in Working out loud

A shift in possibilities

This blog, and my life, are about to change.

Six years ago, I was told I had to look for a different job. While dealing with the uncertainty of finding a new role, I started writing at work. It began as therapy at the time but it eventually led to a new career, and it taught me the power of making my work visible.

Three years ago, I started writing this blog. That led to a network of thousands of people, a focus on helping others, a book, and more meaning and fulfillment in my work and life. It taught me the power of relationships.

Last week, workingoutloud.com launched amidst working out loud week, and there was a swell of interest and ideas and interaction. In India, for example, peer support groups (working out loud circles) formed during the week, adding to the ones in the US, UK, Spain, and Australia. I applied to deliver a TEDx talk.

Now what? I’m not sure.

Not all those who wander are lost

I do know that, starting this week, I’ll post articles related to working out loud on the new website. If you subscribe to workingoutloud.com, you’ll get an email every Wednesday morning with stories, techniques, and other resources related to building a better career and life.

That will change this blog. I’ll still write every Saturday morning because it’s too big a part of my life to stop. Having the new site frees me up to write about other things here, to explore, discover, and learn. The topics will be more personal and creative.

Your reading, supporting, and connecting has changed my life and helped me discover a purpose I now describe this way:

“To help people find meaning and fulfillment in their work and life.”

Thank you. That’s a purpose I could never have dreamed of until recently. The last six years have taught me that destiny isn’t something that awaits you, it’s something you create with the help and support of others.

Anyone can shift what’s possible for them. What about you?

What relationships will you build? 

What purpose will you discover? 

What destiny will you create?

The first week of the rest of your life

Monday, November 17th, marks the beginning of the 2nd annual working out loud week.  It’s meant as an opportunity for people to “take the chance to practice working out loud” and encourage their organizations to embrace it too. Some people will use this week to experiment with new tools or try to share their work in new ways.

Some people, though, might use this week to change their lives. Here’s how.

3 questions to ask this week

Art by @kazumikoyama of 8works Consulting

Art by Kazumi Koyama of 8works Consulting

The first week of a working out loud circle starts with members asking themselves three questions:

What am I trying to accomplish?

Who can help me?

What can I contribute to these people to deepen our relationships?

They answer these questions in their very first hour together. Then they practice over an additional 11 weeks, refining their relationship lists, gradually making more meaningful contributions, and deepening their relationships with individuals in their growing network.

You too can start answering those three questions, and work towards a better career and life, this week.

1. Pick a simple goal

The first exercise we do in a circle is writing down something you would like to accomplish in 12 weeks. In my first circle, one person was thinking about becoming a financial advisor and wanted to explore that. A woman who was passionate about dangerous toxins in products wanted to raise awareness and suggest alternatives. Another member had started an online fashion consulting business she wanted to grow and one cared about educational issues.

In our circles, the best goals tend to be about learning and exploring. They’re things individuals genuinely care about, are reasonably specific, and are something you could make progress towards in 12 weeks.

Here’s a list of common goals:

  • Learn more about something you care about
  • Find a job in a new company or location
  • Get more recognition at your current job
  • Explore possibilities in a new field
  • Find people with the same interests
  • Get better at what you do

There’s no pressure to get this exactly right. It’s the skills and habits you’re developing in the circle that matter more that this one particular goal.

2. Identify people who can help you

Then we each build our first relationship list, people who can help us with our goal. You start by thinking of people who are already doing what you aspire to do. If you want to explore genealogy or jobs in New Zealand, for example, then you’ll want to know people who are already genealogists or are working in New Zealand. Sometimes you’ll know their name (Sue is the head of New Zealand, Inc) and sometimes just their role (the person who runs a particular genealogy conference).

The list will change over the next 11 weeks. Simply by thinking of people who might help you in some way, you’ll begin generating more ideas. Whatever your goal is, here’s what you might start looking for:

  • People writing about it in blogs, articles, and books
  • Online communities related to it
  • Businesses you admire that are doing it
  • Conferences related to it
  • Organizations that support it

Play Internet detective, conducting searches related to your goal. When the circle members do this for even a few minutes they quickly start discovering people, companies, and ideas they weren’t aware of before. They search, find a lead, follow that with some more searches, and then “Aha! They look interesting!” Over time, your circle members will be another source of ideas and connections.

