Annie dillard quote

Pivot: Making Sense of Your Job Change

PIVOT: MAKING SENSE OF YOUR JOB CHANGE

Climber dangling against sunset horizon.

For the past seven years, I’ve been on a steep climb to adapt my skills and work experience to the for-profit world. It’s been the kind of pivot you’re supposed to make in your 30’s, when you have time to matriculate through Hard Knocks U, to emerge on the other side with a resume of wins and losses, all of which translate into positions with more responsibility and higher pay. And ideally, deeply satisfying work.  However, this pivot I started when I was 47.

While I don’t know where you’re at today, I know this:  Besides an unexpected job change having the power to deal a death-blow to fear (soup chef Jack Canfield has it right: “everything you want is on the other side of fear”), this transition you may have feared could turn out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to you.

I speak of what I know.

My own journey of job transitions has been more a mission of survival than a roadmap for job promotions, provoked more from necessity than aspiration, more from crisis than career advancement planning.

Nevertheless, because of my stubborn optimism and more importantly God’s grace and leading, I have ended up in jobs that have moved me closer and closer to my calling, even while each assignment has been very distinct from the others.

I will unpack these take-aways in the blogs ahead, but this will give you a fly-over view of the land:

Here are 7 Career Truths I’ve discovered along the way (and hinted at in the thumbnail  photo of the climber hanging off a rock):

Climber dangling against sunset horizon.

The setting sun of the Mojave Desert silhouettes a climber clinging to the edge of a rock overhang in Joshua Tree National Park.

1. Don’t work so hard, and make peace with “not knowing”–it is the path to astonishment.
2. Celebrate each person’s unique wiring, even as you come to understand patterns of personality types that help you communicate.
3. When life events shove you down, push back back really hard.
5. Be willing to do things out of order, challenge the status quo. You can do it, or someone will do it for you.
4. Remember “Career” is a trap–just provide for your family and keep making decisions (some of them small and hardly consequential in the moment) that take you closer to your ideal work, and not away from it.
6. Who, who, who. It’s always about who. While revenue goals are important (we don’t have jobs without them), at the end of the day, it’s the growth in people, among people, through people that matters. Everything else, ultimately, fades.
7. It’s what has been trained into you that comes out–not the goals and expectations that you set for yourself. Therefore, goals need to lead to new ways of thinking and acting in order to have their greatest effect, and thinking and acting the right ways have to be practiced–and practiced.

At the time I didn’t fully appreciate how important this decision would be—to “retool” for new roles in the for-profit marketplace—I did have a hunch. In fact, just one day before I found out I was on a massive list of layoffs at Focus on the Family, I started an MBA. With the downturn of the markets in 2007-08, and plummeting donor funds tracking with that decline, I knew I needed to reposition my work experience (from teacher to pastor to non-profit leader/executive).

The fact is, few of us know when we start out in a career exactly where that path will lead. Thank goodness most of us don’t choose the job we’ll have the rest of our lives, when we are too young to know what our passions and skills and talents and values are (or will become).

That was back in September of 2009, and since then I have successfully worked in head of marketing roles, first at a fast-growing software company and then at a financial advisory services firm, and third in a marketing agency I started (www.MKFStrategicMarketing.com).

And now, once again, I am pivoting.

Pivot. That’s something I did cutting inside an offensive tackle as a quarterback on a high school football field. It was move I made planting one foot, and jabbing the other, on the way to the basket for a lay-up on…a college court in the Philippines one summer (a long way from my UC Davis undergrad world in California), an experience I later came to understand was really about
learning to give my life away, one pair of basketball shoes at a time.  All of that was a lifetime ago.

Pivot’s not really what you have to do when your life is progressing along as planned: degree(s) hanging on the wall, LinkedIn network lighting up like a Christmas tree, Facebook photo updates telling your story of exotic places and interesting people. You with family and friends—and sometimes even with famous people—of fascinating places and fancy dinners and smiling family and beautiful friends. Pivot is sometimes the best you can when you find yourself on a career path headed for a big, giant “Caution: Area Under Construction” sign with no detour marked out.

Today, for me, it’s a word with layers, metaphorical nuance, metonymy– Career: Path. Pivot: Career change. It’s the word I use because, frankly, it’s the positive angle on figuring out what to do when  there are not any clear paths emerging.

