Dec 172014
 

How successful are you compared to Beyonce?

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I sometimes feel like a failure. There are moments when I am not grateful for what I have or not cognizant of what I have accomplished but rather envious of what I don’t have and aware of what I have not accomplished. I certainly know others who have “woe is me” moments from time to time. Feeling like a failure is agonizing so I sat down and considered what sometimes makes me feel like I suck at living my life. I think there are three big reasons and today I want to explore one of them:

Comparing myself to people I have created fantasy stories about. 

Sometimes I think of successful celebrities and the stories I have read or heard them tell about their success. I have heard sports stars and rap stars and movie stars talk about rising from poverty or broken households and overcoming adversity by practicing relentlessly, sacrificing sleep, friends, and wealth to do what they loved until they became the best in their field. In my mind, I imagine them having limitless energy and commitment to perfecting their craft over years, while diligently working their way up the ladder of success, motivated and inspired every moment of the way. I think they might sometimes imagine it happened that way, too!

Of course, that is just a story I made up to fill in the gaps of all the years and moments I was never there to see. I was not there to see the bouts of self-loathing or the day their more-talented friend broke an arm and was unable to show up at practice… which was the same time the talent scout did. I was not there to see the lucky moments, the support from others by chance or circumstance, or the frequently random dumb luck that led to a life that looks great from the outside (but maybe is not so great when you actually live it). Not having lived a second of their life, I have created an entire life for them based on my fantasy of the story I would like to write for myself.

The truth is I have no more insight into the real lives of others than they have into my life. I sometimes misjudge myself by comparing my story to the stories I create or accept about the success of other people.

 

Today’s lesson: Stay in your own story. When you compare your life to people you think have it better, you are setting yourself up to only see your failures. Instead, look objectively at your own life and count your successes based on their own merit rather than on the stories you create about others.  

 

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Dec 162014
 

Do not judge lest ye be judged… hey, wait a second. Did you just judge me for judging other people?!?

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James Altucher, one of my recent favorite authors, makes a great point that I have heard him repeat a few times on his podcast: “If everyone wanted world peace, there would be world peace.”

Such a simple and compelling and depressing and poignant sentence. We are, as a society, addicted to judging others. The simple fact is, as James eloquently points out, not everyone wants world peace. If everyone thought men and women should be equal, then men and women would be equal. If everyone wanted to end racism, then racism would end.

The reason we can not all just get along is because we are all different, with different values, beliefs, ethical quandaries, and moral boundaries. This is as much a good thing as a bad thing. If we were all the same, then there would be nothing and no one to value. Life would be homogeneous and infinitely boring. The reason we can identify what is good (something like equal rights) is because there is enough diversity to distinguish what is not good (cases of social injustice).

 

Today’s lesson: Diversity is good and judging is also good, but as with most anything, the Aristotelian view holds true: “everything in moderation.” (Incidentally, distinguishing the importance of Aristotle’s lesson over that of all others is also a judgment…) 

 

 

 

 

Dec 152014
 

What weighs more… a ton of failure or a ton of success?

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As a leader, I am a firm believer the buck stops with me regarding my team or their performance.

When I have a team member not meeting my expectations and I am confident I have provided the training, resources, and support needed for him or her to succeed, then I do not wonder why the team member is failing. Instead, I wonder what I am doing that is causing that team member to fail.

It is easy to blame others for what is happening with my team, or to point a finger at something beyond my control, but that never leads to a solution. What works better is taking responsibility for myself and my team. For example, if the team is struggling with selling widgets, I do not look at them and wonder why they suck at selling widgets. Instead, I wonder what about my leadership is causing them to struggle? Is it that I do not see the value in widgets myself? Is it that I have not figured out how I would sell widgets? Is it that I simply have not explained to them why selling widgets is important to our business or how widgets can be valuable for our customers?

 

Today’s lesson: Regardless of the issue, once I have established a team member has the requisite training and talent to win within our company’s boundaries, the problem is no longer their burden. It becomes mine, which means how I choose to solve the challenge becomes my burden as well. Leading is fun but it is rarely easy.

 

Dec 142014
 

I like having fun but I am not a fan of people who play the name game…

***

I grew up with an easily mispronounced last name, Salamey (pronounced “SAL-UH-MEE” though most people, at their first attempt, make it sound like the lunch meat salami).

I think it is disrespectful and lazy to not bother trying to say someone’s name correctly, especially if it is a foreign name (foreign to you, anyway). I hear newscasters butcher Hispanic or Middle Eastern names. I have suffered through many teachers who could not get the names of some of my friends right even after teaching them for years!

Some people make a tepid joke of their laziness, “Hello, Mr… uh, Alphabet! Ha ha…” or admit to it flatly, “Hello, Mrs… wow, I won’t even try to pronounce that…”. One way around this is to simply ask the person to properly pronounce their name and help you get it right. Some people don’t care too much if you butcher their name (because they are used to it) but you should.

Names are important–they are one of the primary ways we distinguish ourselves from each other and one of the few things that remain with us from birth to death. The very least we can do is ensure we honor each other’s existence by taking the time to properly speak each other’s name. When we choose to be too lazy to get someone’s birth-right name correct, it is like sending a signal that their very existence in our lives is invalid and meaningless to us. Personally, I would not want to deal with someone who puts that little effort into their own life or language at the expense of everyone else’s. It is also, in my opinion, a subtle form of bullying.

 

Today’s lesson: What is in a name? Someone’s whole life. Show some respect and try to get it right.

 

 

Dec 132014
 

Who died and made you boss?

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The managers on our team and I have a round table discussion each week. The topics range from sales figures and strategies to what the word “premium” means (as in “premium retailer”). This week, the question was thrown out there, “How long did it take you to feel comfortable in your role as leader?”

I pointed out that when someone is promoted to manager, nothing magical happens. There is no one who knights you or gives you a ring endowed with magic manager powers. In fact, nothing looks different from the day before. Nor should it. “Manager” (or “leader”, “executive”, “director”, etc.) is not an elected position. That was the first piece of advice I was given when I landed my first management position. My boss at the time (and one of the best leaders I have ever worked with to this day) explained that “manager” is no better than “janitor” in an organization. It is just a different set of responsibilities.

This realization would impact the rest of my career and provide one of my greatest strengths as a leader (in my opinion)… I never look down on the people I employ. I treat them as partners in the organization, only with a different set of responsibilities from mine. I believe this single, simple principle has brought forth dynamic change anywhere I have worked with oversight of a team.

 

Today’s lesson: When you take on a leadership role, don’t let it go to your head. You were not elected to the position and you hold your authority by the grace of the people willing to let you lead them.