Archives For Work

Our ways of living and cultural norms have changed. As a cynic, you can blame it on brainwashing from the capitalistic way of life that makes us work most of our lives to try and get by or gain more wealth, or you can describe it more innocently as the natural progression of civilization towards a more productive approach to living where we all have a better way of life. Either way, it has manifested itself in what I view as two opposing ways of life: Living versus “making a living”.

Simply put, living is what humanity did for tens of thousands of years and it usually meant just trying to survive. Our life was focused on gathering enough food to survive the winter, keeping a sufficient supply of water, protecting ourselves from mean animals and mean people, and if all goes right, having babies. It was a hard life where the average lifespan was half of what it is today, but it was a life living in accordance with nature and there was usually much less “work”.

Making a living is something we were able to change thanks to capitalism in the last three centuries. With a more structured civilization combined with advancements in production and manufacturing, an individual or group of individuals were able to make a surplus of goods. This allowed others to focus on additional things, besides simply living, and created market places where we could buy everything we needed, and only needed money to do it. To make the money, we switched to making a living so we could have enough money for the living.

There are major benefits to this switch which have allowed for advancements in manufacturing, health care and technology and have provided a longer life span for most people along with more opportunities for education, societal advancement and healthy living. But there must be some kind of trade-off, right?

These thoughts came to mind while we were walking through Redwoods National Park in northern California. Some of the trees are over two thousand years old and are the tallest living things on Earth. Walking through them brings awe and serenity as you tilt your head backwards as far as you can without falling over just in an attempt to see the tops. The native tribes lived in the areas for tens of thousands of years before they were pushed out, hardly making a negative impact on the land. They most certainly respected the giant redwoods as important creatures in their ecosystem and did little to impact their existence. They were “living” off the land and appreciated what mother nature offered.

Then the Europeans and early American settlers came around, looked up at the massive redwoods and thought, “Holy crap, I could make a lot of money if I cut those down, sawed them up, floated them down the river and sold them.” The entire coast was filled with these redwoods, but after the loggers’ “productivity”, there’s only small areas remaining (estimated at 5% of the original) that were protected by state and national parks. The land lost its value to people from a spiritual perspective and instead changed to a commodity that was only as valuable as what could be extracted from it.

This became even more evident when we visited the beautiful Silver Falls State Park in central Oregon where an eight mile hike takes you through pine forests and some of the most amazing waterfalls you’ll see in one compact area on this entire continent. It was once considered to become a national park, but it didn’t make the cut (put intended) because the hillsides surrounding the falls were described as graveyards of tree stumps.

We learned part of this from a video they showed which had a similar narrative as most of the Americas – native tribes lived there for centuries until they were pushed out by early settlers and corporate interests. This time it was the loggers who valued the land for the massive old growth pines that occupied most of it. Shortly after, it was fully logged and became a barren land with the same beautiful waterfalls cascading through a desert-like landscape. A fellow purchased the land to see if he could make some money off of it, but it was so barren that no one was interested in the waterfalls any longer. But he was entrepreneurial and found that he could charge a nickel to spectators to watch him push old cars off the 150+ foot falls!

Talk about a major change to the environment – from old growth forests with incredible falls to barren land marked by rusty old cars – in a matter of years! Luckily, someone had the sense to clean up the land up and let it reforest.

I get it, the western way of life is to make a living, and there’s no way we could all eat if we didn’t participate. But imagine how a Native American felt as she watched a single tree, then an entire forest of redwoods fall. I’m sure she would’ve been quite confused at why anyone would need to do that. Or how about the plains Indians who watched entire herds of American Bison killed for profit or only pleasure. It must have shocked them.

Can we have one without the other?

Unless you’ve won the jackpot or got rich through an inheritance, you’re going to have to make a living – at least for a while. You’ll need to find a good career where you can use your job as a tool and make as much money as you can. For most people, this will demand the rest of their life as they work to pay off their crap they continue buying.

But there is another way. What if you could make a living for 10-15 years while you save up enough money and invest so you can move on to living? When my parents left their jobs for retirement, they quickly left the working world behind and started exploring their hobbies. Gardening, reading, beekeeping, visiting family and traveling are some of their highlights. They no longer need to worry about making a living because they managed their money well and receive enough in pensions and social security to keep them going. They’re living and we all enjoy the benefits – especially the extra time and honey!

They had to wait closer to retirement age though. I don’t want to wait that long, I want to start living now. This is why we decided to take control of our money ten years ago, so we could go on with living today and why we’re currently exploring North American in our Airstream. We’ll make money again in the future, but we’re lucky that we’ll be able to decide the terms. I want our “making a living” to coincide with the way we want to live our lives… making a difference and helping others while enjoying what living has to offer.

