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Data, Strategy, Leadership, and Innovation

Tag: Life

Living a meaningful life

“Most people lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them” – Henry David Thoreau

Too many of us live lives of quiet desperation. It’s amazing in the years I’ve spent working with people at companies around launching technology innovation, how many people are unhappy in the job but feel they need to stay there to pay the bills, or head in a direction.

Though it’s of course noble for any person to sacrifice for what matters, it’s possible to make a living focused around your passions regardless of what the thing is – you just have to be creative, and be determined to build a plan for whatever

At the same time, you can’t lose yourself in the process of building a future (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCeeTfsm8bk for a good example of this).

Regardless of what you fill your life with, time goes in just one direction and there’s no way to empty the cup and start over. What you pour into the glass never comes out, but continues to fill up. The thing is that no one knows how big the glass is until the end – and there isn’t room to pour anything else in.

What will what you pour into that glass taste like? Though parts by them selves may not taste great and some will taste amazing, what will it all taste like when mixed together? At the end, when you look back to see that’s poured in, what will you think of what’s there?

Every day you get an opportunity to pour in a little more, and sometimes you get to decide what gets poured in and sometimes you get something handed to you. Either way though, you chose how it’ll taste and how much of what to pour in. Whether you’re locked in a jail cell, or sitting at a coffee shop, it’s your glass and each day is made from a series of choices that determines what gets poured into that glass.

Don’t chose to do something that doesn’t bring you a sense of joy and purpose – regardless of the reasons you think you have to do it. It will pail in comparison to doing the tough work to figure out what you really want to do, making it happen, and realizing you can do what you need to do while doing something worthwhile and purposeful.

 

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3 Shark Tank Tips for Success in Anything

If you’ve ever seen Shark Tank, you see first hand what happens when an entrepreneur comes in prepared or not. Each time someone that comes in to pitch, there’s typical things an investor calls out that makes the difference between getting funded or not. Knowing your numbers is the big one, but there are a number of other things that can derail a good pitch or cause the sharks to compete over the start-up. These lessons though, can be applied to anything in life, whether you’re an enterprise executive or college student.

1. Know Your Numbers

The most damning thing you can do on the Shark Tank, is not know your numbers. The same is true in life, that if you want to achieve something (weight loss, financial freedom, a promotion), it makes a big difference to know your numbers. There’s so many LinkedIn profiles I’ve come across that don’t quantify what someone has accomplished, and it’s hard to know what someone actually achieved without a number to back it up. I can say I’m good at sales, but if that’s true, I should be able to say I sold X millions in Y period of time to make Z downstream opportunities for my company.

More importantly, if you aren’t able to measure what you want to accomplish, how will you build a plan to achieve it? Yes, you can lose weight just based on how you look in a mirror without measuring a thing, or achieving success based on how you feel about yourself in the morning, but numbers can help you know what works and what doesn’t, and knowing if you’re starting to slip. Some things can’t be measured, I’ll never know if I’m a good dad based on some measurement and I’d never ask my son to fill out a report card on how I’m doing, but those things that can be measured can help a good deal in where you’re going. In professional life especially, it’s much easier to justify a promotion if you have concrete proof that you’ve achieved great things. In investment, it’s required to show your books to validate how much you’re making or losing, but many other things can be tracked with a number and can help if you know / follow them.

“The best measure of a man’s honesty isn’t his income tax return. It’s the zero adjust on his bathroom scale.”

– Arthur C Clarke

2. Have a Plan

There are people that pitch the Sharks without a clear plan on what they’re going to do next, if something bad happens or if they have to spend more than they are expecting. Having an optimistic set of next steps isn’t a plan, it’s a day dream. A plan shows multiple paths, including the “happy path”, and shows you’re willing to consider and understand multiple ways to achieve your outcome. Too many people want to think optimistically or pessimistically and chose not to entertain the other side of what’s possible. To be good in business, and in life, you have to consider multiple possible realities and have a plan, if you want to demonstrate clarity of purpose and determination of outcome. In project management, you have to be able to share the bad news with the client if the project is in red, but you need a plan on how to get to green. If you lose your job, outside of your control, you can take a day to feel awful about that but your success will come from waking up the next day, having a plan on getting re-employed and then executing on it.

You’ll get beat down so much in life, for things that may or may not be your fault. Not feeling like a victim is only possible with a plan to get yourself out of that space, and having a plan can often keep you from getting in that position in the first place. You can’t predict much in life, but you can reasonably know what might occur and build a plan around how to handle it. Eventually you could be good enough in a certain set of circumstances to just react in the moment, but whether it’s getting out of debt, or achieving the goals you want professionally, sitting down and having a plan on how to get there (along with step 1) can help clear out the distractions, default decisions, and unexpected bumps that derail even the best intentions. And when that derail occurs, no matter how good your plan is, accept that defeat and make a plan to get back on your feet.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

– Abraham Lincoln

3. Don’t Go for Easy

There’s lots of ways to take the easy part in life, hit auto-pilot, and call it a day. Life is meant to be lived, and we aren’t meant to be well preserved corpses that never experienced life outside of our 5 square mile life. Humans begin with nomadic life, as we were meant to roam and explore. Those brave souls that show up on Shark Tank didn’t take the easy path, starting a business and asking for money is never an easy thing. Yet, to hear their stories and understand their passion, you can tell they aren’t living a boring existence. We aren’t all cut out to start companies, but we can all start something and live a life full of passion.

Things will be difficult, life won’t always pan out, but if you know your numbers and have a plan, you can get there and over time – failure will teach you lessons, and those lessons will make you a better person. The best ship captains have experienced the most things going wrong, not so things on the ocean can always be avoided but that they’ll know what to do when something happens. This is only possible with experience, failure, loss, and determination. Live to the extent of what you think is possible, and you’ll find 10 more steps in front of you that you didn’t see before.

