Sunday, December 29, 2013

Flipping "Money, Power & Respect"

One of my favorite hip hop songs from the late 1990s is “Money, Power & Respect” by The LOX (with Li’l Kim and DMX). It’s a great song to blast while exercising, plowing through tasks at work, or cruising leisurely through the neighborhood in a Zipcar. The song has a very catchy synth line, a simple hook, and sick flow by the rappers. Lyrically it espouses the important tenets for gangsters, gangstas, and old-school management. Early in my working career, I bought into the gist of these principles: “Once you become financially successful, you gain power. And with these two things in hand, respect from others is earned.”

I don’t believe in the emphasis on “money, power, and respect” anymore, but instead “meaning, influence, and community.” The latter probably wouldn’t make a cool hook for a hardcore rap song, though. However, flipping the script and replacing them with new values make more sense to me.

Finding meaning in work in a greater incentive for me than engaging in a never-ending pursuit of more money and prestige. The hamster wheel of going after a bigger payday takes away from finding enjoyment in what I do, understanding why I do the work, learning who I am helping through my work, and seeking a greater purpose. I gain more enjoyment from sharing laughter and goodwill with my customers when I make onsite visits, offering congratulations to my peers and customers whenever they receive public recognition, and learning about goals of my customers (and contemplating how I can add value to the work they do). Being a “Rock Star to the Rock Stars” is my value proposition.

After having worked in the corporate world for nearly twenty years, the lure of money doesn’t excite me as the allure of making new connections, growing professionally, and shining at my strengths. I would rather take a reasonable and modest pay cut for an opportunity to engage more at work, instead of grabbing overtime pay for doing soul-draining tasks: I’m not interested in accumulating combat pay. It may seem flippant to make these statements from the perch of middle-class luxury, but I found the pursuit of bread to take energy and focus away from finding meaning in my work and seeking areas where I can get my shine on.

I share the meaning I find in work with other like minds by cultivating influence. Through doing meaningful work, becoming remarkable at what I do, and building career capital, I grow my influence. When I complete work projects with precise accuracy, timeliness, stellar service, and proactive communication, I create value and gain career capital. When I help bring people and ideas together, I demonstrate my value proposition. When I contribute creativity and expertise into my projects and work, I boost my influence meter upwards.

I’ve accumulated a reserve of influence through being a dedicated and motivated follower for my project leaders whose endeavors I fully support. I share insights and information that contribute to their process improvement successes. I write original content for newsletter projects at my workplace and in the professional organization that I am involved with. Every positive interaction and effort add droplets of influence in my reservoir. I've learned that faithfully supporting these people results in new opportunities being gifted my way: I’ve been placed on exciting new project teams, invited to career-enhancing training opportunities, and referred to new connects.

Here is an example of how influence has improved my work life during 2013. Early in the year, my department had nearly two hundred support documents that needed to be reviewed for accuracy and relevancy, which we were responsible for addressing. The review deadlines for these documents had been missed, and there was pressure from up on high to have the documents reviewed. No one on my team was interested in this task, and my management ordered me not to bother with document reviews. I viewed this task as an essential business need, and since my professional interests included technical writing and content curation, I went rogue and went all in. I surreptitiously spent several weekends reviewing the documents, put in the work, updated the project owners of my progress, and even took a “learning vacation” to attend a local documentation conference. In six weeks’ time, the all the documents were updated. I received gratitude from up on high, was asked to join couple of documentation-related project teams, and made awesome connects at the documentation conference. One of these connects at the conference was a colleague from another department at work whom I shared interests with in content curation and presentation. We started meeting after work, discussed things to try which would improve the culture (and make work fun), and started a skunkworks project for hosting lunchtime Lightning Talks presentation events. These talks were well-received by our audience, and I’ve shared my findings and enthusiasm with my professional organization.

Would this success have happened with power alone? Likely not. Cultures and processes that encourage anyone to create meaning and share them are the ones that will lead to success. Creating meaning is no longer in the private domain of those in power. Old-school detractors and fanboys of command-and-control hierarchies can accuse me of mindlessly following thought leaders like Seth Godin, Hugh MacLeod, Pamela Slim, Daniel Pink, and Todd Henry, but insistence on the use (or abuse) of power for pushing ideas across is archaic and pusillanimous. Is it any wonder why most of the notable figures in human history are those with influence--not necessarily those in power?

The equation of Money + Power = Respect may ring true in the world of gangs and corporate hierarchies, but I prefer the currency of building community. The latter is more rewarding than getting--or buying--respect. There is deeper permanence in creating tribes based on shared meaning and values, compared to shallow superficiality of seeking respect based on one's status.

Communities open doors to new experiences, spread ideas, and connect people. Many of my successful endeavors over the past year would not have been possible without communities and tribes. Attending World Domination Summit in July instilled hope that I can create meanings through actions--both at home and at work. Discovering the power of storytelling at WDS and spreading this gift at the SIGUCCS professional conference and during Lightning Talks events have strengthened my tribes. It’s gratifying to watch compelling ideas spread like wildfire amongst my tribes.

If you invest in, and give to, a community where others appreciate your value proposition and the meanings that you create, doors will open more readily. Once your personal brand is known, the people in the tribe can introduce you to new opportunities. Once I overcame the initial reluctance and shaming negative thoughts (like “I don’t belong here” or “My ideas are not good enough for this group”), I felt comfortable dipping my toes in the pool, and was able to share with and learn from others in the tribe. That’s how I was introduced to the power of short presentations and storytelling this year. Welcome to the new sharing economy.

And as a part of highly-functional community, respect will come naturally regardless of what your job or title is. Contrast that with a command-and-control culture where, if you lose a job title--or even a job itself--you could wind up without respect. Would a gangster pay respect to a former boss who has fallen from grace and has no rank? Can an executive who has an obsession for status and power, lose his or her title and still receive respect from former subordinates?

If I'm running a Mafia, a Yakuza, or a street gang--or if I have a raging fetish with establishing and maintaining a corporate hierarchy--then I may believe in the principles of money, power, and respect. But that's not how I live. Perhaps back in 1998 I believed in those principles, but no longer. My daily actions are about meaning, influence, and community. Pass the MIC, yo.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Life Is So Strange When You Don't Know

Learning experiences and successful endeavors which I have absorbed over the past few years have been voluminous. I am starting to learn how it feels to persevere, create successful outcomes, practice mindfulness, share my passions with increased conviction, explore possibilities, and embrace vulnerability. There is one area, though, that I sometimes struggle to accept: living with uncertainty.

My future state is “destination unknown.” That is a scary statement to make, since I am rejecting the premise that my future is a preordained set of material, financial, emotional, social, and psychological comforts. For decades, I have been in denial about my future: I preferred not to think about it since I was too busy living in the present. But the recent transformations have made me aware that a blueprint for a future state would help me make choices which could lead me to comfortably embrace uncertainty.

The destination is unknown, but I have a great grasp on the direction I want to pursue in life. And over time, the destination and the direction may change—that is the nature of how I flow.

Very recently I made a big decision to uproot myself sometime within the next twelve months. Since I moved to Portland in 1995, I have lived in the same apartment. For many years, I have felt discontented about my home base, as worn furnishings and clutter contributed to unhappiness. I want to downsize and move into a smaller space that has charm and better reflects my personality. Before I move into a new place, a massive purging and decluttering program will take place. I also want to change my relationship with belongings and become less attached to nonessential stuff. Furthermore, I want to formulate a financial strategy so the move will be sustainable from an economic standpoint.

