Mindfulness: How the Present is Always Perfect, Even When It’s Not

Guest Post by: Talane Meidener (F’87, MA’89)

On the topic of being present and mindfulness, I thought I’d explain a basic spiritual law that often confounds people: the present is perfect. I am sure you’ve probably heard of it before, but most people don’t really understand it. How can the present be perfect when you are sick or have a broken leg? How can the present be perfect when you have massive credit card debt? How can the present be perfect when your boyfriend just dumped you? It certainly doesn’t look or feel perfect in any of these situations. So if the spiritual principle doesn’t change, then how is this very imperfect stuff perfect?

A very wise coach once said that in order for a relationship to really work in the long term, you have to love your partner’s flaws and imperfections. Or at least, find them somewhat charming or amusing. Then it becomes true that you have a “perfect” husband or wife. They are perfect for you, flaws and all. The same works in life. You need to appreciate the perfection in the imperfections. When I was taking pottery classes in New York, I held up my rather wobbly, lopsided bowl and muttered something about it being highly flawed. My teacher, Michael, said, “If you want a perfect bowl, go to Pottery Barn and get one. The beauty lies in the flaws.” So, in that sense, my bowl was indeed perfect. Perhaps more perfect than the one at Pottery Barn, thanks to its flaws. Okay, now let’s take the more difficult leap of faith. How is a broken leg perfect? Or credit card debt? Or even worse, a deadly disease or war? This is much harder to see.

Years ago, my sister was becoming an avid runner when she went skiing for the first time and blew out her knee. After surgery, the doctors said she would never run again. She was in rehabilitation for months, started doing yoga and can now run again, though she has no cartilage left in that knee. If she runs, she is basically wearing down the bone. Not a good long-term strategy. While at first she was saying, “Why me?” and bemoaning her damaged knee, she later realized that she was going down a very athletic path in life and that her real destiny is more intellectual than physical. She later took up fiction writing and absolutely loves it! The universe stopped her in her tracks. So you could say the injured knee was perfect (not that I’d wish it on anyone) and helped her reorient her life around her true gifts and talents. She continued to do yoga and gentler activities like horse-back riding, which she enjoys even more than running.

What about credit card debt? When I was up to my ears in debt, I realized that I needed to learn how to manage my money better or, when the real riches rolled in, I would squander them. Getting more money is not the solution to most financial problems, even though most people think it is. I learned that my spending was driven by an unmet emotional need to be cherished. Until I learned how to fulfill my deeper needs, I would continue to overspend. Once I got my need to be cherished met, then the overspending stopped naturally. The debt was perfect because it forced me to face the facts about my spending habits and also my emotional needs. [Discover your own personal and emotional needs by taking the free Emotional Index Quiz. Now mind you, I still go shopping, but I don’t go into debt to do so—a world of difference.

What looks imperfect in your life? If you imagine yourself describing this event or situation in ten years, how would you describe it as perfect?

If you can realize that the present is perfect right now, you’ll be much calmer when dealing with the seemingly “bad” stuff of life. This is a mindful approach to the inevitable calamities of life.

And, sometimes the thing to do is change what you don’t like by perfecting the present. You can …

Be the Change You Want to See In the World

Some of my clients have asked what to do when they feel guilty for creating an ideal life when there is so much unhappiness in the world?

As Ghandi said, we must, “be the change we want to see in the world.” If you are worried about a current disease or world problem, donate some money to the cause. Being the change you want to see can be as simple as you make it. My hero is the philanthropic Taiwanese vegetable seller, Chen Shu-chu, who is doing exactly that: walking the walk and making huge changes by doing what she can, however small. Not only is she being the change, but by her actions, she is inspiring others to donate to charity as well. Listen to her story here and get inspired to be the change you wish to see in the world.

Advertisements

What’s at Stake, Up and Down

Guest Post by: Fred Jones, GUAA Coaching Partner

Most of the bosses you’ve had probably fall toward the middle of this contrast: between whether you felt they made it easier or harder to do your thing as a leader. If you’ve had enough bosses, as I’ve had, there’s also at least one on each extreme. Someone who wore you out and drove you crazy, and one who made you better and stronger than you thought possible.