The Untangling

April 5, 2017 — 2 Comments

We are the profiles we’ve created for ourselves with the help of outside influencers, but what happens when we either voluntarily or forcefully remove our profiles and no longer are the person who we thought we had become? How do we untangle everything that came previously and created our profile?

I’ve been actively exploring this question since I left my fancy corporate job last May. The first few weeks felt like nothing more than a vacation, with the feeling that email piles and conference calls would soon start up again. It actually took a few months to get untangled from the regimented work schedule where the rhythms of one work week often mirrored the next. Post-job, I no longer had a schedule or work plan dictating where I needed to be and what I needed to be doing. It was up to me.

It was easy to keep my mind occupied at this time because we were trying to finish the Airstream renovation and prepare our house for sale and/or lease. I thought about work now and again, but it was quickly fading into the past. My mind had pretty successfully become untangled from the knot that had formed over the two previous years.

The next untangling came when I had to figure out what I am now. I’m no longer a consultant, no longer corporate management, and I’m no longer in the high tech world. From some perspectives, I lost the identity I spent the last ten years creating.

Recently, I updated my Linked In profile to say “Explorer”. I was a little nervous doing so because it was such a far leap from what was there before. However, the title felt suitable because that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re exploring life on the open road as we take our Airstream across the US and Canada. We’re exploring different ways of living as we meet new people and hear their stories. We’re exploring our future and what we want to do with our lives.

I think untangling is a healthy process and biologically we have a deep need to do it. It happens automatically at night when we burn off the memories of the day which we sometimes remember as dreams. We also assist our natural untangling more purposely through meditation, yoga, running and other activities. Some religions or ways of life like Buddhism teach untangling as a very important exercise for our minds.

When I was in college, I was a co-director for Camp Cowboy, which was a freshman orientation camp to help students get ready for college life. My co-director and friend, Doug, had the idea to have each of the freshman write down what they were, or their “profile”, in high school. He then instructed them to throw it in the fire because they were leaving high school and the profiles/stereotypes that came with it (good or bad) and starting anew. Maybe it should be as simple as that.

Maybe in addition to an Explorer, I’m now an entrepreneur. As I learned in consulting, sometimes you just have to fake it until you make it.

I’m an IT business manager. I know eCommerce and the online space. I’ve grown up in the consulting world and will always be a consultant. My wife and I have great careers and make good money. We live in a nice part of Dallas and don’t have to worry about unexpected bills or living paycheck to paycheck. We take fancy vacations and buy nice things for ourselves.

Now throw all of that away. Quit the jobs and jeopardize the future. Lose our main sources of income. Rent out the house and live in a small camper. Experience life among homeless people living in parks. Who are we now?

We spend the majority of our lives developing our profile. We start out of high school or college with choosing our profession and how we’ll make money. We work hard to become the best in the field, and we start to believe we are the person we’ve created.

My first career in consulting proved it paid off to build a strong profile. I never wanted to be a “SAP” guy (business software), but when I saw the bonuses and raises that were attached to the profile, I pursued it! It works out best for a consulting company to develop individuals with strong profiles because they can then bring them in to make the client happy and make more money. However, it’s not always best for the employee, because when that specialty is no longer popular, their value quickly declines.

Sometimes our profile is the creation of something we really wanted to become, but there are also big influencers from the outside. Your parents want you to be successful, your spouse wants you to be happy or rich (or both), companies want you to buy their fancy crap and society wants you to live up to its economic standards.

Whether we like or not, society and culture are two of the biggest influencers of our profiles. Why else do we all dress and act the same? I can’t decide if my next hairstyle will be the man bun or the one where you shave your head up to the sides and keep it long up top…. just like all the other hipsters! We may deviate slightly, but we’re pretty much all living the same. Our tour guide in Indonesia, named Putu, was astonished when we told him we moved away from our parents’ houses in the US and that we lived many hours away. In their culture, the families stay together, in the same compound, within feet of each other. That’s part of their profile.

But what happens when your profile changes? What happens when you decide you no longer want to look rich, but instead want to be rich? What happens when you purposely drive a car with over 200k miles on it, even though you could afford a shiny new one? Or on the other side of it, what happens when you get laid off and you can no longer find a job in your industry – instead having to go work part-time at Home Depot because that’s the only thing you can find?

We become so tangled up in our profiles that we can’t see a life beyond it. That’s why it’s so hard for lifetime “corporate employees” to become entrepreneurs. Corporate employees, myself included, are accustomed to earning paychecks by completing specific tasks and living within the bigger and seemingly safer ecosystem. It’s too scary to try to make money on our own without all of this support.

Profiles feel very empowering when we’re in the middle of them, but when we’re suddenly thrown out, we learn they can actually be quite debilitating. By saying we’re one thing, we’re admitting we’re not the other.