Don’t go for easy, don’t hit auto-pilot in your life, and remember that life is a bullet train that goes down the same path for us all – it’s just a question of what we see, experience, and impact along that journey that matters.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the person who points out how the strong person stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends themselves in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if they fail, at least fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

– Teddy Roosevelt

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Path or the Gear?

There comes a time during your professional life that you need to stand back and get perspective if you’re heading in the right direction. However, how often does that perspective take you in a whole new direction?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that people born between 1957 and 1964 held an average of 11 jobs from ages 18 to 44. On average, men held 11.4 jobs and women held 10.7 jobs. 25% percent held 15 jobs or more, while 12% held four jobs or less.

I’m curious in those stats, how many of those people changed jobs because they had to, wanted to, or felt like they should. So often we try to make the right decisions in our professional life’s, and rely on the help of those that have gone before us to help us through the path. The problem is though, that we can often ignore the internal compass we all have inside of us when it comes to someone’s advice that we rely on to act as a guide and mentor.

It means it’s important to find the right mentor, but it’s also important to keep advice at arms length if you don’t have your bearings as to where the path you’re on is taking you. Picking the “right” job may have motivations other than something you care about and are passionate about.

What were you into when you were a kid, when all you had was your internal compass telling you what direction to head in? I often took things apart, figured out how they worked, and put them back together in a new configuration I thought worked better. I chose IT strategy as an outlet for that love, but I could have easily been a mechanic or engineer. The point is that the passion I had to take things apart and put them back together, whether it’s a company or an engine, is present in what I do which is where my internal compass has led me.

It wasn’t obvious though, until I looked back on my life and patterns and detected in the jobs I haven’t enjoyed that there wasn’t a part of what I loved to do as a kid, though it was the “right” job at the time for money, opportunity, or education. Where I’m at now though, I not only find enjoyment and fulfillment in my current job though, but am finding I’m much more successful in achieving my goals than I have been in the past – getting in shape, spending time with my wife, reading books, and focusing on the things that matter in life have always been goals but now that I’m aligned in my purpose and am doing work I care about I’m finding it a lot easier to get out of bed in the morning.

Yet, when I think about what this job really has that’s all that great, I’m reminded of those themes in my life that reappear in different manifestations and see where my internal compass has continually reminded me the work I was passionate about. My body literally wouldn’t let me be put up with work I wasn’t cut out for, and things started to break down and no longer work – stress, depression, anxiety – all the cost of doing something I wasn’t cut out for.

I thought mentors would fix me, but when it comes to what I was most passionate about, the only answer I needed was the ones I already had. No one is more of an expert on you, than you – you’re the only one that’s been with you since the beginning.

If you’re unhappy in your professional life, or even if you think you have the perfect job, think about a time when you didn’t have to do anything and about what you chose to spend your time on – what’s your internal compass telling you? It could make all the difference between changing paths in life (entirely new career), vs just changing the gear you’re using along the path you’re already on (new job, same career).

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Chess & Life

It’s often said that a good chess player is someone that can think 5 moves ahead. The difficulty in doing that though, is you can’t really predict what the other player will do so there’s a margin of error that will constantly need to be re-calculated.

In a lot of ways, we make plans in life assuming we know the direction it’ll go. Innovation in companies is often this way, and resembles a dissertation that takes too long and ends up having to be redone because someone beat them to the punch on what they were working on. Yes we have to take gambles and take risks, but sometimes it’s the analysis paralysis that keeps us from getting to our goals.

Much like in chess, if you have the most confidence in life, you can often become your own success regardless of how good you really are. People that are successful at a sport aren’t necessary the most naturally talented at it, they just showed up every day and had the grit and determination to succeed. The late Brian Klemmer talks about it by saying that your deepest commitment will often produce several ways in which to achieve something. There are often 100’s of ways to get to where you want to go, but where people lack is the commitment to seek the results they really want.

If you really want to win in chess, practice is important, but having the confidence and swagger of someone that knows what they are doing can go a lot further than 100’s of games being memorized. If the other player becomes intimidated, or backs down from an overly aggressive pawn – the game goes from being offensive to being defensive, and your upper hand can make all the difference towards that person making moves a rookie would shake their head at. It’s often said that the reason Big Blue beat Garry Kasparov in 1996 was because, once Garry’s confidence began to wain – he made mistakes a stable and solid player of his caliber wouldn’t have made, but the computer had the power to recover better because it had no emotion in it’s way. In short – when you stumble, take a deep breath and let it go in order to recover.

The funny thing about losing to chess is, that even though the other player isn’t predictable – they can only move one move at a time before you jump back in to make another move. This back and forth means you can’t lose control of your game unless you chose to lose control of your game – no one move determines the outcome of a single game, but rather a series of steps. The funny thing is, you can always chose to resign the match, even before it’s over.

If there’s things in your life you feel are out of control, take a step back and realize you are in control. No one move in life can determine the outcome of the entire rest of your life, and at any point you can step back and change the game. If things are really out of control, resign from whatever it is you are doing and start another game. We are all empowered with some level of control, because at no point can anyone force us to ultimately do something day in and day out – they can convince us to do something, they can strong arm us, but it’s us at the end of the day that decides where we move the pieces on the board for most scenarios in life.

When we decide that we have control over all the white or black pieces on the board, and that every move can be recovered by the next choice we make – no game in life is hopeless. The only way you have no chance of winning is by standing around watching the chess match, instead of playing it.

The opposing player never causes you to lose, and you aren’t without an opportunity to redeem and restore whatever situation you’re in. Allow the answers to come to you by taking those deep breaths, and the right combination of moves will appear in surprising ways.

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