"If you can't figure out what kind of work you like, pay attention to what's easy to concentrate on and gives you energy vs. what makes you tune out and feel tired." (Sam Altman via James Clear)
In my 20+ years professional career I’ve worked for three different organizations, but I’ve changed roles many times. Most of the role changes were upward or progressive -- meaning that they were incremental in scope, responsibility, and/or visibility.
Somewhat paradoxically, I have also interviewed with dozens of different companies. I am of the mindset, and support everyone I’ve ever coached or led to do the same, that exploration enhances commitment. That is, I want you to go out and interview with other companies. I want to facilitate your growth and if another role or company allows you to do that, I want that for you*.
I want your whole self at work, driven by your choice. I.e., if you chose to stay here working for me, great! You chose that, fully aware of what was on the “other side”. If, however, you feel empowered to take on another role because you have empirically mapped out** that the new opportunity is going to give you something accretive, then do that!*** I want your whole self, not your partial self because you "feel" the grass is greener--get some evidence and let's debate.
Sometimes it is beneficial to bloom where you’re planted. And sometimes it is beneficial to plant seeds elsewhere. So how do you know? The 60-40 rule is fairly useful.
The 60-40 rule is an imperfect, qualitative, and biased mental shortcut that helps me decide, grow, sacrifice, learn, etc. for various professional crossroads/questions.
It is basically my crap tolerance floor. The lowest I’ll accept. A 50-50 coin flip can be entirely up to chance, it is too low. A 60-40 is my minimally acceptable criteria for doing something day-in/day-out. It gives me a threshold.
You might argue that technically anything from 51-49 to 100-0 could also be acceptable. Sure it can. But I prefer not to get into the semantics or inaccuracies of the numbers themselves. Let’s not be precisely inaccurate. On any given day, I’ll make dozens of decisions, some poignant most not. But when it comes to my professional life balance, the 60-40 comes in handy.
To explain, sometimes work days are 100% amazing. Sometimes work days are 100% sh-t. But on the whole, is it generally more amazing than sh-t? If it is 50-50, you may want to consider a different job. I.e., if on any given day there is a 50-50 chance that your day is going to be sh-t, then time to reassess. Is it your expectations? Is it the environment? Is it the culture? Your boss? Take the time to diagnose the situation and then seek counsel from those whom you trust to illuminate your biases, and then make an informed decision.
If on the whole, however, you have a reasonable sense of autonomy, purpose, and mastery (Dan Pink), and you like the people you work with and whom you work for, then water the grass you’re on; explore how can you improve your education, experience, or exposure to improve your ratio a bit. This could look like taking classes, working with your manager for added scope (or a reduction of scope), meeting with others in your organization or your field, etc.
So, the next time you’re wondering, “should I stay or should I go?” Reflect on Altman’s quote--think about the ratio of “energy accretion” versus “energy dilution”. Are you at 60-40?
"Don't over-improve your weaknesses. If you're not good at something, work on it until it no longer prevents your progress, but the bulk of your time is better spent maximizing your strengths." -- James Clear
I remember having a heated debate early in my professional career with my then line manager (and now amazing professional confidant and friend Stacy Jackson) about this very topic.
I showed Stacy the visual and Einstein quote as the stimulus for what I believed was a misapplication of my natural strengths. My argument being that I was being asked to develop a skill that took too much of my energy (as it didn’t come naturally to me) versus allowing me to leverage my strengths (which were clearly valued by her and the organization). In addition to the visual, I think I said something to the effect of “you wouldn’t ask Mozart to play soccer would you!?” [Side note: I had a very trusting working relationship with Stacy and she was/is an amazing leader of leaders; we had some heated albeit fun arguments, and I am eternally grateful that she cared enough to debate me].
After we both laughed at me comparing myself to Mozart (SMH), she calmly clarified that she wasn’t asking me to completely retool my skill set; rather, she mapped out how shoring up a lagging skill could sharpen my strengths.
“I’m not asking you/Mozart to play soccer,” she laughed, “Consider instead that I’m asking a really good soccer player to shore up the ability to kick with both legs.” She continued the analogy with me as the soccer player, “You clearly favor kicking with your right leg and evidently it is strong; now imagine what I can do, what YOU can do, if we can get your left leg up to reasonable par. And when I say reasonable, I don’t mean that I want your left leg to be as strong as your right, I just don’t want it to be a barrier to your development as a player…and right now it is.”