These directions seem sound and logical, but my destination is unknown. I have no idea if I will be living in the same neighborhood, in a different part of town, or elsewhere altogether. Destination unknown.

In the next twelve months, I also want to pursue fitness goals. I want to run a 10k race and ride several century bicycling events. I want to pursue regular exercise because I want to live a long and healthy life. I am also aware of my family’s health history, which suggests that exercising regularly is paramount for me. I can train with those goals in mind, but there is no guarantee that I will experience a long lifespan. Destination unknown.

Over the next few years, I want to gain experience in disciplines which could benefit my professional career. I want to study and participate in project management, lean methodologies, business communications, presentation skills, and promotion of progressive workplace culture. I want to continue attending conferences that will aid in my learning. I want to pursue activities which tie in with my professional aspirations. But there is no guarantee that I will find my dream job within the next few years. I may not even have a job months from now. Destination unknown.

Uncertainty is scary at times. Taking risks feels like walking on a tightrope between two skyscrapers without a safety net underneath to catch me if I fall. Do I feel scared? Yes. But I will not stop and falter. I am learning to embrace it, through good times and the not-so-good times. I often feel the urges of vanity and security: they want things to stay predictable and safe, feeding into my reluctance to let go.

But uncertainty is invaluable. As I learn new things, create a body of work, and absorb new experiences, new doors which were previously obscured from view will appear. New opportunities will come knocking on these doors. Some of my passions, goals, and areas of interest did not even exist a decade ago—or were previously unavailable had I not embraced uncertainty.

I am living in exciting times. I can draw a blueprint of where I want to go in my life--while accepting outcomes and being open to new possibilities that appear. That is the beauty of uncertainty.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Taking The Bullying By The Horns

There has been a good amount of recent public debate about bullying in social circles--at work, at school, and elsewhere. Public opinions range from those who callously tell the victims to grow thick skins, to those who respond with furious outrage that our society is very lenient and permissive with the perpetrators getting away with those heinous acts. This is a complex issue.

Several years ago I dreaded going into work for many months. My company went through a reorganization and experienced massive personnel turnover. One of the new team members was a personal friend of a senior level executive. I was assigned to train him on the standard procedures of help desk work. On his second day, the colleague asked me if he could deviate from the firmly-established work schedule in order to attend a food event that was taking place during the day. I politely requested that he adhere to scheduled breaks and lunch time, which was the established protocol. His face immediately turned raging red as he threw a histrionic fit, muttering nonsense about how he “was going to starve to death” that day. He adamantly ignored my logical attempts to offer alternative locations for sourcing food. That incident was just the start.

This bully on the team then decided to pawn off all of his work that he was either incapable of doing or didn’t feel like processing, and expected me to finish his assigned tasks (this was during a period at the workplace when I was expected to train other new teammates and handle administrative chores for the workgroup, in addition to completing my assigned work). Over time, his manipulative tantrums happened with greater frequency and he acted this way to both colleagues and customers. He routinely made derogatory comments about peers in other departments whom he had briefly met moments prior. He insisted on “helping” me with my work, believing that my technical skills were weak and that “I needed mentoring.” He continued his manipulative and abusive behavior in the workplace with impunity, feeling that he had some level of entitlement and protection due to his relationship with a higher-up.

Many people on the team raised concerns about this bully’s behavior with our management, but no action was taken for nine months. We were given hollow excuses such as, “Oh, he just needs more training.” We all suspected that our superiors were afraid to raise the issue of the bully’s behavior to the senior executive, and allowed the bullying behavior and toxic environment to continue, until he finally wore out his welcome.

Did the workplace culture improve after the bully got fired? Hardly. Other people on the team observed that they too can get away with abusive and demeaning behavior toward others. There was another former colleague who, after I asked him in earnest about what I could do to learn a newly-adopted product which he was a subject matter expert on, rudely yelled at me in response and told me to mind my own business. Raising the issue with management only resulted in a pusillanimous advice: “If you have questions about the system, talk to someone else on the project team."

So what can you do when a culture is broken? What do you do when earning a paycheck involves exposing yourself to a workplace where bullying is tolerated? Is it worth the decent pay, although it may seem like more a combat pay? Do you dare greatly and walk out of a well-paying workplace like professional football player Jonathan Martin recently did a month ago?

I admit that I was no angel in terms of exhibiting antisocial behavior. I learned at a young age that some bigger kids will mercilessly pick on smaller peers without giving any thoughts about the consequences of their actions. In junior high, there was a tall, gangly kid who was one year ahead of me. Every time he saw me in the hallway, he would put his fingers next to the outer edges of his eyes, raise them, and make mocking, demeaning “slanty-eyes” faces at me. This went on for an entire school year. One time he pushed me into a row of lockers in the hallway after I had walked away from his slanty-eyes act. This guy was so incessant about mocking my looks that he would take few moments away from his basketball team’s pre-game layup drills to make the face at me when I walked by. I was scared of being mocked and humiliated every time I walked in the hallways between classes: I even took mental notes of what his course schedule was so I could do my best to avoid seeing him in the hallway. I constantly asked my mom what I can do to make my eyelids grow bigger so I wouldn’t get teased. I grew resentful of my parents for moving our family from Japan to a country where mean people would act this way. So I did what most kids did: I picked and bullied smaller and younger classmates. I punched couple of kids in my gym class who were smaller that I was. I threatened kids who were few years younger than I. It was the thing to do back in the day. There were only a dozen incidents like these in my childhood and adolescence, but it felt like a survival tactic. I am not proud of them.

So what can you to put an end to bullying? I don’t have an answer. But I have a notion that negative behaviors are less likely to happen in a culture where trust, encouragement, and support are valued highly.

Elsewhere in my organization, I hear stories of colleagues who genuinely care for one another. They surprise their peers with vases of flowers to commemorate their birthdays, host baby showers for colleagues who are expecting a new family member, offer sympathy bouquets and cards for passing away of their colleagues’ animal companions, and make new teammates feel welcome by taking her or him to lunch. Another department created a culture of supportiveness and fun through making mutual encouragement of all teammates a daily habit, and incorporating occasional fun activities (such as hosting blind tastings for refreshments). At a conference I attended last month, I learned that a colleague at another institution makes it a point to make new team members feel welcomed by treating her or him as the most important person on their first day of work. Another colleague/friend from a different school places emphasis on getting to know teammates on a personal level: he takes them out to lunch, organizes after-work fun gatherings, and pursues other activities to establish trust.

Perhaps I took the encouragement given to me from my former leaders for granted, but they did many things to create positive cultures. A former manager introduced me to The Four Agreements (I strive to be impeccable with my word, not take anything personally, not make assumptions, and always do my best every day) and the ideas behind Nonviolent Communication. Other leaders encouraged to immerse myself in leadership opportunities.  Another manager nudged me to expand my leadership boundaries by loaning me Good to Great and Who Moved My Cheese? books. She also threw an impromptu cake party at the office the day after I passed the examination to become a United States citizen--I no longer felt ashamed to be that slanty-eyed seventh grader who was bullied in the hallways. This awesome culture regrettably eroded after the reorganization.

So what can I do to create a culture where bullying and toxic behaviors are less likely to happen? I don’t have a sure answer, but I know what needs to be done to steer the sails towards a general, optimal direction. I want to continue being inspired by examples of positive cultures and interactions that are happening elsewhere. I want to do my work in a way which honors my values and reflects what I believe is possible. I also want to show courage and speak out when I witness or experience toxic behaviors. I want to establish boundaries and let others know what is acceptable and what is not. Sadly I learned that no one else, including management, is going to make these changes: I have to advocate for myself and create sustaining habits through my actions.

