Craving the Secret to Success? Words from the Wise Break the Code | Howard’s Gift

I’m on a constant quest for answers to big questions about the direction of my life and my work. When I was asked to blog about Eric C. Sinoway’s new book, Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work, I hesitated. I didn’t know anything about Howard Stevenson, the focus of the book. But I said “yes” anyway. I wish it had been written decades ago, when its insights would have spared me so many doubt-plagued hours as I struggled to figure things out for my career path. Fortunately, it’s now here for you.

The secret to success hinges on making the right choices at the right time. Our challenge is to understand the effect our choices will have on us should we pursue them.

If only we had someone to ask, someone with the experience and wisdom to help us see the big picture, someone who can clear away the fog so we can chart the right course.

Enter Howard Stevenson, whose wisdom is the focus of Eric C. Sinoway’s book, Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work.

Howard spent 40 years as a highly respected professor at Harvard Business School, where his MBA  students included world leaders, corporate CEO’s, and entrepreneurs. He is also an innovator and entrepreneur in his own right, contributing to his distinction, according to Sinoway, as “the father of entrepreneurship at HBS….”

Howard’s books and teachings have created a following of “students” like Sinoway who committed to write this book after Howard’s heart attack, ensuring that Howard’s priceless wisdom would never be lost.

Antennas up

Our career and life choices involve our “inflection points.” We need to be keenly aware of them when they occur and committed to taking the right course of action.

So what is an inflection point? Sinoway writes:

It is a moment when–by choice or not–we pivot from the path down which we were traveling and head in an entirely different direction.

It’s easy to miss or ignore an inflection point, especially when it may not line up with the way we’d planned our course.

Sinoway shares Howard’s explanation:

Inflection points come in all forms: positive, negative, easy, hard, obvious, and subtle. The way you respond–whether you grab hold of a inflection point and leverage it for all it’s worth or just let it carry you along–is as important as the event itself.

In hot pursuit of success, we are frequently faced with inflection points that cause us inner conflict. Howard impresses on his students that “…success doesn’t always equal happiness….” I’ve certainly witnessed examples of that and suspect you have too.

Howard suggests approaching your career by thinking about it from a legacy perspective:

Starting at the end means investing time up front to develop an aspirational picture of your future–a guide for the decisions you make throughout your life.

Knowing what we value in a satisfying career and acting on it are often very different things. What we need to get a firm grip on is the way our notions of success and failure help us or get in our way.

Befriending success and failure

We tend to look at success as reward and failure as punishment for, well, just not being good enough. Our self-confidence, courage, optimism, and sense of self-worth are often held hostage by them both.

Howard removes the weight of success and failure when he says in the book:

You know, people throw around words like success and failure assuming they mean exactly the same thing to everyone–and they don’t….

Have you fallen into that trap?

He adds:

There is no standard metric for evaluating success or failure, in large part because our assessments are heavily affected by the expectations we bring into a situation…our definitions of success and failure change based on personal circumstance; they’re colored by what’s happening around us….

The next time someone tries to detract from your achievements based upon their own measure of success, think of Howard’s words:

 For me, the bottom line is: don’t put yourself in a definitional straitjacket, and don’t allow others to do it to you, either.

It’s inevitable that, from the time we’re very young, we are “shown the way” to success as defined by people around us and the media. No wonder finding our own way can feel confusing, particularly when things don’t go as expected.

Howard offers this perspective:

I prefer to expend my energy only on things that I can affect. What’s past is only useful to me insofar as it offers information to using going forward. ..What other people might call failures I simply see as situations laden with meaning–full of new data and new opportunities for assessing and recalibrating a strategy.

Breaking the code

If you need wise counsel on building your skills, finding mentors, facing your personal truths, attracting the right professional relationships, or achieving life-work balance, you’ll find invaluable perspectives from Howard.

This book reads like a conversation, where we get to listen in. We read about the trials and missteps of others, including Sinoway’s, and how Howard untangles complex career situations, just like the ones you’re facing, bringing important next steps into focus.

The secret to success lies within us. Words from the wise help us break the code.