The fact is often job changes involve the raw emotions that come from uncertain career paths and unpredictable life events and unbelievable turns of events and shake us to our foundations. I’m sharing my story specifically because so many of my friends are going through some kind of career transition, some I would even call a crisis. It’s also true that an especially difficult career challenge isn’t a lot different from one friend’s struggle to pick up the pieces to his life following a divorce he didn’t ask for. Or, a relative’s grappling with how much he loathes his state government job, his 3-year target date to retirement more a prison sentence than a race to the finish line. Or, my friend’s continual struggle to pay the bills with a job that will never provide enough income to meet his family’s needs, even though he is doing something he is passionate about. Or the gal who was unfairly and unceremoniously let go simply because the owner couldn’t make up her mind about a business decision. Or, a guy I’ve known for a while whose addiction is coming home to roost while he frantically buys time in his marriage to address his compulsions, take responsibility for the pain he’s caused, and somehow, someway, make sense of the roots of his addiction, a shattered relationship with his father who’s been gone for many years.

In each challenging circumstance, while it might be an analytical way to describe deeply personal challenges, a pivot is exactly what’s needed to create a new direction, with new momentum of hope and purpose.

For me, the circumstances certainly have been unpredictable–messy at times. Even as a tenacious optimist, I have to admit the past seven years have been disorienting: Sleepless nights despite exhaustion. Too often desk-bound and sedentary, resulting in inevitable weight gain. And seasons of being dispirited, my optimism beat down.

After writing The 2:10 Project in 2011-12, my life took a marked turn away from non-profit and ministry work. Instead, I found myself launched like a rocket into 50 to 60-hour work weeks, week-in and week-out a series frenetic sprints of problem-solving and hiring new team members and campaign building and new website launches and email newsletters and trade-shows and webinars and new print collateral and KPI dashboards and innovation retreats and market research reports and spreadsheets and budgets and training employeees and strategic off-sites and PR plans and social media blitzes and senior management discussions—and debates and arguments—and lots and lots of coffee and eating out and late nights and early mornings.

And, for the most part, while I was in it I loved it.

Why? That is something I am thinking and praying a lot about these days. I have a couple of good hunches I’m tracking down. The answer is deep, and it’ll bring vibrant, colorful and distinct images of clarity and insight, that I am sure. Like so many times of transition in the past, It will be what God has been after to change in my life. Primarily, that is what the pivot is for–to figure out who you are on the inside, which is far more important than yours or my next career step.

For now, I am focused on the circumstances, the pivot, and while I can hear God’s invitation to come away with Him to talk about adrenaline and bosses and goals and paycheck amounts and retirement accounts and credit card balances and margin and electronic devices and…and…fruitfulness. At the heart of it all is God’s determination to make me more into His likeness, and to be fruitful and to flourish.

Flourishing.

This career pivot is learning what it really means to grow and bear fruit, to flourish.  What does it tell me about my Creator, who He is and what He is like, that He has created me to bear fruit that is for heaven AND for earth, for the now and the not yet.

And get this, I am understanding that God is really, really practical about all this fruit-bearing.

When I get up in the morning, go to work, and expend my time and energy–the two resources every person has been given in life–am I living for a kind of flourishing that is tied into God’s grand Kingdom epic story of intrigue and honor and adventure and significance? Or, instead, am I living in a default setting that makes the investment of my time and resources all about a my own or even others” “personal value” scorecard that has to do with business accomplishments and profits only.

As in the past, God will uncover for me the “interpretive keys” to this time of my life. And just as He has done in the past, He will heal and strengthen. And I will be different again–in fact, I’ll be more myself than the day before.

So, my pivot now comes after the painful and disorienting experience of the job loss in 2009. And, it comes after parting ways with my last employer, amicably for sure, but not without a conviction on both sides that the relationship just wasn’t what it was at the beginning. This last one happened about 4 months ago.

So now I am back to work 110% and loving the work I have–mainly to be involved in building the follow up to The Truth Project. Compared to the Focus down-sizing, this one’s different. Maybe, it’s that I’m different.

The pivot I made last month was in rejoining Del Tackett for the follow-up to The Truth Project. I’m grateful that this time my return to this work also catalyzes a core calling in my life: helping others find their place in God’s story. That’s what the follow-up to The Truth Project, called The Engagement, will be about. Helping people be right where God has called them—and to live fruitful and flourishing lives, giving themselves away for what is most important to Jesus. No small order. (If you are interested in reconnecting with Del and the TP community, visit www.DelTackett.com, a great site for resources, connecting with other TP folks, and hearing the latest updates for the creation of The Engagement and other resources underway.)

