Identity Lost? Try Finding It in “We.” | Commitment to “The Band”

I’ve done it and I suspect you have too. The Band

I’ve asked myself these exasperating questions:

  • Who am I really?
  • Am I the person others think I am–in my family, at work, among my friends?
  • Is my identity a product of my own design or have I just followed what others want/need/expect me to be?
  • If there’s a gap between how others perceive me and who I know myself to be, what next?

This is heavy stuff and I’m here to tell you that, for me, the answers are moving targets and the questions persistent. And, it’s all good.

Becoming the whole of who we are takes a lifetime. We evolve through knowledge, experiences, and relationships. If we already knew the answers to the big questions, the up-and- down, good-times-bad-times adventure of living would be lost. No full life can have that, I’d say.

The identity quest

In our careers, we get focused on our personal brand identities. In an effort to be successful, we strive to achieve labels that work in our favor and avoid those that don’t.

Take us out of the workplace and our personal brand identities are framed by the community of friends we align with, the family we were born into or have created, the volunteer affiliations we make, and the recreational activities we engage in.

Add up all these identity pieces and, for that moment, they’re a reflection of who we are or have become. If we don’t like what we’ve created, we can change things, usually slowly, by re-framing our mind set, our alliances and/or our behaviors.

In the final analysis, most of us just want to belong. For some that comes easier than to others. But it is a quest we tend to share.

Finding ourselves in “we”

Belonging is about real connection. For some that means with one other person and for others, it means within a group.

“The Band” is a Canadian-American folk rock group from 1960s to late 1970s, inducted into both the Canadian Music and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame. Bob Dylan collaborated with them through the course of their respective careers, famously recording The Basement Tapes CD together .

The Band was unique, compared to other bands at the time. They were, first and foremost, individuals deeply committed to each other as a unit and their shared identity as The Band.

Levon Helm, (well known on drums, mandolin, guitar, and in vocals), revealed in his autobiography, This Wheel’s On Fire, the commitment the band members made to each other for their sixteen unbroken years together. Although the individual band members may have done some independent work along the way, they were always The Band first. (You might want to check out The Last Waltz video about them directed by Martin Scorsese.)

Being a member of The Band meant growing musically and personally together, developing one’s identity, and securing a deep-rooted place of belonging, always knowing someone had your back while you had theirs.

The lesson for us

Being part of the right pairing or group, where we feel at home in “we,” gives us a safe place to hone our identities and recapture what we want or need to be if we go off course.

When we commit ourselves to positive relationships with common goals, we will likely (re)discover that our identities are rooted in important values like:

  • Fair play
  • Integrity
  • Respect
  • Honesty
  • Reliability/dependability
  • Love and care

In our lives and in our careers, the pressures and temptations to fit in where and when we aren’t comfortable can be hard to resist.

Finding your authentic “I” among the right “we” can make a big difference. Finding your “band” will make the going easier. Play on!

 

 

Caught in a Vortex of Expectations? Listen to Find Your Way Out.

I’ve always had a strong dependency on words. They help me get a grip on the world around me and the nature of people who could hurt or help me. They’ve often saved me from myself.

There’s so much going on around us, all day, every day. Most of us live in an expectation-heavy, activity vortex, struggling to avoid being consumed by it.

When the vortex wins, we lose.

Listen closely.

Most of us doesn’t listen well. We hear but don’t listen. We forget that people (and we’re people too) say things in order to get us to:

  • Do what they want
  • Change our minds
  • Think the way they do
  • Affect the way we see ourselves
  • Makes purchases
  • Desire things we do or don’t need
  • Follow the crowd

The list can get long.

The noise of expectations, requirements, and cautions is everywhere. TV programs, texts, email blasts, radio announcements, and talking heads galore distract the focus of our minds relentlessly.

Our challenge is to listen closely to what is actually being said and implied. Then we need to figure out what, if any of it, is something we want to incorporate into our way of living and working.

When we sort through the words that come at us and understand the messages they contain, we become the drivers of who we are and the paths we choose to follow.

Consider personal brand management messages like these:

The image expert says: “These are the fashions, personal grooming products, cool cars, and technology devices/apps that are the rage this year among the up-and-comers. Adopt them and you will build a personal brand that signals you’re ‘with it’ and current.”

The message heard is: Getting ahead today, socially and in business, means adopting whatever is trendy.

You’re tempted to think: “I need to look younger or more chic, get the latest smart phone, dye my hair, get a new car. If I don’t, I’ll come across as un-cool or old school. If I invest in these trends, I’ll increase my chances of getting ahead.”