Still Searching for Self-Confidence? Try Looking Outward.

Self-confidence is both deal-maker and deal-breaker. Just look around. You’ll see:

  • Enormously talented people with low self-confidence who never made it
  • Bumblers with over-flowing self-confidence who succeed beyond belief

When we doubt, question, and criticize our abilities, we self-sabotage. The more negative feedback we give ourselves, the more we believe it must be true.

We says things like:

  • “Since I don’t have an MBA, my ideas will never be heard.”
  • “I couldn’t possibly be considered for a supervisory job without formal training.”
  • “No one will hire me since I’ve been out of work so long.”
  • “Introverts like me can’t become successful speakers.”

It’s time to reboot.

Reprogram your head.

Low self-confidence can be physically painful. When those feelings start to set in, they disturb the way we feel and how we behave.

That means we need to take steps to minimize the chance that our shaky self-confidence will rear its ugly head.

Although it’s never too late, it’s helpful when we learn how to do this when we’re young.

Meet Sophia Grace (now age 9) and  Rosie (6). They are cousins from England who were discovered by Ellen DeGeneres who saw their YouTube video singing rapper Nicki Minaj’s song, Super Bass.

The two girls have become an international sensation because of their repeated appearances on the Ellen show, their captivating personalities (Sophia Grace’s singing talent and exuberance; Rosie’s adorable look and understated manner), their love of pink tutus, and their wide-eyed innocence.

The Super Bass lyrics (which, fortunately, they admit they don’t understand) are enormously complicated but took them only two days to learn. Sophia Grace does the singing and Rosie mostly mouths the words.

During one of their interviews with Ellen, the outgoing Sophia Grace was asked about her relationship on stage with Rosie. She answered:

“Rosie makes me feel more confident.”

When the girls were treated on Ellen to a surprise meeting with their idol Nicki Minaj, Nicki lauded Sophia Grace’s singing and praised Rosie as being her “hype” girl.

Together Sophia Grace and Rosie are a true team.

The formula

The foundation for self-confidence starts with:

  • Loving what you do and then doing it with great energy, enthusiasm, and commitment whether you are great at it or not. (Greatness will come eventually if you want it enough.)
  • Feeling inspired to press on to keep getting better
  • Support from others–friends, family, mentors, bosses, anyone
  • Courage to take chances, reach out, and ask for the support you need

Here’s how the steps in the formula worked for the little girls in pink:

  • Sophia Grace and Rosie started with the joy of singing together.
  • They were inspired by their singing idol and learned that complex song.
  • They had supportive parents who made and posted the YouTube video and they had each other.
  • They took advantage of the chance to go to the Ellen show and all the experiences that followed.

There are examples like this everywhere. Listen to those contestants on the TV show, The Voice, who, when asked by judges like Cee Lo Green, what kind of help they’re looking for from a coach, the answer from many is: “My self-confidence isn’t the best.”

Listen to interviews with athletes who struggle to break through to the next level, and they will talk about “not believing” in themselves and “struggling with self-confidence” in the big matches or games.

Take charge

It doesn’t matter how accomplished we are, self-confidence is always the deal-maker or deal- breaker going forward.

So what are you going to do to break through the barriers of your own self-confidence to:

  • Perform better
  • Expand your capabilities
  • Build a stronger personal brand
  • Achieve that promotion or new job

You need to surround yourself with the right people who will provide the encouragement, insights, knowledge, and feedback you need to sustain positive self-confidence along the way. Then you need to keep working and striving.

We’re not expected to succeed alone. Actually, I don’t think we can.  It’s essential to reach out.

Photo from Ariana fan via Flickr

Making the Right Connections? Take a Fresh Look at the Pieces.

Too often we think we’ll find success if we just meet the right people. Sometimes that’s so.

"Hot Dog" limited edition serigraph by John Gaydos

But we can waste a lot of time cozying up to influencers, just to discover that they aren’t interested in doing anything for us.

Our success comes from demonstrating that we know how to connect the dots and get results!

