself; I recommend that you engage with integrity, prudence, grace and exemplify morality. Doing so only requires making the choice and acting on that choice.
Reminder: The world is round!
When I was a kid, my mom purchased a set of encyclopedias and it came with a globe. I was quite fascinated with the globe and was specifically in awe with the fact that you can spin it in either direction and end up right back where you started. This was a physical phenomenon that my young mind discovered. As I have evolved in thought, it is clear that this phenomenal concept is applicable to the cycle of life as well as extremes. If you go too far to the right, you end up on the left and vice versa. With that in mind, I encourage you to be painfully aware of the velocity of your decisions, doings and dealings. Subscribing to extremes will too often put you on the wrong side of right when your intention may be on the right side of wrong.
We have all heard the saying, “what comes around, goes around”. Layla Hathaway unpacks this notion in a song, “What goes around” on her Self Portrait album. While the song is about lost love, it can be applied to so many other facets of life. One line in the song is, “…don’t make believe the world is how you see it”. This is a great advice to make my point. The way you see the world is just one of infinite angles and perspectives. Be diligent and brave enough to turn the matter over and explore it from various angles before moving forward. Think about the magnitude of impact for people who may see or experience the world differently than you do. This exercise may require inviting others to the table for an intentional conversation in order to check your blind spots. It is the considerate thing to do and it will save you quite a bit of heartache along the way. The magic lives in balance, not extremes.
Your success and failures are yours to have and hold. The blame game only shines a light on insecurities and inadequacies; so I encourage you to own the shine and fault in your stars with an equal measure of grace.
Know that you are not as bad as the worst thing you have ever done and you are also not as good as the best thing you have ever done. I have learned that cooperation is a lighter load than competition because there is enough life for all of us to live well.
According to my beliefs, we are created in the image of The Creator and therefore created to create; as such each of us has the innate ability to create our path forward. In this world of risk management you can create your path by simply managing the risk of whatever that things is that wakes you up before the alarm goes off. Consider aligning your head and heart by creating a career that feeds your belly, fuels your passions and finances your wildest dreams. Be well!
#LiveLove #SpeakLive #FreePeople #WisdomAccordingToElle