Take a longer look and consider what each of those extreme bosses was doing. Add to that an assessment, from your perspective, how they were “being”–by which I mostly mean the degree to which they seemed at ease, at least in the roles they were playing, in their own skin. Do you sense a difference?

Without fail, we have a lot at stake in our boss. The same goes in reverse. The quality of the connection makes a difference in how information flows and how productively it is used in an organizational system. It also affects the climate–the mood, the weather–from day to day. Poor relationships up and down leave us carrying an extra weight as we move through what already may be complex and challenging. This quality also is visible to others, and it affects their confidence in what’s possible and what’s worth putting discretionary effort into.

From below, there are things you can do to work on the quality upward. You can get in tune on the kind of access you can provide each other, the range of authority you have, how you represent your own point of view even when it varies from your boss’s, and more. Even that sample of a much longer list may sound difficult. The key: making it discussible. This means making the functioning of the relationship itself the focus of attention, with candid sharing of what each of you need from the other. There’s a chance that if you are suffering in the relationship, so is your boss. They may want to make it better, but they never took the time to take your perspective on it.

You may be that boss with one or more of your direct reports. Not necessarily the extreme boss. But you may be in the middle, the one who hasn’t really paused to see what it really is like to report up to you. The boss who is responsible for some amount of lost productivity and personal suffering. You can open the way for them and make the relationship discussible–which means, of course, not making it all about you. If you engage to learn, you are likely to discover something important that may affect not just them but you and the quality of your life as a leader.

Interview with Dirigo Advisors Founder Patrick McGinnis

Full Name & Georgetown School and Year

Patrick J. McGinnis, SFS ‘98

Professional Title & Organization

Author, The 10% Entrepreneur and Founder, Dirigo Advisors

Career

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

Combining all of the experiences and lessons learned from investing in fast growing companies on five continents into a book that encourages everyone to be an entrepreneur without quitting their day job. My goal was to reach a global audience and that’s been truly rewarding. The book has been translated into a bunch of languages and I’ve spoken on the topic of 10% Entrepreneurship in a diverse set of places, such as Argentina, Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Mongolia.

What do you wish you had done earlier in your career?

I wish I had been more open to working on side projects as a way to explore interests, learn, and generate opportunities for upside. I was heads down and all-in on finance, which didn’t work out so well during the 2008 financial crisis.

What trends do you see in your profession or industry?

Entrepreneurship is going global due to the falling cost of innovating and the now indisputable fact that talent is borderless. As a result, you don’t need to be in Silicon Valley or New York or London to succeed. You can be almost anywhere.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done professionally? 

I’m credited with coining the term FOMO while I was a student at Harvard Business School. Staying focused, even when it’s not fun or profitable to do so, never gets easier.

What is the best career advice you have ever received? 

Find something you want to be known for it, write about it, establish your authority on the topic.

Hilltop Memories

How has Georgetown shaped you?

I like to joke that I have the most SFS career I could have imagined. Without question, the intellectual foundation and language skills that I got at Georgetown are fundamental to everything I do. I all have been heavily influenced by the values of cura personalis and social justice that I discovered on the hilltop.

What was your favorite professor or class at Georgetown?

“International Political Economy” with Prof. George Shambaugh and “Problem of God” with Julia Lamm

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?

Winning a ticket to see Bill Clinton speak at Gaston Hall my freshman year. I loved that Georgetown gave tickets out so democratically. It is still the greatest speech I have ever seen in person.

Your Inspirations

Who is a source of inspiration and strength to you in your life and why?

If you pay attention, you can find inspiration all around you, even in the little things. I try to pay attention and stay grateful for the little things.

What is on your desk right now?

A Oaxacan black clay skull from a great store called Tienda MAP in Mexico City. It’s a good reminder to make the most of each day.

Who is your favorite author? 

F. Scott Fitzgerald

What is one part of your daily routine you couldn’t live without?

I hate monotony, so I rebel against routine, but no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I will always start my day with a cup of very good coffee.

