What I Learned From My First Seven Jobs

There’s a meme making its way around the web in which people name their first seven jobs. Such recollections often involve typical teenage ventures like mowing lawns and selling lemonade. Sometimes people even brand them as ‘my first entrepreneurial journey,’ or claim to have gained great insight from the experience. I won’t. Because the fact is, I really did not want to do any of my first seven. I didn’t do them for love. At the time, I was strictly in it for the money.

That doesn’t mean I can’t recast them now, in the light of how I might have (with stress on ‘might’) learned something that’s now indispensable to my business self. Can’t say with any honesty that any of these jobs were truly meaningful, to me or the world, in any way. Certainly none of them were even remotely as soul-fulfilling as what I’m doing now.

First job: Babysitter. I was thirteen, and ‘teen’ was my primary qualification. Well, that, plus my ability to play the gender card. Babysitting, perhaps the only job in which girls were the preferred candidates over boys, was easy to get…especially in the summer. It consisted mainly of sitting on the porch, swatting mosquitos, reading trashy novels, and hoping that all the kids stayed asleep – and I stayed awake – until the parents came home.

Lesson learned: Taking care of other people’s kids is boring. Note to self, do not try to manage interns when you can get someone else to do it.

Second, I was an office girl. That is not a misprint. It was an actual job title. The office girl was the one who was expected to answer the phone and smile. She was not expected to lift packages or get within a mile of any heavy machinery. Ok, so there are tradeoffs in everything. I did learn the fundamentals of bookkeeping, pre-QuickBooks.

Lesson learned: It is important to know who the real boss is. In family companies, it’s the guy whose name is on the papers in the locked file, not the one you report to who you call ‘Mister’ and everyone else calls ‘Sonny.’ Unless, that is, his name really is Sonny.

Third, I was a bookkeeping assistant. Now, to dissuade anyone who’s thinking, “Aha, she really knows how to build a resume,” I want you to know I got this job because the overworked bookkeeper was my aunt. (Side note: the previous job was gotten because a friend of mother’s wanted to take whole the summer off. They really wanted her to come back, so they agreed. I don’t know what she told them about me, but I suspect she added a few years to my real age – fifteen at the time.)

Lesson learned: If you make a bookkeeping mistake, you absolutely, positively, have to correct it. Because in some areas of business, there are no secrets. (I learned some other stuff in that job too, about boys who were planning to be the Sonny in their dad’s business, but that stuff is not for this publication at this time.)

So I had gained real experience in the world of business. I knew how to calculate taxes and manage a payroll, where the most important thing was getting the right amount in each pay envelope. I knew how to write a deposit slip for my bank account, which paid interest. And I knew that I needed to graduate college because no way was I ever going to learn to type.

My fourth job really wasn’t much of a job, in that it had no other requirement than being a college freshman. But it brought in more money than babysitting, so it counts. The job consisted of being an experimental psychology subject. And here I came away with more than just cash. I figured out their trade secret!

Lesson learned: No matter how authoritative someone looks, do not believe them until they have proved themselves to be unassailably trustworthy. (This was quite useful in a time when ‘question authority’ and ‘don’t trust anyone over 30’ were wildly popular slogans of youth culture.)

Fifth job (so soon?):  A couple of college instructors had a side gig finding smart young people to do intensely boring work that required high-level reading ability. The job was called ‘Survey Answer Coder’ and yes, I qualified. In fact, I was probably close to the edge of being overqualified, at least in the reading dimension.

Lesson learned: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. Because life is short, and bored is a terrible way to live. Even for a four-hour shift.

Next in line – I took on the job of a nanny, making my sixth job the first one I ever accepted, knowing I would hate it. Now if you have been reading attentively, you know that I was not a great match for babysitting. But I was in college, I needed money, and I was still a girl. Who couldn’t type.

Lesson learned: Job title does not matter. How you are expected to interact with other people, including children, matters. A lot.

Mercifully, I finally graduated. My major in psychology qualified me for two jobs. One was ‘research assistant,’ which meant I would have to type at least 35 words a minute. (Apparently most non-typists could do this, as long as they knew the alphabet.) I ended up doing the other one because it paid more and typing was optional.