It’s not that the marketing work I was doing in for-profit settings was less valuable than the work I’ll be doing in the days ahead. I am convinced the most valuable work any of us can do is the work God gives us to do—whether that is farming a section of land, or building marketing campaigns for a software company, or working out the engineering specs for a new office building, or laying a pipe, or welding a trailer, or counseling a young couple, or balancing a budget, or serving a restaurant patron, or designing a new brochure, or teaching a class of 5th graders, or… you get the idea… it is God’s gift of work that is the truly valuable investment of our time.

That is some context. Next blog I’ll get on to unpacking the “7 Career Truths I’ve Discovered Along the Way.”

10 Things Being a Pastor Taught Me About Marketing, #6-10

Here is the second half of “10 Things Being a Pastor Taught Me About Marketing”…screenshot_Henry Ford quote

Taking the time to write out what I have learned at one job as I roll into the next job, or even just reflecting on the things I’m learning in my current job–this has been a great exercise for me over the years.

Here are #6-10 on things I learned that have helped me to be effective at marketing (#6-10 here)–

6. No is also a powerful word: Pastors also have the challenge to help people know how to say, “No.” No to the cultural message that “you can have whatever you want.” No to the “new car purchase that buries you deeper in debt and anxiety.”

Marketing—true marketing—doesn’t appeal to the lowest view of human desire, but to the higher view of the human person. It is aspirational and lends a helping hand to help people by addressing their fears and worries, for example.

Especially in my work at a financial advisory firm, we develop marketing messages that develop wisdom, and don’t play on people’s greed to earn better returns than our competitors.

Instead we tell our clients, “No, no one can guarantee you higher returns. But we can help you choose the right strategy that is aligned to your goals.” No is powerful and it is a key to marketing with integrity.

7. Your job is an assignment, not your identity: Pastors have to resist the challenge to see themselves defined by the work they do, that their identify as a person is more than their job. Frankly, we all do well to see ourselves first as a brother or sister, son or daughter, husband or wife, friend, etc, than by our role and title at work.

How much easier it is to do marketing when I don’t wrap my identity up in being the VP of Marketing at a successful firm.

8. Servant leadership is the best approach: As a pastor, I discovered Robert Greenleaf’s Servant as Leader essay. And later (like many of you) I found wisdom in Jim Collins’ Level 5 leader profile, a modern version of Greenleaf’s leader.

As I transitioned eventually from pastor, eventually to head of marketing positions in the for-profit world, I discovered that the servant leader model is just as powerful as in the church and non-profit setting. These servant leader principles have guided my approach in leading marketing teams: listening, empathy, awareness, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, building community, etc. I look for leadership teams who are practicing this approach, or who at least are open to this specific leadership model.

9. Core values are the language of the heart: As a pastor, the Bible provides a grid for corecore values-4 values, and importantly it’s the living out of those core values that is the heart of the matter. From this experience, I have learned that people need to live for a higher purpose than just their paycheck. What specifically is that higher purpose?

That’s where transcendent notions become a part of each day: integrity, service excellence, love, freedom, responsibility, learning, collaboration, sharing, giving, courage, innovation, diversity, humility, and many other possibilities.

Look closely at your organization’s DNA–you’ll see your core values embedded right there.

10. It’s not about me: As a pastor, I knew it wasn’t about me. God’s agenda, the people’s needs and hopes and dreams–that part was easy. Well, maybe not easy, but at least straightforward. The tough part was in keeping an eye on my motivations. Self awareness is what the leadership and management gurus call it.

I call it the “It’s-not-about-you” principle of leadership. In this environment, good things grow: honesty, authenticity, kindness, generosity, friendship, and…yep, profit. Self awareness and humility are also good for the bottom line.

screenshot_typing laptopWhat are your experiences? What have you learned from different jobs and roles you have had?  (Email me here: marc@marcfey.com with the subject line: What I learned).

blog looking back

Look Back, Look Around (Overcome Worry, part 2)

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Some of the best humor comes from the most stressful moments. Here are few examples I’ve come across:

  • I’m not tense, just terribly, terribly alert.
  • When you’re stressed you eat cake, brownies, and cookies because “stressed” spelled backward is “desserts.”
  • Stress balls work really well when you throw them at people.