Put the pieces together

We make “right” connections when we come up with ideas that:

  • solve a problem or settle an issue
  • develop a profitable product or service
  • build or improve an essential relationship

They are a function of you, using your insights and initiative, to put the pieces together, in ways that showcase your:

  • Understanding of  business needs
  • Ability to collaborate and/or partner with individuals or groups
  • Problem-solving capabilities and risk-taking tolerances
  • Willingness to take the lead and own outcomes
  • Ability to communicate in ways that attract support and sponsorship

The pieces only fit correctly if you understand what’s needed to make them connect. Think of a jigsaw puzzle and how, if you force pieces together that aren’t a match, you’ll end up with a distorted picture. The same is true at our jobs.

Think of the coworkers where you work who are the go-to people whenever things are out of whack. They’re successful because they take the time to identify the:

  • underlying problem, not just the surface symptoms
  • solution that will get things up and running without causing other problems later
  • strategy for a long-term resolution that minimizes cost and disruption
  • players who need to participate as collaborators and/or partners

Our career value is determined by how willing and effective we are at solving problems by connecting needs and solutions. That recognition can vault our success.

Hot doggin’ it

Last fall, our local, non-profit arts council held its annual fundraiser–an “affordable art for everyone” auction. The executive director in collaboration with one of the board members came up with idea.

They put the pieces together, creating the right connections, collaborations, and partnerships, by:

  • Attracting artists to submit work for a 50-50 sales split, over 200 pieces
  • Securing an “historic” local hot dog eatery as a sponsor and building the event’s theme around it
  • Commissioning a well-known, local painter to create an original piece called “Hot Dog” (which sold for $1,300; needless to say, most other pieces were significantly less!)
  • Attracting a strong bidder turnout and press attention

After the auction, the owners of the hot dog business suggested making a limited edition print of the original painting. Here was a chance to initiate more “right connections.”

Again the executive director and board member put new pieces together by:

  • Securing a fine art printer to create a limited edition serigraph at an affordable price
  • Making arrangements with the artist to partner on the effort
  • Identifying an art business that would mat and frame the piece for an attractive price
  • Engaging other board members and social media followers to promote and/or purchase the print

Making the right connections bonds you with everyone you engage. That’s how you build your own brand, attract followers, and expand your leverage. Each initiative builds on itself in expansive ways.

Finding intersection

Success is not linear. It’s a function of our choices and our ability to know which way to turn when we face an intersection.

The “hot dog” auction and print experience connected a non-profit organization with individual artists trying to make a go of it. It brought about the involvement of a food business, a print maker, and a frame shop along with art fanciers and a gallery owner.

The old image of the path to career success was a ladder. The idea of climbing steps in a row doesn’t work much anymore. It’s all about connecting and arranging opportunities in creative ways to get the job done. Hot dog!

Discovered the Trick to Career Success? | The Magic’s Up Your Sleeve

Career success seems so elusive as we face constant changes in the work environment and economy. Here’s a post I wrote in 2010 to help sort things out and form the basis of a plan.

Success is out there—somewhere. We watch others achieve it, but why not us? They don’t seem any smarter than we are. So what’s the trick?

We assume the answer’s in all those how-to books, so we read them. We go to presentations by celebrated experts, follow bloggers, and invest in webinars. These are all good things to do, but….

No one can tell you how to get the success you want. Why? Because they aren’t you!

We’re all in the same boat. Getting to success is a struggle. So what’s the winning formula? 

I can’t tell you that. No one can. We have to figure it out ourselves. No whining or complaining. No funny business or short cuts. And, hardest of all to swallow, no guarantees!

There are some concrete steps you can take to get started or to keep going if you feel stalled. Here goes:

1. Answer this: What do I want my life to look like when I cross the finish line? 

Describe what you see in your mind’s eye: your surroundings and location, who’s there and who’s not, and what you do on a typical day. Write it all down and save it. What you describe tells you what you want to achieve, what you’ll be working toward, and how you want it to come together.

