Monday, May 27, 2013

How To Be Awesome When You Aren't Feeling Awesome

I recently participated in a recreational 5k race in which I felt like a tired dog. I had partied very vigorously the evening before and not preparing adequately before the race compromised my mental and physical stamina.

Several times during the race, I felt completely dehydrated and exhausted. During at least six separate occasions I slowed down to a brisk walk. I felt the ill effects of imbibing copious shots of dark rum the night before. It was surprising that I managed to finish the race, and only missed my personal record by two minutes--the event felt like a grueling ordeal which lasted hours. After steadily improving my personal record over the past few races, I was mildly upset after turning in a half-assed effort.

After picking up the participants' ribbon, I could have stormed home all mad at myself for turning in a stercoraceous effort. But I stuck around for about fifteen minutes, near the finish line, to cheer on the fellow runners. It was a revelation to see the exhausted-yet-smiling faces of other participants as they crossed the finish line--their joyous expressions quickly elevated my mood. The running community is, after all, the one where people encourage each other and enjoy the camaraderie (I have yet to witness an "I-ran-like-shit-so-I'm-gonna-take-my-marbles-and-go-home" tantrum at any of the events that I participated in). It felt good to cheer on other people's accomplishments.

I've played many recreational flag football games where I contributed minimally, but enjoyed watching others' kick-ass playmaking exploits. I've played shows where I wasn't feeling the groove and the band sounded less than optimal. But it felt good to let go and thoroughly enjoy other bands who were also playing at the club that night. Not surprisingly, that's how I've made new connects and parlayed them into interesting experiences later on. There are benefits to showing up, putting in the work, and spreading goodwill, even on days where I'm average instead of good or great.

One of the lasting images from recent times is a scene at the end of the 2010 World Series. Immediately after the San Francisco Giants beat the Texas Rangers in the final game, San Francisco players stormed onto the field to celebrate. One of the first guys who rushed the field from Giants' dugout was a former star pitcher whose struggles that season turned him into an bench-warming spectator during his team's playoff run. He may have been dissatisfied with his own performance, but his enthusiasm and joy after the series-clinching game were a refreshing sight to see.

Sometimes there are days when the rainbows are obscured by dark skies and thunderstorms. There are days when you feel like you're riding a cockhorse instead of a unicorn. When those days happen, it helps to enjoy the moment and focus on the awesomeness going on elsewhere.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Hustling Knowledge

For a long time, I presumed that "hustling" was something that was associated with drug dealers, pimps, pyramid scheme advocates, and others who indulged in activities of questionable legality. But upon researching the concept further, I have come to the conclusion that hustling is about dealing in things that were obtained in questionable manners. One definition from Merriam-Webster defines hustle as, "to sell something to or obtain something from by energetic and especially underhanded activity."

That's when I realized that I'm a knowledge hustler. I obtain and share some knowledge through "underhanded activities."

No, I'm not talking about being involved in narcotics trade, prostitution ring, or Wall Street insider trading. I'm referring to my passion for making connections, forging relationships, and creating communities where knowledge is gladly exchanged. I reach out to these connects by exposing them to my personal brand, displaying a passion for learning, finding success through deliberate work and innovation, and not giving a damn about people who want to "put me in my place." I make meaningful connections and build flourishing relationships in my professional career not on the basis of my job title, but through my enthusiasm for learning, my action-focused disposition, and desire to build relationships. People in my network care more about what I can share and learn, instead of where I am on the org chart. Mind of a Hustler website defines a hustler as "someone who is or has been hungry." And I am damn hungry for learning, experiencing, and sharing knowledge.

I hustle knowledge by rejecting the outdated notion that learning is something that is only done during a day job, or while taking classes. While some people invest in real estate, fancy cars, or expensive pastimes, I invest in my lifelong learning and seek opportunities to expand my knowledge--even if some of these activities come with high price tags. I take several learning vacations each year (for those who are shocked at reading this, I have a friend who has been attending annual gatherings for theater teachers on her own time and dime--for twenty years!). The experience and newfound connections are worth the price of admission. These "studycations" help me learn skills to work at a very high level.