You may be a professional football player who is earning a six-figure salary. Or you may be a school kid who is being ostracized and bullied for your looks, physical stature, ethnicity, physical handicap, sexual orientation, or other things that make you stand out. You may be a company person who is being subjected to mental or emotional abuse at the hands of others in your place of work. No one deserves being bullied, and there is no excuse for treating others in a way that sullies and stains a culture of trust which many people have worked hard to create and maintain.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Chicago: You're the Inspiration

I spent the first week of November in Chicago, attending SIGUCCS 2013 conference—an annual gathering for academic IT support professionals who work in higher education. This was the seventh time that I attended. During past conferences, I eagerly absorbed useful wisdom and best practices of fellow attendees. But this year I went beyond the usual lessons learned. It was a week of emotional awakening—not just for myself, but for many others who were at the conference.

There seemed to be a heightened level of camaraderie amongst the attendees. Perhaps it was because many of us were repeat attendees and had forged professional relationships and friendships outside of the conference week. Maybe it was because conference-goers were very approachable, friendly, and eager to share both their success stories and war tales. But the primary source of these emotional and personal bonds was the stories that were told throughout the week.

The keynote speakers weaved compelling narratives. We were implored to question our traditional career trajectories and determine when to “fire ourselves.” We learned about telling the right stories by using facts, symbols, and emotions. We were told that boundaries between occupations are meaningless, and emphasis on design is essential.

The program sessions were equally powerful. Themes such as community, inclusion, trust, transparency, and empowerment were repeated and emphasized throughout the week. Colleagues and friends stressed the importance of making a new team member “feel like the most important person on her or his first day of work,” encouraged us to understand others by “assuming positive intent,” implored us to guide support conversations towards common ground instead of blaming others for their lack of knowledge, and showed us how motivated support staff can tackle real-world problems by being entrusted with skunkworks projects. There were lively discussions about questioning the expectations of career paths, making time in our busy lives to focus on things that matter, and allowing people to learn through failing. The engagement level seemed higher than in previous years.

I participated actively during the conference too. I shared the success stories which i observed at my work. I shared the triumphs and tribulations of incorporating my conference peers’ best practices in my daily activities. I brashly questioned the expectations of moving up the career ladder and seeking bigger paychecks. I questioned the dubious nature of certain types of work. I shared the experience of cultivating my passion project: promoting a culture of short presentations in the workplace.

A fellow participant (and a friend) led an engaging and emotional discussion session about the importance of technology in the grand scheme of what matters most to us. IT professionals are often at the mercy of the always-on, always-connected nature of our work and gadgets, but at end of the day, we all have loved ones, family, and friends who matter hell of a lot more than our work. We all have finite number of hours and days in our lives, and taking time to nurture our relationships matters more than time spent fixing technical problems. That point was not lost on me.

The conference incited critical self-examination about what I want in my professional life, and seriously questioned my preconceived notions for my career journey. When I returned home, I made a conscious decision to stop pursuing technical disciplines which didn’t fit in my core competencies. I started to fiercely defend my time. I learned to speak out more with conviction and not become intimidated by potential consequences. I continued the ongoing discussions about time management, storytelling, and workplace survival tips with my conference peers through social media groups and outlets. I started appreciating people in my life who nurture and support. I became comfortable saying “No” to requests which did not sustain my long-term goals, and "Yes” to those which tied in with my core competencies and strategic vision.

To an outsider, SIGUCCS conferences may seem like a technical conference for IT folks who happen to work at universities and colleges. But this year, the conference seemed more like a version of World Domination Summit: there were so many moments where I was emotionally uplifted and inspired. And the message of “you are not alone” was embraced during and after the gathering in the Windy City.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

I Don't Get Dropped, I Drop The Label

I have experienced many awakenings in the past year. Being surrounded and supported by amazing tribes—people from inspiring conferences, social groups, and fellow unicorns--have led to many of these discoveries. Some of them are easily self-evident while others percolate over time before the insight becomes unmasked.

After decades of acknowledging the symptoms but never taking time to fully address the issue, I've realized that I've done an excellent job of letting myself be defined by others' expectations of me and by how I respond to failures. I let arbitrary constructs as role, level of conformity, title, perceptions, and conventionality define whether I was successful or not, in eyes of others--and even myself. I let labels define whether I was a success or a failure at life and work.

It recently occurred to me that I don't need to be the smartest worker at my technical workplace. There are others who have strong suits in various knowledge areas. Does that make me a failure by comparison? I excel at communication, documentation, relationship- and culture-building, and ass-kicking as member of project teams. These are my strong suits and my career capital. I would rather add value and emotional meaning to the lives of my peers by leading with my actions when I am at the office, than bemoan my not being the technical cream of the crop who will get promoted if a leadership post vacancy opens up. If my value propositions have no currency in my current workplace, I am not a failure.

Last month I made a conscious and deliberate decision to abandon my plans for studying for and obtaining paper certifications for technology areas which did not interest me. It was liberating to be unshackled from the mindset of keeping up with others for the sake of doing so, to realization that I had freed hundreds of hours in the upcoming years for investing in activities which add value to my life. I created space to explore friendships, hobbies, volunteering activities, study time for topics which are pertinent to my future, and rejuvenation.

And recently I learned that I was destructively channeling the harsh words of my biggest critic: myself. There has been decades of believing in the self-talk of "I'm not good enough to do this," "I always destroy good friendships," and "great things only happen to other extraordinary people, not to me." Those were the narratives through how I interacted with the world every day. It's a shock that I didn't invest in personal business cards with those critical self-talk as my taglines.

But I stopped those talks. Or at least made efforts to recognize them when they slipped through my mind and mouth. Putting a stop to the limiting chatter has led to the discovery of awesome events and connections. I learned to show courage in public, suppress the "what would they think?" reflexive reactions, and stop discrediting myself after making bad choices. I co-presented several talks at a professional organization conference few weeks ago--I didn't let fear and Ms. Amy G. Dala prevent my entry into the arena. I dared greatly and cultivated amazing friendships and connects in the past year. I feel greater connections and commonalities with these relationships.

There is a line from Kanye West's song, "Last Call", which resonates with my recent realization--"I ain't play the cards I was dealt, I changed my cards." Kanye was initially seen as a "good studio producer, but not a rapper material," but silenced his critics by releasing his first album (The College Dropout), which sold over four million units. 'Ye didn't stop others' expectations of him abilities and passion stop him from recording The College Dropout—the album which propelled his career and stardom.

Sometimes I forget that I've done things in my life which defied conventions and expectations. I was viewed as a nerdy band geek in early high school days, and was mocked accordingly. By time I graduated, I had earned a varsity letter in football. Earlier this year, I had repaired a fractured and strained friendship with a friend whom I had differences with in the past. She is now a great professional contact for technologies that I am interested in pursuing. I have evolved from a careerist tech worker whose psyche was damaged every year after annual reviews, to a creative, forward-thinking linchpin who learned how to channel his time and energy towards things that matter in the long run. I've been asked to join several project teams and collaborate on creative projects during course of this year.

