Monday, July 3, 2017

Courage and Resilience or What I Learned from Reading "Option B"

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding JoyOption B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Drawing from a recent personal tragedy, Sheryl Sandberg chronicles the impact of the devastating setback to her personal and professional life, and how, with the accessible support of her family, friends, coworkers, professional help, and other resources readily available to a person of her stature (and by extension her children), she was able able to start on the road of recovery, open herself up to the possibilities of an Option B, and even manage to grow in character. Option B is a metaphor, referring to the alternative in the face of the sudden, unexpected unavailability of Option A. Lending credence to her sobering learning is the expert contribution of noted psychologist, Wharton professor, and best-selling author, Adam Grant, who is the co-author.

This book intersperses the author's own healing journey with stories of others' tragedies and recoveries. Those of us who know enough of Sheryl Sandberg-- a powerful female figure in the American business world, of her notable position at Facebook, of her bestselling book, "LeanIn", that gave rise to a women empowering movement across the globe-- are able to immediately feel the pain from her opening lines in this book, as she looks back on that fateful day when she last saw her husband alive, former Survey Monkey CEO, Dave Goldberg. I found myself in tears at different parts of this book as I think of the gravity of pain that she and her children must have felt in losing a really solid presence in their lives. At the same time, in varied measures, I come to know of different tragedies suffered by both known and ordinary individuals who have chosen to remain standing, to pick up the pieces, instead of spiraling down the staircase of despair, depression, and self-pity. Every tragedy is different but each deals a blow just the same, so agonizing, so heartbreaking, to the individuals affected. We cannot compare one with the other and make judgments. I am glad that Ms. Sandberg has learned from the blind spots of her first book, and humbly recognizes that, despite the bitterness of her own experience, there are others who have suffered more not because they had "bigger" tragedies, but because they do not have the access to support and resources that she had and continues to have. This is why she includes these tapestry of stories, not just to prove this point, but perhaps to honor them even more so for being able to exhibit resilience despite the lack thereof.

While the book tended to present related research as overkill, appearing to assure readers that the formula of her own process of healing is fact-based, overall, it gave me key insights that I am able to understand and use in my own struggle to "kick the sh**t" out of Option B. I especially liked the acknowledgement of the elephant in the room, well meaning yet insensitive reactions and comments, socially awkward situations, a general tendency to regard setbacks using the 3 P filters of personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence, second chances, finding and enabling moments of joy and humor, practicing self-compassion, and deciding to move on and forward in life without being weighed down by self- or society-imposed guilt.

Based on this insightful read, I learned that ultimately, resilience is possible with humility, compassion, and most of all, courage. Humility-- to be humble enough to accept that there are absolutely things beyond our control and reach out to others who can love and support us. Compassion-- to be kind to ourselves and allow us to grieve the tragedy without too much blame. Sheryl Sandberg, and the many others who shared their experiences in this book, are truly courageous. It is courage that empowers one to rise above adversity, loss-- big and small, disadvantage-- anything that rudely pulls the Option A rug from under our feet. It is courage that empowers us to kick the sh** out of Option B.

View all my reviews

Friday, March 24, 2017

Why Raise the Bar?

Image from Moore Leadership and Peak Performance:

A curious “Eureka!” moment happened to me one evening after dining at a Chinese buffet. It came with the help of a fortune cookie.

A what? Yes, a fortune cookie.

Let me backtrack a bit for context.

In recent months, I have gone through a few job interviews. If you remember what that is like, you may also recall the standard questions asked. One of which is your ideal work environment, the kind that supports your success.

While I have honest responses at the ready, still, going through this exercise with regularity has inevitably made me do a lot more introspection after each interview. Indeed, exactly what kind of environment has allowed me to thrive and thus, enabled me to contribute the most gains towards success?  I knew the answer was anchored in the push, the empowerment, and above all, the common mindset we shared, but I haven’t narrowed it down to a phrase or a word.

The answer came to me one evening after dining at a Chinese buffet, oddly, in a fortune cookie. It said:
“The nice thing about standards is, there are so many to choose from”.