2. Then answer: What career work fits me? 

The right career feels like lycra: a close (actually intimate) fit that supports you as you move freely in any direction. Lots of people wear burlap instead. They may find success but it comes with a rash. Real success includes work satisfaction, growth, and fair rewards.

3.  Can work in that career get me the success I want? If no, now what?

Sometimes the work you love doesn’t pay well or offer advancement. That means you’ll have to add another work component to your success plan.

There is no rule that says all of our income must come from one source, our job. Additional revenue can come from freelance work, side businesses, and on-line services/sales. The internet offers many new paths for adding revenue. It’s time to explore.

4. Visualize the success you want. Pick up on the vibes.

If visualizing didn’t help golfers make tournament winning putts, they wouldn’t pay their sports psychologists to teach them how to do it.  Every athlete who wins a championship says the same thing: “I’ve imagined this moment since I was 9.”

Once you focus on the success you want and the career work you love, you’ll find yourself noticing articles in the paper, segments on TV, comments at work, and on-line posts that will move you forward.

5. Write the words that describe the success you want and the paths you’ll explore to get it.

Writing things down makes them real and prevents you from side-stepping the work you need to do. When you explore options, you will stay open to alternatives until you’ve settled on the winning direction.

Anyone can do this. It’s not magic. 

I struggle and question just like you. The success I wanted was a life in the country, working for myself, helping others achieve their own career and business goals.

To get this far meant passing through many seemingly unrelated gates. I was a high school English teacher, a social worker, a corporate manager. While I was employed, I made extra income as a practice management consultant for veterinarians, then as a horse breeder and art dealer.

Each path led me to the life that I visualized. My definition and measure of success isn’t yours and yours isn’t mine. We each own the success we seek—that’s the beauty of it.

Don’t let anyone else define success for you. That’s important to becoming business fit. Own your success goals and desires. It’s what’s up your sleeve that matters. Keep looking—there’s a rabbit in there somewhere!

Photo from garethjmsaunders via Flickr

Don’t Believe In Yourself? That’s “Lin-Sanity”! | 10 Confidence Builders

Sometimes we say we do when we don’t. Or say we don’t when we might. Other times we wonder if we do or should or can. Getting a grip on sustainable self-belief can make us crazy.

It seems that every success story we hear boils down to how the person always believed s/he could:

  • Overcome the odds
  • Seize their big moment
  • Get recognized
  • Reach the top

Their self-belief is what sustained them when they were down and nearly out. It was the one internal force that fueled their momentum and prevented any idea of quitting.

I don’t know about you, but there are days when believing in myself is no problem. Then (ugh) there are those seemingly endless other days when nothing is clear, self-doubt takes over, and my optimism goes underground.

Unfortunately, the success that we’re after often feels elusive. The more our vision of it waivers, the more difficult it is for us to dig deep when the going gets tough.

Keep reaching.

Jeremy Lin has become  an inspiration to legions of fans.

Lin is an American pro basketball player for the New York Knicks with an economics degree from Harvard (and a 3.1 GPA) and parents originally from Taiwan. At 6’3″ Lin had enough height to play serious basketball; he performed exceptionally in high school, allowing for the belief that he could play professionally.

Here’s what happened: Lin

  • Did not receive a college athletic scholarship
  • Was not drafted into the pros after college
  • Eventually got a partially guaranteed contract the Gold State Warriors
  • Was then waived both by the Warriors and then the Houston Rockets in preseason
  • Was picked up by the Knicks as a back-up player for 2011-12

Through all the ups and down, the being shuffled around, and the disappointments, Lin kept playing and getting better. He got to demonstrate both his talent and his belief in himself when the Knicks finally put him in a game.

At the time Knicks’ coach Mike D’Antoni said, “He got lucky because we were playing so bad.” That was Lin’s moment and he seized it. The Knicks won that game and the next six under Lin’s on-floor leadership.

D’Antoni said that Lin has a point-guard mentality and “a rhyme and a reason for what he is doing out there.” (How’ s that for helping to boost self-belief!)

The adoration of Knicks fans for Lin gave birth to the term “lin-sanity.” What Lin has done seems “insane,” given his bumpy ride which included sleeping on his brother’s sofa in NYC waiting for his moment.