In other words, Stacy wasn’t asking the fish to climb a tree, nor was she asking Mozart to play soccer; rather, she was asking the fish to swim in a different tank (e.g., to experience different environments), she was asking Mozart to build a piano from pieces (e.g., to understand how the instrument’s materials affect sound), etc...I could go on and on. The key take-away is that Stacy effectively diagnosed my strengths and then patiently coached me through my weaknesses so that they didn’t prevent progress.
Whilst I am eternally grateful for the lesson and have used it throughout my career when coaching others (especially when I’m coaching team leaders), I have modified a few things over the years. First, I tend not to use the word “weaknesses” as that often has the negative effect of putting the emphasis on “what’s wrong” versus “what’s right”. Second, I start the conversation with the context at hand, i.e., strengths and weaknesses in relation to what? Career development, project management?
As one example, whenever I’m discussing career or professional development plans with someone, I make sure that we discuss “tendencies” (aka strengths) and the “shadows” of those tendencies (aka weaknesses) so that we’re focused on maximizing strengths whilst being mindful of the imbalance that can occur when one over-relies on said strengths in all situations. This subtle but powerful shift in approach allows the individual I’m coaching to reflect on their strengths as “tools” versus fixed traits. This then allows us to explore the application of their tendencies (mindful of the shadows) against the backdrop of the situation at hand.
In short: I’m not Mozart, and thank you Stacy.
I'm not overly fond of New Year's resolutions but I do firmly believe in reflecting and tinkering. This story begins on 12/31/15.
The wife and I had a fairly benign but thoroughly enjoyable New Year's celebration this year: more than a few drinks, lots of laughs, lots of reflection (we do that a lot), and then in bed well before midnight. The next morning I woke up at my usual "you've got to be kidding, really?" time, began to manage through my lightly hungover state and then sat to reflect (see, there it is again).
I landed on the following: I never did anything I'm proud of while drunk; whilst all my proudest moments and accomplishments never included an ounce of booze.
And I know I'm not the only one. Google "drunk regrets" and you get endless, often painful, stories and visuals.
More importantly, as a self-diagnosed health nut, I've tried all sorts of health challenges and fitness routines; and I'm super conscious of what I eat but yet I've never tried being stone-cold dry (which I find interesting considering that I don't drink that often anyway). So to that end, time to experiment with a 100% dry year in 2016.
Salud! (he says with water)
Every time I've made a career transition, I've been told I'm going to the dark side; makes me wonder if there's a light side.
I seem to recall some parenting advice on setting realistic goals and expectations for your kids. The rationale being that if you set unrealistic expectations, you may end up setting them up for failure or worse, setting them up for a life of disappointment.
I believe that life has a natural way of tempering dreams, channeling passions, and closing doors (assuming you're willing to knock on the door in the first place). Perhaps it's better to work on and solidify two mindsets / temperaments: experiment and resilience. In our house, we require and celebrate experiments, trial, and tinkering while simultaneously managing and encouraging through the subsequent failures. We don't help our boys (which is painful to watch), we simply let them try nearly everything out for themselves (we obviously exclude life-death safety events). The same holds true for me and my wife; probably why we've relocated so many times and why our savings account isn't quite where experts say it should be.
Nevertheless, it works for us: we're somewhat anti-fragile and we have plenty of stories. So, to my boys: think you can crack the quantum code using Legos while pursuing your PhD/MD in philosophy, herpetology, and neurosurgery and competing for American Ninja Warrior? Give it a shot, you'll figure something out one way or the other; just don't get bogged down.
Off to make more messes.
PS. If you want an extensive deep dive into the concept of resiliency vs. antifragility I highly recommend Nassim Taleb's Antifragile.
PPS. Limiting Factor
What is your gut reaction to a mistake? What is your 5 min reaction? How do you feel about it years later?
Friday nights are pizza and movie night at the Corella household. Boys were rabble-rousing, setting up the dinner trays, and arguing over which movie we were going to watch...as usual. The wife and I were cleaning up the kitchen and setting the table. Door knocks, pizza guy hands wife the pizza, wife hands pizza guy the cash tip (she’d already paid for the pizza online), movie commences. All is well.