I can spend the rest of my life trying to live up to others’ expectations, and constantly disappoint myself by whatever shortcomings I may have. Or I can try, abort, fail, retry, and succeed on my own terms. The choice is clear.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Not Under The Thumbs Of A Cynical Few (Why Asking For Permissions Is Stupid)

In the past year, I've noticed that I have either finished or made substantial progress on many endeavors. These activities include playing successful shows with my band, learning new ideas and turning the ideas into action, making and nurturing new connections, becoming an enthusiastic follower for others' big projects, curating collaborative projects, making regular writing a sustaining habit, and aligning more of my daily activities with meaningful goals.

I have put these activities in motion after being inspired by ideas that I gleaned at conferences, inspirations from thought and action leaders at World Domination Summit, connecting with like-minded action heroes, adopting ideas from friends from my professional organizations and networks, and bouncing ideas off other creative types. Cultivating a lifestyle where I am constantly learning, synthesizing, applying, sharing, and spreading creative ideas and output is an exhilarating way to spend my waking hours. But one of the biggest changes that I adopted over the past year involves what I no longer do.

I have stopped asking for permissions.

The old way of getting things done and learning is through allowing others to control your learning, personal and professional growth, and creative opportunities. Do you have ideas for streamlining processes in the workplace? Run it up the flagpole. Do you want to play a new musical instrument? Too bad--we already have enough flutists! Do you want to learn how to paint? Your brother is already the artist in the family! Do you want to learn new skills that would benefit both your employer and your own growth? No, your superiors should dictate what you should be learning and spending your time on. Do you want to spend preparation time outside work hours so you will be prepared next morning? No, work rules prohibit you from doing anything work-related when you're off the clock!

And Gartner and other research firms wonder why over 70 percent of American workers are fully disengaged from their work. Some studies even show the level of disengagement as high as 85 percent.

Since adopting the attitude that the only person who is going to advocate for my learning, growth, and creative opportunities is myself alone, I have become more focused and engaged. I know how I can optimize my daily activities for getting quality work done. If I want to ensure that like-minded colleagues execute their projects successfully, I don't think twice about spending my non-work hours immersed in activities which would help them succeed. The notion of a "work-life balance" is a useless concept for me as I'm always learning, growing, sharing, and doing regardless of time or day. Both my work and non-work endeavors have benefitted after I stopped segmenting my time into "work" and "non-work" activities.

Contrary to the old way of conducting business, I'm not a factory worker who is making widgets for a steady paycheck; I am a knowledge worker whose career capital includes learning while "on the clock" and gaining inspiration outside work hours. Furthermore, I learn things at work that I can apply to my off-the-clock endeavors, such as applying best project management and creative practices at band rehearsals. That is how I became valuable both at work and elsewhere.

Many of my inspirational and motivational sources never asked for permissions before daring greatly and making things happen. Gretchen Rubin started a happiness movement after pondering about the subject while riding a crosstown bus in Manhattan; she didn't need multiple advanced degrees or permission before starting out. Nancy Duarte was told in school that her communications and presentation skills were deficient; now she and her company create compelling presentations for many of the successful Fortune 500 companies. Jay-Z didn't let rejections by major record labels from launching his entertainment career; he started his own label. Probably 99 percent of songs on my iTunes music library were composed and performed by people who didn't bother asking others for permissions to record songs.

Believing the permission-first mindset for many decades has led me to miss out on creative and collaborative opportunities, allowed others to advocate (or fail to advocate) for my career development, and led me down many wrong paths for growth. Allowing others to instill the "you need to seek permissions and approvals from the higher-ups" led to many deleterious effects throughout the years. The overemphasis on grade point averages steered me away from challenging courses in school, the grading system on corporate annual performance evaluations led to playing the politics and dog-eat-dog games in the workplace, and the promotion of top-down hierarchies stopped me from trying new things that would have propelled my development. Even Forbes, a traditional and conservative money magazine, recently published a blog post ("The Evolution of Work") where establishing a flattened corporate structure and a trend of workers creating their own career ladders are emphasized as the new normal.

I don't need permission to start something or to start collaborating. I am passionately embracing the "What can I learn from this opportunity?" mindset instead of the archaic and dangerous "Will this gain approval from my superiors?" one. Things got so much better after I threw off my mental chains.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Time Keeps Slipping

I had declared three goals to reach during the month of August, and completed two of them. I integrated a new routine into my daily activities: writing in my paper journal for at least fifteen minutes daily.

It's great to have a new habit that I am devoting time to. Practicing daily writing started out as a "Dude, Let's Try This!" experiment at beginning of August, and I feel very creative when I sit at my desk, open my journal, and start writing with a freshly-sharpened pencil gliding through the pages. The transformation of ideas from inside my head to a coherent story and narrative on paper, with hypnotic piano music emanating softly in the background and the faint scent of cedar from the pencil tinging the air, all coalesce into fifteen minutes of enjoyable activity. I feel a sense of verified creative accomplishment after my writing sessions.

However, the new writing habit is integrated into the fabric of my daily life at expense of other activities. Dedicating nearly two hours every week to writing means giving up something else for two hours a week. Most of the my routines are nearly immutable: my work hours are not going to get shorter, my 7.5 hours of sleep every night will still be accounted for, band rehearsals will still happen, and my after-work creative brainstorming and mastermind meetings with other co-conspirators will continue to take place. Life goes on, but something is being squeezed out in order to accommodate my writing habit.

There are several important activities that I have invested less time in recently. I have visited the gym less frequently this summer, I find myself skipping breakfast during hurried mornings, and I often neglect to pack lunch. These trends negatively impact my fitness, health, and financial goals: they are my current pigeons of discontent. Add to that the incomplete goal from last month.

I recently started reading Laura Vanderkam's 168 Hours and learned the importance of being aware of what I find important and essential in my daily activities. When I decide against spending time on tasks, I want to shift my thinking from "I don't have time for this," to "It's not a priority for me." But what constitutes things that are priorities for me? What are the things that sustain, energize, inspire, move, and otherwise make me feel alive? By spending more time engaged in these priorities, I sense a greater level of happiness and purpose. By spending time engaged in other activities, I feel that I'm taking time away from things that fuel me.

My challenge is to become more conscious about how I am spending my waking hours. I started tracking how I spend my time using the 168 hours spreadsheet. It seems tedious at first to break down what I am doing during the week. There are many questions about how I want to spend my time. How can I find time to be mindful during meals? How can I eliminate some of the repetitive tasks in my daily routines? What can be eliminated? What can be done in more efficient and lean manner? What things am I doing that adds no value to my raison d'ĂȘtre? Is being more mindful of how I spend my time worth the effort?

As I read more of 168 Hours and become comfortable asking myself these tough questions, I may experiment with incorporating routine changes and other tweaks. I don't have the answers right now but I am excited about the possibility of learning and changing.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Absolute Beginner

I recently accomplished one of my fitness goals which I had entertained over the past few years. I completed a full century cycling event. I had contemplated riding the 100-mile course in the past but never committed to doing it. Last month, I procured a road bicycle with intentions to dare greatly and participate in the century ride before summer's end. I was all excited about taking on the challenge of the century ride, with exception of one inconvenient detail.

I purchased the road bike and all the necessary accessories, including cycling shoes, cleats, and Shimano SPD-SL bike pedals. Nearly all of my bicycling experience in my life has been with the traditional flat-surfaced pedals, and I had never used the cleats-and-snap-in-pedal system before. I immediately realized that I had committed to cycling 100 miles with foreign pedal system which I had no experience with. Scary thoughts of falling while mounting and dismounting from my bicycle in middle of congested traffic filled my mind. Here I was, with plenty of experience cycling, but an absolute beginner with these fancy, efficiency-enhancing clipless pedal systems.