Your truth: What positions you to get head is your personality, your energy, your vibe. It’s in your ability to get things done, engage others, be reliable. You’re genuine, kind, and positive. You don’t need to buy a new look. Just be your best self.

Now, consider words you might hear at work:

Your boss says: “You have excellent people skills, especially when dealing with unhappy customers and working with stressed out coworkers. You have a great future here and I see you supervising others in time.”

The message heard is: You could be promoted one of these days.

You’re tempted to think: “I need to keep demonstrating my people skills, so my boss won’t change his mind about me. Getting promoted to supervisor would be an unanticipated challenge. I need to be ready for it.”

Your truth: You like working with customers and peers, and increasing the scope of your existing job would be great. But you never wanted to supervise, because the requirements of the role don’t fit your personality. It’s not the career path that feels good to you. Let your boss know that, so s/he can develop you in different directions.

Make decisions on your terms

I lived that last example. I loved being a manager but I never wanted to become an executive. I knew I was being considered and wanted to be sure my reasons were delivered in my words. So I invited the CEO to lunch to explain and my career then proceeded along the best lines for me.

You ‘re not like everyone else, so there’s no reason to believe that you should want what everyone else has. As an individual, you are wired to be unique.

The words that swirl around you are both hooks and anchors that are yours to accept or reject. Own the words that are good for you and discard the rest. That puts your next steps on your terms.

Unearthing Your Creative Side: It’s All in How You Dig.

I love a good book. A gripping play. A haunting song. An elegant sculpture. A graceful dance. All that artistry, that creativity, fully on display astounds and moves me.

I also love a well-designed plan. A complex project that comes to life. A student excited by a great teacher. A social issue given traction.

Some of us create art, others create systems, but we all create change.

Every time we see things in a new way, have an idea that needs an outlet, or take a fresh approach to doing things, we are in touch with our creative side.

To ignore or neglect it is to take some of the joy out of living.

Look and you’ll see.

It’s easy to miss your creative side amid the demands of your daily life. It’s not just artists and performers who are creative; it’s in all of us. We just have to look at what we’re doing day by day to see that creativity manifesting itself.

For years I have been hand-mowing a steep bank behind my house, and it was becoming increasingly more difficult. I often joked that my goal for each mow was not to cut off my foot.

This fall I contacted Todd Longenbach, long-time friend and owner of Western Lehigh Landscape, to see what he could do to help.

There’s nothing I like better than to see a project unfold, following a plan, a process, and well-orchestrated use of people and material resources.

It started with a visit to my “dreaded bank.”

With Brian, the designer, I needed to explain the kind of look I was after. That led to the design–an artful sketch of the reconfiguration of the bank and its plantings.

After that, creativity and skill became married as man, machine, and materials turned into their own kind of dance.

Below is a picture of the blank canvas–the bank before its transformation.

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Next comes the assembling of equipment and materials–just like the paints and brushes required for a painting.

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Excavation follows in the way a sculptor would rough out form on a piece of granite.

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The positioning of each stone forms the bold lines a painter would need before adding the detail.

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Filling in with plantings brings color, texture, and warmth to add to the artistry.

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The finish is the moment of realization that the transformation is complete–something new and beautiful has come from an initial vision through the power of heavy equipment and the attentive labor of men bent to the task.

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In spring the grass will emerge, the flowers will bloom, and the project will reveal its full artistry.

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Artistry is about touch.

It rarely occurs to us to consider:

  • The heavy equipment operator as artist, carving a picture from the earth
  • The extractor of large stones as artist, selecting the right shapes and sizes
  • The men who rake and plant as artists, exercising their eye for line and detail

That’s because we aren’t really watching.

If we were in an operating room watching a surgeon deftly handle a scalpel or a laser, we’d marvel at his or her touch, that ability to feel exactly the right pressure to exert or angle for the cut.

I watched Todd gently lift and place those enormous boulders with the track hoe, using its thumb to secure each piece or the end of the fork to turn the stone so it fit just so. I watched him position the machine to create the lines he wanted, to solve slope problems, and to make sure that everyone around him stayed safe.

Through the course the project, the landscaping crew (Steve, Kyle, Dave, Zack, and Dylan) worked together effectively to create the final picture.

Like every accomplished artist, Todd stayed focused on his vision for the project as it unfolded, providing clear direction to his crew with great calm and efficiency.