3. Make your first simple contributions

You could do the first two steps in 20 minutes, though we take some more time in our circles to exchange ideas. Then, before we end our first meeting, we talk about contributions. Dale Carnegie summarized why this topic is so important to building relationships in How to Win Friends and Influence People:

The world is full of people who are grabbing and self-seeking.

So the rare individual who unselfishly tries to serve others

has an enormous advantage. He has little competition.

The initial contributions you make are easy, almost trivial. You start by searching the Internet for the online presence of each of the people on your list.

Look for a Twitter account, a blog, or other online content they’ve produced. If they have a Twitter account, follow them. If you see a website in a person’s Twitter or LinkedIn profile, go to that website, start reading, and hit a Like button if you like any of it. If you want to keep receiving updates, look for a Follow button or the ability to subscribe by email. There’s no need to worry about what to say or write. For now, all you’re looking for is an unobtrusive way to move the relationship from they have no idea who I am to they’ve seen my name.

During the rest of your 11 weeks together, you’ll learn about making more significant contributions, ones that take more effort but have more value both to you and the people in your network. You’ll practice generosity with more people in a wider variety of contexts and you’ll discover other gifts you have to offer.

Congratulations

The changes we want in our careers and our lives can seem so daunting that we don’t even know where to begin. For me, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-forties that I began even thinking about alternatives and that was only because I was forced to.

But you could start this week with three simple steps that take less than an hour. Practicing those steps – What am I trying to accomplish? Who can help me? What can I contribute to these people to deepen our relationships? - creates a powerful mindset. Over time, you develop an open, generous, connected approach to work and life. And that mindset increases your chances of finding meaning and fulfillment in whatever you do.

Take the first step and your mind will mobilize all its forces to your aid.

But the first essential is that you begin.

– Robert Collier

How a teacher increases her odds of finding meaning and fulfillment

B02283607Alycia is a 3rd-grade teacher in New York City who increased her chances of finding meaning and fulfillment because of the way she works.

Here’s how she does it, and why it matters to all of us.

Is your job meaningful and fulfilling?

Maybe you view teaching as a noble calling that anyone might find fulfilling. Or perhaps you see it as a difficult, underpaid, and under-appreciated job.

Research shows that people in a wide range of work – from highly-skilled to highly-prescribed jobs – are evenly split in viewing what they do as a job, a career, or a calling. Simply put, the way people relate to their work can’t “be reduced to demographic or occupational differences.” Thus, it must be something else that makes us view similar roles so differently.

So what’s the something else? It’s whether a person is intrinsically motivated to do the work. All the research on why we do what we do seems to point to the same basic truths, summarized succinctly here in this quote from Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

…we have three innate psychological needs – competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive, and happy. When they’re thwarted, our motivation, productivity, and happiness plummet.

Your drive – your motivation to do something and how you feel about doing it – is based on whether or not you’re meeting these needs. Alycia works in such a way that she’s more likely to tap into her intrinsic motivators.

How Alycia works differently 

Alycia works out loud. She works in an open, generous, connected way that’s helpful to others and herself.

Part of that is framing what she does as a contribution. Then she makes some of those contributions visible online using a website in her name as a resource for her students and their parents. She also writes for Scholastic, a leading publisher of children’s books along with ten other elementary school teachers. Here are the kinds of contribution she makes.

  1. Research: resources for teachers and parents.
  2. Ideas: suggestions for teaching time, poetry, and a wide range of topics.
  3. Projects: dozens of examples of work she does in the classroom.
  4. Process: how she helps kids prep for standard tests.
  5. Motivations: why she became a teacher and her values.
  6. Challenges: packing up at the end of the year.
  7. Learning: new books and techniques she discovered.
  8. Work of others she admires: projects and ideas from other teachers.
  9. Connections: people and resources she relies on.
  10. Contributions from others: 3rd-graders blogged about their class pet.