Final Word

What are your words to live by?

Always make sure to have more than one string to your bow.

Frustrated? No One Cares

Guest Post by: Carrie Arnold, GUAA Coaching Partner

Frustration is the wallpaper of life. It is the ‘go-to’ emotional word we all tend to use when we feel less than positive or neutral about something. It encompasses everything. We are frustrated with the number on the scale, heavy traffic, too many emails, how our boss communicates, that one team member who does not contribute, the kids, the dog, the laundry, the neighbors, and then we are frustrated with our frustration.

According to Merriam-Webster, frustration is a deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs. Words like deep and chronic are pretty intense! Here lies the problem though – no one cares that we are frustrated anymore.

Frustration as our emotional buzzword has lost its impact, and it does not get a listener’s attention. Behind every frustration lies a targeted emotion that can be richly described and better heard. Are we frustrated with our kids or are we chagrined (which means embarrassed or humiliated) because all our good parenting doesn’t seem to stick? Are we frustrated with the traffic or perhaps we merely feel rushed? Are we frustrated with our boss or are we feeling thwarted (which means the feeling of someone preventing us from accomplishing a purpose)?

Behind the word ‘frustration’ is often a disappointing sorrow that some are reluctant to admit. Frustration is an acceptable label that does not make us feel vulnerable, but it is through vulnerability that we learn and grow.

If we want our words to be convincing – we have to start saying things in new ways. By shifting our language, we can get different reactions, different conversations, and maybe different results.

Try an exercise. Instead of saying the four words on the left – replace them with a deeper emotion you are feeling. Need help? Do an internet search for emotional words. There are hundreds available in your native tongue. You can do better than always using the same four words. Replace them with something more profound and notice new awareness, reactions, and results.

I am frustrated. I am too busy and overwhelmed. It is causing me to feel stress. I am ____________. I am too ___________ and _______________. It is causing me to feel _______________.

Tip: Try going all week without using the word Frustration.

Building Your Reputation. Stand Out to Get In.

Guest Post by: Jen Dalton for Brand Mirror

What is a personal brand, and why does it even matter? Put simply, your brand is your reputation. It’s the words that people think of to define you. It’s how relevant you are, and what conversations you are a part of. It’s how you stand out from others. If you don’t define your personal brand, others will define it for you, and this is why being in charge of your brand matters.

Brands create an emotional connection. When people think of Volvo, they often don’t just think car, they think safety. Apple is no longer just a fruit, but an innovative technology company. And you can’t think about Nike without thinking sports or speed. What emotional connection do people have when they think about you? There are actionable ways to control that, so let’s go over a few.

Understand Where You Are Today

First, we need to do some foundation building. To define your personal brand, we need to look at the Three D’s: Discover, Design, and Differentiate. Start with doing some self-reflection.

  • Ask yourself questions like: What do I want to do? What is the impact I want to have? What are my skills, strengths, and values? Where am I? Where am I going?
  • Think about 5 words that you think describe you, then go and ask your friends, family, even clients what their words for you would be. Compare the two, and think about how you might align them better.
  • Take a Digital Inventory. Google yourself and see what shows up. Ask a friend to search for yourself on LinkedIn by name, and then by role, and see where you show up. How hard is it for someone to find you?

It’s important to understand where others think you’re at because others’ perception of you is the reality of your personal brand.

What Do You Want People To Say About You When You Are Not in the Room?

Now, onto Design. Here we can look at some actionable steps to take towards designing your own brand. After you’ve figured out how people define you now, think about the ways you WANT people to define you. These are the words that will make up your Brand DNA. Think about how you want to show up, and start to design that brand. Be consistent. Does your work space, the way you dress, how you show up in meetings, and how you interact with others align with your Brand DNA? George Bernard Shaw said, “Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” Look at your LinkedIn page – is it telling a story about your brand, or is it just a copy of your resume?

