What If You Were Graduating Now?

Accountability Kindness Purpose


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, 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,


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

Cancer and Cancel

Empathy Kindness Respect


Key Point: I read a touching article by someone with late stage cancer the other day. One insight that really struck me was that “cancer” and “cancel” were just one consonant apart, and in some ways the two words “held each other’s hands.” Her view was that all the future plans she had were suddenly on hold. It was like flying down the freeway at 100 clicks and suddenly slamming on the breaks to take an off ramp. Cancer is a big word of course, and everyone’s diagnosis and situation is as intimate and personal as anything might be. 

Last year I had a carcinoma removed. As most know, this is about as a benign of cancer one might hope for. It’s typically slow growing and early diagnosis, along with the right surgical intervention gets rid of it permanently. When I had my facial surgery, it required about 18 stitches and was very noticeable. As I returned to work the morning after my procedure, I had a big white gauze bandage on my face. Of course everyone I ran into asked me or joked about it… Typically, “what did the other guy look like?” I decided to respond by saying, “it was cancer.” Now, if you ever want to shorten a conversation or abruptly adjourn a meeting, try the phrase “it’s cancer.” The likely reaction is an uncomfortable look away from any eye contact, followed by a quick exit. I wanted to yell after each person, “it’s not contagious! I promise! Please don’t run away!!” Ok, I’m exaggerating a little for affect here, but you get the drift. 

I personally know a couple of people in the workplace right now with a late stage cancer diagnosis. They are in one friggin’ big battle with C. And I know they need our compassion and support. Note, this is not the same as sympathy and pity. In most cases, that’s the last thing they want. When colleagues find out about a teammate that has been diagnosed, people are impacted with genuine concern for their co-worker, AND often many become frightened thinking about whether or not such a thing can happen to them.

And yes sadly, people who work during treatment or return to work after treatment may still encounter obvious or subtle workplace discrimination. For example, some employers and colleagues may assume that a person will be less productive or perform below the company’s expectations. And according to some research I’ve read, other examples of discriminatory actions include (believe it or not):

  • Being demoted without a clear reason
  • Being overlooked for new positions
  • Not receiving a promotion that you have earned
  • Finding a lack of flexibility when you request time off for medical appointments
  • Being left out of training or decision-making opportunities when you use sick leave for scheduled medical appointments.

It’s time we learned how to have more thoughtful, transparent strategies on how to better deal with cancer, mental health and other tough health issues. Of course, privacy related to disclosing a diagnosis is a right and privilege of each individual. Nevertheless, clearly supportive organizations and teammates can make such a phenomenal difference. This matters to the team member with cancer AND the rest of the work community as well. We ALL benefit from understanding and acting on the premise of being in it together and knowing we never have to go it alone. We all, if we’re awake, recognize the employee with cancer could easily be you or me. 

Character Moves:

1, If you are an employer/leader, you owe it to yourself, employees with cancer, and all team members to compassionately accommodate. All business is personal. When people are most vulnerable, our policies and care ideally shows up like a giant rescue spotlight on very dark and stormy waters. Advanced companies know how to meet with the employee, perhaps including a patient advocate, to discuss resources and support the person can access, including reviewing issues such as caregiving responsibility, childcare, finances and insurance – and then continuously staying in touch for on-going support. 

2. If you are a teammate, being self-aware and open about your own personal feelings and fear is understandable. Know how to be supportive by genuinely caring and NOT saying well intended dumb things like, “don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” “I had a friend who had the same thing and ___.” In most cases, people just want to be treated with respectful understanding, and never patronized or judged. 

3. Glen Sather, well known NHL hockey player and executive, had prostate cancer and gives out a bracelet to friends with the following phrase inscribed on it: “F…K Cancer.” Perhaps we should all wear that bracelet. For a very touching, authentic experience journey written by a friend going through his personal cancer battle, read Jim Button’s blog. He has been diagnosed with lung cancer. See his story/site here... His “character moves” are the real deal. 4 and 5 are from Jim Button:

4. “Be comfortable talking to the person. Ask questions as it’s up to the person to let you know how comfortable they are discussing. Certainly give them the ‘I hope you don’t mind talking’ opener so they have a way out if need be. It’s better to have been asked, and shown that you care than to be put into that scary cancer corner all by yourself.

5. Somehow it’s not all negatives. There are so many positives and people are great, so make sure this blog post isn’t about the shitty side of the equation. That being said, I am an optimist so I have that view, I have met others that are in a negative spiral and they are their cancer.”