And so my seventh job was as a social worker in a major city with more than its share of social problems. I don’t think I solved any, although I know that in some people’s minds, I probably added to them. Turned out that social change or benefit really wasn’t even on my employer’s agenda, so I joined the union and helped organize.

Lesson learned: The lesser of two evils is still evil. And nothing is more evil than not being able to make meaningful contributions to something bigger than yourself.

I am, of course, a lot older now. And maybe even a tad wiser. There have been a lot of jobs between number 7 and the one I have now. While those lessons learned in my youth are still valid, I now have a much bigger context in which to put them. That context is teaming: understanding it; doing it; and sharing it.

The lessons are simple. And like many good things, they come in three.

1. People do best what they like best and they like best what they do best. No matter how smart and talented you are, you are still not an exception.

2. If there is not enough excitement in what you do – or if there is too much, in which case you will feel it as stress – you will neither enjoy it nor be able to give it your best.

3. The more your job requires you to interact with others – whether they be managers, fellow employees, customers, or other stakeholders – in ways that don’t feel right, or that you do not value, the less you will feel good about yourself.

Keep these three lessons front and center, and you’ll likely discover the secret of happiness. Because if you’ve never had them all going for you, maybe your real job is being an entrepreneur.

“If I only had the Sorting Hat…”

Excitement is swirling about the new Harry Potter film being released this November. More properly, it’s a prequel, since it takes place long before Harry’s parents were born, but a lot of us Potter fans are getting our Hogwarts on, anyway. (I’m summoning my inner Hermione and yes, thank you, I was very much like her as a child – minus the wand and the incantations.)

So a few weeks ago, that was my state of mind while I was having a therapeutic cup of coffee with the head of Talent Acquisition at a very large company, whom I’ll call ‘Tracy.’ At least the headache-du-jour was not the common problem of attracting applicants. Tracy had nailed that one, years ago. Admittedly, it’s less of a challenge when your company is pretty much a household name. And branding as a preferred employer hadn’t been much of a concern either, for the same reason.

“It’s a little like Hogwarts,” Tracy said, referencing the school of wizardry where Harry and his friends began their adventures. “You get these amazing people who come in the door with the natural ability and all the right qualifications, and I expect that they’ll fit right in, become full-fledged business wizards, and work some magic on behalf of the team. Their managers proceed with the same hopes and expectations, but the crazy stuff that sometimes happens next is totally beyond me.”

It’s a natural assumption that gaining entry to a world of money and prestige and opportunities and perks is a sure-fire path to employee happiness, engagement, and retention. But Tracy was clearly worried that lasting success in these matters might just be an illusion, like the ones that so often complicated Harry Potter’s world.

So, summoning up my past life as a therapist, I asked, ‘What do you think would change all that?’ (You can lead a shrink to ‘retirement’ but you can’t make her stop wanting to help people.)

Said Tracy, “If I only had the Sorting Hat…”

Perhaps you don’t have more than a passing recollection of Harry Potter and the whole Hogwarts experience, so I’ll spell this part out for you. (“Spell.” Get it? Ok, if you don’t, Google ‘JK Rowling.’)

The Sorting Hat, over a thousand years ago, belonged to one of the founders of the Hogwarts school. In the beginning, it was just a hat. But over the centuries, it took on a life of its own (as things in magical places sometimes do) and became the resident expert in assigning new students to one of the four ‘Houses’ of Hogwarts – the one with characteristics and culture that would be best suited for a particular wizard-to-be.

Sounds a bit like what Talent Acquisition seeks to accomplish, doesn’t it? No doubt that’s what Tracy was thinking.

So how did the Sorting Hat work?

Well, it didn’t test for a range of skills, or knowledge, or cleverness, or any single attribute in particular.

The Sorting Hat actually interacted with the person upon whose head it was placed. Some clearly sensed this, and even tried to converse with it.  Others were less aware – perhaps a predictor of the way in which they would approach, and (dare I say?) team with their colleagues.

The Sorting Hat never rejected anyone. It merely sorted them into the environment within which they would be most likely to succeed. That’s because the Hat was beholden to the vision of Hogwarts. And for a vision to be sustained, it needs to be served well.

The result, at Hogwarts, was pretty remarkable, when you consider how quickly and easily readers (and, later, viewers) learned to identify who belonged to which House.