If you’re having a hard time designing your Brand DNA, make your signature storyboard. Go through your history and find pictures that mean a lot to you emotionally, where you really liked the person you were at that moment. If you’re not visual, think of words or phrases where you really deliver in a powerful way. This can make up your storyboard, and this will help you define your brand promise. A brand is, essentially, a promise, so take time to create your Leadership Promise Statement. What can people expect when they work with you? How can you present this to people in, say, networking scenarios? When you introduce yourself, what do you say? Take this Promise of Value and make sure it’s consistent online. Show evidence of it everywhere. Prove it to everyone who looks.

Own What Makes You Unique and Different

Next, you need to Differentiate yourself from everyone else. What is your position? Look back over your storyboard and your Brand DNA and figure out what you have offered in the past that nobody else could’ve done. Figure out who your audience is. What companies do you want to be a part of that inspire you? What boards do you want to be on in your community? Taylor your brand to be approachable to your audience. Who are your competitors and who do you look up to and why? Spend some time researching them, how they got where they are, what exactly they’re doing. Figure out what their brand is.

Now you can start creating value and opportunities for yourself. Think about what you should be talking about. Should it be company related? Or perhaps about your passions, or your particular set of skills? Does what you have to say matter, and will people care? Is it relevant? Are the right people seeing you? How can you get them to care AND share what you talk about? Who are the leaders and influencers writing in the same space? These are the key elements that make up your Digital Brand. You can also create opportunities for yourself offline. You can join a board or volunteer in an organization. You can interview people in your same space and blog about it. You can network with others, and look for places to share your insights. You can look for speaking opportunities and webinars.

Plan Your Work, and Work Your Plan

Remember, timing is everything. Create an editorial or visibility calendar for your brand – where to be, when to write posts and blogs. You want to stay visible. In many cases, out of sight is out of mind. Make sure that your content is easy to share and re-purpose. Write about other people, companies, and organizations. Be sure to tag them when you post your content. This creates opportunities for others to share and help make you more visible. Write about others and help them be visible. Share helpful articles. Give shout outs on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. Write recommendations on LinkedIn for people and on Google+, and Facebook for businesses. Send thank you notes, and provide recognition. Be genuine. Don’t expect things in return. Contribute to your brand by giving to others. Above all, be authentic. Authenticity contributes greatly to your personal brand. It’s easy to tell when someone is being disingenuous, and that puts a big hit on their brand or the way we think about them. Although you may plan a lot of your communications, be spur of the moment too and share things real time.

Lastly, monitor yourself, and listen to what others are saying about you. Continue to search yourself on Google and LinkedIn. Ask people to describe your brand periodically to check up on yourself. Do your own self-reflection when you can. Keep control of your brand, the emotional connection people make to you, by monitoring yourself using the steps above. Remember, although you are not a product, you do have a reputation and people will decide to work with you and help you based on your brand.

“People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember you how made them feel.” Maya Angelou

Be a noisebreaker, not a noisemaker.

Jen

How To Handle Difficult Conversations

Guest Post by: Christine Brown-Quinn, The Female Capitalist

Do you shy away from having those conversations that are truly uncomfortable, whether that be about a pay rise, performance or a particular conflict situation? Have you ever over-practiced the conversation in your head, and in the end hesitated to actually deliver the message as the timing no longer seemed ideal?

While having difficult conversations may seem natural to others, it’s really a skill any of us can learn… and the sooner the better! Not taking action of course doesn’t resolve the issue. In fact it makes matters worse as we tend to internalise the stress, increasing our anxiety levels and decreasing our ability to successfully navigate the situation. And worse yet, that difficult issue just got bigger as we haven’t dealt with it on a timely basis.

Those conversations that we dread having are actually the ones that can change the trajectory of careers. That certainly was the case for me – my ability to embrace those tough talks defined me as a senior professional. The key is to adopt the right approach to get the outcome you’re looking for.

Here are my top tips for tough conversations:

1. Bring your best self – schedule those conversations at a time when you’re feeling the most rested, positive and calm. Also think about what might be the best timing for the person you’re going to have the conversation with. You want to have their full attention.

2. Capitalise on positivity – begin your conversation with a ‘power lead’ – think about something positive to say about the current situation. What’s working well? What are you feeling energised about?

