Friend, Human, Marketer

Small world

The world is smaller than you think.

Even with billions of people on the Earth, our paths are constantly crossing with people we know in unexpected places.  It’s because of the many trails we leave: past friends from living in previous cities, former colleagues at old jobs, buddies from school, or activity groups.  We run our lives in smaller universes than we realize.  The LinkedIn / Kevin Bacon / degrees of separation game is very real.

It can be dangerous, if you forget to treat people well. More than one job applicant has been denied a position because word got around of his low performance three jobs ago, or because she made enemies who then found the ear of her hiring manager.  Of course the solution to that is pretty straightforward: do a good job and don’t step on people on the way.

It can also be delightful, when coincidences lead to chance meetings.  For example, my wife and I were up in Maine, hours away from home, celebrating our 17th anniversary.  While huddled around a firepit making s’mores, another guest peering over the flames said to me, “Are you Jeff?  Jeff Foley?”  It was my former coworker Victor, whom I hadn’t seen in almost two decades.  My wife burst out, “You took the very first picture of us as a couple!  We framed it and had it on our piano for years!”  It was true: one of the last times we saw Victor was on what was probably our third date, a going-away cruise marking an important transition for our company as it was acquired by a competitor.

These stories are always remarkable.  The guy whose new boyfriend turns out to be the neighbor’s best friend.  The dinner invite turned down that a couple realizes, a decade later, would have caused them to meet two years earlier than they did.  The Facebook “wait, how do you two know each other?” moment in which you learn a best friend from kindergarten went to grad school with a trusted coworker.  All because the world is smaller than you think.

We re-live our impact on others again and again.  (Just in case any of you needed more motivation not to be an asshole.)

Human, Leadership

Recognizing an Inflection Point

There are these great moments that are easy to spot in hindsight — moments where everything around you changes irrevocably.  At work, it could be a new boss or new CEO, or an acquisition or sale. World news such as an election, an attack, or a crime can alter the course of history. Major personal events such as a marriage or birth or death leave an obvious, indelible mark on the trajectory of our lives and others.

Those are obvious inflection points – points on the timeline that you can use to end one chapter and start another in the story of your own life. But what about the less obvious ones?

That moment when you realize you’re not going to stay in your job and it’s time to figure out what’s next. The first time a teen calls you “sir.” The day you realize a new way to approach a familiar task, or that you start a habit that stays with you.

Those inflection points are great to look back upon and acknowledge when you are reflecting on your path traveled.

It’s even greater when you spot one as it’s happening and see in real time how it’s changing you.

But the greatest is when you can actively turn a moment into a inflection point and say now. Right now. This is happening, I’m turning the page, I’m declaring a new chapter, and I am going to make this work.

We have that power.

Human, Leadership

Sadvocates

In any tough situation, you can choose to look for joy.  To find the brighter side.  To not get discouraged by the setback.  To put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  To think slower, not faster and suppress your lizard brain reactions. To shape your own reality.

Or you can choose to look for sadness. To interpret cynically.  To believe the worst of others. To mourn the past, or damn the future.  To point out what’s going wrong, not what’s going right.  To be Eeyore.

Acceptance is a dynamic act.  You’ll find both joy and sadness if you look for them.  Unless you’re battling a mental illness like depression – you get to choose.  And your choice doesn’t just affect your reality.  It influences the reality of those around you.  So, which will you advocate for?  Joy or sadness?

We humans like to flock together.  We naturally give into peer pressure to fit in, like in the famous Candid Camera elevator experiment.  So it’s very easy to follow along with the sadvocates.  To nod your head as they tell you why your jobs all suck, or why the old way was better, or why this will never work.

Don’t.

 

Friend, Human

Heaven on Earth

Once I had a dream I was in the afterlife. It was a long white corridor with lots of doors. Behind each of the doors were rooms with different circles of my friends. Some were playing games, some were at a barbecue, some were just sitting in a room talking about nothing in particular.

I recognize it’s an introvert’s Hell but as an extrovert it’s my Heaven. And I try to recreate it whenever possible.

The last several weeks have been a series of mini-heavens. Anniversary and birthday celebrations. A weekend with 100+ friends (and 50+ new ones made) in the woods of Pomfret, Connecticut. A Patriots game. Evenings of board gaming. An evening of role playing games. A choir rehearsal. Watching great TV shows in the evening with my family. Lunches with past and future coworkers.

All ways to temporarily emulate that concept of never ending joy.

Athlete, Human

5k

No, I wasn’t the fastest – I finished 16th of 17 in my age group, way back in the total pack, just ahead of the walkers.

No, it wasn’t a Personal Record (and I’ve only done one other 5k, which I finished about 30 seconds faster.)

No, I’m not in better shape because my running has been sporadic and my weight has gone up since that 5k last thanksgiving.

No, I haven’t been training heavily for it because this Wilmington 5k was an opportunity discovered the day before.

But despite all that… all that was working against me… I finished, and finished proudly. It was good practice, it was not beyond my abilities. And I couldn’t have done this race two years ago. No way. Ive overcome a lot to get this far with a running hobby that a 6’5″ guy with flat feet and bad ankles should ever have been able to achieve. And I’m going to do more.

Human, Marketer, Musician

Finding the Opportunity

Finding opportunities out of obligations is about more than the old optimist’s creed of “making lemonade from lemons.”  It’s about efficiency.  It’s about attitude.  It’s about shaping your reality.

Once my dad was told to attend a dinner event 3 hours away to represent the company, accept an award, and shake hands with the governor for a 5 minute photo-op.  My dad’s initial reaction was annoyance – this disrupts my work day and takes me away from home, there’s so many other things that need to be done, why me, and so on.  Then he realized that he was doing this anyways – why not make it an opportunity?  He decided that he’d use those 5 minutes with the governor to draw his attention to a project that wasn’t getting attention.  There’s evidence that those 5 minutes actually contributed to that project’s approval.  He created value out of what could have been a waste of time.

The chorus I sing with is requiring its members to do 9 holiday concerts this year instead of 7.  Like many, my initial reaction was a mixture of panic and disappointment – especially since the news was communicated without fanfare, gratitude, or acknowledgement of the change. How could they do this to us? How much more will this cost our family to ‘volunteer’? And so on.  Then I realized that the holiday concerts have really changed from years ago, when they were perceived by many as a burden, an obligation, a mandatory exercise with a substitute conductor and a high temptation to mail it in. The new approach is to treat each concert like a music-making experience, and the rehearsals and pedagogy associated with them are basically a voice lesson for me every time.  I’ll take two more cheap voice lessons and performances this December, especially given that this may be my last season if I’m not in the chorus after next spring’s re-audition!

Life is more enjoyable when you reframe obligations as opportunities.