So I did what absolute beginners do. I embraced the unsexy parts of the clipless pedal experience. I took my new bike to a nearby playground and practiced mounting and dismounting from my pedals. I spent several half-hour sessions taking the Karate Kid approach to mastering a simple task: clip in, clip out. There were no exhilarating recreational rides through the neighborhood or picturesque tour through the wine country. While youthful skateboarders were busting out nifty aerobatic moves in one corner of the playground, I was riding in circles in another area, learning how to safely ride my new bicycle. I felt like a complete neophyte, but adopting a beginner's mind helped me embrace the new exercises.

After I became comfortable with the new pedal system, I started regular riding sessions and hill climbing exercises. I gained confidence riding safely through my neighborhood. There were apprehensions racing through my head right before the century event, but I reached into the mental and physical repetitions that I gained from practice sessions. I wasn't going to set any world records for a fastest course time, but I was determined to complete the event. I finished my first century ride without any incident.

Starting new endeavors can seem daunting and scary. There's always a possibility of failure or messing up. I may fall off my road bike and suffer scrapes and bruises. I may play wrong notes or miss a cue when performing new songs live. I may mistype a line of Javascript code and spend hours trying to figure out why things aren't working out as I had hoped. But the rewards of daring greatly and accomplishing my goals outweigh the unknown and the scary. And approaching these goals with a beginner's mind and embracing the unglamorous work, make these experiences rewarding.

Gaining new experiences also open the doors to new possibilities and attainable challenges. Participating in multi-day distance rides, like Seattle To Portland (STP) or Cycle Oregon, may be within reach in upcoming years. In meantime, I will continue to challenge myself: I'm participating in another century ride in five weeks' time.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Adversity: A Gift, Not A Curse

My recent staycation began on a dubious note. Embracing the first day of a work-free liberation, I opened my refrigerator to grab ingredients for making a hearty, celebratory breakfast. Instead of the familiar chill inside the big box, I was greeted with a stale, warm air. There were no noise from the appliance. My refrigerator had died.

I called the rental agency and reported the broken appliance. I was told that it would be two days before they could send someone to replace the refrigerator with a new unit. Despite my inquiries, they were unable to schedule the replacement any sooner.

I immediately let the adversity go. There are things that I can control and things that are out of my control. A new refrigerator in two days' time was the best that the rental agency could do. But I was curious about how I would have responded fifteen years ago. The younger, impatient, and angry me would have immediately adopted a "victim" mentality, and would have raised a shitstorm of epic proportions. I would have demanded that the rental agency reimburse me for 2/31th of the rent or help defray the cost of spoiled food in my refrigerator and freezer. I would have taken to the Internets to blog about the cruel injustice of the whole situation, and lamented that this was unacceptable--especially with technical exams scheduled the following day! I would have demanded justice--how dare my refrigerator die during the first day of my vacation?

But I really couldn't get angry at the situation. The timing was perfect for the appliance to die. Normally I take vacations in New York City in early August, but this year I staycationed. I felt grateful that I didn't come home from an East Coast trip and discovered that my entire apartment stunk like rotten foodstuff. Also the refrigerator died on my day off, not on a day that I was supposed to be at work--I didn't have to take additional time off work to receive the replacement appliance. Thankfully, the day I discovered the broken refrigerator and the day of replacement sandwiched my exam-taking day. If anything, the death of the kitchen appliance was timed conveniently. Plus I used this unexpected equipment malfunction to visit an amazing sandwich shop in my neighborhood.

There were minor inconveniences involved, including throwing out 80 percent of the contents and buying a portable ice chest and a bag of ice to Noah's Ark the important stuff. But the equipment malfunction gave me an opportunity to declutter. For years, I've kept stuff in the freezer and refrigerator for "just in case" purposes. Five year-old red lentils, falafel mix from 2011, and packages of konjac with unknown expiration dates all took residence in the nether depths of my refrigerator. They were banished during decluttering. Getting rid of stale shit felt so good!

I also took advantage of the refrigerator swap-a-roo to eradicate the dirt and grime from the wall and floor sections that were inaccessible when the refrigerator was in place. It felt great having the appliance installers compliment me on how clean the refrigerator area in the kitchen was. After the new appliance was installed, having a sparse, minimalist refrigerator contents feels refreshing. And my nearly-empty freezer now has room for ice cube trays--I rediscovered the joys of having glasses of ice cold water and spirits on the rocks. Ah, simple pleasures!

I've learned to embrace adversity as a challenge and springboard for opportunities. Many of these unexpected events are "First World Problems," and they are not end of my world. Didn't get the job I've applied for at work--a chance to be on a great team? I build and strengthen relationships, and seek collaboration opportunities with those awesome people. A close friend leaving town and moving back east? I discover the incredible joys and energy of New York City (a turn of events which led me to meet my awesome friend Jackie several years later: Jackie introduced me to the works of great thinkers and action heroes, which led to both of us attending World Domination Summit for the first time last month). Isn't it funny how everything turns out?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I Did It My Way

Some of the most memorable birthdays I've experienced in my lifetime include being treated to a delicious home-cooked dinner courtesy of a close friend, being surprised by my then-bandmates with an unexpected party, and jaunting through the vibrant New York City. I also remember making my first-ever start at third base in youth baseball during the championship season, in a game we won 8-7. I received game ball from the coach after being involved in couple of rare fielding plays--making putouts in a 2-5 pickoff play and a 1-5 double play off the opposition's failed squeeze bunt attempt. Last week I've added another chapter to the memorable birthday experiences.

I spent the day taking and successfully passing two examinations that were needed to pass the CompTIA A+ certification. Yes, I voluntarily spent my vacation day taking public transit to and from the I.T. testing center out in the suburbs. Instead of the expected day of relaxation and leisure, I willingly strained my brain cells and focused on earning the certification that I had started studying for nearly nine months ago. They payoff was the culmination of spending many weekends and weeknights embracing the unsexy work--reading the 1500-page study tome over many study sessions, taking practice exams, and forcing myself to study on those days when I felt unmotivated. It was all for a certification that is not even required for my current work (although possessing an A+ certification will help in my future job opportunities should I continue a career in I.T. field support). But in the end, I did it. And I did it my way.

Last month's World Domination Summit imparted couple of important lessons. Pamela Slim, during "The Art of Taking Action" workshop, stressed the importance of setting deadlines for goals. Milestones need to have dates attached to them. After the Summit, I spent an evening strategizing about my learning and study goals, and focused on establishing reasonable, attainable, and realistic deadlines for my study endeavors. I wanted to finally take the A+ certification exams after nine months of on- and off- studying spurts. I set a deadline for "taking the A+ certification tests by end of the month." Since my birthday is on the first day of August, I thought it would be appropriate if I challenged myself to take and pass the tests on my birthday. Hence I spent my birthday rocking the suburban I.T. testing center.

Another reason why I wanted to take the certification exam on my birthday was that I wanted to brush off the dirt off my shoulders and make the liberation symbolic. In the past, I had taken and failed several technical exams which were deemed mandatory by my work (I eventually passed those tests but the experience of failing these tests several times brought on feelings of shame and failure). For several years, there have been nagging doubts about whether I was qualified or competent enough to pass technical examinations, and having failed couple of examinations did not help. So there had been the nagging voice of doubt that suggested I was a fraud and an impostor; that I was a "pretend I.T. technician." There were also some biters and haters at work who feel that I'm just a hack. Having a certification that demonstrates mastery of my daily work makes a good retort to the naysayers.