6. Listen to Jim. True to his core values, he is genuinely finding the positives in his cancer journey. He is one of my real super heroes! 

F&$K Cancer in The Triangle 


One Millennial View: A famous Canadian YouTuber is actually going through chemotherapy and vlogging it for his millions of followers. His normal business is fitness and competitive eating, so it’s strange to watch someone who just deadlifted 700 pounds physically deteriorate while battling cancer for the third time. His spirit, however, has not. Thanks to these outlets, we have a better window into these circumstances than ever before… We get to see how human they are, how generally positive those going through it remain, the verbal support they receive, and that subtle/scary reminder that you just never know when it might be you. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Woman by the Pole

Empathy Kindness Respect


Key Point: We need to expect kindness and compassion to be a fundamental principle in organizations; not a “nice to have” quality, but a “must do.” Why? It’s the right way to treat each other as human beings AND it makes a difference to business results (a research/data based comment, Google it).

My wife Kathleen, visits her 94-year-old mother most every day. She often takes her on a walk to the main cafeteria. Kathleen noticed that there is an elderly woman who comes to the dining area and stands next to a pole by herself for long periods of time. As Kathleen sat down with her mom for tea the other day, another woman resident sharing the same table, pointed to the woman by the pole. “Ah… There’s my friend.” She went on to explain that the woman by the pole was very lonely, a recent widow, and couldn’t speak any English. “How do you communicate with her?” Kathleen asked. Her friend responded, “Well we don’t talk, but everyday I go up to her and just give her a hug, a long smile, and stand beside her.” Hmm.

Over my career, I’ve seen meanness more often than I’d like to believe in the workplace: People make fun of others’ appearance (too fat, too ugly, too skinny, too skanky, too whatever). And of course there is the ever popular gossiping. Even worse though, emotionally immature managers have somehow talked themselves into believing that giving someone “hell” is an acceptable way of treating those who they disagree with, have made a mistake, or they simply don’t like. But kindness and compassion are key ingredients in learning from failure, because they increase what researchers call “psychological safety.” Innovation depends on people learning from failure. Want people around you to “shut down?” Yell at or humiliate them a few times, and that’s exactly what will happen. They will stop sharing their ideas or views with you. (Keep in mind I am a huge fan of tough-minded feedback and coaching; just do it with respect).  

I recently saw a presentation from a Facebook executive, and I was curious how much EMPATHY is a theme throughout this social media giant. The goal is to have Facebook employees better understand what it’s like to use their own product under challenging conditions (for example, the one billion disabled customers, people using Facebook with little bandwidth, etc), and help them take this under consideration for their work. It got me thinking. Maybe we need an empathy lab to help all employees emotionally develop through designing and practicing kindness and compassion. There are still too many disenfranchised workers “quietly standing by the pole.” See them.

Character Moves: 

  1. Kindness, empathy and compassion are values that require intentional practice and we have a right to expect that from each other. Of course, we need to get results. As I often say, “no results means no job.” But I also want to add this: “Be a jerk, and no job either.”

Empathy Labs in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I recently wrote a fairly “aggressive” piece of feedback to one of our voice over talents. Ultimately, I felt bad about my tone, and knew I could have handled it better. The person needed the direction they received, but just like there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, there’s a line between “c’mon, I know you got this next time,” and being a jerk about it. Everyone knows it’s not all accolades and roses out there (and it shouldn’t be), but there’s no pride in being a punk.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

The Strength of Kindness

Books Kindness Respect


Key Point: It is so easy be mean spirited. It requires little or no emotional muscle and therefore it is so handy for the weak to serve it up. And bullies master meanness. I’ve seen hate-filled behavior in every part of my life. When it becomes the norm in a culture, the experience is toxic and deeply damaging. Kindness, on the other hand, takes intentionality and emotional strength. It also involves generosity of spirit. When it becomes resident in a culture, the members thrive and even fly. 

I was inspired to write this after attending a funeral. It was for the matriarch of a family in a wonderful farm community. I’m in the small town bar, post funeral, having a beer and reflecting as I write this. The town’s community hall was filled to the brim in celebration, as this 99-year-old woman’s life received appropriate tribute. This marvelous person was an exceptional mother, wife, grandmother, great-grandmother, seamstress, baker, community leader, and more, but the overarching theme of her life was kindness. She gave so much of it to caregivers in her nursing home during the last four years of life that the staff needed a quiet room to cry together upon her passing. The eulogies on her behalf inspired me to remind myself (and hopefully you) that one of our very reasons for living is to freely and generously offer kindness. Of course, to be genuinely kind, one has to have the strength to deeply care for others.