Creativity and skill are bedfellows. The more skill we develop the greater our ability to release our creative side and find joy in what it brings to the world. So please keep digging.

4 Ways Distraction Threatens Your Career | Fight Back

Distracted? Never, you claim, always fully tuned in, just multitasking.

It’s a popular self-deception. We’re all guilty to a degree.

Research has long debunked the notion of multitasking, our claim of being engaged in multiple things (aided by our digital tools) at the same time.

We’ve just become compulsive about requiring our brains to toggle between one thought or awareness and another. The faster we do it, the more we self-approving we become.

Faster makes winners, right? Until, there’s a wreck.

Distraction as enemy

Keeping up with the pace of change and career demands is wearying. So many swirling expectations and so little clarity about what really matters…to our progress.

We take a stab at one thing and then another, often deciding what’s important based upon what others are or seem to be doing or that text, post, news flash, or broadcast email we receive. Our biggest challenge at work is figuring out what matters and what doesn’t.

If you let yourself become distracted by all the inputs that come your way, you’ll more than likely spin your wheels and find yourself stuck in an ever-deepening rut.

You need to separate distraction from meaningful direction. That starts with recognizing how certain distractions can hurt you.

When distractions run amok, they can become:

  1. Career saboteurs–Success at work is about staying focused on the tasks at hand, providing updates to your boss, and working collaboratively with coworkers. When distractions caused by extraneous inputs obstruct your focus and productivity, your career will take a hit.
  2. A safety hazard–Inattentiveness is one of the main causes of accidents in the workplace. You don’t want to get hurt on the job and companies are upset when you do. When distracted, we slip, trip, and fall…or worse…whether we work in an office or outside. Distractions take make us vulnerable.
  3. Relationship eroders–Most of us want to matter at work…to our coworkers, bosses, and customers/clients. People you interact with want your undivided attention as much as you want theirs. Distractions that you respond to while with a colleague screams, “You aren’t more important to me than….” [fill in the blank…this text, email, person who caught my eye]. You may not get much future support from those you make feel less important.
  4. Confidence drains–Distractions interrupt your thought processes, often introducing extraneous points of view, declarations, positions, and news that derail insights that are uniquely yours. Your ideas lose momentum and you start to question their value and relevance. When distractions steer your thinking off course, you put your hard-earned self-confidence at risk.

Be on guard

There’s a relentless onslaught of information coming at you, often causing confusion and clutter in your life. You necessarily must be able to separate the useful from the useless, engaging in a a kind of distraction due diligence.

You need to take charge of the world around you, avoiding the tendency to follow the herd. This means you should:

  • Stop second-guessing what you believe is important to your career success
  • Refuse to fear being wrong, out-shined, or outplayed by others; instead just do what you do best
  • Be willing to differentiate yourself by showcasing your talents and commitment to quality work
  • Expect to be seen and heard, not to be kept faceless and at arm’s length
  • Build meaningful relationships with colleagues that mirror what you want from them

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a guarantee that you will. It’s impossible to be in tune with everything that’s going on around you. Most of it doesn’t matter to your career plan anyway.

What you don’t want is to miss out on the relationships, creative sharing, emerging insights, and depth of thought/experience that comes from focused engagement with the people you work with.

Resist with courage

It takes courage to resist distractions, especially when you’re surrounded by others addicted to them. Distractions become a cop out, an excuse for putting off decisions, completing work, and reaching out to others. It’s time to fight back.

Being busy being busy is the road to nowhere. Beat the traffic and take the undistracted route.

 

 

Looking for the Key to Success? Start with Appreciation. | Pharrell Knows.

Achieving success is a mystery.

When we don’t have it, we often want something or someone to blame:

  • Parents who weren’t supportive
  • Life in a bad neighborhood
  • Boring teachers who didn’t motivate us
  • A bad job market or a go-nowhere job
  • Schmoozer coworkers who get the promotions

If only…if only…so sad, right?

Your and my success aren’t about anyone else but you and me. It starts with us, no matter what the circumstances.

The key to success is putting yourself in its way

by taking action and showing appreciation for

everyone who takes an interest in you

no matter how large or small.

You just have to start with small steps and a willingness take a turn when the road splits.

 It’s the little things.

We’re not entitled to the kind of success we want. We may achieve all of it, some of it, or very little of it.

The problem is: We often don’t really know what we’re after. We may know we love sports or music or business and that we want to pursue it, but we usually have no idea how any of that interest will turn into success.