Humor aside, stress—not worry, mind you—has a number of positive effects. Researchers point out that a good shot of stress can:

  • Increase your brain’s effectiveness: brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF) encourage the growth of neurons in the brain, thus increasing productivity, concentration, long-term memory, and mood.
  • Strengthen your immune system (albeit, short term only): Interleukins are chemicals the brain produces preparing the body for injury or infection, and therefore strengthening the immune system
  • Inject a burst of energy: The fight or flight instinct triggered by stress can provide short term bursts of energy and heightened awareness. While not the best ongoing hormone to live by moment to moment, at certain times adrenaline can be a life-saver (literally).

In fact, you athletes who are reading this blog know exactly what I mean: physical training is essentially the act of intentionally putting the body (and mind for that matter) under stress in order to develop the resiliency to overcome the stress.footbal players

That’s why, as a high school football coach (back in the day), I demanded 100% in practice from my players, so they would learn to perform when their stress was highest—specifically, Friday night against the opponent, who was hell-bent on imposing their will on our team.

Worry, on the other hand, is a negative response to stress. Worry focuses on what might happen. We “worry warts” know that it can negatively impact our sleep, our most important relationships, and in general, our quality of life.

Seriously though, unchecked worry can lead to potentially addictive and destructive behaviors–like cigarette smoking and abuse of alcohol and drugs.

To counteract the potentially negative effects of stress leading to worry, consider employing 2 strategies—retrospection, which is “looking back” and circumspection, which is “looking around.” These 2 strategies will not only neutralize worry, but also lead to you becoming a more resilient person in the face of (potential) worry:

look backLook back (retrospection): Because worry is a negative response to a potentially positive opportunity (stress), consider reflecting on your life in the following ways with the following 3 questions:

  1. What “worse case scenario” are you playing over and over in your mind? Rarely is this scenario actually likely to occur, but it dogs us nevertheless. They arise from fears, most of them linked to experiences in our childhood, and even though we might reason with them as adults, they resist logic and common sense. Perhaps it is the threat you feel that you might lose your job, or end up bankrupt and penniless. Or, the fear that a spouse will leave, or worse, will be there physically yet absent in every other way.
  2. What idealized views of the past do you play over and over in your mind? You can recognize these by their quixotic interpretations of past successes—more fanciful and extravagant than realistic and balanced. Example: about 10 years ago I worked on a big initiative at a non-profit called “The Truth Project.” And while it was true that I led the initiative, and that overall the initiative was very successful, if I don’t stop and think carefully about my involvement, I can quickly forget the some tough times I had to slog through, and overlook the fact that many of the successes that were flat out “blessings,” having nothing to do with what I or the team did or didn’t do. “We’re just not that smart” is the phrase that comes to mind here.
  3. What positive outcome do you NOT let yourself believe will come to pass? This is the curious and complicated one—where we resist our own success, strength, or authenticity. Look back on the times when you came close to succeeding. Did you do anything that might have sabotaged your own success?

Look around (circumspection): Because worry is a negative response to a potentially positive opportunity (stress), consider looking at the current circumstances of your life right now with the following 3 questions:

  1. Who is my biggest champion in my life right now? Many times we buckle under pressure because we feel alone. Take a minute to consider one or more persons who are “for you,” and give them a call even if it’s just say hello. The simple act of reaching out to another person will chase away the threat of isolation and give you a fresh view of the stress in which you find yourself.
  2. What are my top 3 personal core values, and, can I say I am living by them to the best of my ability? The term “circumspection,” of course, comes from the word “circumference”—the visual being “encircled.” Our core values come from what we hold most important in our lives. There is dissonance that comes from living in opposition to those values and can be very jarring and disorienting. Right now, name those 3 values and ask the question, “are there any people or memories that come to mind which illustrate I am not living consistently with my core values?
  3. When do I give myself time to reflect on my life—looking back and looking around. The fastest way to achieve a fully-blown case of burn-out is to leave this practice out of your life—reflection. For each of us reflection looks different. Some of you might read a fiction novel, suspending the pressures of day-to-day, and letting the vicarious narrative of a novel diffuse daily pressures. Others might write in a journal, regularly get together with close friends and engage in honest conversations about your life. And some of you write blogs (ok, so I betrayed one of my best coping mechanisms). Whatever you do, do it. Your life may not depend on it, but your inner life certainly does.

What strategies do you use to turn stress into meaningful exercises in resiliency, rather destructive experiences in worry and anxiety?