I couldn’t help but explain to Tracy that there really is a Sorting Hat, of a sort. It’s not like the one that sent Harry and Hermoine and Ron to the House of Gryffindor. It can’t speak out loud, but it can write. But it really does identify the way a person seeks to serve team needs, what kind of job responsibilities they are most likely to enjoy, and also the kinds of teaming and business context that will bring out the best in them.

And as you’ve probably guessed, it lives at our house.

Best,

DrJ

PS: You can access and apply this modern Sorting Hat – Teamability® – and you don’t need a wand, or an owl, or a potion. Your phone or email will do nicely. Call us at +1.215.825.2500 or send email to clients@thegabrielinstitute.com.

Being SMART may not be so smart after all. 

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions this year? If so, I’m guessing that some of them are still in the works, such as those involving goals for the entire year. Are they making you frustrated? It’s no secret that, along with performance evaluations, goal setting is one of those things people never quite learn to love. And yet, setting goals is one of those things everyone (particularly authors and bloggers) expects successful business people to do, despite the fact that successful business people often hate doing things other people expect of them.

But tradition is tradition, so on January 1, I sat down, pen in hand, to jot some notes. And all I could think of was the old organizational command to make your plans SMARTSpecific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. Back in the day, these were supposed to be the delimiters of sure-fire goal setting. If your goal couldn’t stand up to those, it just wasn’t making the grade.

But this is now, and now is the age of innovation. And, being a lover (and creator) of innovation, I asked myself whether I should still be following the processes of an earlier era. Here’s what emerged…

Specific stayed, because if a goal isn’t specific, how do you ever figure out where you’re headed?

And I kept Measurable, because although I don’t like rating systems, I do like to have some idea of how far I’ve come, and whether I’m still on track.

Relevant made me think hard. When you have a very broad range of applications, or you’re trying something completely new, then relevance may not be known at all during the planning stage, and can only emerge from the process. (For the fashion-aware, consider the problem of ‘orphan’ accessories. I once had a fabulous, but useless, beaded belt that I kept around for ages. Then one day an ensemble appeared in my closet that just screamed for turquoise beads.) Sometimes a thing will make itself relevant just by chance, which is a good reason for having a looser definition of the word.

Then there was Time-bound: a no-brainer because I was thinking ‘goals for 2016’ rather than the next decade or millennium.

Which brought me back to Attainable. That, too, seemed obvious…until I did a quick check in an online dictionary and learned that Attainable things are within your reach.

‘Within reach’ suggests that you can get what you want without a whole lot of stretch or effort. Now, if you keep a scoreboard that you like to decorate with a lot of wins, put plenty of ‘attainables’ on your to-do list. But if innovation and change are what you seek, then SMART goals need a warning label: DANGER: Attainable goals may be damaging to your organization’s ability to innovate.

Focusing on attainable goals could also be a turn-off to the very people who are most capable of handling risk, making discoveries, and creating innovation! Those are the people who rarely ask if something is possible or not. They just go for the goal – asking bigger questions, covering more ground, trying harder, and stretching further.

In Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’ books, there was the White Queen who said, “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!” No one would accuse her of SMART planning – and yet, believing the impossible to be possible is a sure way to bypass the barrier of achievability. Can you imagine what might happen if your goals didn’t need to be achievable? I can.

  1. You’d have nothing to lose. With no one expecting sure-fire success, you could feel free to take some wild-ass swings. Sure, some will be whiffs, but you might just knock the ball out of the park. (Believe it or not, fear is the biggest cause of failure.)
  1. You can still go for simple solutions. If they don’t work, you’ll be right: your goal wasn’t achievable. But you’d be primed to succeed, so you’d try an alternative path. And another, and another. And should you eventually get there, so much the better! (Being right and winning are not the same – but they’re not mutually exclusive.)
  1. You’d forever leave the ranks of the narrow-minded; the people who put the ‘no’ in innovation, joining instead the ones who bring positive change and brighter futures.

May your ‘impossible’ of 2016 become your successful innovation of 2017!

Management – Like Love – Means Letting Go

I usually address bright, big picture topics, but this time circumstances have brought it very close to home. I hope you won’t mind.