3. Be curious about the other person –cultivate an attitude of discovery and curiosity. Have the intent to learn as much as possible from the conversation. While you do want to have the end goal in mind, remain open and flexible on how to get there.

4. Share the bigger picture – provide context and background to the issue you want to discuss. This shows respect for the other person and de-personalises the issue.

5. Build up your muscle – strengthen your abilities by doing. The more tough conversations you undertake, the easier it gets. While the issues or content of the conversation may be different, with practice your stress levels will decrease, and thus your ability to master the situation will increase.

As I built up the habit of having these tough conversations, I had much less anxiety about having the conversations, and was calmer when I did have them. Each conversation gets easier and you actually start to enjoy the possibility that these interactions can be game-changers, making our work place (as well as personal relationships) that much more fulfilling, enjoyable and fun!

 

Creating a High Performance Organization Culture

Guest Post by: Susan Levine (I’89)

There is a strong correlation between highly engaged employees and high performance organizations. Our people are our assets, our engine and our lifeblood. And no one would dispute the fact that our long term success will be driven by our ability to attract, retain, motivate and develop the best team in the industry. But not every organization has a base of highly engaged employees. So how can you take the pulse on your employees? Ask them!

There are a variety of ways that you can ask employees for their views – pulse surveys targeting a few topics the leadership team would like to understand are becoming even more popular. Whether you outsource or insource, the most important thing is to regularly engage your employees. If you do, it will be the beginning of an ongoing change in the way your company conducts its business.

First, decide what it is you want to measure and take the pulse on – firm strategy, firm culture, professional development, career path and incentives, lifestyle. Organize a team to design the questions. Senior leadership on the team in critical. Skeptics on the team are invaluable to the process and will ultimately enhance credibility and buy-in to the process.

Write questions that are simple and direct. For example, “I am engaged and motivated by [my firm’s strategy]”; or “[My firm’s] culture fosters collaboration and teamwork.” Don’t hide or ignore questions about topics you know will be potentially controversial. Your employees will appreciate your asking the tough questions. Finally, make the survey totally anonymous. If you really want to get honest feedback, you will want people to feel there will be no repercussions for the feedback they may provide.

And the most important question, by far, is the “Net Promoter Score”: “I would recommend [my firm] as a place to work to a friend or relative.” The question is asked on a 10-point scale. Promoters are those who answer a ‘9’ or a ‘10’; those with a neutral response are those who answer a ‘7’ or ‘8’; and detractors answer a ‘1’ to a ‘6’. The net promoter score is the percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors.

Ultimately, asking employees about organizational topics and being ready to share the results is the first step in the journey to creating a more engaged workplace. But you have to be willing to commit the appropriate amount of time to tackle important issues highlighted in the results and communicate progress to the organization.

In the next topic, I can discuss what to do with survey results and how you can develop a prioritized set of actions coming out of your high performance organization efforts.

The Number One Thing You Need to Get Started on Becoming Part-Time Entrepreneur

Guest Post by: Patrick J. McGinnis, a venture capitalist and private equity investor who founded Dirigo Advisors, after a decade on Wall Street, to provide strategic advice to investors, entrepreneurs, and fast-growing businesses. He is the author of the new book THE 10% ENTREPRENEUR: Live Your Startup Dream Without Quitting Your Day Job.

In less than a generation, two clear and unrelenting trends have transformed the workplace.

First, traditional careers have lost a lot of their luster. Corporate roles are notoriously less reliable and less lucrative than they were in the past. Even once highly prestigious paths like law, finance, and medicine, have lost their appeal thanks to falling pay, layoffs, and an unwillingness by many companies and industries to change with the times.

Second, even as many traditional careers and companies remain stuck in the past, transformational change is afoot when it comes to how we work and live. In less than a generation, our society has been transformed by technology – it is now deeply woven into the fabric of our personal and professional lives. As such, it is ubiquitous, it is cheap, and it is only getting cheaper.