Consider these lin-sights

Jeremy Lin didn’t just believe in himself, he kept working at becoming a better player.

Believing in ourselves also means believing in things that matter to achieving our goals the right way, as Jeremy Lin did:

  1. Work hard, keep getting better, increase confidence
  2. Stay committed to your goals, no matter the obstacles
  3. Make your success about something more than yourself like the team
  4. Cultivate humility during the ups, courage during the downs
  5. Seize every moment to participate–always be prepared and ready
  6. Focus on the job at hand, block out distracting noise
  7. Accept success and failure as having equal value to improving
  8. Take one day at a time, don’t over analyze or project into a future you can’t control
  9. Ignore the labels you can’t do anything about
  10. Lead when you’re needed and facilitate the success of others

Why not you?

Jeremy Lin is just like you. He’d come close to finding a place in his hoped for career and then watched it slip away. So he tried again until a set of unexpected circumstances gave him a chance to shine.

Lin’s story isn’t about “celebrity” careers. It’s about yours too. It doesn’t matter what line of work you’re in. There’s a level of achievement that you want too. Attaining it starts with your belief that you can and will.

If it can happen for others, I can happen for you. And it will, when the time is right and you’re prepared and ready. Please don’t give up.

Photo from STEVESD via Flickr

5 Ways to Save Yourself from Blind Exuberance | Hold Your Horses

Nothing beats it–that heart-pumping excitement that comes from the prospect of:

  • Landing a great job or promotion
  • Getting an overseas assignment
  • Buying into a promising start up

Our minds are flooded with seductive images of what we can make happen.

That’s all good, except, to be successful, we need to be in touch with our naiveté, replacing it with solid knowledge .

Face what you don’t know.

It’s easy to get sold a bill of goods:

  • The job description isn’t what the job is
  • The promotion is a dead end, not a growth opportunity
  • The start-up was poorly managed so it folded

Our exuberance for an opportunity is often rooted in our emotions, so we’re inclined to make our decisions based on incomplete information.

Career opportunities are, first and foremost, business decisions, so they require the same due diligence as any corporate merger. Your life is your business, remember?

I’ve certainly had plenty of experience reining in my own boundless exuberance throughout my varied career..

I learned the hardest lessons as a race and show horse breeder. My knowledge of the industry was zero before I started. (There’s your first sign!) I’d learned to ride as an adult, did a little showing on my first horse, bought a broodmare, and then a small farm that needed to be made horse-ready. Next I met a work colleague into horse racing and “I was off.”

This experience taught me these five lessons for any career move :

1. Understand the economics: Calculate the hard dollar benefits and exposures over time for any career change you make. Discuss this openly and without discomfort.

I learned: Horses are expensive even when you take care of them yourself: feed, vet care, farriers, trainers, gear, trailering, and endless supplies. There’s no escaping the cost.

2. Assess the physical demands: Be honest about whether or not you are up to the demands of the job over the long haul–the hours, the stress, the travel, the expectations.

I learned: Horses are work every day all year: lugging, lifting, stacking, dodging, restraining, and getting dragged around (mostly by foals). Hurting is a constant.

3. Face your emotions: Determine the level of your self-confidence and self-esteem, tolerance for criticism and disappointment, anticipating exposures that lie ahead.

I learned: Horses die, get severely injured, and often lack needed talent. Making the decision to euthanize a beloved sick or severely injured horse was tormenting. Learning to face reality is one thing; acting on it another.

4. Study the players: Dig into what’s driving your opportunity and who the beneficiaries are if you particpate. Ask probing questions about expectations, authority, and the key players.

I learned: Commercial horse breeding is an industry. Every product (horse) is one of a kind. If you don’t know how to sell or buy, it’s easy to get cheated. And I was, more than once.

5. Analyze the market:  Examine the path ahead and what it will take to get there. Your coworkers and others are also competing for available opportunities, so position yourself for the future. Don’t jump at just anything.

