When I get to the gym early enough, I like to snap a picture of the sun rising over the city.
Some photos turn out better than others, but I've realized there's one must-have trick to getting a great snapshot of the sun as it breaks through the darkness:
You have to get up early.
There is no other way to take a picture of the sunrise other than waking up before the sun.
Beautiful things require effort. If they seem to elude you lately, look at your work ethic and challenge yourself to step your game up.
Yesterday, my friend Matt Cheuvront posted an "inspiring" video. While the dedication of the student athlete and his physical prowess is admirable, the speech in the video is less than helpful. The story of the young man and the guru is told (which I've written about before) and then the speaker encourages his listeners that in order to be successful, they must want that success more than parties, sleep, or TV.
I can surely appreciate the sentiment. I am a big believer that often what stands in the way of us achieving a dream is the 30 minutes lost to a sitcom rerun or the discipline of rising early to carve out time to work on something that matters.
But, where I draw the line is at the notion that success is equal to income. As the speaker in this video articulates with the examples he uses, one will only be deemed successful when they forget to sleep because they are earning wads of money.
That notion of success is too narrow.
Any definition of success that does not include an appropriate valuing of human relationships is garbage and should be thrown out like the trash it is.
Are parties not as important as succeeding, as the speaker suggests? Maybe. But skip every party you're asked to and soon your friends will stop inviting you, no matter how many awards you win. Is money nice to have? Certainly. But it's no fun if you can't spend it on those you love because your life is absent of any significant relationship.
Screw the definitions of success that are dictated by dollar signs. I say work your crappy, unexciting job if it means you make enough to spend on those you love while spending quality time with them, too. Chances are good that the people who care about you the most don't give a rip what title is printed on your business card (I bet they've never seen your business card). Instead, they want to know that you'll be at dinner, at the dance recital, and at the beach with them next summer. They want you there at bath time, bedtime, and story time.
And if you want success money more than you want relationships, then chances are good you're headed for personal failure. You fail when your life is full of regret. And the best way to live a life as free of regret as possible is to take it easy once in a while. Or a lot of once in a whiles, especially if it means you can sleep late next to someone you love, party hard with lifelong friends, or teach your child how to kick back and do nothing at all.
Don't believe motivational speakers when they tell you that you have to ignore everything else to be successful. They're peddling a lie. Instead, believe your family when they say they want to see you more often.
Go home, take a walk with them at sunset, and breathe deeply knowing that at that moment, you are the most successful person in the world, doing the only thing that matters right then.
In my line of work, I get asked a lot, "Where are you going?" It's an easy enough question to answer, filled with city names or airport codes.
But I always remind myself - every time I'm asked that question - why I'm going. I go to speak or consult, but I also go to work and share ideas so I can help build a life with the two people I love the most.
We have to remember why we go, and not just where we're headed. Because a destination without a purpose is nothing but wandering.
And while you can wander for a season, flitting about as freely a spirit as you wish, it's no way to spend your entire existence.
Mesmerizing, charming, humorous, and whimsical, these videos can excite something within us, and dare us to buy a plane ticket to anywhere but where we are now. Watch the video and be transported to Asia, Africa, the middle of the ocean - anywhere you dream of going, Matt has probably been there (and danced there).
Our why doesn't only relate to travel. It can relate to our jobs, our hobbies, our commitments, and our time. If you find yourself working late, hating your career, or confused at what this all means, asking yourself why it is you do what you do helps you remember that you're not simply wandering. You have purpose. You have priorities. You have plans.
For me, all of those come back to a people. Life on a stage and in various airports brings me a step closer to being the kind of dad and husband I long to be. Talking to business professionals or college students is a very empty task unless I'm also able to communicate with my two biggest fans each day.
I just finished Simon Sinek's book, Start With Why. A great read, the book reminds us that the best companies and movements in the world try first to answer the question of why they do what they do. Then, they determine how they'll do it and what they'll do in order to bring their core purpose into existence.