Of course, there will be naysayers who will counter that I earned a "baseline" or "entry-level" certification exam which tests knowledge that everyone should already know in the workplace. But those same naysayers are the ones who--after I obtain advanced certifications in the future--will counter with, "If you have higher certifications, why are you still working at this job?" Haters gonna hate no matter what--they will always discover some angle to nag and gripe about. I prefer to focus my energy and gratitude towards my supporters--the folks in my MasterMind group, the kindred spirits whom I had crossed paths with at the Summit, action-oriented friends, and creative peers--who have shown support for my achieving milestones.

And what do meeting milestone deadlines and feeling the intoxicating success of accomplishments create? They beget more time-based accountability goals for milestones. During August, I will cycle my first century event (100 miles) and launch a new website. There are more milestones to be reached and mountains to climb. It's time to embrace even more unsexy grunt work and learn from them.

That's right, it's a beautiful thing, man!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Chasing Amygdala Away

Recently I attended friends' wedding on a hot summer evening and was nearly overwhelmed by nervousness and fear. My lizard brain decided to attend the wedding as an uninvited guest of mine, and it had the potential of diminishing my appreciation of my friends' special day.

The wedding took place at end of a very hot week. I was preoccupied with staying comfortable during the event, so I wore a plebeian-yet-presentable short sleeve buttoned shirts and slim slacks. I arrived early at the wedding and saw that a good amount of people were dressed up. Many men were adorned in sharp dress shirts and summer suits: they looked like Duchess catalog models! I suddenly felt out of place, like a dump truck at a fancy auto show. While everyone was dressed to the nines, it seemed, I was only dressed to the fives.

The amygdala then kicked in. All of sudden I was flooded with worries. My good friends whom I had expected to show up at the wedding were nowhere in sight. I would be attending a wedding without the comforts of familiar faces to talk with. My wrapping skills on the wedding gift were atrocious, and the wrapping paper that I used wasn't fancy enough. People would stare at me all evening long for being grossly under-dressed for the occasion. I took a seat out in the courtyard, clutched my iPhone, and tried to lose myself in trivial web surfing while waiting for the ceremony to start.

After few minutes, though, I realized that I was letting my lizard brain take over what seemed like a foreign and unfamiliar situation. I thought about how I had spent two weekends prior at the World Domination Summit, where nearly 3000 people showed up, dared greatly in company of strangers, and made human connections throughout the weekend. Some of the attendees whom I had met during the event knew not a single soul before making a long-distance trek to the summit. Had I not learned from that experience? I boldly pried my eyes away from the day's baseball scores and purposefully turned off my phone. I slid the mobile device into my pocket, where it remained the entire evening.

I focused on my surroundings--the verdant courtyard of the wedding space, the warm, basking light of early summer evening, and the thought about the soon-to-be-newlyweds. The lizard brain was about to be tamed. A group of guests who were seated nearby introduced themselves to me, and conversations ensued afterward. There were talks about great nearby eateries, our jobs (one of the fellow guests turned out to be a customer at my work), and travels. Other guests who were also casually dressed started arriving. My good friends, who were elegant in their attires, arrived nearly fashionably late. The lizard brain went into hiding the rest of the evening.

Identifying times when I allow the amygdala to take over and taking bold steps to stop the lizard brain in its tracks will become more natural with practice. Being myself allowed me to belong--the lizard brain wanted me to fit in. Once I had chased away the counter mind and the arena of fear, I was able to be present and enjoy the evening.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Real Thing

My mind is still in an elevated state where more things seem possible than ever before. Since the 2013 Summit ended, I have taken some action steps to propel my learning and de-cluttering goals. The time I spent at World Domination Summit was valuable.

I was asked by a friend at work last week why I felt compelled to attend the conference in the first place. She wondered if World Domination Summit added value to my life, since she thought that I was already familiar with the influential authors who espouse embracing remark ability, and already living an exceptionally enlightened and adventurous life. She felt that I had transcended the mentality of an uninspired clock-puncher long time ago. I explained to my friend that attending the event took my passion for living an amazing life to another level--something that would be hard to do without an environment of supportive and like-minded participants.

I am familiar with the written works, inspirational videos, and articles by (or about) Seth Godin, Brené Brown, Daniel Pink, Gretchen Rubin, Tony Schwartz, and countless others. I regularly read Fast Company and 99U articles on leadership, creativity, innovation, and pursuit of excellence. These resources offer ideas for bringing community-building, empathy, and stellar customer service into the corporate workplace. I incorporate information learned from reading Experience Life magazine articles for adding tweaks to my fitness goals.

But reading about (or watching videos of) these influential figures and fully experiencing a purposeful life are two different things. Just like the difference between reading a script of a riveting theatrical play and participating in it yields different levels of engagement and meaning, participation transforms the ideas into an enriching personal experience.

Spending an intense week in company of other WDS participants transformed my learning to a new plateau. At WDS, I did not feel the need to make series of trivial talks before sharing big ideas or expressing vulnerability. I did not have to spend time having to explain the ideas behind customer-oriented missions, inclusion, or mutual accountability to others (regrettably, this was not the case once I returned to my day job several days after the Summit). It was refreshing to learn that WDS attendees also embraced the "Stop waiting for permission" mindset, and took initiatives to make things happen without seeking approval first.

During the WDS, I learned things that were not in the books or magazines that I had previously read about. I would have been unaware of various resources for writers or nuances of living a location-independent lifestyle. I would have missed out on the amazing projects of presenters and participants, including Jia Jiang's Rejection Therapy experiment, Good Life Project, Radio Enso, Global Table Adventure, Strong Inside Out, App Camp For Girls, and Gutsygeek. I would have never encountered the expression FOMO--"Fear of Missing Out."

Had I missed out on the WDS experience, I would have little or no awareness about the things I want to improve on, or my Pigeons of Discontent. Things like banishing self-doubt, improving how I relate to others, and overcoming limitations were all illuminated during the conference. And staying active in the online community of fellow attendees made me aware that I am surrounded by amazing people who take accountability very seriously.

The differences between reading about something and executing it enriches the experience. I can tell you the clinical definition of a strike zone in baseball, but nothing compared to the feeling of standing in the battery's box, with legs shaking, while facing the nastiest pitcher in my youth baseball league. I can read the score of the bass part for Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," but learning how to make the part flow and meld with the tenor, alto, and soprano sections in a 60-person choir through repeated practice was a separate experience altogether. I can recite the rulebook definition of an "illegal block in the back" penalty in high school football, but experiencing the infraction in person--being plowed by a gung-ho linebacker and having my ass fly airborne five yards downfield before landing head-first in a mud-covered field--was a different experience altogether.

Being familiar with the works of remarkable thinkers, doers, and connectors brought me to the dance. Those works helped lay the foundation. Being immersed in the World Domination Summit event, however, led to absorbing ideas and inspirations that would make me dance more freely and build a more remarkable future.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

We Belong

It has been less than two days since this year's World Domination Summit concluded. My mind is still in awe of absorbing new ideas and inspirations, digesting attendee stories and presentations, embracing uncertainties, and identifying personal lessons learned. Throughout the event, I kept asking myself why I felt compelled to unconditionally embrace the atmosphere surrounding the summit.