Next day the family is out on one of our usual weekend trips; be it to the park, the museum, adjoining city herbal garden, etc. We stop to get some coffee and chocolate milks. As we get to paying, my wife grabs her pocketbook and begins exasperatingly flipping through the various bills and receipts looking for the $100 bill that she wants to break before we continue on our weekend jaunt. She can’t find it. Uh-oh.
We pay the cashier and go on our way. My wife is visibly frustrated. Did she give the pizza guy the best cash tip of his life? You guessed it. After a few moments of silence my wife finally speaks, “well, we certainly made his night.” Exactly.
Can you picture the pizza guy’s reaction when he got back to his car? The cynical types would probably say, “the pizza guy was a thief! he should have gone back and asked if you really meant to give him a monstrous tip.” The mean types would probably say, “You guys are idiots, you got what you deserve.” I prefer to think that we gave that pizza guy a great story. Maybe he called us morons, maybe he laughed, maybe he cried. Maybe he really needed that extra bit of cash to complete his weekend or pay his bills. The catalyst in the whole event was my wife’s final reaction. She realized the futility in holding on to the anger associated with the slip up.
So now whenever we stumble, at work or in our personal lives, we pause and ask ourselves how could we react? Anger and martyrdom are easy. Humor and perspective are harder and what we strive for: what kind of story will we be able to tell 1,5,10 years from now?
Off to create more stories.
"Today I will run what you will not so that tomorrow I will run what you cannot."
My goal is complete: I completed the four most common races, all in one year. While my objective of making regular updates throughout my training and immediately post-race fell by the wayside, I'm satisfied with the results nonetheless.
[Disclaimer: These results may vary and I am not recommending or condoning anybody follows or adheres to my training routine, gear, or plan. These are my results and my results alone.]
I'll dispense with the romanticism typically associated with avid and life-long runners. I'm not one of them. They are much more eloquent at describing the other-worldly feelings associated with running. I shall instead focus on the observations gleaned as a result of my experiment in running.
The Shoes. As I wrote in the kick-off post, my running experiment started with the all too important assessment of the shoes. I started in minimalist shoes but as my mileage increased to roughly 25 miles per week I noticed more pain during my runs. I went to see an orthopedic doctor, a physical therapist, and a podiatrist to make the necessary adjustments. I started doing more leg strengthening exercises via different tension rubber bands and changed to a more rigid running shoe; as my podiatrist instructed (he's an ultra-marathoner), "your form goes to crap after 20 miles so you'll want to have a shoe that can support you, especially if you're a first timer." Net, the majority of my training was done on a pair of bright orange Saucony Progrid Guide 5s; very cushiony and a smooth ride. Towards the end, when I was running 40+ miles per week, I transitioned to a pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS 12s; not as pillowy as the Saucony's but more medial arch support. My only recommendation when it comes to shoes, especially for first timers, is to visit multiple running stores and try different shoes; do the treadmill and camera thing that most of the top quality running stores offer. If you can afford it, see a podiatrist, a running podiatrist preferably, so you can rule out any crazy physiological issues you may have before you start piling on the mileage.
The Gear. Other really helpful equipment, once I surpassed the hour-long training runs, were:
The Race. I ran all the races I planned on racing except the Summit Fest 1/2 marathon, I opted instead to run the Little Miami 1/2 in late August. Little to my knowledge but that course (very fast, super flat) is known to be a great prep race for the Air Force marathon. Regarding The Race, my initial goal for the marathon was to finish; then, as I got closer to the race, I set a sub- 5hr goal. Then, on race day, around the 8 mile mark, I decided to stay with the 4 hr 30 min pace woman. Around the half-way point, there were ~15 people in our group and it started dwindling from there. By mile 18, the 4:30 group was down to 7-8 runners, by mile 22, there were four of us, and finally in the end only three (me included) crossed together. The woman in the pink shirt (pictured above) was amazing: she held the sign 90% of the time, kept the exact pace for 4 hrs 30 mins, and was chirpy / encouraging the entire time. As for me, I cross the finish line and thankfully nearly passed out. Why thankfully? I had nothing left, I didn't hold back and conserve energy; I picked the right stretch pace. I didn't train for 4:30 and I wasn't ready for 4:30 but I challenged myself: either I do it or pass out trying. I'm a masochist apparently.
I have no idea. I'm currently not running. I've gone back to my old fitness routine and I feel great. Will I ever run again? Probably. I'm sure I'll start to remember the euphoria of the long distance run and the serenity of my mind simply shutting off while I piled up the mileage. Perhaps I'll do a few short races just for the race high. Who knows, maybe I'll start long distance running again in the spring when the weather improves. Maybe.
