Love and Work

Love and Work

Today is Valentine’s Day, a holiday that reminds us of love. We mostly interpret that to mean “romantic love” or eros, which leaves the day fraught with peril for those who are between love interests. If you’re without a sweetheart, the day may be a stinging reminder that everywhere you look, someone else is getting a dozen roses.

I celebrate Valentine’s Day in a broader sense, focusing instead on a higher form of love, agape, a transcendent love, universal and unconditional. This is the love that I’m speaking of when I share the mission of my coaching practice: “To create a world where people love what they do and do what they love.” When we are in service to others through our work, that is a transcendent love. We are driven to make a difference and in spite of circumstances, in spite of the evidence (failure, disappointment, no results), we keep on working. We do it for love.

My coaching practice rose from the ashes of losing the job that brought us here to the Chicago area. After the shock and shame of getting fired, I lifted my head and asked myself, “What did I learn? Where was I responsible for this mess?” Truth was, I was not fit for that job. I ignored the signs, to my peril. Once I accepted that I was 100% responsible for what had happened, I made a powerful choice: I would never again stay in a job that didn’t fit. I committed myself from that time on to loving my work and helping others love theirs.

Sigmund Freud said “Love and work are the cornerstones to our humanness.” I would venture to say “Love of work is the cornerstone to our humanness.” Look at how much time we spend at work…most of our waking hours. I had a colleague once who complained daily about her job. When I gently offered to provide some career coaching to her, she sighed and said, “No, that’s all right. I only have eleven more years until retirement.”

ELEVEN MORE YEARS! I think of my friend Sheryl, who died at 56 of a brain aneurysm, unable to see her daughter graduate high school. I think of men who have heart attacks within months of retirement, having tolerated their work with the vision of golf courses in their heads, now too weak to walk. Plan for the future, yes, but don’t live for the future. The future is now. We have the right–and the responsibility–to love what we do so that we can make a difference in the world. There is urgency in this message! We must love what we do because as far as I know, this is our one shot. As the poet Mary Oliver wrote in her poem “The Summer Day,” “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I hope on this Valentine’s Day you’re surrounded by all types of love–love of friends and family, your pets, your home and your work. Most of all I hope you love the choices you’ve made. If not, you can make new choices. There’s still time but time, like your life, is precious. Act now. Let me know if I can help.

An Homage to Mothers

An Homage to Mothers

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and like many women of my generation, I’ll be missing my own mom on this invented holiday. My mom, Geri Axford, passed away in 2009 and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. She left me with a wealth of memories, a valued practical streak that offsets the idealism I inherited from my dad, and a treasure trove of “Momisms.” (One of my favorites: “Anything’s good if it’s deep-fat fried.”).

I was startled to learn that as the tradition of Mother’s Day turns 100 years old, the founder–Anna Jarvis–was vehemently against the commercialism of the day. Originally, Mothers’ Day (then plural) was intended to inspire mothers who were mourning the loss of their soldier sons to fight for peace. According to an article in National Geographic Daily News by Brian Handwerk, Anna’s own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, was her inspiration: Mrs. Jarvis rallied other mothers to work for sanitary conditions and later cared for wounded soldiers from the Civil War. In 1914, Mother’s Day (now singular) was hijacked by U.S. President Herbert Hoover and, in spite of Ms. Jarvis’ protestations, some of which got her thrown in jail, the holiday prevailed as an opportunity to up the profits of restaurants, flower shops and boutiques. According to Mr. Handwerk, Mother’s Day spending this year may top $19.9 billion.

A lot has changed since I became a mother back in 1979. When I entered the work world in earnest in 1981 as a hospital communications specialist, women were just starting to make inroads in the business world. We underplayed our roles as wives and mothers, hoping that we could fly under the radar so that the badge of motherhood wouldn’t handicap us. Even if it meant working that “second shift,” handling all our housework and domestic affairs between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., we didn’t want to be stereotyped. Our suits of armor–the ubiquitous navy blue suit and the ridiculous maroon bow tie–were a reflection of our desperate desire to fit into a man’s world. There was no maternity pay, no family leave law, no flex-time, no telecommuting. We hid our commitments to soccer games and school plays from our bosses lest they impede our climb up the career ladder. Now, of course, the rules have changed–thank God. Moms can be moms, fully integrated as workers committed to families and their jobs and careers.