World Domination Summit brought together 3,000 participants from diverse walks of life: entrepreneurs, creative visionaries who work for companies, writers, activists, gregarious extroverts, introspective introverts, connectors, and linchpins. Those who have led remarkable lives for many decades shared the same space with absolute beginners who were just scratching the surface of learning how to experience meaningful lives. There were WDSers in their late teens and others who were in their eighties. Participants from various religious, ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds all had seats at the communal table of inclusion. There were people who had attended prior years' gathering(s), including people who have found their lifelong partners.

Unlike some of the workshops, courses, or conferences which I had experienced, people showed up and participated--there were no tourists at the World Domination Summit. People did not show up and lingered all weekend long in apathy just because their employers had dispatched them for "staff training." The gathering did not have a dog-eat-dog atmosphere where attendees were dispensed advice by gurus on "how to get rich quick" in an arena of a zero-sum endgame.

One of the session presenters, Chase Jarvis, asked us to recall what created meaning when we were young, which we subsequently repressed during our adult years. He then implored us to rediscover what was meaningful. For Chase, it was his love of photography and cinema.

That question helped me discover what created meaning when I was younger: a sense of belonging.

The first time I felt that invigorating moment was when I attended a month-long fine arts camp in my youth. There were about 300 of us at the Fairbanks Summer Fine Arts Camp in 1985. There were attendees from various towns and villages in Alaska, as well as campers from other states. Many of us were the misfits or weirdos during ordinary school years--young adolescents placed more emphasis on the differences between people, and believed in stereotypes and assumptions. Attendees took classes in, and embraced, theater, dance, classical and contemporary music, fine arts, and creative writing. There were serious artists and musicians who used the camp as experience-builders on their way to remarkable careers. There were casual campers who enthusiastically sampled and participated in various disciplines. There were some kids who attended just because their parents wanted them out of their hairs for four weeks. Alumni of the camp included those who went onto become professional musicians, culinary experts, theater directors and costume designers, academic professors, LGBT activists, and world travelers. Some attendees went onto work in the corporate world and held ordinary day jobs. But we felt a sense of belonging.

During the four weeks, musical productions were staged, choir, dance and instrumental performances were offered to the public, and art shows were curated (I even scored a rather laughable arrangement of a "Smoke On The Water" and "Hey Jude" medley for trombone and strings for a Music Arrangement class). But how we related to each other during our four weeks together was just as important as what we accomplished during that time. We created a safe space where we could be ourselves, make stuff happen, and form lifelong relationships. A friend of mine whom I met at camp nearly thirty years ago met her future husband that summer.

It felt very natural to be with the fellow campers: I felt no need trying to "fit in." There were many emotional connections made, and there were many tearful goodbyes at end of the camp. We clung to every word and note of Simple Minds' "Don't You Forget About Me" during the final evening's dance party event. After the camp, we were reduced to handwriting each other, but we kept in touch by sharing handcrafted letters, mixtapes, and artwork. I took road trips and plane rides to visit the friends from my tribe. Over the years, I reunited with them in places like Idaho, Washington D.C., New York, and Japan.

Discovering a meaningful tribe at the age of seventeen was my first foray into discovering a community where I belonged. The feeling was powerful back then. And my recent experience at World Domination Summit brought back those amazing and magical feelings.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

This Night Has Opened My Eyes

As a first-time World Domination Summit participant, I am ecstatic about meeting new people in the community and learning from them. This year's official festivities begin this Friday (two days from today) but many participants arrived in Portland days before the Summit. They organized daily, informal meetups starting last weekend.

I was curious about the possibilities of meeting other participants before the official start of the conference and decided to attend an informal gathering several evenings ago. As I hopped on the crosstown bus and headed to the meetup, my mind formed questions of apprehensions. Here I was, taking a journey to meet a group of strangers whom I had never met in person before. The only interactions I've had with them were online. I'd only met few of these folks, and I had known them for less than 48 hours!

I imagined a group gathering where others all knew each other through previous WDS events and had forged close relationships over time. I felt like a dirty plebeian who was just learning the ways to lead a remarkable life. I felt like a carnivore who brought steak to an all-vegan potluck. "What if I don't belong? What if I'm too conventional?" From a very timely blog post, Seth Godin explained this fear: "All our warning systems are on high alert. From an evolutionary perspective, strangers represent danger. They are not only a direct threat, but carry the risk of rejection and all the insecurity that comes with it."

But I decided to show up. And, hot damn, I am very glad for making that choice. I discovered that these people were inclusive and supportive. I spent hours listening with fascination about their life stories, journeys, and work. I found commonalities and shared interests with the folks who also dared greatly and showed up. I learned that some of them even traveled from overseas or took cross-country road trips to attend WDS--without knowing any of the other attendees! Shit, my 45-minute bus ride of trepidation paled in comparison to the chances these people had just taken.

From these six friends, I learned about "location-independent" lifestyle, men's life coaching, taking leaps of faith when making significant life changes, and other concepts which broadened my horizon. They also validated my strengths and passions--bringing people and ideas together is not just a trifling personality knack, but a gift. My new friends also made me aware that I have areas where I want to improve upon: demonstrating empathy and displaying kindness to outsiders. It was powerful to hear a group of newly-met friends offer important advice, which I will take to heart: "Never apologize for who you are, or where you are in your life." As Seth Godin added in his post, "But the opposite can be true: Strangers can represent opportunity. The opportunity to learn, to make new connections, to build bridges that benefit everyone."

I was reminded that I have dared greatly before in venues where I knew no one else beforehand, and embraced those communities. I showed up at running races and long-distance cycling events even though I was in company of complete strangers: I often became inspired by watching other participants, and shared brief pleasantries and conversations with them. I built friendships with people from my recreational flag football and softball teams even though I joined the teams as a free agent outsider. I've made new connects from a room full of strangers at Project Management courses last year--that how I had indirectly learned about WDS in the first place!

Just yesterday, while I was thinking about the amazing experience of meeting WDS participant friends, I became filled with joy. For several minutes, I felt as if I was floating on air. I felt very content. As Karla DeVito sang in "We Are Not Alone" (from The Breakfast Club soundtrack), "If we dare expose our hearts, just to feel the purest parts, that's where strange sensations start to glow."

Meeting those six people the previous day inspired me to attend another meetup later in the day: there were about twenty people in attendance, and I connected with many of them. I feel blessed to have discovered such an inclusive and friendly tribe where people routinely dare greatly.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ain't No Half-Steppin'

I attended two amazing training classes at work last week. One was for Introduction to Lean process improvement and the other was for Crafting Communications. I absorbed useful ideas and wisdom from both classes. As usually, I was ecstatic about lessons learned in classes, and I was able to spring some of these new ideas into action within days.

But there is a layer of fear lurking underneath. What if I let my lessons learned slip away as time passes by? What if I completely forget the poignant tips from the challenging "Writing Headlines" exercise from the communications class? There is apprehension that I might flippantly dismiss the new information with a "that was nice, now let's move on" mentality. What is that fear? Will appending the worksheet from the communications class into my Levenger Circa organizer notebook be an exercise in futility? Would I begin to resent the "types of waste" of lean methodologies over time as it comes to a head against my material hoarding tendencies?

My fear is about the possibility of doing things half-assed. I feel a strong aversion to adopting a "just good enough to get by" mentality. I don't want to be content with half-assery. There ain't no half-steppin' when it comes to taking learning seriously. This is why I always participate and become active at learning classes, conferences, online meetings, and other events. It's not enough just to show up: I learn and contribute.