Alycia has written over 90 posts for Scholastic, each one complete with photos of actual work in the classroom. These aren’t professional NY Times articles and shouldn’t be compared to them. Alycia’s posts are something  else entirely – personal, helpful and, as a result, lovely in a way that professional articles rarely are. The work on her own site goes back five years, evolving as she tries new things.

What Alycia gets

The main benefit to Alycia isn’t popularity. She isn’t putting in this effort simply to chase views. Instead, with each contribution, she’s learning. Every time she writes about a project or an idea, she thinks deeply about it and gets feedback from others.

In addition to that investment in her craft, she’s deepening relationships with people already in her network and, over time, creating a portfolio of contributions she can reuse over and over again, unlocking other possible connections. When Alycia writes up a project her class, she can send that to other teachers, administrators, parents, and other people she wants in her network. Each time she writes, she has more to offer while making it more likely that other people will discover her work.

Through framing her work as a contribution and making it visible, Alycia has increased her learning, her network, and her access to other opportunities, all in ways she controls. She’s improved how she relates to her current job while increasing her access to other jobs too.

The benefits to you

You don’t need to be a teacher to enjoy these benefits. The research about jobs, careers, and callings showed that nurses, short-order cooks, software engineers, and people in a wide range of other professions can all craft their jobs and tap into their drive.

It’s because intrinsic motivators apply not to certain jobs but to all human beings. We’re wired to learn, to seek control over our environment and life, to be connected.

How would you frame what you do as a contribution? How would you increase your own chances of finding meaning and fulfillment?

The start of something big and wonderful

Sometimes, I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voice. They start to talk about something they care about, something they very much want to do, perhaps need to do.

But they can’t. It might be uncertainty or fear that holds them back. It might be they’re stuck in a prison they made themselves.

If only they could see what I see when I’m with them.

A dream deferred

Open to possibilitiesMy friend David had a dream. While he worked on technology projects for a group of lawyers in a big corporation, he thought about writing children’s stories. It was more than just a passing whim. He and his young daughter, Lily, would make up characters and adventures as they walked together. He treasured these moments and he wanted to capture them in writing. He described his early attempts this way:

Everyone, it seems, dreams of writing that one classic kids book; the one everybody reads to their children…

The first few lines were written on the train (much like I write these now), a world was forming in front of my eyes and soon it would be a best seller and life would be richer for it. Except, after about half a chapter I stopped…then forgot to get out the laptop one night. The next I had some documents to read for work…enthusiasm was replaced by procrastination.

Soon it was pushed to the back; an idea that seemed like a good one at the time, but probably left to somebody else to make good.

After that, David’s book project sat on his laptop, untouched. Five years went by.

“It’s so much easier to fail.”

If you were David’s friend, you would likely offer him encouragement and maybe some helpful suggestions. Now imagine that you’re David. What would you tell yourself? If you’re like me or like most of the people I coach, you would be much harder on yourself, a lack of progress leading to a spiral of self-criticism.

And yet too many of us wait for something to happen before we decide to shape our future. We wait to be discovered, wait till our work is good enough, or wait for when the time is right. Too often, we resign ourselves to Fate and then, when our our dreams don’t manifest themselves, we think like David that it’s “probably left to somebody else to make good.”

As David described it to me this week, “It’s so much easier to fail.”

The start of something big and wonderful

The start of something big and wonderful is, as it turns out, remarkably similar to the start of something small and unremarkable: a simple first effort. Just contemplating the journey or wishing for it won’t get you there.

Five years after shelving his book project, David joined a working out loud circle. With the help of their encouragement and what they practiced in their meetings, David took a step: he published the beginning of his story as a blog post called Once upon a time…, sharing his work for the first time and seeking to get feedback and build connections.

I feel if I chronicle the journey of writing it, share that with you, the audience, then this outlet might inspire me to this time see it through. I hope it’s fun getting there, and I hope you can join me along the way.

So, as part of this ritual I’ll post some words, perhaps from the book, perhaps from my scribblings I did and now still do for Lily. This week will be the latter, that original open about our friend the Tin Can Man. I hope you enjoy it.