When you’re carrying around a smartphone, it’s almost too easy to forget the considerable investment you needed to make to run your own business just ten years ago. Building a website represented a considerable investment and telecommunications were expensive. Now, thanks to companies like Squarespace, Skype, and Google, you can basically put yourself in business with an investment of a few hours and a few dollars. The basic infrastructure you to get going, from email to storage in the cloud, is basically free. Once you’re up and running, you can then promote a business with a very minimal investment thanks to social media.

The falling price of technology, coupled with widespread connectivity is a game changer for anyone who has dreamed of doing something entrepreneurial. It’s never been cheaper and easier to start and manage a business, technology focused or otherwise. You need little more than a laptop, an Internet connection, and a smartphone to run the day-to-day operations of a small business. You also probably need very little money or to hire full-time employees to get started. Most importantly you don’t need to punch a clock from 9 to 5. You can make the rules, working when you’re like and from wherever you’d like.

You Can Become an Entrepreneur on Your Own Terms

The decline in the price of starting businesses, coupled with the falling appeal of traditional careers means that a growing number of professionals are opting to become part-time entrepreneurs. Rather than shouldering the considerable risks of leaving their jobs to launch new ventures, they enjoy the best of both worlds. They can try new ideas and perhaps even fail, but they do so without jeopardizing all of the rewards that have come with years of success and hard work in their careers. By spending at least 10% of their time, and if possible their money, working on new ventures, either as an investor, an advisor, or a founder, they can build lasting value – and diversification – for themselves. They are 10% Entrepreneurs.

It comes down to a change in mindset. Full-time entrepreneurship is a terrific path for some, but it’s not obligatory. If you’re looking to pick up skills that will help you at your day job or even put you on a path to the next step in your career, there’s another option. Why not take a more sustainable path by integrating entrepreneurial opportunities into your current career? It’s a simple, yet somewhat radical idea: you don’t have to be an entrepreneur, but you can be entrepreneurial.

 

This new mind-set is based on a completely new set of rules: just because you work at an established company and receive a steady pay check doesn’t mean that you cannot join the ranks of the innovators and the disruptors. As a 10% Entrepreneur, you will search out and engage with projects, drawing on all of the skills and relationships you have built over the course of your educational and professional lives. By leveraging your base of experience and your network, you will develop new skills. Plus, you will be the owner of everything you create, no matter what happens in your day job.

10% Entrepreneurship is All About Mindset

If you’ve never really viewed yourself as an entrepreneur – even a part-time entrepreneur – changing your mindset can take time. When I meet people who are looking for more in the careers, whether in the form of diversification, upside, or satisfaction, I’m often surprised at how quickly they discard the idea of integrating part-time ventures into their lives. Their reasons are remarkably uniform: “I’m too busy,” or “I don’t have any good ideas,” or even “I’m afraid.”

One of the hardest things about exploring new ventures is the temptation to feel outgunned. You might ask yourself why should you, of all people, think that you can start something new if you’ve never done it before. Sure, you’ve got experience and relationships, but it’s natural to feel a little (or a lot) intimidated. when you’re putting yourself out there rather than representing a corporate brand on a business card. As a 10% Entrepreneur, you will need to put yourself out there. You will constantly be pitching to people, telling them what you can bring to the table, seeking to establish credibility based on your past experiences, your relationships, and your vision. It can be intimidating or even downright scary.

I get it. When I took part in my first few projects as a 10% Entrepreneur, I felt like I was walking around in a dark room in search of a light switch. Now 5 years and 20 projects later, I have built a valuable portfolio of investments in startups, real estate, and even a theater production in London. Each endeavor brings new experiences and challenges that assure me that I’m on the right path.

As little as a decade ago, there were plenty of other barriers to worry about if you wanted to start a new venture, but in their absence, mindset is now, in a fundamental sense, the new constraint to entrepreneurship. The challenge today is to to have the courage build something that is sustainable and that will create value, both financial and personal, over the course of your career. So if you’re convinced that part-time entrepreneurship is for you, remember that it’s mindset that will take you you from daydream to action. Also, remember that you really have very little to lose – when you are investing just 10% of your time and capital, what’s the worst that can happen? Even if you fail, you’ll have learned something. And when you succeed, you’ll see the world from a new and far more entrepreneurial perspective.