We have to do the same. We have to hold tight to our why. It's our compass, pointing us to where the work is and then pulling us back home again when the job is done. Travel without the compass of "Why?" and you'll just be going in circles, spending decades moving but with no real progress.
So let me ask you: "Why are you going? Why do you do what you do? Why are you?"
Some very quick self-promotion today, if you don't mind.
First up is a short (less than four minutes) video of me speaking about the future of Nashville (where I live). Give it a look and think about whether or not you're a resident of your city or a citizen (I explain the difference in the video).
And, here's a link to a longer radio interview I did recently, talking about my career moves that helped me get where I am. Give it a listen and see if something sparks an idea within for your next move. (Or, right click to download it and throw it on your iPod for your next 38-minute jog.)
I was waiting to board my flight out of Fort Lauderdale, talking on the phone with my friend Adrian and pacing as we caught up, told stories, gave advice, and offered encouragement.
And as I walked and talked waiting for boarding time, I heard a bird nearby. Sure enough, two small birds had found their way into the terminal and were chasing each other, flitting about rapidly, resting on a ledge near a big tall window.
I wonder if they looked out the window in between bursts of indoor flight. I wonder if they saw the planes making their way from the gates, revving up, racing down the runway and quickly climbing high above.
And if they did, I wonder if their heart longed to do what they were best at: fly freely.
We find ourselves in similar situations, I’m guessing. We have natural talents or skills we've honed over the years. We each have something we enjoy doing so much that it makes our heart sing. But sometimes, all we can do is look out our window at everyone else who looks like they're making it, taking off toward their dream of doing something great.
And where does it leave us? We feel trapped. We feel misguided by the advice someone once told us to do what we love and what makes us happy. We tried and it just got us stuck somewhere near the Internet and every time we stopped for just a moment it looked like everyone else was taking off while we were stranded, flightless and nearly hopeless.
Take heart. Just because you’re not soaring right now like everyone else doesn't mean you’re ultimately incapable of flying. You know how to increase speed, create lift, and climb higher.
You just need to get out of the terminal and onto the runway.
That’s the hardest advice to come by, truthfully, and I wish I could conclude this blog post with a handful of easy ways to do that. I wish there were a book to read, a video to watch, or a guru to consult to make sure that you’d be at cruising altitude by lunchtime.
But all I can tell you (and tell myself) is to keep trying. Keep flying where you are, even if big windows and a ceiling have you feeling like you can’t escape. Because I really believe (for you and me) that very soon, the door or window will open up and we’ll be free.
We may even find a crack in the wall we can slip through. Our job in the meantime is to make sure we’re ready for flight when the conditions become favorable.
Meetings suck.I try to go to as few as possible. If a meeting is called and as best I can tell the only point is to give status updates, then I won't go. Some may argue that the point of meetings is to build camaraderie and get to know one another. I've never seen this happen well around a big board room. If you want to do that, go to lunch, go camping, go on a walk - just go. Staying in the office and building teamwork rarely works.
If I call a meeting, I always use the following agenda. You can personalize it for your specific needs. If these three things don't happen, then you don't need to meet.
Facing a problem or big decision at work? Use a meeting to discuss what the issue is and solicit input. Some of this can be done via email, but meeting lets you hear from people verbally (as well as gauge emphasis and body language). It also allows for spontaneous conversation and up-to-date ideas and information. Use meetings to discuss the issue at hand.
Make a decision. Sometimes, you'll need to retreat away after the meeting and reflect on all the input before you decide. But, forcing yourself to make a decision in the meeting (or at least arrive at a preliminary consensus) makes the time more useful and the situation more urgent (which should generate a better discussion). Meetings are for deciding something.
Whatever you decide, put in place a plan of action to get it done. Assign tasks. Determine responsibility. Announce deadlines. Put the wheels of action in motion while everyone is in the same room and their focus is fresh since the topic and action steps are in the forefront of their minds. The time for doing is now.