In the early evening of Sunday, August 30, after many years of declining health, my husband of 33 years went gentle into that good night.

Those who were close knew Barry as an incredibly loving person, but he was still quite able to rage against social inequalities and injustices – whether big (think slavery, 9/11, or Rwanda), or small.

He had no way to address holocausts, but he did have a constructive response to the slights and rudeness and dismissive behaviors he observed against those who could not fight back. And the fact that there were good reasons for not fighting back – potential loss of livelihood, or even life itself – is what truly raised his ire.

These days, a management consultant might praise Barry’s approach as ‘scalable, repeatable, and sustainable.’ He simply showed people he cared. He modeled respect; not just tolerance. Even the most downtrodden would have his full engagement for as long as civil discourse continued, after which he would politely withdraw. And that, it turns out, was the greatest management lesson I ever learned: to withdraw. To be silent. To let go.

How often are management problems – like personal relationship problems – caused by the inability to just let go?

Case in point: I know someone who works in the innovation department of a huge company. The job description is, basically, find exciting and cool stuff, and report on it. So when I found an exciting and cool article on a very respected website, I sent this very hard worker the link.

I got an immediate response…but not the one I was expecting. It went something like, ‘<expletive deleted!!>, they won’t let us access that site. Actually, most everything is blocked. Makes it really hard to do my job.’

At some point – who knows when or why – someone decided that the company needed to control where people go, and what they see, on the web. Now that choice is obsolete and obstructive to the company’s own desire to innovate and grow. And yet, no one is letting it go.

Just saying.

Personal relationships are much the same. Really, if you have to hold on tight to control your partner, how whole can they be? And how good is that for you?

A very wise person said to me, “when we are infants our hands are curled up; when we grow old, they are relaxed open.” When I heard it, I thought, that is equally true of our maturity as managers.

In the end, there was no holding Barry back from his final journey. Even if there was, it’s not the way he would have wanted me – or him – to manage it.

Timing Isn’t Everything. Teaming Is.

Some days I have so many ideas that I despair of ever seeing anything come of them. You see, to me, all my ideas – like my children – are precious. They just need someone to raise them. Like the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, there are so many, I rarely know what to do.

That’s what made it so wonderful to be asked to speak at TEDx-Bedminster*. Not only would this be a platform for my ideas, but in the process I would get to hear other timely and beneficial ideas as well.

The first TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conference took place in 1984. It was the brainchild of Richard Saul Wurman, a Philadelphia architect who decided he would rather ‘architect’ information than bricks and mortar. Wurman envisioned it as an annual forum for “ideas worth spreading.” Today, topical TED conferences and TEDx (regional) talks are happening around the world year-round, and TED videos online get millions of views. There’s even a TED Channel on Apple TV!

Getting back to my situation, I realized this was a Very Big Deal. And so came the hard part: the Sophie’s Choice. Which of my many ideas was the one most worth spreading?

As I attempted to sort and evaluate and cast off, it felt like I was abandoning parts of me. And then I remembered an idea (NOT one of my own) that I had let go of many years ago, when Teamability® was in its infancy. It was the idea that people are made of parts and pieces, and can be understood as discrete systems. This letting go happened in a New York City diner while I was trying to explain the essence of teaming by comparing it with a plate of fried eggs.

I realized that point in my life had truly been a turning point, and so I chose it as my idea for TEDx.

Naturally, I turned to my team. They shaped and formed it. And they shaped and formed me.

I hope you find ‘Timing Isn’t Everything. Teaming Is.’ to be an Idea Worth Spreading, and that you do just that!

Team Well and Prosper!

DrJ

* Big hugs to the Richie Etwaru and the TEDxBedminster team & attendees, Glenn Zimmerman and team (www.madbearproductions.com), video coach Laura Walton (www.trustwinning.com), designer Jamak Khazra (www.bluesuitsonline.com), and the TGI team who made this possible!

Make Failing a Daily Habit

If you’re looking for a rah-rah success read, you’re on the wrong page. However, if you stay, I promise you won’t be sorry.

I love failure. And I am an expert at it.

I fail every single day. Sometimes I do it more than once, which makes me even happier.

So now you may be asking yourself, has DrJ slipped a gear or what?