 

 

 

Overcoming Worry

Walk in His truth...Confession: I am prone to worry. I can be unusually preoccupied by the circumstances right in front of me. It is a battle for perspective. A struggle to keep the big picture in view.

Worry is one of the biggest enemies of vision. Because vision connects us to our calling and purpose in our work (and life in general), I worked hard to deal ruthlessly with worry—treat it like an undercover spy threatening state security or the suave sociopath asking for just a little help on his next project.

Worry does that–it threatens the good things we have going on.

Which reminds me of a funny—if embarrassing—story that illustrates this specific consequence of worry, namely the loss of context and perspective.

About 5 years ago I joined a work-sponsored city league softball team. Sure, it had been 10 years since I had played in a men’s softball league. I didn’t have any illusions that I would be tearing it up on the field (albeit a few concerns I might tear up my hammy). However, I did expect to contribute, play my part, to at least approximate my abilities, even if they were mostly in the past.

I had some reason for my confidence. As a Little Leaguer I was always selected for the all-star team, as a high school baseball player I competed at a high level, then later as a high school teacher, I coached baseball, always mixing it up with my players on the field through hitting and fielding drills. And, for about 10 years after college I had played centerfield for our city league softball team, where I tracked down deep fly balls and turned singles into doubles as I competed against other weekend-warrior 20 and 30-somethings, all of us in trying to recapture a glimpse of former glories.

In fact, I figured I had enough experience under my belt to jump right back onto the field, and frankly, do “more than my part” for the team. Call it confident expectation.

Pride comes before the fall. Or, more to the point, “Pride comes before the dropped fly ball.”

Here’s how it played out: I had spent my workday like most workdays writing and editing an article that I was finishing up. As a policy analyst (one of many varied jobs I’ve had over the years), a big part of my workday was spent staring at a computer screen. Certainly not a physically taxing way to spend the day. But there was a downside, which you’ll see in a moment.

The first game arrived, and with not a little bit excitement, I went straight from the office to the field. Parking quickly and grabbing my mitt and cap, I jogged to the field, my cleats clicking on the asphalt parking lot. I saw the familiar bright green grass under the glow of the evening lights, heard the laughter and cheering from across the diamonds, and that familiar “tink” of the bat as a player swung from his heals and legged out the hit. I could even see the glisten of the evening dew on the grass.

Yes, I had missed playing softball with buddies. I hustled onto the field to warm up, and before I knew it, the game had started.

Then, I jogged out to take my place in left field. And that’s when the wheels fell off.

The second batter lifted a “routine” fly ball to the outfield. I heard it, knew in my gut it was headed my way, and scanned the sky to find the ball ascending and descending in my direction, destined for the soft leather of my awaiting glove.

Only, I couldn’t find the ball.

In those split seconds, as I drifted toward the blur that I thought I saw in the dark night sky, panic rose up in my gut… “Where is it? Where is the ball?!” And then in a flash, that ball came down from the heavens like a meteor afire diving to the earth.

And not into my mitt.

dropped fly ball 2

I scrambled over to retrieve the ball, then flung it in frustration to the shortstop. I shudder to imagine all over again what I must have looked like trying to catch that fly ball.

Sure, I tried to blame it on my fuzzy eyes, as I sheepishly jogged to the dugout at the end of the inning: “Wow, I think I need to wear glasses to play softball…” But there was no getting it back. I was that guy who looked like he had never played an inning of baseball beyond little kid sandlot pick-up games.

Because my eyes had become more comfortable focusing on what was right in front of me, I just couldn’t focus on objects at a distance—certainly not objects moving fast through the night sky. Fixing my eyes on circumstances right in front of me day in and day out affects my perspective, making it difficult to see the bigger picture. You could say that I “lost sight of the forest” as I fixed my attention “on the trees”—

cant see the forest-4

There is a physical condition for this, of course, called myopia. Short sightedness. It’s like having blinders on, suffering from a narrow point of view, a one-track mind, you might say. All these describe a lack of perspective, physical and otherwise.

And like my experience on the softball field, worrying is exactly that—staring at the circumstances right in front of me, losing sight of the big picture.

Recently I have started organizing my days again around my top priority, and I am finding these 3 ideas helpful in staying committed to the big picture: context, retrospection, and circumspection.

Context specifically is “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea.” It makes up the “terms of which a thing can be fully understood and assessed.” Worrying occurs when we don’t take the time to consider the context. We don’t seek to understand fully or realistically the setting. We stop taking in data, understanding the bigger picture.