Aha! There it is-- standards. We can lower them or raise them.

For me, it was about an environment that encouraged the “raising of the bar”.  A key value, embodied in simple phrase, that has the potential to help us positively influence ourselves, our relationships, our communities...and the world (yes, I went there). Evaluating if solutions to a problem are the best possible for the most favorable outcomes. Questioning if the “given” is still relevant or accurate vis-a-vis the current situation. Applying oneself to a project to deliver the objective in the most optimal manner.
But why? Why raise the bar? Why not work to the minimum standard? Surely, that standard has been tested and deemed sufficient to generate the result desired, yes? Perhaps. Or not. Therefore...
First, by raising the bar, we resolve to do better, to be better. We pursue self-development to enhance ourselves. When is it time to learn something new? When is it time to let go of the old and consider the new? To become the best version of ourselves? Learn new skills? Neither plan to be second best nor be tricked to selling ourselves short. These are extremely demanding times and only by continuously improving can we honor our gifts.

Second, by raising the bar, we become agents of change. Complacency is the antithesis of change. Always ask: “Is there a better way?” “What if?” We often speak of change as a concept of something so huge in scope, so overwhelming, so radical, we forget that before the scale was achieved, any change started from a smaller origin. Perhaps an alternative thought, a curious question, a divergent action--- that have gained critical mass and influenced a collective consciousness. Studying the downfall of Kodak, experts ultimately attribute it to a failure to change at the right time. Yet, I thought it can just as easily have been addressed. if there was a single executive in the room who said: “Yes, but what if?”

Third, by raising the bar, we distinctly brand ourselves as the professional who really strives to make a positive difference. We stand out. We are the individuals in the room, in our communities, who, through thought, words and actions, ignite more thoughtful thinking. The one who steps out of that comfort zone. Works smarter. Prepares better. Shows up more. Delivers more. Asks stimulating questions. More importantly, proactively proposes solutions.

Finally, we think outside of ourselves. Ours is an interconnected world; every part comprises the whole. We do not only need scholars and intellectuals. We need passionate and compassionate individuals. We find a cause we believe in and actively support it.

From my humble experience, I can say that one of the most inspiring, difference-making mindsets I have found in dynamic workplaces is that which pushes its team members to expect more of themselves and of possible solutions to a challenge. Not as a stressful mandate, but primarily one that comes from a place of authentic belief in the employee’s capabilities. Raising the bar begets a work ethic inspiring innovative thinking, encouraging the application of oneself towards improvement. Raising the bar necessitates an inquisitive and open mind to possibilities. 

But, be careful that you do not question for the sake of questioning. Strive to be an authentic outlier. Shake things up with a real, positive purpose.  
Insightful read: Outliers: The Story of Success

The former American writer, reporter, and political commentator Walter Lippmann once said: "When all think alike, no one thinks very much." See Groupthink (Communication Theory)

Think about that.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Don't Do It! Don't Sell Yourself Short