Five million people have read RJ Palacio’s book “Wonder.” It’s written for adolescents and (if you haven’t already), I encourage you to read it regardless of your age. August “Auggie” Pullman is a 10-year-old living in the fictional neighborhood of North River Heights in upper Manhattan. He has a rare facial deformity, which he refers to as “mandibulofacial dysostosis,” more commonly known as Treacher Collins syndrome and a cleft palate… As Auggie exclaims: “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” Due to numerous surgeries, Auggie had been home-schooled by his mother, and his parents decide to enroll him at Beecher Prep, a private school. As Auggie works at navigating school, his biggest nemesis is a character who barely conceals his disgust at Auggie’s appearance. He bullies Auggie and hates him for the way he looks. As Auggie struggles through the meanness and bullying, he sometimes wishes every day could be Halloween… “We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks.” How many people around us at work and in other parts of our lives feel this way? What do you and I do to make a difference?

Character Moves:

  1. At your eulogy, will one of the adjectives describing your life include kindness? (Not just the time you worked at United Way, or gave at the food bank). I’m talking about the everyday stuff from the moment you roll out of bed until you fall asleep. Every day has hundreds of moments inviting acts of kindness. 
  1. When given the choice between being right, or being kind, do you choose kindness? Personally, I have work to do here. I do not need to “win” all the time even though my ego says I should. 
  1. In the closing chapters of “Wonder,” the middle school principal addresses the student body at the end of school year’s awards ceremony. He introduces the challenge of “being kinder than necessary,” and concludes the event with a powerful quote by the 19th century abolitionist, Henry Ward Beecher: “He/she is the greatest whose strength carries the most hearts by the attraction of his/her own.” How about getting emotionally buff through the strength of “more than necessary kindness?”

Kind strength in the Triangle,

PS… The following includes a link with great books about kindness. Reading them to children will be a little strength work for us too. 


One Millennial View: I often discuss how nice and kind I find people in Los Angeles to be. This is surprising to some, because L.A. is stereotyped as a stuck up, shallow city. But people mostly  smile here, they’re friendly and cheerful, and while some believe that’s just a fake front, it’s important to recognize that they’re choosing a positive demeanor over a negative one. I think this is because it’s easier to be kind. I’d argue that it takes more effort to be mean… Meanness also shows insecurity, and sends unappealing vibes… It’s just “not a good look.” As you also may have heard, in Los Angeles, a “look” is something people certainly do care about.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Humbled On the Street

Kindness Respect


Key Point: The “street” has a good way of giving us (well, at least me) a good kick in the behind from time to time. It helps keep our ego in check and also reminds us that we are one human in the system, no more or less than anyone else.

The other day I was walking home from work on Edmonton’s main downtown avenue. As you’d expect, Edmonton (like any good size city), has its colorful characters on the streets. I was waiting at a crosswalk, and saw a guy struggling to make it across the oncoming intersection. He looked like he might need a hand, or at least assistance keeping an eye out for traffic, as his walk light turned red. Intending to be “Mr. Compassionate,” I asked him, “you need any help sir?” He fiercely stared at me, as I stood before him all decked out in my suit, Italian made briefcase on my side. He then sneered, and matter-of-factly stated, “Who the hell do you think you are? Donald Trump?” Alright, then. Clearly, what was intended as a kind gesture, felt like a condescending put down from his point of view…Hmm… Lesson one learned.

Apparently needing more “street lessons,” the next morning, my wife and I were frantically trying to find a place to park in this crazy, crowded shopping center, so I could run in and get my daily Starbucks Americano. Of course, there was no place to legitimately stop, so I asked Kathleen if she would mind pulling into a loading zone while I ran to get a coffee to-go. As I get out of our car, a woman in a small, black, beat-up older vehicle honks at me. So, with an indignant smirk, I ignore her. She then rolls down her window saying, “sir, that’s a loading zone and you can’t stop there.” Smiling sarcastically, I respond to the interfering, self-righteous busy body… “Are you a cop or something?” To her delight, and my well-deserved surprise, she flashes me her City of Edmonton Police badge and sardonically serves up the following: “As a matter of fact, I am. Would you like to see the lights?” Red faced, I humbly reply, “No ma’am, and we’re moving that car right now.” The detective kindly accepted a coffee from me as we met inside the Starbucks line. We both laughed. Thank goodness she didn’t give me the ticket she would have had every right to serve up… ($300, she noted). Instead, she gifted me a nice dose of humble pie (the whole pie).