Most successful people stumble into it. Forget about those who get the family business handed over to them. This is about those of us who start at the bottom and try to work our way to that place of success where we want to be.

Your definition of success needs to be yours alone. It’s not about what your parents, your friends, or the media sell you about success.

For some it’s about money and material things. For others it’s peer recognition by an accomplished craftsman, artist, educator, or care-giver. It’s painfully easy to define your own success by the measures of others, something that can derail a career that will truly make you happy.

It’s the path to success that befuddles most of us. There is no achieving success alone. It takes connecting with good people, successful in their own fields, who have a genuine interest in lifting you up.

The key to your success is focusing on and developing your talents, finding those good people, and appreciating, every day, the significance of their part in the trajectory of your success.

Happy is…

Pharrell Williams, American singer-songwriter, record producer, and musician, has been successful behind the scenes for years until his song, “Happy,” hit the airways with him as the singer. It catapulted him into major celebrity.

Although Pharrell is a musical talent in his genre, his life and rise to fame are representative of how small steps, humility and appreciation matter.

Pharrell was interviewed on the CBS Sunday Morning program (April 13, 2014) where he explains how his success “story is the average story” of a kid whose mother was a teacher and his father a handyman. It included a few special people who took an interest in him, even though he was a C and D student in high school and deeply into music, especially rap.

He never forgets his appreciation for those who noticed him and wanted to give him an outlet:

Take all my band teachers out of [my life], where would I be?

About the reason for his current success, he adds:

For me…if the people don’t upload my music there is no success….I’ve been hoisted up by others….I just did the song and other people bought it.

And about what it all means, he adds: “What else do I have but to be appreciative.” The stars aligned for me. “A kite doesn’t fly without the air.”

Your story

You have your own career path before you, ready to be mapped.

Pharrell explains there are lots of great song writers, musicians, and producers around, just like him, who aren’t being heard. That doesn’t mean they aren’t successful.

Success is about the mark you make, big or small. The people you touch, the good you do, the difference you make, and the way you fill your own heart. Appreciation and humility underpin the kind of success that can deliver something worthwhile.

 

 

Give a Little. Get a Lot. | Generosity Matters.

Doing isn’t giving, although doing is required.

At work we have jobs to do. The better we do them, the more likely we’ll be valued and rewarded. That’s true even if we:

  • Dislike the tasks we’re assigned
  • Know  the job is a wrong fit
  • Question the company’s direction
  • Work with uncommitted people
  • Don’t see growth opportunities

It’s as possible to succeed in a sorry job as it is in a fabulous one, provided you do your job as required.

But that’s a bummer. Few of us want to be a star at a job we dislike, unless we can turn it into something significantly better. Generosity of spirit may be just the ticket.

Giving v. getting

When we get hired, the first thing we say is ” I got the job” as though it’s something we now own. Actually, it’s the opposite.

Instead, we’ve been given the opportunity to serve an organization so it can succeed. Our individual success is a by-product of the quality of our performance…what we give.

Jobs look different when you see them as  opportunities to give. It starts with  the attitude you bring to your tasks, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant they are. Consider these comparisons:

Downer coworkers (the self-servers):

  • Complain about everything and everyone
  • Find fault with every decision, policy, and assignment
  • Ridicule the boss and some peers covertly
  • Brag about how they shortcut their work
  • Bad-mouth the company

Upbeat coworkers (the givers):

  • Focus on the good in others and reinforce it
  • Look at the upside of decisions and support them
  • Commit to performing at their best out of personal pride
  • Treat the boss and their peers with respect, even during disagreements
  • Offer to help struggling coworkers out of kindness
  • Show regard for the company and gratitude for their employment

There are important, often unexpected, benefits to working with a giver’s attitude. Even the smallest gift of kindness and generosity turns into a benefit that touches many.

Cause and effect

There are endless opportunities to turn the drudgery of any job into an uplifting experience. Here are a two examples of ways to give a little and get a lot:

1.  Your job involves seemingly endless spreadsheets, so you’re a wiz at Excel but your coworker isn’t. When she’s struggling to meet a spreadsheet deadline, you share your knowledge and help her make it. (Your self-esteem goes up, you strengthen a relationship, and you support the team.)

2. You’re a veteran member of a work group that just added a new, talented but inexperienced member. He’s trying to get acclimated but it’s not going well. You offer to be a peer-mentor for him until he’s settled. (You rediscover your leadership skills, build inclusiveness, and set a positive example.)