I learned: Horses aren’t easy to sell. The market is glutted, many buyers are clueless, games can be played, and seller “celebrity” often rules. Selling privately is different from selling at auction. In this game, it’s every horseman for him/herself.

Hold your horses.

We all need passion and drive to be successful. That’s how we weather the storms of disappointment and fuel our resilience.

No matter what career you’re in, there are cold hard realities that need to be grasped, managed, and overcome to achieve and advance.

I can remember every “beating” I took in the horse business. Each one left both a welt on my psyche along with a priceless gem of understanding. Some lessons I learned after one whack and others after many. In time, I was able to anticipate the obstacles and side-step them before they got me. I wouldn’t swap the experience and all the joy and excitement for anything.

These lessons are where business savvy comes from. Once you’ve got your arms around them, you can act on your exuberance with confidence. YAY!

Hankering for Colossal Success? Load Up on Support and Gratitude

Bracing ourselves for failure is a self-defeating mindset. But so many of us do it, spending too much time and energy worrying about:

  • Coming up short
  • Making a fool of ourselves
  • Disappointing the expectations of others
  • Losing ground

We let fear of failure tie us in knots, imprison our initiative, and confine us to whatever seems safe.

To prepare ourselves for success, and lots of it, means looking at failure as a stepping-stone not a millstone.

Think big

Opportunities for failure exist whether you go after something small or big. So you may as well shoot for the stars and see what happens. The more obstacles you tackle, the greater your chances of achieving something significant.

The key is to keep trying. It may sound hackneyed, but it’s true. When you get knocked down:

  • Get up and try again.
  • Learn something from the experience.
  • Try a new approach.
  • Seek help and advice

A lot of colossal success happened last weekend.

The colossal failure of pro golfer, Kyle Stanley, who blew his 3-stroke lead in the Farmer’s Insurance Open the Sunday before Super Bowl XLVI made a 360 one week later.

As Steve DiMeglio of USA Today writes,:

Stanley stormed back from an eight-shot deficit Sunday with a sterling, bogey-free 6-under-par 65 to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale.

Tom Goldman from NPR adds:

What will resonate most for the spindly 24-year-old is that Feb. 5 was his day of redemption. And really, in sport, or in life, who doesn’t cherish a moment when they can say “I am somebody” after feeling the extreme opposite?

Then John Nicholson of the Huffington Post quotes Stanley:

 I’m never going to forget that. I think it makes this one a lot sweeter, just being able to bounce back. I’m kind of at a loss for words. I’m very grateful for the support I’ve gotten. It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable turnaround.

Then there was the New York Giants winning the Super Bowl when at one point in the season their chances of getting into the big game seemed unlikely.  The players, some with rings and many without, kept believing, setting their sights high.

Steve Edelson of the Times Union quotes Coach Tom Coughlin:

Mental toughness, resiliency, resolve. We keep playing, we keep fighting, and we’re highly competitive. We do have great trust in each other, great belief that we can finish, and that if we keep playing one play at a time as hard as we can go that we will find a way to win.

Edelson calls this season, “Coughlin’s greatest coaching job ever…,” adding, “It’s why he was so emotional in his address to his players Saturday night, telling them he loved them.”

He quotes the notably hard-nosed coach as saying,

I’m trying to think if I’ve ever said that before…this is a very special team, and I think it was appropriate and this point and time to let them know how I felt about them. So they didn’t have any question…that I deeply appreciated what they accomplished, where they’ve come from, the fact that they’ve done it together. I wanted them to know it. I told them, I’m man enough to tell you, “I love you.”

What it all means

To achieve big, you have to:

  • want success so much that you’ll fight through the negative pull of failure
  • deny failure a permanent place in your thinking
  • ask for and draw on the support of others
  • believe that eventually success, yes, colossal success, will be yours
  • keep getting better at what you do
  • be grateful for what you have achieved and for those who have helped

All great athletes visualize the outcomes they want on their field of play and see themselves holding that coveted trophy.

You need to visualize your own success, however you define it and see it. Your day will come, so please commit to seeing it today.

Photo from maxbee via Flickr