Image from the famous cartoonist/illustrator Ron Tandberg
“Sell yourself short”– to not consider someone or something to be as valuable or good as he, she, or it deserves. (Cambridge Dictionary)
To sell yourself short, in this context, is to give up holding out for the best fit job opportunity and take the first job available, because you just have to find employment. In a way, to give up on yourself.
Don’t do it! It can be very tempting. Practical. Seemingly better than the status quo. Some may even argue: “realistic”. Related: Are You Underemployed?
I understand. When you are dealt with very few career opportunities, after spending considerable time and effort presenting yourself as the great candidate that you are, you start to tire of the process. You are likely to become desperate. Opportunists who sense your discouragement may take advantage and extend a second-rate offer. You can’t blame them. After all, you just might accept. Now whose responsibility is that? Yours.
In your despair, you start grasping at straws. You begin looking for any job where a minimum set of your qualifications may match. You start viewing the job that has minimally attractive points for now and in the future, to be “good enough”. Whatever pays, right? Whatever gets you “busy” again. “After all, I can make anything work as long as I put in the hours. I may even like it in the process,” you convince yourself.
No, not really.
There’s something so ignoble, so distressing about not finding a job when you are unemployed, underemployed, or unhappy, that eats away at your confidence. Chipping a chunk every time you do not hear from potential employers or receive a “thank-you-for-your-application-we-are-moving-on-with-another-candidate”. The line blurs. You cannot seem to tell which of the two is worse. Related: The Emotional Cost of Underemployment
Despite all the confidence building rhetoric and helpful advice, we are still humans and we have times of professional vulnerability. (Unless you are perfect.) When this happens, resist the temptation to “give up and give in” to the most accessible job option. Why? Because there really is a perfect fit job opportunity. It’s out there. As corny as it may sound, every “no” does get you to your “yes”. One that’s truly yours. When that affirmative comes, you will look back at the seemingly missed opportunities and realize that they were not “missed” but more “passed”.
Take it from me. No Ph.D. here; just real life experience. In my last employment, my position was eliminated. At first, I was unfazed. I knew what I can bring to the table of the right employer. I had my accomplishments, my experience, credentials, and most importantly, unemployment pay. So, update Resume. Check. Start job alerts and search. Check. Start writing impressive, customized cover letters. Get busy taking more skills training. Stay abreast of industry developments. Amp up fitness. Check. Check. Check. And check. I should be all set.
No, not really.
Some of my applications took me about a foot near the finish line. Someone else beat me within that distance! It doesn’t matter who. It’s theirs. Their “yes”, not mine.
In moments of self-doubt, I began to question a lot of my credentials, including the continued education I was taking. Do they mean anything at all in the face of the seemingly endless job search? I started disliking the term “experienced”, along with “overqualified”. When the job opportunities started to dry up, I began considering applying for a) jobs that took me back 2-3 career levels down; b) jobs that involved mostly grunt work; c) jobs that paid so little for what is asked; and sometimes d) all of the above.
I thought about it. If I did, I would have dug myself into an unhappiness hole that I couldn’t get out of without the casualty of my professional reputation. I would’ve made the situation worse for myself, not to mention that of the employer’s. Short-term gain, long term loss.
Then it hit me. I was starting to”unfollow” myself. Unsubscribe. Me, my own best cheerleader, was turning into an unbeliever.
“Well, thank you, self-awareness!”. I opened the e-folder where I kept all the job postings I applied for. I re-read the Job Descriptions, revisited the company links, and reviewed all my cover letters. Sure enough. It’s all there. I still have IT. My mind just got clouded for a moment there.
I sent out requests to friends, peers, instructors, and former co-workers, for what they perceived to be my Top 3 strengths and areas of improvement. I felt validated by their responses, despite the sincere areas of improvement I need to work on.
I changed my prayer from finding a great opportunity, to asking to be led to the opportunity that is meant for me. The implication that “meant for me” is a “perfectly matched” position.
You do, too. Still have IT, that is. Your Mojo. You are good for the ask. You are meant for something really good. Something better. Something long term.
So, don’t. Do not settle for second best. Do not let disappointments cause you to undervalue yourself.
Make like anti-Nike and “just don’t do it”.
Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Get out of your own way!
One day very soon, you will meet your match. It will knock your door down. You will be blown away.
All the best to you in your career search!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

America, Rise Above the Hate

From The New York Times. Max Becherer/Associated Press

America, rise above the hate. Rise above the evil distractions that are poised to make us falter and fall. We all matter.

Stop the madness. We are destroying each other and for what? 
Our enemies are watching us, praying for us to destroy ourselves. 
In the midst of global terrorism, this is the time for unity and solidarity. Surely, the mighty fall when divided! We are being divided with these seeds of hate for one another. 
We have an enemy not just without, but within. 
Be wary of this insidious enemy and strike it.
Respect and Dignity. These are the values that we must strive to possess. Rise above. Rise above.
‪#‎alllivesmatter‬ ‪#‎backtheblue‬ #GodblessAmerica

Friday, July 8, 2016

Listening is Not About You

Image credit: “The Narcissistic Society: it’s all about ME” - May 2014

True leaders work diligently and sincerely to be the best listeners in their organization. It is no small feat because not all have “great listening skills” coming on as second nature.  Much like other top leadership skills we acquire, active listening is developed and constantly honed. 