For now, my running experiment is complete, I accomplished my goals. I learned a lot about what my mind & body can do when tested. I confirmed my do now ideal. I learned that my mind goes to some comical places when it has nowhere to go for 4 hours at a time - a useful tool for long road-trips as well.
Most importantly, I'm grateful that I was able to conduct this experiment.
Now that I'm only weeks away from running my first marathon, people keep asking me if I'm ready. My usual response is, "doesn't matter if I am ready or not, I'm running the race." But then that got me thinking about the "ready" question in general.
In my opinion, being asked "are you ready?" is very similar to "are you sure?" which insinuates that I may be making a mistake. Of course I'm not ready: why else would I volunteer to do something / anything different / new?
If you only do things you're READY FOR then you'll never know what you're truly CAPABLE OF achieving. To grow, we must stretch beyond our comfort zones - beyond what we think we're ready for. So no, I'm not ready, and that's cool with me.
[Disclaimer: These results may vary and I am not recommending or condoning anybody follows or adheres to my training routine, gear, or plan. These are my results and my results alone.]
Sometime in February of this year I decided that I was going to run the Air Force Marathon. I then thought, “well, why not just make this the year of running?” So that’s what I’m doing this year, I’m running. Like any new endeavor I started with research and an assessment of fitness and gear.
Just Go. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always been pretty fit and was a decent runner in the military – consistently scoring in the tops of my age group – so just going felt pretty low risk. Admittedly, I was a bit weary given that I had tried to renew my running regimen several times after I left the military only to be consistently derailed by injuries. Nevertheless, I assumed that being 40 lbs lighter versus last year (and 10 lbs lighter than when I left the military) would help my joints a bit. So I started running three times a week on a basic 2 minutes walk / 1 min run tempo for 15 minutes. I did this for many weeks starting back in October, slowly building up endurance, distance, and total run time. I took careful notes and was extra conservative.
The Shoes. After reading Tim Ferris’ 4-Hour Body and Born to Run by Christopher McDougall I became a full convert to minimalist running and was immediately ready to start running barefoot. I was ready for my body to remember how to run naturally, unimpeded by “stability” running shoes and running-store-recommended orthotics. I wanted to break my legs’ & feet’s dependence on over-weight, chunky running shoes and was ready to step out and run on my bare tootsies. Bring on the dog poop & mud! Fortunately, reason (aka my wife) prevailed and I decided (she decided) to slowly ease my way into lower drop running shoes. I ran on Nike Free Run’s for 2-3 months and then switched to even lower drop New Balance Minimus for 3 months – all orthotics free, all pain free. I’m now running on Skecher’s Go Run and I couldn’t be happier – a perfect blend of low drop and just enough cushion. The beautiful part – and key take-away – of using low drop running shoes is that I immediately feel the moment my stride or gait deviates from my naturally imbued running form. I’ve actually become a more efficient runner and feel as if my feet and ankles are stronger (if that’s even possible).
The Races. I’m currently signed up to race the Flying Pig 10K and the Air Force Marathon. I’m also planning on running the Summit Fest ½ Marathon but haven’t yet signed up since I still have to de-conflict summer family travel plans. Assuming my body holds up, I’d also like to run the Vegas Tough Mudder with my brother in October and then finish up the year with a few short races near Thanksgiving and over the Holidays. Some might argue that the running plan & race schedule seem a bit aggressive especially for one year and my beginner status. Perhaps, but I have run in the past and my build up & prep to this year started 6 months ago. I just wasn’t aware or thinking that I was going to make 2012 the year of running until a few weeks ago. I don’t plan everything. I often just go with what life presents me. In this case, it happens to be running.
When the topic of fitness or nutrition comes up in conversation, people are often surprised to learn that I’ve been over-weight three times in my life. Based on their lens, they assume that I’ve “always been thin” or athletic. They often guffaw when I tell them that I too have struggled with managing my weight; or they sarcastically retort that I wouldn’t possibly understand their struggles, or that I have it easy since they have always been over-weight. In response, I wryly point out that nobody is born over-weight (at least not by choice); that being overweight is the result of successive failures in moderation and discipline, failures in caretaking that occurred prior to and after birth. I make a lot of friends.
Healthy food makes me fat?