Nope. You’re getting, as they say on Twitter, #TRUTH.

Because if you are not failing, you are not trying hard enough.

Or, as the poet Robert Browning, suitor of the elusive Elizabeth Barrett, wrote: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” (Spoiler alert: He did marry her despite robust parental interference, and apparently the result was quite heavenly.)

So, what’s your excuse for not failing?

In an informal survey I just completed, I found that the reasons for not failing fall into three bins.

Some people just don’t see their failures. Or shortcomings. Or, for that matter, reality, in its many shapes and forms. Now actually, this is failing, but in such a way that it does no one any good. You can’t learn from something you never noticed, so it doesn’t count in my book. Also, in the long run, it makes for a lonely life. Sharing our frailties is a great way to make friends. How cool is it to have the freedom to share who you are, warts and all, with someone, and to know that they’ll still want to hang out with you?

Then there is the Bizarro World strategy, where everything is opposite. Instead of ‘You can’t win if you don’t try’, they recite ‘You can’t fail if you avoid participating.’ At work, these are the folks who clock in; drink a lot of coffee; grouse about office politics or the weather or any of the million other things that add no value, and over which they have no control. By the end of the day they might have managed to fit in some modestly productive activities. But maybe if they attempted something big, or at least new, and failed at it, and repeated the cycle a few times, eventually they’d discover what really living is about.

The third group is made up of those who do participate, but never bite off more than they can chew. And swallow. And digest. (How is this possible? Maybe it’s genetics, like curly hair or funny shaped toes.) Pristine resumes that show ‘progressive levels of responsibility’ and other things that HR managers love, are carefully cultivated by these folks. They would never, ever get involved in anything so messy as multiple career changes, startup ventures, or traveling to the steppes of Central Asia to study the history and culture of yurt-dwelling Mongolian nomads.

Becoming an entrepreneur is how I discovered that failing isn’t nearly as bad as people think. You can fail and do better next time. You can fail in one area while making huge progress in another. You can fail, and in the process, discover that your true meaning in life is totally not what you’ve been doing for the past X number of years, and be utterly grateful for that life-changing fail. And I’m pretty lucky, because that’s what happened to me, and now I get to work every day with a bunch of awesome people who have no fear of failure.

We accept failure willingly because the heaven we’re reaching for is really, really far from our grasp. And we’re not going to be satisfied by lowering the goalpost. In fact, we’d like to raise it even higher.

The fact is, getting there may only be 10% of the fun. The other 90% is in the striving, the sharing, and the everyday satisfaction of beautiful teamwork.

May I?

I grew up in New York City, specifically The Bronx. (Yes, that uppercase T is part of the official name of the borough that’s at the top right of the NYC map.) There, at a certain age, we played a street game called ‘May I?’ It involved making a creative request to move forward by hops or skips or steps, and accepting an alternative order from the leader. But first, you always had to ask ‘May I,’ or you would be sent back to the starting line.

Well, unlike my young colleagues, I didn’t do well at this game. I enjoyed the creative part, but would forget the ‘May I.’ Still, it was a good experience for a pre-entrepreneur, or a pre-rainmaker, or anyone who would eventually have a greater need to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

But still, there is a cosmic question for which we all need an answer:

When should I start with ‘May I?’ and when can I safely fly into action?

After a lot of thought, and asking a few wise folks what they think, I have concluded that it comes down to one key point: Where does the other person draw their personal boundary line? If you stay outside that line, the ‘May I?’ is optional. But once you cross that border, it’s an imperative.

So, how do you apply this to the creative arts of business?

Just remember that although you have a pretty good idea where your own boundaries are, and you have an idea about the other person’s boundaries, you just don’t know where they really draw the line. Therefore, it’s best to get their permission before launching into your pitch. This leaves a lot of territory in which to introduce yourself via a topic that is related to your ultimate intention, in hopes of encouraging them move their boundary lines just a little closer to you.

And one more point, if I may…

A great deal of that open territory is actually inside your own space. That’s where you can get creative with your questioning, and where you can give yourself permission to move ahead. And that’s how you start becoming great at selling anything from grand ideas to Ginsu knives. Because the first person you have to sell… is you!

Yes, you may. And yes, you can. It’s all your game to play and win!

Happy May!