What is the impetus for a leader to develop enhanced listening skills? Is it merely to check off an item on a list of skills? Is it to come off on the surface as sympathetic? Is it to create supportive and loyal followers? To get a team on your side? Is it to placate others? If you make an effort to actively listen to others, is that a favor they owe you?  What do you expect of them in exchange? Should you?

Related:   6 Effective Ways Listening Can Make You a Better Leader

I am both a leader and a follower. In my experience, leaders who become experts at active listening have the ability to sift through the clutter of extraneous information and derive key insights.  That enables them. More importantly, they make others feel great about themselves, lifting them up. For followers, experiencing active listening from their leader is a gift highly valued.  Feeling listened to and not just heard, is empowering.  

What is a good indicator of having successfully developed active listening skills? I venture that it is when you find yourself making very little, to no effort, to do so.  You simply ask: “Tell me what’s on your mind” and just like that, your ears, eyes, mind, and heart all open up to receive, unfiltered, the thoughts of another.

Getting to this point is not easy.  If your interest is in developing above average listening skills, then perhaps like me, you have consumed dozens of well researched and well-meaning articles and books on the subject and attended a number of trainings. Whether it's for the purpose of becoming a really admirable and effective leader, a more considerate partner, a more empathetic teacher, a better friend, etc., you have read it, heard it, digested and processed the advice, and have actually started putting it into practice. Yet somehow, you still occasionally find yourself squirming in your chair, sitting on your hands, maintaining the eye contact, as you agonizingly wait for that pause from the other party so you can finally get YOUR point across.   Unfortunately, if the party doing the talking is wrapped up talking about themselves, that time might not come.

Listening intently and quietly can backfire, too, if you fail to exhibit signs of active listening.   Not too long ago, fresh from reading tips on how to be good at listening, I consciously held off talking much or joining the fray of back-and-forth reactions in one small group meeting.  I thought, as I had nothing new or different to add, that I will simply let others speak.  I sat quietly and enjoyed processing everyone’s inputs.  Alas, my managers interpreted the silence as inability to contribute thoughts or worse, non-interest.    

On the other end of the listening equation line is the talking part. Oftentimes, most of us do not hear ourselves speaking endlessly.  Mark Goulson offers helpful information on the why of this behavior and how to avoid overextending our listening welcome in his Harvard Business Review article: “How to Know If You Talk Too Much”.   He attributes talking too much to getting carried away with the good feeling we associate with being listened to. 

The sage on stage.  In university, I belonged to a course where the instructor would start a monologue on the topic du jour, from beginning to halfway through the class.  She would share her relevant experiences to expound on the point with examples but often ended up wandering down memory lane.  She often succeeded not in holding our attention but in losing it.  Rambling on and going off on tangents, then forgetting her original point. Her “me, me, me” examples also came across as boasting.  Sometimes, she would ask a question but when a student attempts to participate, the dismissal was subtle yet swift.  

Interestingly, the psychology of insisting on being heard, comes from not being heard:  “How to Be a Good Listener”, The Book of Life website. It does appear that talking too much and the inability to listen are correlated.  It strikes me that the real reason why we find it difficult to listen is because of our need to be heard first.  Even when we decide to develop above average listening skills, it typically comes from a selfish motive.

Listening: It’s Not About You.
I once worked for a senior executive who found it short of insulting when points are recapped after a meeting in the spirit of clarification. Multinational ad agency training has taught me to end each meeting with a recap, especially as the understanding and agreements can lead to costly next steps. Summarizing what I heard, and asking for validation or clarification of my understanding, helped in ensuring minimal miscommunication to none.  The same work style served me well in most client-side environments, too.  As a marketing professional, I often gather thoughts and directions from higher management relative to project development.  Recapping what a higher level executive shares with me during briefings is simply best practice. Imagine my surprise when in one of our meetings, doing just that with this executive, I was coldly interrupted with: “I know what I said".  It turns out, he preferred the conversation to be over when he was done speaking.  Any recap would have to be in writing.  So clearly, an adjustment in my work style had to be made not primarily because he is the higher up, but because “listening” includes tuning in to the style of the other person.  I realized getting good at active listening is not just about becoming a better version of me.  More importantly, it is about the other parties knowing they were heard. 