I became overweight as a pre-teen, in my early twenties and then again about two years ago. In each case, I became roughly 20-40 lbs overweight and each time the weight gain was mostly a result of my nutrition; simply: I ate too much. Unfortunately, I often find that folks that are looking to lose weight, and ask my opinion, often spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the type of food (e.g. Paleo, juice only, no juice, no sugar, more fat, no fat, no carbs, go vegetarian, etc) or more exercise. As I’ve said before, exercise is good for a whole host of reasons but increasing exercise alone won’t necessarily help you lose and maintain weight, only proper nutrition can.
Growing up my Mom was pretty militant about having only “healthy” foods in the house; e.g. no processed cereals, no soft drinks, lots of fruit. Yet I still gained weight. Why? I ate too much. As I got older I became a pretty dedicated exerciser (high school sports, college intramurals, top 1% on military fitness tests, etc) so how is it that I gained 20lbs? I ate too much. After the military, I continued to exercise 5-7 times a week and eat healthy: no soft drinks, no fast food, 8-10 servings of fruit & vegetables, and focus on whole food. Yet, I went from 175 lbs to 205 lbs two years ago. How? You guessed it, I ate too much. In every case of weight gain, it wasn’t exclusively the type of food I ate or the level or type of exercise. I consumed entirely too many calories, period.
Losing the Weight & the Super Duper Food Scale
The first two times I lost the weight I had external motivators. My Mom was a tough cookie, she had to be as a single Mom of two boys (more on that in a separate post), she was able to motivate me to lose weight in her ever-loving way, “you’re fat, stop eating peanut butter sandwiches before you go to bed.” Simple, direct, effective. The second time, I had the Military: fit to fight, combat-ready, peer-pressure, and “fat-boy” club are all very motivating monikers.
This most recent time, however, I had no external motivator. It all came down to me. You know what? It’s really hard to lose weight on your own. Fortunately, my body did me a favor, it started hurting. Every time I tried to go for a long run, everything hurt. Then I started having all kinds of gastric issues. So what did I do? I bought a food scale. More accurately, my wife bought me a food scale and told me to measure everything I ate. She made me read labels. Did you know that only sixteen, plain, no salt, raw almonds equal 100 calories?! Sixteen! (That’s not a lot) I had no idea. I was grabbing a handful as a snack almost every day…nearly 4x the calories. So naturally – and here is the hard part – I decided to track everything I ate for two weeks. In the end, I was over-eating by nearly 2x at every meal and snack. One food scale, a little label pre-reading, and hard discipline for two weeks; result: I lost 40 pounds last year and I’m training for my first marathon. It took some time before I got to the point where I instinctively knew how much food I needed versus wanted, but it was worth it.
I only eat rice cakes.
So do I only eat tofu, non-fat, non-sugar rice cakes 24-7? Yes. Just kidding. Of course not, I love food. Better stated, I love good food. I just don’t eat the entire menu. My wife and I eat out and order rich, savory food, but we split the plate. I’ll eat fast-food, but split the fries or get a salad on the side. I eat chocolate by the truckload. Just. Not. All. At. Once. In other words, now that I have a baseline of how many calories I need (many, many months later), I'm able to manage what I eat without having to exclude anything.
Over time, I have also made other healthy food choices over the year like reducing overall fat intake, less sugar, and eating more fiber; but these are merely tweaks and refinements. It wasn't food's fault I was over-weight, it was mine: when over-ate, I gained weight – plain and simple. So if you’re looking to lose weight, don’t focus on the refinements or quick fixes of what type of food you’re eating, or what one thing you should eliminate from your diet to fix it all. Start first with how much you’re eating. Track everything for two weeks, one week, or any length of time you’re able to stomach (pun intended). Then talk to your Dr. and/or a nutritionist to see how many calories you really need. You’ll be surprised.
It may be hard but enduring change doesn’t occur overnight and you may regress (I did three times). Nevertheless, moderation is the key. Keep it simple and buy a food scale. After all, you weren’t born over-weight. Even if you were, blame your parents and go buy a food scale. Good luck.
What is the difference between being comfortable versus being complacent? I have no idea, so I challenge myself. Challenge my thinking, my parenting, my husband-ing; attempt to challenge my assumptions and my understanding of things. I won't get it right all the time so I welcome all constructive feedback. The goal? To "...be satisfied with life always but never with one's self." (George Jean Nathan)