If your meeting agendas don't look like this, either stop meeting until they do or revamp them so that your meetings can be more productive.
What do you do to make your meetings more productive?
When you say you want to do something you’re passionate about, you really mean, when you think about it, that you want to do something that is right for you. Something that is fulfilling and feels like the thing you should be doing with your life.
As usual, this post is well thought-out, well researched, and well written. So, if you're curious about what it really means to be passionate about a job, read her post and then think about what engages you most.
What skill do you possess that you're great at doing? That you can do well almost without thinking? When do you have control over your work? When can you see your work making a difference?
Figure out what you need in your life to be fulfilled. Find that work. Then, as long as you have control over your hours and you can see how you help people, you will feel good about your work. And you know what happens when people feel good in their work? They stop asking themselves bullshit questions about what they are passionate about.
If you're thinking about taking the leap to start a new business, there are lots of things to consider. You'll need to set a budget for yourself and your family, you may need to find office space, you'll need to get all the legal stuff in order.
But I believe you must also consider the "Why?" behind starting a business. Your heart, soul, attention, and time will be poured into this endeavor. Therefore, you need a compelling reason to do it.
For me, when I'm asked to co-found a company, be the lead entrepreneur on something, or join a founding team, I have to have all of the following elements in place to jump in:
The right people
Who else is a part of this? Do I like working with them? Do they work hard? Will it be enjoyable to work with them? Do I admire what they've done so far? Will I learn something from them? Do we have similar values? Do we have different skill sets?
A big idea
I'm not interested in opening a coffee shop; I want to open 100 of them. Does this idea get me excited because it's a big, bold idea? Is it a disruptive idea? Is it innovative? Does it have the potential to reach lots of people? Will it change the way people think or interact?
A meaningful idea
Does this idea have social meaning? Could it change the world? Does it help people in some way? Does it meet a need that is currently being overlooked? Will I feel good or proud when I work on this?
A valuable idea
Will this make money? Could it possibly make a lot of money? What are the revenue streams? What are our costs? Would someone want to buy this one day? How big could this get?
All four of these qualities must be in place for me to consider launching something or helping to start something new. If they're not, then I pass. And if they're not in place for your business idea, I'd suggest you move on to the next idea on your list.
Starting something you don't care about with people you hate might still make you rich, but it won't make you happy. And if you can't be happy starting something, then stay where you are.
How do you measure your success at work? In life?
It's easy to measure them by monuments - the awards or promotion or recognition. But, we also need to take stock of the moments in life - those random instances where surprise or joy overcomes us and we know we're in the right spot.
We can consider ourselves successful when there's no where else we'd rather be.
Passion is a valuable thing. Many people want to build a career around it, but putting all your eggs in this basket may not be a good move.
Passion is rarely learned. You become passionate about something naturally, usually. It's a gut feeling, something visceral and emotional. You need this kind of fire in the core of your being to keep going when the going gets very, very tough.
But, you need more than this. You need to learn and hone skills. You need to get smart. You need to try new things, build new networks, and develop new relationships. You need to try hard things, to challenge and push yourself. Otherwise, you'll just rely on what you're naturally good at or what gets you excited. Sadly, these things may fade one day.
Taiwan is a barren rock in a typhoon-laden sea with no natural resources to live off of — it even has to import sand and gravel from China for construction — yet it has the fourth-largest financial reserves in the world. Because rather than digging in the ground and mining whatever comes up, Taiwan has mined its 23 million people, their talent, energy and intelligence — men and women.
While many other countries rely on what comes naturally - minerals in the ground - Taiwan has had to rely on education and intelligence. As a country, it didn't take what was given; it went and earned what couldn't be bought.
We must do the same with our careers. If you're lucky to have an innate skill or talent, then milk it for all its worth and earn as much as you can. But, along the way, be sure to combine that gift with real knowledge, new opportunities, and worthwhile challenges. Leverage your passion and your talents, but be sure to grow beyond that so that you can have a bevy of options when you need them most.