Geri AxfordSo here’s to mothers, all of them–those who stay home and work the relentless cycle of childcare and homemaking, those who work outside the home in order to make a living and provide for their families and those who set an example in the workplace that we could, indeed, do both. I thank my own mother who, although sometimes befuddled by my relentless ambition, supported me all the way. And I thank my children, Kitty and William, who made me a mother, subject to all the joys, heartaches and satisfaction that role brings. I celebrate my sister and sisters-in-law who shared in those early years, providing maternity clothes, hand-me-downs for the kids and the trade secrets of motherhood that kept me sane. I’m grateful to have been on the receiving end of the many women in business who inspired me along the way, and thrilled that there are now so many more choices for our daughters.

Happy Mother’s day, Mom.

 

[Masthead photo: www.jewelryhottopics.blogspot.com]

You Gotta Get a Gimmick

You Gotta Get a Gimmick

My brief theatrical career included playing a “Toreadorable” in a summer stock production of “Gypsy” when I was about 13. My sister had dragged me to the auditions because of her own thespian ambitions, and I think she just liked having some company and a ready-made fan in me, so I suddenly found myself in the chorus. Now, forty-plus years later, I can still sing every word of every song in that libretto. My favorite song is “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” the refrain of a song sung by three strippers who are instructing young Louise before she turns into the unforgettable Gypsy Rose Lee. Their sage advice is to get a gimmick that makes you stand out from everyone else.

The same holds true in the world of business. What makes people remember you? Maybe you aren’t wearing phony Roman soldier regalia and carrying a horn like one of the strippers in “Gypsy”–at least, I hope not. But each of us has our own unique style and sensibility. “Gimmick” implies that it’s false but I prefer to think that the essence of this theme is to find something special about yourself and then use it, leverage it, let yourself be known for it. For Jeffrey Gitomer, he’s known not only for his brash and in-your-face sales advice but he’s recognizable in his red shirt with his name patch sewn onto the chest, looking like an upscale mechanic. Another world-class speaker, Patricia Fripp, wears stylish hats that set her apart in a crowd. And her British accent, along with her nuggets of wisdom which she calls “Frippisms,” make her undeniably unique. Think George Will and his bowtie, Louise Nevelson and her turban, George Burns and his cigar.

Last year I was interviewed by a Wall Street Journal reporter, Elizabeth Bernstein, for a column she writes called “Bonds” (it’s about relationships, not financial instruments). Her article was about being a diva, and I was delighted to respond as a source. I’d been encouraging business women for years to redefine the word “Diva” to mean a woman who knows what she wants, knows how to get what she wants and honors the people who support her. When Elizabeth asked me what was diva-like about me, though, I was stumped. Somehow, I ended up describing my love of vintage jewelry, born during a time when that was all I could afford, my signature pearls and red lipstick. I defaulted to describing my style. Like Jeffrey Gitomer’s red shirt, it’s a uniform I put on every day because it feels like an expression of the authentic “me.”

So what’s your “gimmick?” What do you do or say or wear that most expresses your brand and your style? What makes you unique and unforgettable? Please share about your own way of expressing yourself that sets you apart from everyone else. We’d love to know.

[Photo: The Village Voice]

Swimming in Choices

Swimming in Choices

We are swimming in choices. That can be a good thing–in fact, I named my business CHOICES Worldwide in order to emphasize the power of choice in our businesses and careers. The freedom to choose our vocations based on our unique gifts, talents and abilities is an awesome right and responsibility.

But the choices I’m talking about here are the overwhelming ones we experience in today’s marketplace. Think of your last visit to Home Depot: did you get dizzy just walking down the aisle? And if you’re out of your usual milieu, as I am at Home Depot, the multitude of options for things that I a) don’t know what they are and b) wouldn’t know how to use even if I did know what they were is mind-blowing. Even in an environment I understand, like Target, I can get that same sense of overload. Look at the toothpaste shelves–so many choices! Teeth-whitening, tartar-fighting, fluroride, sensitive teeth, mint, regular… sometimes I just grab one and run.