I hustle my value proposition by discovering, creating, and nurturing my communities. I learn about the interests of my connects and introduce them to other folks in my tribes, or hook them up with resources that I come across. These resources include innovative books or articles which appeal to my connects, and people or organization whom my connects share a common bond with. I hustle through my writing, social media activities, and real-life interactions.

Hustling is the key to learning and sharing. I wasted many years trying to be obedient and asking for permission from others about my learning opportunities. That was a stupid move--no one else in the world is ever going to advocate for your lifelong learning goals, and it's up to you to make things happen. Your employer can't buy you books or pay for you to attend workshops that is going to help with your learning goals? Obtain books through other means, and invest in learning vacations. Is your workplace too busy to offer mentorships? Research the people in your communities and initiate regular meetings with people with whom you can learn from and share knowledge with. Pretty soon, others will recognize you as a Subject Matter Expert, and fellow hustlers will seek you out ("game recognize game").

Want to pursue hustling as a lifelong goal? Life Without Pants site (written by Matt Cheuvront) is a great resource to dig into. Lifehacker site has some articles (including "Don't Wait--Hustle When You Want to Learn New Things") that are useful. These are all great resources for hustling knowledge on your own terms--and not waiting for permission to learn.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Caveats About Makers and Haters

I recently posted about strategies for promoting a culture of inclusivity, connectedness, and knowledge sharing. Those are the values which I espouse and live every day. However, I left out a big caveat about living these values: not everyone appreciates them.

There are people out there who prey on the generosity of others. They come in forms of takers, power-obsessed sycophants, backstabbers, and those who exhibit other undesirable behaviors. They inevitably come with baggage and drama. These people are not your target audience for the knowledge and generosity that you have to offer.

Imagine yourself investing your time, energy, and emotions sharing your precious ideas and actions with best intentions: you're making things happen that will benefit others in your communities. You spend countless hours honing your skills and applying your knowledge into exemplary products. You share these efforts only to discover that your work is being undermined, sabotaged, and discredited. Who you thought was part of your tribe perpetrates drama and shows patterns of jealousy. They will do things within their power to bring you down.

When unsure about whether someone is abusing your goodwill and trust, let them go. Just walk away from them. Don't feed the trolls. Some of them will eventually change their views and attitudes, and may be worthy of reaching out to in the future. If that happens, it's a bonus! But some people are so deep in their own shit that they are utterly clueless (and usually useless to you). They may have some deeply-ingrained issues that are simply not your problems. Why try to force a VHS video cassette to work in a Betamax machine?

You are already functioning highly within your communities. You have many talented and inspirational expert friends in your circles, and you regret not spending time with them more frequently. Why would you want to sabotage your time dealing with energy vampires? If some folks have values and actions that are incompatible with your own personal brand, let them go.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Haters Gonna Hate, Makers Gonna Make

I usually surround myself with action-oriented, creative people whom I can learn from. Everyone is approachable and willing to share their knowledge and experience, and they respect what I can contribute. I'm fortunate to be around such a nurturing environment. I credit my personal and professional successes to the people and the culture of these groups.

Unfortunately, I am sometimes forced to spend time in toxic environments where my talents, accomplishments, connects, and personal brand are seen as threats to others. There are people who are jealous of my successes and take steps to backstab, discredit, and undermine my accomplishments. These people, who are obsessed with status, rank, or prestige, believe in playing a zero-sum game. They try to isolate you from your successful tribes and try to manipulate you. They try to make their shortcomings and insecurities your problem.

It would be easy to spend rest of this post about the woes of these toxic cultures and dysfunctional relationships. Jay-Z noted, in his memoir Decoded, observed that becoming successful results in more people who want to take you down. Whether it's surviving a hardscrabble 'hood, a cutthroat music business, or a predatory workplace culture, haters gonna hate. But what if we flip the script and contemplate how to best establish and nurture an environment of connectedness, inclusivity, and opportunities? Several strategies can help with these goals.