  • A preoccupied manager doesn’t notice his colleagues’ subtle references to how unpredictable the incentive compensation is, undermining the motivating effect it’s supposed to have, while he focuses only on weekly results.
  • A well-meaning but anxious CEO loses count of how many times she has changed direction, leaving her leadership team with whiplash of sorts, never stepping back to see the cost of changing direction over and over and over.
  • A worried dad forgets to affirm his son for the hard work he’s doing in the classroom, focusing instead only on the 3% of missing or late assignments.

Research on literal shortsightedness—myopia—is instructive for us in understanding this challenge of perspective. Researchers point out that shortsightedness is a phenomenon of the 20th century. Pointing to findings among the Inuit Native North Americans’ older generation who had next-to-no cases of short-sightedness, they contrast this with today’s rates between 10-25% of the Inuit children needing glasses.

“Short-sightedness is an industrial disease,” says Ian Flitcroft at Children’s University Hospital, Dublin. “The research points out that while our genes may still play a role in deciding who becomes short-sighted, it was only through a change in environment that these kinds problems began to emerge.”

glasses on child

Here is the kicker–Researchers point to children being indoors, away from horizons and large-scale perspective, as the cause for the increase in myopia among children.

I think the same is true of our generation when it comes to worry. We stare at what’s right in front of us, lose our ability to “see” the bigger picture, and as a result, learn to live with worry.

A recent poll called this generation the most stressed out. On a 10-point scale, Americans ages 18-33 reported an average stress level of 5.4 compared to the national average of 4.9, and 52% said stress made it hard for them to sleep at night in the past month. If any adult should be sleeping well at night it’s an 18-33 year-old, but that’s no longer the case.

Like my long days spent inside staring at a computer screen, and my ensuing inability to track a fly ball soaring into the sky, I need to get outside, see the horizon, gain some perspective on the context of my life.

Here are some practical ways that I have found to do just that, which makes me  a better leader and team contributor–

  1. Make an effort to see through the eyes of the people I am leading at work: Slow down, look the person in the eye, listen beyond the words being said in the moment for the subtext of the conversation. I do this by reminding myself that we all have roles in our lives–spouse, parent, neighbor, friend, classmate, daughter…
  2. Reflect on the consequences of my decisions over time on the people around me. Every decision has an impact. While all or most of us are good at considering the impact of a decision in the moment, few of us look back and learn from that decision, and still fewer connect that specifically to the people who were affected by the decision. This is the big view of decision making.
  3. Revisit my goals monthly. Looking at my personal and professional goals every month puts the day-to-day challenges into perspective, keeps me from losing context for why I am pushing hard through the things that make me anxious. Just looking at your goals regularly, research says, makes you 90% more likely to achieve your goals.
  4. Ask the person who reports to me to share one goal with me. Hearing about other people’s goals also provides good context for our perspective–pulls us out of the echo chamber of our own anxiety.
  5. Develop a discipline in how I evaluate circumstances by looking also for what’s going right, what’s getting done: Then, affirm the person (and yourself for that matter) for positive results. Resist the temptation to focus strictly on what needs improving.

Of course, there are thousands of details to the context of our lives, and thousands more strategies to focus on that context so that we don’t suffer from a proverbial myopia. To the degree that we seek to take in the bigger picture, pay attention to the broader view, and step outside of ourselves to see the grander view of the sky’s horizon, we step back from worry and toward a better view of life, of others around us, and of ourselves.

Research shows that stress and anxiety can lead to mental toughness and increase clarity about life’s challenges and opportunities. It can also result in greater appreciation for one’s circumstances, and contribute to a sense of confidence . This confidence becomes a foundation you build every time you overcome an obstacle, and this is the best, most long-lasting kind of confidence you can have. Hard fought and well earned, indeed.

In the next blog, I’ll take on the importance of retrospection and circumspection.

Question: What do you do to keep focused on the bigger context in order to maintain good perspective in your life?

Brilliant Ideas Need Words—the Right Words

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“A pile of rocks ceases to be rocks when somebody contemplates it with the idea of a cathedral in mind.”  Antoine St. Exupery

I have met a lot of people who have brilliant ideas. In fact, one of the things I like to do is to ask, point blank, “What’s the best idea you have ever had?” And if I really want to get inside someone’s head (and get a glimpse into their heart for that matter), I ask, “You have a brilliant idea right now…quick, what is it? Don’t think…just say it.”