I have a disdain for "tourists" who appear at learning events, infect the rest of their class with boredom and apathy, and infuriate attendees who are there to learn and collaborate. Tourists are mostly corporate folks who view these classes and conferences as a form of paid time away from their offices. I've witnessed tourists in one Project Management class who would completely ignore group exercises and spend time making smart-ass remarks as rest of the group collaborated. It's most likely that their employers had paid them to attend the class, so there's no incentive for them to participate. Having paid $600 out of my own pocket to attend the same course so I could invest in my own learning, it chapped my ass to have these disinterested morons getting in the way of my learning experience.

I harbor similar dislike for colleagues who show up at "mandatory training classes" and make shit worse for those who actually want to learn new stuff. Over a decade ago, I attended an mandatory "Harassment in the Workplace" session with several colleagues. I was interested in learning about the topic and applying the lessons learned towards work, but one idiot co-worker spent most of session snoring in the back of the classroom! If they weren't interested in attending the class, they need to work with their bosses to find alternatives, and get the hell out of the way for those who want to learn!

Since I invest time and money for a good bulk of my learning opportunities (usually through taking "learning vacations"), I won't be shy about making the most out of these events. I will speak up, participate, and encourage inclusiveness among fellow attendees. I don't care if I am attending a professional or technical conference, a bar camp, or a gathering of inspiring people: these are all opportunities for me to make new connects, establish friendships, learn from other people, and share my knowledge with them. I'm full-ass at these events. And if the tourists don't like that, they can go stick it where the sun doesn't shine.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Can I Live?

Over a decade ago, I nearly drowned while whitewater rafting on Deschutes River. Some friends and I took a day trip to Maupin, Oregon, where we rented a raft and we spent the sunny summer afternoon floating and paddling on the river. In one section of the trip, the current moved at a leisurely pace, and many rafters floated down the river for about 100 yards, being buoyed by their life jackets. Since it looked enticing, I joined my friends who hopped out of the raft and floated with them.

As my friends and other floaters swam safely to the shore before the current picked up pace, I kept on going until I realized that I had difficulty swimming towards the shore. In my excitement, I had conveniently forgotten that I hadn't swam in over twenty years and had joined the life jacket flotilla with others who were competent swimmers. Within moments, I was knocked around by speeding and choppy current. I was struggling to keep my head above the water and was unable to breathe or see well. Grave panic set in. I was no longer in control.

The sudden realization that I may not make it out of the river alive led to numerous thoughts flashing through my mind. What will my friends who invited me to the rafting adventure going to do if I don't make it to the shore safely? Did I cast a tragic damper on these folks? Is this the way I envisioned passing away? Who is going to feed and take care of my cats?

At that instant, I regained my focus and stopped panicking--even though I was speeding down the river at a dangerous pace. I told myself to stick my legs out forward and bump into rocks in hopes of slowing down. The tactic worked--I had enough mental and physical capacity to swim to the shore after crashing into several rocks.

My brush with the near-tragic drowning happened in midst of a very dark time in my life. I was predominantly depressed around that time, mostly owing to a prolonged unemployment (which lasted one year), was spending significant amount of time with negative people who attracted drama, and had very little ambition for the future. It would have been easy to convince myself that I didn't really have much to live for. But in course of a near-fatal incident, something inside of me said, "Shit, I want to live!"

Those unsettling minutes, where I felt helplessly out of control and overcome with panic, did form a blueprint for designing the kind of life that I wanted to pursue. Changes did not happen overnight, but over time I began surrounding myself with people who displayed incredible zest for living, started disassociating myself from drama-perpetuating people, and started shaping my life in a different trajectory. If willing myself from drowning was worth fighting for, I wanted to make something meaningful out of my life instead of pursuing the path of lackadaisical intentions. Over time, I noticed that I had stopped seeing things through negativity lenses.

Epiphanies strike people in different forms and manifestations. For me, it was when my life flashed in front of my eyes. I decided that I wanted to live, and live differently from that point on.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

I Get Up Again, Over And Over

It has been almost thirty years since Madonna's Like A Virgin album was released. Most people are probably only familiar with her hit singles from the album--which includes the title track, "Material Girl," "Angel," and "Dress You Up." I follow a different beat, and find the album to be memorable for another song.

"Over And Over" wasn't even a single from the album, but the song is my favorite Madonna song ever. Yes, my favorite ever. The dancey, upbeat pop song has amazing lyrics about instilling determination, overcoming setbacks, and daring greatly. Recently I started listening to this song before and after epic challenges, accomplishments, near-successes, and setbacks. In the spirit of Rapgenius.com lyrics interpretations, these are the reasons why I am enamored with the song--and live my life with the spirit of the song every day.

Hurry up, I just can't wait
I gotta do it now, I can't be late
I know I'm not afraid, I gotta get out the door
If I don't do it now, won't get anymore

Being motivated by a bias towards action is how I want to ideally spend my time. Creating sustainable habits, surrounding them with complementary rituals, and shipping regularly are things that I believe in. Even if I'm doing something that I've never tried before, or lack skills or expertise in, I would rather try and learn from my experience than be stricken by fear of failure or my "lack of qualifications." A quote from Jen Sincero's book, You Are A Badass, sums up my sentiments: "Because so often when we say we're unqualified for something, what we're really saying is that we're too scared to try it, not that we can't do it."

You try to criticize my drive
If I lose, I don't feel paralyzed
It's not the game, it's how you play
And if I fall, I get up again now

If I try something and the result isn't what I had hoped for, I move on. To quote Jay-Z, "I'm on to the next one." Even when I see rhinoceros and dark skies instead of unicorn and rainbow, I'm not going to be stopped. I've had couple of events during the year that didn't turn out as I had hoped, including prospective employment and internship opportunities. They turned out to be great experiences though: I learned about my strengths, personal brand, passion, and career capital. I also gained insight into what strategies I want to follow to step up my game. Life is too short for feeling perpetually victimized, blaming others for outcomes, and playing scared. But I will make time for "Dude, Let's Try This!" experiments.

Got past my first mistake
I'll only give as much as I can take
You're never gonna see me standing still
I'm never gonna stop 'til I get my fill

I don't claim to be perfect--I make mistakes often. I see them as learning opportunities, and I apply them to my next attempts. If I want to accomplish something that is meaningful to me, I will make it happen despite mistakes, setbacks, and detours. Thomas Edison made over ten thousand iterations of the light bulb before finally succeeding. He didn't view his efforts as failures, but rather as ten thousand ways which didn't work.

It doesn't matter who you are
It's what you do that takes you far
And if at first you don't succeed
Here's some advice that you should heed

The process of making awesome happen isn't constrained by limitations that other people or society wants to label you with. Being in my mid-forties doesn't stop me from engaging in lifelong learning, indulging in recreational sports, making new connections with amazing people from different circles, or pursuing new activities. I may be obscured at the base of a corporate org chart, but I've gained the notice of senior executives through shipping quality work and promoting my value proposition. I have succeeded because I believe in myself, and  put the responsibility for my success in my own hands: there's nothing more destructive than entrusting your career and life successes to other people (who often have their own agendas).

I'm not afraid to say I hear a different beat
And I'll go out in the street, yeah
And I will shout it again
From the highest mountain

There is no shame in daring greatly and living a dynamic and enriching life. It's amazing how many other people I have encountered in the streets or on that highest mountain who share similar zest for leading a fulfilling life. And it's great to hear these people shout (or talk or blog) about how they had dared greatly, chose meaningful action-filled lives, elevated themselves after following the "Dude, Let's Try This!" attitude, and found their roads to awesome. These are the people of my tribes, and we all hear that beat of dreams and possibilities.