Character Moves (For me… If they work for you too, that’s a bonus):

  1. Lorne… Please remind yourself that you are just one; never more or less than any other human on Earth and that the “rules” apply to you, just like everyone else.
  1. Lorne… Be thankful that your street lessons were only mild reminders to be humble, and that a dose of humility is a gift to appreciate. Reflect upon them as a guide to see how long you can go, keeping your ego in check, before you stumble into another, and perhaps sharper “street correction.” Geez, wonderfully embarrassing, (sort of).

Humbled in The Triangle


One Millennial View: If we’re all honest with ourselves, we’re probably guilty of these more often than we’d care to admit. I’d like to come to your defense for the first lesson though. Clearly that guy may have had his own issues. But, we certainly have to be aware of our surroundings and make smart, humble, self-aware choices. Confidence is great, but there’s a fine line between that and looking like a d-bag.

P.S. There’s a reason Tim McGraw’s song “Humble and Kind” just won Video of the Year at the 2016 CMT Music Awards. It resonates. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Blindsiding Hurts All!

Accountability Kindness Personal leadership


Key Point: There is no reason to intentionally hurt someone because you or someone else feels it’s justified. This principle should apply to your work and life. Watch the embedded video where two high school football players in San Antonio hammer a referee from behind.

Their explanation for their behavior includes: The ref deserved it because he made bad calls, their coach implied the official needed payback for poor officiating, and/or the referee used racial slurs. Even if they’re true, none of these are legitimate reasons to harm anyone, and certainly not from a blind angle. In this case, the surprise hit could have caused serious injury. (This situation is still under investigation by school board and the police).

According to the New York Times, the internal phone directory at Amazon instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool offers sample texts, including this: “I felt concerned about their inflexibility and they openly complain about minor tasks”). In this example, the hurt is not physical but it’s potentially every bit as damaging as the abuse experienced by the Texas High School football referee.

How many times a day, in some work environment, is some one getting verbally trashed from behind? We all have witnessed the gossip machine work overtime. We see people complain about someone to others without ever having the courage to respectfully face the person and attempt to work out a resolution.

It is easy to blame anyone or anything for our frustrations, fears, disappointments, and losses. Sometimes we feel that blindsiding and hurting someone is acceptable because they “deserved it.” Really? Blame is waste. Blindsided abuse is worse. What do you do to prevent this behavior in any environment?

Character Moves:

  1. People with integrity constructively confront people they have a dispute with. They face the individuals and conversation head on in frank, and even fierce ways. Constructive conflict is not easy, but it can often have a positive outcome. Do this. Become good at having fierce conversations.
  1. Never “hit from behind,” blindside” or “sucker punch.” Physical blindsides, like the behavior of the misguided football players in the video, is obviously very wrong (perhaps criminal). However, verbal blindsiding like gossip is not much better. Don’t do it or stand for it. When your hear people talking about people behind their backs at work, picture that referee’s head getting snapped back after the hit in the video. The feeling is about the same for the recipient. And trust me, the bad taste left in your mouth as a participant will diminish you too. I can only imagine the shameful feeling (assuming they are empathetic beings at all) the two high school football players felt upon watching the video. Sickening, actually.

Straight on in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: The amount of passive aggressive, behind the back “finger pointing” that seems to seep into adulthood should be extremely frowned upon. Do we really not remember how we’re not supposed to “tattle?” Wasn’t that a big part of childhood? I remember it being so. Sometimes life just isn’t that fair, and that’s ok. It’s not an even playing field. Sometimes people around us will squeak by on an easier path, they’ll find a loophole, they’ll get the break we wish we had, or we’ll face rejection we don’t think we deserve. That’s going to happen. And you know what? It should happen. It makes us improve, maneuver, and learn. But if we blame anyone else for our setbacks, we’re focusing our efforts in the wrong direction. If you’re spending any time trying to call out or pin something on another individual, you’re doing it wrong. Redistribute that energy on figuring out a plan for yourself, and you’ll likely tackle the issues you need to – not some poor ref from behind.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis