What If You Were Graduating Now?

Key Point: It’s never too late to take convocation advice. Across most North American and European campuses this past month, students regaled in caps and gowns have been listening to keynote speeches from distinguished leaders. Each speaker shared their best advice for that long post academia journey. The baby birds are all being nudged from their nests, propped up by the wise words of “eagles.”

My contention is that it’s never too late to embrace the sage insights shared with graduates. For many of us, taking each May as a renewed opportunity to have a graduation “do over,” and step into the world anew, could be a rather refreshing thought. Who says that convocation wisdom should be reserved for the newbies? And what if we intentionally considered every graduating season as a time to consider stepping out again? I’m in my 60’s, and I’d like to be able to think of myself as that fresh-faced beginner. 

Adam Grant is one of my favorite people, and although we’ve never personally met (he follows me on Twitter though), I think of him as one of my “thrive people.” I get advice from him all the time through the wonderfully connected world we live in. He is an organizational psychologist who has been repeatedly recognized as Wharton’s top-rated professor. He’s also written multiple New York Times bestsellers, including Give and Take – a must read, that makes the scientific case for why giving leads to success. This year, Grant delivered the commencement speech at Utah State University, where he shared some of the lessons from his years of research and teaching. So if you and I snuck into that ceremony, this is what we would have heard from professor Grant: 

  1. Be giving, abundant, generous AND invest in yourself first.

According to Grant’s research on teachers (as an example), the most effective ones were those that “cared deeply about their students but also did what we’re all supposed to do on airplanes – they secured their oxygen masks before assisting others. ‘They made sure to take care of their own needs first (which included identifying their limits and making sure to get the proper rest), then giving when they could. ‘They felt less altruistic,’ said Grant, ‘but they actually helped more. Their giving was energizing instead of exhausting.'”

  1. Apply grit to the right things; it’s ok to go to plan b, c… Maybe even z. 

Grant’s Advice: “Sometimes, quitting is a virtue. Grit doesn’t mean ‘keep doing the thing that’s failing.’ It means, ‘define your dreams broadly enough that you can find new ways to pursue them when your first and second plans fail.’ I needed to give up on my dream of making the NBA, but I didn’t need to give up on my dream of becoming a halfway decent athlete.”

It is important to find your purpose, apply what you’re good at, embrace what you like to do, define and stay true to your values. Those are the things NOT to quit on.

While being inspired by Grant, I thought I’d share this additional perspective to throw into the convocation message:   

  1. Don’t spend your life making up your mind by getting caught in the world of self-imposed “have to’s.”

This message was inspired by an HBR blog:

“Long ago I worked at a job I didn’t enjoy. It wasn’t a bad job; it was secure and pleasant. I was a success, but the job just wasn’t fulfilling in the ways I wanted. I spent my spare time tinkering with the simulations, research, and writing that still fascinate me. And the more I tinkered, the more I chafed at my job.

One day I complained to someone close to me, who gave me the gift of a question: ‘Then why don’t you quit your job and do what you want instead?’ I know the option of quitting seems obvious. It had occurred to me many times. But that was the first time I heard the ‘then why don’t you’ part.

Why hadn’t I quit? Because I’d wrapped myself in a thicket of ‘have to’s.’ I have to have a steady income. I have to have the respect that comes with a business card from a leading-edge company. I have to, not I want to. Assumptions, beliefs, and habits, not wrong but also not laws of nature that I have to obey.

When I noticed the self-imposed have to’s I could question their influence on my decision. I quit my job the next day. I wanted to live my dreams… I can attest that mañana is especially tempting on agonizing decisions. I was stuck for months on such a decision.

Two things got me unstuck. One was reframing the decision before me. I’d tried but just couldn’t answer, ‘What can I do to cause the outcome I want?’ I switched to ‘What are the best and worst out­comes I can expect?’ I answered that question immediately. I knew the answer was true even though I didn’t like it.

But what really unstuck me was advice from my best friend, a man I’d known for almost 40 years. He said, ‘Don’t spend your life making up your mind.’ He knew what he was talking about. It was our last conversation, three days before he died of leukemia.

Character Moves:

  1. Being generous, abundant and giving more starts with YOU first. Are you doing that or are you caught in the well-intended and sometimes disabling dishonesty of being a self-imposed victim and martyr? The test: The act of giving should be energizing NOT exhausting. 
  2. Have grit on the right stuff and have the guts to quit when your life is being sucked out of you… That only one life, I will remind you. Hanging too long on something that you’re failing at or not enjoying is just dumb. Why would you do that? Is that the right way to show grit? 
  3. Get out of the prickly thicket of self-imposed “have to’s.” What are the best and worst outcomes you can expect if you chose “not to” versus “have to?” Do you really, I mean REALLY, “have to?” Or are you worried about how you and others will judge you? How long will you wait? 

Graduating do over, in The Triangle,

Lorne

One Millennial View: There are some really valuable lessons here, and I agree that we can treat every May or June as if we’re graduating once again when these great commencement speeches surface. As Millennials, we’re probably in our least “have to” states in our lives, and I’m reminded that if I find myself needing to get out of a prickly thicket, it’s up to me to use the sheers to untangle myself. That’s something that I do “have to.”

– Garrett 

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

How Are YOU Doing?

Key Point: I want this just to be about YOU. Are you happy with yourself right now? It’s getting towards the first half of the calendar year, and it might be worth a personal “check in.”   I certainly know you and I are are far from perfect. With that caveat, are we generally happy? I’m not asking exclusively whether we are satisfied with the advancement of our skills and relationships, just an honest reflection of our happiness. One reason I’m writing about this, is that lately I’ve heard wonderful people being very hard on themselves. I wonder if they are out of balance by focusing too much on future accomplishments versus gratitude for what they already have and who they are. Are YOU good enough?

Tim Ferriss, well known author, podcaster, etc., has a great new book entitled Tools of Titans. He notes from studying people he highly regards, that there are two parts to self-improvement. However, too many people may define self-improvement and happiness solely by goal achievement. But, Ferriss believes that this is only 50 percent of it. He says, “The other 50 percent is gratitude and appreciating what you already have, not focusing solely on future accomplishments.” There are so many highly successful people who are never satisfied with what they’ve accomplished and it’s unfortunate. Canadian sports psychologist and author Dr. Peter Jensen, tells the country’s Olympians, “if you weren’t good enough before an Olympic medal, you won’t be good enough after.”

Moving forward is always fraught with failure and mistakes. In this context, Ferriss focuses on two things: Skills and relationships. The question he asks himself is, “Even if this fails, are there skills and relationships that I can develop that will carry over into other things?” Ferriss’ philosophy is “failure isn’t failure if you can gain new skills and develop relationships…” This is such a great way to think about life and what we do. Are we always advancing our skills and relationships? If we are doing both, then the concept of failure can be reframed. The people that I see as “stuck” honestly find that they have done little on both fronts. They repeat the same work over and over and hence gain little true/new experience. They essentially repeat the same experience. This concept applies to relationships too. Advancing and growing people are continuously expanding the depth and width of relationships in and outside of work. 

Character Moves:

  1. Implement a daily gratitude journal. I’ve suggested this many times because it works. It fills us up with appreciation and it changes how we feel, creating more self-awareness and hence more happiness.
  2. Based on the wisdom of Adam Grant in Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, Option B, I  highlighted the importance of also doing contribution journals. Combine 1 and 2 everyday, and I promise you it will increase your happiness and sense of well being. 
  3. Every six months or so, reflect on the new/enhanced skills you’ve added and define the relationships you’ve advanced. Being intentional about both will keep you moving forward.

Being Well in the Triangle,

Lorne

One Millennial View: I think Ferriss has a great point, and he’s a guy who has a lot figured out. The journals may also seem like an extra bit of “homework,” but even typing them out in the “notes” app on your smartphone before bed is probably a great exercise. If you’re networking, learning new skills, and strengthening your relationships, that’s the antithesis of failure. But it takes work. Especially as Millennials, we have to be careful… It’s easy to wake up one day and it’s already June, we put things in cruise control back in January and wait, are we even considered Millennials anymore?

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Celebrate ‘Whoops’

Key Point: Sometimes I talk too much instead of listening more, and I need to work on being a better judge of where to jump in as a leader versus “helping.” The other day I was on a call/”hang out” with a large number of people. A colleague answered a question in a manner I thought was incomplete. So, I attempted to diplomatically clarify for the “betterment” of the audience. The result was that I likely “improved” the answer by 10 percent, and in the process, unintentionally undermined my teammate. The feedback from another colleague who cared enough to give me straight, tough, caring feedback: “You might have been a more encouraging leader if you would have let the first explanation stand?”

The hard thing about feedback for me is to NOT take it personally. Rather, I need get better at genuinely letting the advice soak into my head and then consciously choose to do or not do something about it. I know all about the theory that feedback is a “gift.” Heck, I’ve written about it in my blogs multiple times over the years. The dirty little secret for me though, is that I have a little bit of a “perfection” complex, and rather than accepting the critical viewpoint of others, my mental processing starts with defensively rationalizing my behavior and judging the merit of the opinion. And of course, personal feedback is just that – one viewpoint, and it needs to be considered accordingly. However, if we listen hard enough, trends will inform and guide us where to act. I have never ending work to do when it comes to embracing feedback more effectively. 

In their excellent book, “Option B.”, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant have a wonderful chapter called “Falling and Learning” at work. One story Sandberg writes about refers to the notion of building resilience through learning from failure, and the story includes a character named “Whoops.” A colleague Sandberg worked with at Google used to ask her team to share a failure or mistake they made each week, and then the team would vote on the biggest screw up. The “winner” got to keep a stuffed monkey nicknamed “Whoops” at their desk for the week. The idea is that mistakes and learning need to be openly shared and discussed. It reminds the team of the importance of trying hard things and embracing authentic, vulnerable transparency to promote team and individual learning. My honest experience is that most organizations talk a good game on this idea, yet acute listening followed by fast action based on learning is not what really happens. Too often, customer feedback and complaints result in apology at best and blind avoidance at worst. Great leadership includes a serious capability to get results, to slurp up complaints and problems with a zealous, fierce, self-accountability. 

Character Moves:

  1. Start with going after your own personal critical feedback with a vengeance, not taking it personally. Then, make it personal to ACT on what you learn about yourself.
  2. Translate this fierce personal feedback attitude at every level in the organization. Be relentless about searching for every way to be better. Find a way to get “Whoops” sitting in every one’s area. Love “Whoops” at the personal and organizational level, and great things will happen. 

Loving Whoops in The Triangle,

Lorne

One Millennial View: It seems like fearing personal feedback can only become a handicap when attempting to grow, learn and move forward. I feel like there’s this myth perpetuated by media (movies, TV, etc.) that if you screw up a procedure at work, that’s it, you’re done, “you’ll never work in this town again!” Ummmm, I have yet to see that ever happen (Oh, I’m talking about legal, ethical and accidental mistakes). I try to bat 1,000 at work at all times, but I have messed up plenty. The point is, if you don’t swing and miss sometimes then you’re not playing the game, and that’s a way quicker way to not be needed on the roster anymore.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

‘I’m Burying My Husband Today’

Key Point: Contribution awareness and action builds and rebuilds self-confidence! The title of this blog refers to a journal entry by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, four days after her husband suddenly died. She and one of my favorite academics, Wharton’s Adam Grant, have just published a book titled, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. Sandberg tragically lost her husband, Dave Goldberg, while they were celebrating a friend’s birthday at a resort in Mexico. Goldberg went to the gym, had a cardiac arrhythmia, and died.  Option B, with superb guidance and contribution from Grant, is Sandberg’s journey through the sadness and anger, to her choice to find happiness again. 

I’m just starting the book and flipped to Chapter 4 on “Self Compassion and Self-Confidence.” I was immediately captured by a very important insight regarding that condition and characteristic we all deserve: SELF-CONFIDENCE. Sandberg was struggling to regain confidence upon returning to Facebook after this shattering experience of suddenly losing her husband. While she was challenged to appreciate what to be grateful for, she was stymied even more in regaining confidence. Adam Grant and a colleague, Jane Dutton, pointed out to Sandberg, that gratitude lists were helpful but served a different purpose. What she really needed to do to rebuild confidence was the act of daily journaling “contribution lists.” Gratitude lists make us thankful, yet are primarily passive in nature. Contribution journaling on the other hand, refers to how we are active and make a difference in our daily lives. Sandberg now encourages friends and teammates to regularly write down contribution lists every day, and the overwhelming feedback from people who take her advice is: “I wish I would have started this sooner.” As Sandberg notes, empathy and compassion are important and from her perspective, encouragement is even better… Especially when it starts within. 

I feel self-confidence is so very important, yet so elusive for far too many people. Finding and expanding confidence is so much more in our control when we think in terms of acknowledging small, valued contributions every day!

Character Moves:

  1. Every night before you wrap things up and close your eyes, write down and/or recount to yourself what contributions you made that day, however small. Over time, you will build a wonderful summary of how you make a positive difference. This builds well-recognized and earned self-confidence.  Please do this!!
  1. And then write down a few things you are grateful for. Doing both will make a difference to the most important person in your life… YOU. And you are so worth it. 

More self-confidence in The Triangle,

Lorne

One Millennial View: I think most Millennials learn that confidence is one of the most important things we can possess. Whether it’s job interviews, presentations, proposals, or even socializing outside of the office: Confidence is key. I guess, if you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect anyone else to? Hey, I might even try journaling a daily “contribution list.” 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Lorne Rubis

Lorne Rubis

The constant in Lorne’s diverse career is his ability to successfully lead organizations through significant change. At US West, where he served as a Vice President / Company Officer, Lorne was one of only seven direct reports ...
Read more about Lorne Rubis

Listen to Lorne's latest podcasts

Confidence, Patti Smith and Dylan: Failing authentically

Breathe fire: Leading and inspiring ourselves

Asking for feedback: The why

Taking on a new role: Lorne's journey

Lessons from Dot: Integrating technology into workplace culture

 

The Character Triangle Companion

Character-Triangle-Companion-bookcover

Download the New eBook Today


 

The Character Triangle

Character Triangle Book CoverBuild Character, Have an Impact, and Inspire Others

AVAILABLE HERE



 

Character Triangle

Our character is exclusively ours. We define it by how we think and what we do. I believe that acting with Character is driven by what I call the Character Triangle.

What, exactly, is the Character Triangle (CT)?

The CT describes and emphasizes three distinct but interdependent values:

Be Accountable: first person action to make things better, avoiding blame.
Be Respectful: being present, listening, looking again, focusing on the process.
Be Abundant: generous in spirit, moving forward, minimizing the lack of.

Read more about the Character Triangle

 

Be Accountable

Be Respectful

Be Abundant

Free Resources