The abundance of choices and our freedom to choose may be overrated, according to Sheena Iyengar, a prominent social psychologist at Columbia Business School and the author of The Art of Choosing (Twelve, 2010). Dr. Iyengar and her colleagues have done research on the cultural implications of choice, why people make the decisions they make and what drives us to choose. Whether we’re choosing among toothpastes or making more sobering choices related to our careers, we overstate the role of choice in our lives.

In an interview from “Knowledge@Wharton,” Dr. Iyengar shares why a multitude of choices don’t always bring us what we want. “It turns out that we don’t always recognize our preferences even though our choices are supposed to be in line with them,” she says, citing research she’s done at the University of Pennsylvania. When asking seniors what they wanted in a job at three different intervals, the students changed their answers along the way. In the end, the correlation between what they said they wanted at the beginning of the experiment and what they got when they graduated in May was “utterly non-significant.” And the people who remembered what they originally said they wanted were less satisfied with the job offers they had accepted. “Maybe there is some truth to [what our grandmothers told us, that] happiness doesn’t come from getting what you want, but wanting what you got,” Dr. Iyengar says.

The pursuit of the American dream is based on some assumptions—that our choices are limitless, more is better and choices affirm our individuality and freedom. But the work shared by Dr. Iyengar challenges these assumptions. She cites instances where, given too many options among financial products, employee participation in a 401(K) plan dropped 15%. Overwhelmed by options and exhausted by the volume of choices we make in our lives, we become disengaged. And this can have a powerful impact on us, not just as consumers baffled by 24 varieties of toothpaste but also in our role as business leaders.

Past research has shown that employees report greater job satisfaction when given a high degree of choice. A recent article, “Tiptoeing Toward Freedom” in Columbia Business School’s “Ideas at Work” blog, reported that Dr. Iyengar and graduate student Roy Chua conducted experiments to test how giving employees autonomy and decision-making latitude can impact their perceptions of managers as leaders. Those leaders who offered their employees limited (my emphasis) choices—“some options, but not too many”—were seen as more effective. Too many choices, however, gave employees the perception that their leaders were not as competent or conscientious.

In this high-tech, 24/7 world, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the choices we have to make. Whether you’re thinking about what’s next for you in your career or choosing from a menu, save your brainpower for the choices that matter. And when it comes to toothpaste, grab a box and run.

Note: Some parts of this blog were originally written for and published in the First Illinois Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) Chapter newsletter, First Illinois Speaks.  

Is the Rolodex Obsolete?

Is the Rolodex Obsolete?

Last week I responded to a tweet in which Tom Peters referred to people who are 40 as “elderly.” I asked, “If 40 is elderly, what happened to ’40 is the new 20?'” To which Tom replied directly to me, “Speaking of age and looking at your bio & book title, can one be understood in 2013 if he/she uses the word ‘Rolodex?'”

Now, I’ve been razzed before about using the term “Your Golden Rolodex,” but never by someone as renowned as Tom Peters. Mr. Peters, as you may know, is an über-guru of management consulting, a prolific author, a highly sought-after speaker and someone whose work I’ve admired since the 1980s when he blasted onto the scene with his co-author Robert Waterman with In Search of Excellence.

After the initial mortification of being called out on Twitter by one of my business idols, I recovered and tweeted back, “Excellent point.” Then I assured him that I always check in with my audience to make sure they know what a Rolodex is. We had a few more volleys via Twitter and while I know I sound like a schoolgirl with a crush, my heart nearly burst when I saw that Tom is now following me on Twitter.