Once upon a time in a tin can shed,
Lived a tin can man with a tin can head.
A tin can body wearing tin can clothes,
With his tin can feet and his tin can toes.

A dream realized

I don’t know what David will do next. I do know it isn’t easy for him to find the time to write, that life keeps getting in the way of his desire to persist and improve. When I talk to David and to people like him who have deferred their dreams, their frustrations are visible as they share the dissonance between their hopes and their actions.

I also see their potential and the path towards realizing those dreams. I see that most people already have everything they need to succeed. That the steps to changing your life are actually well understood. That much of it is about developing a network of relationships and a set of habits that change how you think about yourself, your work, and what’s possible.

I see that David already took a step towards something big and wonderful. I hope he sees it too.

Why people are mean at work and what you can do about it

I confess to listening in on people. Like some urban anthropologist, I try to glean what’s happening in people’s lives from the fragments of what they talk about walking down the street, eating lunch, or at the coffee shop near the office.

Like a poke in the eyeThe thing they seem to talk about most is other people, often replaying conversations that have made them upset.

“Do you believe what he said?”

“She can’t talk to me that way!”

“Who does he think he is?”

While the details are mostly trivial, the anger and hurt can be substantial, with themes of disrespect and mistrust coming up again and again.

Here’s why this happens so often, and what you can do the next time someone is mean to you at work.

5 reasons people are mean to you

Meanness, it seems, knows no limits. It’s not correlated to a particular demographic or occupation. People are mean in restrooms, conference rooms, and boardrooms. Here are five common causes.

It’s not personal

Perhaps the most common cause of meanness is that someone who’s mean doesn’t see you as a person. A fascinating study showed how easy it is for young boys to quickly form tribes and then label, objectify, and mistreat the other side. On a positive note, the same study also showed how how simple humanizing measures switched the behavior from negative to positive.

They were conditioned to be mean

Perhaps their boss does it to them and, over time, they believe that’s how things are done. If people in authority are mean often enough, a culture of meanness is created and the bad behavior spreads throughout an organization like a virus. Remember the Milgram experiments on obedience? Your boss may be a jerk because the management environment systematically produces that behavior.

Their world is small

Small issues loom large in a small world. Cloistered behind a title and a desk, some managers’ lack of perspective turns little things into crises. Even the smallest problems are marked URGENT and need to be handled ASAP, inflating their sense of self-importance and reinforcing their control over you.

They’re suffering

The next time someone is rude to you, it could be for a reason you simply don’t know about. Perhaps their job is terrible, they’re ill, or something tragic happened in their life. You have no idea what their story truly is.

It’s a mis-communication

I was in the middle of a phone conversation with a colleague and I could hear her talking with someone else. I kept speaking but she didn’t stop. “How rude!” I thought, getting increasingly irritated on the phone. “How could she?” I fumed, preparing a sarcastic rebuke for when she returned to our conversation.

Then I noticed my phone was on mute. And I wondered how many other times I was sure someone had slighted me and it was just a mis-communication.

The best thing you can do

No matter the reason, when someone is mean to you your feelings of hurt and anger are real. Even after those feelings subside, something else lingers: a sense of detachment. If you’re hurt often enough, you protect yourself by caring less.

It’s a costly strategy. As you numb the pain, you deaden the very sensations that allow you to savor work and life.

I’m tempted to use this strategy all the time. Just this week, for example, I got a message that made me tap into my Bronx roots and think: “Well, **** you. Who the hell are you to be snotty and unappreciative?” Feeling my pulse quicken, I stopped and smiled. The curt email was serving as a helpful reminder to practice three things I’ve learned recently.

“It’s only got the power you give it.”

“Know your truth, stick to the process, and be free of the outcome.”

When you smile at the universe, the universe smiles back.

I looked around. I was in a place filled with smart, engaging people who inspired me and here I was getting angry over an email.

“It’s a choice, John,” I reminded myself.  I can’t control if other people are mean, but I can choose how I react to it. So I waited a while, wrote a constructive, positive note, and moved on. Instead of wasting my time and energy on something negative, I invested in talking and collaborating with people who make my work and life better.

This time, I chose wisely.