The one driving force of humanity that’s kept us around is our ability to adapt. When we’re thrown in new situations, we can survive and often thrive. We’re not the single profiles we’ve created, but instead a whole range of possible new profiles.

We’ve all probably had a boss or two in our lives who we’d swear were psychopaths… you know the one who had an ability to make people cry on demand, never noticed your heroic effort and sacrificed puppies every Friday at lunch. Good news, you’re not crazy if you thought that because a recent study of 261 senior professionals in the United States found that 21% had clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits – roughly the same percentage as the prison population. The normal rate among Americans is around 1%.

Psychopaths suffer from antisocial personality disorder which usually means they are unable to empathize, treat others with very little regard, have no conscience and show no guilt or remorse for their behavior. Psychologists believe they’re born this way, different than sociopaths who are are usually formed that way by nurture (parents / caregivers).

Another distinction is sociopaths are impulsively dangerous, rather than cold and calculated like a psychopath. If that’s not scary enough, psychologists say psychopaths are often able to fake feelings like empathy and remorse to gain trust and build relationships that are beneficial to them.

I think we can all agree from the onset that none of us would enjoy working for a person with these scary traits. You couldn’t trust them which would render your loyalty and commitment worthless… unless you’re scared of them because they’re psychopaths, then you might stick around!

Time for your annual performance review!!!

Time for your annual performance review!!!

But what if you’re a CEO who’s a psychopath only interested in results and you want to find some leaders who can drive the business the same way? Would you consider psychopaths better leaders? Let’s unpeel this onion a bit and pretend I’m talking to you as a psychopath CEO.

Psychopaths probably aren’t very valuable to your company unless they have some other traits you can harness and help mold. If I could pick any trait, I’d select narcissism which psychology defines as “extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration“. Okay, this is something I can work with. Now all we need to do drive the business is help build this person’s dream of the position they can achieve at our company and the admiration and fame that will come with it.

It doesn’t matter if the person has any passion for what your company does, all that matters is they can clearly see a path to dominance. Of course, you’ll need to play some games of your own to make sure this person isn’t able to unseat you, but you’re a psychopath CEO, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Isn’t this coming along well??!

The last thing you need to ensure is your psycho-minion is smart enough to at least fake some emotional intelligence. They can’t make it obvious they have very little regard for others or they won’t be successful. The good news is if you find a narcissistic leader who’s smart, they’ll know an important element of their success is shepherding and building those under them – at least enough that it helps the leader be more successful.

Congratulations psychopath CEO, your company is now built to at least hit next quarter’s numbers! However, anything beyond that is foggy because everyone else will probably quit.

So far, it sounds pretty clear we wouldn’t want to work for a psychopath. But is there more to the story?

Psychopath or a good business operator?

There’s some very tough middle ground senior leaders have to play that could often be viewed as either a psychopathic trait or as being a good business operator. I had to play some of these roles at my last job when times got hard and budgets got cut. This makes the job of a leader very difficult because you have to worry about the long term health of the company sometimes more than the individuals who work for it.

If you’re not able to be a “tough” boss who can make the hard decisions, you may not be successful and your company may fail. I had a very hard time making staffing cuts because I was very concerned about the impact to the individuals… but does that make me a bad business operator and does that make the person who made the cuts a psychopath? It’s obviously not black or white, so many of the judgments can’t be made without a broader understanding of the situation… which is hard to entertain if you’re the one who is getting let go!

What about psychopath visionaries?

Visionaries are the people who ultimately change the world. Sometimes they do it through building consensus and slowly moving the group along, but most of the time they’re single-minded in their efforts. It could be built out of their own goals of admiration and power, or it could be propelled by something they believe in so strongly that no person will be able to stand in their way.

Either way, they might be viewed as psychopaths because they’re more concerned with their vision than with anyone or anything else. They’re not hesitant to insult or fire people aren’t valuable to their cause. One often disputed psychopath is Steve Jobs. According to biographer Walter Isaacson, there was “Good Steve” and a “Bad Steve” and if you’ve read any of his biographies or watched the movies, you know he had some psychopathic traits. But he also changed the world.

In the end…

Even if 21% of senior leaders are psychopaths, it means that 79% aren’t. However, there are probably times that every senior leader was accused of being a psychopath due to the decisions they were forced to make. If I’m unwilling to make those tough decisions because I’m too nice (this is all theoretical) then does that mean I wouldn’t make it at the top of the company? Maybe that’s why there is a higher concentration of “psychopathic traits” at the top… because the people unwilling to make these difficult decisions quit before then or make a decision to stay at a lower level or as an “individual contributor” so they wouldn’t be put in a position where they’d have to look like a psychopath!