I know some people who have found a way to walk in brilliant ideas. They’ve moved from having brilliant ideas to, frankly, just being brilliant. (That’s a discussion for another time).

Sean gets a picture in his mind of the website, and begins to build it…lines of code turn into the expression of his brilliant idea, making it more than a website—there is an idea behind it, and when I catch a glimpse of what he is after, I am amazed…never mind when the site actually launches!

Because I believe every person is gifted with these two things—creativity and their unique experience of the world—I believe there is at least one brilliant idea in every person, an idea struggling to find expression. The brilliant idea’s genesis is the words a person gives to it—and, I love to help people find the right words to their brilliant idea.

It goes something like this:

“What injustice makes you angry?” or “If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?” or “If you had the budget, what great idea would you make into a reality?”

Then, one follow up question is all it takes—“Where would you start?” The second question makes the first question concrete.

Two things happen when we answer these two questions. First, we start to believe. The words are seeds of belief that begin to take root. You push through all the words that don’t fit. The part of the dream that is vanity gets chased away (well, maybe that takes some time). Your effort in choosing words makes you throw away the parts of your idea that are bad (yes, there are some bad ideas).

Your words also force into hand-to-hand combat “the doubting inner you,” who voices damaging words like, “That’s a stupid idea,” or “See, you aren’t creative,” or “That’s not a big enough/smart enough/important enough, etc., idea.” Or, worse, you think, “Don’t even entertain the hope for that!” Instead, “the determined you” has to speak to your idea, coax out of it the words that give it life. I love how Charles Dickens describes the process: “An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.”

It is also important to point out the more subtle struggle you’ll encounter with certain people in your life, who will come at you indirectly, offering the lukewarm praise that gets in your head, and causes doubt. You must choose carefully with whom you share your idea’s first words. Nothing damages a brilliant idea more than the wrong person getting a hold of it. The ancient writer Ovid pointed out that “a new idea is delicate” and that it can be “killed by a sneer or a yawn,” and “stabbed to death by a quip or worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow.”

Brad, an attorney and long-time friend of mine, has a brilliant idea to shape a public school district’s policies in ways that strengthen families in the district, thus giving young people the character and confidence to lead the next generation’s impact on the world. It’s a long shot, and that’s what I love about it–he is working to change the world in a practical way.

Your words also expose your brilliant idea to the light, driving the roots deep, each perfect word giving life to the seed.  When the words are the right words, a miracle of sorts happens…it starts to become real for others, not just you.

My mother-in-law’s words are simple: “I am stitching a quilt for Paul. What are his favorite colors?” A few months later, Meme’s life experiences and creativity emerge through the fabrics and the hours of meticulous cutting and stitching, creating a new and brilliant texture in Paul’s world—and, really for all our worlds. A brilliant idea come to life.

Maybe it’s a little like God breathing life into His best idea: “Then God formed and breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” We breath life into the brilliant idea we have through the words and the actions we give it.

The artists and writers help us. They give us the words for our brilliant ideas. Their words serve not only the story they are telling to us, but also for our own stories, the ones we are writing every day through our lives. Joseph Conrad said, “My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see.”

Kathy, my wife, sketches out a cartoon (cartoon characters she is known for by her friends and family). There emerges not just figures on a page–which are in themselves funny and brilliant–but also an insight about the relationships among the characters. She did this on Valentine’s Day about 30 years ago, a couple months before we got engaged, a sketch of me and her, standing at a garden, watching the plants and flowers grow. Her brilliant idea simply yet profoundly expressed through the cartoon–for me as real today as 30 years ago.

So, my question for you today is this: “You have a brilliant idea right now…quick, what is it? Don’t think…just say it.”

Start there. Give your brilliant idea the gift of your words.

And then, see what happens next.

(Next blog: Brilliant Ideas Need Actions—the Right Actions)

I would love to hear about your brilliant ideas. Respond to this blog, or confidentially at marc@marcfey.com.

What is a Generous Leader / Influencer?

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Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood . . . Make big plans; aim high in hope and work. – Daniel Burnham, American architect (1846-1912)

All work has inherent value.

Because work has value apart from the collective value of the whole project, both in quality (excellent and not so excellent) and in quantity (a lot and a little bit), what we do with that value is an important test for each of us.