Each gift from the heart makes things better for others. In turn you reinforce your sense of self-worth.

Generosity, whether time, effort, or money, is personal and individual. We give what we can and usually get back what we don’t expect.

Journalist John Blackstone interviewed, Ari Nessel (on CBS Sunday Morning 3/23/14) who became wealthy selling real estate in the Dallas area. Nessel believes the best kind of philanthropy comes from small monetary gifts. So he created a foundation, Pollination Project, providing seed money for start-up charities. Daily, he chooses someone just getting started to receive a $1,000 donation, his lifetime commitment of giving.

Nessel’s attitude about any kind of giving is that, ” …transformation happens on the fringes…and doesn’t happen on the large scale… And so it becomes a movement.”

At the end of the interview, Blackstone says to Nessel: “So money can buy happiness?”

He replied, “Generosity can buy happiness.”

Generosity matters.

Nessel’s  viewpoint also applies at your job. You can affect the culture of your workplace  through each gift of kindness you give. When that happens, it also makes your job feel better and you seed a movement.

Giving generously of your time and talent positions you to discover the value embedded in your every work experience. A generous spirit is infections and attracts contagious good.

 

 

Unexpected Discoveries from Unrelated Experiences | Taking My Own Advice

Finding something of value you weren’t looking for can be thrilling, especially when it

By: T R L

includes self-discovery.

Recently, I wrote a post about how learning something unrelated to your job can actually boost your career.

I figured if that advice was good for you, it would do me good too. So I started taking  acoustic guitar lessons where I’m learning more than I ever imagined about myself and my career while making a little music.

Why bother?                                                       

It’s easy to get comfortable with our lives, even when we aren’t happy about the trajectory.

Deep down we know there are things we’d like to do, but the energy or the courage to make the effort isn’t there.

What we often forget is that new experiences add to our portfolio, broadening the skills and reference points we bring to our careers. Simply put, new experiences make us more interesting and more confident.

My interest in learning guitar was just a curiosity. I’d played piano as a kid but the guitar’s portability and intimacy seemed more suited to me now. I may have continued putting it off except in passing my friend, Pam, said she’d often thought about taking guitar. That’s all it took. We were both in.

And the beat begins.

Expect the unexpected. That’s how it goes when you try something new.

This process is pretty much the same no matter what you take on:

Get properly equipped–The first guitar I got was too small, so I exchanged it for a Martin that was perfect. Then I learned it had to live in a case where the right humidity was managed. After I got that straight, I needed a metronome, a tuner, and picks.  Done!

Learn skills and right attitudes–I signed up for lessons with Joey Mutis, a teaching, performing, and recorded musician/song writer, perfect. In two sessions, he got me comfortable with my guitar and  began helping me overcome my perfectionism anxieties while teaching me playing mechanics.

Build new perspectives–I needed to understand and accept that playing isn’t about getting all the notes right, but rather about making music. Ultimately, playing guitar is about playing with others, so it’s important is that everyone follows the beat and ends together, a few bad notes generally go unnoticed by listeners. Who knew?

Nurture your aptitudes–I learned that everything about guitar playing can be taught, but not rhythm. Luckily I have that. It was a relief that I brought something built-in to the experience.

Get connected–Now every time I see guitar players, I’m transfixed by their playing. I’ve discovered  friends and colleagues who play, so now I can talk about gigs, gear, and techniques, enriching our connection and building a broader bond.

While expecting a good time learning guitar, I found  a life-enriching experience.

The deeper vibe

Things we do for fun become fuel for professional growth. This guitar experience for me is no exception. As a coach and consultant, I will bring new perspectives to clients on:

Mistakes–Expecting or seeking perfection becomes useless and  punishing self-criticism that only hampers performance. In spite of some wrong notes, the music still reaches you. The same is true for your projects, presentations, and plans. So you need to just keep going, correcting for any serious mistakes in the next take.

Teamwork–Successful teams work through their problems, helping each other out, shaking off incidental mistakes, and reinforcing their collective purpose–to get the right work done in the best way possible. A good band does that because, to each player, the music matters.

Practice–Practice makes progress, not perfection. What matters is to stay committed, discover your ever-increasing capabilities, and enjoy the process while you wait for the next opportunity to showcase what you have mastered.

Learning is a process. The more we invest, the greater our return. It brings insights and revelations at every turn, through every experience, and by the sheer strength of your curiosity.

Today’s another day for you to revisit something that you’ve always wanted to explore. Then  go ahead and do it.  Your career will thank you.