If it seems like I’ve gone in circles with this post, it’s because I have. When I first started writing it, I definitely had it slanted that there’s a clear “psychopath leader” trait and many senior leaders have the same temperament at the prison population… but as I started thinking through my own experiences and examples, I’ve definitely backtracked. It’s not easy being a senior leader and if you want to be the one in those positions of power and influence where you can drive real change, you need to make tough decisions that might make you look like a psychopath sometimes.

Studies like the one linked, just like most statistics, can be slanted in any direction or be made to tell any story one prefers. I’m assuming the interviews of the senior leaders were completed with the goal of finding at least one of those “psychopathic traits” – which is probably pretty easy to do with someone who’s been in that position long enough and has been forced to make the painful decisions to increase company longevity.

I think that’s where you sort out the real psychopaths from the others. Recognize if they’re only out for their own personal gain and power – and avoid them. Find someone you trust and can learn from and who you know has your back, but then understand we’re in a very challenging and quickly changing environment where tough decisions are sometimes required. I’ve always tried to find those people I respect and can learn from, and then follow them in my career until the time is right to move on.

When he walks into a room, he greets you with a warm smile, handshake, and most importantly, your name. He makes you feel like the most important person on the planet and the person he’s been waiting to see all week. Does he have some sort of superpower that makes him extremely charismatic? No, he just practices.

Emotional intelligence is one of the most important traits that will contribute to your success in life. It’s the ability to assess the situation and personalities in your presence and drive interactions based on that. It’s not something you’re “born with” – it can be learned.

When we visited Detroit during our Great American Road trip, we met up with a friend who has very high emotional intelligence. In the course of conversations with him and his partner, we learned that he works very hard to make people feel special. In fact, after he meets someone, he’ll write down their name and something to remember them by (what they do, where they met, etc). He’s been known to search through his notes for 45 minutes before a meeting to find someone’s name and notes again!!

This isn’t new information, and I’m sure you’re familiar with it from books like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. In it, he gives many tips, but in this particular area, he has some dandies:

carnegie

Even with all of this information out there, it blows my mind to see how low some people’s emotional intelligence can be! There’s one particular example of someone who talks incessantly about crap nobody cares about. This person is not a friend, but someone who cohabits mutual gatherings, so don’t think I’m talking bad about somebody I like (or who would be reading this)! This person will trap somebody in a conversation and then drag them through the painful details nobody wanted to hear in the first place… and doesn’t seem to realize people are doing anything they can to escape.

People aren’t going to hire you, spend time with you, or even want to work for you if you have this low of emotional intelligence. I’ve thought about some of my friends and mentors who display high emotional intelligence and noted three main areas to improve my emotional intelligence, the “Three A’s: Awareness, Adjustment and Acceptance”.

Awareness

In my example of a really low emotionally intelligent individual, she had no idea people ran when she turned their direction. You have to be aware of how you’re viewed in situations. Are you coming off as arrogant and rude, or kind and friendly? Are people interested in what you’re saying, or are they just too nice to walk away?

To get more aware of yourself, start to take a more “outside in” approach and think about how other people see you. One of the biggest challenges with awareness is your particular situation is always changing. Even if you’re talking to two people in one conversation, each will have their own feelings of the situation. However, the first step is just to start thinking about it.

Adjustment

After you become of aware of how you are seen, make adjustments accordingly. If you’re the person who talks all of the time, take one of Mr. Carnegie’s tips and be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves. There’s no better way to drive a conversation than to get someone talking about something they’re interested in.

You can also try the name and notes approach, which always make a great start to a conversation because people are surprised you’ve actually remembered them and will quickly warm up to you.

Acceptance

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. There’s some things we know about ourselves that we might not be able to change or don’t want to change. Conversely, there’s things about other people we’ll never be able to change. Some of my friends call me “Direct Dan” because I’ve been known to skip over the light talk to get straight to a point and it comes across a little harsh. I’m aware of this and many times I don’t control it fast enough as the directness escapes my lips, but it also helped define me in my career and allowed me to be a better leader and boss.

Working on your emotional intelligence can be a fun thing, but as mentioned earlier, it’s also vitally important to your career and life. We have another good friend (I know, surprising I have 2+ friends) who’s also highly emotionally intelligent. He’s one of those guys who can fit in any situation you throw him in, and he’ll adapt beautifully. A perfect example is a relationship he’s developed with the Marley’s (yes, as in Bob Marley’s family) through work. Whenever they come to town, they always give him a call because the trust they have in him that’s developed from his great work but also his high emotional intelligence. A call from the Marley’s will more than likely always result in fun.

What examples do you see that makes someone high or low emotionally intelligent?

p.s. I thought this picture would be fun to share because it’s from a work event, and I’m not a dirty hippie like I am now… and it maybe I’m either really emotionally intelligent in it, really cheesy, or just having fun 🙂

dan-and-pierre