Learning about others people's interests, sharing knowledge, and collaborating: I attended a documentation conference a while ago. One of the fellow attendees was a colleague from my place of employment who worked in a different group. We both contributed informal presentations at the conference, and we rocked our presentations. We reached out to one another during and after the conference and discovered that we were both interested in transforming culture, life hacks and curating knowledge. We now exchange resources on regular basis, meet regularly after work, and riff on transformational ideas.

This concept will pay dividends over time. I have established relationships with people from the annual professional academic support conference which I attend regularly. Over the years, my value proposition and commitment to the organization have led to participating in a productive Mastermind group, being tapped to provide career advice to fellow members, and presenting at conference sessions. I look forward to being a part of three conference sessions this November.

Connecting resources: Some of my tech friends and I are part of highly-involved regulars at our local watering hole, who have lent our technical expertise and innovation to the success and the reputation of our hangout. One developer friend developed the digital menu board at the business, and its eye-catching appeal and effectiveness have turned many customers' heads. Recently I was enjoying libations with him at the hangout. I overheard a party sitting couple tables away being in awe of the technology behind the display. One of the guys was also talking about establishments in a foreign country where my friend is expanding his business in. I politely introduced myself to the folks in the party and introduced my friend to the entire group, as "the designer of the display board." Before I left the hangout, one of the guys at the table and my friends (who were engaged in deep conversation after I introduced them) were exchanging contact information. The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin wrote about the satisfaction she feels whenever she plays a role in connecting people, and I share the same sentiment.

Taking advantage of lucky breaks and spreading opportunities: Back in college, I signed up for an introductory course in Electronic Music even though I did not possess the prerequisites to enroll in the class (I managed to sneak in due to a technical glitch in the automated class enrollment system). The small class consisted of about eight people--seven of whom were serious music majors, and myself. Instead of booting me out of the class based on my lack of credentials, the professor treated me like a peer. I showed lots of interest in learning the academic and technical elements of the course material, and was encouraged to enroll in the advanced Electronic Music course the following term.

Around that time, I had couple of good friends (and fellow students) who were interested in electronic music. I gave them an unauthorized after-hours tour of the electronic music lab, and they were very curious about the equipment and the curriculum (this was back in the days when electronic music gear was beyond the reach of poor, cash-strapped students). I approached my professor couple of days later and told them about my friends who were interested in taking the introductory course the following term. The professor liked what I was contributing to the class, and took a flier on my friends who, like I, didn't have the prerequisites needed to enroll in the class. For the next three years, my friends contributed greatly to classroom discussions and were among the top talents in the program. They made a name for themselves, and they are both still composing music some twenty years later, with many commercial releases to their credit. Even though I wasn't one of the top students in the program, I'm glad that I took the opportunity to introduce my friends to the lucky break that I was provided.

Being inclusive: Over five years ago, I was hanging out at one of the many beer festival events which take place in town. My friends were those from my circle of goth friends. While at the festival, I met--in person for the first time--a friend whom I had met through an online blogging community. Since it was the right thing to do, I introduced my new friend to the folks whom I was chilling with. Couple of days later, my new friend had thanked me for "being inclusive." That comment left an indelible imprint on what would become a part of my personal brand. Ironically, my friend, who is a fellow blogger and a long-time serious runner, helped me feel welcome earlier this year when I started participating in running activities. Her writings about the inclusive nature of the running community has inspired me to embrace the sport with added interest.