The challenge—and opportunity—is to offer our work as a gift, and to value others’ work as a gift (even if they wouldn’t see it that way):

  • Do the people who work with/for me know I value the work they offer?
  • Do I see my work only in a transactional way, based on the number of dollars, or the “prestige credits” it gets me?
  • Or, do I offer my work to others, and to the world at large, with a conviction that it has inherent value, whether or not others acknowledge that value?

Some people just get this. Seth Godin describes these kinds of people as a “linchpins,” who “work without a map, solve interesting problems, lead, connect and create an impact.”

They know that their work stands on its own, independent of another’s opinion of it, and its value goes way beyond what a fickle economy would say (through the salary and benefits package). Rather, the generous leader/worker sees her sweat, creativity, intelligence, skill, experience, passion, opportunity, and/or emotional effort as the true indicators of its value.

Here is a challenging notion: Work has value even apart from the motive and attitude of the worker. Attitude, initiative, quality—these factors influence work’s long-term value, but they don’t have the power to eclipse or cancel out its contribution to the world.

I’ve had some crappy bosses (and probably been one myself at times). It’s a good thing this hasn’t canceled the value of my work or the work of my boss or colleague.

This should change the way I see the people around me: the guy fixing my car, the vendor on the other side of the contract who is (apparently) charging me more than I prefer, the boss whose emotional outbursts are clues about his own internal struggle, the DMV person helping me swap out my Colorado driver’s license for a California one (along with the additional taxes and fees, but that’s another blog), the cashier at the local grocery store who, from the look on her face, clearly doesn’t think her work is of much value or consequence.

I think it’s a cool notion that we all have the opportunity to offer our work as a gift, knowing it has inherent value. And, importantly, to RECEIVE others’ work as a gift, whether they consider it a gift or not.

This assumes a very noble and high view of work, a view that not everyone shares. In fact, yesterday I read a crazy quote on a Chipotle to-go paper bag:

“Hope that, in future, all is well, and everyone eats free, no one must work, all just sit around feeling love for one another.” (George Saunders)

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Wow. The assumption behind that quote is stunning. Work is bad. To be avoided. It certainly doesn’t afford dignity and value to the notion of work.

What if a big part of the way we love happens through work, and how we get along happens through what we offer to one another through the work we do.

I am interested in the part of work that goes beyond these external value systems. I am interested in that ineffable part of work that a person offers as the expression of his passion, her creative effort, problem-solving skills, and determination to bring value beyond the superficial, two-dimensional work product.

Instead, these inspiring people see work as three, even four-dimensional, as both a very private and very public matter. They see their work as an expression of the way they see the world, others, and themselves. It’s core values, culture, mission, vision, and strategy all wrapped up in one elegant package—a person offering their work to the world as A GIFT.

They take full ownership and responsibility of the work they offer. It makes them fearless and ultimately impervious to criticism. They learn from it, instead of it chipping away at their confidence in what they offer.

I can build a great team with generous people. I can be a great team member by being a generous person.

How can you move toward becoming a generous leader/influencer? Who can you talk to today about this idea of generous leadership?

Some generous leaders/influencers I have known:

Paul has served leaders around the world for more than 50 years. But its his genuine enthusiasm for the day-to-day realities of young leaders that fuels his passion. Most people miss this. They see a man who flies all around the world speaking at leadership retreats, coaching high level leaders…but it’s the look in his eyes when he is talking about the real-life struggles of his friends and colleagues that is the true gift of his work.

Ashley is a stubborn believer that better is always possible. So, whether she is sending out an email campaign, organizing a corporate annual event, or weighing in on the fissure she sees in the corporate culture, she is all in.

Thomas compares himself to the friends he’s known for over 30 years, trying to figure out where his work fits in compared to the more traditional routes they took. But he misses what I see: the creative and circuitous route he has taken has been driven by a love for a group of people from the Middle East and for the others who have given their lives to serve. That’s a powerful notion: that a whole work life trajectory has been driven by love for others.

Stephanie’s infectious smile and energy at a 6-foot table, on a break where IT folks are running past her to restrooms and coffee bars, prevails. By the end of the day, people have noticed her. When Stephanie catches your eye, you are curious about what she is so excited about.

Aaron is a unapologetic software sales executive who drives toward profit like the proverbial “bull dog on a pork chop.” However, he also applies that same determination to not “sell out” to the superficiality of a merely successful career. Instead, he writes a blog (www.AaronMcHugh.com) where he fearlessly and candidly articulates a pursuit of the deeper life, one of passion, significance, and authenticity.

…and the stories of hundreds of other generous leaders/influencers.