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.

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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!