The outstanding author, leader and speaker Stephen Covey, who gave the world “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, so wisely advocated “Habit 5:  Seek first to understand before being understood”.  The key? Listen first. To acknowledge the other person’s thoughts, opinion, perspective and position, before we push ours.  This is not a technique that is outwardly rehearsed. It is a true action recommendation.  It needs to be authentic.

The struggle is real. I was in a team led by a very talented and dynamo colleague who, possibly seven out of ten times, generates the best ideas around. So earnest is he to move things forward along his line of thinking that he unknowingly manifests impatience with others’ points-of-view and “thinking out loud”. While he asks for suggestions, his micro-messages were loudly and clearly saying: “unless you agree with my original thought, I do not have to listen to you”.    He would impatiently interrupt those speaking, admonishing them to cut to the chase.  Employee sentiment against this behavior grew and he was informed of it.   Naturally, awareness made him express a willingness to change.  For the first few times, it seemed to work. Until one day, an employee was trying so hard to explain a point and getting flustered. That was when he said: "I have sat here for x minutes, doing my best to listen to you.  I have done my share. Now it's your turn to listen to me". And just like that, all seemed lost.    What my colleague didn’t realize is that it has always been his turn. As a manager, his followers were at a default to listen to him. First. Developing his ability to listen, that was not really about him.  It was about that flustered employee who was straining to be heard.  


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Flashback Post: My First Blog, 2007

Year 2003: My First 4th of July at the famous Hustler Coffeeshop on Sunset Strip...yes, that Hustler
I found this blog that I have posted for the first time in February 2007. I am reposting it here because it has been nine years since. I am always amused at how I saw things for the first time in America. 

Okay, I am one of the countless immigrants who came to America in my adulthood.  This happened about half a decade ago.

I am not an American citizen by birth. I came from the Philippines -- a developing* nation
* I refuse "third world"; just developing...slowly).

I grew up in Manila and lived there until my mid-30s.  It was there that my character was molded, where I developed friendships, formed values, standards, a way of life that conformed to the Filipino socio-cultural-political system.   Immigrating was quite the uproot for me.

As soon as I arrived, I keenly observed and learned the differences in the way of life here vs. the one I left behind.  For months, like a sponge, I would soak up all that is presented before me.  I knew that if my adjustment was to go well, that I needed to pick up fast. The goal is to integrate.

A few months after arriving in 2003, I landed my first job in Los Angeles as a Legal Assistant/Receptionist at a small law office.  The pace was so slow for me give that my last job in the Philippines was that of an Asst. VP for an IT company.  Most of my days in this law office was spent staring into the computer. The lawyer I worked for did not allow me any internet access, and he would be gone in courst most days. I was bored out of my wits until I decided to start a journal. My offline blog.  I would then transmit these notes  to friends and relatives in email, all hungry for my American life updates.  I noted ways of life and systems that I found different from my original country.

Initially, I shared these observations just for information and if applicable, bring some amusement. Over time, I started to draw conclusions and form opinions from musing over the list that I was generating periodically.  However, I wouldn't want to start a political page where just about every human on the Net shares an opinion.  So, this blog was born.  I aim to publish my observation on this page for a larger audience's amusement (more Filipino immigrants like me, perhaps) and to provide a useful source of information, primarily for those coming here as I did, directly from the Philippines.

I am reflecting my journal entries on this site. Hopefully, it would bring entertainment at the least, and at most, relevant information to help one get settled in quickly.  That is, quicker than me :)

Welcome to my so-called American life. Stay tuned. In parting, here's one of our most popular sayings:

"If you make a habit of buying things you do not need, you will soon be selling things you do."

                                                                                                                       --Filipino proverb