I'm very fortunate and spoiled being in environments where it's second nature for people to celebrate others' talents and knowledge, and to promote new connections. So when others try to shit on me with their jealousies and insecurities, I don't always respond well to those threats. During times of adversity, it helps me to think about how I've used my personal brand and value proposition to create environments and tribes which reflect how I visualize my surroundings.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Wishing Is Not A Strategy

Couple of weeks ago, I learned that an interesting and compelling event was happening in New York City while I was vacationing in the city. The feeling of excitement immediately turned into a moment of sadness when I found out that the 99U productivity conference for creatives was sold out. It would have been logistically difficult for me to attend anyway, since the price of admission was on the expensive side.

I caught myself wistfully wishing that I was able to attend the 99U conference. Immediately I realized that line of thinking (and approaching goals) was an exercise in futility. Very little of my accomplishments in my life happened as a result of wishing something--most of my output happened after I turned my wants into results through work. It's time I reframe my "wishes" into wants, and devise strategies for attaining those wants.

Wishing for something to happen puts your fate in hands of others. That's not a trade-off that I'm willing to negotiate. If I want something to happen, I'm going to take steps to get closer to that goal: I'm going to do the work. There is an intrinsic joy in wanting something, discovering what it takes to make it happen, making choices which leads me closer to the goal, gaining insight during the journey, getting it done, and learning how to do it better next time.

The huge pile of work orders that need to be processed upon my return from vacation? I'm going to get them done with quality, care, and integrity. The 5k run that I'm running in two weeks? I'm doing practice runs and scheduling gym sessions during weeks leading up to the event. Work orders do not get done by wishing them away; my conditioning for running races don't improve by simply wishing.

Do you wish that you were popular? How about accepting what your values are, and searching for similar-minded tribes with whom you could contribute to and learn from? How about identifying the venues and arenas in which you could flourish in, rather than aiming to be everything to everyone? If you spend your time wishing that everyone could be in love with you, someone might transform you into a processed, prepackaged meat product instead.

Wishing for an outcome and seeing underwhelming results also breeds a fertile environment in which excuses thrive in. We often find it easy to blame other people or circumstances when things do not turned out as planned. There is a vast forest of unknowns that can be assigned blame. But if you want something and put in the work, the colossal forest can be broken down into manageable chunks where it's easier to identify what can be done better next time.

I'm surrounded and inspired by friends who live the "I want to" paradigm instead of simply wishing for certain outcomes. A friend who was frustrated by the constraints of working in a corporate IT client support environment learned mobile app development on her own time, volunteered her Saturday mornings teaching classes to STEM-curious youths, and transformed her career to where she has greater autonomy, interesting work, and better peace of mind. Another friend has spent years of disciplined practice building her glass jewelry creation skills, learning from and contributing to her artists' community, and becoming an expert in her trade. She recently taught classes at a commercial glass studio/workshop and gave public demonstrations at a convention. Both of these friends knew that simply wishing for outcomes weren't going to cut it. I have countless other friends who inspire me through their dedication to learning, sharing, and growing.

There are several things that I want to happen. Instead of "wishing that I didn't weigh so much," I want to learn how to improve my nutrition, establish a healthy habit of getting ample sleep every night, and engage in fitness activities several times a week. The "I want a meaningful job" desire is reframed as, "I want to work on my strengths at my current job, identify opportunities where I can create visible successes, learn skills which would get me closer to where I want to be, and build relationships with people and communities whom I can learn from and contribute my knowledge to."  The "I wish that someone would notice my talents and expertise" fantasy is reframed as, "Promote my brand and value proposition, identify and nurture my tribes and communities, and do the work." No one is going to advocate for my future, no matter how many times I might wish for that to happen.

Even though I didn't attend the 99U conference, I visited the site and took pictures of the signage and the conference area. I want visual reminders of what it would be like to attend, participate in, and contribute to the conference in the future. I did a similar thing last summer when I missed attending the inspiring World Domination Summit in Portland. I attended the open-to-the-public after-party to soak up the vibes. I kept up with the organization's activities throughout the year, and I purchased a ticket for this summer's summit when they went on sale earlier this year. I'll be part of the action instead of wishing that I could be there. It's time that I traded in my magic wand for action pants.