I’m still waiting for them to call my name

I think it started when I was four years old. I remember one day, before I could read, flipping through some illustrated encyclopedia because I liked the pictures. My mother lavished praise on me. Then she mentioned the incident to friends and family members.

I was hooked.

From then on, like a trained lab animal, I would tap the “smart kid” bar to get my reward in the form of some kind of praise or recognition. It became a strange form of addiction. Doing the extra credit. Raising my hand faster than the other kids. Beating the adults at Scrabble.

Fast forward to the end of college, an awards ceremony at Columbia University. They were announcing the people graduating with distinction: cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude. “With praise, with great praise, with greatest praise.” My heart raced.

Graduation dayAs they announced the names, I looked at the small booklet they handed to everyone. It listed all of the people graduating, and next to those being recognized there was one or more asterisks. My name didn’t have any. I clearly remember thinking there was some mistake. I had a 3.67 GPA. Surely that was good enough for something!

Fast forward 28 years, and I’m still waiting for them to call my name.

Now I’m at work, trying to do something I care about, and I get upset if they don’t reach down and pat me on the head. All my attempts at self-development and I’m still a four-year-old boy. Worse still, I’m not even sure who “they” are. At this point in my life, whose praise and recognition do I really need?

I look in the mirror and coach myself, something I’m doing more often these days.

It’s time to grow up, Johnny boy. You’re 50.

Stop waiting to be picked.

Focus on the contribution you can make. Focus on shipping and getting better. Focus on helping other people.

Do it for them. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Run. 

Don’t wait for the applause.

Run!

A gift from Imabari

An encounter with an old woman in a small Japanese port city taught me a lesson about giving and receiving gifts, and what the word contribution can mean.

I was with my good friend Greg on our annual trip to some of the most wondrous parts of Japan. After several stops in Shikoku, we were heading to the Seto Islands and needed to catch a ferry in Imabari, a place famous for towels of all things. Imabari no taoru would be appreciated by our relatives in Kobe and Tokyo, and we bought some in a small store dedicated to this source of local pride.

Greg purchased our tickets. He’s fluent in Japanese and can navigate the complex timetables and transportation options whereas I’m limited to basic transactions like ordering food. We waited by ourselves near the water.

After a few minutes, an old woman with a cane and several bags approached us and started talking. She was at least 80 years old, perhaps much older. I couldn’t understand her and my first instinct was that she wanted something from us. But Greg explained she was just making small talk. Then she fished inside her purse, pulled out a small wooden carving, and handed it Greg.

The Gift from Imabari

She told us that her husband carved them and she liked to hand them out to people who would be traveling or living abroad. Her husband liked knowing that his small creations were spreading around the world, and she was pleased that I was from New York. So she looked for another one to give to me. After a fruitless search in her large bag (“I always carry more with me,” she said, disappointedly) she unstrapped the one from her mobile phone and handed it to me.

We thanked her but felt compelled to offer her something in return. Greg asked if we could pay for them. She looked at him soberly, “If you give me money, I can’t let you have them.”

We quickly recovered from our blunder and talked a bit more about the carvings before the ferry came. The boat filled with schoolchildren as we made stops at several islands, and I marveled at the gorgeous scenery and at a life where people commuted this way.

A different way to commute

Our destination was a small island called Yuge. As we exited the boat, I saw the old woman, by herself, carrying her bags and her cane and heading up the steep ramp. I ran up to her calling “Sumimasen!”  (“Excuse me!”), and carried her things. At the top of the ramp, we smiled, bowed towards each other, and said goodbye.

Now, I carry that little wooden carving wherever I go. It reminds me of the gifts available to me every day, and that I can experience connections and other beautiful moments if only I’m open to accepting them.

Yuge

I like to think we gave her a different kind of gift, our own small contribution. I imagine her coming home, relating a story about the two foreigners she met at the Imabari ferry, and telling her husband that two of his creations would be going on a journey soon.

#thankyouthursday

Every Thursday at work, I take a few minutes and think of someone I would like to thank publicly. Then I write a short post on our enterprise social network and tag it with #thankyouthursday. Over time, more people at work are offering thanks that way too.

It’s not an original idea. There’s a thankyouthursday.org and a Facebook group and, of course, the fourth Thursday of every November in the US.

My hope is that this post will help you implement your own version of #thankyouthursday at your company or with your friends and family.

Solving the recognition paradox

Inside large organizations, there’s a recognition paradox. Everyone says there should be more recognition of people and their good work, but few people do anything about it. Instead of thanking and recognizing each other, we limit ourselves to Recognition Programs created by Human Resources.

But in an era of self-publishing, it’s easier than ever to change this.

In a recent session on twitter, people who work with social networks inside companies came together online and one topic was about the simple contributions people can make. That reminded me of #thankyouthursday.

thankyouthursday tweet

Steal Like An Artist

About 18 months ago, I wrote about another idea I hoped would spread. Inspired by Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist, I adapted a kind of discussion on Reddit called Ask Me Anything for use inside our firm.

Since then, over 80 executives have participated in open online discussions where anyone at the company can ask them anything. Those discussions are often rich and authentic, with dozens of questions and thousands of people looking on.

Better still, many other firms now use the same technique. They too stole like artists, further adapting Ask Me Anythings to suit their particular organizations. Now I hope the same thing happens with #thankyouthursday.

Creating your own culture of gratitude

Every week, reading all the different notes makes me feel better about where I work and feel more connected to the people there. The small investment I make thanking someone is repaid 100-fold.

To get this feeling yourself, you don’t need to wait for anyone to give you permission or create a program. Just start by scheduling a few minutes every Thursday. Then say thank you in a way that’s convenient and authentic for you. Here are simple instructions from thankyouthursday.org:

“Every Thursday, take an intentional moment to acknowledge those who you are thankful for. Send an email, post a note on Facebook, send them a message on Twitter, give them a call, stop by their desk… etc.

Simply take the time to thank those who have impacted you in big or small ways.”

Say thank you. Whether you do this with friends and family or at work, you’ll be creating your own culture of gratitude that’s good for everyone.

thankyouthursday tag

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