RolodexesWhen it comes to using the term “Rolodex,” I am, like Tom Peters, a contrarian. Just because it isn’t “hip” to say you use a Rolodex doesn’t mean people don’t still have them. They do–and sometimes two, as you’ll note in this photo. These Rolodexes are on the desk of Dave Brewer, the office administrator at my church. Dave is the guy with the Platinum Rolodex. I learned very early in my days here in Wheaton that if I needed a resource, any resource, all I had to do was call Dave. He knows everyone, and he has the Rolodexes to prove it.

Anna Jane Grossman blogged on Gizmodo about “The Life and Death of the Rolodex” as she shared about her book Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By. She tells the story of her dad’s attachment to his Rolodex, which reminded me of my own dad. And Anna Jane reported that during her research, she reached out to the daughter of the inventor of the Rolodex, Arnold Neustadter, to let her know that Anna Jane would be including the Rolodex in her book Obsolete. Jane Revasch, Mr. Neustadter’s daughter, got “huffy.” Here’s Ms. Revasch’s response, from Anna Jane’s blogpost:

“They still work! You just can’t carry them around… You know, look at it this way: computers get viruses! But the Rolodex, it’s never taken a sick day in its life.

Just for the record, I gave up using a Rolodex a while ago… I now store all my precious contacts in ACT!, a contact management software program with all the bells and whistles. But the concept of a Rolodex–a place to store key connections, to hold everyone near and dear to you, colleagues and friends, a treasure trove that represents the rich index of possibility based on relationships in which you’ve invested or plan to invest–that metaphor “Rolodex” will be with us for a long, long time.

I’m counting on it.

 

 

Putting the “Dead” Back in “Deadline”

Putting the “Dead” Back in “Deadline”
Pere Lachaise Cemetery

The graveyard is full of great ideas that were never heard (Photo: Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France)

My friend Greg Crawford had a wonderful saying he once shared with me. “I love deadlines,” he deadpanned. “I love the sound of them as they go whooshing by…”

Boy, can I relate. Even with the discipline of having been a journalist for a daily newspaper (read: daily deadlines), I struggle with those commitments, mostly the ones I make to myself. That’s why I loved hearing the audio promo from the August 2013 issue of SUCCESS magazine, in which Publisher and Founding Editor Darren Hardy cites a story about a French mathematician who learned the value of deadlines.

Évariste Galois was a young Frenchman who was born with amazing brilliance in math, particularly algebra. But it wasn’t until he was challenged to a duel that he took the time to furiously scribble 60 pages of notes, ideas that would later lead to a revolution in higher algebra. Sadly, Monsieur Galois lost the duel… thereby putting the “dead” back in “deadline.”

Why is it we’re our most productive when there’s a (literal or figurative) gun to our head? Mr. Hardy of SUCCESS Magazine says this story demonstrates the need for tension, pressure and urgency to push our ideas out of us. “Otherwise the feeling that we have an endless amount of time is insidious and debilitating to the mind,” he writes in his publisher’s letter. “Our attention and thoughts become fractured and dispersed. Our lack of intensity makes it difficult to jolt our brain into high gear, into that higher state of creativity and mental lucidity.”

One of the reasons I love coaching people in mid-career is because somewhere around 40, we start to hear the ticking of that proverbial biological clock. The career trajectory that we saw as endless opportunity in our 20s suddenly has some very real parameters around it. If we don’t do what we were designed to do now, then when? Barbara Sher wrote a book called It’s Only Too Late if You Don’t Start NowJohann Wolfgang von Goethe, known as Germany’s Shakespeare, is often quoted as having said “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Maybe the  best quote of all is from Dr. Wayne Dyer: “Don’t die with the music still in you.”

In other words, we need to get off our duffs (OK, need to get off my duff) and get busy, creating whatever it is we’re going to create. If you want to start a business, begin working on a plan. If you’re dying to become a professional speaker, sign up for one of the many National Speakers Association Speakers Academies around the country. (Shameless plug: I’m dean of the one in Chicago that starts in September–visit NSA-IL for details.) If you have an aria to sing, find a stage and some folks to listen.

While we may not be facing a duel tomorrow morning at sunrise, we don’t get any guarantees. What would you scribble on those 60 pages if you knew your days–even minutes–were numbered? What’s the music still left inside of you?